Saturday, May 8, 2021

Battle of Palo Alto 175 -- May 8, 2021


Colmbian Fountain, 25-May-1846

175 years ago today, on 08-May-1846, forces of the United States and the Centralist Republic of Mexico met in the Battle of Palo Alto, the first major battle of the Mexican War, also called the Mexican-American War. General Zachary Taylor's outnumbered Army of Occupation defeated the Mexican Army of the North.

From the N. O. Bulletin, Extra, May 17.

The United States steamer Colonel Harney arrived 2 1/2 o'clock this morning, bringing as prisoners of war the Mexican General Vega, and Lieutenants Prada and Velez. Lieut. Colonel Martines, aid-de-camp to Gen. Vega, accompanied his chief voluntarily.

Though the principal facts by this arrival are in the newspapers of this morning, the subjoined letter, from a highly intelligent gentleman on the ground, gives so clear, circumstantial, and satisfactory statement of events since Gen. Taylor's departure from Point Isabel on the 7th, that we are induced to publish it. The accounts are brilliant beyond the most sanguine expectations; the triumph of American arms is complete; a vastly superior force is routed through a series of actions as brilliant as any on record, displaying in our brave handful of troops, and their illustrious commander, the very highest points of military courage, skill, and knowledge.

Correspondence of the N. O. Bulletin
Point Isabel, May 12, 1846

By the last departure I wrote you briefly of the operations of the army up to that time -- of the bombardment of the fort opposite Matamoras, and the movement of Gen. Taylor with the main body to this place, for the purpose of strengthening its defences. Having effected this, he marched without waiting for reinforcements, on the evening of the 7th, and on the 8th at 2 o'clock, found the enemy in position, in front of a chaprrel (chaparral - JT), which lies opposite to the timber of a stream called Palo Alto.

The train was closed up, the troops filled their canteens, and Gen. Tavlor promptly formed his line of battle as follows: on the right was Ringgold's battery, 5th and 3d infantry; then two eighteen pounders; then the artillery battalion. The left was composed of the 4th and 8th infantry, and Duncan's battery. A daring reconnaissance by Capt. J. E. Blake, showed the enemy's line to be of nearly twice the strength of ours, with heavy reserves in the chaparrel (chaparral - JT). The Mexicans opened the action with their artillery, the range of which was hardly great enough to reach our line, which was moving slowly forward, and some got into the thickets of their shot and halted. Their fire was returned from all our batteries, and I venture to say that no field of battle ever displayed such skill, or rapidity of fire and evolution.

The first and only important movement attempted by the enemy, was a detachment of their cavalry to make a detour around a clump of chaparrel on our right, and attack the train. Capt. Walker, of the Texas Rangers, promptly reported this, and the 5th Infantry was detached to meet it, which it did handsomely, receiving the lancers in square, and driving them by a well delivered volley. The cavalry then pushed on again for the train, and found the 3d Infantry advancing in columns of divisions upon them. They then retired, and as they repassed the 5th, they received a fire from Lieut. Ridgely's two pieces, which had arrived at the nick of time. Two field pieces which were following the enemy's cavalry, were also driven back with them.

Meanwhile the enemy's left was riddled by the eighteen pounders, which slowly advanced up the road -- Duncan's battery on the left neglecting the enemy's guns, threw their fire into the Mexican infantry, and swept whole ranks. The 8th Infantry on the left suffered severely from the enemy's fire. The grass was set on fire at the end of an hour's cannonading, and obscured the enemy's position completely, and an interval of three quarters of an hour occurred. During this period our right, now resting on the eighteen pounders, advanced along the wood, to the point originally occupied by the Mexican left, and when the smoke had cleared away sufficiently to show the enemy, the fire was resumed with increased rapidity and execution. Duncan divided his battery on the left, giving a section to Lieut. Roland, to operate in front, and with the other he advanced beyond the burning pass (which was three feet high, and the flames rolled ten feet in the strong breeze,) and seized the prolongation of the enemy's right, enfilading that flank completely. Night found the two armies in this position.

