Company 'A', corps of engineers, U.S.A., 1846-'48, in the Mexican war
by Gustavus Woodson Smith
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Executive Document, No. 1, United States Senate, December 7, 1847, contains a Communication from the Secretary of War, transmitting to Congress the official reports of commanding generals and their subordinates in the Mexican War.

The Secretary says: "The company of engineer soldiers, authorized by the act of May 15, 1846, has been more than a year on active duty in Mexico, and has rendered efficient service. I again submit, with approval, the proposition of the Chief Engineer for an increase of this description of force." (Senate-Ex. Doc. No. 1, 1847, p. 67.)




CHAP. I.—Enlistment—Instruction—Detention on the Rio Grande—March to Victoria and Tampico—Landing at Vera Cruz—Death of Captain Swift. 7

CHAP. II.—Engaged in Operations against Vera Cruz. 21

CHAP. III.—After the Surrender of Vera Cruz to the Occupation of Puebla. 28

CHAP. IV.—From Puebla to Churubusco. 34

CHAP. V.—Capture of the City of Mexico. 48

CHAP. VI.—In the City of Mexico; Return to West Point. 57

APPENDIX A.—Brief Extracts, from Wilcox's History of the Mexican War, 1892. 66

APPENDIX B.—Promotions of Enlisted Men of the Company. 69



Previous to the war with Mexico there existed among the people of the United States a strong prejudice against maintaining even a small regular army in time of peace. Active opposition to a permanent, regular military establishment extended to the West Point Academy, in which cadets were trained and qualified to become commissioned officers of the army. That Academy was then a component part of the Military Engineer Corps. For years the chief of the Corps had, in vain, urged upon Congress, the necessity for having, at least one company of enlisted engineer soldiers as a part of the regular army.

In the meantime he had, however, succeeded in persuading the Government at Washington to send—by permission of the Government of France—a selected Captain of the U. S. Engineer Corps to the French School of engineer officers at Metz; for the purpose of having in the U. S. Army, an officer qualified to instruct and command a company of engineer soldiers in case Congress could be induced to authorize the enlistment of such a company.

Captain Alexander J. Swift was the officer selected to be sent to Metz. On his return to the United States, he was assigned to temporary duty at West Point awaiting the long delayed passage of an act authorizing the enlistment of a company of U. S. Engineer soldiers.

That act was passed soon after the commencement of hostilities with Mexico. It provided for the enlistment of an engineer company of 100 men, in the regular army. The company to be composed of 10 sergeants, 10 corporals, 39 artificers, 39 second class privates, and 2 musicians; all with higher pay than that of enlisted men in the line of the army.

Captain Swift was assigned to the command; and, at his request, I was ordered to report to him as next officer in rank to himself. At my suggestion, Brevet Second Lieutenant George B. McClellan, who had just been graduated from the Military Academy, was assigned as junior officer of the company.

At that time I had been an officer of engineers for four years; my rank was that of second lieutenant. All the first lieutenants, and some of the second lieutenants, of that corps, were then in sole charge of the construction of separate fortifications, or were engaged in other important duties. Captain Swift was not disposed to apply for the assignment of any of those officers to be subalterns under him in a company of soldiers.

I had taught McClellan during his last year in the Academy, and felt assured that he would be in full harmony with me in the duties we would be called upon to perform under Captain Swift. It is safe to say that no three officers of a company of soldiers ever worked together with less friction. The understanding between them was complete. There were no jars—no doubts or cross purposes—and no conflict of opinion or of action.

In the beginning I was charged with the instruction of the company as an infantry command, whilst the Captain took control of the recruiting, the collection of engineer implements—including an India Rubber Ponton Bridge—and he privately instructed McClellan and myself, at his own house, in the rudiments of practical military engineering which he had acquired at Metz. In the meantime we taught him, at the same place, the manual of arms and Infantry tactics which had been introduced into the army after he was graduated at the Military Academy. In practical engineer drills the Captain was always in control.

After the men were passably well drilled in the "Infantry School of the Company"; the time had come for him to take executive command on the infantry drill ground. He did this on the first occasion, like a veteran Captain of Infantry until "at rest" was ordered.

Whilst the men were "at rest", McClellan and myself quietly, but earnestly, congratulated him upon his successful debut as drill officer of an Infantry Company. He kindly attributed to our instruction in his house, whatever proficiency he had acquired in the new tactics which had then been recently introduced.

But, after the company was again called to "Attention" and the drill was progressing, whilst marching with full company front across the plain, the men all well in line, to my surprise the Captain ordered "faster", and added "the step is much too slow". Of course we went "faster". In a short time the Captain ordered "faster still, the step is very much too slow". This order was several times repeated, and before the drill ended we were virtually "at a run".

After the drill was over and the Company dismissed from the parade ground, I asked the Captain why he had not given the commands "quick time" and "double quick", instead of saying "faster" and "still faster". He said he did not intend the step should be "quick time"—much less "double quick". He only wanted the rate to be in "common time—90 steps a minute"; and added: "you had not reached that rate when the drill ended".

I insisted that he must be mistaken, and told him we were marching in "common time" or very near it, when he first gave the order, "faster". He persisted that he was right in regard to the rate of the step—said "that he had carefully counted it, watch in hand"; and added: "You were, at the last, not making more than 85 steps to the minute". I was satisfied that he was mistaken; but he relied implicitly upon the correctness of his count and the accuracy of his watch.

McClellan and I proceeded to the company quarters, of which I still had charge. On the way we referred to the matter of the step, and both of us were at a loss to account for the misapprehension we were sure the Captain labored under in regard to it.

I asked McClellan to take out his watch and count whilst I marched in "common time". I made 90 steps per minute—and repeated it more than once. It presently dawned upon us that our Captain, whilst consulting his watch, had counted only one foot in getting at the number of steps: and that we were really making 170 steps to the minute when he counted 85. The mystery was solved, the Captain had counted "the left foot" only.

When we next went to his house for instruction in details of the school of the engineer soldier, I asked him how many steps we were making a minute when he first ordered "faster". He said "about 45". I replied: "That's it. We have found out what was the matter. You counted only the left foot. We were marching in 'common time' when you ordered us to move 'faster'; and you pushed us to nearly twice that rate".

"The cat was out of the bag." The Captain saw it at once and laughed heartily over the error he had fallen into in the latter part of his "first appearance" as captain, in drilling the company as infantry. He made no such mistake thereafter; and the men never knew of his "count", watch in hand.

On the 26th of September, 1846, we sailed from New York, 71 rank and file, for Brazos Santiago, under orders to report to General Taylor, commanding the U. S. army in Mexico. We landed at Brazos on the 12th of October, remained at that point for several days, proceeded thence to the mouth of the Rio Grande and arrived at Carmargo on the 2nd of November. There the company was delayed for several weeks because transportation for the engineer train to the headquarters of the Army at Monterey, was not then available.

The Company left Carmargo for Brazos, on the 29th of November, under orders to proceed to Tampico by sea, but was ordered to return to Matamoros with a portion of its tools, and march, via Victoria, to Tampico—the bulk of its train to be transported to the latter place by water.

Whilst detained at Carmargo instruction in the school of the engineer soldier was kept up, and infantry drills were constantly practiced. During that time several thousand troops were in camp near Carmargo, and the men of the engineer company learned that they were, by the line of the army, styled: "the pick and shovel brigade". Their officers advised them not to care for this epithet but, "take it easy, continue to endeavor to become model infantry, and engraft on that a fair knowledge of the duties of the engineer soldier". They were assured that "for heavy work", details would have to be made from the line of the army; and these details would, for the time, constitute the real "pick and shovel brigade" under the control of engineer officers, assisted by trained engineer soldiers. When the time came for close fighting the engineer company would be at the front.

The troops stationed on the Rio Grande during the fall of 1846, suffered greatly from Mexican diarrhoea, fevers and other diseases. Several men of the engineer company died, and Captain Swift and twenty of the men were left in hospital at Matamoros, when the company finally left the latter place.

Before giving an account of our first march in the enemy's country, it may be well to state here, that with two exceptions, the enlisted men of the engineer company were native born, and all but four of them were raw recruits. Each of those four had served, with credit, during one or more terms of enlistment in the regular army. Three of them were promptly made sergeants, and the fourth was a musician (bugler).

All of the recruits but one, were very carefully selected material, out of which to form, as soon as practicable, skilled engineer soldiers. The one exception was a short, fat, dumpy, Long Island Dutchman—a good cook, specially enlisted by Captain Swift to cook for the men. He was given the pay and rank of artificer of engineers. The men looked upon him more as a servant of theirs than as a fellow soldier. He was well satisfied with his position, prided himself on his special duties, rather looked down upon "soldiers"—and was impudent by nature.

All went well enough with the "cook" until he was required to take his place in the ranks, at regular bi-monthly "muster, and inspection" for pay. His performance on that occasion was so grotesquely awkward that I directed he should be put through the "squad-drill" by one of the sergeants, who was a thoroughly competent, but rather severe, drill-master.

