The Battle of Cerro Gordo
Ramón Alacaraz, Mexican Army
At dawn on the 18th, the roar of the enemy's artillery resounded through the camps, as a solemn announcement of a battle.
On the hill, where the brave insurgents had in former days shed their blood for independence, now waved our flag; and under its shadow, from that elevation, was seen a line of men, who were to serve as a wall against the invader. Among the files, the different and distinctive ranks of the army, from the common soldier to the General-in-chief, then invested with the supreme dignity of the nation, appeared at that time in all the prestige and with all the splendor which the illusions of patriotism conceded to them.
The enemy, using the battery of Atalaya, opened from thence, for some hours, their fire upon the Telégrafo, from which our own replied. General Santa Anna then employed himself in completing the battery by the roadside; and the engineers, Robles and Cano, under the enemy's fire, erected temporary works on the declivity of the Telégrafo, on the very spot where the corps who defended the centre of the position, the evening before, had formed. Above the positions of the centre and the right of our line, were now the same forces which had previously garrisoned them; upon the hill the 1st and 2d Light were sent, which had gone down early in the morning, to take their rations; and the 6th infantry returned to cover the right. The 4th of the line remained on the spot, where they had fought so bravely on the 17th. The cavalry, which had been ordered down from Corral Falso in the night, formed on the road, resting their right opposite the battery just erected, and were supported by the 11th infantry. The 3d and 4th light battalions remained also formed on the road, ready to march to any point that might be designated.
Such was the disposition of our forces, before sunrise, while the cannonade was becoming more and more active between the two hills, until the roar was repeated every instant. The enemy, without cessation, poured down grenades, rockets, and all other kinds of projectiles, which fell upon the hill, upon the road and even far beyond our camp. Their columns, in the meantime, marched beyond the Atalaya, by the crags in front of our left; and about seven in the morning, one of them, under the command of General Twiggs, commenced the attack upon the Telégrafo.
General Santa Anna, as soon as he had established the battery on the left, proceeded to the positions on the right, influenced perhaps by his first idea. But stopping after he had passed the battery of the centre, and observing from that spot, the activity with which the cannonade was sustained on our part, sent orders to General Vazquez, not to expend his park, and to shelter the troops from the enemy's fire. Then returning by the road, on arriving at the foot of the Telégrafo, the fire of musketry opened, and he immediately sent up the 3d and 4th Light battalions to aid the troops in defending that point.
The Americans charged with firmness, deploying as skirmishers, covering themselves among the bushes and briers that were on the ground upon the lines, scarcely marked out, which it had been intended to construct that morning, being supported by the 3d of the line, the 2d Light, and part of the 4th. They made equal exertions against the left of the Telégrafo, defended by the 4th of the line, and against the right, where the 6th infantry was posted, to reinforce them, as on the previous evening. The artillery had ceased to play on both sides, on account of the proximity of the combatants. The fire of the musketry was as active as the excitement of the contest. Death, flapping her wings over that bloody field, set on fire in some places by the projectiles of the enemy, and which was mixed in a horrible manner with the thick smoke that enveloped thousands of men, crimsoned with the contest. Our soldiers fell in heaps in the midst of the confusion, and the enemy falling also, were instantly replaced by others, who seemed to reproduce them. There fell the worthy Colonel Palacios, commander of the artillery of the field, wounded by the enemy's balls; there a warrior's fame crowned the career of General Vazquez, in the fulness of his energies with a glorious death, amidst the tumult of battle, and there hundreds of brave men shed their blood in the most holy cause. This commander should have been succeeded by his second, General Uraga, but he was at the head of his battalion, the 4th of the line, on the left declivity of the Telégrafo; and having not a moment to lose, General Baneneli took the command, whose corps, the 3d Light, had remained in reserve, sheltered from the fire by the very summit of the hill. The activity of the engagement redoubling more and more, destroyed new victims. The 2d Light and the 3d and 4th of the line, had lost almost their entire force, and even the last the greater part of its officers. The enemy, pressing upon our troops with superior numbers, successively gained possession of the lower works of the position, and without losing an instant, rapidly ascended to assault the last crest of the hill.
Some of our soldiers now began to leave their ranks, and to descend the opposite side, attempting to mingle with the wounded, who were retiring, but General Santa Anna observing it ordered some of his adjutants to prevent this disorder, and they either on compulsion, or by the stimulus of enthusiasm, succeeded in persuading the fugitives to return.
In the meantime, General Baneneli appealed to the last resource, and ordered his men to charge bayonets. They, eager to join in an action which they had only heard, immediately hastened this movement in full force, to come up to where they were directed; but, surprised at finding themselves hand to hand with an enemy so superior in numbers, and surrounded on all sides, were panic-struck in an instant, fell into disorder, and their commander in vain endeavored to keep them in their ranks. Being himself involved in the crowd with the chiefs of engineers and other officers, who endeavored, sword in hand, to keep back the men, they were actually rolled together down the opposite declivity, borne along by the multitude, which poured onward like a torrent from the height.
On the summit of the hill now was seen, in the midst of a column of dense smoke, a multitude of Americans, standing amidst the flashing light of their fires, which were directed against the enormous mass of men precipitating themselves down the steep declivity, covered, as it were, with a white robe from the color of their dress. That shocking spectacle was like the violent eruption of a volcano, throwing out flames and cinders from its bosom, and spreading them over all its surface.
