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Chapter 26: after the battle of Monterey.

After the battle of Monterey my anxiety and depression were so great, and my health s6 much impaired by this and other causes, that my husband obtained sixty days leave of absence, which, in those days of slow travel, were required in order to spend two weeks in the United States. In an entry in Adjutant Griffith's reports, dated “Camp Allen, near Monterey, October 19th,” I find this note: “Colonel Davis left on furlough for sixty days.” He left the camp with a corporal's guard, went at great risk but without accident to Camargo, and rode Tartar down to take him home, for fear he might be shot in battle. When at the Brazos it was necessary to transfer the horse from a lighter to the ship. The sailors struck him, to force him to jump on the vessel. He reared and snorted, but the blow only enraged him. He could not be induced to stir. Colonel Davis told the sailors to let him alone, and, standing on the ship held the bridle, calling him [311] gently by name. Tartar crouched like a cat, watched for the instant when the lighter and the ship were on a level, and then sprang lightly to his master's side, amid the cheers of the sailors.

This same horse, when the rein was thrown over his neck at the battle of Monterey, instead of straying off, as was expected, to the regimental quarters, galloped into a reentering angle of Fort Teneria, and stood trembling, but perfectly still, until the battle was over.

During our prolonged absence from home, of course many things had gone ill; but our faithful James had done his best, and, at all events, there was little opportunity, during Colonel Davis's short stay at Brierfield, in which to rectify mistakes. During this time, however, he made his will, and consulted James as to what he wished done in the matter of his liberty. James said he would prefer, in case of the death of his master, to take care of his mistress, but wanted his freedom if anything should happen to her. The will was framed to suit his wishes, and a bequest of land or money, as he might choose, added thereto.

In “the days that are no more,” so confiding and affectionate was the relation of the master. and the slave, and we who personally [312] loved many of them, cannot now easily become reconciled to the attitude of alienation in which the negroes stand toward us.

The time for Mr. Davis's return rolled around all too soon. To replace Tartar, he took Richard, a noble bay with black points, and sailed again for Mexico. He met, en route, Colonel Thomas Crittenden, of Kentucky, afterward a general in the Federal Army, whose account of Buena Vista will be given here, and, by taking turns with each other, one sitting up while the other slept, they avoided assassination, and reached Saltillo, safely, January 4, 1847.

Mr. Davis mentioned a peculiar fact while telling the incidents of this story.

When he passed down to Camargo, going home, there were constant alarms of guerillas, who hid in the chaparral that skirted the road and fired upon Americans passing by. He came near ordering his guard to shoot a Mexican, standing erect in a chaparral bush, but upon a closer inspection found he was dead. On his return the figure was still there, not in the least decomposed. This was the first of many occasions upon which he noticed that the dead Mexicans did not decay like the Americans, but seemed to dry up, and he attributed it to their eating so much red pepper and the dry climate. During Colonel [313] Davis's absence the regiment was commanded by Major A. B. Bradford.

“On Monday, December 14th, the army began their march to Saltillo.1 About fifty-eight miles from Monterey an express from General Worth brought news that Santa Anna with his forces was advancing upon Saltillo. Considerable excitement and numerous rumors in camp this night.”

“Friday, December 18th: Remained in camp near Montmorelles, all this day. General Twigg's division returned to Monterey, General Taylor and staff accompanying him. General Quitman made chief of the division proceeding on to Victoria. Mississippi and Georgia regiments, with Baltimore battalion, forming two brigades, under Colonel Jackson, acting brigadier-general. Two Tennessee regiments, first brigade, under Colonel Campbell, acting brigadier-general.”

“ December 19th: Reached camp Novales last night. Extremely cold, and cool all this day; almost a frost this evening. Lancers seen hovering near the camp — supposed to be a body of 400 or 500. Not a Mexican soldier have I seen since leaving Monterey.”

“Monday, January 4th: Colonel J. Davis rejoined this regiment, and this day assumed the command.” [314]

Mr. Davis's own account is here again quoted:

The projected campaign against the capital of Mexico was now to be from Vera Cruz up the steppes and against the fortifications which had been built to resist any anticipated invasion, instead of from Saltillo across the plains to the comparatively undefended rear of the capital. The difficulty on this route was the waterless space to be crossed, and against that General Taylor had ingeniously provided. According to instructions he went to Victoria, turned over his troops, except a proper escort, to return through a country of hostiles to Monterey. Then went to Agua Nueva, beyond Saltillo, where he was joined by General Wool with his command from Chihuahua.

An extract of a letter from Agua Nueva, Mexico, 8th February, 1847, from Colonel Davis to me, expresses their impatience for the impending battle:

We are here on the table-lands of Mexico, at the foot of the Sierra Madre. We came expecting a host and battle, have found solitude and externally peace. The daily alarms of this frontier have ceased, the enemy I believe has retired to San Luis de Potosi, and we are waiting reinforcements, while General Scott is taking all who can be seized and incorporates [315] them in his division of the army. We have a beautiful and healthy position, and are waiting only action or such excitement as reconciles man to repose.

General Santa Anna saw the invitation offered by the withdrawal of General Taylor's troops, and with a well appointed army, 20,000 strong, marched with the assurance of easily recovering their lost territory. General Taylor fell back to the narrow pass in front of the hacienda of Buena Vista, and here stood on the defensive. His force was 5,400 of all arms; but of those only three batteries of artillery, one squadron of dragoons, one mounted company of Texans, and one regiment of Mississippi riflemen had ever been under fire. Some skirmishing occurred on the 22d of February, and a general assault along the whole line was made on the morning of the 23d. The battle, with a varying fortune, continued throughout the day. At evening the enemy retired, and during the night retreated by the route he had advanced, having suffered much by the casualties of the battle and still more by desertion. So Santa Anna returned with but a remnant of the regular army of Mexico, on which reliance had been placed to repel invasion. Thenceforward peace was undisturbed in the valley of the Rio Grande.


Colonel Jefferson Davis to Mrs. Davis.

Saltillo, February 25, 1847.
. . . I wrote to you a few days since anticipating a battle. We have had it. The Mississippians did well. I fear you may feel some anxiety about me, and write to say that I was wounded in the right foot, and remained on the field so long afterward that the wound has been painful, but is by no means dangerous. I hope soon to be up again. My friend, Mr. Crittenden, will write on this sheet to brother Joe, and give him more particulars.

