BUENA VISTA:

SANTA ANNA MEETS TAYLOR

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, meanwhile, succombed again to the heady smell of power. He was successfully named Commander in Chief of Mexican forces, a post he accepted rather than the presidency since he said the need was for the country's leader to be in the field. Santa Anna learned of the plan to send Taylor's men to Vera Cruz and felt he had an opportunity to beat the weakened American Army in northern Mexico. He would again be the esteemed savior of Mexico by defeating the American invaders as he had the Spanish and French.

Santa Anna, on October the 8th, 1846 was at San Lois de Potosi with 21,533 men. He was prepared to attack the only army between him and Texas, the American army of General Zachary Taylor.

General Taylor's headquarters was in Saltillo, 250 miles north. Taylor had 5,000 men stretched from Matamoros to Saltillo. Santa Anna sent General José Vicente Minon to make contact with Taylor's forces at Saltillo. He sent General Urrea and 6,700 calvary and guerrilla forces to isolate Monterrey and take it back. Both actions would cut General Taylor's supply and communication line with his units all the way down to Matamoros. General Taylor's scouting reports told him there was a large force moving on the road from San Luis de Potosi. Taylor sent Ben McCulloch to scout further while he moved his headquarters forward to Aqua Nueva. At Aqua Nueva, Ben McCulloch reported to General Taylor that a Mexican Army of 15,000 men was at La Encarnacion, 50 miles south on the road from San Lois de Potosi. Taylor wanted to make a stand at Aqua Nueva, but his officers convinced him to seek terrain that would even the odds. They agreed on a place called La Angostura. The name meant the narrows and referred to a mountain pass between Saltillo and Le Encarnacion. The pass was one mile from a ranch known as the Hacienda San Juan de la Buena Vista.

Santa Anna finding the American position at Aqua Nueva abandoned and burned, mistakenly believed the Americans were withdrawing before his superior army. He pushed his already tired men after the Americans, hoping to catch them before they scampered back across the Rio Grande. He was both surprised and delighted to find the Americans deployed at the mountain pass. Santa Anna positioned his 15,000 men, and fifteen guns across from the Americans. The American force eventually became 4,700 men, and 8 guns. This was because men and equipment kept joining the U.S. side as they arrived from the various stations down the line to Matamoros. Santa Anna sent a message to Taylor offering him an opportunity to surrender:

...you are surrounded by twenty thousand men, and cannot in any human probability avoid suffering a rout and being cut to pieces with your troops...

This offer was politely declined by Taylor. On the 22nd of January, 1847, the battle began. It raged for two days.

THE BATTLE OF BUENA VISTA

Painting of the Battle of Buena Vista

There were many outstanding Celts in this battle. Among them was Jefferson Davis. Davis' mother was Irish and his father Welsh. Jefferson Davis was General Zachary Taylor's former son-in-law. Before the war, Davis eloped with Taylor's daughter, they were married, and she died months later. Taylor resented Davis for it. At Buena Vista, Jefferson Davis led several key charges during the ebb and flow of the battle that kept the momentum in the United State's favor.

Jefferson Davis as he looked during the Mexican War..................>

After the battle, he was embraced by General Taylor, all grievances forgotten. Jefferson Davis would become the Secretary of War under President Pierce and in that capacity send camels to Texas in an experiment after the war. Still later he would be the President of the Confederate States of America. Two counties in Texas have been named after Jefferson Davis. Davis County and Jeff Davis County were named for him. Davis County's name was changed back to Cass County after the Civil War by the Reconstruction government in Texas.

Irishman and Lieutenant John Paul Jones O'Brien was an outstanding artillery officer during the battle. At one point in the battle, his artillery unit stood naked in front of an advancing massive assault; the usual infantry screen had withdrawn.

O'Brien and his men stayed at their guns pouring grape and canister shot at the advancing enemy until his position was overrun. Using ropes he had rigged for just an occasion, he was able to recover some of the guns, but he did lose two six pounders to the Mexican unit that became known as the San Patricios.

O'Brien's guns being over ridden by Mexican units

from a water color by contemporary Samuel Chamberlain

Most historians credit the U.S. artillery for the victory at Buena Vista, and O'Brien was the best example of their service.

