The day after the battle of Churubusco the Mexicans sought an armistice. This was signed on August 24, 1847, ostensibly that negotiators might agree on a treaty of peace.1 Scott observed both the spirit and the letter of the agreement, which forbade either side to construct or strengthen fortifications. He did not even reconnoitre the Mexican positions or work out a plan of operations to be followed in case the pourparlers failed. Lee remained during this period of rest chiefly at the pleasant village of Tacubaya, where numerous wealthy members of the English colony in Mexico City maintained summer homes. Above the village, General Scott had his headquarters in the bishop's palace.2 The height of Chapultepec, the main defense of Mexico City, was only a mile to the northward.
On the evening of September 6, when it was manifest that no peace would be concluded and that hostilities would be resumed shortly, Scott called Lee and several other officers to his quarters and discussed the best method of attacking the city. No decision was reached other than that the American army would take the offensive within a few days unless the enemy did so meantime.3 On the 7th the armistice was ended, and reconnaissance was at once undertaken. As Major Smith was sick and Lee was next in rank among the engineers,4 the burden of directing the reconnaissance fell on the Virginian.
The military problem was an unusual one. The city of Mexico lies on slightly elevated ground, above fields in which scattered pools of water were always standing in the rainy, summer season. p274 The only solid approach for an army was along one of the causeways that ran on straight lines toward the city gates. Three of these causeways led up from the south and were commanded by batteries at and near the gates, which were in themselves miniature fortresses. The other two causeways ran from the west and southwest and were open to fire from the city gates, and also from Chapultepec, which was •about a mile and a half from the nearest of these gates. An approach from the south was difficult, but it avoided the fire of Chapultepec. On the other hand, if Chapultepec could be stormed, an advance into the city from that direction would be less arduous than by an attack from the south. The situation was this:
Alternative lines of American attack on Mexico City,
In gathering information from which Scott could make the best decision, Lee was assisted by Lieutenants Beauregard and Tower. They started with a study of the San Antonio and Nino Perdido p275 southern gates,5 but they had not proceeded far with their work on September 7 when General Scott learned that Mexican troops in considerable numbers had been observed around Molino del Rey, which lay at the western foot of the height of Chapultepec. Two days previously the commanding general had been told that the Mexican authorities had collected many church-bells from the city and had sent them to Molino del Rey to be cast into cannon at a foundry alleged to be in operation there. Scott now connected the two reports and concluded that the troops had been sent to Molino del Rey to protect it while the ordnance was being made. He reasoned that the Mexicans greatly needed additional artillery, and that if it were fabricated he could not readily prevent its removal to the defenses of the city unless he stormed Chapultepec, which he was not prepared to do at the time. He hoped for the moment, in fact, that he might be able to avoid altogether a direct attack on that height.6 Scott accordingly ordered General Worth, who was nearest the ground, to delivery a night attack on Molino del Rey, to destroy the foundry, to spike the cannon, and to return to his position by daylight. Later in the evening, on strong representation from Worth's staff, Scott consented that the attack might be deferred until daylight.7
Neither in the planning nor in the fighting of the battle of Molino del Rey on September 8 did Lee have any large part. The engineering work was done by Captain Mason and others. While the action was on, Lee acted as an aide to Scott in reporting the movements of the opposing forces.8 By Worth's assault the enemy was driven from Molino del Rey and from the ground to the west, but Worth did not find any cannon foundry and did not think the position sufficiently important to hold it after he had sustained 787 casualties in taking it. The 5th Infantry, which attacked a powder magazine, known as Casa Mata, west of Molino del Rey, lost 38 per cent of its effective strength.9 The fighting was the hottest of the entire campaign, considering the limited number of troops engaged. Scott's strategy in planning the battle and Worth's tactic in conducting it were both subjected to much criticism in the army. The chief gain to the Americans p276 from the battle was a further demoralization of the Mexicans, among whom desertions increased greatly.
No sooner was the battle over than Lee resumed his reconnaissance to the south of the city, assisted still by Tower and Beauregard. They planned to work separately on each of the southern causeways, but as they found the enemy in strength on the Nino Perdido and San Antonio roads, they were forced to reconnoitre jointly the Piedad road. They contrived to get to a ravine within •a mile and a quarter of the city, and thence they could see the enemy busily at work strengthening the defenses of the San Antonio gate. The engineers discovered, also, that the enemy was running an entrenchment in a northwesterly direction from the gate of San Antonio toward the gate on the Nino Perdido road. The Mexicans manifestly were expecting an attack in that quarter and were preparing for it, though as yet they had mounted only five or six guns there.10
Lee's report of this situation was enough to induce General Scott the next morning, September 9, to make a personal examination in a wide sweep of the roads south of the city. The commander was depressed to find the enemy so actively at work, but he gave no orders for suspending the reconnaissance on that sector. On the contrary, while Lee was employed on September 10 in arranging for the defense of a new base at Miscoac, Beauregard, Tower, and I. I. Stevens tried to work their way farther around to the southeast of the city, with an eye to an attack on that sector.11 Lee rejoined them on the morning of September 11, and with Lieutenant Tower conducted a further reconnaissance on the Nino Perdido road. Thus far he had not made up his mind whether the southern front offered a better line of attack than the western; but he now found a possible battery position, and he reasoned that if guns were planted there they could enfilade the San Antonio gate and part of the new entrenchments running thence to the Nino Perdido gate.12 With this artillery aid he believed it would be possible for the army to storm Mexico City from the south. As for an attack on Chapultepec, he considered it practicable, but he began to doubt whether the American guns could do much damage to the lower part of the building, p277 and he was satisfied that scaling ladders would be necessary in an infantry attack.13
That night Scott called a council of war in the church at Piedad. Lee and the other engineers were present with all the general officers except Worth and Smith, who were on special duty. Scott announced that he wanted the judgment of his subordinates regarding the best method of attacking the city. After the losses that had been sustained, he said, it was of vital importance to strike a decisive blow with minimum casualties. Personally, he explained, he favored an attack on Chapultepec and the western gates. He believed that one day's bombardment of Chapultepec would force its evacuation or make its capture easy, but he desired his officers to express their opinions freely. Lee and all the engineers except Beauregard announced themselves in opposition to Scott's plan and in favor of attacking the southern gates. The general officers, with Twiggs dissenting, also favored that course. Beauregard, however, made a detailed explanation of the comparative difficulties of the two operations and pronounced strongly in favor of assaulting Chapultepec. His argument convinced General Pierce, who went over to the side of Scott and Twiggs. With no further discussion, Scott decided that he would attack from the west, and thereupon adjourned the meeting.14