Thomas L. Crittenden to Mr. Joseph E. Davis.

Saltillo, February 25, 1847.
Dear Sir:
We have had a glorious battle and victory. On the evening of the 22d, the Mexicans, commanded by Santa Anna in person, having advanced to our position (which was about eight miles south of Saltillo, at a place called Buena Vista), the fight commenced between some light troops. This was, however, a mere skirmish, with which the main body of neither had anything to do, and was soon stopped by darkness.

About sunrise in the morning, however, the armies engaged and fought until three o'clock P. M., the object of Santa Anna, with an [317] army of 20,000 men, being to drive General Taylor, who commanded barely 5,000 men, from his position. In this attempt, after the most desperate and gallant fighting, in which your brother bore a conspicuous part, Santa Anna was entirely foiled, and about midnight retreated with his army to Agua Nueva, about ten miles back, where he is now encamped with the remains, no doubt, of a defeated and demoralized army.

The regiment commanded by your brother won the admiration of all, and suffered, of course, severely, at least one hundred casualties, and among them 40 killed, and that, too, when the regiment did not muster 300 men upon the field of battle. Your brother received early in the action a very painful wound in the right foot, but did not leave the field until the battle was over, and a very glorious battle was won.

The Mexican loss must have been very heavy; I cannot give you the details however.

I have spoken particularly, indeed exclusively, of the Mississippi regiment, because I have not time to give you an account of the gallantry of almost all our troops.

Your brother's wound is not at all dangerous, but in all probability he will not be able to walk for several months, at least without a [318] crutch. Our gallant old General has silenced all fires, front and rear, and proven himself for the hundredth time a hero.

Very respectfully yours, etc., Thos. L. Crittenden.
P. S.-Your brother has just informed me that you and my father were old acquaintances and friends. I have been with )our brother almost daily for several months, and have formed for him a great personal attachment; these things coupled, sir, make me feel toward you as an old acquaintance, and I may add even more, and subscribe myself

Your friend, Thos. L. Crittenden.

On February 23d the two armies met at Saltillo, and the following is the report of Colonel Jefferson Davis of the battle of Buena Vista:

Saltillo, Mexico, March 2, 1847.
In compliance with your note of yesterday I have the honor to present the following report of the service of the Mississippi Rifles on the 2d ultimo:

Early in the morning of that day the regiment was drawn out from the Headquarters encampment, which stood in advance of, and overlooked, the town of Saltillo. [319]

Conformably to instruction two companies were detached for the protection of that encampment, and to defend the adjacent entrance of the town. The remaining eight companies were put in march to return to the position of the preceding day, now known as the battle-field of Buena Vista. We had approached to within about two miles of that position, when the report of artillery firing, which reached us, gave assurance that a battle had been commenced. Excited by the sounds the regiment pushed rapidly forward, manifesting upon this, as upon other occasions, their more than willingness to meet the enemy.

At the first convenient place the column was halted for the purpose of filling the canteens with water, and the march being resumed, was directed toward the position which had been indicated to me on the previous evening as the post of our regiment. As we approached the scene of action, horsemen, recognized as of our troops, were seen running dispersed and confusedly from the field; and our first view of the line of battle presented the mortifying spectacle of a regiment of infantry flying disorganized from before the enemy. These sights, so well calculated to destroy confidence and disspirit troops just coming into action, it is my pride and pleasure [320] to believe only nerved the resolution of the regiment I have the honor to command.

Our order of march was in column of companies advancing by their centres. The point which had just been abandoned by the regiment alluded to was now taken as our direction. I rode forward to examine the ground upon which we were going to operate, and, in passing through the fugitives appealed to them to return with us and renew the fight, pointing to our regiment as a mass of men behind which they might securely form.

With a few honorable exceptions the appeal was as unheeded as the offers which, I am informed, were made by our men to give their canteens of water to those who complained of thirst, on condition that they would go back. General Wool was upon the ground, making great efforts to rally the men who had given way. I approached him and asked if he would send another regiment to sustain me in the attack upon the enemy before us. He was alone, and after promises of support went in person to send it.

Upon further examination I found that the slope we were ascending was intersected by a deep ravine, which uniting obliquely with a still larger one upon our right, formed, between them, a point of land difficult of access by us, but which, spreading into a plain [321] toward the base of the mountain, had easy communication with the main body of the enemy. This position, important from its natural strength, derived a far greater value from the relation it bore to our order of battle and line of communication with the rear. The enemy, in number many times greater than ourselves, supported by strong reserves, flanked by cavalry, and elated by recent success, was advancing upon it. The moment seemed to me critical, and the occasion to require whatever sacrifice it might cost to check the enemy.

My regiment having continued to advance was near at hand. I met and formed it rapidly into order of battle. The line then advanced in double-quick time, until within the estimated range of our rifles, when it was halted and ordered to “fire advancing.”

The progress of the enemy was checked. We crossed the difficult chasm before us under a galling fire, and in good order renewed the attack upon the other side. The contest was severe — the destruction great upon both sides. We steadily advanced, and as the distance was diminished the ratio of loss increased rapidly against the enemy; he yielded and was driven back on his reserves. A plain now lay behind us — the enemy's cavalry had passed around our right flank, which [322] rested on the main ravine, and gone to our rear. The support I had expected to join us was nowhere to be seen. I therefore ordered the regiment to retire, and went in person to find the cavalry, which, after passing round our right, had been concealed by the inequality of the ground, I found them, at the first point where the bank was practicable for horsemen, in the act of descending into the ravine — no doubt for the purpose of charging upon our rear. The nearest of our men ran quickly to my call, attacked this body and dispersed it with some loss. I think their commander was among the killed.

The regiment was formed again into line of battle behind the first ravine we had crossed; soon after which we were joined upon our left by Lieutenant Kilbourn, with a piece of light artillery, and Colonel Lane's Third Regiment of Indiana Volunteers.

Lieutenant Kilbourn opened a brisk and very effective fire. The enemy immediately receded; we advanced, and he retired to the mountain.