The "cook" felt that his rights were invaded, in requiring him to submit to be drilled. The sergeant made no progress in teaching him. After three days' trial, he reported to me that he was mortified, and ashamed, to have to admit he could do nothing with "that cook"; and he asked to be relieved from the duty of drilling him. In reply to my question: "Can't you make him obey you?" He replied: "No—the only thing I can do is to kill him"; and added: "When that kind of thing has to be done, in this company, my understanding is, the lieutenant in command is the only one who has the right to kill".

I relieved the sergeant, and told him I would take the "cook" in hand at the next drill. On the following day, I marched him off into the dense chaparral, on the bottom lands near Matamoros. After following obscure paths, about three miles in their windings through the jungle, I halted him in a small open space a few hundred yards from the company camp. He thought no doubt, we were five miles from camp—in a boundless wilderness—whilst, in fact, we were at no time five hundred yards away.

I told him of the report that had been made to me of his disobedience, informed him that I had brought him into the chaparral for the purpose of compelling him to obey me; called his attention to the fact that we were in the enemy's country in time of war; all of our lives were in peril, and that persistent disobedience on the part of any officer or soldier to the legal authority of those over him, was punishable with death; that I did not propose to place him before a Court Martial; but, would kill him, if he did not implicitly obey an order I proposed then and there to give him.

I measured 15 paces in front of him and placed a small white chip on the ground, called him to "attention", ordered him to place his eyes on that chip, and told him if he removed them from it before I gave the command "rest", I would run him through with my rapier.

I then drilled him at the manual of arms for about 20 minutes. Large beads of perspiration rolled down his face—he began to totter on his feet—and I gave the command "rest". He had not taken his eyes from the chip.

At the command "rest", he drew a long sigh of relief and uttered a subdued but prolonged "O-h". I asked him if he now thought he could obey the sergeant. He replied: "Yes, I will obey anybody".

I told him I would temporarily withdraw what I had said about killing him, and would put him on his good behavior. I drilled him about two hours longer; and then took him, by a circuitous route, through the jungle, back to camp. He was obedient enough thereafter.

When the war had ended and I was relieved from duty with the company, one of the men told me that "the cook", on his return from the drill I had given him said: "The Lieutenant took me way off, ever so far, in the chaparral, and told me he took me there to kill me if I didn't mind him. The little devil meant it, and would have done it too, if I had fooled with him like I had done with the sergeant."

Except this case, of "the cook", there had been no difficulty in bringing the men of the company to a high standard of drill and discipline as an infantry company, and a reasonable degree of proficiency in the school of the engineer soldier. But, on their first march into the enemy's country, they were called upon to do an immense amount of hard work not specially referred to in their preliminary instruction.


By special orders from General Taylor, brought by Major George A. McCall to Captain Swift, the latter was charged with the duty of repairing the road from Matamoros to Victoria, and making it practicable for artillery and the baggage train; and to do this, if possible, so that the whole command might make its prescribed daily marches and arrive at Victoria on a named day. Captain Swift was authorized to call upon the commander of the forces, on this march, for such assistance as might be needed to perform the work; and was directed to do no more to the road than was barely sufficient to enable the trains to pass over it. It was not expected that we would ever have occasion to pass through that region again; and it was not proposed to make a permanent road for the benefit of Mexicans.

Captain Swift being sick in hospital, the foregoing instructions were given to me, as Commander of the company, by Major McCall, who, in the capacity of Adjutant-General of the forces under General Patterson, accompanied him on this march.

Under orders from General Taylor, the company of engineers, reduced to two officers and forty-five enlisted men for service, marched from Matamoros on the 21st of December, 1846, with a column of volunteers under General Patterson, to join General Taylor's army at Victoria. We arrived at the latter place on the 4th of January, 1847. A great deal of work had been done by details of volunteers and the engineer company in making the road practicable for artillery and baggage wagons. Without dwelling upon daily operations, the following statement of the manner in which we made our way across a difficult stream may be of interest.

About noon one day I was informed by Major McCall, who had ridden ahead of the working party, that there was an exceedingly difficult "river-crossing" about one mile in front, and that he feared we would be detained there for, perhaps, two days. I galloped forward to the place designated. It looked ugly. The banks of the stream were something more than 100 feet high and quite steep. Guiding my horse down to the water's edge, I crossed the river which was from two to three feet deep, and about one hundred yards wide. The bottom was fair enough, until within a few yards of the opposite shore, where it was soft mud. Getting through this with some difficulty I rode to the top of the bank on the far side.

To make an ordinary practicable road across that stream would require two or three day's work of several hundred men. It seemed a clear case for the free use of drag-ropes to let the wagons down into the stream on the near side, and haul them up the opposite bank.

It was plain to me that with a working party of two hundred men—which was the greatest number we could supply with tools—a straight steep ramp could be cut on both banks in six or eight hours hard work. The greatest difficulty would be encountered in getting out of the stream on the far side.

Returning quickly to where I had left Major McCall, I asked him to give me a working party of about 800 men, told him I would find use for that number and that in my opinion, with that force, the wagon train could be put across the stream before dark. The commanding General thought my requisition for the working detail was extravagant, as we scarcely had tools enough for a quarter of that number of men. But the detail was ordered, as called for, to report to me. In the meantime the engineer company and its train was taken to the crossing, and the character of the work to be done there was explained to the men.

Leaving Lieutenant McClellan with a portion of the company to take charge of the near bank, directing him to halt there about 300 of the working party and send about 500 to me on the opposite bank, I crossed the stream with the rest of the company and explained to them the work to be done on that side, particularly the means to be used in getting out of the river. On each side of the stream the working party was divided into three "reliefs", or relays—with one hundred men or more held in reserve, to meet contingencies.

The working party arrived in good season, tools were promptly distributed to the first "relief" on each side of the river, and the men were told that, if they would work as at a "corn-shucking-match", or as if the "house was on fire", they would be let off in an hour, or less, depending on the rapidity and effectiveness of their work. It was to be a race against time. I wanted all the work there was in them, and wanted it inside of an hour.

Before the hour was up the "first relief" on each side of the river, was ordered to stop work, drop their tools, get out of the road and take to the bushes. The "second relief" was immediately marched into the vacated places, seized the tools, and worked like the first—and on the same conditions. So with the "third relief"; and, inside of three hours from the time the work began, the engineer wagons were crossing the river. They soon moved on, leaving the rest of the forces to follow at their leisure.

The volunteer officers afterwards complained to me that the "wild work" on the banks of that river, had "scattered" their men so badly, it was several days before they could be again got into their proper places.

This case was an exception—a frolic. The usual daily work on the road was more regular and continuous, without disorder.

It may perhaps not be out of place here to mention, that about the time I sent the "first relief" into the bushes, and set the "second relief" to work under the directions of men of the engineer company, the commander of the forces, with his staff, arrived on the bank where McClellan was in charge, and asked for me. He was told that I was on the opposite bank. Just at that time the confusion and wild yells of the "first relief" and the loud cheers of the "second relief" when told that they, too, would be let off inside of an hour, provided they would work as if engaged in a "corn-shucking-match", astounded the general, and had to him the appearance of disorder, perhaps mutiny.

On asking Lieutenant McClellan what it meant, the latter replied: "It is all right; Lieutenant Smith has the larger portion of the engineer company with him on that bank; and I can see him, and men of the company near him in the road, all of whom seem to be quietly giving instructions to the new working party".

After starting the "second relief" to digging in the road, I had gone to the brow of the bank overlooking the work which was being done, mostly by my own men in the river, where the road was to leave it. The engineer sergeant in charge of that work informed me that he was then in immediate need of about twenty additional men. The reserve working force was not far from me. I called out for a sergeant and twenty men, without arms or accoutrements, to come to me. Pointing to the river, just under the place at which I was standing, I directed the sergeant of this reserve party to take his men down at once and report to the engineer sergeant in charge there. The bank was precipitous. The sergeant of the reserve working party said that he would take his men back about one hundred yards, and go down by the road on which the "second relief" was working. I demurred, and told him again, to take his men straight to where they were needed. He still hesitated. I pushed him over the brow of the bank, and he went headlong into the river. I then ordered his men to follow him. They did it with a cheer and regular "Comanche-whoop"—sliding down the slope, which was too steep to stand on.

This scene, too, was witnessed from across the river by the General of the forces and his staff. I did not know they were there; but if I had, it would have made no difference; I was in charge of the working party, and in haste to finish that special job.

On our arrival at Victoria, the company was relieved from duty under General Patterson, and I was directed to report to the headquarters of General Taylor. On the 12th of January the company was ordered to report to General Twiggs. With two companies of the line to furnish additional details for labor when required I was charged with the duty of making the road between Victoria and Tampico practicable for wagons. These three companies left Victoria on the 13th.

The following extracts from my official report of the operations of the Engineer Company for the month of January, 1847, illustrate, in part, the difficulties met with.

"The first day, (out from Victoria,) we had three bad boggy brooks to cross; besides a great deal of cutting to do with axes in order to open the road; and many bad ravines and gullies to render passable. To make a bridge, across a boggy stream, with no other material than the short, knotty, hard and crooked chaparral bush, was no easy matter. The first day's march was about ten miles—we encamped about sunset after a very hard day's work."

In order to shorten the route and save the forces one day's march, we were, for several days, working on a mule path "cut-off" from the main road.

