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Chapter 3: in Mexico.

The war of the United States against Mexico, beginning with the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma in Western Texas, had rolled its waves, under General Zachary Taylor, up the Rio Grande, and into the province of New Leon. Monterey was occupied after a sanguinary victory, and the advanced forces had proceeded as far as Saltillo. But it was apparent, at the end of 1846, that successes on this line of operations would never bring peace, because it could only lead the arms of the United States aside from the heart of their enemy's strength. To reach the capital, a circuitous inland march would have been necessary; while the overpowering navy of the Union, if once Vera Cruz were occupied, would enable them to base upon the sea-coast a direct and short line of advance, by the great National Road. General Winfield Scott, who had been sent out as commander-in-chief of the whole forces, was therefore allowed to carry out his plan for organizing a powerful land and naval force against Vera Cruz, early in the year 1847. Most of the regular regiments were withdrawn from the command of General Taylor, and concentrated, during the month of February, at the seaport of Tampico, about two hundred and thirty miles north of Vera Cruz, where General Scott was also assembling his reinforcements. Young Jackson's company of heavy artillery formed a part of the [42] latter. On the 24th of February, the commanding general commenced the assembling of his forces at Lobos Island, a convenient intermediate point, offering a roadstead for his numerous ships unmolested by his enemies, a little north of Vera Cruz. On the 9th of March, 13,500 land forces were disembarked in one day from the fleet, upon the open beach near the city, without a single casualty. Young Jackson often referred to this as a spectacle more grand and animating than man is often permittel to witness. The brilliant array proceeded to the land under a cloudless sky, and in perfect order, in the innumerable boats of the squadron, with colors displayed, martial music, and the enthusiastic shouts of the soldiers, and by sunset the whole force was paraded on shore, in order of battle. The garrison of about four thousand partially organized troops were in no condition to obstruct their advance. On March 13th, the city was formally invested, and on the 29th it capitulated, with all the garrison, after a heavy bombardment. In this service Jackson, who had on March 3d received the commission of second-lieutenant, bore his part, but no occasion for special distinction occurred. Meantime President Santa Anna, whose activity and genius deserved greater success than he was fated to achieve, assembled a force of about twenty thousand men in the province of San Luis Potosi, between the three points of Saltillo, Vera Cruz, and the capital, proposing from this central position to strike his assailants in succession. His first attack was upon General Taylor, who had been left at the first place of the three, with a little more than five thousand men, of whom nearly all were volunteers levied since the beginning of the war. The result was the battle of Buena Vista, in which, on the 23d of February, that small force inflicted a bloody repulse upon the Mexicans.

Santa Anna, having failed in this well-conceived attempt, [43] reorganized and recruited his forces, to resist the advance of the Americans (now masters of Vera Cruz) on the capital. General Scott having set out for the interior on April 12th, he prepared himself for battle on the strong position of Cerro Gordo, a few miles east of Jalapa, crowning a line of precipitous hills with barricades and field-works ranging along, and commanding the great highway. After a reconnoissance effected by Captain Robert E. Lee of the Engineers (in which Lieut.-Col. Joseph E. Johnston of the cavalry received a severe wound), General Scott determined to adopt a plan of assault suggested by the former officer. This was to threaten the whole front of the enemy, but to direct the main attack against a hill at the western extremity of his position; because this post, if once seized by the Americans, commanded the only line of retreat for the discomfited Mexicans, as completely as, they supposed, their position commanded the great road. This vital attack was confided to the veteran division of Twiggs, powerfully supported by artillery, the whole being brought in front of the place to be assailed by an exceedingly rough and circuitous route, planned by Lee. The attack was made April 18th, and was completely successful. The Mexican army almost ceased to exist. It lost all its ordnance and several thousand prisoners; and the victory opened to Scott the town of Jalapa, the powerful fortress of Perote, and the city of La Puebla, within eighty-five miles of the capital.