No senior officer of Lieutenant Kilbourn's corps being present upon this occasion, it gives me pleasure to bear testimony of the valuable services he rendered, and to express my admiration of the professional skill and soldierly qualities he manifested. [323]

We occupied the ground where the Mississippi regiment first met the enemy, when a heavy fire was opened upon us by a battery which the enemy had established near the centre of his line. The Indiana regiment was most exposed, and passed from the left into the ravine upon our left. The artillery retired to the battery from which it had been drawn. I had sent out some parties to examine the ground on which we had fought in the morning, for the purpose of bringing in the wounded. When these parties had returned our regiment retired by its left flank, and marched along the bank of the ravine heretofore noticed as being on our right. The Indiana regiment, in moving down the hollow, was concealed from the view of the enemy, who was probably thereby encouraged to make an attack.

We had proceeded but a short distance when I saw a large body of cavalry debouch from his cover on the left of the position from which we had retired, and advance rapidly upon us. The Mississippi regiment was filed to the right, and fronted in line across the plain; the Indiana regiment was formed on the bank of the ravine, in advance of our right flank, by which a re-entering angle was presented to the enemy. While this preparation was being made, Sergeant-Major [324] Miller of our regiment was sent to Captain Sherman for one or more pieces of artillery from his battery.

The enemy, who was now seen to be a body of richly caparisoned lancers, came forward rapidly, and in beautiful order — the files and ranks so closed as to look like a mass of men and horses. Perfect silence and the greatest steadiness prevailed in both lines of our troops, as they stood at shouldered arms awaiting an attack. Confident of success and anxious to obtain the full advantage of a cross-fire at a short distance, I repeatedly called to the men not to shoot.

As the enemy approached his speed regularly diminished, until, when within eighty or one hundred yards, he had drawn up to a walk, and seemed about to halt. A few files fired without orders, and both lines then instantly poured in a volley so destructive that the mass yielded to the blow, and the survivors fled. Captain Sherman having come up with a field-piece from his battery, followed their retreat with a very effective fire until they fled beyond the range of his gun. Soon after this event a detachment of our artillery and cavalry rode up, and I was directed to co-operate with it in an attack upon the enemy at the base of the mountain. We advanced parallel to this detachment until it [325] halted. I then placed my men under such protection as the ground afforded from the constant fire of the enemy's artillery, to which we were exposed, to wait the further movement of the force with which we were to act. At this time the enemy made his last attack upon the right, and I received the General's order to march to that portion of the field.

The broken character of the intervening ground concealed the scene of action from our view; but the heavy firing of musketry formed a sufficient guide for our course.

After marching two or three hundred yards we saw the enemy's infantry advancing in three lines upon Captain Bragg's battery, which, though entirely unsupported, resolutely held its position, and met the attack with a fire worthy of the former achievement of the battery, and of the reputation of its meritorious commander. We pressed on, climbed the rocky slope of the plain on which this combat occurred, reached its brow so as to take the enemy in flank and reverse when he was about one hundred yards from the battery. Our first fire, raking each of his lines, and opening close upon his flank, was eminently destructive. His right gave way and he fled in confusion.

In this last contest of the day my regiment equalled — it was impossible to exceed — my [326] expectations. Though worn down by many hours of fatigue and thirst, the ranks thinned by our heavy loss in the morning, they yet advanced upon the enemy with the alacrity and eagerness of men fresh to the combat. In every approbatory sense of these remarks I wish to be included a party of Colonel Bowles's Indiana regiment, which served with us during the greatest part of the day, under immediate command of an officer from that regiment whose gallantry attracted my particular attention, but whose name is, I regret, unknown to me. When hostile demonstrations had ceased I retired to a tent upon the field for surgical aid, having been wounded by a musket-ball when we first went into action. Our regiment remained inactive until evening, and was then ordered to the encampment of the previous night, under the command of Major Bradford.

We had seen the enemy retire; but his numerical superiority over us would scarcely admit the supposition that he had finally retreated. After my arrival at our encampment, which was some time after dark, I directed Captain Rogers, with his company, K, and Lieutenant Russell, commanding Company D, to proceed with their commands to the field of battle, and to report to the commanding General for orders. These were the two [327] companies which had been left as a guard at Headquarters encampment, as stated in the beginning of this report. They had been threatened during the day by a strong detachment of the enemy's cavalry; but performed all the duties which belonged to their position, as will be seen by the accompanying statement of Captain Rogers, in a manner creditable to themselves and their regiment; but they were disappointed because they had not been with us in the battle of the day, and were gratified at the order to march upon night-service, and probably to a dangerous post.

Every part of the battle having been fought under the eye of the commanding General, the importance and manner of any service it was our fortune to render will be best estimated by him. But in view of my own responsibility, it may be permitted me to say, in relation to our first attack upon the enemy, that I considered the necessity absolute and immediate. No one would have failed to perceive the hazard. The enemy in greatly disproportionate numbers was rapidly advancing. We saw no friendly troops coming to our support, and probably none except myself expected reinforcement. Under such circumstances the men cheerfully, ardently, entered into the conflict, and though we lost [328] in the single engagement more than thirty killed and forty wounded, the regiment never faltered nor moved except it was ordered. Had the expected reinforcement arrived, we could have prevented the enemy's cavalry from passing to our rear, results more decisive might have been obtained, and a part of our loss have been avoided.

To enumerate the instances of gallantry and good conduct which I witnessed would exceed the limits proper to this communication, and yet could not fail to omit very many which occurred. I will therefore attempt no other discrimination than to make an exception of the two privates who were reported as “missing,” and who have since been returned by the enemy, taken prisoners without a wound; and upon all others, both officers and men, I have the pleasure to confer my unqualified commendation.

To Major Bradford I offer my thanks for the prompt and creditable manner in which he executed all the orders I gave him, and especially refer to the delicate duty assigned him of restoring order among the files of another regiment when rendered unsteady by the fire of the enemy's artillery.

Adjutant Richard Griffith rendered me important aid, as well in his appropriate duties as by the intelligence and courage with which [329] he reconnoitred the enemy and gave me valuable information. I must also notice the good conduct of Sergeant-Major Miller and Quartermaster-Sergeant White of the regimental staff.

