Aztec Club Medal

Introduction Introduction
Palo Alto Palo
Alto
Resaca-de-la-Palma Resaca
de la Palma
Monterey Monterey
Vera Cruz Vera
Cruz
Cerro Gordo Cerro
Gordo
Mexico City Mexico
City
Molino del Rey & Chapultepec Molino
del Rey
[Mexican War Service of West Point Graduates]

Mexican War Service
of
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.

Brevets
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 and Resaca-de-la-Palma."
[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.



Palo Alto | Resaca-de-la-Palma | Monterey | Vera Cruz | Cerro Gordo | March to Mexico City | Molino del Rey & Chapultepec


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