"January 14th. The mule path was infamous. No wagon had ever traveled that road—the rancheros have a tradition of a bull cart that, it is said, once passed that way. I believe, however, that the story is not credited. We worked from dawn of day until dark and encamped about six miles from where we started in the morning and about the same distance from the camp we wished to reach that day."

"January 15th. Another day's tremendous hard work."

"January 16th. We had again a very severe day's work."

"January 17th. Road improved very decidedly, but still a good deal to do. We managed, by getting a little ahead with our repairs after the army encamped for the night, to get along without seriously delaying the column."

We arrived at Tampico on the 23rd. The distance from Victoria to Tampico is 120 miles; whole distance from Matamoros to Tampico, by way of Victoria, is 354 miles.

Although the service was arduous, the men came through it in good health, and were all the better soldiers for the practical schooling acquired in that 350 miles of road making. After this experience, ordinary marches and drills were to them, very light matters.


From Tampico we sailed for Lobos Island and Vera Cruz, on a small schooner, the Captain of which was a brave little Frenchman, who was not acquainted with the Mexican Gulf coast, and was not provided with accurate instruments for taking observations. Late one afternoon the clouds rolled away, and we distinctly saw the snow-clad peak of Orizaba. This was the first intimation to us that we were "somewhere", near Vera Cruz. In a very short time we saw opposite to us a large fleet of vessels at anchor.

We were south of Vera Cruz and were passing Anton Lizardo, the place to which we were bound. But a reef was between us and the anchorage where the fleet was quietly lying. The Captain of the schooner said he could cross the reef. Taking his place in the rigging from where he could better observe the breakers and the currents, the schooner tacked here and there, rapidly and repeatedly, under the orders of the little Frenchman; and we were soon clear of the reef and breakers. It was now nearly dark. In a few moments after reaching the anchorage ground, we glided up a gentle slope, without perceptible shock; and the bow of the vessel was almost entirely out of water.

In less than twenty minutes thereafter a boat from one of our men-of-war pulled alongside; and when the officer in charge learned who we were, he said he would report at once to the naval commander; and had no doubt that the company with its effects would have to be landed on an adjacent island, while the schooner was being lightened and hauled off into deep water.

He said the movements of the little schooner, through the heavy surf, across the dangerous reef, had been watched from the naval vessels with intense anxiety, and expectation that we would be wrecked and all hands lost. This feeling was changed to admiration when it was seen that the schooner was being very skillfully handled in the difficult channel; and all rejoiced when they saw the unknown little craft safely in smooth water; but were surprised, immediately after, to see her put on a course that would inevitably run her aground.

We found that Captain Swift with the convalescents from Matamoros on another vessel, had arrived before us. In the meantime Lieutenant J. G. Foster, of the Engineer Corps, had been assigned to duty with the Company. He was with Captain Swift. I at once reported to the latter, and he resumed command of the Company; but the men remained on separate vessels.

Captain Swift was still very sick; to all appearance more feeble than when we left him at Matamoros. All the men he brought with him were convalescent. In a few days after our arrival at Anton Lizardo, an order was issued by General Scott for the transports to move up next morning, towards Vera Cruz, with a view to landing the army on the main shore, opposite the Island of Sacrificios, two or three miles south of the city. On the morning of the day we were to make the landing the whole company was transferred to another vessel; and all were again together.

Early in the previous night, McClellan, who had just been aboard the vessel on which Captain Swift arrived, informed me that the latter proposed to lead the company ashore. Worth's division was to land first, and the engineer company was temporarily assigned to that division. McClellan added: "The Captain is now too feeble to walk across the cabin of his vessel without assistance—the effort to lead the company in this landing will be fatal to him, and I told him I thought he ought not to attempt it. But, he looks upon me as a boy,[1] and I have no influence with him in this matter. You ought to advise him against this thing. If he attempts it, it will certainly kill him."

I fully agreed with McClellan in reference to the physical condition of the Captain; and the probable, if not certain, result of an attempt on his part to lead the company in the landing. But for me to advise him not to go ashore with us, was to request him to give me the command of his company in this important enterprise. I told McClellan that I felt a delicacy about the matter which made me hesitate to advise the Captain to give me the command of the company. He replied: "Yes, but this case is beyond mere delicacy. The act of leading the company ashore will kill him; and I think you can persuade him not to undertake it. You ought to try. I am sure he will not misconstrue your motive."

Urged thus, I pulled over to the Captain's vessel, after dark found him alone in the cabin, and quickly told him why I came. He listened patiently to all I had to say; thanked me cordially for the interest I took in his physical welfare; said he fully appreciated the kindness shown; understood the motive which actuated the advice given; and added: "My mind is made up; I will lead the company in this landing; and would do so even if I knew that the bare attempt would certainly cost me my life."

The next afternoon, the Captain, standing by the gangway, directed the embarkation of about 20 men in the smaller of the two surf boats in which the company was to land. Just as that boat was ready to pull away to make room for the larger boat, I said to him: "I suppose I am to go with this detachment of the Company; and if so I must get aboard now". He replied "No. I wish you to go in the larger boat with me". To which I said: "All right", and added: "McClellan goes with the detachment?" The Captain said, "Yes."

When the larger boat for the rest of the Company came along side I relieved the Captain at the gangway and superintended the embarkation of the men in that boat. The Captain was lowered over the side of the vessel in a chair; and I, when all else was ready to pull off, scrambled down into the closely packed boat, and took my place in the bow.

Each boat was rowed by sailors from the fleet under the direction of a naval officer.

We had reason for anxiety in regard to the resistance we might meet with from Mexican batteries that could easily have been sheltered behind the sand hills immediately overlooking the open beach on which the landing was to be made. A single cannon-shot striking one of the closely packed surf-boats would probably have sent it, and all on board, to the bottom. The anxiety of the soldiers was to get ashore before such a fate should befall them. They cared very little for anything that might happen after they were on land; but wished to escape the danger of having the boats sunk under them by Mexican batteries.

When we were within five or six hundred yards of the beach all were startled by the whistling of shells and cannon balls close about our heads. This fire was soon understood to come from our Naval gunboats, and aimed at small parties of Mexican lookouts on shore. No resistance was made to the landing of Worth's division.

When we were within two or three hundred yards of the beach, I made my way, over the heads of the men to the stern of the boat where the Captain was seated; and said to him I thought the time had come for him to get to the bow, if he still intended to lead the company in going ashore.

For a moment the most painful expression I ever saw depicted on a human countenance marked his face. He rallied, however, almost immediately, and said: "I must, at the last moment, relinquish my command"; and added "I turn the command over to you until the company is formed in line on the beach".

I made my way quickly back to the bow; ordered the right file of the company, two stalwart corporals—thorough soldiers, to go to the stern of the boat, take their places near the Captain, keep their eyes on me after they reached him, spring into the water when they saw me jump from the bow, seize the Captain, place him on their shoulders or heads, and bring him to me in the line on shore without a wet thread on him.

I informed the corporals that I had been placed in full command by Captain Swift; warned them he would probably resist their bringing him ashore; but no matter what he said or did, they must obey my orders. They did it. The corporals were athletes—over six feet in height, young and active. In the Captain's then physical condition he was as helpless as an infant in their hands.

The water where they went overboard was nearly up to their necks; but when they brought the Captain to me he was as dry as whilst sitting in the boat. He had resisted them more violently than I anticipated. In vain they explained to him that they were instructed by me to take him ashore without his touching the water. He ordered them to put him down, used all his force to compel them to do so, repeated his orders in no measured terms, and continued to denounce the corporals after they had placed him on his feet by my side.

He was wild with rage. I at once relinquished to him the command of the company, and said: "Captain, the corporals are not in fault. They simply obeyed my order whilst I was, by your authority, in command of the company. Blame me, if you will, but exonerate them."

He apologised to the corporals for kicking, striking, and otherwise abusing them, and thanked them for the service they had rendered him. The termination of this incident made an indelible impression on the men in favor of their Captain.

That night the company slept among the sand hills a few hundred yards from the shore, undisturbed, except by a flurry of firing which occurred about 10 P. M., between a Mexican detachment and the Light battalion of Worth's division. This firing continued for a few minutes, and then all was quiet for the rest of the night.

About sunrise next morning, the company moved several hundred yards, into its position on the sand hills, on the right of Worth's division in the line of investment, facing Vera Cruz which was about two miles distant.

The Captain showed wonderful increase of vitality after he reached the shore. He conducted the company to its assigned place in the line of investment without much apparent difficulty in walking through the sand.

But three hours exposure to the hot sun was more than he could bear; his strength was gone. He lost consciousness and was, by my order, carried to the beach on an improvised litter. The sergeant of the party was instructed to report to the naval officer in charge of the surf boats, and in my name, request that Captain Swift be taken as soon as practicable, to the steamer which was the headquarters of General Scott. That request was promptly complied with; but the Captain's vitality was exhausted. He was sent to the United States on the first steamer that left Vera Cruz after the landing was effected, and died in New Orleans within twenty-four hours after his arrival at that place.

Thus, the army and the country lost the services of one of the best officers of the U. S. Corps of Military Engineers; and the engineer company lost their trained Captain.


[1] At that time, McClellan was about 20 years of age.



