1846, at the dawn of the war with Mexico, the United States Army had no cavalry
branch, but instead relied on mounted infantry called dragoons. Although dragoons
rode to battle, they were trained to dismount and fight as infantry. Unfortunately,
these troops were too heavy and cumbersome to perform the normal tasks assigned
to cavalry such as scouting enemy territory, screening the army’s movements, and
swiftly delivering important dispatches. Prior to the initiation of hostilities,
Major Jack Hays met with General Zachary Taylor in Corpus
Christi and offered the services of his Texas Rangers to fill this critical
Far from well-versed in the use and tactics of cavalry, and confident
that his dragoons would prove satisfactory, General Taylor refused Hays' offer.
Besides, as far as Taylor was concerned, the Texans were irregulars, not proper
soldiers. While it was true the Rangers could fight like pure devils, they occasionally
behaved like wild men. However, devils or not, Taylor soon changed his mind when
he moved his army south into the Nueces Strip and found that his dragoons were
no match for the well-mounted and highly mobile Mexican cavalry.
After Mexican General
Arista’s cavalry captured 60 dragoons without a fight, General Taylor asked Jack
Hays for the services of Sam
Walker and a few other Texas Rangers to keep his lines of communication open
between Port Isabel and
Fort Brown on the Rio Grande. While successfully accomplishing this mission, Walker
and his men discovered that Arista was moving his forces into a position north
of the river to ambush the American advance. The Rangers then made a daring night
ride through the Mexican lines, warning Taylor in time to avoid the potential
disaster and help set up the subsequent American victories at Palo Alto and Reseca
de la Palma.
In response to the early victories, President James K. Polk
asked the United States Congress for a declaration of war, and General Taylor
requested that the governor of Texas, James
Pinkney Henderson, raise a regiment of Texas Rangers for service in Mexico.
The Rangers began to filter down to the Rio Grande company by company, as soon
as they had been mustered in; the first being those commanded by Ben McCulloch
and Ad Gillespie. Unlike most of the men in Taylor's army, the Rangers who made
up these companies were frontiersman of the first order, not young, inexperienced
farm boys in search of adventure. In fact, it was generally held that McCulloch’s
company was one of the finest ever assembled in the ranging service.
soon as McCulloch’s Rangers were encamped near Fort Brown, General Taylor ordered
them to conduct a scout of the ground between Matamoros and Monterrey with the
purpose of selecting the best route for the upcoming invasion. The patrol rode
into Mexico on June 12, and quickly determined that the road to Monterrey through
Linares was unsuitable for use as an invasion route due to a lack of water. After
spending ten days deep in enemy territory and riding nearly 250 miles without
removing their boots or spurs, the Rangers returned with word that the best invasion
route lay through Cerralvo and the San Juan River valley.
US troops marching on Monterrey|
by Carl Nebel
On July 9, General
Taylor marched his army to Camargo in preparation for the advance on Monterrey.
Following the occupation of Camargo, Taylor maneuvered his forces for the long-anticipated
attack on Monterrey, by first capturing Mier, and then advancing toward Cerralvo
on the western slope of the San Juan valley. Acting as the eyes and ears of the
army during the advance required McCulloch’s Rangers to practically live in the
saddle. In addition to their scouting duties, the Rangers aided Taylor’s forces
by delivering important dispatches and suppressing local guerilla activity, thus
protecting the army’s thinly-stretched supply lines.
By September 12,
Taylor’s main force was encamped at Cerralvo, poised to strike at Monterrey. Newly
elected Colonel Jack Hays and the remainder of the Ranger regiment were encamped
just across the San Juan River from Taylor at the small Mexican town of China.
On the following morning, both columns marched south and joined up four days later
at the little town of San Francisco, within view of the mountains that stood like
rigid sentinels astride the northern approach to Monterrey.
