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Chapter 9

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Year of Decision

by
Bernard DeVoto

published by Little, Brown and Company,
Boston, 1943

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 11
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p272  Chapter 10:
Sonorous Metal

On July 16, Her Majesty's Ship Collingwood, Rear Admiral Sir George Seymour, made Monterey. Her officers began paying calls of ceremony on the American flotilla, and one of the anxieties of Commodore Sloat abated. He had forestalled by nine days the possible hoisting of the Union Jack over the customhouse, where the American flag now flew with the entire acquiescence of the natives. In fact there had been no possibility that the British would make trouble before or after the occupation. Their mood was a cool professional interest in the technics of empire.

The Royal Navy knows how to enjoy shore leave and made the most of the pleasant town. Its spectacle was tepid till late afternoon of the nineteenth, when Lieutenant Walpole of the Collingwood, who had read Cooper, found the familiar confronting him. A cloud of dust showed north of town and there came marching out of it a body of horsemen in column of twos. Almost two hundred of them, with a remuda of three hundred besides. The advance guard consisted of sailors who sat their saddles none too well, but the rest was first-rate pageantry. Riding alone came the commander, who had, Lieutenant Walpole says, "such an eye!" — the eye of a Conqueror. Then five Delawares, whom Walpole took to be a personal bodyguard, savage and painted, unmistakably the image of Uncas. Then a wilder, more savage troop, "many of them blacker than the Indians," to the number of 160 in all, thirty-nine of them the Conqueror's own, the rest "loafers picked up lately." The thirty-nine took the believing British eye, for they were authentic trappers. Cooper had told him about them and he was so awed that he even dressed them in buckskins, as an alert costumer ought to have done for him.

To any eye, the army of the deceased California Republic, now a force without any standing whatever, looked tough. The vernacular had not yet coined the phrase which later remarked of Ben Butler that he could strut sitting down. But the Conqueror, riding alone between his sailors and his Delawares, could swagger in the saddle, and his filibusters swaggered through Monterey, to make camp in a wood beyond the town. Walpole saw "the rifle held by one hand across the pommel of the saddle," and  p273 gaped in the knowledge that one of the invaders was Kit Carson who, he said, was as famous in these wilds as the Iron Duke was in Europe. Colton, the American chaplain, noted their black beards and gleaming teeth and felt the town shake as they passed. He then composed a tableau while dusk came up and the campfires shone against the woods.

A recognition of sorts, different from Walpole's instruction in Cooper. This column of bearded horsemen with white teeth parading the street of Monterey, this carefully spaced display of the Conqueror riding alone on a cheap errand while the audience cheers, this arrangement, this camera angle — it is labeled. The dramaturgy of Captain Frémont had changed its medium. The Conquest had got into the movies, where it was to stay.

Scared stiff that he might have exceeded his instructions, Sloat had nevertheless had the flag raised at Yerba Buena, Sonoma, Bodega, and elsewhere, and had issued a decent and proper proclamation. He had, remember, been told to occupy the California ports, proclaim the occupation a deliverance from tyranny, and invite the consent of the natives. Events, particularly the Bear Flag opera, had made his instructions obsolete, but Consul Larkin still hoped that his own intrigue could succeed. To Larkin the Bear Flag incident seemed a venture in outlawry, which is what it was, and he yearned to get Frémont under control. So did Sloat, though he also hoped that Frémont was acting under orders, in which case he would feel much better about his own episode in imperialism. (He kept remembering Ap Catesby Jones.) Neither Pico nor Castro accepted his invitation to come in and collaborate with him, and Castro, who was moving south and losing troops by desertion as he went, inquired what he made of the Bear Flag filibuster. Sloat longed for Frémont, who was supposed to be pursuing Castro. Frémont, marching toward Monterey by routes which could not possibly have intercepted Castro, was eager to join Sloat.

For Sloat was the duly constituted commander of the United States forces in California and could legitimatize Frémont. When they met, Sloat asked what authority Frémont was acting under, and the Conqueror was forced to admit that he had no authority. The admission shocked the commodore and strengthened his determination to get out of here fast, letting others bear the responsibilities of empire. He was old, sick, irresolute, and a long way from Washington. But he refused to co-operate in Frémont's proposed march against Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, which was to complete the Conquest, and refused to muster Frémont's battalion into the service of the United States.

This was embarrassing. The Conquest remained illegitimate and the  p274 Conqueror's status was that of a thug. The sense of grievance burst into flame and Frémont would presently write to Senator Benton an account of these events that lay somewhere between falsehood and hallucination. Also with his province yanked from under him, he had the sick thought that this might be the best time to go home.

But a different commodore arrived, to whom Sloat joyfully turned over command and responsibility. This was a d'Artagnan part, played by Robert Field Stockton, an energetic, imaginative personage cast as a sea dog. Commodore Stockton needed only to survey the situation in order to understand the cinematic requirements. He supplied them. He commissioned Frémont (it is a little hard to see by what authority) as a major in the army, made Gillespie a captain, and mustered in Frémont's irregulars as the Navy Battalion of Mounted Riflemen. That is, in strict accuracy, as the Horse Marines. He furiously prepared to conquer the rest of California and, to be sure, he issued a proclamation.

The touch of paranoia Frémont suffered from had magnified actual events, just as the desert mirage magnifies actual objects. Much of Frémont's career in California is explained by the fact that he was seeing mirages — delusions. But Stockton was not suffering delusions — he was lying. . . . If there had been hope of conciliating Castro, Pico, or the Californians in general, he destroyed it with his proclamation of July 29. Quite properly, the Californians had made some impromptu opposition to Frémont's filibuster but, so far, they had not at all opposed the forces of the United States. Nevertheless Stockton accused Castro of "lawless violence" and an intention to "with the aid of hostile Indians keep this beautiful country in a constant state of revolution and blood" — which was not only a lie but absurd as well. Castro also was "a usurper, has been guilty of great offenses, has impoverished and drained the country of almost its last dollar, and has deserted his post now when most needed [!]." And so on. Therefore, Stockton said, moved by "reports from the interior of scenes of rapine, blood and murder," and "as the only means to save from destruction the lives and property of the foreign residents and citizens of the country who have invoked his protection" — he was going to drive the criminals and usurpers out of California and restore peace and prosperity.

