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The Mexican-American War
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The Battle of Cerro Gordo
In April 1847, U.S. General Winfield Scott moved his army away from Vera Cruz and down the national road toward the interior. Mexican forces under General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna occupied the strategic mountain pass of Cerro Gordo to block the way. The collision of these two armies on April 18 began a string of American victories that lead, ultimately, to the capture of Mexico City.
Santa Anna made his stand at a point where the national road climbed the highlands near Jalapa by traversing a narrow defile dominated on the west by two major hills, La Atalaya and El Telégrafo. Twelve thousand Mexican troops dug in to block the road and waited for the Americans. The vanguard of the 10,000-man U.S. force arrived on April 11, and scouts sized up the enemy position. They concluded that a costly frontal assault was the only option until an April 17 reconnaissance by Captain Robert E. Lee revealed that Santa Anna had trusted the terrain on his left to be impassible, and therefore had only lightly defended that approach.
On April 18, Scott ordered General David Twiggs to lead 7,000 men around the Mexican left along the path discovered by Lee, while a smaller force of about 3,000 men under General Gideon Pillow demonstrated against the Mexican front. General Santa Anna, alerted to the American plan by a U.S. deserter, repositioned his forces to intercept Twiggs’ attack. The Americans still worked their way around the Mexican line, cut off their line of retreat, and captured their camps. Santa Anna’s forces, fearing encirclement, fled. U.S. troops killed or wounded an estimated 1,000 Mexican soldiers and captured another 3,000, as well as the artillery, baggage, and supplies of Santa Anna’s army. U.S. losses were a little more than 400.
The Storming of Chapultepec (General Pillow’s Attack)
The Storming of Chapultepec by Carl Nebel
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth
The successful storming of Chapultepec Castle on September 13, 1847, struck the final blow to the Mexican defense of their capital and precipitated the collapse of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s defensive line. The imposing structure - a complex including a large castle-style fort, a manicured park, landscaped grounds, outbuildings, and all surrounded by a high wall - commanded a rise that towered over the surrounding plain. American General Winfield Scott ordered his army to take that position, directing General Gideon Pillow and his 2,500-man regular division to spearhead the assault, starting from the Molino del Rey to the west of Chapultepec. General John Quitman would lead his 2,500 troops in from the south and cut Chapultepec off from reinforcements, while General David Twiggs demonstrated against positions further east.
Inside the walls, General Nicolás Bravo realized that his 1,000 men were too few to hold the castle. Even so, Bravo was determined to defend Chapultapec.
U.S. artillery pounded the Mexican position for more than a day before Pillow launched his attack at 8 a.m. on September 13. Mexican troops on the western slope of the castle held for a while, but gave way in the face of mounting U.S. pressure. Pillow’s men followed, capturing a redoubt below the castle, and then gained its walls, disarming several powder mines as they advanced, avoiding a potential disaster. By 9:30 Chapultepec had fallen.