Taylor, many years later, credited the victory at Buena Vista to the outstanding scouting reports of Ben McCulloch.

Other people of Celtic background who were at the battle were: Captain Patrick Edward Connor, Lieutenant David Campbell and Lieutenant James McDonough of the Galveston Invincibles and Peter H. Bell. Bell's ancestors were from Ireland. He later served as governor of Texas for two terms, 1849-1853.

The American victory at Buena Vista over an enemy three times its size was talked about worldwide. The Battle of Buena Vista is immortalized in the elegiac poem of Major Theodore O'Hara:

On Fames eternal camping grounds

Their silent tents are spread,

And Glory guards, with solemn rounds,

The bivouac of the dead.

The Battle of Buena Vista made two men presidents; Zachary Taylor and Jefferson Davis.

Texas Ranger and Irish born, Walter P. Lane, on a scouting trip, found himself at the Salado hacienda where the Mier men drew the black beans and were shot. Lane seized the Alcalde and ordered the bones dug up and mules and packs be provided him to take the remains back to Taylor's headquarters. This was done. General Taylor had the relics returned to Texas. They were interred in La Grange, Texas at place called Monument Hill on the Colorado River. The remains of the Dawson men were also buried there.

While Santa Anna was retreating from Taylor, the other American force under General Winfield Scott was working its way to Mexico City and Santa Anna.

WINFIELD SCOTT'S EXPEDITION

American troops landing at Vera Cruz

At the Battle of Vera Cruz when Scott came ashore, there were several Celts participating in a way worthy of mention. General Shields was again prominent in battle, as was Colonel Bennett Riley and Thomas Jackson. Riley was the son of Irish parents. He would later preside over California entering the United States. Thomas Jackson's great grandfather was born in Ireland, his mother was a Neale. He was commended for his gallant and meritorious service. Thomas Jackson became known as "Stonewall" Jackson during the Civil War. His commander in Mexico was John Magruder. Of red-haired Magruder, Stonewall Jackson once said, "If there is fighting to be done, Magruder will be on hand."

..................................................Lieutenant Thomas Jackson >

After the Battle of Vera Cruz was over, and the U. S. firmly in control of the city, Scott received a surprise visitor, Jane McManus. She had travelled the two hundred mile trip alone from Mexico City by stagecoach and arrived in Vera Cruz before the landing and watched the entire spectacle. She told Scott that civil unrest in Mexico City had stalled the mission she was a part of, a negotiated settlement of the war. The arrival of Santa Anna in Mexico City had ended it. She advised Scott there were many in Mexico who wanted peace and that Scott should make war on the military as he advanced to Mexico City and not on the Mexican people if he thought President Polk still sought a negotiated settlement. She then filled General Scott and his staff in on the conditions of the road to Mexico City. Scott did not like finding McManus in the war zone. He referred to her as the "plenipotentiary in petticoats."

In April, Scott fought the Battle of Cerro Gordo. After the victory, it was discovered there were 29 Irishmen serving in the Mexican Hospital Corps. These were not members of the San Patricios. One explanation given is that they were among a number of Irish miners known to be in Mexico at the time the war broke out.

You can see for yourself by the map to the left the mountainous elevations involved in the Battle of Cerro Gordo.

After Cerro Gordo, came the Battle of Contreras. Two of the American cannon of Captain John Paul Jones O'Brien's battery lost at Buena Vista were recaptured here. These guns stand today at the United States Military Academy at West Point where they are known as "O'Brien's Bulldogs."

 

For more on O'Brien and his "Bulldogs" use this link >

Celts who contributed more than their share in these battles were: Generals Shields and Patterson, Colonel Bennett Riley, Colonel William S. Harney, Lieutenant Philip Kearny, and Captain Robert E. Lee. Lee received his appointment at West Point from John C. Calhoun. Also playing an important part in the battle was Captain John B. Magruder. Magruder, years later in Texas, showed Texans how to celebrate the New Year with style.

After Contreras, an action was fought at Molino del Rey and other approaches to Mexico City.