There was no rapine, pillage, or murder, no one had invited his protection, and those he was called usurpers and criminals were the constituted authorities. And Stockton was not only falsifying the situation, he was disregarding the purposes of his government. Frémont was not the only one who could see a main chance, and the commodore was off for glory. He knew his Hollywood.

 p275  Frémont's memoirs show that he was not happy in having to accept a superior commander, but as Major Jinks of the Horse Marines he was at last legitimate. Stockton embarked the Navy Battalion of Mounted Riflemen on the Cyane, July 26, and sent them off to occupy San Diego. Kit Carson's most poignant journey followed: he got seasick and so did his messmates, who had just finished a big drunk. Frémont raised the flag at San Diego on July 29, and after impressing horses started north to join Stockton on August 8. The Conqueror's record remained untarnished; he had not yet faced a hostile force in California. He never did.

Stockton made up a landing force of 360 marines and sailors and sailed in the Congress on August 1. He stopped to raise the flag at Santa Barbara and reached San Pedro on August 6. Larkin, who was with him and still hoped to abate the show of force, got in touch with Castro and Pico, whose pathetic efforts to raise a defensive army were failing. They would have been happy to declare a truce and meet Stockton for negotiations. A rout is more glorious than a treaty, however, and Stockton refused with a ruffle of drums which proved that the navy was as good as the army at soliloquy. So the governor and the comandante, oozing a rhetoric that is no less absurd in that it expressed the genuine emotions of conquered people, gave up the struggle for which they could rouse no popular support and abandoned their fragmentary forces. Castro rode away for Mexico and Pico, after hiding for a month near San Juan Capistrano, escaped to Lower California. There was now not even a mirage of opposition. On August 14 Frémont's command joined Stockton's and the land army of sailors occupied Los Angeles. This was five days before Kearny entered Santa Fe, and the Conquest of California, Major Frémont second in command, was completed . . . for a while.

Stockton sat down to write his report, or shooting script, to the Secretary of the Navy. (It would come into the hands of Mason, formerly Attorney General, who took the place when Polk made Bancroft Minister to England.) He told his chief that in less than a month he had "chased the Mexican army more than three hundred miles along the coast, pursued them thirty miles in the interior of their own country, routed and dispersed them and secured the Territory to the United States, ended the war, restored peace and harmony amongst people, and put a civil government into success­ful operation!"

What war? What army? What harmony? What civil government? But it was a practical treatment for the movies and the Secretary of the Navy was in Washington.

The treatment, however, left out of account some facts and potentialities.  p276 Stockton, head of the military conquest and de facto governor, began to prepare a constitution and a plan to organize California as a territory of the United States. He gave it up — which was just as well since the Californians had something left to say and since the President had charged General Kearny with that job. So his thoughts turned toward an attack by sea on Mazatlán and Acapulco — a sound idea. He began to put California in condition to spare his genius. He ordered Frémont to recruit the Horse Marines to a strength of three hundred. He sent Kit Carson overland with dispatches, on August 28. Reaffirming martial law as the code of his territory, he reorganized the military.

By orders of September 2 he divided California into three military districts. He put various subordinates in command of various small areas, where they promptly began granting paroles to Californians presumed to have been in armed opposition. He made Gillespie commander at Los Angeles, which was a mistake. And he made Frémont commandant of the whole territory, which, though all he could do, was a worse mistake.

In northern California various resident Americans hurried to form various semi-military organizations, or vigilance committees. Various other Americans began the speculation in real estate which had always been one promise of revolution. And the first immigrants from the East began to come down from the Sierra.

* * *

Through the summer President Polk was forced sometimes to remember that he had a war on. The necessity, which was national, greatly irked the head of the Democratic Party, which had gone local. He had his Oregon Settlement and his Independent Treasury now, and while Congress heaved and rippled with dissents he was trying to force through his bill for the reduction of the tariff of '42. It was vehemently opposed. Polk scented corruption and his resentment flowed steadily in his diary. He had to compromise with the Democratic ironmasters of Pennsylvania, though he told them their state was agricultural. The compromise got the bill passed but the November elections were to show that he had lost Pennsylvania. He had lost New York, too, though no one yet understood why.

Those November elections were never out of anyone's mind. Polk had gloomy apprehensions when he vetoed not only a bill for the repayment of the French Spoliation claims, the sustenance of an ancient lobby, but also that checking account of Congressmen, the rivers and harbors bill. The activity of pressure groups for various candidates grew obscene, but was  p277 only one part of the political turmoil. All summer long Mr. Buchanan yearned to be a Justice of the Supreme Court, as a further step toward the White House, but shrank from the fight he would surely have to make to be confirmed. Every angle and shadow of this appointment had to be considered in relation to the pressure groups. Polk was embarrassed in his maneuvers but on the whole relieved when Buchanan decided to stand pat and keep the State Department. He got little other relief. Few Democrats measured up to his standard of selfless subordination, none had a passion for anonymity, the party was fractious, the Whig press was in full cry, revenues fell off when the tariff reduction took effect, the Treasury found no brokers who would take a war loan, and Congress, boiling and bucking toward adjournment, was not so much in rebellion as in a coma. It would have been a bad time for any administration, it was disastrous for a war administration.

But something had to be done about the war and it seemed to be up to Polk. No one had a plan but slowly, haphazardly, under pressure of events, politics, and chance, one began to form by accretion. Bile spurted in the President's diary at what he took to be a conspiracy — anything was a conspiracy that did not square with his ideas. There was Taylor. Since the engagements which he spelled "Palialito" and "Resacka," Taylor had apparently wanted to do nothing whatever. . . . The victor sat in his attakappas pantaloons under a tent fly and grew great. He wrote to his son-in‑law Dr. Wood that "I greatly fear that the [any further] campaign will be a failure which will break down the individual who conducts it," but he summoned publicity to prevent the breakage. He established the friendliest relations with newspaper correspondents, who knew copy when they saw it. Brave, benignant, stupid, as common as your Uncle Bill, he dealt generally with the excesses of volunteers, assuring them that whoever might be responsible for disease, inaction, and bad food, Old Rough and Ready was not. While the political brigadiers kept a stream of letters going home where they would do the most good, Taylor also enlarged his correspondence. Bliss, his chief of staff, corrected the spelling, Taylor being of the opinion that, in our perfected system, a President did not need spelling or much else.