As the plan began to take form it called for a continuing feint against the southern defenses while preparations were made for the real attack from the west. Troops were marched to the southern approaches in daylight and then were moved westward during the night. Lee was instructed to start work immediately on the construction of four batteries that were to be used against Chapultepec.15 The ordnance officers quickly selected sites, which Lee approved. Battery No. 1 was to be on the road leading from Tacubaya to the southeastern corner of Chapultepec. Battery No. 2, easily built by Benjamin Huger, was to be northeast of the bishop's palace above Tacubaya. Numbers 3 and 4 were to lie just south of Molino del Rey and were to play on the western p278 face of Chapultepec. Having laid off the site of Battery No. 1, Lee left the construction of it to Lieutenants Tower and Gustavus W. Smith, who worked so fast that by 7 o'clock on the morning of September 12 they were able to put into position the two 16‑pounders• and the •8‑inch howitzer that were to constitute the armament. Theirs was a night-long task, with no opportunity of sleep. When fire was opened that morning from Battery No. 1, it was speedily taken up by Battery No. 2, which contained one 24‑pounder• and one 8‑inch howitzer.16
Preparation of Batteries 3 and 4 was more difficult, both because of the ground and also because of the distance the guns had to be brought. Lee had Lieutenant George B. McClellan as his assistant in this part of the task, and they worked together all night and on into the 12th. At Battery No. 4 a •10‑inch mortar was brought into action during the day. At Battery No. 3 little could be done on the 12th until the fire of the other batteries caused that of the enemy to fall away. When this happened Lee prepared the ground and laid his platforms so that he could use the wall of the nearby aqueduct as a parapet. Ordnance officers by this time had an 8‑inch howitzer and a 16‑pounder• at hand. These being duly mounted, Battery No. 3 joined the others in bombarding Chapultepec.17
When the effect of the fire began to show on Chapultepec, Lee went out with Lieutenant Tower to reconnoitre. Covered by guns in the batteries, they reached a point whence they could study in detail the approaches to Chapultepec and the building itself.18 It was a position of great strength. A ridge •some 600 yards in length ran almost east and west, rising to a height of •about 190 feet. On the crest, which had been levelled off some sixty years before, a stout stone building had been constructed. This had been started as a palace, but had subsequently been turned into a military college. The Americans always called it a fortress, but it scarcely deserved the name, for most of its armament had been extemporized for the expected assault.
The chief reliance of the Mexicans was on the difficulties of the approach. The whole ridge was enclosed on the north, east, p279 and south by a high brick wall. On the western side were the buildings of Molino del Rey. Inside the enclosure the ground rose so precipitously on the northern and eastern faces that the position was impregnable there. On the south was the regular approach, by a ramp cut into the rock, with a single sharp turn about half-way up. This, the engineers could see, had been strengthened with sandbags and was a formidable barrier. From the west the approach was easier. East of Molino del Rey, within the enclosure, was an open field, and then a marshy cypress grove that ran to the edge of the rocky ascent. Precisely what fortifications had been constructed along this ascent the American engineers probably could not discover, but they doubtless could see the parapet rising from the rocky ground to the terrace of the palace, and they suspected, if indeed they did not actually observe, that there was a deep ditch below the parapet wall.19 A formidable position it was, weakened somewhat by the American guns, but by no means reduced!
Returning to the battery, Lee was soon visited by Beauregard, with a message that General Scott wished to see him. Lee had been up the whole of the previous night and had not had any sleep for more than thirty hours, but rest had to wait on orders from the commanding general. Off Lee went to Tacubaya, accompanied by Tower and Beauregard. He found the general not in his best humor. Why had not Lee reported to him sooner? It was important that he know what the effect of the American fire on Chapultepec had been, so that he could decide whether to attack that evening or on the morning of the 13th. Pillow, he explained, was to attack from the west and Quitman from the south. Their volunteer commands were to be strengthened by two storming parties of regulars, each 250 strong and supplied with scaling ladders. The troops would soon be ready for the assault. If they waited till the next army would the enemy be able during the night to repair the damage done by the bombardment? Lee answered that he feared the enemy would, and Tower was of the same mind. "Then we must attack this evening," said Scott, and turned away toward his quarters.
The three engineers hastily conferred and decided that there p280 would hardly be time before nightfall to make the requisite preparations, to deliver the assault, and to follow it up. Lee, as the senior of the trio, thereupon approached Scott and told him that they believed it probably would be better to defer the attack until morning. Scott had cooled down somewhat, and, on second thought, he reasoned that if the Mexicans did reinforce Chapultepec that night the heavy batteries could drive them out next morning. Moreover, he reflected, by attacking them early in the day he would have a longer time in which to pursue whatever advantage he might gain. He accordingly acquiesced in the postponement, and had Lee and the other engineers explain to him where the opposing batteries were located, and what they had learned about the approaches to Chapultepec. Then he outlined fully his plan of operations, concluding with a request that Lee report to him that night.
Lee returned, as directed. Soon afterwards General Pillow rode up. At Scott's word, Lee then sketched the plan of attack that Scott had described to him that afternoon.20 Even when this was done, and the conference had adjourned, Lee could not bring himself to take rest. He spent the rest of the night visiting the batteries, to be sure that instructions were understood and that all damage done by the Mexicans during the day was being repaired.
When dawn came on the 13th, Lee had been forty-eight hours without sleep and was close to collapse, but his orders took him very early in the morning to Pillow's division, which he was to guide in its advance.
Pillow's movement was part of an operation that can be followed in its several stages from the sketch shown opposite.
Worth's, Pillow's, and Quitman's divisions had been brought up under cover of darkness until all three of them were within striking distance of Chapultepec. Smith's brigade of Twiggs's division was marching to support Quitman. The storming party of 250 regulars from Worth's corps had reached Pillow, and a like force from Twiggs's had been sent Quitman. Twiggs's other brigade (Riley's) was to the east, in front of the San Antonio gate. The four heavy batteries were manned and ready for action. The p281 field artillery was divided among the infantry commands. Some of the cavalry were with Pillow; the rest were covering the advanced base and hospital at Miscoac.