Within a short time after Captain Swift was taken to the beach, I received an order, from General Worth, directing me to withdraw the engineer company from the line of investment and report to General Patterson. The latter instructed me to locate and open a road through the chaparral to the old Malibran ruins. This was accomplished by the middle of the afternoon. General Pillow who was to occupy a position beyond Malibran, requested me to take charge of a working party of his troops and, with the engineer company, locate and open a road along his line to the bare sand hills on his left. In this work we were somewhat disturbed by the fire of Mexican detachments.

On the 11th, the work of locating and opening the road along the line of investment was continued, the working party being still a good deal annoyed by both infantry and artillery fire. At 1 P. M., I reported to General Patterson that the road was opened, through the chaparral, to the bare sand hills. He ordered me to report, with the engineer company, to General Worth; and the latter directed me to report to the General Headquarters.

On the same day I was ordered by Colonel Totten, Chief Engineer, to find and cut off the underground-aqueduct which conveyed water into Vera Cruz. That business was effectually accomplished by the engineer company on the 13th.[2]

From that time, until the commencement of work upon the batteries and trenches, the engineer company and its officers were engaged in reconnoitring the ground between the picket line of our army and the fortifications of the city. My reports were made each night to the Chief Engineer. The night of the 15th, he pointed out to me, on a map of the city and its fortifications, the general location in which it was desired to place the army gun battery, on the southern prolongation of the principal street of the city, and within about six hundred yards of its fortifications. He directed me, with the engineer company, to closely examine that ground. I was informed by him, at the same time, that Captain R. E. Lee, of the engineer corps, had discovered a favorable position for a battery, of six heavy naval guns, on the point of a commanding sand ridge, about nine hundred yards from the western front of the city; but no final decision would be made in regard to the naval battery until the army battery could be definitely located. He said General Scott was getting impatient at the delay; and I was directed to find, as soon as possible, a position that would satisfy the conditions prescribed, by the Chief Engineer, for an army battery.

I explained those conditions to McClellan and to Foster; and informed them that I would assign one-third of the company to each of them as an escort—take one-third myself—and we would all three start, at daylight next morning, in search of a location for the required battery. It was necessary that we should be extremely careful not to get to fighting each other in the dense chaparral.

We found a location that complied with the conditions. In reporting this fact to the Chief Engineer, I added: "The communication with the battery will be very difficult—will require a great deal of work—and will be dangerous". He ordered me to take the engineer company to the selected ground, next morning, and lay out the battery; and said he would direct Lieutenant G. T. Beauregard, who had supervised the construction of the field fortifications at Tampico, to assist in the work.

At 2 P. M. that day the battery and magazine had been traced out, all necessary profiles carefully adjusted; and, the whole completed, ready to commence throwing up the works. We had not been discovered by the Mexicans—though we could plainly see their sentinels on the walls; and occasionally hear words of command. After allowing the company to rest for a couple of hours we started to return to camp.

In going forward we had the Mexicans before us; and by exercising great care, at certain places, could avoid being seen. When our backs were turned to Vera Cruz I felt confident that we would soon be discovered and fired upon. I had cautioned the men to be as careful as possible; but, in spite of their best efforts, we were seen, and a heavy fire of artillery was opened upon us. The order to move at double-quick was immediately given. The company was conducted about three hundred yards, to a cut in a low sand ridge, that had been formed by a road crossing that ridge. All got safely into the cut. The Mexican artillery fire, aimed at us, was continued for about twenty minutes. We had then before us an open level plain for five hundred yards. Soon after the fire upon us had ceased, I ordered the men to scatter and run rapidly across the plain until they reached a designated place of shelter behind high sand hills. Beauregard and I brought up the rear in this movement. The Mexicans re-opened their guns upon us whilst we were crossing the plain and continued to fire for some time after we reached the shelter above referred to.

When I reported the result of that day's work to the Chief Engineer, I urged him to permit a further examination to be made, for a location of the army gun battery, before attempting to construct the one we had just laid out.

He consented, and we made further reconnaissance the next day. In the meantime the pickets of Worth's division had been considerably advanced. On returning from an examination at the extreme front that day I came across a detachment of the Fifth Infantry not far from the Cemetery. Whilst explaining the object of my search to a group of four or five young officers, a person whom I took to be a veteran sergeant, said to me that he knew a good position for a battery, only a few hundred yards from where we then were. I asked him to describe it to me.

From the description he gave I thought the ground referred to would be a favourable site; and asked him to tell me definitely how to reach it. He offered to guide me to the place. On getting to the position I found that the conformation of the ground constituted almost a natural parapet for a six gun battery—requiring but little work to complete it for use. It afforded immediate shelter for men and guns.

It was not on the prolongation of the main street of the city, and it was farther from the enemy's works than the site where a battery had already been laid out. But the communications with the proposed new location were shorter, and could easily be made much safer—in every way better than was possible in the former case. I thanked my guide for pointing out the position; and told him I thought it would be adopted by the Chief Engineer.

After our return to the group of young officers, my "guide" was soon called away; and, I then asked one of them the name of that "fine old Sergeant" who had pointed out such a good location for the battery. To my amazement he replied: "That was Major Scott, the commander of our regiment".

The Major was enveloped in an ordinary soldier's overcoat and wore an old, common slouched hat. I had mistaken the "famous Martin Scott" for a "fine old Sergeant" of the line.

On my return to camp I reported all the facts to the Chief Engineer. The position first selected and laid out, for the army gun battery, was abandoned; and the location pointed out by Major Martin Scott was adopted.

The work of throwing up batteries, digging trenches, and making covered communications with them, was commenced on the night of the 18th by large working parties detailed from the line. After that time, the officers of the engineer company, including myself, were placed on general engineer service—supervising the construction of the siege works. All the engineer officers then with the army, except the Chief, were in regular turn detailed for that duty; each having some of the men of the engineer company to assist him.

After the work upon the army gun battery, the mortar batteries and the trenches had been fairly commenced, I was transferred to the naval battery and took my regular turn, with Captain R. E. Lee, and Lieutenant Z. B. Tower, in superintending its construction. I was in charge of that work the day it opened its guns upon the fortifications of the city, having relieved Captain Lee that morning. Seeing him still in the battery, about the time the firing commenced, I asked him if he intended to continue in control; adding, "If so, I report to you for instructions and orders". He replied: "No. I am not in charge. I have remained only to see my brother, Lieutenant Sydney Smith Lee of the Navy, who is with one of the heavy guns. My tour of service is over. You are in control; and, if I can be of any service to you whilst I remain here, please let me know".

There had previously been a difference of opinion between Captain Lee and myself in regard to the dimensions that should be given to the embrasures. The Chief Engineer decided in favor of Captain Lee, and the embrasures were changed and made to conform to his views. In a very short time after the firing began one of the embrasures became so badly choked that it could not be used until the debris could be removed. Hastily renewing the blindage of brush-wood that had been used to conceal the work from view of the enemy during the construction, the detail of engineer soldiers then on duty, in the battery, cleared the embrasure of the obstructions, removed the blindage, and the gun resumed its fire. Just after that incident, I asked Captain Lee what he now thought in regard to the proper dimensions for the embrasures. He replied: "They must be made greater when the battery is repaired to-night."

The naval detachment had only forty rounds of ammunition; which was expended in about three hours, and the firing had to cease until the arrival of the next naval detachment. The latter when it came into the battery, had only forty rounds of ammunition and was to serve until relieved, the next afternoon by a third naval detachment.

Before the ammunition of the first detachment was expended the embrasures were all in a very bad condition—the battery was almost entirely unserviceable; and before the second detachment arrived I caused the embrasures to be filled up, until the battery could be repaired that night and put in good condition for re-opening the next day.

The second naval detachment came into the battery about the middle of the afternoon. The naval captain in command, without consulting me, ordered the embrasures to be cleared at once, with the intention of immediately opening fire. Perceiving what was being done by the sailors in re-opening the embrasures, I ordered them to stop; and asked by whose authority they were acting. On being informed that their orders came from the commander of the detachment, I asked them to point him out to me. I immediately introduced myself to him, as the engineer officer in full charge of the construction of the battery, and told him if the embrasures were cleared the battery would still be unfit for service—that it could not be repaired until that night, and would then be put in better condition than it was when it first opened. The army gun battery would be ready next morning; and its fire, combined with that of the naval battery, after the latter was put in good condition, would be very effective. But, if the naval detachment opened fire that afternoon, the battery being unfit for service, its ammunition would be exhausted before night without hurting the enemy; and the battery would necessarily be silent the next day, when the army battery would open its fire.

The naval captain insisted that the embrasures should be cleared at once, and the firing resumed.

I protested against his clearing the embrasures and told him that, but for the appearance of the thing, I would leave the battery and take my men with me if he persisted in carrying out his intentions. I added: "I will remain here until regularly relieved, but will continue to protest against the course you propose to pursue".

He then told me that it was "the General's" order that he should open fire that afternoon as promptly as possible.

I asked him why he had not told me of that order in the first place; and added: "It is not customary for General Scott to give orders to engineer officers through officers of the navy. But, if you had told me in the beginning that he had ordered the battery to commence firing as soon as possible after you reached it, I would have accepted his order—coming to me through you."