First Lieutenant Mott, Acting Assistant Commissary of Subsistence, joined his company (Captain Taylor's) and performed good service throughout the day. Second Lieutenant Slade, Acting Assistant Quartermaster, who was left in charge of his train at our encampment, it has been reported to me, when the enemy's cavalry threatened our encampment, he formed his teamsters and others into a party, mounted them on wagon horses, and joined Lieutenant Shover of the artillery in his brilliant sortie, by which the enemy was driven from his position on our line of communication.

Captain Sharp's company, A, and Captain Delay's company, F, having been on detached service when the battle of Monterey was fought, seemed anxious on this occasion to bring up any arrears in which they might be supposed to stand to the regiment. They formed the first division and did their duty nobly.

Three of the companies were, by unavoidable causes, deprived of the presence of their captains on this occasion, viz.: [330]

Company C, commanded by Lieutenant Cook, whose gallantry at the storming of Monterey received my notice, and whose good conduct on the occasion is worthy of the highest commendation.

Company E, commanded by Lieutenant Fletcher, who showed himself equal to all the emergencies of that eventful day.

Company. H, commanded by Lieutenant Moore, who so gallantly led it on the 28th of September in the storming of Monterey. Cool, brave, and well informed, he possessed my highest respect and entire confidence. He fell in our first engagement, and on our most advanced position. The command of the company devolved upon Lieutenant Clendenin (Captain-elect) who continued to lead it during the battle.

Captain Taylor of Company I was present with his command throughout the day, and, as on former occasions proved himself worthy to be the leader of the gallant company. Captain Cooper with his company, B, upon the left flank of the regiment, seized every opportunity which his position gave him, and rendered distinguished service.

Captain Downing joined his company, G, on the 22d at Buena Vista. He had heard at the Rinconada that we were about to be attacked, and though the road was beset [331] by rancheros, he hastened forward and took command of his company in the morning. In the first engagement of the 23d this company was particularly distinguished, and fulfilled the expectations which its high state of discipline had warranted. Second Lieutenant McNulty was killed when leading a portion of the company in a charge. First Lieutenant Greaves and Second Lieutenant Hampton, for their gallantry in battle and uniform good conduct, deserve the highest consideration.

There were many instances of both officers and men who, after being wounded, remained upon the field and continued to discharge their duties until active operations had ceased. Such was the case of Captain Sharp, who, though shot through both thighs, evinced so great reluctance to leave the field that he was permitted to remain and follow his company on horseback.

Lieutenants Posey, Corwine, and Stockard were wounded, but set the valuable example of maintaining their posts. Such, also, was the conduct of Sergeants Scott of Company C, and Hollingsworth of Company A, of private Malone of Company F, and of others whose names have not been reported to me.

In addition to the officers already commended [332] in this report, I would mention as deserving of especial consideration for their gallantry and general good conduct, Lieutenants Calhoun and Dill and Arthur and Harrison and Brown and Hughes.

It may be proper for me to notice the fact that, early in the action, Colonel Bowles, of Indiana, with a small party from his regiment, which he stated was all of his men that he could rally, joined us, and expressed a wish to serve with my command. He remained with us throughout the day, and displayed much personal gallantry.

Referring for casualties in my regiment to the list which has been furnished, I have the honor to be, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant, Jefferson Davis, em>Colonel Mississippi Rifles. To Major W. W. S. Bliss, A. A. G.

When Colonel Davis was helped off his horse, in an almost fainting condition, his leg had swollen so that it filled his boot; pieces of his brass spur and of his stocking had been driven through his foot into the wound and became embedded there.

Captain Eustis, a friend and comrade, sat by him all night and kept a stream of cold water pouring over the wound, which, his surgeon [333] thought, prevented lockjaw from supervening.

General Taylor, when he was informed that Colonel Davis was killed, was so excited that he exclaimed, “I will never believe it,” and sent one after another to inquire without waiting for an answer. The soft-hearted old hero found time to go himself after night to inquire after Colonel Davis, and began the interview saying: “My poor boy, I wish you had been shot in the body, you would have a better chance of recovering soon. I do not like wounds in the hands or feet, they cripple a soldier awfully.”

Note from Dubuque Herald: “When the news came to Dubuque of the victory over Santa Anna by old Zach, through the tact, skill, and bravery of Colonel Jefferson Davis, who was reported mortally wounded, there was such an enthusiastic celebration and glorification, chiefly on Davis's account, as has never since taken place, and the Iowa Legislature passed resolutions complimentary to Colonel Davis, upon the gallantry displayed by himself and his brave Mississippi Riflemen at the battle of Buena Vista.”

Extracts from General Taylor's detailed report of the battle of Buena Vista: [334]

March 6, 1847.
The Mississippi Riflemen, under Colonel Davis, were highly conspicuous for gallantry and steadiness, and sustained throughout the engagement the reputation of veteran troops. Brought into action against an immensely superior force, they maintained themselves for a long time unsupported, and with heavy loss, and held an important part of the field until reinforced.

Colonel Davis, though severely wounded, remained in the saddle until the close of the action. His distinguished coolness and gallantry, and the heavy loss of his regiment on this day, entitle him to the particular notice of the Government.

From the report of General Wool:

Headquarters of the Army of Occupation, Twenty miles South of Saltillo, Mexico, April 17, 1847.
To Colonel Davis and the Mississippi regiment under his command, whose services were conspicuous in the engagements in the rear of our left, great credit is due for the part they performed, and much praise for their conspicuous gallantry, which caused them to be a rallying-point for the force that was driven in from the left, and who, in connection with the Second Indiana, under its [335] gallant Colonel, constituted almost the only force opposed to the heavy column of the enemy.

John E. Wool, Brigadier General. To Major W. S. Bliss, A. A. G.

General Wool estimates General Taylor's army at Buena Vista at 4,600. The force of the enemy (including General Minon's lances) at 20,000 or more.

Mr. Estes, from whom I have quoted later, said:

During the progress of the battle of Buena Vista, just after the first engagement of the Mississippi Rifles with a large portion of Santa Anna's army, and before the Mexican legions had recovered from the shock which hurled them back upon their reserve forces, Colonel Davis ordered the Ordnance Sergeant to serve his men with more ammunition. Each man was provided with sixty cartridges, twenty-four of which were distributed ready for use in the top of the cartridge-boxes, and thirty-six in packages placed in the receptacle attached to the cartridge-boxes, to be used as occasion required. This stock had been entirely exhausted in the first charge made by the regiment and in the subsequent repulse of the enemy. The Mexican bugles were already sounding and their drums beating for [336] another attack upon our depleted lines when it was discovered that the cartridges just issued were fully one size too large in calibre for our rifles. Mr. Davis, though bleeding from his wound, had not left the field, and at his suggestion, in an incredibly short time, every man of his regiment had his cartridges spread out on the ground, and using the rocky face of the portion of the field as an anvil, was hammering away to reduce the cartridges to the proper size. The cartridges so made available were used in repelling the fearful charge that was soon made on our lines, where, history says, Mr. Davis and his regiment again saved the battle.