Polk foresaw Taylor's candidacy even before Taylor did and it made him furious. He could get neither plans nor information from Taylor, who had none. His hard mind bogged in the softness of what cannot be called Taylor's intelligence. He saw that Taylor, who unhappily could win battles, intended to carry out orders, not plan campaigns. Polk had no orders to give him — and the worst was that any campaign he might conceive for  p278 Taylor would only glorify the Whig candidate. There was no alternative to Taylor but Winfield Scott, the head of the army, and Scott was doubly damned. Not only was he a Whig and a perennial candidate, but he had opposed Polk's ideas. What was worse, he insisted on preparing to fight before fighting. He had warned Polk that it would take at least till fall to create an effective army. That proved his ignorance of political necessities or else meant a Whig plot to discredit the administration. He wanted to drill troops, arm them, work out logistic problems, gather shipping and transport — in short, he was scientific and visionary. He would not do. Polk longed to turn the war over to one of the Democratic orators whom he had made brigadiers. Any of them would have done, say Shields, who was lately of the Land Office, or Judge Quitman, who was a leading Mason, or Robert Patterson, who had nominated Jackson for the Presidency, or the venal Gideon Pillow, who claimed to have made Polk President. His favorite, however, was William Orlando Butler, who was probably the best military man of the lot. But the Cabinet had to inform him that he could not entrust the war to amateurs, and in this simple fear that votes would be lost the republic was saved. Polk gave in but went on despising Whigs and military science and by election time would achieve the most preposterous military suggestion ever made by a President.

It was Scott who kept the war going — Scott, and Jesup, the Quartermaster General, and Marcy, the Secretary of War. In a shambles of ignorance, inefficiency, graft, and political intrigue, they somehow got a prodigious job done. They turned loose a gigantic productivity and got some of it under control. Troops were raised, arms and munitions were manufactured, transport was achieved. It cost the Treasury hugely, the waste was incalculable, the failures were innumerable, but the job was done. And Scott, who was a soldier, was thinking toward the military end. He kept his temper, he wrote no more damaging letters, he began to make headway. He bade a friend "imitate the example of that heathen who touched his hat to the fallen statue of Jupiter, saying 'Who knows but that he may be replaced upon his pedestal?' "​a

Polk's secret war developed, the affair of Santa Anna. From Havana the great brigand was directing the efforts of his conspirators to undermine the Paredes government in his fatherland. They were succeeding. As early as January Paredes had written, "Order is precarious, peace insecure, and the nation, in the midst of the anarchy which consumes it and the chaos which surrounds it, moves toward dissolution and the fear of death." It had got steadily worse. His associates were either treacherous to him personally, café-table intellectuals, or grafters. He himself was honest  p279 and patriotic but stupid and given to drink. There were few revenues. The army had magnificent uniforms, incomplete equipment, and no pay. Besides, it was far from loyal. Various provinces were in chronic revolt, one was declaring itself independent, full-scale revolution was ready to break out. Paredes and such assistants as he could get dealt badly with the increasing anarchy — and had against them, in Havana, the master of treachery who was also the idol of the people, or of some of them. By mid‑July Santa Anna had Mexico ready to long for some more of his liberation.

And Polk, who had agents in Mexico encouraging anarchy, now sent a messenger to inquire whether the earlier arrangement still held. On Santa Anna's word, it did. The brigand was going to reappear as a Liberator and, with the assistance of the United States, would deliver his unhappy country from the tyranny of its monarchists. When he returned to power he would accept Polk's offer to suspend hostilities. He would make a treaty ceding enough land to indemnify the United States for its war expenses. (Here, as elsewhere in Polk's dream, the United States was to pay for the ceded territory. In other words, the indemnity was to consist of the profit following a rise in real estate.) He would assist in determining a permanent boundary and make sure that the harbor of San Francisco was north of it. In order to preserve the appearance of coercion, which his bemused but patriotic countrymen would require, he suggested that the ports of Vera Cruz and Tampico be occupied. (By this time Polk had also got round to thinking of them.) He assured the messenger that the army of occupation would find the climate healthy. And he ended with a solicitous reminder: let the President see to it that the personal publicity of Santa Anna in the American press was conducted in the most favourable terms.

Good! The President renewed his undercover arrangements. He got to work again on the secret Executive fund of two million dollars that was to buy a treaty by underwriting the pay of the Mexican army. And in the serene belief that he had arranged a peace for the warring countries, he ordered Commodore Conner to pass the Liberator through the blockade. He had bought his gold brick.

The Liberator acted. On August 3 Vice President Bravo, Santa Anna's man, overthrew Paredes, and the garrison of Vera Cruz and other parts of the army made a pronunciamento. This ceremony, a tradition, consisted of a formal announcement, accompanied by oratory and salutes, that someone else had bought the army or was expected to buy it. Its symbolic value was considerable and even in the disaffected northern provinces detachments put their new loyalty on record. On August 8 Santa Anna left Havana  p280 on the steamship Arab. On August 16, under the arranged chaperonage of a captain of the British Navy, who reported to Conner that she carried no contraband, the Arab passed the blockade and anchored at Vera Cruz. In demonstrations of wild enthusiasm — gunfire, confetti, and a blizzard of engraved resolutions — Santa Anna landed and began a progress of state to his hacienda at Jalapa.

Napoleon was back and as much unity as Mexico was capable of answered his return. He told his countrymen that he desired no political power but hoped only to drive the invader from Mexican soil. He notified Mr. Polk that the American proposals for an armistice and the negotiation of peace could be considered only by the Mexican Congress, which would not meet till December. Then with the superhuman energy that was his one valuable characteristic he began transforming the pressed soldiery from a mob to an army.

President Polk had been as shrewd as possible and American diplomacy had achieved a triumph.

* * *

Taylor sat under his grapevine at Matamoros and could not have had a better press. Clearly the country appreciated his victories but the administration sent no official praise. The holy cause of Whiggery, about which Taylor had no clear ideas, was probably being degraded by the Democrats. Taylor cultivated his acquaintance with Congressional Whigs in letters which show Bliss's editing. The President and the War Department kept annoying him with incomprehensible demands for information. They wanted to know what the country around him was like; he made no effort to find out. They wanted to know what ideas for further conquest the commanding general in the field was working out; he wasn't working any out. The administration's ignorance and the commander's stupidity interacted, and the confusion was increased by the sloth of communication. It took between three and four weeks to deliver a dispatch, but neither headquarters thought of establishing a courier service. (Polk actually heard of developments in the war from the British embassy before reports came through from the army.) But for that matter, neither headquarters thought to put its dispatches into cipher.

