Mexican-American War 170th: Battle of Monterrey, Conclusion

Mexican War-header

This post wraps-up ECW’s 170th Anniversary coverage of the Battle of Monterrey. Click here for the other posts relating to the battle.

For three days, the American and Mexican armies had fought for control of the city of Monterrey. Now, as American soldiers watched on, Gen. Pedro de Ampudia brought his defeated forces out of the city and marched south into the heartland of Mexico.

Though the Mexican forces left the city on Sept. 25, Ampudia and Taylor had appointed commissioners to hash out the details of the surrender during the entirety of the previous day. Ultimately Ampudia marched out with his surviving troops, about 6,800 men, and one battery of cannon, moving his force fifty miles to the south. The Mexican forces left behind scores of artillery that Taylor’s men captured as well as muskets and powder magazines.

One of the pivotal agreements to the commission included a promise from Taylor for an eight-week long armistice during which he promised not to move more than 50 miles from Monterrey. As Taylor explained it, he “thought it would be judicious to act with magniminity [sic] towards a prostrate foe,” believing Mexico was on its last legs and would soon sue for peace.[1]

Gen. Ampudia meets with Zachary Taylor to surrender the city of Monterrey in this Currier & Ives print (LOC)

Gen. Ampudia meets with Zachary Taylor to surrender the city of Monterrey in this Currier & Ives print (LOC)

During its operations against Monterrey, the American army suffered about 500 casualties killed and wounded—including the heavy loss in company- and field-grade officers killed during the worst of the street fighting on Sept. 21. American officers and soldiers were all-too happy to cease their operations against the city; had Ampudia not opened a dialogue on Sept. 24, Taylor would have ordered his men to plunge straight into the city’s fortified plaza. Reflecting on the surrender and aftermath, Lieutenant George G. Meade wrote to his wife, “I was exceedingly rejoiced. . . any one who for four days and nights is in a constant state of exposure to fire-arms of all descriptions will very well satisfied to terminate to disagreeable an occupation.”[2]

Defending the city, Ampudia’s forces suffered a similar number of casualties, about 500, in the fighting around Monterrey. However, as the main Mexican force marched away, those left behind had to deal with the repercussion of a city captured. While the U.S. regulars were happy to end the battle, the Texas Rangers and volunteers met the battle’s cessation with anger and bitterness.

Having gained independence in 1836, Texas nonetheless had waged a series of sharp fights with Mexico from then to the beginning of the war in 1846, and the Texans brought vengeance and old scores to settle in Monterrey. The city found itself victim to the usual standards of war; captured at the point of the bayonet, Monterrey became a bacchanalia for looting and worse. Lieutenant D.H. Hill from the 4th Artillery wrote, “As a matter of course all restraint being thrown off, the foul spirit of mischief and depravity was not long in developing itself. Murder, rape, and robbery were committed by the Volunteers in the broad light of day.” Hill then pointed his finger at “Col. Hays’ Regiment of Texans” for perpetrating the worst of the acts.[3]  While Hill’s remarks should be taken with a grain of salt (he perennially complained about volunteers), in this case he is backed by Luther Giddings, an Ohioan volunteer, who wrote that the Texans showed a “a lawless and vindictive spirit. . . in the week that elapsed between the capitulation of the city and their discharge. Such deeds as were perpetrated must have shocked the chivalric feelings of many of their own brigade[.]” The worst of the atrocities began to be deterred when the Texans were mustered-out and sent home.[4]

John Coffee Hays commanded a regiment of Texas volunteers who reportedly did the worst of the sacking of the city after the battle. (LOC)

John Coffee Hays commanded a regiment of Texas volunteers who reportedly did the worst of the sacking of the city after the battle. (LOC)

While the Americans rested, Taylor sent word back to Washington. When they arrived in the capital, President Polk quickly took to his diary to vent his frustration. Polk and his cabinet believed that by allowing Ampudia to retreat, Taylor had forsaken the opportunity to “have probably ended the war with Mexico.” Because of the 8-week armistice, Polk feared Mexico now had “perfect liberty to reorganize and renew the war at their own time and place,” which led to more consternation in Washington.[5]

Compared to Polk, American officers in Monterrey continued to reiterate their commander’s thought that Mexico would actually soon surrender. Lieutenant U.S. Grant wrote to Julia Dent, “It is to be hoped that we are done fighting with Mexico for we have shown them now that we can whip them under evry [sic] disadvantage.”[6]

The Battle of Monterrey was over, and now it was a matter of time to prove whether President Polk or Lieutenant Grant were right.

______________________________________________________________

[1] Zachary Taylor, Letters of Zachary Taylor: From the Battle-fields of the Mexican War(Rochester: N.p, 1908), 61.

[2] George Gordon Meade, The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade: Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), 139.

[3] Daniel Harvey Hill, A Fighter from Way Back: The Mexican War Diary of Lt. Daniel Harvey Hill, 4th Artillery, USA, ed. Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes Jr. and Timothy D. Johnson (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2002), 28.

[4] Luther Giddings, Sketches of the Campaign in Northern Mexico (New York: George P. Putnam & Co., 1853), 221.

[5] James K. Polk, The Diary of James K. Polk During His Presidency 1845-1849, Vol. II, Edited by Milo Milton Quaife (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1910), 184.

[6] The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Volume 01: 1837-1861, Edited by John Y. Simon, Southern Illinois University Press, 112.

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3 Responses to Mexican-American War 170th: Battle of Monterrey, Conclusion

  1. Mike Burns says:

    Great series Ryan. Now, what happened next? Polk or Grant was correct? 🙂

    • Ryan Quint says:

      Hey Mike,

      Thanks for reading! It’ll become clear that Polk was right (one of a minority of times being right) and there’s still a lot of hard fighting to do before the end of the war.
      But for now there’s an 8-week armistice to sit through. 😏

  2. Pingback: Mexican-American War 170th: Battle of Buena Vista | Emerging Civil War

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