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A History of the Nineteenth Century, Year by Year

Twenty miles south of Saltillo

Scott reached the harbor of

Vera Cruz in January, and assumed command of all the American forces. He took with him the best officers and troops on the field of action, and left Taylor with only 5,200 men, most of whom were volunteers. Santa Anna, who had gathered 12,000 men eager to be led against the Americans, was approaching Saltillo. Leaving Monterey on January 31, Taylor reached Saltillo on February 2, and passed on to Aqua Nueva, twenty miles south of Saltillo, where he remained three weeks. Thence he fell back to a mountain gorge opposite Buena Vista. On February 22, his troops and those of Santa Anna were within sight of each other. Under a flag of truce, Santa Anna demanded Taylor's surrender, which was refused. The famous battleground, taking its name from the estate of Buena Vista, is a rugged valley from two to five miles wide, between rocky walls a thousand feet high. The slopes on either side are cut by deep ravines. Taylor placed his forces in groups on the crests of the bluffs, at the base of the eastern mountain, and in the southern edge of the plateau. The Mexican troops attempted to flank his position, but were driven off. The Mexican cavalry were sent to Taylor's rear to intercept the American retreat, but they were beaten back after a fierce hand-to-hand fight, led by Taylor himself. Santa Anna made his first attack in three columns. Two of these combined and turned the American left. The third, thrown against the American right, was forced to retreat, the Americans having formed a new
front. Again the Mexicans sought to gain Taylor's rear, but with two regiments supported by artillery and dragoons, the American commander drove them back, firing into their heavy mass.

[Sidenote: Taylor's order to Bragg]

[Sidenote: Conflicting claims of victory]

At one point in the engagement, an Indiana regiment, through a mistaken order, gave way, thereby placing the American army in peril. But the Mississippians and the Kentuckians threw themselves forward; the Indiana troops rallied, and the Mexicans were repulsed. General Taylor, standing near Captain Bragg's battery, saw signs of wavering in the enemy's line. "Give them a little more grape, Captain Bragg," he exclaimed--a command which was repeated all over the United States during the political campaign two years later. The Mexican column broke, and Taylor drove it up the slope of the eastern mountain. By means of a false flag of truce the endangered wing, however, escaped. Santa Anna, forming his whole force into one column, advanced. The Americans fell back, holding only the northwest corner of the plateau. When morning broke, the enemy had disappeared. The Mexican loss was 2,000, that of the Americans 746. Henry Clay, a son of the Kentucky statesman, as he lay wounded, was despatched by a Mexican vacquero. Colonel Jefferson Davis commanded with distinction a regiment of Mississippi riflemen. Buena Vista was Taylor's last battle. Its fame was heralded throughout America. Both sides claimed the victory. The Mexicans chanted Te Deums. In the United States the poet Kifer sang:

From the Rio Grande's waters to the icy lakes of Maine, Let us all exult! for we have met the enemy again. Beneath their stern old mountains we have met them in their pride, And rolled from Buena Vista back the battle's bloody tide; Where the enemy came surging swift, like the Mississippi's flood, And the reaper, Death, with strong arms swung his sickle red with blood.

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