Volunteers kept arriving till Taylor had some twelve thousand troops, twice as many as he could supply or maneuver. The military system had enlisted them for periods ranging from three months to a year; some had to be sent home as soon as they arrived. They lost their morale and their health at base camps, dying by the hundred. Most of the regulars had been  p281 acclimated in lower Texas and had been disciplined a little; it was the volunteers, especially those from the Northern states, who sickened. The problems of supply by sea and transport by land now became acute, and remained so for the duration. Taylor's officers did what they could but most of them were novices. The quartermaster general succeeded in getting several thousand wagons to Matamoros. They were almost useless for the country ahead but Taylor, if he knew that fact, had neglected to inform Jesup or Marcy. It therefore became necessary to get mules. Mexico was full of them but Taylor had not tried to locate them and when the army finally moved it had about half as many as it needed. Ammunition was short, medical supplies were short, food was not short but was frequently bad. The army, which had come to fight, found itself going to hospital instead. Hundreds went over the hill, many of them putting such training as they had had at the service of Mexico.

Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George Gordon Meade was depressed. He had a mathematician's mind and he was a soldier. He had not favored this war but any war should be conducted efficiently, and all that reassured him was the equal inefficacy of the Mexicans. He admired Taylor as a fighting general but could praise nothing in the conduct of the campaign. Soon after the occupation of Matamoros he saw that the next logical step was to take Monterrey,​* but he had no conviction that it could be done. He continued to raise the volunteers, who had "to be taken care of as you would so many children." A third of them were sick, most of them, including the officers, were helpless. He disliked the Texans, who were vindictive and, though the bravest of men, careless and stupid in action, squandering their ammunition and being forced to retire, leaving their sick and wounded on the field. He did not think that the Mexicans would offer formal opposition in the field, but believed that they would conduct an effective and possibly disastrous guerilla war. When he heard that Santa Anna had landed, however, he changed his mind. "He is the master-spirit of the country, far beyond all others in talent and resources . . . we may look for a long and severely contested war."

Independent of the administration by some process which must not be thought of as cerebral, Taylor decided to do what Polk was hoping he would do — advance into the northern provinces. He organized the largest force he could supply, about six thousand effectives — and then had to stop for the reconnoissance and preparations that should have been attended to long before.

 p282  His probable objective was Saltillo, beyond the mountains in Coahuila, and on the way to it he must take Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo León. A march overland turning out to be impossible, he started a flotilla of river steamboats up the Rio Grande on July 6. Some two hundred and fifty miles up the river, the mouth of the San Juan was the head of navigation, and a few miles up the San Juan was the small city of Camargo. Through July the army crawled toward Camargo and the advance guard took it without opposition on the thirty-first. It was notoriously the unhealthiest place in the region and Taylor determined to make it his base. The army now got really sick — and sat down while Taylor took thought.

He had acquired an unshakable conviction that the administration was trying to kill his candidacy by procuring his defeat in the field. He knew, however, that a candidate had to go on winning victories. On August 19 he started his advance toward Cerralvo, sixty miles away. (Under Worth, Achilles had returned to the war on hearing the news of Palo Alto. He had brought his inkstand along and went on sending letters to his lobby. But he was incomparably the best soldier in this army.) The early part of this march was terrible with heat, bad water, and bad roads. But higher altitudes brought cooler weather and the army's health improved. The advance reached Cerralvo, a beautiful town in the foothills, on August 25. Anticipations appears to have been justified, for the populace welcomed the invaders. Here were good food, abundant water, a lovely countryside, and an agreeable conquest. Morale rose.

So far there had been no hostilities, hardly even the glimmer of lances on the horizon. Another hitch would take Taylor to Monterrey, and here Ampudia had concentrated the fragments of his defeated army and was getting reinforcements. At this moment the New Orleans Delta heard that the Mexican troops were chiefly "the lowest classes of the cross breeds, who have been taken in chains to the capital and there, in their half-naked state, they are furnished with a musket and taught roughly and toughly how to load, aim, and fire." The Mexican press described Taylor's army in similar terms. But if either army supposed that the other would not fight, Lieutenant Meade assured both that they would learn otherwise.

On September 18, with Hays's Texas Rangers riding ahead and Taylor losing his lethargy as action became likely, the army came down into the valley of the San Juan again after a detour, and found itself within cannon range of the green and white city of Monterrey, with the foothills beyond it rising to the peaks of the Sierra Madre. Taylor promptly considered his favorite maneuver, a bayonet charge, but the Mexicans opened on him with cannon and he had to stop and do some thinking.

 p283  To Taylor, as to many other American generals in the succeeding hundred years, a battle consisted of some preliminary work and a splendid finale in what was called cold steel. Just how he had acquired his vision is not known, since his principal campaigns had been against the Seminole, whom no bayonet ever touched. But in obedience to it he had solved the problem of inadequate transport by leaving most of his artillery behind. His engineers reconnoitered Monterrey on Saturday, September 19. The eastern and northern approaches were heavily fortified. West of the town, the road to Saltillo, which was the line of both reinforcement and retreat, was commanded by lighter fortifications but the terrain they dominated was formidable. The engineers reported that Monterrey could be turned and the Saltillo road cut. They thus suggested that tactics that won the battle.

The battle began late Sunday afternoon, September 20, when Taylor sent Worth with the Second Division (mostly regulars) and Hays's Texas Rangers to take the Saltillo Road. They did not quite reach it and had to bivouac in a driving rain. But the next day, September 21, they began the operations that saved Taylor for glory and made the battle of Monterrey a technical victory for the American Army.

Worth won his battle because he was able to co‑ordinate his attacks and give them sequence. The lesson of Palo Alto was repeated on Monday, when the insufficient American artillery broke up a heavy charge of Mexican lancers so handily that the Rangers could turn it back with little loss. This cleared the road and Worth had won his battle right there, for the Mexicans in Monterrey could neither retreat to the interior nor receive reinforcements or supplies. But Worth knew war and, not content with a paper victory, began to attack the city from the rear. He formed an assaulting force under Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.C. F. Smith, who was to live long enough to repeat this decisive action at Fort Donelson. They had to cross a river, they had to work up a hillside nearly a thousand feet high, they were under artillery and rifle fire, but they had competent officers and plenty of guts. Reaching the crest, they were able to charge the first bastion with the bayonet, though probably it was empty when they reached it. By midafternoon they had the whole ridge, at slight cost, and were turning captured cannon on the next stronghold. This was another height, across the river and nearer the city. Worth prepared to attack it but his skirmishers had got no farther than the base of the hill when night fell. Another violent storm set in. Most of Worth's men had not eaten since Sunday morning and none had blankets, but they had won a battle.