To this he replied; "I did not say the order came from General Scott." I asked: "Whom did you mean when you said 'the General.'" He told me that he meant "General Patterson." To which I replied: "I receive no orders in reference to this battery except from General Scott or the Chief Engineer of the Army."

The naval captain finally said he would not open fire until next morning; provided I would report the circumstances to General Scott. I told him it was not usual for me to report my action direct to the General-in-Chief: but, I would report all the facts to the Chief Engineer as soon as I was relieved and had returned to camp, and he would report them to General Scott.

When I commenced to make my report to the Chief Engineer he stopped me; and said he was instructed to order me to report in person, to General Scott as soon as I reached camp.

I obeyed the order; and was very coldly and formally told by "The General": He had been informed it was my fault that the naval battery had not opened fire against Vera Cruz that afternoon. I answered: "I did prevent the fire being opened; but, that act was not a fault on my part; and I can convince you of the latter fact if you will give me a hearing".

He replied—still very coldly—"I hope you can do so". I then related to him, in full, all that had occurred—as briefly stated above—between the commander of the naval detachment and myself.

My reasons for opposing the opening of the fire of the battery seemed to produce little or no favorable impression on General Scott until I reached that part of the narrative in which I replied to the naval captain's statement that he meant General Patterson when he said "the General". I gave General Scott the exact words I had used in replying to the naval commander. At this he rose from his seat—came to where I was standing, and clasping one of my hands in both of his; said: "Thank God I have young officers with heads on their shoulders and who know how to use them". He added: "your opinion, and your action, in this matter, would do credit to a Field Marshal of France"!

To which I made no reply, but thought to myself: "If there was a sergeant in the engineer company who, in view of the plain facts of this case, would not have known that the naval battery ought not to open fire that afternoon, I would reduce him to the ranks before night."

The following extracts from my official report of these operations may not be amiss in this connection:

"Whenever we have acted as a company I have been most ably and efficiently supported by Lieutenants McClellan and Foster; and I am proud to say that the non-commissioned officers and men of the company have shown great willingness and skill in the discharge of the important duties assigned them. Great part of our labors have been performed under fire. On such occasions I have had every reason to be satisfied with the cool deportment and conduct of the company.

"In conclusion I regret that I have to state, a serious blow was inflicted on the military pride of the engineer company in not allowing them to participate in the ceremonies of the surrender, when it was well understood that the troops having had most to do in the attack were selected to take a prominent part in the proceedings."

We all felt that, if our distinguished Captain had been with us, we would have been called on to take part in those ceremonies.

The Chief Engineer, Colonel Joseph G. Totten, in his report of operations against Vera Cruz, says: "The obligation lies upon me also to speak of the highly meritorious deportment and valuable services of the Sappers and Miners, [engineer company] attached to the expedition. Strenuous as were their exertions, their number proved to be too few, in comparison with our need of such aid. Had their number been four-fold greater, there is no doubt the labors of the army would have been materially lessened and the result expedited." (Ex. Doc. No. 1, p. 245).


[2] In illustration of the character of the work done during the first two or three days after the landing, the following quotations from General Scott's official report are not irrelevant. He says:

"The environs of the city outside the fire of its guns, and those of the castle, are broken into innumerable hills of loose sand, from twenty to two hundred and fifty feet in height, with almost impassable forests of chaparral between." "In extending the line of investment around the city the troops, for three days have performed the heaviest labors in getting over the hills and cutting through the intervening forests." ("Ex. Doc. No. 1" p. 216.)



From the capitulation of Vera Cruz, on the 29th of March, until we left that place on the 13th of April, the engineer company was principally engaged in assisting engineer officers in making surveys of the fortifications and surrounding ground, in dismantling our own batteries, magazines, &c.; and aiding the Quartermaster's Department in landing and placing in depot the general engineer train of the army.

In the meantime, on the 7th of April, I reported, through the senior engineer, to the Adjutant-General of the forces, that the engineer company would be ready to move with the advance division of the army on the 8th, if transportation for its train could be furnished. Transportation, together with orders to move with the advance division, were applied for. "The reply was that General Scott would, at the proper time, order such transportation for the engineer company as he deemed sufficient—and would, when it was his pleasure, order the company forward."[3]

Twiggs's division left on the 8th; Patterson's on the 9th; on the 11th Worth's division was ordered to move on the 13th; Quitman's brigade had been previously sent on an expedition to Alvarado; the garrison of Vera Cruz was designated. Thus, every soldier in the army, except the engineer company, had received instructions either to go forward or to remain.

On the night of the 11th, in my evening report to the Adjutant of engineers, I asked the Senior Engineer[4] then serving with the army; when and where the engineer company was ordered; what I was ordered to do; and what transportation, if any, I was to have.

On these subjects not one word had been stated, in either written or printed orders, that had come to my knowledge. On the morning of the 12th, General Scott consented that the engineer company should, if possible, move with the General Headquarters, which left at 4 P. M. that day.

I then applied direct to the Chief Quartermaster for transportation. He told me that it was impossible to let me have any teams at that time—all the good teams had been taken by the army, General Worth was getting the last.

A positive order from headquarters, was then procured by the Adjutant of engineers, requiring the Quartermaster's Department to furnish transportation for the engineer train, etc. The teams, such as they were, came into our camp about dark on the 12th. That night the wagons were loaded; and we started half an hour before daylight on the 13th.

The mules were wild, the teamsters could not speak English, some of them had never harnessed an animal; and it was soon apparent that the men of the company would have to put their muskets in the wagons and give their undivided attention to the mules. At 2 P. M., after struggling through the deep sand, west of the city, we struck the firm beach, and could make better progress, for about three miles, to Vergara, where the road leaves the coast, and again passes through deep sand.

In the meantime one team had become broken down and useless before we got beyond the city. In order to procure another I had to take some of my own men into the mule pen. Three Mexicans were given me to lasso the mules, and five men were required to put them in harness—seasick, wild, little animals. One teamster deserted; one had his hand, and another had his leg broken; and a number of mules in different teams, were crippled.

At Vergara, half the load of each wagon was thrown out, before we entered upon steep ridges and deep sand immediately after leaving the beach. All the men were engaged in helping along the half loaded wagons. That night we slept in the sand ridges.

On the 14th, we reached Santa Fe, eight miles from Vera Cruz, threw out the half loads, and returned to Vergara. Before we again reached the beach, the men had actually to roll the empty wagons up every hill, the mules not being able to drag them. By 10 P. M., we were again at Santa Fe, having killed three mules, and the men being worked nearly to death. Fortunately for us, several good mules that had escaped from preceding army trains, came out of the chaparral to our feed troughs, were caught, and "pressed" into engineer service.

From Santa Fe the road was much better, but at every hill the men had to take to the wheels and help the mules—this too, after throwing out half the load at the foot of some of the steeper hills. In this way, we reached the National Bridge, at 3 P. M. on the 16th.

General Worth's division was about starting from that place to make a night march to Plan Del Rio. He informed me that our army would attack the enemy, at the Cerro Gordo Pass, on the afternoon of the 17th; and said he desired that the engineer company should accompany his division. I informed him that my men and animals were utterly exhausted and could not go any further without several hours rest. But I assured him that we would be in Plan Del Rio by noon of the next day. We rested at the National Bridge until 11.30 P. M., on the 16th and reached Plan Del Rio, about 11 A. M., on the 17th.

AT CERRO GORDO. Soon after our arrival at Plan Del Rio, I was ordered to detail an officer and ten men of the engineer company to report to General Pillow for temporary service with his division. Lieutenant McClellan was placed in charge of that detail.

With the remainder of the company, I was directed to report to Captain R. E. Lee, then acting as Chief Engineer of Twiggs's division; who instructed me to allow the men to rest, whilst I accompanied him to the front, where Twiggs's division was about going into action. Captain Lee informed General Twiggs that the engineer company was at Plan Del Rio, and had been ordered to serve with his division. I was directed by General Twiggs to return at once, and bring the company to the front as soon as possible.

The action of the 17th was over before the engineer company arrived. Captain Lee directed me, with a portion of my men and a large detailed working party, to construct a battery that night, in a position he had selected on the heights we had gained that afternoon. This was a work of some difficulty, owing to the rocky nature of the ground and the small depth of earth—in some places none, and nowhere more than a few inches.

About 3 A. M. on the 18th I sent one of my men to the foot of the hill to awaken Lieutenant Foster, who was sleeping there with the company, and tell him he must relieve me for the rest of the night.

After putting Foster in charge I started to join the company—and became sound asleep whilst walking down the hill. Stumbling into a quarry hole, I found myself sprawling on a dead Mexican soldier—his glazed eyes wide open, within a few inches of mine. For a moment I felt that horror of a corpse which many persons have, at times, experienced. The probability that, in a short time after daylight—in storming the strong position of the enemy—I might be as dead as the man upon whom I was lying, forced itself upon me.

Before I could regain my feet streams of men were rushing past me in the darkness; and I heard and recognised, the voice of Lieutenant Peter V. Hagner, of the Ordnance, calling in no measured tone or language, upon these stampeded men to stop. Whilst promptly aiding Hagner to bring the fugitives to a halt, I forgot the dead Mexican, and the whole train of thought connected with the corpse.

