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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Storming of Chapultepec

By Roswell Sabine Ripley (1823–1887)

[Born in Worthington, Franklin Co., Ohio, 1823. Died in New York, N. Y., 1887. The War mth Mexico. 1849.]

IN order that the victory might not be left to any uncertainty while these dispositions were being made, Pillow sent a request to General Scott that Worth’s division, which was to support his assault, should be posted nearer the scene of action than Tacubaya. General Scott so ordered it; but Worth was already in motion for the purpose. Before he arrived at Molino del Rey, the time for preparation had expired, and Quitman had sent word to Pillow that he was ready for the assault. Pillow had not quite finished his preparations, and during the few minutes which intervened before the arrival of General Scott’s staff officer, the heavy guns of battery No. 3 poured successive discharges of heavy grape and shell into the grove. The orders for the cessation of fire were soon received; the American batteries, heavy and light, ceased at once, and the attack commenced.

Lieutenant-Colonel Johnstone led his voltigeurs rapidly down from Molino del Rey to the level ground about the redan which he was to assault, keeping close under the southern wall of the enclosure, to protect his men from the artillery fire of the castle. The stormers under Captain McKenzie, Second Artillery, followed close after. When the advance of the voltigeurs came within musket-range of the redan, the Mexican infantry behind its parapet arose and commenced a lively fire. Johnstone immediately ordered his companies to deploy and reply advancing, which they did with so much effect that the enemy was driven from the work before the rearmost company was in line. The whole battalion, rushing through two ditches across the path and over the parapet, entered the redan, and through the cut into the grove, joining with the main force which had advanced through the gateway of Molino del Rey.

The Mexican batteries on the west of the castle had obtained the range of the gateway during the morning, and kept up a heavy fire of shells for half an hour before the advance. The effect was but to annoy the troops in position, and to render them somewhat restless, for they were protected from the splinters by the walls of the buildings. Under the circumstances, Cadwalader, who was the senior officer immediately at the point, was anxious to commence the assault, and sent to advise Pillow of the existing state of things. The mountain-howitzers, meanwhile, were served through the gateway, under the fire from the castle and from the intrenchments; for, notwithstanding the distance, the enemy kept up heavy discharges of musketry. They had somewhat shaken his line along the point of the grove, when, as the heavy guns ceased firing, Pillow arrived, and ordered Colonel Andrews to advance the first battalion of voltigeurs. The corps, issuing through the gateways, deployed forward at a run, and with a shout, which told the determination for victory, rushed straight at the intrenchments. The Mexicans delivered a scattering fire, and gave way, for Johnstone’s soldiers were at the moment breaking into the grove through the redan. Both battalions of voltigeurs took the cover of the trees, and, engaging the enemy, beat him back through the woods in the direction of the castle.

Seeing the first point gained, Pillow ordered the howitzer battery and the Ninth and Fifteenth Regiments to move forward in support. These troops passed the gateway and deployed in the field, and Pillow mounted and took the advance.

Meanwhile the attention of the garrison in the western portions of the castle was given to the assault in this direction. The guns in the priest-cap and on the flanks were depressed, and sent heavy discharges of grape over the heads of the retreating Mexicans. The four-pounder in the round bastion at the angle of the roadway kept up a raking fire on the road by the southern wall, which was sustained by a continued stream of musketry from the intrenchments in its front.

The American advance was continued, though slowly, under the heavy fire, as well as that of the retreating Mexican infantry. It was difficult, for the ground was wet and boggy, and the moral and physical effect of the Mexican shot, crashing and tearing as it did through the foliage, was such as in some cases to render the men averse to leave the shelter of the trees. Pillow placed himself in the front, and by his well-seconded efforts a continued movement was established, although the nature of the ground caused the corps to be thrown into some disarray. Advancing in this manner, the troops drove back the enemy and reached the short open space at the foot of the hill. There they were halted to allow the stormers to take the front, and to form in support. But McKenzie, having his party in close formation, had not been able to keep up with the advance over the boggy ground. He had not arrived at the base of the hill before the enemy rallied in the redan half way up the acclivity, and opened fire thence, as well as from the round bastion and the intrenchments in its front. The galling fire rendered immediate movement necessary, and Pillow, who had just previously been wounded, ordered the assault.

The mountain-howitzers sent a few canisters, and the voltigeur regiment threw a volley up the hill from the base south of the redan. That regiment immediately followed, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Johnstone and Major Caldwell. At the same time, Captain Hooker, who was on the left, repeated the order, and brought up the nearest body of infantry, for the voltigeurs were without bayonets. Captain Chase, of the Fifteenth Infantry, led his company up to the redan from the north. The Americans pressed forward so rapidly that the enemy made short resistance, and fell back to the main work. The voltigeurs, Ninth and Fifteenth, followed close after, passed the redan, and gained the crest of the hill. A Mexican engineer officer was at the time in the act of firing the saucisson of the mines, but the fire of the American advance disabled him. The saucissons were immediately cut, and that element of danger was effectually destroyed.

As the Americans rose over the crest, the Mexican artillery in the priest-cap opened heavily with canister, and the troops on the azoteas and at the windows commenced a rapid rolling discharge of musketry, and many of the assailants fell killed or wounded. Of the former was Colonel Ransom, of the Ninth, who died gallantly at the head of his regiment. As the troops were at the time without ladders with which to scale the walls, further immediate advance was impracticable. They therefore kept in the rocks, and opened fire upon the Mexican artillerymen who were not more than fifty yards distant.

