West Point Graduates
In 1845, the line of the
American Army consisted of only 14 regiments: 2 of dragoons, 4 of artillery,
and 8 of infantry. The total authorized enlisted strength was 7,883 men.
The actual strength at the end of that year was 5,300. Just before the
Battle of Palo Alto General Zachary Taylor's command, including all his
garrisons and the sick, numbered just 3,600 men.
About three-fourths of
the line officers were graduates of West Point. The officers of the Adjutant-General's,
Quartermaster's, and Ordnance departments and also those of the Engineer
Corps and of the Topographical Engineers were nearly all graduates, but
there were none among the general officers at that time.
The Regular Army of that
day gave very little attention to merely showy exercises, but for purposes
of campaign and battle was unexcelled, if not unequaled.
The cavalry was well mounted,
disciplined, and trained. The artillery was thoroughly instructed some
as light batteries, but most of it as infantry. The infantry also, like
the other arms, was thoroughly trained in the drill and battle tactics
of that period. The most casual reader can not fail to be impressed with
the thorough knowledge of their arm and its possibilities and correct use
on the battlefield exhibited by even the junior officers in the very first
battle of the war.
Such skill and readiness
to seize the passing advantages offered by the phases of the fight are
of inestimable value on the battlefield, but they are intuitive with very
few. Through this can be seen the advantage of a good military education,
whether obtained at the miliary academy or in the school of practical experience.
Hence the high estimation in which these men were held by both Generals
Scott and Taylor, both of whom were honor graduates of the school of experience
as well as men of great natural ability and of the highest character.
For all purposes of active
service our Regulars were equal to any in existence, with the exception
that they were not accustomed to maneuvering or working in masses, very
few of them ever having seen more than a few companies assembled. But the
theory of larger operations had been carefully studied by a great majority
of the officers, and the troops soon became accustomed to working together
in such masses as were necessary. Almost invariably the conduct of all
our troops, both Regulars and Volunteers, was above all praise. The skill,
gallantry and dogged determination with which they overcame the tremendous
odds of every kind against them vast numerical superiority, powerful works
armed with heavy guns, and the terrors of unfamiliar deadly climates surpassed
all reasonable expectation.
After hostilities began,
the Army was augmented by volunteers, enlisted at first "for one year",
and later, when the folly of this approach was demonstrated, "for
the war". Fortunately there was available a great abundance of most
excellent material, entirely similar to their predecessors of 1812. Even
with the short time possible for organization and training, these volunteers
repeatedly showed themselves superior in battle to the enemy's best troops.
A number of graduates were given volunteer commissions and their work in
organization, discipline, and drill was of great value. That they labored
faithfully and effectively is the universal testimony, and while many of
the survivors received brevets for gallantry in action, their proportion
of killed and wounded is more eloquent of their services on the battlefield
than even the encomiums of their fellow-soldiers.
And in, perhaps, the most
important of all respects, we were highly favored at this time in having
generals of great skill, judgment, courage (both moral and physical), and
experience. The American generalship was of a high order. Considered tactically,
some minor errors, due probably to overconfidence, are perceived; but in
most cases the principal dispositions will be approved by all. Considered,
strategically, it may be said that General Taylor's dazzling victories
could not be decisive because of his theater of operations. But the very
cause and origin of the war compelled operations in that theater.
Criticisms of Winfield
Scott's unbroken record of successful battles are in most cases merely
captious. As his Government failed to properly support and supply him with
men, animals, clothing, rations, transportation, and money, he was finally
compelled to choose either indefinite inaction or the hazardous course
which he preferred.
General Ulysses S. Grant,
later Vice President of the Aztec Club, once pointed out:
"But General Scott's
successes are an answer to all criticism. He invaded a populous country,
penetrating 260 miles into the interior, with a force at no time equal
to one-half of that opposed to him; he was without a base, the enemy was
always intrenched, always on the defensive; yet he won every battle, he
captured the capital and conquered the Government. Credit is due to the
troops engaged it is true, but the plans and the strategy were the general's."