Scott's orders were for the heavy batteries to resume the bombardment on the morning of the 13th, while Riley made a demonstration in front of the San Antonio gate. At a given word from Scott the batteries were to suspend their fire. This was to be the signal for the assault. Pillow was to move from Molino del Rey eastward through the cypress grove within the enclosure of Chapultepec p282 and was to storm the crest from the westward approach. Quitman simultaneously was to advance up the Tacubaya road, was to batter his way into the enclosure, and was to assault Chapultepec from the south, up the ramp cut in the face of the rock. Worth was to be held in reserve, to support Pillow and, if opportunity offered, to cut off the Mexican retreat. Nothing was known definitely concerning the strength of the Mexicans or the number of guns they had in the defenses of the city.
Every one realized that the action about to open would be the decisive engagement of the war. A thrill akin to that of the landing at Vera Cruz passed through the ranks as the men listened for the expected lull in the fire of the heavy batteries. Shortly after 8 o'clock in the morning Scott's messengers arrived at the headquarters of Pillow and of Quitman with word that he was about to give the signal for the opening of the battle. "Cease fire" was ordered. A moment's hush fell upon the army. The infantry were put in motion.
Lee set out immediately with Pillow from Molino del Rey and helped to guide the men of one storming party across the cultivated ground and into the cypress grove at the foot of the hill. They had not proceeded far when Pillow complained that he had been wounded. Lee saw the General safely placed out of the range of the fire,21 and probably had some part in carrying out Pillow's order that Worth be asked to support him immediately with his entire division.
Pillow's men pushed forward, while Clarke's brigade came up from Worth, who held his other brigade for a turning movement north of Chapultepec. James Longstreet, Edward Johnson, George E. Pickett, and other young officers within the enclosure, urged their men on — past a temporary entrenchment the Mexicans had drawn up, over a mine field which the enemy had no time to explode, and on to a deep ditch directly under the ramparts of Chapultepec itself. Here there was a short pause while the scaling ladders were brought up. A little more, and the most daring were mounting the wall. They were thrown back, killed or wounded, but others quickly gained a foothold, and the whole storming column was streaming up the terraces. Regimental flags p283 were soon flung out from the elevation, while cheers drowned the clash of arms.
Quitman, meantime, had been making his way toward the enclosure from the south, and part of his troops ere long mingled with the rejoicing regiments of Pillow. Soon Worth was thrown forward by Scott, on the northern side of the Chapultepec enclosure, to deal with a large force observed in that direction. A part of Pillow's command that had been unable to share in the assault was already there, and Lieutenant T. J. Jackson was serving a gun, almost single-handed, in an unequal duel with Mexican artillery.22
There is no record of Lee's movements from the time he saw Pillow carried to a place of safety until he reappears on the terrace of Chapultepec, when Scott and his staff rode up among the cheering troops, shortly after the palace had been stormed. Lee may have gone on with Pillow's men, but it is more probable that he returned to Scott, with a report of what had happened.23 Now he hurried forward, under Scott's orders, to reconnoitre the approaches to the San Cosme gate, and to bring up the siege and engineering trains. For Scott sensed the demoralization of Santa Anna's troops and was determined to push Worth and Quitman on the heels of the enemy, into Mexico City itself.
By this time strain and sleeplessness had almost paralyzed Lee. It was with the greatest difficulty that he kept his saddle, but by a supreme effort of will he started on his mission. While he was discharging it he received a slight wound, which he did not even stop to have dressed. He examined the ground over which Worth had to advance before coming to the San Cosme gate at the northwestern side of the city. The wagons he got under way. Somehow he managed to return to Scott at Chapultepec, and he rode with the commanding general on the line of Worth's advance. Then he fainted — for the first and only time in his life.24
Before sunrise the next morning Lee was himself again and was soon despatched by Scott with orders for Quitman. He learned, before he set out, that after he had left the field the previous p284 evening Worth had fought his way to the San Cosme gate and Quitman to the Belem gate. Darkness had found them both practically within the city, their troops in good order and high spirits, and ready to march to the plaza, even if the enemy fought from house to house. Lee now heard even more pleasing news: about 4 A.M. a delegation from the city council had arrived at Scott's headquarters and had announced that Santa Anna had evacuated the city.25 All the Americans had to do was to march in!
Lee carried the orders for Quitman to move cautiously to the centre of the city. On his arrival he discovered that Quitman had placed his entire command under arms soon after daylight and had occupied the citadel. A little later, on report that a mob was looting the public buildings, Quitman sent a column to the grand plaza. Lee went with it and doubtless was in the square when Captain Roberts of the rifle regiment, the officer designated for that purpose by Quitman, raised the United States flag over the palace amid the huzzas of the soldiers.26 About 8 o'clock Scott rode into the plaza from the Alameda, at the head of Worth's division. He and his staff were in full dress, and he did not lose a single thrill of the dramatic climax in which he was the central figure. Napoleon himself would not have set the stage more theatrically. The cavalcade and the mounted escort —
"filed to the right along the west side [of the plaza], and when on a line with the front of the cathedral turned to the left; arms were then presented, colors lowered, and drums beaten. General Scott dismounted, uncovered his head, then passed through the porte-cochère of the National Palace, followed by Generals Quitman and Smith and staff officers. In the patio he turned to them and said: 'Gentlemen, we must not be too elated by our success'; then after a slight pause, 'let me present to you the civil and military Governor of the City of Mexico, Maj.-Gen. John A. Quitman. I appoint him at this instant. He has earned the distinction and shall have it.'
"The party then ascended a broad stairway, entered a handsomely furnished apartment facing the Grand Plaza, and General p285 Scott wrote [the order announcing the victory], which was read aloud to those about him."27
There followed twenty-four hours of scattered fighting in the streets with ruffians and with convicts that Santa Anna had released from prison before abandoning the city. These men fired from windows and roof-tops and had to be hunted down, a few at a time, with considerable losses. Scott did not hesitate to employ a strong hand in dealing with these miscreants. He could not afford to do otherwise, for after deducting the casualties of September 8 and 13, and the garrison left at Chapultepec, he had less than 6000 men with which to occupy and garrison Mexico City.28
In the bloody street encounters of the 14th and 15th, Lee did not share. Scott praised him for his conduct at Chapultepec,29 and the Department of War later gave him the brevet of colonel,30 but his fighting in Mexico was at an end. The artillery employed while the convicts were being driven out was the last Lee was to hear in action until 1861.