Mr. Davis remembered this incident well, but no mention of it has ever been made in any of the written descriptions of the battle.

The following account of Buena Vista was written by a young Mississippian scarcely more than a boy at the time, William E. Estis, Sergeant, Company E, First Mississippi Rifles. He was conspicuous for his gallantry at all times, and much esteemed by his colonel:

About the last of December General Taylor was ordered to Tampico with his little army, to co-operate with General Scott in his intended attack on Vera Cruz; and we had marched to Victoria, the capital of [337] Tamaulipas, two hundred and sixty miles from Monterey, when our old commander was ordered to give up his little army to General Scott, with the exception of Bragg's and Washington's batteries, Colonel May's squadron of dragoons, and any regiment he might select. Our regiment was the favored one, and our little remnant of an army retraced its footsteps and returned to Monterey. General Wool had been left in command of the Northern Department, and with some regiments of Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, and Arkansas volunteers, was encamped near where the battle of Buena Vista was afterward fought. In passing, I will state that these untried volunteers, together with the meagre force that returned from Victoria with General Taylor, composed the little army that defeated Santa Anna with his 20,000 veteran troops on February 23, 1847. Our little command united with the main force under General Wool, and General Taylor assumed command of the whole army. We encamped in the beautiful valley of Agua Nueva, twelve miles west of the ranch of Buena Vista and eighteen miles from Saltillo. Here we whiled away the time in drill and camp duty. Our encampment was as usual near headquarters, and almost any time of day we could stand in our own tent doors and see the old General [338] sitting under the fly of a tent, conversing with some of his officers; among them we oftentimes noticed Mr. Davis. The whole of the army, by this time becoming acquainted with the fact of the former estrangement between the two, now noticed the cordial intimacy that seemed to exist between them.

It was a beautiful bright day, February 21, 1847, when, just about twelve o'clock, Captain Ben McCulloch (who commanded a small company of scouts) came through our encampment on a horse that showed signs of a hard and long travel. Captain McCulloch made his way direct to headquarters, alighted from his horse, and in great haste entered the General's tent. It was not a minute before orderlies and couriers were sent out, and the principal officers assembled-Santa Anna, with an army of 24,000 men, was in less than a day's march of our encampment. Captain McCulloch had heard orders read to the different Mexican regiments that morning at sunrise. Santa Anna stated in said orders “that his army had consumed the last ration he had, and that they must make their suppers from American commissaries.” This was the news that Captain McCulloch had brought. The regimental drums soon beat the signal for striking tents, which was quickly obeyed, and we took up the line of march [339] toward sunrise; not, however, before the enemy's advance guard came in sight. We made a rapid march to Buena Vista, twelve miles, which it appears had been selected as a battle-ground before. The battle-field is half a mile from the little hacienda for which it was named. Here the army encamped, except our regiment, which marched on six miles further to Saltillo, and encamped near General Taylor's marques. However, two companies of our regiment were detailed as pickets, and bivouacked on the ground where the battle was to be fought. General Taylor and his engineers had preceded us. Among the latter we noticed Lieutenant Pope, who was conspicuous in the late war on the Union side. Among the officers whom we saw riding over the field were General Wool, Colonel Davis, Colonel Henry Clay, and Major Bliss, who was Assistant Adjutant-General of the army, and others. They were engaged in noting the topography of the field until dark and after. It was after our forces were disposed and the line of defence defined, before General Taylor and Mr. Davis left for their headquarters. My position as a wide-awake picket gave me an opportunity to know these facts.

Early on the following morning (22d) our regiment returned to the main army, which [340] had slept on their arms. As the sun rose we could see groups of Mexican horsemen, who were no doubt sent out to reconnoitre our position, and gradually their main army came in sight. They moved cautiously and slowly, placing their cumbersome artillery in position, which was ill-proportioned to the poor little mules that had to draw it. At intervals during the day they would try the range of their heaviest guns on us, and we were reminded that their artillerists were equal to ours in skill. As the darkness closed in, the enemy's line approached nearer, and indicated an attempt to turn our left flank. The two lines of pickets extended along between the two armies and far up the mountain side. The flashes of the muskets in the darkness looked no larger than bright fire sparks as they glowed for an instant and then disappeared. Our regiment returned to our camp at Saltillo, where General Taylor soon after arrived. Our experience thus far led us to put faith in the old peculiarity attributed to a Spanish race, “that their armies never make an attack or an important movement under cover of darkness.” We had our breakfast before the bloody day (23d) broke. It was a solemn feast, as we looked each other in the face in the glare of the camp-fires and wondered who would return to partake of supper. Only two [341] of our party of six returned when the battle was over (the writer and another), four of our number, as brave, gallant boys as ever marched forth, we left lying on the battlefield, dead.