It was in this assault that Captain John Bankhead Magruder, commanding a light field-battery, won brilliant distinction. But in such operations heavy artillery could only play a secondary part. The place of second-lieutenant in Magruder's battery was then to be filled, and most young officers shrank from it, because the commander was considered as an exacting disciplinarian, and the service of that arm was full of hardship and [44] exposure to danger. But the latter reason was the very one which commended it to Jackson. He applied for, and quickly obtained, a transfer to it; and this change marks the beginning of his career of distinction. The old artillery, cumbersome in moving and, slow in working, was usually posted at some permanent point, and must needs remain there for the day. If the tide of battle flowed towards it, it might render important service; if away from it, it was condemned to inactivity, and a partial disaster could compel its surrender. But the rapid manceuvring of the light artillery in action was then a new feature in American warfare. Its brilliant results at Palo Alto, at Resaca de la Palma, at Buena Vista, had delighted General Taylor, and electrified the country. Jackson foresaw that this arm of warfare was henceforth destined to be used in every battle, and to be always thrust forward to the post of danger and of honor. To a soul thirsting, like his, for distinction, this was motive enough for preferring it. And he said that, determined as he was to do his whole duty, and to consecrate himself wholly to his functions as a soldier, he had no fears of being unable to satisfy the rigidity of its captain. In this he was not disappointed; he speedily became one of his favorite officers.

General Scott, after remaining at La Puebla to rearrange and recruit his force, moved upon the city of Mexico with about eleven thousand men, August 7, 1847. President Santa Anna, meantime, had collected another powerful army, with abundant munitions of war, and had created every practicable obstacle to the approach of the city by the direct road. When the invader reached the mountain ridge of El Peixon, which assists to enclose the great basin in the centre of which the city stands, he found it so well fortified, that it was manifest the attempt to force his way through its defiles, would cost him a large part of his army. Here the ingenuity of his engineers again came to [45] his aid. They showed him that by turning to the left, a way might be opened, practicable for artillery, by virtue of toil and hardihood, across a country scored with rugged volcanic ravines, to the southwest side of the city. This rendered the laborious defences of the Mexicans useless. By August 19, this arduous march was effected, and the Headquarters of the army were advanced to the village of San Augustin, about eight miles to the southwest of the city. No serious opposition was encountered, because the Mexican generals had supposed that the impracticable ground would be a sufficient defence of their flank.

But Santa Anna hastened to repair his omission, and again placed himself between the Americans and his capital, in a line of defences, which, if less elaborate than those in its front, was still formidable. Before San Augustin was the village of San Antonio, which he entrenched and occupied; at a considerable distance to tie west of it he crowned an insulated hill at Contreras, with a strong detachment of infantry and artillery, and, in the rear of this post, he placed his heaviest force at the little village of Cherubusco, which he had also strengthened with field-works. A force at least three times as large as the American, with a hundred cannon, thus awaited their attack in position of their own selecting. But Santa Anna had committed the fatal blunder of choosing the two points which were the keys of his whole front, San Antonio and Contreras, so far apart, that they could not efficiently support each other. After heavy skirmishing on the 19th of August, General Scott turned the hill of Contreras by a night march, and at dawn, on the 20th, assailed it from the rear, either capturing or dispersing its five thousand defenders in a combat of a few minutes' duration, and seizing all their cannon. The Mexican force at San An tonio now found their communications violently threatened, and could only save themselves by a hasty retreat upon Chernbusco, [46] pressed by an active enemy. He advanced immediately to the attack of this last position; and as may be easily imagined, found its defenders assembled there in so confused a manner, as to be ill prepared for a firm resistance. After a sanguinary conflict of several hours, the village and entrenchments were carried, and the enemy retired nearer the city. To Magruder's battery was assigned an important post in front of the enemy's works, at the distance of nine hundred yards. Before long, his first lieutenant, Mr. Johnstone, was killed, and Jackson thus became next in command to the captain, and took charge of a section, or half of the battery; which he so handled, as to win from Magruder, the following commendation in his report:--“In a few moments, Lieutenant Jackson, commanding the second section of the battery, who had opened fire upon the enemy's works from a position on the right, hearing our fire still further in front, advanced in handsome style, and being assigned by me to the post so gallantly filled by Lieutenant Johnstone, kept up the fire with great briskness and effect. His conduct was equally conspicuous during the whole day, and I cannot too highly commend him to the Major-General's favorable consideration.”

