Rendezvous with History
The Aztec Club's Sesquicentennial
Plans for the Aztec Club's 1997 sesquicentennial celebration commenced in 1994 and included publication of a comprehensive Sesquicentennial History and a trip to Mexico to commemorate 150 years of peace between our two countries. The objective of our trip was to honor the sacrifices made by both nations.
Great care was taken to ensure that the governments of both countries were involved. Our trip was at the invitation of
Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, President of Mexico, and we coordinated
with the U. S. State Department.
On the morning of October 7, 1997 members of the Aztec Club gathered at staging areas around the nation. From Minneapolis to Atlanta, and Washington to Los Angeles, we embarked on a rendezvous with our forefathers. It was a journey long awaited with the greatest of anticipation. The appointed day had finally arrived for us to begin a grand celebration, and our commemoration of one hundred fifty years of peace.
The Aztec Club of 1847 was founded on Oct. 12, 1847 by the officers of the United States Army then in Mexico City who occupied that magnificent city after overcoming a valiant defending force, larger in numbers but nevertheless outmatched by the superior arms of Winfield Scott's Army. One hundred fifty years later some 30 of us arrived by plane at Mexico City International Airport. As members of the Aztec Club, each is a descendant of an officer of the American Army, Navy or Marines who, between 1846-1848, served in the Mexican War.
Although this war had great significance to the fledgling American nation, many often forget it as that victory looms behind the overpowering shadow of the War of the Rebellion.
Arguably the single example of bald American expansionism, the Mexican War secured the Pacific Ocean as the western boundary of the United States and set the stage for the great Western migration. Historians have often debated what America might be like today had the Mexican War not occurred. With Russians settling in San Francisco Bay, the British in Washington and Oregon, and Spain to the South, what flag might be flying this day over California and the West had the Mexican War not occurred? Would the United States never have had a fleet at Pearl Harbor?
Our trip had been carefully planned over several months time. The Aztec Club experienced the greatest level of cooperation from the Mexican government. We came commemorating peace, with the hope of sharing friendship and future prosperity. Traveling with us were selected leaders of business and industry,
including trade representatives working to establish a sister city relationship with Querétaro.
There was great anticipation as we attended a press conference scheduled for the night of our arrival.
We wondered: "How would we be received?" Would lingering feelings about the war, fought so long ago, prove our best intentions were ill conceived?
The President of the Aztec Club entered the press conference to find perhaps two dozen representatives from the newspaper, radio, and television media.
A bank of television cameras faced from the back of the room,
microphones were set upon a table, reporters had pen and paper
in hand and press photographers were ready. We could not help but wonder what they would soon record.
After a few tentative questions, the inquisitive reporters quickly picked up their pace and for over an hour a constructive, thoughtful and friendly discourse ensued. It became clear we made the right choice in coming. Our approach struck a much desired friendly chord. We could not change history but we could begin to understand each other today -- and talk about a more friendly, respectful and mutually prosperous future.
During this ten-day trip we followed in near reverse the path that took
Winfield Scott and his armies two years to travail amidst not only the usual hazards of war, but disease and sickness which claimed the larger portion of our casualties.
Our battlefield tour began at the
Castle at Chapultepec and, over the next week we visited other battle sites with names familiar to all of us: from
Molino del Rey, to
Churubusco, Puebla, Jalapa,
Cerro Gordo and down to
Vera Cruz. We also visited Querétaro, site of the signing of the
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
American General Winfield Scott envisioned coordinated assaults on Chapultepec by two divisions, led by Gen. Gideon Pillow attacking east from Molino del Rey, and Gen.
John A. Quitman traveling a northern route through the Tacubaya causeway. (Gen. Quitman was the first President of the Aztec Club.) Serving under Quitman were Generals
Persifor Smith and James Shields.
At the Monumento de los Niños Héroes we presented a wreath and a stirring tribute to the cadets who valiantly defended the Castle, then Mexico's military academy, to their deaths. The Cadet Guard participating in our tribute, provided by the Mexican government, seemed a fitting reminder to us all. As
the Aztec Club President's address was broadcast over the park via its sound system
one could not help but wonder the reaction we would invoke.
Spanish King Carlos V (Charles V) declared the zone today known as
Chapultepec Park a nature reserve in 1537. During Mexico's Spanish colonial era, the Viceroys of New Spain had their palace atop Chapultepec, demolishing Pre-Columbian structures in the process. A larger Viceregal castle was constructed on the spot in 1784.
Having won its independence from Spain, in 1833 Mexico turned the palace into a military academy. In 1847 Chapultepec was the site of a decisive battle in the Mexican War.
For a short video on the Battle of Chapultepec click
here. A band of cadets studying at the military academy in the castle were overwhelmed by the troops of Gen. Winfield Scott, an incident that gave rise to the phrase in the United States
Marine Corps hymn about "the Halls of Montezuma".