The Battle of Palo Alto
Lieutenant J.M. Scarritt
You doubtless by this time have heard some intelligence of our fights of the 8th & 9th as I acted the part of Asst. Aid to Gen. Taylor in both engagements, and the only one of our corps present. I thought it would be gratifying to our officers to have something in detail. Our fort opposite Matamoros was sufficiently completed on the first of May to permit the body of the army to move. It was left under the command of Major J Brown, with the 7th Infantry, 4 eighteen-pdrs. & 2 six-pdrs. & 2 howitzers. The whole force amounted to about 500 men. Capt. Mansfield was left in the fort. The Army reached Pt. Isabel about 2,200 strong. We remained at this place until 3 o'clock on the 7th strengthening the defences and loading our train. On the 7th we moved out with our original force accompanied by a train of about 200 waggons and carrying two 18-pdrs. on travelling carriages - these were drawn by oxen and remained with the train. On the night of the 7th we encamped at eight miles from Pt. Isabel. On the 8th when about 15 miles from Pt. Isabel and one mile this side of the position called "Worth's Camp" our line of battle was formed - the command was halted, and the train closed - this was done in consequence of the report of our advance that the enemy was seen in front and appeared to be advancing.
In this order the force advanced until it came to the water hole at Gen. Worth's camp - there it was halted, the men refreshed with rest and water, and the train parked. From this position the enemy were distinctly seen distant about two miles and his long black lines at times fringing the horizon and then projected upon the wood seemed an overwhelming force for our small army. When the men were well refreshed the line was again formed and we advanced until our right flank came within one half mile of their left - their batteries then opened upon us - we halted - formed square - laid down in the grass - and put our guns to work in reply. The side sketch will give about the position of the two forces when the fight commenced. The Mexicans had about 800 cavalry on each flank - 10 pieces of artillery disposed as represented of which there were eight 4-pdrs. and two 9-pdrs. - he had also about 4,000 regular Infantry and Artillery and 2,000 ranceros who did not appear, being in the wood as I suppose. We had about 1,800 bayonets, 250 cavalry - two batteries of 4 guns each, and the two 18-pdrs. which were brought into line. The 18-pdrs. opened upon the cavalry on the left, with round shot. Duncan advanced some 50 yards and Ringgold some short distance in front and opened upon different points of the line. The distance was so great that solid shot was used, at first. The enemies' cavalry on the left soon found their position too uncomfortable to maintain long so that he moved off by the left flank, followed by the two pieces of Artillery nearest. The head of this column was soon seen through the wood demonstrating an attack either on our right flank or on the train - their cavalry followed the broken line. The 5th Infantry were moved into the wood for the purpose of protecting our right and the 3rd withdrawn, so as to cover more effectually the train. The 5th was a square by the time the lancers reached the wood - the latter charged the square but were repelled with the loss of ten killed - they then withdrew out of musquetry range and continued their march toward our train. The appearance of the 3rd checked this demonstration and their retreat commenced. In the mean time two of Ringgold's guns had been ordered into the wood on the left of the 5th. They reached their position just as this long line of cavalry had commenced their retreat - these guns did great damage to their two pieces of artillery which they never opened, and hastened the retreat of the horsemen. Whilst this was going on, Capt. May with his squadron made a demonstration on their lines, but he found their batteries so strongly supported by infantry and cavalry that he considered it hopeless to expect success from an attack of 65 dragoons. Such was the situation of things until the close of the first part of the fight, when the smoke of the guns and of the burning prairie which had been fired by the burning wads created a cloud so dense that it was impossible to see each other. The fight had commenced at 2 o'clock, and it was about 4. The firing on both sides ceased and we had an intermission of about an hour.
As their cavalry had not returned to their position after their repulse we advanced the 5th to the place occupied by their left, brought up the 2 18-pdrs., advanced Ringgold and the Artillery batallion as represented. We then recommenced the fire which they immediately answered. Duncan finding that the smoke intercepted his view moved to the left and front and thus obtained a very near and deadly fire upon their lines. They made a movement to the right with their cavalry but Duncan's fire was too galling for them to endure and they fell back in some confusion. An assault was also attempted by the cavalry on the artillery batallion but a couple of discharges of grape from the 18-pounders and of musketry from the square dispersed them entirely. Night set in and the firing ceased at 7 o'clock.
Our troops were brought up and encamped upon the ground occupied by our 18-pounders with the train compactly parked in rear. The damage done us was not great - three of our men were killed outright upon the field and 47 wounded of whom some six or seven died during the night. We had two officers severely and one slightly wounded. Major Ringgold received a four pr. shot through both thighs without injuring a bone - he has since died. Capt. John Page had his lower jaw carried away - he's still alive but it were a mercy that he were dead. Luther received a slight wound in his leg. The dragoons lost 9 horses - two or three officers were unhorsed - and many narrow escapes were made. Bliss was unhorsed - but not hurt. The damage done the enemy we could not learn that night and no one would hazard a guess. We all thought that he had got enough to slightly sicken a Mexican stomach but we confidently expected to see something more of him either during the night or the next day.
We were not quite satisfied with what we had done - the train had tied us down and prevented all advance and the feeling and opinion was that the next day the train must look out for itself. I felt perfectly satisfied that if either army had attempted an advance it would have been defeated. The interval that separaed us was half a mile of prairie covered with long grass making it very difficult to move through. The Artillery was so numerous and so well served on both sides that no column could have survived in an attempt to advance....
On the morning of the 9th General Taylor directed me to secure the train in the best manner possible. The two 18-pdrs. were left and the 12-pdrs. on truck carriages were got out of the waggons and placed at my disposal. By 12 o'clock, I had the train so that it could resist any attack of cavalry - come in what direction it might and it would have required very steady cavalry to have marched upon it. The army had left early in the morning and was carefully advancing toward the point at which the enemy was last seen....
Gen. Taylor determined to advance more rapidly. Taking some part of his train and leaving the rest in position, we again took up the order of march. When we had marched about 8 miles, the Gen. received intelligence from his advanced scouts that the enemy had taken position in the chapparal or thick brush which abounds in this country. The road was almost the only open country about. We had 100 men acting as skirmishers - 50 were thrown on each side of the road. Ridgley's battery was ordered to take position in the open space - the 5th was thrown in open order on the left to clear the woods of the light troops and support the artillery and the 3d, 4th, & 8th were disposed of in the same manner for the same purpose. Duncan was then brought up - then May's squadron and he received an order to charge their batteries which he did in the most gallant manner, capturing Gen. La Vega at his guns. The Mexicans rallied and retook their pieces - the 5th retook and retained them - the 4th took some cannon I think as did the 8th. After the loss of their cannon the Mexicans made a determined stand on their right but they had two batteries of artillery on their flank and the 8th in their front. They broke and made but little resistance afterward. We captured eight pieces of cannon - 500 stand of arms - a large quantity of ammunition - about 400 mules with their packs, - all of their camp furniture, Arista's private papers, numerous colors, &c., and in short the rout was complete and nothing saved their army but their great speed and the exhausted state of our men. We took prisoner, 14 officers and about 200 men - and killed on the field about 300. The Mexicans acknowledge a loss in the two fights of 1,000 men and 48 officers. Our whole loss in the two is 100 killed and wounded. There was a great deal of personal gallantry shown and the most enthusiastic and determined spirit both in officers and men. But the light artillery was the back bone of our success. I will not dwell on this fight for it demonstrates only the efficiency of our artillery and the daring of our officers and men.
National Archives, Record Group 77 - Letters Received, Office of the Chief of Engineers.