On the morning of the 23d, we made double-quick to the battle-field, six miles, closely following General Taylor, who arrived on the field but a few minutes before us. The two armies were already engaged; the bright sun was just rising, and the solid acres and acres of Mexican soldiers, with their brightly burnished guns and gay equipage, was a gallant sight to behold. The whole scene in our front had the appearance of a forest of icicles reflecting the rays of a bright summer's sun. The Second Indiana regiment, which formed an important portion of our line, had been forced by immense odds to fall back, which left Bragg's battery and two sections of Washington's battery without support. The artillery, however, was well manned. The pieces were time and again unlimbered and fired into the advancing mass of the enemy, then they would limber up and fall back again. They were nearly out of ammunition and wanted time for the ordnance wagon to arrive, and time to select an advantageous position for their pieces. The enemy, with banners flying and bands in full blast, were advancing. [342] They were many battle-lines deep, with that old veteran regiment, the Tampico guards, in their front and in front of our regiment's position. They made a temporary halt and ceased firing when they saw a fresh force in their front, and reformed. Their officers rode up and down their lines, attempting, no doubt, to keep up the enthusiasm that seemed to prevail throughout their ranks. Our regiment was already formed parallel to the enemy's front, with the few of the Indiana regiment who had been rallied, under their gallant Major Bowles, formed on our right. Soon the clear voice of our colonel rang out: “ Forward!” He led the charge himself, and after we had approached their lines within about one hundred paces, both sides opened fire. The artillery on both sides was hushed and we advanced, firing. It was no impetuous, reckless charge, but every soldier seemed to realize that the fate of our army was to be decided here. The wind came over the mountains from the south and swept away the smoke as rapidly as it came from the muzzle of the rifle and musket, and as there was no growth of any kind on the field except a few scattering and stunted Spanish daggers or yucca plants, the view was unintercepted. We could see every Mexican on the field who was on top of the ground. I do not think [343] that the high and wild shooting so common in battle was practised here. Every man took deliberate aim and expected his shot to count. We advanced firing to within twenty paces of their front, and beyond the position they occupied when we charged them. The front ranks, though urged on by those in their rear, continued to fall back, but with their faces toward us. When we got into close quarters our adversaries did not take time to raise their guns to the face, but fired from the hip. Regardless of the fact that our rifles had no bayonets, we privates had concluded that we were to throw ourselves into their ranks and were preparing to do so, when our colonel, more by gesture than words, for he could not be heard, ordered the regiment to withdraw, which we obeyed, leaving our killed and wounded on the field. The latter were massacred as soon as the enemy came in possession of that part of the field. But while we were playing sad havoc among those in our front the two wings extended far to our right and left, and we found ourselves almost surrounded. A few volleys scattered the forces that obstructed us, though very soon their whole army shouted when we commenced to retreat. Our regiment only moved back about two hundred yards, when we were quickly formed in rear of Bragg's and Washington's [344] batteries, which, having received ammunition and obtained good positions, were ranged in a line with guns loaded and port fires burning, only waiting for us to get from between them and the enemy. The Mexican army was jubilant, and again struck up the music; but six heavy pieces of artillery loaded with grape and canister, and in some cases with musket balls, fired at intervals of about two seconds, checked their ardor, and confusion became a panic. There was no way for them to get out of range of our guns in any direction without running nearly a mile. The guns were served as rapidly as could be done by veteran and well-drilled artillerists, and every shot added terror to the fugitives. The main body reached a depression near the foot of the mountain, which enabled them to get nearly out of sight by lying very close to the ground. Then it was that shells were used instead of round shot, until even that place of temporary safety became too hot for them. Our colonel was severely wounded in the first charge, a musket-ball entering his right foot on the side and just below the instep, carrying into the flesh a portion of his spur, which made it doubly painful. He sat on his horse, however, and still commanded his regiment, witnessing the discomfiture of the enemy with evident satisfaction. A large [345] body of the enemy's cavalry had been massed in front and to the left of our position (I mean in front of our regiment and the small detachment of Indiana troops). The other portions of our lines were hotly engaged with the enemy's infantry, and we could look for no aid from any quarter, so we had to meet the charge of the regiments of Mexican lancers, which quickly followed. Here Colonel Davis formed the celebrated V, which in reality was no V, but a re-entering angle. The formation was ordered by Colonel Davis without the counsel or co-operation of any officer, for indeed there were none to advise with. The small portion of the Indiana regiment was formed along the edge of a ravine which extended north and south. Our regiment was formed at right angles with the line mentioned, so that we faced the approaching cavalry. They came like an avalanche. Our regiment was thoroughly drilled, and it took little time for the colonel to dispose us to receive the enemy. We were deployed as skirmishers at very short intervals, the front rank to fire, the rear rank to reserve fire, then step forward and fire while the other rank was reloading. Colonel Davis, bleeding as he was, gave these directions and enjoined us to fire according to orders, and not “ empty all the guns at once.” The gaily caparizoned lancers were approaching [346] rapidly, each with a lance the blade of which shone brightly, while the tri-colored streamer on each lance gave the proud horsemen a magnificent appearance, “ almost too pretty to shoot at,” was the remark of one of our boys. They came in fours, and when near enough we observed that they were led by a very large and stout officer (colonel we supposed), who had his sword raised, and while very brave, manifested a very poor judgment on this occasion. By the bye, he must have been one of our countrymen some time or other, on land or sea, for we afterward found, on close inspection, that his wrists were tattooed with the star spangled banner and several of our national mottoes. If he had at any time been an Americano, he received on this occasion, from his former fellow-citizens, as a present, at least a dozen rifle-balls more than he could pack away. But to resume the story: The officer alluded to bravely led the charge. To his right and a little behind him was a boy-bugler, who we afterward had opportunity to closely inspect, and found that he and his bugle, even, had shared his colonel's fate. The ground over which they had to make their approach was apparently unbroken, but they encountered several ravines too wide for a horseman, and their long columns were what one would imagine a huge serpent moving [347] over the ground in a tortuous course. They evidently did not understand the manoeuvre of our little force; it was something new in military strategy, and they no doubt expected to encounter an old-fashioned infantry hollow square. But when they got near and discovered their mistake they seemed determined to make the most of it; and with their superior force (more than ten to one) overwhelm and massacre us. They were making for the line of our regiment, which threw their lines parallel to the lines of our allies formed on the bank of the ravine. They were now in short range, and with levelled guns we awaited patiently the order to fire; but it never came. The head of their column had passed the point of the extreme right of the Indiana detachment, which brought them inconveniently near the line; the little bugler had raised his bugle to give the signal to “deploy and charge,” and had given one distinct blast, when the report of a solitary gun broke the stillness and was followed by a prolonged volley all along our line. I think I am safe in saying not a loaded gun was left in the whole command; but that one round did fearful execution. For the distance of nearly two hundred yards the riders lay thick, while their unharmed horses wheeled to the right and left as if acting under orders, and mixed with [348] the already demoralized lancers. We had no leisure to reload before we were ordered to fall back. Twelve or fifteen paces placed us again in the rear of Bragg's and Washington's batteries, the pieces already loaded and pointed. They were not slow to belch forth showers of grape and canister, and every effort of the Mexican officers to rally their men and renew the charge was fruitless. The carnage was so terrible that many of them dismounted, took the nearest route to get out of range of the artillery, and then, in a roundabout way, came and surrendered. The survivors fled from the field in confusion, followed by iron hail as long as they were in range.