Among the fire and smoke, and above the mass of blue formed by the Americans behind the summit of the Telégrafo, still floated our deserted flag. But the banner of the stars was soon raised by the enemy upon the same staff, and for an instant both became entangled and confounded together, our own at length falling to the ground, amidst the shouts and roar of the victors' guns, and the mournful cries and confused voices of the vanquished.
It was now three quarters past ten o'clock in the morning. The enemy had appeared on the right of our line during the attack on the Telégrafo; and advancing in column upon our position of the centre, endeavored to take all our entrenchments by assault. Captain Godinez of the navy, commanding the artillery, had concerted with the respective commanders of the three positions, to allow the enemy to advance upon any of them without firing, until they should approach within a short distance, taking the precaution to have the cannon loaded with grape shot. The American column, composed of volunteers, under the command of General Pillow, approached nearer and nearer to our lines without receiving a single shot; but, as soon as they reached a convenient place, a close discharge of our pieces, which raked their ranks, accompanied with a vigorous volley of small arms from the three positions, made a horrible slaughter among the enemy, threw them into disorder, and obliged them to make a precipitate retreat.
Before they could reorganize, and when our soldiers had not suffered the slightest loss, the Telégrafo had yielded; and the Americans who had possession of it, descending by the right declivity, upon the battery on the road, which our forces had not begun to use, entirely cut off those positions, now surrounded on all sides, and commanded by the hill, from which the enemy directed their fire. General Jarero no longer attempted any resistance, but surrendered, with his force.
When the Telégrafo was lost, the 6th infantry had retreated to the positions on the right, where they capitulated with the other corps. The grenadier battalion, which had been drawn out from the battery of the centre to the foot of the hill, chiefly dispersed, in spite of the exertions made to collect it.
The brigade of General Arteaga, that had arrived in the midst of the conflict, being infected by the disorder of the other forces, fell into confusion, opposite head-quarters, without having come into action. The 11th infantry, in obedience to different orders from the Commander-in-chief, made repeated marches and countermarches for that same point; while the scattered remains of the 2d, 3d, and 4th light battalions, and 3d and 4th of the line, there likewise became disordered; and the entire mass of men, panic-struck, without morale, without discipline, moved about in that small piece of road, in the most frightful state of confusion.
An enthusiastic officer harangued the troops at the pitch of his voice, assuring them that they had yet lost nothing, wishing to reanimate the spirit now dead in all that unfortunate crowd. General Baneneli, rushing in with his horse, and full of wrath, poured forth a thousand horrible imprecations upon his soldiers, and with the butt of his pistol threatened particularly one of his captains. The General-in-chief vented his rage upon the officers who had lost their positions; and the agitation of the multitude, and the difficulties of the ground, with the general dangers and desperation, rendered the scene indescribable.
In the meantime, the enemy's column, commanded by General Worth, passing the barrancas and crags on our left, which had been deemed inaccessible, approached the battery that had been thrown up that day, the only remaining one in our possession. The General-in-chief ordered General Canalizo to charge with the cavalry; but the woods absolutely prevented the execution of the movement. The column advanced, in spite of the fire of the cannon, in a direction for the road, to the left of our battery, to cut off our retreat. When, however, they had approached near enough, more than two hundred skirmishers were sent forward, whose balls, as if with a breath of wind, fast cleared away the men at our guns, which were supplied by the artillery and a party of cuirassiers, who had been ordered to dismount to reinforce the battery. The first adjutant, Velasco, chief of the cuirassiers, had the glory of falling at the foot of it. The skirmishers advanced to the front of the battery, so that the head of the column was very near the road; when our cavalry, seeing that they were about to be cut off, retreated rapidly by the Jalapa road. The last effort was then made by Robles, and the brave artillery officers, Malagon, Argüelles, and Olzinger, who, surrounded on all sides, turned their pieces towards the left, directing them against the head of the column, a few moments before the skirmishers, who rushed upon them with the bayonet, got possession of them, and turned them against us.
General Santa Anna, accompanied by some of his adjutants, proceeded by the road to the left of the battery, when the enemy's column, now coming out of the woods, absolutely prevented his passage by a discharge which obliged him to fall back. The carriage in which he had left Jalapa was riddled with shot, the mules killed and taken by the enemy, as well as a wagon containing sixteen thousand dollars, received the day before for the pay of the troops. Every tie of command and obedience now being broken among our troops, safety alone being the object, and all being involved in a frightful whirl, they rushed desperately to the narrow pass of the defile that descends to the Plan del Rio, where the General-in-chief had proceeded, with the chiefs and officers who accompanied him.
Horrible, indeed, was the descent by that narrow and rocky path, where thousands rushed, disputing the passage with desperation, and leaving a track of blood upon the road. All classes being confounded, all military distinction and respect were lost, the badges of rank became marks for sarcasms, that were only meted out according to their grade and humiliation. The enemy, now masters of our camp, turned their guns upon the fugitives. This augmented more and more the terror of the multitude crowded through the defile, and pressed forward every instant by a new impulse, which increased the confusion and disgrace of the ill-fated day.
Cerro-Gordo was lost! Mexico was open to the iniquity of the invader.
Ramon Alacaraz. The Other Side: Or Notes for the History of the War Between Mexico and the United States Written in Mexico. Albert C. Ramsey, translator. (New York:1850), pp. 208-214.