Our troops were always
compelled to fight against odds. Their numbers in some cases were less
than one-third those of the enemy, as at Buena Vista and in the valley
of Mexico, and they never equaled him even when he occupied carefully fortified
positions of great strength well supplied with artillery, such as Monterey,
Cerro Gordo, Contreras, and the other powerful works in the valley. The
skill of the officers, the tremendous moral force due to a succession of
victories, and the sublime faith of the generals in their troops and of
the troops in their generals, added to skill and courage, compensated for
governmental neglect, the ultimate effect of which has been to make the
splendor of their achievements still more dazzling.
The number of graduates
who rendered distinguished services in the Mexican war is many times greater
than the whole number who had graduated before 1812-13. The list of those
who were "breveted for gallant and meritorious services" on the
field of battle runs into the hundreds. Many were breveted twice and a
number three times.
Intended initially as a means of rewarding officers for meritorious
combat service, the brevet was used during the moribund period of the 1820's-1840's
as a means of honoring officers prevented from receiving promotion due
to the lack of a military retirement system. With the number of senior
line officers limited by law, and promotion only as vacancies occurred,
the lack of a retirement system caused aged, infirm or inadequate officers
to remain in grade years past their effectiveness, preventing younger,
more deserving officers from moving up.
The brevet rank normally
carried no greater authority or pay, but the officer could be ordered to
duty in his brevet rank. Thus, although not holding rank in grade, a brevet
rank permitted the officer to hold a post he otherwise could not have.
Zachary Taylor took command of the Army of Observation as a Brevet Brigadier
General. However, this dual track of ranks soon became quite confusing.
Jack Bauer writes:
"One of the
less productive avocations which the officers at Corpus Christi found to
while away the time was to argue the brevet-lineal rank issue. In October
Taylor had raised the issue because of the presence of the army of both
Colonels Twiggs and Worth. Twiggs was senior to Worth as a colonel but
the latter held a brevet as a brigadier general. Whoever was senior would
be the second-in-command of the army. General Winfield Scott ruled in Worth's
favor but Secretary Marcy took the issue to the President. Without waiting
to learn Polk's decision, Taylor reversed Scott's ruling.
"This should have
ended the dispute, since the President's ruling in March sustained the
primacy of lineal rank. Unfortunately, Hitchcock, to whom such matters
had much importance, muddied the waters in mid-December by forwarding to
the Senate a memorial signed by over a hundred officers asking for legislation
to settle the question. The issue came to a head when Taylor ordered a
review of the army on February 25. He designated Twiggs as the senior officer,
which caused Worth to refuse to participate and ask permission to leave
the army. To save appearances, Taylor took advantage of a break in the
weather to cancel the review. "When the news of Polk's decision reached
Texas, Worth temper got the better of him and he resigned his commission,
although he did not leave the army until it reached the Rio Grande. On
May 9, when he learned of the developing hostilities, Worth withdrew his
resignation, Scott ordered him back to the army, but he missed Palo Alto
[K. Jack Bauer The Mexican War, 1846-1848. MacMillan Publishing
Co., NY, 1974. p 35-36.]
A large number of the
West Point graduates who served as junior officers in the Mexican War afterwards
became prominent in the Civil War, and their names are today household
words. Many of their biographies are well known to all Americans. A few
references to some of their exploits during the Mexican War, as recounted
in the official publication surrounding the centennial of West Point are
highlighted below, drawn from: Centennial of the United States Military
Academy at West Point, New York., GPO, Washington, D. C., 1904. Vol
1, pp 601-631.
Most of the officers mentioned
below were members of the Aztec Club of 1847. They have been highlighted
with the addition of their first names in brackets [
The great majority of
our officers were thoroughly proficient in handling their own arms in conjunction
with the other arms on the battlefield. This may be best illustrated by
references to some of the battles of the war.
Alto | Resaca-de-la-Palma
| Vera Cruz
| Cerro Gordo
| March to
Mexico City | Molino
del Rey & Chapultepec
Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.