In reward for his gallantry this day, he was honored with the brevet rank of captain of artillery; and his actual rank in the company was henceforth that of first lieutenant. On the 8th of September, a fierce combat was fought at a point still nearer the city, called Molino del Rey, in which the Americans were again victorious. In this affair, Jackson had no other part than to protect the flank of the force engaged, from the insults of the Mexican cavalry, which he accomplished by a few welldirected shots.

One more obstacle remained between the victors and their prize; but this was the most formidable of all. The [47] Castle of Chapultepec, at first perhaps a monastery, was built upon an insulated and lofty hill overlooking the plain which extended up to the gates of the city, and commanding both the causeways by which the Americans aimed to approach them. The level country about the base of the mount was covered in part with corn, and in part with groves, and intersected with deep ditches, formed by the farmers for drainage and irrigation, impassable for artillery, and nearly so for infantry. As a previous examination of these was made impossible by swarms of sharpshooters, they only disclosed themselves to the advancing columns, when they arrived upon their brinks, shrouded as they were by the luxuriant grain, or by hedges of the thorny cactus. The castle was manned with a garrison, and around its base the remains of the Mexican army was posted in entrenchments, with batteries of cannon prepared to sweep every road which approached. The Americans, cut off at the time from their distant ships, found that the urgent want of supplies, which the city alone could furnish them by its surrender, compelled them to seek the reduction of this fort by some more speedy means than a regular siege. It was determined to storm it by several detachments, directed against its different sides, on the morning of September 13th. Major-General Pillow, to whom Magruder's battery was assigned, was directed to attack its west side, while Worth, the most skilful of Scott's lieutenants, was to march by a circuit beyond Pillow, and assail the north. Magruder was ordered by his general to divide his battery, and send one section forward, under Jackson, towards the northwest angle, while he assailed another part. Two regiments of infantry, under Colonel Tronsdale, accompanied the former section.. The columns of attack advanced to the charge; the artillery, at every practicable point, striving to aid their approach by pouring a storm of shot upon the Mexican batteries. When [48] the detachment, which Magruder supported with the section under his immediate command, had advanced so near the enemy that his fire was dangerous to his own friends, he proceeded to the front to join Jackson. The latter had been pushed forward by Colonel Tronsdale, under whose immediate orders the plan of the battle placed him, until he found himself unexpectedly in the presence of a strong battery of the enemy, at so short a range, that, in a few moments, the larger portion of his horses was killed, and his men either struck down, or driven from their guns by a storm of grape-shot; while about seventy of the infantry were holding a precarious tenure of their ground in his rear. Worth was just completing his detour, and bringing his veterans into connection with this party, when perceiving the desperate position of Jackson's guns, he sent him word to retire. He replied that it was now more dangerous to withdraw his pieces than to hold his position; and that if they would send him fifty veterans, he would rather attempt the capture of the battery which had so crippled his. Magruder then dashed forward, losing his horse by a fatal shot as he approached him, and found that he had lifted a single gun across a deep ditch by hand to a position where it could be served with effect; and this he was rapidly loading and firing, with the sole assistance of a sergeant; while the remainder of his men were either killed, wounded, or crouching in the ditch. Another piece was speedily brought over, and in a few moments, the enemy was driven from his battery by the rapid and unerring fire of Jackson and Magruder.

By this time the storming parties had pierced the castle on two sides, and the Mexicans were in full retreat upon the city. Orders had been given to the artillery that when this juncture arrived, they must pursue rapidly and scatter the disordered columns of the retreating foe. The horses of Jackson guns [49] were nearly all slaughtered; those of his caissons, being farther in the rear, had partially escaped. To disengage the dead animals from their harness and replace them with the others would have consumed many minutes. The eager spirit of Jackson suggested the attachment of his guns to the limbers of his ammunition-boxes instead of their own, and the leaving of the remaining caissons on the ground. Thus, in an instant, his section was thundering after the discomfited Mexicans towards the gates of the city. The next morning, September 14th, two of those gates on the southwestern side were forced, the American army entered, and after some partial combats with the riflemen in the houses and upon the roofs, quelled all opposition and took possession of the capital.