On the 9th, the general packed the heavy train, collected the enemy's wounded in hospital, buried their dead, arranged our own wounded, (among whom we have to regret the sudden death of Maj. Ringgold, and probably Capt. Page,) and moved on in pursuit of the enemy on the Matamoras road. They had taken post in the chapparrel the second time, occupying the bed of a stream called Resca de Palma, with their artillery on the road at the crossing. I have no time for details of this affair. The General brought up his troops by battalions and posted them, with brief orders to find the enemy with the bayonet, and placed the artillery where they could act in the road.

The dragoons were held in reserve, and as soon as the advance of our line had uncovered the Mexican batteries, Gen. Taylor told Capt. May that his time had come: " Here's the enemy's battery, sir, take it, nolensu volens (Whether the enemy is willing or unwilling - JT)." May dashed upon it with his squadron, and lost one third of it but he cleared the battery and captured its commander, Gen. Vega, in the act of raising a port-fire to fire a piece himself. May took his sword, and brought the General off. The enemy remanned the guns, and lost them a second time to the 5th infantry. Capt. Barbour, of the 3d infantry, with his single company and a few men from the 5th, who joined him in the chapparrel, threw his back against a clump of bushes and received and gallantly repelled a charge of cavalry. Capt. Duncan, with his battery, did terrible execution -- he is a most promising officer. Lieut. Ridgeley was also among the foremost. In truth, it was a series of brilliant skirmishes and heavy shocks, in which 1,500 fighting men met 6,000 hand to hand -- overwhelmed them with the precision of their vollies, and the steady coolness of the bayonet, and drove them from the field with the loss of their artillery, baggage, pack mules, fixed ammunition, and near 20,000 stands of muskets.

The fort, meanwhile, had been summoned, with true Mexican duplicity, and told that Taylor was flying. The Matamoras newspapers and official bulletins called him a cowardly tailor. In answer to the summons, the officers plunged their swords into the parapet, and replied "to the hilt." Up to the evening of the 9lh, 1500 shells, and 3000 shot had been thrown, and the only loss was that of the brave commander, Major Brown, and one serjeant (sergeant - JT), and one private killed, and 19 wounded.

The General returns to the army to-night, and will cross the river to-morrow or next day. The fort will be increased in guns, and especially provided with mortars, which will bring the town to terms at once. The navy will co-operate at the mouth of the river, and steamboats begin to carry supplies by that route. Gen. Taylor has just given Gen. Vega a latter to Gen. Gaines, and a letter of credit on his factor. -- The officers here and in the main body vied with their commander in delicate attentions to a brave and accomplished enemy, who won their admiration on the field, and was taken like a soldier in full harness, and fighting gallantly to the last. Our loss is about 30 killed and 140 wounded. In haste,
H. M.

Mexican loss at Palo Alto, set down by themselves, at 450 ; at Resacu de la Palma, 2,000 missing. Since the batlle, our dragoons have been exchanged, grade for grade; and the Mexican wounded sent over to Matamoras. By the next arrival, you will hear of the fall of the town, and probably an offer from them to receive Mr. Slidell in any capacity.

It ought to be mentioned that some of our regiments are full, and two of them only have about 300. Many instances occurred of men handing their canteens to the wounded Mexicans, and turning from them to fire upon others. There was not a single occurrence of cruelty towards the enemy. The morale of the army is at its highest. It can now accomplish anything, and they would die for a commander who does not ask-them to go where he is not willing to lead, and in whose judgment they fully confide.

The steamers Galveston and Augusta arrived at Brazos St. Jago, on the 12th, and were discharging when the Col. Harney left.

The steam schooner James Cage, left Brazos St. Jago in company with the Col. Harney, with despatches for Galveston ; consequently the next arrival to be looked for will be the steam ship Galveston.

The officers killed and wounded on the American side are as follows :

Major Ringgold, wounded, (since dead.) Capt. Page, wounded. Lieut. Luther, wounded.
May 12th.
Lieut. Inge, 2d dragoons, killed. Lieut. Cochran, 4th Lieut. Shadburne, 8th infantry, do. Lieut Col. M'Intosh, wounded. Lieut. Col. Payne, do. Capt. Montgomery, do. Capt. Hooe. do. Lieut. Gates, do. Lieut. Seldon, do. Lieut. M'Clure, do. Lieut. Burkank, do. Lieut. Jordan, do. Lieut. Fowler, do.

Number of non-commissioned officers and privates, not known.

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