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[The Broad Pennant -- Naval Service in the Mexican War] Introduction
[Alvarado] Alvarado
[Court Martial] Court Martial
of Lt. Hunter
[Tabasco] Tabasco
[Tuxpan] Tuxpan
[Vera Cruz] Vera
[Buena Vista] Buena
[Return to Main Menu] Main
[Mexican War Service of the United States Navy]


San Juan de Ulloa was deemed to be impregnable to almost any conceivable force which could be brought against it. And yet the Navy only needed the order, to render it ready for any sacrifice which the bombardment of the castle might cost; and every officer gloried in the opportunity to show to the nation and the world, that none of the gallantry for which it had in other days been characterized and distinguished, was wanting. As yet but few opportunities had presented themselves for the action of the Navy in this war. And circumstances had rather conspired to detract from its well earned fame. Its very rest, even when nothing could be done -- when nothing existed where it was possible for the Navy to demonstrate its capability and readiness for action, tended, while all was movement and glory in the Army, to throw the Navy into the background, or cause it to be looked upon as something different from the glorious arm of defense which had been wielded in other days for the national defense, and which, by its chivalric deeds, had won glory, consideration, and national affection to itself.

But it was the Navy's misfortune that Mexico had no ships to be taken -- no squadron or fleet to be met. And yet there was a generous feeling among the officers of the Navy that caused them to rejoice in the success of the Army. For a while, perhaps, before this Mexican war, the Army had been less esteemed in the public regard been the Navy. And it was a matter of positive feeling of gratification on the part of the Navy officers, that the regular Army, without aid from any other source, even from the Navy itself, had won the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. But still, it seemed an inglorious state of rest for the Navy to be thus inactive, or only engaged in blockading ports against entrance of neutral ships, and occasionally overhauling some shore boats of the miserable coasters, along these coral shores.

The hazardous enterprise of attacking the Castle at San Juan de Ulloa, therefore, was a welcome proposition to be entertained by the officers of the Navy; and the order that led to the preparations for the assault was a welcome one. But even here, the Navy was cheated out of its anticipated opportunity for adding new glory to his well earned fame, by the Mexicans themselves. But this is anticipating the action of the Army and Navy before Vera Cruz, towards which the forces, both of the land and sea, were now directed. The rendezvous for the Army was the island of Lobos, not very distant from Vera Cruz and the anchorage of the fleet at Anton Lizardo.

Thither the transports, with the Army from the Brazos de Santiago and trips from other points, New Orleans and the North, gathered. These transports, with troops, cavalry and infantry, and the materiél for operating against Vera Cruz and the Castle, amounted to some 60 to 100 sail. They transported an Army of upwards of 12,000 men, that which there never was a more thoroughly equipped and well apportioned armament, in the materiél for a successful expedition against the enemy's supposed-to-be strongest hold. The American squadron awaited the arrival of this fleet of transports, at its usual anchorage off Anton Lizardo, where, with but few casualties, the vessels successively gathered in due time in order, agreeably to the concerted plan of the General-in-Chief of the Army.

It now became the duty of the Navy to act, and landing this brilliant force and the materiél for its operation on the enemy's shore. The particulars of the disembarkation of the troops -- the mode of their successful landing -- and a handsome manner in which all this, without a single accident occurring, under the direction of Commodore Conner, was accomplished, will be given in the language itself of the commander-in-chief of the squadron, in his dispatch to the Department.

The brilliant scene presented by the disembarkation of an Army and of 12,000 men from the ships, so successfully and beautifully conducted, might well excite the admiration and chain the interested gaze of the beholders. The scene has never been equaled on the continent of America, and no disembarkation on record can have surpassed it for its successful accomplishment. It has been compared with the landing of the French Expedition against Algiers in 1830, which is said to have been won to the most complete armaments, in every respect, that ever left Europe. That expedition "had been prepared with labor, attention and experience; and nothing had been omitted to insure success, particularly in the means and facilities for landing the troops. It's disembarkation took place in a wide bay, which was more favorable than an open beach directly on the ocean; and, as in the present instance, it was made without any resistance on the part of the enemy. Yet, only 9,000 men were landed the first day, and thirty to forty lives were lost by accidents or upsetting of boats; whereas, on the present occasion, 12,000 men were landed in one day, without the slightest accident or loss of a single life. The great credit of this, of course, belongs to the Navy, under whose orders and arrangements and by whose exertions it was effected, and reflects the highest credit Commodore Conner and the gallant officers and seamen bowl longing to squadron."

The superb scene of this disembarkation would justly bear yet minute detail, than is given in the dispatch of Commodore Conner. "Order is the first law of nature; and wherever it exists, concert of action and harmony prevail. In the Navy and the Army "obedience to order" is the first law. And thus this successful and beautiful landing of an Army of 12,000 men was effected, as if by enchantment, by a correspondence with the orders of the Commander-in-Chief of the squadron, previously issued to the fleet.

And thus was the American Army successfully encamped on the Mexican Coast, and the city of Vera Cruz suddenly invested. This last act of disembarking the forces by Commodore Conner, enabled him, at this point of the operations in the Gulf, gracefully to retire from his command, which he had longer held than is usual for an officer at any one period of time. Commodore Conner was now relieved by Commodore Perry, who arrived on the station at this moment, after a short absence in the steamer Mississippi to the United States. Commodore Conner, accordingly, in taking leave of his squadron, addressed to the officers and men, with whom he had served for so many months in the Gulf, an appropriate and farewell letter.