Labor did not end, however, with active hostilities. While the tired little army awaited reinforcements, Lee set himself and his brother engineers to making surveys and to preparing eight maps of Mexico City and the nearby defenses and battlefields. He personally undertook the topography of the general defenses of the city and adjacent fortified points.31 Simultaneously, on orders from Colonel Totten, he began to collect material concerning the operation of the naval battery at Vera Cruz.
In December, 1847, reinforcements arrived and plans were made to occupy more of the cities of Central Mexico. Lee was designated to prepare routes to the various objectives. It probably was while Lee was making reconnaissances on one of these routes and was riding alone that he encountered a Mexican who fingered his lariat as if he were calculating whether he could get it swinging p286 and throw it over the accursed Yankee before Lee could shoot him. Lee observed the man's motion, quietly took out his pistol from his holster and placed it in front of him. That was enough. The Mexican passed with polite salutation and went on his way. Lee always believed that if the Mexican had been given half a chance he would have used the rope.32
His study of the lines of advance completed, Lee returned to map making.33 So intent was he on this that one night when Magruder of the artillery came to invite him to a dinner where his health had been proposed, Lee declined to go. Magruder insisted that the work was mere drudgery that another might perform; Lee answered that he was simply doing his duty — a remark that only his manifest sincerity saved from a note of self-righteousness.34
Not until April 21, 1848, were certain of the maps finished and forwarded to the engineers' bureau.35 A little later Lee joined Beauregard and McClellan in reconnoitring Toluca, when ratification of the treaty of peace was still uncertain,36 but apparently he made no further surveys. The maps he was unable to complete in Mexico he planned to deliver to the bureau after his return to the United States.37 During almost the whole of this map work he had, in addition, the troublesome supervision of the engineering company, whose commanding officer, Lieutenant Gustavus W. Smith, reported to him as the senior officer of the corps in Mexico.38 He was not wholly successful in procuring the information Colonel Totten desired on the siege of Vera Cruz.39
Thus engaged, Lee had little time and less inclination for the quarrels that broke out among some of the general officers of the army almost as soon as Mexico City was occupied. General Scott p287 considered that the successful plan of operations originated with him, and that he should have sole credit for it. General Pillow, on the other hand, had political ambitions as pronounced as those of Scott, and wished himself to appear a hero in the eyes of the American people. General Worth's aspirations were confined to his profession, but he felt that the decision to approach Mexico City by turning to the south of Lake Chalco was due to his activities, and he was anxious that the record show it. Each of the three generals had subordinates who were zealous partisans. If they did not disparage the achievements of others, they at least were quick to sound the praises of their chief.40 On October 2, 1847, Scott opened a correspondence with General Pillows regarding that officer's claim in his reports to have initiated movements at Contreras and at Chapultepec. "General S. is sorry to perceive in General P's report of September 18," the commanding general wrote in summing up, "a seeming effort, no doubt unintentional, to leave General S. entirely out of the operations of September 13th."41 A brisk, brief correspondence ended in dissatisfaction to both men.42 Each thought the other wished to have all the glory.
Less than three weeks later the mails brought copies of New Orleans papers containing a communication signed "Leonidas," in which Pillow's part in the battle of Contreras-Churubusco was most inordinately and foolishly extolled.43 The offended chief took no immediate action on this publication, perhaps because it made Pillow appear far more ridiculous than heroic. On November 10 came other newspapers, among them one including a letter that gave General Worth the credit for the turning movement below Lake Chalco.44
Scott read into all this a conspiracy to belittle him, and on November 12 he issued an ill-tempered order calling attention to the army regulation that forbade soldiers to write of military operations until after they had closed.45 Worth at once wrote Scott to know if the order was aimed at him. Another warm p288 exchange followed, at the close of which Worth preferred charges against Scott, who promptly put him under arrest for insubordination and proposed to court-martial him.46 Colonel Duncan of Worth's division acknowledged himself as the author of the letter on the Chalco move, and was also detained for court-martial. And then, as if to make a clean sweep, Scott brought charges against Pillow and confined him to the City of Mexico.47
Needless to say, the suspension from command of two of the four major generals serving under Scott created a first-class sensation among the idle troops in the enemy's capital. It created more than a sensation when news of it reached Washington.
The administration had long been resentful of Scott's continual grumbling, and was glad of an opportunity to get rid of him. A court of inquiry was ordered on January 13, 1848, to hear Worth's charges against Scott, along with Scott's against Pillow. It was specifically set forth that Scott's complaints against Worth should not be brought to trial until the prior charges preferred against him by Worth had been considered. All three of the accused officers were ordered to be released from arrest. To crown it all, Scott was relieved of his command, was directed to attend the court of inquiry, wherever held, and was told to report to the War Department when the court finished its hearings.48
Lee had not thought General Scott temperate in his dealings with Worth and Pillow. On his way back from his daily surveys of the western hills, while making his map, he often stopped at Tacubaya to chat with his young friend, Henry J. Hunt. That officer noted Lee's "desire to heal the differences between General Scott and some of his subordinate officers and the efforts he was making in that direction. . . . He was a peace-maker by nature."49 But when Scott was relieved of command on February 18, Lee felt that the General had been mistreated, and his resentment rose high, though he was confident of Scott's vindication.50 He told his chief what he knew of Pillow's movements on the morning of Chapultepec, when Pillow had been wounded, and he had frankly averred that Pillow could only have been hit by a bullet p289 glancing from some object, perhaps a tree.51 Now Lee spoke in plain terms to his brother:
"I think our country may well be proud of the conduct of both arms of the service. As to myself, your brotherly feelings have made you estimate too highly my small services, and though praise from one I love so dearly is sweet, truth compels me to disclaim it. I did nothing more than what others in my place would have done much better. The great cause of our success was in our leader. It was his stout heart that cast us on the shore of Vera Cruz; his bold self-reliance that forced us through the pass at Cerro Gordo; his indomitable courage that, amid all the doubts and difficulties that surrounded us at Puebla, pressed us forward to this capital, and finally brought us within its gates, while others, who croaked all the way from Brazos, and advised delay at Puebla, finding themselves at last, contrary to their expectations, comfortably quartered within its gates, find fault with the way they came there. With all their knowledge, I will defy them to have done better. I agree with you as to the dissensions in camp; they have clouded a bright campaign. It is a contest in which neither party has anything to gain and the Army much to lose, and ought to have been avoided. The whole matter will soon be before the court, and if it be seen that there has been harshness and intemperance of language on one side, it will be evident that there has been insubordination on the other.