Meanwhile, to the eastward, Taylor had not got near enough Monterrey to use his favorite weapon. Many eyewitnesses say that his courage  p284 was an inspiration. It was just as well, for his intelligence and his professional competence were not. Garland was commanding the First Division, the quarrelsome Twiggs being ill, and Taylor sent him out to take the eastern forts with the bayonet.​b Garland led his command past some of the redoubts and into the nearest city streets, where artillery from the forts promptly blew them to pieces. Garland withdrew to re‑form and Taylor, who lacked Worth's skill at co‑ordinating attacks, sent in Butler's division over much the same approach. The Fourth Infantry, including Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant, had a bad time and something less than half of it was left when, after a few minutes, it also had to get out again. A brigade under Mr. Polk's appointee, General Quitman, was still fresh, and Taylor sent it in farther to the south. Quitman also was met with a decimating fire and his troops began to melt away. But the Mexicans in the forts were beginning to be discouraged by the enemy's insistence on coming back, and their commander was scared. He withdrew some of them and others fled at the crucail moment. So Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jefferson Davis of the First Mississippi Rifles, who for three happy and heart-breaking months in 1835 had been Taylor's son-in‑law, was able to to wave his sword, lead his men into one of the redoubts, and so prepare the defeat of the Confederate States of America. The Mississippians took another redoubt also and withstood a concentrated fire from the other forts.

Taylor was trying in person farther to the north, and inspiring with his courage a lot of soldiers whom the Mexican artillery, some of it served by American deserters, blew back three separate times. They could not get close enough to thrust with Old Betsy. When they got into the outskirts of the town, the Mexicans slaughtered them from the roofs. No one had thought to bring scaling or storming weapons, and they died by scores. Taylor thought that a small battery ought to advance and shoot it out with the heaviest fort but the commander sensibly refused. So, late in the afternoon, Taylor had to pull all his army out of range again except the volunteers, mostly Davis', in the captured redoubt. He had lost about six times as many men as Worth was to lose in three days of fighting. He had taught a number of his subordinate commanders a lesson he could not learn himself. And he had so used up his army that they would do no fighting the next day, though the Mexicans withdrew by night to the center of the city.

On Tuesday the twenty-second, however, they occupied the abandoned earthworks and appreciatively watched Worth's troops win the remaining heights west of Monterrey. Worth conducted this operation with spirit and intelligence — and without help or information from Taylor. His Mexican  p285 opponent received reinforcements which any attack by Taylor would have prevented, and prepared an assault. The Mexicans attacked with great élan but Worth caught them in the flank, drove the survivors headlong into the city, and concentrated the captured guns on them.

By Wednesday the twenty-third Taylor's subordinates had sufficiently reorganized his battered army for him to try again. They had made plans for street fighting too, and so the troops made their way from block to block toward the grand plaza in the center of Monterrey. It was terrible work and they were cruelly shot up but they kept going. At midafternoon ammunition failed them. Lieutenant Grant, who was a quartermaster, rode frantically back to organize the supply. But Taylor, for no reason, ordered the whole force back again, all the way out of town. They went back, protesting, and the Mexicans shot them up as they went.

Worth had no orders from his commander. His batteries threw shell into the city and his attack was ready. When he heard the noise of Taylor's battle he sent it in — two columns down main streets.

Pause while one of history's emblems is created. Many of Worth's troops were Texans, and some had worked the great herds of Texas longhorns. As, heads down against the musket fire, they pelted along those two avenues toward the first barricades, they began to shout. They produced a cry of the cattle range, a wild, unnerving sound deep in the bass which climbed to a full-throated, deafening falsetto. They would go home again after the campaigns in Mexico and peace would come for a while. Then on July 21, 1861, some of them would be under arms again behind the brown stagnant watercourse called Bull Run Creek, facing McDowell's army of Northerners, and would produce that screech again. It was the Rebel Yell.

They had almost as bad a time as Taylor's troops, fighting from house to house, but they would not be stopped. Their engineers, chiefly Lieutenant Meade, taught them to pierce adobe walls and throw grenades through the holes. They mopped up, square by square, fighting desperately, swearing like Texans, posting sharpshooters, bringing cannon up dismounted and training them down the streets. They were just one square from the plaza when night fell. Worth did not call them back.

He had won Taylor's third victory. Ampudia had had enough and, before fighting could begin on Thursday morning, asked for terms. Taylor proposed unconditional surrender but consented to a meeting of commissioners. As a result, Ampudia was permitted to withdraw his army intact, with six of his field pieces and all his small arms and equipment. The Americans were to occupy the city but were to remain east of a line drawn a few miles beyond it for eight weeks, the Mexicans also agreeing not to  p286 cross that line. This amounted to an eight weeks' armistice. Taylor had no authority to grant an armistice.

Badly shaken as the army was — casualties amounted to twenty per cent of the effectives — Taylor could have destroyed Ampudia's army with another day of fighting. That is, Worth could have destroyed it. If he had done so, Santa Anna's preparations to the southward would have been jeopardized or even paralyzed. But Taylor was outtalked by his opponent, knew that he had forfeited the respect of his principal subordinates, and, besides, was making an unfamiliar essay in political war. He needed at least eight weeks to restore his army — and maybe the Santa Anna intrigue, which he vaguely knew about, would mature in that time. Or, if he did not wound Mexican pride by destroying the army, maybe the northern provinces, maybe even the national government, would make peace.

His political thinking was as bad as his generalship. When word of Monterrey reached Washington, Polk, as commander in chief, had to disavow the armistice, and, as head of the Democratic Party, understood it to be a Whig stratagem to bring the war into disrepute. He began to whittle down the Whig candidate.

No use. Though Worth was writing letters again as soon as the fighting stopped, though many other politicians in the army also told their correspondents the details of Taylor's ineffectiveness, he had won another victory. Worth and the courage of the private soldier had won the battle, but the glory was their commander's. Nothing could keep him from the White House now, though his subordinates were to give him a fourth, dubious, unnecessary victory. With some nine hundred Americans killed or disabled in three days, the newspapers had plenty of copy. Stories of heroism went out for an exulting nation to read. The relatives of the dead could get what satisfaction they might from a bravery that accomplished nothing. For the battle of Monterrey should not have been fought and did nothing to advance the war.

* * *

Polk learned about the battle on the evening of October 11, and the next day he ordered the armistice terminated. But the dispatches that around in October arrived in a United States that was rounding a decisive turn. That turn had begun in August and we must go back six weeks before the battle of Monterrey.