Jackson had displayed qualities which could not fail to draw the eyes of his commanders upon him. The outline which has been given of his share in the battles, is sustained by the following passages from the official reports of the Commander-in-Chief, Generals Pillow and Worth, and his own captain. The first says:--

“To the north, and at the base of the mound (Chapultepec), inaccessible on that side, the 11th Infantry, under Lieut.-Colonel Herbert, and the 14th under Colonel Tronsdale, and Captain Magruder's field-battery, 1st Artillery (one section advanced under Lieutenant Jackson), all of Pillow's division, had at the same time some spirited affairs against superior numbers, driving the enemy from a battery in the road, and capturing a gun. In these, the officers and corps named gained merited praise. Having turned the forest on the west, and arriving opposite to the north centre of Chapultepec, Worth came up with the troops in the road under Colonel Tronsdale, and aided, by a flank movement of a part of Garland's brigade, in taking the [50] one-gun breastwork, then under fire of Lieutenant Jackson's section of Magruder's battery.”

General Pillow says:--

Colonel Tronsdale's command, consisting of the 11th and 14th Regiments of Infantry, and Magruder's field-battery, engaged a battery and large force in the road, immediately on the west of Chapultepec. The advanced section of the battery, under command of the brave Lieutenant Jackson, was dreadfully cut up, and almost disabled. Though the command of Colonel Tronsdale sustained a severe loss, still he drove the enemy from his battery, and turned his guns upon his retreating forces. Captain Magruder's battery, one section of which was served with great gallantry by himself, and the other by his brave Lieutenant Jackson, in the face of a galling fire from the enemy's position, did invaluable service preparatory to the general assault.

General Worth, though commanding a different division of troops, gives the following tribute:--

After advancing some four hundred yards, we came to a battery which had been assailed by a portion of Magruder's field-guns, particularly the section under the gallant Jackson, who, although he had lost most of his horses and many of his men, continued chivalrously at his post, combating with noble courage.

And Magruder thus recommends him for promotion:--

I beg leave to call the attention of the Major-General commanding the division to the conduct of Lieutenant Jackson of the 1st Artillery. If devotion, industry, talent, and gallantry are the highest qualities of a soldier, then is he entitled to the distinction which their possession confers. I have been ably seconded in all the operations of the battery by him; and upon this occasion, when circumstances placed him in command fer a [51] short time of an independent section, he proved himself eminently worthy of it.

It is a singular coincidence, that this report of Captain Magruder was addressed immediately to one who has since had disastrous occasion to verify its correctness. It was received by Captain Joe Hooker, then acting as adjutant to General Pillow, afterwards a Major-General in the Federal army, and Commander at Chancellorsville.

For his conduct in the battle of Chapultepec, Jackson received the brevet rank of Major. To this he had risen, purely by the force of his merit, within seven months, from the insignificant position of brevet second lieutenant. No other officer in the whole army in Mexico was promoted so often for meritorious conduct, or made so great a stride in rank. If the conduct which has been detailed be examined, it will be found to contain every evidence of bravery, thirst for distinction, coolness, and military talent. We see the young Lieutenant, the moment the fall of his immediate superior placed him in command of a detachment at Churubusco, awaiting no orders, but guided by the sound of his Captain's guns on his left, emulously pressing forward towards the enemy. At Chapultepec he is assigned to the post of honor and danger, and advances with alacrity. When Colonel Tronsdale, to whom he owed merely a momentary subordination, thrust him into a position almost desperate, and he was well-nigh deserted by his men, he refused to retire without orders. Comprehending all the advantages and perils of his situation at once, he proposed rather to exercise the further audacity of storming the battery before him, than to attempt a disastrous retreat exposed to its fire. And when the arrival of reinforcements relieved him of his danger, he displayed his ready resource in pursuing the defeated foe, where any other officer would have [52] felt fully justified, in busying himself only with carrying the shattered remains of his command to the rear.