"It is difficult for a general to maintain discipline in an army, composed as this is, in a foreign country, where temptations to disorders are so great, and the chance of detection so slight. He requires every support and confidence from his government at home. If he abused his trust or authority, it is then time to hold him to account. But to decide the matter upon an ex-parte statement of favorites; to suspend a successful general in command of an army in the heart of an enemy's country; to try the judge in place of the accused, is to upset all discipline; to jeopardize the safety of the army and the honor of the country, and to violate justice. I trust, however, that all will work well in the end."52
p290 A little later, he wrote:
"Mr. Gardener and Mr. Trist depart tomorrow. I had hoped that after the President had adopted Mr. Trist's treaty, and the Senate confirmed it, they would have paid him the poor compliment of allowing him to finish it, as some compensation for all the abuse they had heaped upon him; but I presume it is perfectly fair, having made use of his labors, and taken from him all that he had earned, that he should be kicked off as General Scott has been, whose skill and science, having crushed the enemy and conquered a peace, can now be dismissed, and turned out as an old horse to die."53
In still another letter to Smith, Lee noted the singular fact that when Santa Anna had been passing through Fredericktown, Md., in 1836, he chanced upon a court of inquiry sitting, at the instance of President Jackson, to investigate the conduct of General Scott. He added:
"Our present President thought perhaps he ought to afford the gratification to the same individual to see Scott before another court in presence of the troops he commanded. I hope, however, all will terminate in good. The discontent in the army at this state of things is great."54
Lee found himself, ere long, directly involved in the court of inquiry, which assembled in Mexico City on March 16, after meeting in Puebla. Part of Pillow's defense was that some of Scott's officers had violated the regulations by writing of military operations, and that they had not been punished in any way, though he had been put under arrest. Lee was one of those so accused, on the strength of the publication in The Washington Union of the letter he had written on August 22 to Mrs. Totten. She had duly received it, and had carried it to the engineers' headquarters, so that it might be read by the officers there. In the absence of Colonel Totten, his assistant, Captain Welcker,55 gave a copy of the communication to the newspaper, not realizing p291 that he was violating any regulation. Pillow knew of the publication, if not of the circumstances attending it, and on March 28 he put Lee on the stand as a defense witness. Lee's examination was brief. He readily identified his letter and told how it came to be printed. The defense rested when it had brought out the fact that the letter was addressed to Mrs. Totten and not to the bureau. Scott at once offset this point by two questions:
"Had Major General Scott, at the time witness wrote the letter, any knowledge of the fact, or has the said Scott, as far as the writer knows, been since acquainted with the fact?"
Lee answered: "Not that I am aware of. He has never been informed by me, before or since."
"State the relationship of the engineer bureau to the Secretary of War, or is not that bureau part of the War Department?" — in other words, had not the letter been given out officially in Washington?
"The engineer bureau," said Lee, "is a part of the War Department. The chief engineer transacts business in the name or, certainly, under the authority of the Secretary of War."56
As the letter itself had been a plain narration of fact, exalting no commander, Lee's explanation and Scott's cross-examination effectually cleared the engineer of blame for any breach of the army law. Scott, however, kept the point in mind and when the hearing was resumed at Frederick, Md., after Scott's return to the United States, he put on witnesses to prove that what Lee had done was a common expedient among bureau officers who wished their chiefs to be informed when they were unable to prepared formal reports.57
Lee appeared before the court again in Mexico on March 31 and April 8, as a witness for the prosecution, but in both instances he testified only concerning actual troop movements and the orders given in front of Padierna and Chapultepec.58 His evidence, though important for the facts it gave regarding the battles, had no decisive bearing on the case, which ended in the acquittal of Pillow. The charges against Scott and Worth were dropped. Lee's relations with the commanding general were p292 rendered warmer and more intimate by the stand the younger officer took in the controversy. He attended the dinner given to Scott by a wealthy Britisher the day after the General relinquished command,59 and he was of those among whom Scott directed that his wine be divided when he went home.60
While the court of inquiry had been sitting, peace negotiations had been in progress, and on February 2, 1848, a treaty had been signed at Guadalupe Hidalgo. The details of the subsequent discussion of the terms have no place here, but they were closely followed by Lee, who was anxious to go home, now that the fighting was over. He did not think much was to be gained by discussing the origins of the war. "That," he said, "ought to have been understood before we engaged in it. It may have been produced by the act of either party or the force of circumstances. Let the pedants in diplomacy determine." It was true, however, he said, "that we bullied [Mexico]. For that I am ashamed, for she was the weaker party, but we have since, by way of set-off, drubbed her handsomely and in a manner no man might be ashamed of." The United States could dictate a conqueror's peace, he said, but they should be just. "For myself," he wrote Mrs. Lee, "I would not exact now more than I would have taken before the commencement of hostilities, as I should wish for nothing but what was just, and that I would have sooner or later." Again, "we have the right, by the laws of war, of dictating the terms of peace and requiring indemnity for our losses and expenses. Rather than forego that right, except through a spirit of magnanimity to a crushed foe, I would fight them ten years, but I would be generous in exercising it."