Early the next
afternoon, the reconstituted Ranger regiment, accompanied by General Taylor and
his staff, were the first troops to reach the long slope overlooking picturesque
Monterrey, some three miles in the distance. Taylor ordered the army to encamp
at a beautiful spring-fed grove of live oak and pecan trees that served as the
fashionable city’s picnic ground the troops dubbed it Walnut Springs
and began a careful study of Monterrey’s defenses. To the northeast of the city
stood the Citadel, a formidable walled fortress surrounded by a moat and protected
by cannons. The Santa Catrina River and a chain of rugged mountains covered the
southern approach, and guarding the Saltillo Road to the west of Monterey were
two steep, fortified hills, Federation and Independence.
The plan devised by General Taylor called for two regiments of General
William Worth's 2nd Brigade, reinforced by Hays’ Rangers, to march around to the
west of the city. Worth was responsible for securing both Federation and Independence
hills before launching an assault on the western quadrant of the city. In conjunction
with Worth’s attack, Taylor would make a diversionary assault on the well-defended
eastern quadrant of the city with his main force of regulars.
of Monterrey's defences|
from the "Personal Memoirs of General U. S. Grant — Complete by Ulysses S. Grant".
Gen. Worth's division marches
on Monterrey from the west, 1846|
The battle for
Monterrey officially began early in the morning of 21 September, after a night
of cold rain and little sleep, when General Worth’s marching column was struck
just west of Independence Hill by a regiment of Mexican lancers. McCulloch’s Rangers,
riding at the head of the column, immediately dismounted and took cover behind
a split-rail fence overgrown with brush and cactus. Using their rapid-firing Colt
revolvers and deadly muzzle-loading shotguns to good advantage, the Rangers broke
the fury of the charge and drove the Mexicans back. Before the shattered ranks
of lancers could regroup, a battery of American 6-pounders wheeled into place,
unlimbered their guns, and began to target the massed horsemen with highly accurate
canister rounds. The Mexicans were forced to withdraw with heavy losses.
the Americans resumed their march, Worth’s column was brought under heavy fire
from Mexican artillery batteries posted on Federation Hill. Although the barrage
caused few casualties, General Worth was convinced that the guns on both hills
would have to be silenced before he launched his attack on Monterrey. His first
objective would be Federation Hill, and then the higher and even more heavily
defended Independence Hill. The attack on Federation Hill would be led by 300
Texas Rangers, who would storm the hill on foot supported by the 5th and 7th Infantry
regiments, a total of 860 men.
The assault force boldly forded the Santa
Catarina River and moved into position to launch the attack. The western face
of Federation Hill was steep, offering little cover, and the Texas Rangers and
infantry were forced to make the treacherous climb directly into the face of enemy
artillery fire and the muskets of 500 Mexican soldiers manning the earthworks
dug in just below the crest of the hill. The only salvation of the attackers was
to move quickly. Any hesitation would simply add to the carnage. Screaming their
defiance, the Rangers stormed the hill.
The fury of the Texan charge drew
the focus of the Mexicans’ attention and their heaviest fire, allowing the infantry
to advance with little interference. When the 5th infantry crested the hill on
the northern flank of the earthworks, lowered bayonets flashing in the sun, the
Mexican line crumbled and fell back on Fort Salado at the opposite end of the
hill. The retreat quickly turned into a rout, as the Mexicans abandoned their
artillery pieces and fled from the wrath of the Diablos Tejanos.
pausing to catch their breath, the Texans raced after the fleeing Mexicans, while
the American infantry turned the captured artillery pieces and brought the enemy
under fire with their own guns. Refusing to give the Mexicans an opportunity to
regroup, the Rangers of Ad Gillespie's company pursued them up and over the earthen
walls of Fort Salado. Faced with this terrible onslaught, the Mexicans, who had
not yet been killed or captured, abandoned the fort and fled across the Santa
Catarina River to the safety of nearby Independence Hill.