The American flag having thus been successfully planted on a Mexican shore near Vera Cruz, on the 9th of March, the line of investment around the city was immediately commenced -- General Worth holding the right, nearest the point of landing, General Patterson the center, and General Twiggs the left. In assuming these different positions, several skirmishes ensued between the Mexican and American troops, with slight losses to each party, while the Mexicans were driven in, as the American lying steadily advanced; until its left, under General Twiggs, rested on this and beach north and west of the city, thus extending the line of investment from beach to beach in rear of the city, and cutting off all communication with the interior. The whole length of the line of investment thus stretched itself some five miles in length.

The entrenchments were commenced and carried on, but a Norther occurring immediately after the landing of the American forces, it delayed the progress of the works -- cutting off all communication with the shipping, and drifting the sand on shore like clouds of driven snow in a wintry climate under the influence of the whirlwind and the storm. The heavy winds refilled the trenches already excavated, and delayed for some time the landing in getting into position the ordnance from the fleet. But the gale lulling, the works were carried upon with new zeal and enthusiasm by the land forces; and the Norther having had his blast out, the communication with the shore was re-established, and the munitions war, bombardment, and death, were conveyed with the facility characteristic of the naval service, to the beach.

The works, laid out by a skillful corps of engineer officers, were rapidly advanced. Mortar batteries were erected -- the sappers and miners nobly doing their duty -- the artillery occupying the batteries as rapidly as they were constructed, by mounting eight-inch howitzers for throwing shells, and twenty-four-pounders for sending round shot into the city. Ere long the batteries opened upon the city, at first with a slow fire, increasing as the number of their batteries from time to time augmented, until from a shell thrown every five minutes, they were sent at a rate of one hundred and eighty an hour. From the 22d to the 26th the batteries were playing upon the town, carrying destruction, fire, sorrow, and death into the midst of the devoted city; while for hours on hours the Mexicans threw back their missiles of vengeance; but they mostly felt harmless in the trenches, or trailed themselves all long the sand hills, and exploded or spent themselves with but little effect -- killing, however, a few products, and Capt. J. R. Vinton, 3d Artillery, a gallant officer of great merit, while on duty in the trenches, and Capt. William Albertis, 2d Infantry, on march while the troops were taking up the line of investment.

A heavy battery had been constructed and given in charge of the Navy, and designated as the Navy Battery, while the Marines of the squadron, under Capt. Edson, served in the trenches. The Navy Battery was handsomely served, sending destruction with its heavy guns into the wretched town, from which, at hours of night as by day, at intervals, the distresses of the inhabitants were heard in the groans that came from the city. This battery served by the sailors received the especial attention of the enemy as they directed their concentrated fire upon it to silence it.  But it dealt out its proportion of sorrow and death to the enemy, while it suffered from the well-directed buyer from the town.

"As soon as our batteries were ready, and opened upon the city of Vera Cruz, the Vixen and Spitfire took a bold position near Punto de Hornos, where, within range of the batteries of both city and Castle, they remained all night, pouring in broadsides, till their ammunition, supplied from time to time by the fleet, was exhausted. The spectacle was indeed exciting, (one might almost say ludicrous,) to see these small steamers in hostile attitude against the terrific battlements before them. But the gallant Tatnall, regardless of all odds, boldly proposed to his friend and comrade, Sands, to approach and assail both town and Castle at still closer quarters; and it was done with promptness and alacrity, each towing in several small vessels -- an act which called for the admiration of the whole squadron and army. A signal from a Commodore to recall them from their perilous post was suffered by their intrepid commanders to remain, for long time, unseen; nor did they retire until an officer was despatched by the Commodore in a boat, with positive orders, when they reluctantly backed out -- the boat's crew which brought the peremptory command cheering them as they slowly retired."

But no city could long hold out before the array of such a force as was now in hemming Vera Cruz with its line of circumvallation, and beneath the shower of shells and shot that were flying by day and by night from the batteries of heavy ordnance which commanded the town, and were crumbling their buildings to the ground, and drenching their streets with blood. The night of the 25th of March was a terrible one to the citizens of Vera Cruz, and presented a scene of fearful magnificence to the distant beholder, while the discharges of shells, round shot, and rockets in rapid succession, bore their devastation and havoc into the ill-fated city. A parley was sounded from the walls during the night; but it seems not to have been understood by the American lines. And at 8 o'clock on the morning of the 26th, a flag of truce, with the offer on the part of the authorities, to surrender the town of Vera Cruz and the Castle of San Juan de Ulloa, cause all firing to cease from the American batteries.

The conditions of surrender having been agreed upon by the commissioners appointed by the two parties, on the 29th of March, the Mexican soldiers marched out of the city and stacked their arms, and the American forces occupied the town and the Castle -- giving to the Army and Navy of the United States of North America the strongest hold of the Mexican Republic, and perhaps the strongest fortifications on the shores of the western continent.

The Broad Pennant.  A Cruise in the United States Flag Ship of the Gulf Squadron, During the Mexican Difficulties Together With Sketches of the Mexican War. Rev. Fitch W. Taylor, A. M., USN.    Leavitt, Tron & Co., New York.  1848.

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