When something like order was restored on the hillside I learned from Lieutenant Hagner that he had been detailed to take one of our heavy guns up the hill to the battery. A regiment of Volunteers had been placed at his disposal to man the drag-ropes. Their arms had been left at the foot of the hill. On finding his way blocked by trees, Hagner had sent to procure axes from the engineer train; and in the meantime the regiment at the drag-ropes had been permitted to lie down. Of course they went to sleep. Suddenly awakened by a false alarm that the Mexicans were upon them, they rushed down the hill to get their arms. Hagner soon procured the required axes and the gun was delivered at the battery in good time.

At daylight I was again at the battery. A slight epaulment had been finished for three pieces of artillery, the platforms were laid, and the guns in position. I was then instructed by Captain Lee, to send ten men to report to him for special service; to order Lieutenant Foster with eight additional men, to report to him (Lee) for the purpose of opening a road for the light artillery around the foot of the heights; and I was ordered, with the rest of the company, to report to Colonel Harney, who was then in command of Persifor Smith's brigade, of Twiggs' division.

I was instructed to accompany that brigade when it moved forward to attack the enemy in position on a hill immediately in front of, and higher than that on which our battery had been constructed. The Mexicans were in strong force on the higher hill.

From our lower position we could not clearly see their lines nor determine how they were fortified. The hill they occupied was flat on top and their lines were set back from the crest of the precipitous slope which faced us. The storming brigade was ordered to halt and reform just before reaching the top of the higher hill. At this point they were below the plane of the enemy's fire, and were when lying down, perfectly protected. In this position they were ordered to rest, until the order should be given to rise, charge and carry the enemy's works by open assault.

When the line was thus formed, I requested Colonel Harney not to give the order to charge until I could go on the plateau, get a clear view of the enemy's works, and report their character. I soon informed him that their main line was not more than forty or fifty yards from where our men were then lying, that the fortifications were very incomplete, offered no effective obstacle, and we could dash over the works without a halt. I then ordered my men to drop their tools and use their muskets.

Whilst I was making this report to Colonel Harney, our attention was drawn to quite a sharp fire that the Mexicans had suddenly opened from a point close to the left flank and in the prolongation of our line. I told him I was certain there were no fortifications in that position; and I had seen no troops there. The fire increased from that direction, and Colonel Harney ordered me to proceed rapidly with my men to the left of our line, direct two companies on that flank to wheel at once, to the left; and when he gave the order to charge, these two companies and the engineers would move to the left against the force that was firing upon us from that side.

These dispositions on our left were made in a very few moments, and the order to charge was given immediately thereafter. The brigade sprang up, dashed over the short intervening space, and were almost instantly inside of the Mexican incomplete works.

After a short, but bloody, hand to hand struggle, in which bayonets, swords, pistols, and butts of muskets were freely used, the Mexicans retreated in great disorder. The troops that had been faced to the left just before the order to charge was given, immediately found themselves in the midst of a detachment of Mexicans, in a nest of surface quarry holes which gave them protection from distant fire and effectually concealed them from view until we were among them. The struggle here was hand to hand, and sharp for a short time. But they were driven from their quarry holes, back on their main line which gave way, and their own guns were turned upon them before they could get off the field.

Thus, Persifor Smith's brigade, under Colonel Harney, carried, and held possession of, the key-point of the battlefield of Cerro Gordo.

After the battle the various details of engineer soldiers joined in the pursuit of the enemy, were collected together at Encerro, and the company remained with Twiggs division until it reached Jalapa. At this place it was furnished by the Chief Quartermaster with the finest mule teams in the army. This gave great satisfaction to the men who had struggled so hard to get the engineer train forward, through deep sand, from Vera Cruz. To add to their elation, they had now left the "hot lands" of the coast behind them, had reached a temperate climate, 4,000 feet above the level of the sea, had escaped the dread vomito of Vera Cruz, and had participated closely in the great victory gained by Scott's army at Cerro Gordo.

From Jalapa, Worth's division led the way, the engineer company at its head. During the halt of a few days, at Perote, I procured the transfer of First Sergeant David H. Hastings, from the Third Artillery to the engineer company. He was considered one of the best sergeants in the army, and was at once, made first sergeant of the engineer company. Previous to that time we had only an acting first sergeant. The company entered Puebla with Worth's division, and on the arrival of General Scott at that place we were again ordered to report to general headquarters.

During the three months delay of the army, at Puebla, awaiting reinforcements before moving into the valley of Mexico, the regular instruction of the company—both as infantry and as engineer soldiers—was resumed. Besides the "School of the Sapper" as taught them before they left the United States, the men were now instructed, theoretically and practically, in the "School of the Miner". They were engaged too in work upon the fortifications of Puebla; and had practice in loop-holing walls, and received instruction for placing towns, villages, etc. in a state of defense. Whilst at Puebla the company received the sad news of the death of their Captain.

General Scott, in his official report of the battle of Cerro Gordo, says; "Lieutenant G. W. Smith led the engineer company as part of the storming force [under Colonel Harney], and is noticed with distinction". (Ex. Doc. No. 1, p. 263).

General Twiggs, in his official report of the same battle, states: "Lieutenant G. W. Smith, of the engineers, with his company of Sappers and Miners, joined Colonel Harney's command in the assault on the enemy's main work, and killed two men with his own hand". (Ex. Doc. No. 1, p. 278).

In Colonel Harney's official report of this battle it is stated: "Lieutenant G. W. Smith, of the engineers, with his company, rendered very efficient service in his own department, as well as in the storming of the fort". (Ex. Doc. No. 1, p. 281).


[3] Taken from my official report for the month of April, 1847. G. W. S.

[4] Colonel Joseph G. Totten. Chief Engineer, had left Vera Cruz and returned to his duties in Washington City. Major John L. Smith then became Senior Engineer with General Scott's forces.



On the 7th of August, 1847, the advance of General Scott's army, Twiggs' division, the engineer company leading, left Puebla and commenced the forward movement into the valley of Mexico. The company served with that division, until Worth's division was placed in the lead during the turning movement made by the army around Lake Chalco. In that movement the engineer company was at the head of Worth's division.

The road ran between the western border of the lake and a high range of hills which, in some places, rose from the water's edge. The road was narrow and rough; and had been obstructed by rolling immense masses of stone upon it from the almost overhanging cliffs. These obstructions were of considerable height; they completely blocked our way; and at several points ditches had been cut across the road.

General Worth directed the Light Battalion, under Colonel C. F. Smith, to advance and drive off the Mexicans who were firing upon us—ordered me to make the road passable for artillery and wagons as soon as possible—and notified me that the leading brigade would assist in that work when called upon. I immediately asked for a detail of 500 men; put them to work, at once, under the direction of the officers and men of the engineer company, and everything was progressing rapidly, when, to my surprise, Lieutenant J. C. Pemberton, aide to General Worth, came up to me and insisted that the whole character of the operations should be changed. Whilst he was elaborating his views I cut him short by asking if he had any orders for me from General Worth. In the meanwhile the latter had reached the front, without either Pemberton or I being aware of his presence. Before the aide had time to reply to my question, General Worth, in a very peremptory tone called out "Come away from there Mr. Pemberton, and let Mr. Smith alone. This is his business—not yours".

In a few hours, the road was put in such condition that, by the use of drag-ropes and men at the wheels, we were enabled to pass artillery and wagons over the obstructions; and the column moved on without further material delay.

After reaching San Augustine, and passing beyond, the forward movement, now on the main road, or causeway, leading from Acapulco to the city of Mexico, was checked by fortifications about six hundred yards in our front. These fortifications crossed the road at San Antonio, and were occupied by the enemy in large force. The afternoon of the 18th of August, was spent in reconnoitring that position.

About 3 A. M., on the 19th, I received an order to return to San Augustine with the engineer company and its train. In making our way from the head of Worth's division, along the main road, towards the rear, it was somewhat difficult to arouse the men of that division, who were sleeping on the road, and get them to clear the way for the passage of our wagons.

No explanation of the order for our return had been given. Just after the dawn of day, and before we were clear of the division, two soldiers on the side of the road, were lighting a fire for the purpose of preparing coffee. As we passed them, one said to the other: "We are not going to fight to-day: Twiggs's division is going to fight". The other of the two replied, sneeringly: "What do you know about it?" To which the first answered: "Don't you see those young engineer officers, with the engineer company and their wagons? They are going back, to be sent on another road with Twiggs's division, we are not going to fight to-day". As we passed out of hearing of the two soldiers I said to McClellan, who was riding by my side: "Did you hear that?" He answered "Yes and I consider it the handsomest compliment that could be paid to the engineer company. The private soldiers of this army understand that we are sent where the hardest work and hardest fighting are to be done—and always at the head of the leading division".

We reached San Augustine a little after sunrise, August 19. I will now quote direct from my official report of these operations.

"Orders were [at once] received, from the headquarters of the army, directing me to report to Captain R. E. Lee, of the Corps of Engineers, with the company under my command, and [I] was ordered by Captain Lee to take ten of my men, and select certain tools from the general engineer train, in addition to those carried along with the company. I turned over the command of the engineer company to Lieutenant McClellan, who, under the direction of Captain Lee, proceeded at once to commence the work on the road from San Augustine to Contreras." "In about one hour and a half, I rejoined the command with the necessary implements for [a large working force in] opening the road. Captain Lee directed me to retain the men I then had with me, and to take charge of a certain section of the road, to bring forward my wagons as rapidly as possible, and to see that the road was practicable before I passed any portion of it. At this time my company was divided into five sections, each under an engineer officer directing operations on [different portions of] the road".