When there was a prospect that Mexico might haggle over the revised treaty, as ratified by the United States Senate, Lee believed the country's representatives should submit it to Mexico and insist on its acceptance, or else "take up the paper and make . . . arrangements to take the country up to the line from Tehuantepec to Osaqualco or whatever southern boundary they might think p293 proper for the United States. I think we might reasonably expect that they would lose no time in ratifying the present treaty." He added grimly, "I might make a rough diplomatist, but a tolerably quick one."61
Hostilities had ended on March 6,62 under the treaty, but the Mexican Congress was slow to act on the document. When word came at last that the peace had been ratified by the chamber of deputies, the favorable action of the senate being taken for granted, Lee rushed off the news to his brother Smith, happily jumbling politics and personal matters: "We all feel quite exhilarated at the prospect of getting home, where I shall again see you and my dear Sis Nannie. Where will you be this summer? I have heard that the Commissioners start for Queretaro tomorrow. I know not whether it is true. General Smith will probably leave here for Vera Cruz on the 24th or 25th to make arrangements for the embarkation of troops. As soon as it is certain that we march out, and I make the necessary arrangements for the engineer transportation, etc., I shall endeavor to be off. I shall therefore leave everything till I see you. Several of your naval boys are here who will be obliged to 'cut out.' Love to Sis Nannie and the boys. Rhett Buchanan and all friends are well. Very truly and affectionately. . . ."63
Lee lost little time in realizing his hopes. On May 27, six days after he wrote Smith, he received orders to march the engineering company to Vera Cruz, and, as soon as he heard that ratifications of the treaty had been exchanged, to embark them for the United States. He reached Vera Cruz on June 6, sent off some of the officers and all of the men the next day, and sailed after them as soon as he could purchase a few gifts for his family and find a place aboard the steamer. McClellan went with the engineer company; Captain John G. Barnard and Lieutenant P. G. T. Beauregard travelled with Lee.64 His own mount went on the p294 same vessel with him. A white pony that he bought for his youngest boy was shipped on a later vessel, bound for Baltimore.
Twenty months of service in Mexico had been ended when Lee saw the castle and the towers of Vera Cruz fade from view, never again to be seen by him. They were probably the twenty most useful months of his training as a soldier. Their effect on him can be seen during nearly the whole of the War between the States. The lessons he learned on the road to Mexico City he applied in much of his strategy. Warnings he read in that campaign he never forgot.
He carried home with him the highest admiration of his former commander and the good opinion of his brother officers. As a result of their labors together, Scott had an "almost idolatrous fancy for Lee, whose military genius he estimated far above that of any other officer of the army," according to E. D. Keyes, who had abundant opportunity of knowing the mind of the General.65 When there was talk of war between America and England, Scott is said to have declared that it would be cheap if the United States could absolutely insure the life of Robert E. Lee even at a cost of $5,000,000 a year.66 In 1858 Scott referred to Lee in an official letter as "the very best soldier that I ever saw in the field."67 Among other officers in Mexico, Lee gained a high professional reputation, though some of the late tributes to him may have been colored, in retrospect, by his subsequent campaigns in Virginia.68 Yet Lee did not return from Mexico a national figure, in any sense. His skill in reconnaissance and his contribution to Scott's victories were known only to the army and to his intimates. This is humorously illustrated by the fact that when the commonwealth of Virginia began to vote awards to those who had distinguished themselves, the delegate from Alexandria decided to move that Lee share in them, but he had to write to Washington to get Lee's correct title and his record in Mexico.69 At the same p295 time, if Lee was not a national figure when he returned to the United States in 1848, his reputation increased thereafter, as the part he played in the operations was seen in better perspective. Even more than that, the admiration expressed by Scott and by other friends during the decade after 1848 caused an appreciation of his soldierly qualities to spread gradually from the army to the general public.
Lee's Mexican experiences gave him, secondly, close observation of an army in nearly all the conditions, except those of retreat, that were apt to arise in the field. He had acquired his experience under an excellent, practical master, and in an army that, though small, was efficient and well-trained. All this helped him and made it easy for him in 1855 to transfer from the staff to the line. It so happened that while Lee was with Scott he had few dealings with the cavalry, which was little used during most of the battles in the valley of Mexico. This fact may account for the awkwardness that some critics have thought they observed in Lee's handling of that arm in 1862.
Even more valuable, in the third place, was Lee's training in strategy while in Mexico. As a member of Scott's "little cabinet," he sat in council when the most difficult of Scott's strategical problems were being considered by the General. His views, which were usually based on a better knowledge of the ground than his superiors possessed, were expressed fully and were received by Scott with real respect. More than once he had a part in planning operations that were executed where he could see the correctness or the errors of his reasoning — a very different matter from the blackboard studies of West Point.
Seven great lessons Lee learned from Cerro Gordo to Mexico City in strategy and in the handling of an army, seven lessons that were the basis of virtually all he attempted to do in Virginia fifteen years later:
1. Lee was inspired to audacity. This was, perhaps, his greatest strategical lesson in Mexico, for all the circumstances favored a daring course on the part of his teacher. The nucleus of Scott's army was professional; the forces that opposed them were ill-trained and poorly led. Scott could attempt and could achieve in Mexico what even he, bold as he was, would not have undertaken p296 against an army as well disciplined as his own. Some of his actions were little more than sham battles with ball cartridges, and were, in one sense, about as good schooling as could be devised for a beginner in the practice of strategy. When it is remembered that the son of "Light-Horse Harry" received his practical instruction, in that particular campaign, under as daring a soldier as Scott, and followed that by a study of Napoleon, it will not be surprising that audacity, even to the verge of seeming overconfidence, was the guiding principle of the strategy he employed as the leader of a desperate cause.
2. Lee concluded, from Scott's example, that the function of the commanding general is to plan the general operation, to acquaint his corps commanders with that plan, and to see that their troops are brought to the scene of action at the proper time; but that it is not the function of the commanding general to fight the battle in detail. Lee's later methods in this respect are simply those of Scott. Whether he was right in this conclusion is one of the moot questions of his career.
3. Working with a trained staff, Lee saw its value in the development of a strategical plan. Scott was very careful on this score. Although he could not keep the administration from naming politicians to command some of his divisions, he could surround himself with men who had been well grounded in discipline, promptness, and accurate observation. He did not exaggerate when he said publicly in Mexico City that he could not have succeeded in his campaign had it not been for West Point.70 Scott relied on the young men who had been trained at the Military Academy, and they did not fail him. Lee kept this ideal of a trained staff and sought at a later time to build up such an organization; but he had become so accustomed to efficient staff work in the regular army that when he first took command in Virginia, in the great national tragedy, he did not realize how vast was the difference between trained and untrained staff officers.
4. The relation of careful reconnaissance to sound strategy was impressed on Lee by every one of the battles he saw in Mexico. Reconnaissance made possible the victories at Cerro Gordo and at p297 Padierna, and it simplified the storming of Chapultepec. Failure to reconnoitre adequately was in part responsible for the heavy losses at Molino del Rey. Lee had shown special aptitude for this work and he left Mexico convinced for all time that when battle is imminent a thorough study of the ground is the first duty of the commanding officer. Reconnaissance became second nature to him.