Many years after, when his pupils were asking him the details of the scene, he modestly described it; and one of them exclaimed in astonishment, “Major, why did you not run, when your command was thus disabled?” He answered with a quiet smile, “I was not ordered to do so. If I had been ordered to run, I should have done so. But I was directed to hold my position, and I had no right to abandon it.” He confessed also to an intimate friend, that the order of Major-General Pillow, separating his section, for the day, from his Captain, had excited his abiding gratitude; so that, while the regular officers were rather inclined to depreciate that general as an unprofessional soldier, he loved him because he gave him an opportunity to win distinction. His friends asked him if he felt no trepidation when so many were falling around him. He replied, no; the only anxiety of which he was conscious in any of these engagements, was a fear, lest he should not meet danger enough to make his conduct under it as conspicuous as he desired; and as the fire grew hotter, he rejoiced in it as his coveted opportunity. He also declared to those who were surmising the effect of the dangers of battle upon their spirits, that to him it was always exalting, and that he was conscious of a more perfect command of all his faculties, and of their more clear and rapid action, when under fire than at any other time. This, it will be remembered, was a distinguishing feature in the character of Napoleon's celebrated lieutenant, Marshal Ney. The Emperor was wont to say of him, that he was worth little as a general, saw nothing, and could do nothing, till ho was enveloped in fire and smoke. Then he was all energy, sagacity, genius.

After the quiet occupation of the city, Major Jackson became [53] a part of the garrison, and resided there, in a state of pleasant military leisure, until the diplomatists had matured a peace, and the American army was withdrawn. This season of rest continued several months. He was one of those who were quartered in the national palace, so that he used pleasantly to say, that no one had come nearer than himself to realizing the inflated predictions of the demagogues of the day in the United States, that “their soldiers should lodge in the halls of the Montezumas.” His duties were light, and easily despatched in the early forenoon; the climate was delicious; every object around him was full of grandeur or interest to his active mind; and the cultivated hospitality of the Castilians was alluring. It is well known how easily the luxurious society of a capital can forget national prejudices and humiliations, at the call of social enjoyment, and learn to consider the accomplished and courteous professional soldier as no longer an enemy. Many Mexicans, moreover, regarded the invading army rather in the light of deliverers from a disorderly and oppressive government, than of intruders and oppressors. Immediately after the occupation of the city, therefore, the places of amusement were re-opened, and frequented by a mingled crowd of Americans and Mexicans, the ladies walked the streets in crowds, and the young officers began to cultivate the acquaintance of the most distinguished families.

To qualify himself for enjoying this society more freely, Jackson, with a young comrade, addressed himself to the study of the Spanish language. His active mind was, besides, incapable of absolute repose, and he wished to improve his leisure by acquiring knowledge. He was ignorant of Latin, which is not taught at West Point, and the only grammar of Spanish he could find was written in that ancient tongue. Yet he bought it, and nothing daunted, set himself to learn [54] the paradigms of the language from it; and by the help of reading and constant conversation with the people, became in a few months a good Spanish scholar. It was an amusing trait of his character that he appeared afterwards proud of this accomplishment, and fond of exercising it, so far as his modest nature could be said to make any manifestation of pride. He ever took pleasure in testifying to the cultivation, hospitality, and flowing courtesy of the Spanish gentry in Mexico; and, like Napier, among their kindred in their mother-country, acknowledged the fascination of their accomplished manners, and their noble and sonorous tongue, and the indescribable grace and beauty of their women. Having formed the acquaintance of some educated ecclesiastics of the Romish Church (probably of the order of Canons), he went, by their invitation, to reside with them. He found their bachelor abode the perfection of luxurious comfort. Upon awaking in the morning, the servants brought him, before he arose from bed, a light repast, consisting of a few diminutive spiced cakes, and a single cup of that delicious chocolate which is found only in Spanish houses. He then dressed, went out, and attended to the drill of his company. Later in the morning, when the sun began to display his power, he returned to a breakfast of coffee, fruits, and game. The greater part of the day was then spent in study or visiting; and it closed with a dinner in which Parisian art vied with the tropical fruits native to the climate in conferring enjoyment. One family especially among his Spanish acquaintances extended to him a hospitality for which he was always grateful, and it possessed the attraction of several charming daughters. He confessed, years after, that he found it advisable to discontinue his visits there; and when asked the reason, said with a blush, that he found the fascination of some of the female charms which he met there was likely to become too strong for [55] his prudence, unless he escaped them in good time. He declared that if the people of the city had been equal to their beautiful climate, in integrity and character, Mexico would have been the most alluring home for him in the world. But while his taste felt the charms of the Spanish grace and lofty courtesy, his sturdy English sense and pure honor taught him the incompatibility of a hollow and corrupt state of morals, and a debasing religion, with all his radical principles; and so he firmly withdrew himself, before his self-respect was tarnished.