Taylor’s diversion in the east had failed to meet with the same success. The attack
had begun with an attempt to flank a Mexican fort located on a high hill in northeast
Monterrey. The Americans stormed straight down the narrow streets, directly into
the intense fire of Mexican soldiers concealed on barricades, fortified rooftops,
and second story windows. To make matters worse, the smoothbore muskets of the
regular army were not accurate enough to suppress the fire of the well-hidden
Mexicans, and the American artillery shells could not penetrate the walls of the
stout adobe and stone buildings. Taylor’s infantry was forced to withdraw with
Storming of Palace Hill at
the Battle of Monterrey|
lithograph by Tompkins Harrison Matteson, c.
| On September 22,
all the action took place on General Worth’s western front. Throughout the previous
night, American artillery firing from Federation Hill had dueled with the Mexican
guns on Independence Hill, but now the hill would have to be captured. On the
eastern end of Independence Hill, nearest Monterey, stood the Bishop’s Palace,
a stone, castle-like fortress bristling with cannon that was the key to the city’s
western defenses. On the western end of the hill, the Mexicans had constructed
an earthen fortification, Fort Libertad, to command the approach from the Saltillo
Road. The fortification was manned with infantry and three batteries of artillery.|
Fort Libertad, the western face of Independence Hill plunged steeply for eight
hundred feet through rugged, rock-strewn terrain; an approach so formidable the
Mexicans did not even bother to post sentries. However, in spite of the difficult
terrain, Jack Hays convinced General Worth that the Mexicans could be taken by
surprise. The assault force totaled 200 Texas Rangers supported by 300 infantry.
Worth’s plan called for a coordinated attack by two separate columns. One, led
by Ad Gillespie’s company, climbed the southwest face of the hill under the command
of Sam Walker. The
other, led by Ben McCulloch’s Rangers, tackled the even more imposing northwest
face under the command of Jack Hays. The two columns would unite just below the
summit of the hill and make the final attack together.
The perilous climb
began at 3:00 A.M. on 22 September, after a long night of thunderstorms left the
jagged rocks on the cliff wet and slippery. In spite of a stiff, cold wind that
continued to blow out of the west, the Rangers climbed to within 100 yards of
the summit before they were spotted. Caught completely off guard, the Mexicans
failed to react in time, and after firing a fierce volley, the Texans once again
led the way in a screaming charge. The Mexican defense collapsed and the terrified
soldados fled for the safety of the Bishop’s Palace. American casualties were
light, but much to the Rangers’ sorrow, Ad Gillespie was killed by the thrust
of a Mexican bayonet.
At the urging of Colonel Hays, General Worth then
advanced a company of Louisiana dragoons toward the Bishop’s Palace where they
fired a volley before feigning a hasty retreat. The ruse worked, as the Mexicans
poured out of the Palace in pursuit of the retreating dragoons only to crest a
rise in the mesa and come face-to-face with the 5th and 7th Infantry regiments.
The American infantry fired a well-coordinated volley before advancing with lowered
bayonets, and the Rangers added to the confusion by opening fire on the exposed
Mexican flanks from concealed positions along both sides of the hill.
Pressing their advantage, the American infantry and Rangers quickly turned the
Mexican retreat into another rout. A group of artillerymen who had hoisted a 12-pound
howitzer up the steep face of the western slope added to the carnage by battering
the gates of the palace with round after round of solid shot, and the remaining
defenders fled toward the city. Worth spent the rest of the day consolidating
his position and moving his forces into the western outskirts of Monterrey.
Early the following morning, 23 September, the American assault on Monterrey began
with coordinated attacks from the west and east. This time, however, instead of
attacking directly down the narrow streets, the Americans employed new urban warfare
techniques taught to them by the Texas Rangers. The Texans had gained experience
fighting in Mexican-style cities during the siege
of San Antonio in 1835 and again in 1842
at the infamous border town of Mier. Both towns were constructed similar to
Monterrey, with narrow streets, a central square, and thick-walled buildings with
shared interior walls and parapets lining their flat roofs.
From the bloody
street fighting in San Antonio
and Mier, the Texans had
learned to “mouse hole” from house-to-house by using battering rams, picks, sledge
hammers, and occasionally explosives, to smash through shared walls and bypass
enemy strong-points. Once inside a building, they would systematically work their
way to the roof and clear it before continuing their advance to the next building.