At the same time that we were engaged in repulsing this charge, the line on our right was warmly engaged with the enemy's infantry, and we learned at the same hour a detachment of Urea's cavalry made a raid on our camp at Saltillo, and were repulsed by the two companies left to guard it. They did considerable execution with their guns, and hoisted a disabled cannon on a common road wagon, manned it with teamsters, and contributed greatly to the victory gained. Just about the same hour, too, another detachment of lancers had charged the ranch of Buena Vista, which, as before stated, was half a mile from the battle-ground. The ordnance [349] and commissary wagons were posted here in a circle, one wagon-tongue under the bed of the next, which was a splendid defence against cavalry. There was only one opening to this park, which was wide enough for the caissons to be brought in at a swooping gait and replenished with ammunition before returning. All the fugitives from our whole army were at this park. There were some from almost every regiment, the majority of whom kept their guns in their flight from the field. When the Mexican cavalry appeared many of them took refuge in the covered wagons. Contrary to all expectations, the lancers filed through the opening, and many were the wagon covers that they probed with their lance blades in search of “Americanos.” Some man, bolder than the others, shot a lancer from his horse, and a battle on a small scale commenced, terminating in the complete rout of the enemy by the party, who came forth from their hiding places and fought like men when they found they were forced to go.

But to return to the battle-field; the enemy had made a simultaneous attack at all points, and had been repulsed everywhere. The firing had almost ceased, except that the artillery exchanged compliments at intervals. The evening had far advanced, and we began [350] to hope that both sides had had enough for one day, and that the battle would not be resumed until the following morning; but not so. A large body of infantry was massed in our front, and it was thought they would attack us all along our line. Very soon the largest portion of their force was thrown against our centre, which was defended by the Kentucky, Illinois, and Third Indiana regiments of infantry. It is said that this charge was led by Santa Anna in person. It was a fearful battle. The writer does not remember that he ever heard a more incessant roar of musketry during any of the great battles he participated in during the late war than was heard here. Victory seemed to tremble in the balance, and occasionally one side or the other would bring down their guns to a charge. They fought in this manner only a few paces apart for several minutes. Our regiment was ordered to reinforce the contested point, and we formed on their flank within one hundred yards of their right.2 They were already wavering, and had fallen back forty or fifty paces. One volley from [351] our rifles was sufficient to rout them, and they fled in confusion, leaving many of their officers and men on the field. After they had retreated out of range of our guns, the firing ceased, and just before the sun set. The sweetest music was wafted to us from the routed forces; sweeter still when we were informed, by one of May's old veteran dragoons, that it was a signal for all to “rally on the reserve.” At dusk we returned to Saltillo, closely following after the hero of the day. We found everything in confusion there; the Mexican cavalry had charged through our camp, riding in and through our tents, and scattering our cooking utensils in every direction. About fifteen of their dead were lying in different portions of our regimental encampment, and several wounded on the outskirts of the camp. Sad was the meal that followed. Nearly every man had lost a messmate or friend. Even fifty of our regiment of 280 who went into battle that morning were killed, and forty seven wounded. We slept, and early in the morning, after a hasty meal eaten by the light of our camp-fires, we took up the line of march for the field, expecting to renew the battle. Colonel Davis having been carried from the field just after we repulsed the Mexican cavalry the day before, our major (Bradford) took command. General [352] Taylor had preceded us, and we arrived in sight of the scene of carnage again just at sunrise. We met the old general returning to Saltillo. He drew up near the head of our column, raised his hat, and in a tone loud enough for us all to hear, said, “Boys, they are gone.” It was a hearty yell that responded to that announcement.

Jefferson Davis twice saved the day during the great battle which conquered one-half of Mexico, and made General Taylor President of these United States.

Mr. Davis at the time he figured so conspicuously in the Mexican war was in the prime of life. He carried with him into the camp and on the battle-field that native dignity which has characterized him in all his successes and adversities. In the dark prison, or as the chosen chief of millions of the proudest, noblest, and truest people of any nation of the earth, he never forgot those noble attributes with which kind heaven had endowed him. He was a strict disciplinarian, and never relaxed the rigid military regulations in the least, not even when our term of service had nearly expired. He was nevertheless approachable to the lowest private in the army, and gave an attentive ear to all their grievances. He was jealous of the interests of his men, and there was nothing obtained by the [353] most favored command in the army that he did not demand and obtain for us. The field officers of our regiment were all prominent Mississippians. Lieutenant-Colonel A. K. McClung was the celebrated duellist; he is well known to history. When he committed suicide at Jackson, Miss., several years after the war, he completed the list of eight lives that he had taken. He was brave to recklessness, and a confirmed hypochondriac. He received a serious wound while our regiment was storming Fort Tenerio, at Monterey. General A. B. Bradford, of Holly Springs, Miss., was our major. He was the oldest man in our regiment, a gentleman of the “old school,” and brave as a lion. He was second in command of the regiment when it made the desperate charge at Buena Vista, as already related. He failed to notice the order given by the colonel to retire, and when he saw his command retreating he called out in the most excited manner: “Kill me, kill me! The Mississippi regiment is running!” The soldier and statesman who inspires the theme of this sketch still survives and still boasts of being a Mississippian.

The term of service for which the First Mississippi Rifles enlisted having nearly expired their Colonel and Lieutenant-Colonel having been seriously wounded, and only a [354] remnant of the regiment remaining,3 as soon as the proper arrangements could be completed Colonel Davis, on May 29, 1847, with the First Mississippi Rifles, left the Brazos on the same ship with the Second Kentucky Infantry, for New Orleans, which port they reached June 9th. They bore with them the remains of Colonel McKee, and Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Clay, one of Colonel Davis's friends at West Point.

The New Orleans Picayune of June 9th said: “It is in no invidious spirit that the Mississippi Volunteers are selected for a public demonstration, as they are neighbors and friends, and, as it were, a part of us. The Mississippians bring here their Colonel and Lieutenant-Colonel, maimed and pierced with honorable wounds; but Davis and McClung yet live to cheer their hearts and received with them the reward of daring and brilliant actions. Colonel McKee and Lieutenant-Colonel Clay (Second Kentucky) came not at all.”