Nothing is more fragile than the secrets of diplomacy. Rumors of Polk's deal with Santa Anna had reached the army, as we have seen. They also traveled across the United States, gathering picturesqueness as they spread.  p287 Before Santa Anna landed in Mexico the Whig press was airing them. They temporarily cured the schizophrenia of the Whigs, who on the one hand had had to denounce the war and on the other had had to praise the valor of those who were fighting it. In the public mind they mingled with other rumors, especially those which magnified the army opposing Taylor and anticipated for him disasters that were in no danger of occurring. There were casualty lists now, also: the dead and wounded of the first battles, of the guerrilla raids, of the camp fevers. By August a discouragement typical of this stage of all our wars had undermined the enthusiasm of May. And finally, Henry Thoreau's laborious thinking at Walden Pond had been prophetic of his countrymen. A good many had caught up with Thoreau, with Theodore Parker, and with Hosea Bigelow. What, Hosea had asked on June 17,

Wut'll make you act like freemen?

Wut'll git your dander riz?

. . . As early as July 9 the Baltimore American, a Whig sheet, had learned, it said, what portions of Mexico the administration intended to seize as spoils of war. The rest of the party press was soon publishing the American's findings. To wit: all Mexico to the line of Tampico; all California; parts of Jalisco, Guadalaharaº (meaning Guanajuato), and Zacatecas; all of Sonora, Durango, San Luis Potosí, "New León," Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas.

It must be said flatly: no such plan was in anyone's mind. Immediately after the declaration of war jubilant cries had gone up from the most extreme expansionists, eagle-screamers like Walter Whitman, and a few who would have been members of the slave conspiracy if there had been a slave conspiracy — cries which welcomed all Mexico to the liberation of the United States. Sometimes they added in the Central American states, sometimes the rest of the hemisphere. They had, however, soon subsided. Such a conquest was obviously impossible and few Americans knew enough foreign geography to have clear ideas about it. Toward the end of the war, when strains had been quadrupled, a desire to seize all or a great part of Mexico would awaken again, but in August of '46 none contemplated and few desired it. The most extreme expansionist in official life was Walker, the Secretary of the Treasury, and he said nothing. Polk himself wanted what he had always wanted, New Mexico and California. He carefully left the door open for further expansion, repeatedly telling his diary and his callers that "perhaps something more" was not unlikely, but that was a contingency, not a plan, and it hinged on a simple calculation of the costs of war.

 p288  Nevertheless, by August the expeditions against Santa Fe, Chihuahua, and California had notified everyone, if nothing else had, that this was a war of conquest. The United States was going to acquire a lot of land. Nearly everybody wanted that land but now there was no way to avoid thinking about it. Implications, relationships, began to force their way into consciousness.

At the beginning of August Congress, which would adjourn in ten days, was in one of the angry, resent­ful moods that always precede a re‑forming of the lines. Mr. Polk, detecting candidacies in every move it made, was stubbornly following out his plans. On the third he vetoed the seasonal pork, the rivers and harbors bill. On the fourth the House tried and failed to pass the bill over his veto. And on the fourth also he sent to a Senate which had lost its pork his proposal for a secret appropriation of two million dollars.

Once more, here is what Polk intended by this step in his deal with Santa Anna. Mexico owed citizens of the United States a considerable sum, duly adjudicated. Mexico had no money and could pay only by ceding land. Santa Anna, Polk thought, would make the cession. But no Mexican government could make such a cession unless it kept the support of the army. To keep that support, Santa Anna would have to pay the army, but Mexico had no revenue. The two million dollars, an advance on the ultimate payment in full, would enable Santa Anna to pay the army, conciliate his country, and actually make the cession of New Mexico and California which in turn would enable Polk to end his war. This, Polk thought, was a simple, straightforward way to peace. Nobody could have been more honest in that belief. Or more blind.

The proposal went to the Senate in Executive (secret) Session. At once it focused much opposition, resentment, and maneuvering that had been aimless. Polk and his whips worked hard, but in the bars and boarding houses where the unofficial steering committees met there was a flurry of purpose­ful preparation. Heads got together, expedients suggested themselves, and here was a big chance. The Whigs had him in a vise and would not vote his appropriation unless he also asked it of the House — which was equivalent to making it public and giving the show away. Polk refused to give in, worked furiously, had to give in. The money was asked of the House as an appropriation for foreign negotiations.

(Voted: to adjourn at noon of October 10.)

On August 8 Polk went to the Vice President's room in the Capitol, to sign the miscellaneous bills that drop out of the machine in quantity at the end of a session. The day wore on. Polk heard that a bill appropriating two  p289 million dollars for "extraordinary expenses" originating in the intercourse between the United States and foreign nations had been introduced in the House. He did not promptly learn what followed, but he began to hear that the gentlemen of the Congress were celebrating the imminent adjournment. "Several members . . . were much excited by drink," Mr. Polk, a temperate man, disapproved, and of course Daniel Webster was one of them. The President left the Capitol at eleven-thirty.

A little before 7 P.M., in the House Chamber, lamplit, moist with the terrible still heat of August in Washington. About a hundred people in the spectators' gallery, among them the majestic commander of the armies, General Scott, in dress uniform. Several speakers rose to defend the President's request, or to suspect it in Whig sneers. Mr.  Winthrop of Massachusetts was specific: he felt a dilemma like the one that had forced him to vote for war, and he was sure that the President was asking Congress to sanction an increase of Southern territory, slave territory. Mr. Grider of Kentucky succeeded him. Then Mr. Wilmot of Pennsylvania, who had been busy during the five o'clock recess, stood up. Mr. David Wilmot, Democrat, in his first term, who had been wholly orthodox in his conduct so far, so orthodox that, alone of his delegation, he had supported Mr. President Polk's tariff reduction.

(August 8, 1846, Taylor's army had occupied Mier, beyond Camargo, but had not started for Cerralvo on the road to Monterrey. Kearny's Dragoons stayed in camp on the Canadian River, while Doniphan's First Missouri and the artillery came down from the Raton to the parched New Mexico plain. Twenty-five miles out from Bent's Fort Susan Magoffin, just alive, saw no blade of grass but "with anxious eyes and heart to gain first the long wished luxury" saw her first "false ponds" or mirages. Francis Parkman, on his way south from Fort Laramie to the Pueblo, was in camp with Bissonette, had heard from an Indian that there was war with Mexico, and made a note on "the gross indecency" of some Indian names. Frémont started north with his captured mules from San Diego to join Stockton, who was preparing to take Los Angeles. Bryant had come out of the Salt Desert into the greasewood barrens west of it, and on this day saw grass again and cottonwoods, and with a lifting heart reached the Humboldt. There came to Fort Hall, where Boggs and Thornton were camped, one Jesse Applegate, a famous man, bringing word of a better route to the settlements in Oregon. At Fort Leavenworth the Mormon Battalion was getting equipment. At a crossing of the Weber River, near the mouth of Echo Canyon, the Donner party had sent James Frazier Reed ahead to find a road where no road was. Anxiously awaiting his return, they could  p290 ponder a message from Lansford Hastings which told them that the way he had chosen for them to travel to Great Salt Lake could not, he found, be traveled. . . . But Mr.  Wilmot is speaking in the House.)