The process was tedious and time consuming, but it resulted in far fewer casualties.
The Texans had also learned not to approach street barricades head-on, especially
if they were fortified with artillery. Instead, once cleared, they would place
their own snipers on the rooftops to kill any artillerymen foolish enough to approach
The Texans and Mississippians fighting under Jefferson Davis
in the east also possessed rifles rather than smoothbore muskets. The barrels
of these weapons were rifled which spun the bullet as it exited from the muzzle,
making them much more accurate than standard issue muskets. The rifles allowed
the Texans and Mississippians to hit the well-hidden Mexican soldiers, who rarely
showed more than their head above a parapet or a glimpse at a window or hole in
a wall. Unfortunately, although many of the techniques employed at Monterrey are
still used in urban warfare today, the lessons were not retained by the U.S. Army
of 1846 and had to be relearned later.
Battle of Monterrey|
|Under intense pressure
from the American assault, Mexican troops grudgingly abandoned their well-fortified
positions and slowly withdrew toward the center of the city. Eventually, they
were trapped in the area of the central plaza and cathedral, along with the civilians
who had remained in Monterrey, where they suffered under a nearly continual bombardment
from the deadly American howitzers. General Ampudia soon determined that his only
course of action was to negotiate, and surprisingly, General Taylor not only agreed,
but also granted liberal terms. In exchange for a two month armistice, the Mexican
army surrendered Monterrey, but was permitted to withdraw from the city with their
arms intact. |
|As for the Texas Rangers,
who had contributed much to the effort at Monterrey, and felt as if a hard-earned
victory had been snatched from their grasp, Taylor’s decision to accept an armistice
was a bitter pill to swallow. After years of struggle with Mexican incursions
and atrocities, such as the slaughter at the
Alamo and the merciless executions at Goliad
and Mier, the Rangers were
forced to stand by and watch as the Mexican army marched away. However, General
Worth was more than appreciative of the Rangers’ sacrifice, and had much to say
of “the distinguished gallantry of Colonel Hays and his noble band of volunteers.
Hereafter they and we are brothers, and we can desire no better security of success
than by their association.” |
The Texans were not alone in their disappointment
with Taylor’s armistice. A furious President Polk insisted that General Taylor
and the U.S. Army had no authority to negotiate an armistice with the enemy, “only
to kill them.” Most government observers also agreed that allowing the Mexicans
to retreat with full battle honors and all their weapons was pure folly. Polk
would now shift the focus of the war to General Winfield Scott and the invasion
of Vera Cruz, where Jack Hays and the Texas Rangers would once again play a key
role in the American effort.
"A Glimpse of Texas
September 3, 2012 Column
by Jeffery Robenalt - Order Here >|
for "Texas Rangers at the Battle of Monterrey"
A. (2005), Gateway South: The Campaign for Monterrey, Department of the
Army, ISBN 978-0160723742. Clary,
David A. (2009), Eagles and Empire: The United States, Mexico, and the Struggle
for a Continent, Bantam Press, ISBN 0553806521. Davis,
Joe Tom (1989), Legendary Texans, Vol. IV, Eakin Press, Austin, TX, ISBN
Christopher (2010), A Perfect Gibraltar: The Battle of Monterrey, Mexico,
University of Oklahoma Press, ISBN 0-8061-4140-9.Eisenhower,
John S.D. (1989), So Far from God, The U.S. War with Mexico, 1846-1848,
Random House, ISBN 978-0-8061-3279-2. Fehrenbach,
T.R. (1968), Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans, Macmillan Publishing
Company, NY, ISBN 0-02-032170-8. Henderson,
Timothy J. (2008), A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States,
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ISBN 0809049678. Hudgison,
Chris (2009), The Battle of Monterrey: Urban Operations during the Mexican
War, Infantry Magazine, March-June 2009, www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_mOIV/is_2_98/ai_n35625551.
Divided: The U.S.- Mexico War, www.library.uta.edu/usmexicowar. |
|Book Hotel Here
by Jeffery Robenalt