AT CONTRERAS. General Scott, in his official report, says, "By three o'clock, this afternoon, [August 19th.] the advanced divisions came to a point where the new road could only be continued under the direct fire of 22 pieces of the enemy's artillery [most of them of large calibre] placed in a strong entrenched camp to oppose our operations, and surrounded by every advantage of ground, besides immense bodies of cavalry and infantry".

In my official report it is stated that; "The head of the column having halted, I reached the front in time to receive instructions from Captain Lee to halt the company, collect the scattered parties, and to examine the road inclining to the left, while he went to the right. Lieutenants McClellan and Foster had been for some hours detached. Having gone about four hundred yards, I heard just ahead sharp firing of musketry; and immediately after met Captain McClellan, of the topographical engineers, and Lieutenant McClellan, of the engineer company, returning on horseback—they had come suddenly on a strong picket, and were fired upon. Lieutenant McClellan had his horse shot under him. Information of the enemy's picket being in our vicinity was reported to General Twiggs, who ordered a regiment of rifles forward. There being several engineer officers present when the rifles came to the front, I returned to my company, which had been for a short time left without an officer. Captain Lee about this time, sent back for Captain Magruder's battery, which was conducted by Lieutenant Foster, and placed in position by Lieutenant McClellan".

"The Third Infantry was ordered to support the battery. I moved forward with this regiment, taking my company and pack mules, loaded with tools, and placed my command under such shelter as could be found on the left, near the position occupied by the Third Infantry, and in rear of the battery. Meeting with Lieutenant McClellan, I directed him still to remain with the battery, but to order Lieutenant Foster to rejoin the company. In a few moments this officer reported to me, and brought information that the troops were preparing to storm the enemy's position."

"Riley's brigade had moved in advance by our right. Leaving the mules and tools, I moved the company forward, falling in with the brigade of General [Persifor] Smith. Captain Lee being present, with his consent, I requested the General to allow the engineer company to fight in his brigade. He told me to take the head of the column, and to direct myself towards a church in a village, on the left of the enemy's battery—between it and the city. Whilst passing down the hill and crossing the ravine, the enemy were rapidly appearing [reinforcements from the direction of the city] on an eminence beyond the church. General Smith directed me to take my company as an escort, reconnoitre the village, and find out whether Colonel Riley's brigade was in the vicinity. I continued some distance beyond the church; and returned without seeing the brigade under Colonel Riley, which had, as I understood afterwards, advanced very near [the rear of] the enemy's battery. The reinforcements of the enemy upon the hill in our front were rapidly increasing. They had at this time probably ten thousand men, on the height, formed in line of battle. Towards dark Colonel Riley's brigade returned and joined the troops under the command of General Smith: too late, however, to allow time for forming the troops to attack the enemy [on the hill] in our front. Lieutenant McClellan joined me about this time in our movement on the village. Lieutenant Foster, who was on horseback, became detached with a few of the men, and did not rejoin me until after the action on the morning of the 20th."

"General Smith, very soon after dark, informed me that the enemy's main battery would be stormed, [in rear], at daylight on the morning of the 20th. This would open the road for artillery, and our communications with [the main army under] General Scott would be re-established. I received orders to hold the engineer company ready to move at 3 A. M. and to take my place on the right of the rifles. On the morning of the 20th there was considerable delay in the movement of the brigade [raw troops] under General Cadwallader, by which General Smith's brigade, now under the command of Major Dimmick, First Artillery, was detained very nearly an hour. Part of the Eleventh Regiment [Cadwallader's brigade] lost its way, caused the Voltigeurs to halt, thus throwing the brigade under Major Dimmick still further from Riley's, which had moved very soon after 3 o'clock. At the request of General Cadwallader, Major Dimmick ordered me to turn over the command of my company to the officer next in rank, and to move forward and conduct the troops that had lost their way. The whole force was by sunrise, or little after, halted in a sheltered position in rear of the enemy's battery". (Ex. Doc. No. 1, Appendix p. 67).

I reported the cause of the delay to General Smith and requested instructions to rejoin my company; but he said he desired that I should remain with him for a while. By his order, the three brigades were soon put in motion. I again asked him to permit me to rejoin my proper command. He replied "Not yet" and added: "I will soon give you instructions".

Because of a dense fog the delay in reaching the position in rear of the Mexican works was no material disadvantage. The fog began to disappear about the time I reported to General Smith. He was then on a ridge at a point, about 600 yards in rear of the Mexican works. The three brigades were passing around the extremity of that ridge, several hundred yards in rear of the General. All was quiet in the lines of the enemy. There was another ridge south of the one on which General Smith was standing, and separated from it by a deep and very narrow valley. The sides of both ridges were precipitous; their tops sloped gently to the enemy's line.

General Smith informed me that Riley's brigade would pass partly beyond the extremity of the second ridge; then face to the left, and attack a strong Mexican detachment which was in position on that ridge, several hundred yards in rear of their works. Riley was ordered to drive that detachment and pursue it closely into the Mexican main lines. Cadwallader's brigade would go on when Riley faced to the left; and, as soon as he passed Riley, Cadwallader would also face to the left and come into action on Riley's right. Smith's own brigade would turn to the left before reaching the extremity of the second ridge. The Third Infantry and First Artillery would advance in the deep valley between the two ridges; whilst the Rifle Regiment, with the engineer company leading, would ascend the steep slope of the second ridge, and get into position on the flank, or rear, of the Mexican detachment which Riley was to attack in front. In the meantime the head of Smith's brigade had come within view, near the foot of the steep slope of the second ridge, and was moving towards the Mexican main line.

General Smith pointed out to me the route to be taken to reach the top of the second ridge; and ordered that the engineer company and rifles should bear to the right, and on getting near the Mexican detachment, remain concealed, and quiet, until Riley's brigade became well engaged; then join in the attack and pursuit of that detachment.

With these specific instructions, I was ordered to rejoin my company; and Lieutenant Beauregard was directed to take general charge of the movements of Smith's brigade. When Beauregard and I reached the top of the second ridge we found we were 50 yards, or less, in rear of the Mexican detachment, which was facing Riley. All was quiet. In a very few moments Riley's fire commenced.

The engineer company, followed by the rifle regiment was then forming in line, under cover, in rear of the Mexican detachment, whose attention was concentrated on Riley, in their front. We were between that detachment and the Mexican works. A small portion only of the Rifle Regiment was in line, when the firing with Riley became very severe, and the order was given for the engineer company and rifles to rise and fire into the backs of the enemy. That fire was very destructive. The Mexicans were astounded; faced squarely about, and in a moment precipitately retreated.

In my official report it is stated that: "Colonel Riley's advance became engaged with a very strong picket, some 300 yards or more from the rear of the [enemy's] battery, near the crest of the ridge; the engineers and rifles came up at once in position to take the picket in rear, delivered a deadly volley within 50 yards, cheered and rushed on. The enemy's force fled; the head of our column crossed the line of their retreat, which brought the right of the column [engineer company and rifles] conducted by Lieutenant Beauregard, in contact with the Seventh Infantry, which formed the left of Colonel Riley's brigade. I went into the enemy's battery with the colors of the Seventh Infantry, my company immediately behind me. The enemy, or at least a portion of them, stood to their guns well, and delivered a fire of grape into our troops when the head of the column was within 25 yards of their pieces. Our troops followed the retreating enemy without halting until they were beyond the reach of our musketry. Lieutenant Beauregard then strongly advised that the troops be halted and formed. A short time afterwards General Twiggs, came up. The pursuit was resumed. At San Angel we had an unimportant skirmish". (Ex. Doc. No. 1, Appendix, p. 68).

The following additional quotations from my official report are not deemed irrelevant:

"In the action of the morning of the 20th—the battle of Contreras—my men acted with great gallantry; their promptness in obeying every order, and the effect with which they used their muskets, entitle them all to the highest praise. In my report to the chief engineer in the field, I shall make special mention of all who, to my knowledge, particularly distinguished themselves. I will mention here, First Sergeant D. H. Hastings, of the engineer company, who, by his gallant conduct and soldiery bearing, in this action, richly deserves promotion to the rank of commissioned officer in the army. Sergeant Hastings was slightly wounded by my side in the battery. Sergeant [S. H.] Starr attracted my particular attention by his gallant and efficient conduct. Sergeant Starr was the ranking non-commissioned officer with the detachment of the engineer company which accompanied Colonel Harney's command at the battle of Cerro Gordo. I would recommend him for promotion [to the grade of commissioned officer in the army]."

"Artificer W. H. Bartlett attracted my particular attention by [his] cool and steady gallantry, Artificer A. S. Read shot the color bearer of the Twelfth Regiment of artillery, and secured the color."

"Lieutenant Foster was at this time, as I have before remarked, detached with a portion of the company; and, at the head of his men, led the Ninth and Twelfth Regiments of Infantry in their attack on the flank of the retreating column at Contreras."