In the Picayune of June 11th I find this notice of the ceremonies: “Yesterday was a day devoted by our citizens to the reward [355] of patriotism and heroic deeds. It was a day appointed to receive men who had voluntarily left their homes to meet the public enemy, and had gallantly discharged the high duty they had assumed. To attempt to describe the enthusiasm evinced on this occasion was in vain.” A committee of reception had arranged a royal welcome for them. The volunteers debarked amid an immense crowd, who shouted themselves hoarse, and “the regiments were formed on Canal Street, and escorted by the Legion and several other divisions of the military of the city, among whom we noticed the German Yagers and the Tigers; the whole, under the command of Major-General Lewis, moved toward Lafayette Square.” A large assemblage of both sexes had gathered, and, amid the firing of cannon and the warm greetings of the people, the volunteers took their position around the stand of the orator.

The Hon. Sargeant S. Prentiss had been selected to deliver the address. Such an oration has not been pronounced since death has stilled his eloquent tongue, and the memory of the exploits that he glowingly described that day has remained with those he addressed, and fills them, forty-three years after the events he depicted, with admiration for the victors and for him who threw them “the [356] picture of the fight.” Cut off in the prime of life and full splendor of his genius, he has left none to fill his place, but many to mourn him. One of his sons died of the hardships sustained in the war between the States; the other lives, beloved and respected by all who know him.

At the close of Mr. Prentiss's speech Colonel Davis, who was loudly called for, rose to reply to the warm and eloquent address of Mr. Prentiss. Replying in behalf of his own regiment, and in some measure in behalf of all the volunteers, he eloquently answered for them. ...

The streets through which the procession moved were filled with spectators, and the balconies of the houses presented an array of fair admirers.

These threw down flowers as the regiment marched past, and sometimes gentle words of congratulatory welcome reached the ears of the regiment. One very pretty girl gratified Colonel Davis exceedingly by calling out, “There goes our lion-hearted Davis.” He always said she was a Mississippian, but to his family and to him, when more widely known, it was a cause of deep thankfulness that love and esteem for him did not especially distinguish the women of any Southern State. One of the most comforting [357] memories of his life seemed to be the confidence and affection bestowed upon him by the women of the South. Sometimes, when he read criticisms upon himself made by disapproving Confederates, without saying why, he would ejaculate, “God keep and bless the women of the South; they have never shot an arrow at me.”

When the speeches were finished, the regiments marched from Lafayette Square down to the Place d'armes, where they partook of a luncheon prepared for them. The Place d'armes is in the centre of a hollow square, one side of which is bounded by the Mississippi River. It must have been a striking sight, this immense company of the people seated in front of the old cathedral and the Department of Justice, amid the shade of semitropical trees and surrounded by brilliant flowers that bloomed on the borders of the Square, the turbid “inland sea” flowing on the other side. All the balconies of the Pontalba building were crowded on either side with ladies in their summer garb, each one laden with wreaths and bunches of blossoms for the heroes of the hour.

The next day, a steam-boat having been chartered to convey the regiment home, they embarked and steamed up the river, stopping at each town on the Mississippi to leave those [358] who had homes there or adjacent to it. Of course the coming of the boat was heralded, and a glad crowd pressed on board to welcome the Rifles.

The last stopping-place was to be Vicksburg. At Natchez twelve young ladies, holding a garland many yards long, met the regiment at the Bluff, and crowned the officers with wreaths. Their banners were also wreathed with bowers. After some preliminary ceremonies there were speeches by the town's-people and officers of the regiment; then, a procession; after which Mr. Davis--who was on crutches — came out in a barouche, nearly hidden with flowers, to take me to the steam-boat. The journey was one long ovation.

At every stopping-place, until the regiment reached Vicksburg, there were salutes and addresses of welcome, to which Colonel Davis and Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander McClung--as at New Orleans — answered on the part of the regiment. Looking at the keen-eyed, quiet young men who practised “go as you please,” and “standing at ease,” in their citizens' clothes, discolored by exposure to the weather, with their air of being half-ashamed of so much “flummery,” as a member of the regiment said, one could scarcely imagine that they had performed [359] such prodigies of valor, an(l been such great factors in compelling peace; for then, though its approach had not been proclaimed, the Mexicans had practically received their fatal blow.

The men enlisted for six months during the Mexican War were there too short a time for effective discipline. A cousin of mine went out with the “six months men” who were first enlisted, but unfortunately no regular discipline had been enforced, and they dropped out, one or two at a time, and came home. When he reached Natchez someone asked why he came home, and he answered that as the Captain and First Lieutenant had been mobbed and beaten by the men, he thought that it would be his turn next, so he left the “file” (one man) he was drilling and came home.

After one day in Vicksburg we returned home. Mr. Davis suffered intensely from his wound, as indeed he did for five years, and was unable to dispense with two crutches for two years. The bone exfoliated, and pieces that had been shattered worked out or were extracted by a surgeon, causing dreadful nervous disturbance, not to speak of the physical anguish. Even after the foot was apparently well, for eight or ten years the slightest misstep gave him pain. [360]

Immediately upon his return to his home the appointment of Brigadier-General of Volunteers was tendered to him by the President, in compliment to his valor and efficiency.

He declined the offer, on the ground that the Constitution provided for such appointments by the States, and not by the Federal Government. The following is his letter to the Adjutant-General:

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of May 18th last, accompanying a commission of Brigadier-General filled in my favor.

Through you I convey the information that I respectfully decline the appointment with the offer of which I was honored.

Very respectfully, Your most obedient servant, Jefferson Davis.

1 Richard Griffith's, Adjutant, Diary.

2 Here it was necessary for Colonel Davis to cross a deep ravine. His wounded foot was thrown over the pommel of his saddle. He spurred on his staunch bay horse, Richard, and he cleared it with a bound; and as they went flying over, Colonel Davis said he saw a horse and cart beneath him in the ravine, which enabled him to guess at the width of the leap.

3 When the regiment went to the war its numbers aggregated, officers and men, 926. It brought back to New Orleans but 376, showing a loss in battle and from disease of 550 men, or over sixty per cent. of its original strength.

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