5. Lee saw in Mexico the strategic possibilities of flank movements. Cerro Gordo had been passed and San Antonio had been turned by flanking the enemy. At little cost of life, positions of much strength had been rendered untenable. These, too, were lessons that Lee never forgot. Second Manassas was Cerro Gordo on a larger terrain; the march across the pedregal to San Antonio and the San Angel road found a more famous counterpart in Jackson's movement to the rear of Hooker's army at Chancellorsville.
6. Lee acquired a confident view of the relation of communications to strategy. He saw Scott at Puebla boldly abandon his line of supply from the sea and live off the country. Within thirty-seven days Scott had battered his way into Mexico City. It is quite possible that this experience was one reason why Lee was emboldened to expose his communications in the Maryland campaign of 1862 and in the Pennsylvania campaign of 1863.71
7. Lee acquired in Mexico an appreciation of the value of fortification. The proper location of the batteries at Vera Cruz and at Chapultepec had contributed to the American victory. Lee had a hand in placing them and had every opportunity of observing the effect of their fire. At Cerro Gordo and at Padierna, he had examined fortifications that had been poorly defended but had been well laid out by Mexican engineers who were much more capable, as a rule, than the generals under whom they served. On both these fields and at Mexico City, immediately preceding the attack on Chapultepec, Lee may well have told himself that a competent defending force could have added much to Scott's difficulties by intelligent use of the light earthworks the Mexicans had constructed.
Along with these seven lessons in strategy, Lee had abundant p298 opportunity during his months with General Scott to study human nature. The quarrels in the army, while distasteful and discreditable, were so much laboratory experience to Lee. He saw how dependent a commanding general was upon the good-will of his subordinates, and in Scott's failure to elicit that co-operation he read a warning that may have led him in the War between the States to go too far in the other direction. In addition, he had the most monitory of object lessons in the "political generals" whom Scott had to endure. Perhaps Scott's difficulties with Pillow gave Lee the clue to the handling of Wise and of Floyd in the campaign of 1861 in West Virginia, but his observation of Pillow's performances doubtless explains why Lee was so careful to keep politicians from holding important command in the Army of Northern Virginia. It is quite possible, indeed, that Pillow was in large measure responsible for the distrust of politicians that Lee exhibited later. From what he had seen of Pillow in Mexico and of Congress in Washington, he formed a poor opinion of the whole breed of politicians.
Lee's study of human nature in Mexico included men whom he was subsequently to meet as comrades or as enemies in the War between the States. Every one of the commanders of the future Army of the Potomac, except John Pope, served in Scott's expedition, though Meade did not get beyond Vera Cruz. Scores of the general officers of both the Confederate and Union armies were lieutenants or captains in the same campaign with Lee.72 He doubtless met many of these young soldiers in the field, or in Mexico City after the fighting was over. Most of them belonged, as did he, to the "Aztec Club," formed in the Mexican capital during the tedious weeks of waiting for the treaty of peace to be agreed upon.73 Grant was a member of this club. Lee did not meet him there, but he did see him one day when he went to visit Garland's brigade.74 He kept, however, no remembrance of the circumstances or of the untidy young captain who was one day to dictate the terms of surrender Lee had to sign. It is probable, on the whole, that the extent of Lee's intimacy with his future antagonists has been exaggerated. The army was small, to be p299 sure, but Lee was a busy staff officer during active operations and subsequently was engrossed in map work. He kept in touch with Joe Johnston and he saw Beauregard and Gustavus Smith daily and under conditions that gave him insight into the character and abilities of each of them. He may have been close enough to Captain Joseph Hooker of Pillow's staff to learn something of his qualities. George B. McClellan was the man of whom his knowledge was most detailed, and, in the event, most valuable. Lee encountered McClellan on reconnaissance work, labored with him in constructing batteries, observed him building roads and serving artillery, and, in so limited an engineering corps, could not fail to see both the strong qualities and the weakness of the officer he was to face at a time when his understanding of the man helped to compensate for many shortcomings of the Confederate staff. When these five are named — Joseph E. Johnston, P. G. T. Beauregard, Gustavus W. Smith, Joseph Hooker, and George B. McClellan — the list of those of whom Lee acquired useful "working knowledge" in Mexico is about complete. The general officers with whom he dealt most frequently and freely in 1847 had almost passed off the stage of action by the time Lee took command in Virginia. Patterson and Shields both fought south of the Potomac for a time, but neither of them faced Lee. This was the case, also, with Irvin McDowell, whom Lee met on the Rio Grande before he joined General Scott.
Between his return from Mexico and his participation in the War between the States Lee had no first-hand opportunity of observing large-scale field operations. His practical training in war prior to 1861 thus covered twenty months. McClellan was to see the Crimean campaign and was to learn something from it. Lee's only additional lessons were theoretical, acquired from his limited study at West Point in 1852‑55. However, he was of a nature to apply readily what he had learned, and as there was comparatively little advance in military science between 1848 and 1861, except in the development of ordnance, his Mexican training, save in four respects, was not seriously deficient. Two of these have already been mentioned, viz., the fact that he did not encounter a first-class adversary, and, secondly, that he got little experience with cavalry. The third deficiency was, of course, p300 that he belonged to an army of only 10,000 men at most, facing an enemy who did not have more than 17,000 men on any field and did not know how to employ even that number. It was one thing to bring Scott's small units together in the field and quite another to converge the columns of the Army of Northern Virginia in June, 1862, when one of the divisions was larger than Scott's whole army. Still, Lee's military training in this respect was progressive from 1861, and he was not called upon to lead 70,000 men until he had handled a small force in western Virginia and a somewhat larger army on the south Atlantic coast. Finally, it must be remembered that Lee had no experience with the transportation by railroad of an army in Mexico. All troop movements, except of cavalry, were on foot or by ship. Every ration and every round of ammunition had to go forward by wagon. He had to reckon new time schedules, both for his own army and for the enemy, when he dealt with railroads.
1 Scott, Mexican Reports, 314; text of the armistice, ibid., 356. For Hitchcock's claim that Scott had promised at Puebla to give the friends of peace an opportunity to act after the Mexican army had been defeated, see Pillow Inquiry, 524. The armistice in all its bearings is well explained in 2 Rives, 500 ff.