Speaking about the President's request, Mr.  Wilmot says that he did not think this a war of conquest when he voted for it and does not think it one now. He will support the President, but just why does the President want this money? Since we will not pay for land we claim to be ours, that is up to the Rio Grande, there must be an intention to acquire more land. Mr.  Wilmot approves our acquiring territory on the Pacific, including the Bay of San Francisco, by purchase or negotiation. But he is opposed to the extension of the peculiar institution. Slavery existed in Texas, so Mr.  Wilmot accepted it there. But if, now, free territory comes in (and Mexico was free soil) God forbid that we shall plant the peculiar institution in it.

Mr. Wilmot, not being an orator, speaks easily, clearly, quietly. He moves an amendment to the bill: —

Provided: That as an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the Republic of Mexico by the United States, by virtue of any treaty which may be negotiated between them, and to the use by the Executive of the moneys herein appropriated, neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime, whereof the party shall first be duly convicted.

This is the Wilmot Proviso. It fastened the slavery question to Polk's request for two million dollars for the purchase of territory.

At 8:20 P.M., Saturday, August 8, it fell, not explosively, into a House which was disorganized, inattentive, and in some degree drunk. The Southern nerves were lax; only a feeble opposition could be improvised, though a whisper ran through the city, the gallery filled, and the Secretary of State, the Postmaster General, and the Secretary of the Navy hurried into the lobby to watch the maneuvering. After the customary substitutes and motions, the Proviso was amended to apply specifically to a treaty of peace. Then the House passed the bill and adjourned into cavernous heat.

On Monday, August 10, the Senate took up the House bill, an hour short of noon, and Lewis of Alabama moved to strike out the Proviso. Over Sunday something of its importance had been realized, groups had met hurriedly, angry plans had been formulated. But time was inexorable: the First Session of the Twenty-ninth Congress would end at twelve noon — and the House clock was seven minutes faster than the Senate's. Senator John Davis of Massachusetts got the floor, began to talk, and would not yield. It is not known whether he intended to let the bill come to vote in  p291 the last minute — Lewis' motion would surely have passed — or whether he intended to talk it to death. At any rate, while the clock was still short of twelve, word came that the House had adjourned. Mr.  Davis was still talking but Mr.  Atchison, the president pro tem, declared the Senate adjourned.

Polk was furious. He considered the Proviso "a mischievous & foolish amendment," to be explained as factional intrigue only. He wrote in his journal, altogether honestly, "What connection slavery had with making peace with Mexico it is difficult to conceive." He shared that difficulty with his kind and with, it is certain, a majority of his countrymen. But the limitations of his tight, shrewd mind show nakedly in that sentence, and that particular kind of limitation had now been started toward oblivion. His blindness was his country's evasion, and evasion was now going to end. Slavery was out of the closet, and it was going to stay out. By December the nation would be rocking in the storm which was to last nineteen years. David Wilmot, safeguarding the conquests of his party's war President, had made A. Lincoln President of the United States.

* * *

It has become conventional to explain the Wilmot Proviso as something other than what it was. True, into the hasty plans that produced it and the debates and maneuvers that followed it up to 1850 there went a complex variety of motives and interests. That the Democratic Party was in process of breaking up to re‑form on a similar base has certainly not gone unmentioned here. Polk's handling of the war had made enemies in his party. His handling of Oregon had displeased some, his veto of the annual pork had angered others, his tariff policy had cost him the support of still others, especially in the North. He had made enemies by his appointments and his refusals to appoint. Moreover, the old tensions inside the party had increased. Some Democrats had become Whigs, others were on their way toward Free Soil principles. There were anti-war Democrats, anti-expansion Democrats, high-tariff Democrats, Old South Democrats, New South Democrats, pan‑South Democrats, anti-South Democrats, anti-slavery Democrats. The pressures strained the containing skin and the Democracy needed only a touch to fly apart.

If the Democracy was a chaotic contradiction, it made more sense and order than the Whigs. They also were in process of disruption. For nearly every Democratic faction there was a corresponding group of Whigs who held much the same beliefs, at whatever cost in logic, and there were other  p292 factions. Only the tariff and opposition to the war were keeping them a national party. Otherwise they were a series of local institutions, interests, and machines, riotous with contradictions and heading for the complete extinction of '52. That there were pro-war Whigs, extreme expansionist Whigs, low-tariff Whigs, and pro-slavery Whigs only added to the violence of the storm that would begin before December.

Finally, there had occurred the fission between the South and West that overturned an established security. The war had increased the strain of a deficit economy. And Oregon and California were further stresses breaking the equilibrium.

Now, no doubt all this, and more besides — anti-rent sentiments, the pressures of candidacies, a sudden sharpening of agitation — can be found in the maneuvering that preceded and followed the Wilmot Proviso. That being said, the fact remains that David Wilmot, on his own behalf or acting for others, in a ten-minute speech, sounded the brazen alarum in the night that had sometimes waked Thomas Jefferson in terror. For twenty-six years the nation had refused to face the paradox at its core, the unresolved conflict at the base of its economy and its politics. If it had faced that conflict steadily during the preceding years, the death and destruction now ahead of it might have been modified or even averted. It had not. Now it would have to. So the collapse of parties was not a disease but the symptom of one. Repression begets neurosis and Congress was only faithfully mirroring the profound disturbance underneath. The motives of David Wilmot and his supporters do not matter. The thing he did must have been done by someone at some time — but he did it here and now. He broke the repression.


The Author's Note:

* This name is universally spelled Monterey in American texts. I use the Mexican spelling so that the reader may distinguish it at sight from the Monterey in California.


Thayer's Notes:

a Not a heathen, of course — else why would the statue be fallen — but I've only managed to trace the story back partway.