But we have now reached the most important era in Jackson's life; the beginning of a vital change in his religious character. All the information which can now be gathered, points to the devout Colonel Frank Taylor, commanding his regiment of artillery, as his first official spiritual guide. This good man was accustomed to labor as a father for the religious welfare of his young officers; and Jackson's manly nature seems to have awakened his especial interest. During the campaign of the summer, his instruction and prayers had produced so much effect as to awaken an abiding anxiety and spirit of inquiry in Jackson's mind. He acknowledged his former practical neglect of this transcendent subject, and deplored the vagueness of his religious knowledge. It seems to have been almost a law of his nature even before it was sanctified, that, with him, to be convinced in his understanding of a duty was to set straightway about its performance. He resolved to make the Bible his study, and with a characteristic independence of mind, to take nothing, as to his own religious duties, from prejudice, or from the claims of the various denominations into which he saw the religious world divided. His attitude towards all creeds and sects was at this time singularly unbiassed. His parentage cannot be said to have belonged to any party in religion; his youth had been passed in a household where [56] Christianity was practically unknown; and his later education was obtained among a great company of young men, assembled from every church, under the slender instructions of an army chaplain. His own religious knowledge was at this time extremely scanty. Resolved to examine for himself and decide conscientiously, he concluded that there was now a rare opportunity to inform himself concerning one church at least, the Popish, from a high and authentic source. He was surrounded by educated Papists; and he determined to hear the very best they could say in commendation of their system. He therefore sought the acquaintance of the Archbishop of Mexico, introduced, probably, by his monastic friends, and had a number of interviews, in which that prelate entered at large into an explanation of the Romish system. Jackson always declared that he believed him a sincere and honest advocate of that Church, and that he found him not only affable, but able and learned. He also said that the system, as expounded by intelligent Romanists, was by no means so gross or so obnoxious to common sense as is represented by the mass of decided Protestants. The truth is (and herein is the subtlety of that form of error), the statements of doctrines are so artfully drawn up by the welltrained doctor of the Romish Church, that they may bear always two phases of meaning; the one more decided and gross, the other more akin to the evangelical truth. When, for instance, Rome requires her teachers to say that, in the sinner's justification, the “meritorious cause” is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, while the “formal cause” is the personal holiness inwrought by the grace of the gospel in the Christian's soul; the words in the hands of a Jansenist, may be made almost to mean that precious truth which every evangelical Christian, in every church, embraces in substance, that our acceptance before God is only in the merits of the Redeemer; while, in the hands of a [57] self-righteous Jesuit, they will teach essentially a Pharisaic dependence on our own observances. So the doctrine of peD ance and absolution, in the instruction of the former, will be made to mean little more than that the minister of God's church is commissioned to publish'therein His mercy to the truly penitent soul; while, in the teachings of the latter, it will encourage the ignorant to believe, with a gross literality, that the priest, and the priest alone, can forgive sins. Doubtless, in the case of Jackson, the skilful polemic saw that his mind was too clear and strong to be hoodwinked by the darker phase of these dogmas. But with all the casuist's plausibility, he failed to commend Popery to his' convictions. The inquirer departed unsatisfied, clearly convinced that the system of the Bible and that of Rome were irreconcilable, and that the true religion of Jesus Christ was to be sought by him elsewhere.

These studies seem to have left Jackson's mind for a long time in a singular state. His progress towards the full light was extremely gradual. He was henceforward conscientious, and more than ever punctilious about the purity of his life; he never remitted his interest in the great question of his own salvation; yet, for more than two years after, he still remained in suspense. He apparently had no clear persuasion of his own acceptance before God, and no settled conviction as to the branch of the Church which he should select as his own.

His residence in Mexico, however, was not long protracted. On March 5, 1848, an armistice was concluded for two months between General Scott and the Mexican authorities; and on May 26th, a treaty of peace was finally ratified. The military occupation of the city and territory was therefore terminated as speedily as possible; and on the 12th of June, the last of the United States' forces left the capital to return home. Major Jackson's command was sent to Fort Hamilton, a post situated [58] upon Long Island, seven miles below New York city, and commanding the approach to its harbor, known as the Narrows. Here we must follow his quiet career for a time through the monotonous life of a garrison, diversified by occasional resorts to the society of a great city. [59]

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