A mountain-howitzer was brought up and opened upon the round bastion, which was commanded by points of the hill already gained. Its fire, and that of a party of voltigeurs closely delivered, soon drove out the enemy, and the point was at once occupied. The effect of the rifles and muskets directed upon the main work was soon apparent from the cessation of the artillery fire, although the infantry, from roofs and windows, still kept up a stream of musketry upon the assailants. These, however, kept close behind the rocks of the height, awaiting the arrival of the storming party and the ladders, and in the while using their weapons with deadly effect upon all of the garrison who presented themselves in sight and within range.

Meantime Captain McKenzie arrived at the base of the hill, and, finding that the other troops had preceded him in the ascent, in obedience to Pillow’s order he led his party rapidly up. It climbed over the rocks and made its way to the advance, but the troops around the crest were so closely posted that it was difficult for the stormers to get through. The ladders were not yet up, for the men of the carrying party had thrown them down in the grove, and for the most part engaged in the combat.

Being disabled from active advance, Pillow had sent Cadwalader up the ascent to give immediate attention to the movements of the assault. Seeing the state of affairs, that officer at once sent parties to collect and bring up the ladders. While this work was being accomplished, other troops came up in support.

While advancing through the grove, Pillow had received a message from Worth that his division was outside Molino del Rey, in readiness to support the attack. In answer, Pillow requested that a brigade should be advanced through the buildings to take post in the woods, as, in case of a check, time would be lost in bringing reënforcements forward by the flank through the narrow gateway. Worth ordered Colonel Clarke’s brigade to advance, and that corps came rapidly forward. To shelter the troops from the shot which was falling in the grove, Pillow ordered them to be posted on the slope of the hill. The Eighth and Fifth, and a party of the Sixth Regiment, went up the ascent.

The Sixth was, however, ordered around the northern base of the rock, to cut up the fugitives from the castle; for the Mexican garrison was already shaken by the near approach, and many were attempting to make good their escape.

The New York and Second Pennsylvania Regiments of Quitman’s command soon after came through the bastion and cut, which had been carried by Johnstone’s command, and, passing through the grove, commenced ascending the hill. By the time they had joined the rear of the forces already in position, a number of ladders had been gathered and taken up, and the final assault commenced.

The Mexican artillery fire having been silenced, the troops most in advance had only been awaiting the ladders to make the last attack. When they were brought up, parties from different corps, running quickly forward over the rugged though short space between the crest of the hill and the ditch, leaped in, and at once planted their ladders. Lieutenant Armistead, of the storming party, led the way, and, as the ladders were raised, Lieutenant Selden first mounted to scale the walls. From azoteas and windows the Mexicans redoubled their musketry fire, which killed Lieutenants Rogers and Smith, of the stormers, who were urging on their men, struck down Selden, and with him several soldiers who had been the first to follow his example; but the assailants in the ditch clustered thick around the ladders already planted and constantly being raised. Many fell wounded or dead, yet their places were immediately taken; and, finally, Captain Howard, of the voltigeurs, gained the parapet unhurt. Captain McKenzie and many of his party, Captain Barnard, of the voltigeurs, with the colors of his regiment (the first in the work), Lieutenant Bennet, of the Fifteenth, and a crowd of gallant officers and men, followed after. Long ladders were brought up and laid across the ditch, and, with a shout of victory, the great body of the troops rushed over, under fire from the buildings inside of the castle, and the priest-cap was gained.

Further down the hill, Lieutenant-Colonel Johnstone led a party of voltigeurs and soldiers of other regiments over the round bastion and up the roadway, directly upon the gate of the castle. From the south front of the college, and from the eastern terrace, the enemy fired heavily upon these assailants. Lieutenant Reno’s mountain-howitzers, which were with the advance, were opened upon the terrace in reply, while the soldiers used their rifles and muskets against the enemy in the windows and about the parapets so effectually that his fire soon slackened. Running up the roadway, the party entered at the gate, and joined the advance of those assailants which had entered over the priest-cap. The advance was pursued, and the enemy was rapidly pushed from the eastern terrace and the whole southern front of the castle. Many Mexicans, in their flight, jumped down the steep eastern side of the rock, regardless of the height, while the Americans pelted them from the parapets.

This part of the castle being won, and finding the enemy still strong in the lower batteries, and contesting the assault along the Tacubaya road with vigor, Johnstone posted a party of voltigeurs and other troops on the southeastern angle of the castle. These opened a heavy fire upon the enemy’s rear, which soon told, and insured his retreat.

Meanwhile the whole castle had been occupied. Different parties entered at different doors of the college, and although the Mexicans kept up a resistance for a time, it was soon overcome; but while it lasted the American soldiers showed more ferocity than had been exhibited by them during the whole course of the war. The remembrance of the murder of their wounded comrades on the field of Molino del Rey was still fresh, and, where resistance was made, quarter was rarely given. General Perez was killed fighting; Colonel Caño, engineer of the castle, and a host of inferior officers and soldiers, fell in the tumult; and although the struggle lasted but a few minutes, it was not until the soldiers were satiated with revenge, and the first fury consequent upon the successful assault had passed away, that the bloodshed was put a stop to. But in the midst of the melée, Generals Bravo, Monterde, Noriega, Dosamantes, and Saldana were taken prisoners and protected from injury.

While the struggle continued on the terre-plein and inside the college, parties of American officers and soldiers made their way through the different rooms of the building to the azotea. Major Seymour, of the Ninth Infantry, tore down the Mexican flag, and, soon after, the standards of the Eighth and Fifteenth Regiments of Infantry, and the New York Volunteers, were thrown out from the highest points of the castle. The shouts of the victors announced to Mexico that Chapultepec, the strong defence on the west of her capital, was in possession of her enemy.