Gen. Scott may have had it fresh in his mind from The Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art, Vol. 5, p178 (1845) — taken in turn from The Edinburgh Review, CLXIV.273 (April 1845), an apparently anonymous review of E. J. Delécluze's Grégoire VII; St. François d'Assize,º St Thomas D'Aquin (pp273‑328), where the anecdote serves as a sort of tossed-off trope in a commentary on the reception accorded Pope Gregory V. The story (variously located in Athens, at the Capitolium in Rome, and in the Vatican) is older, however: the most recent telling of it I can find with a name attached is by Patrick Brydone, A Tour Through Sicily and Malta In a Series of Letters to William Beckford, Esq. of Somerly in Suffolk, I.146 (1773):

"Do you remember old Huet, — the greatest of all originals? One day, as he passed the statue of Jupiter in the capitol, he pulled off his hat, and made him a low bow. — A jacobite gentleman, who observed it, asked him why he paid so much respect to that old gentleman. — For the same reason, replied Huet, that you pay so much respect to the Pretender. Besides, added he, I think, there is rather a greater probability that his turn will come around again, than that of your hero; — I shall therefore endeavour to keep well with him, and hope he will never forget that I took notice of him in the time of his adversity."

Brydone, however, got his tale and the name "Huet" from the following passage in Tobias Smollett's Humphry Clinker where Gen. Scott could very well have read it in the original telling (my italics):

I have here met with my old acquaintance, H[ewet]t, whom you have often heard me mention as one of the most original characters upon earth — I first knew him at Venice, and afterwards saw him in different parts of Italy, where he was well known by the nick-name of Cavallo Bianco, from his appearing always mounted on a pale horse, like Death in the Revelations. You must remember the account I once gave you of a curious dispute he had at Constantinople, with a couple of Turks, in defence of the Christian religion; a dispute from which he acquired the epithet of Demonstrator — The truth is, H––––– owns no religion but that of nature; but, on this occasion, he was stimulated to shew his parts, for the honour of his country — Some years ago, being in the Campidoglio at Rome, he made up to the bust of Jupiter, and, bowing very low, exclaimed in the Italian language, 'I hope, sir, if ever you get your head above water again, you will remember that I paid my respects to you in your adversity.' This sally was reported to the cardinal Camerlengo, and by him laid before pope Benedict XIV, who could not help laughing at the extravagance of the address, and said to the cardinal, 'Those English heretics think they have a right to go to the devil in their own way.'

Indeed H––––– was the only Englishman I ever knew, who had resolution enough to live in his own way, in the midst of foreigners; for, neither in dress, diet, customs, or conversation, did he deviate one tittle from the manner in which he had been brought up. About twelve years ago, he began a Giro or circuit, which he thus performed — At Naples, where he fixed his headquarters, he embarked for Marseilles, from whence he travelled with a Voiturin to Antibes — There he took his passage to Genoa and Lerici; from which last place he proceeded, by the way of Cambratina, to Pisa and Florence — After having halted some time in this metropolis, he set out with a Vetturino for Rome, where he reposed himself a few weeks, and then continued his route for Naples, in order to wait for the next opportunity of embarkation — After having twelve times described this circle, he lately flew off at a tangent to visit some trees at his country-house in England, which he had planted above twenty years ago, after the plan of the double colonnade in the piazza of St Peter's at Rome — He came hither to Scarborough, to pay his respects to his noble friend and former pupil, the M––––– of G–––––, and, forgetting that he is now turned of seventy, sacrificed so liberally to Bacchus, that next day he was seized with a fit of the apoplexy, which has a little impaired his memory; but he retains all the oddity of his character in perfection, and is going back to Italy by the way of Geneva, that he may have a conference with his friend Voltaire, about giving the last blow to the Christian superstition — He intends to take shipping here for Holland or Hamburgh; for it is a matter of great indifference to him at what part of the continent he first lands.

When he was going abroad the last time, he took his passage in a ship bound for Leghorn, and his baggage was actually embarked. In going down the river by water, he was by mistake put on board of another vessel under sail; and, upon inquiry understood she was bound to Petersburgh — 'Petersburgh, — Petersburgh (said he) I don't care if I go along with you.' He forthwith struck a bargain with the captain; bought a couple of shirts of the mate, and was safe conveyed to the court of Muscovy, from whence he travelled by land to receive his baggage at Leghorn — He is now more likely than ever to execute a whim of the same nature; and I will hold any wager, that as he cannot be supposed to live much longer, according to the course of nature, his exit will be as odd as his life has been extravagant.

[This gentleman crossed the sea to France, visited and conferred with Mr de Voltaire at Fernay, resumed his old circuit at Genoa, and died in 1767, at the house of Vanini in Florence. Being taken with a suppression of urine, he resolved, in imitation of Pomponius Atticus, to take himself off by abstinence; and this resolution he executed like an ancient Roman. He saw company to the last, cracked his jokes, conversed freely, and entertained his guests with music. On the third day of his fast, he found himself entirely freed of his complaint; but refused taking sustenance. He said the most disagreeable part of the voyage was past, and he should be a cursed fool indeed, to put about ship, when he was just entering the harbour. In these sentiments he persisted, without any marks of affectation, and thus finished his course with such case and serenity, as would have done honour to the firmest Stoic of antiquity.]

Given that Humphry Clinker is a work of fiction, and the narrator at this point is the fictional Matt Bramble, we might be excused for dismissing Hewett as equally fictional, but Knapp and Boucé, the editors of the Oxford edition of the novel, have this to say in a note:

William Hewett (1693‑1766) of Stretton, Lancashire, a well-known eccentric. He went to Oxford, tutored John Manners, Marquess of Granby, was Colonel of the Leicestershire volunteers in 1745, and became one of the Demoniacs at Hall-Stevenson's Skelton (Crazy) Castle in Cleveland, Yorkshire. Many of the scattered accounts of Hewett include extracts from Smollett's portrait. See Letters of Laurence Sterne, ed. Curtis, [Oxford, 1935], 202, n. 3, and 227, n. 2. See also [Samuel Pegge], Anonymiana (London, 1809), p288. For Hewett's epitaph, see [John Hall-Stevenson], Crazy Tales: and Fables for Grown Gentlemen (London, 1780), pp121‑2.

As to whether the anecdote itself records an event that actually occurred — and having come this far I see no reason to doubt it — if the pope was truly Benedict XIV, it was between 1740 and 1758; "the house of Vanini", Hewett's place of death in 1766 or 1767, was a noted inn run by a Dr. Vannini.

As a side-note, this excursus may serve as a useful reminder to any who believe that everything in the world can be found on the Internet: to get to the bottom of this, or such bottom as I have got to, I was only carried so far by online resources, and finally had to resort to a good printed book: William Hewett may have been well known to the Oxford editors, but his trace on the Web is very faint.

[decorative delimiter]

b See a complementary account in Leyden, A Historical Sketch of the Fourth Infantry from 1796 to 1861, p14.


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