"Lieutenant McClellan, frequently detached, and several times in command of the engineer company, is entitled to the highest praise for his cool and daring gallantry, on all occasions, in the actions of both the 19th and 20th." (Ex. Doc. No. 1, Appendix, p. 69.)

In the pursuit, we passed through the village of San Angel; and near that place, were again halted. During that halt, I noticed a large, high building, in an extensive open field, five or six hundred yards to the North. I was satisfied that from the top of that building, with a powerful field glass, which was a portion of the engineer company equipment, I would be able to get a good view of the level country for miles around, and obtain quite definite knowledge of the positions and movements of the main Mexican forces.

I communicated my wishes to Major Loring; and asked him if he felt authorized to support the engineer company, with the Rifle Regiment, in a close reconnaissance of the building I pointed out. He laughingly replied: "I have been directed by General Smith to follow you and your company—of course I will go with you".

We had not proceeded more than two hundred yards towards the building when we were overtaken by Lieutenant Van Dorn, Aide to General Smith, who brought an order requiring the Rifle Regiment and the engineer company to return to the head of the column on the road. I told Van Dorn the purpose I had in view, asked him to explain the matter to General Smith, and expressed my conviction that he would approve the movement, when he knew its object. Van Dorn replied: "General Smith was very peremptory. I am directed to see that you and Major Loring, with your respective commands, return at once". On our way back, Van Dorn said that General Pillow had reached the front and taken control; and his belief was that General Pillow had ordered General Smith to recall the engineer company and the Rifle Regiment. A short time thereafter we moved from San Angel to Coyoacan, where the head of the column again halted; and was soon joined by General Scott.

There is good reason to believe that observations, which could easily have been made from the roof of the high building above referred to, would have resulted in obtaining such information in regard to the Mexican position at the Convent of Churubusco and at the tete-de-pont, as would have enabled General Scott to complete the rout of the Mexican Army without incurring the additional loss of nearly one thousand men in killed and wounded.

AT CHURUBUSCO. The following quotations are taken from my official report:

"Between 12 and 1 o'clock, P. M., [August 20, 1847] I received orders to move, from the village of [Coyoacan] immediately after the rifle regiment, on a road intersecting the road from San Antonio to Mexico, in order to cut off the enemy already retreating from San Antonio.

"I had not gone two hundred yards when I received orders to countermarch and move on another route intersecting the road from San Antonio to the city nearer to Mexico. [The latter road led nearly due east, parallel to the front of the earthworks at the Convent, distant from those works about 250 yards]. The regiment of riflemen continued on the road on which I first started. [This road led south-east from Coyoacan]. The company took its place [again] at the head of the column [Twiggs's division]. The column was halted by General Twiggs, and I was directed by him to send an officer in advance to see the position of a battery reported to be not far in front. Lieutenant McClellan was sent on one road; and Lieutenant Stevens of the engineers, was directed by General Twiggs, to take another. Both officers soon returned and reported a battery in front of a convent, the roof and steeples of which were in plain view of the head of the column and within 700 yards. The roof was crowded with troops; the battery was masked by intervening trees and corn-fields. General Twiggs then directed these officers to make a closer reconnaissance and ordered my company as an escort. Having proceeded 500 yards, we saw [Mexican] troops on our right, left, and in front. A lancer was taken prisoner. Lieutenant Stevens directed me to take the prisoner to the general and request an additional escort of two companies. We were at this time about 300 yards from the battery, but it was still almost masked from view. I delivered the prisoner and the message to General Twiggs, and returned at once to my company which I had left in charge of Lieutenant Foster. Lieutenant Stevens joined General Twiggs whilst I was with him. When I resumed command of the company, Lieutenant McClellan reported to me that our troops were already engaged in our front; having, apparently, turned the battery and convent by our right. One of General Twiggs's staff, [Lieutenant W. T. H. Brooks, A. A. Adjutant General, Twiggs's division,] was present and informed us that the rifles with Captain Lee of the engineers, were reconnoitring the same works, and had gone to our right considerably farther from the battery than we then were. We all concurred in opinion that the rifles were engaged with a vastly superior force. There was at this time no firing of artillery. I ordered Lieutenant McClellan to report the result of his observations to General Twiggs. He did so, and on the recommendation of Lieutenants Stevens and McClellan, in which I concurred, the First Regiment of Artillery was ordered to support the rifles. The firing on the right increased; it was evident that several thousands of the enemy were pouring a heavy musketry fire into our troops on the right. The tops of the convent and the surrounding walls were lined with troops; the roof was literally covered. Lieutenant Stevens was of opinion that a few rounds of grape would disperse these masses and relieve our troops already engaged [on the right] from a destructive plunging fire. He went back to the general, leaving myself the senior engineer then in front of the [convent] battery. The fire had now become very brisk upon my [reconnoitring] party; having placed the company under the best shelter at hand, with Lieutenant Foster I proceeded to examine the works to determine the number, character and position of the pieces of artillery. Nothing heavier than a 4 or 6-pounder had yet been fired." (Ex. Doc. No. 1, Appendix, p. 69.)

In my official report it is further stated that: "The troops had become engaged in our front within ten minutes after a reconnaissance had been ordered by General Twiggs, and before the officer whom I was escorting had been able to make a single observation".

In my official copy of that report, I find the following sentence, which is not in the printed report:

"Deeply do I regret that the attack, in advance of the reconnoitring party, precipitated the attack on our side, and involved us in action against we knew not what".

The force which became engaged, far to our right—before the reconnaissance, supported by the engineer company, fairly commenced, was the advance of Worth's division pursuing the Mexicans who had abandoned their strong works at San Antonio.

Captain James L. Mason, engineer of Worth's division, says, in his official report, that the works attacked by that division, and "so gallantly stormed, had not been reconnoitred".

The engineers in front of the convent, being informed that the rifles with Captain Lee had gone to our right considerably farther from the battery, advised that the rifles be supported by an additional regiment. The same engineers advised that one gun be sent to the front to drive the Mexicans from the roof of the convent, and thus relieve our troops on the right from a destructive plunging fire.

The additional escort of two companies, asked for by the reconnoitring engineers, had not come to the front. After Lieutenant Stevens had gone back to General Twiggs, to have one gun with a few rounds of proper ammunition sent forward for the purpose of clearing the roof of the convent, the firing in our front, on the San Antonio road, had materially increased; and the fire from the convent, upon the engineer company, was becoming troublesome. There had been, to me, unexpected delay in bringing the one gun forward; and I determined, as already stated, to place the men under the best shelter at hand, and endeavor to make, in person, a closer examination of the works.

Resuming quotations from my official report—it is therein stated:

"At this time the First Artillery came up to where I was. The lamented and gallant Burke, at the head of the leading company, asked which direction they were to take. I inquired what were his orders. He said that the regiment was ordered to support the Rifles. I pointed to the smoke, which was all we could see by which to determine the position of our troops engaged in a corn-field on our right; told him that they reached their present place by moving farther to the rear, out of range of the works; and remarked to him that the fire through which he would have to pass in the direction he was going was very severe. He replied that they were ordered to move by that road to support the Rifles. The First Artillery filed by and soon encountered, at a distance of 150 yards from the enemy, the heaviest fire of artillery and musketry, followed almost immediately after [by that] brought to bear upon Taylor's battery, which had been ordered to fire upon the convent; and, in selecting a place suitable for managing the guns, had most unfortunately been placed, entirely exposed, directly in front of a well constructed battery with heavy pieces firing in embrasure."

"As the First Artillery filed by me, I ordered my company to be formed, determined to go on with the reconnaissance; and if possible, send back to the general, [Twiggs,] accurate information in reference to the works of the enemy and the position of our own troops, which at that time I could not understand. In moving forward, I was opposite the centre of the [First] Artillery which inclined more to the left, toward the battery, whilst I kept nearer the [principal road leading almost due east from Coyoacan]. The ground was level, but some shelter was afforded to small bodies of men, by the ditches, maguey plant, etc. I ordered my men to separate, to shelter themselves as much as possible, [and] to keep within supporting distance of me. I proceeded about two hundred yards. I ordered every man to shelter himself in a small ditch which was fortunately near us; immediately after I heard the fire of Taylor's battery passing directly over my head. [When that fire commenced we were] in the corn-field, about half-way between Taylor's battery and the enemy. Requiring my command to lie close, with Lieutenant Foster, I made my way to an old ruined wall in the open space east of the corn-field, and from that position sent Lieutenant Foster to General Twiggs to report the extent of the line engaged on the right, that we were directly in front of the works [which were now in plain view], and that, in my opinion, the whole force under General Twiggs's command should turn the enemy's position by our left. Another battery [of the enemy] was seen distinctly to our right and far in rear of the Churubusco battery, apparently enfilading our line engaged on the right. General Twiggs had already sent Colonel Riley's brigade to turn the position by our left, and take the battery by the gorge. When Lieutenant Foster returned, I withdrew the company to a position of more safety, and joined General Smith and Lieutenant Stevens, who were near the place from which I started with the First Artillery. I remained there [under General Smith's order] until after the action." (Ex. Doc. No. 1, Appendix, pp. 70-71.)

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