2 Semmes, 427, 431.
3 Hitchcock, 293.
4 Mexican Reports, 355; Pillow Inquiry, 77, 313.
5 Mexican Reports, 355; Pillow Inquiry, 77.
6 Mexican Reports, 355.
7 Semmes, 433.
8 Mexican Reports, 356, 426.
9 2 Rives, 536.
10 Mexican Reports, 426.
11 Mexican Reports, 427.
12 Mexican Reports, 427.
13 Hitchcock, 301.
14 The best account of this council is given in the excellent work of J. H. Smith, 2, 149. See also J. F. H. Claiborne: Life and Correspondence of John A. Quitman (cited hereafter as Quitman), 1, 353 ff.; and Pillow Inquiry, 143.
15 Scott, Mexican Reports, 377; Quitman, ibid., 410; Smith, ibid., 428.
16 2 J. H. Smith, 409.
17 Mexican Reports, 377, 411, 423.
18 Lee, in Pillow Inquiry, 143.
19 2 Rives, 526‑28, 544.
20 Lee, in Pillow Inquiry, 143‑44.
21 Pillow Inquiry, 529.
22 Mexican Reports, 378‑82, 400 ff.
23 Cf. Smith in Mexican Reports, 428.
24 Mexican Reports, 385, 428. Twenty-two years afterwards, when a minister fainted in the pulpit at Lexington, Lee tactfully consoled him by relating this experience (Jones, 149).
25 Scott, Mexican Reports, 383; Quitman, ibid., 416‑17.
26 Mexican Reports, 417, 428.
27 C. M. Wilcox: History of the Mexican War, 483, an eye-witness's account.
28 Scott, Mexican Reports, 384.
29 "Captain Lee, engineer, so constantly distinguished, also bore important orders from me (Sept. 13) until he fainted from a wound and the loss of two nights' sleep at the batteries" (Mexican Reports, 385). For Pillow's acknowledgment, see ibid., 404.
30 G. O. 47, A. G. O., Aug. 24, 1848.
31 Lee to Totten, MS., Nov. 30, 1847; Eng. MSS., 987; same to same, MS., April 21, 1848, ibid., 1018.
32 Packard, 158.
33 Lee to Totten, MS., Jan. 1, 1848; Eng. MSS., 993; same to same, Feb. 1, 1848; Eng. MSS., 999.
34 Jones, 133‑34; Long, 64.
35 Lee to Totten, MS., March 1, 1848; Eng. MSS., 1000; same to same, April 1, 1848; Eng. MSS., 1012; same to same, April 21, 1848; Eng. MSS., 1018.
36 Lee to Totten, MS., May 1, 1848; Eng. MSS., 1016.
37 Lee to Totten, MS., June 29, 1848; Eng. MSS., 1018; same to same, MS., Nov. 8, 1848; Eng. MSS., 1039.
38 Lee to Totten, MS., Jan. 1, 1848; Eng. MSS., 993; same to same, MS., May 21, 1848; Eng. MSS., 1015.
39 Lee to Totten, MS., Jan. 1, 1848; Eng. MSS., 993; same to same, MS., Feb. 1, 1848; Eng. MSS., 999.
40 2 Rives, 621 ff.
41 Scott to Pillow, Oct. 2, 1847; Pillow Inquiry, 629‑30.
42 Pillow Inquiry, 630‑34.
43 Pillow's memorandum, which he admitted to be the basis of this letter, appears in Pillow Inquiry, 389. The embroidered newspaper versions follow.
44 2 Ripley, 551.
45 G. O. 349, Pillow Inquiry, 455.
46 The correspondence is in Semmes, 360 ff.
47 Pillow Inquiry, 373.
48 Ex. Doc. 60, 1st sess., 30th Cong., 1040 ff.
49 Hunt, in Long, 70.
50 Lee to Mrs. Lee, March 15, 1848; Fitz Lee, 44.
51 Hitchcock, in Pillow Inquiry, 529. Pillow was reported to have said that his leg was "shattered," but his surgeons found no injury (ibid.).
52 R. E. Lee to Smith Lee, March 4, 1848; Jones, L. and L., 56‑57.
53 R. E. Lee to Smith Lee, undated; Jones, L. and L., 54.
54 R. E. Lee to Smith Lee, April 8, 1848; Jones, L. and L., 57‑58.
56 Pillow Inquiry, 55.
57 Pillow Inquiry, 301, 311.
58 Pillow Inquiry, 75 ff., 143 ff.
59 Hitchcock, 320.
60 Hitchcock, 328. Some of this wine may have been purchased by Lee for Scott, or for the headquarters mess, before Lee left Vera Cruz (cf. R. E. Lee to Smith Lee, March 27, 1847; Fitz Lee, 37).
61 Lee to Mrs. Lee, Feb. 8 and 13, 1848; Fitz Lee, 42‑43; R. E. Lee to Smith Lee, March 4, 1848; Jones, L. and L., 57; same to same, April 12, 1848, ibid., 54‑55.
62 Lee to Totten, MS., April 1, 1848; Eng. MSS., 1012.
63 R. E. Lee to Smith Lee, May 21, 1848; Fitz Lee, 45‑46. The Mexican senate ratified the treaty on May 25. Ratifications were exchanged May 30, 1848 (2 Rives, 653, 655).
64 Lee to Totten, MS., June 7, 1848; Eng. MSS., 1017.
65 Keyes, 206‑8.
67 Jones, 58. For other references to Lee's place in the esteem of Scott, see Fitz Lee, 42, and Brock, 166, quoting Reverdy Johnson.
68 Cf. James May to C. F. Lee, April 22, 1861, quoting Major A. H. Bowman; E. J. Lee, 418.
69 Francis L. Smith to J. S. Pendleton, MS., Dec. 19, 1848; MS. A. G. O. It is significant also that Lee is not mentioned in E. D. Mansfield's Life and Services of General Winfield Scott (1852).
70 Hitchcock, 310.
71 Cf. Eben Swift: "The Military Education of Robert E. Lee," Va. Mag. of History and Biography, vol. 35, no. 2, April, 1927, p105.
72 For lists of these officers, see 1 Meade, 196; Fitz Lee, 46‑47.
73 The original members' names will be found in Wilcox, op. cit., 710‑11.
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