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Battle of Buena Vista

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Battle of Buena Vista
ConflictMexican-American War
DateFebruary 22-23, 1847
PlaceBuena Vista, Coahuila
ResultU.S. victory
Combatants
Mexico United States
Commanders
Antonio López de Santa Anna Zachary Taylor
John E. Wool
Strength
20,000 4,500
Casualties
1,500 746

The Battle of Buena Vista was a land battle of the Mexican-American War fought on 23 February 1847 in Buena Vista, Coahuila, seven miles (12 km) south of Saltillo, in northern Mexico. The numerically disadvantaged invading U.S. army, using heavy artillery, successfully repulsed the Mexican attack on their position.

Contents

Background

After the battle of Monterrey (Sept 21-23, 1846) most of Major General Zachary Taylor's Army of Occupation was sent to the gulf coast and were to become the bulk of Winfield Scott's expedition against Mexico City. Taylor felt that his soon-to-be political rival, James_K._Polk was attempting to deprive him of any further military success which would aid in his campaign for the presidency. Taylor decided to ignore orders to stay in Monterrey and march deeper into Mexico and seized Saltillo. Taylor also diverted the Center Division, under John E. Wool from its expedition in Chihuahua to join him in Saltillo. With Wool's division, the U.S. force totaled about 4,500 soldiers most of them volunteer units fighting for the first time.

In the summer of 1846, Antonio López de Santa Anna returned from exile and quickly seized power. When Monterrey had fallen, Santa Anna raised an army in Mexico City numbering 25,000. When a letter from General Scott to Taylor telling of the transfer of the bulk of Taylor's army to the gulf, fell into Mexican hands, Santa Anna quickly marched to north to try and knock Taylor out of Mexico while U.S. forces were being withdrawn.

The Battle

Taylor learned that Santa Anna was marching north and so he moved about seven miles (12 km) south of Saltillo to Agua Nueva. Taylor sent out Major Ben McCulloch, of the Texas Rangers, to scout out the Mexican Army. McCulloch found Santa Anna 60 miles to the south. Returning to Agua Nueva, McCulloch reported what he learned to Taylor on February 21. Taylor withdrew to a mountain pass at Buena Vista half way between Agua Nueva and Saltillo. General Wool was charged with laying out the defenses. Later that day Santa Anna arrived at Agua Nueva with 20,000 men, his force diminished due to desertion and exhaustion during the long trek from Mexico City. Santa Anna perceived the U.S. withdrawal to Buena Vista as a retreat and demanded a surrender. Taylor's aid, William Bliss eloquently replied that the U.S forces declined the surrender. Taylor, worried about the safety of his supplies, rode to Saltillo that night to ensure the protection of his rear.

On the morning of February 23rd General Pedro de Ampudia attacked the U.S. left flank guarded by the 2nd Indiana from Joseph Lane's Indiana Brigade. The volunteers were supported by a battery of artillery but where steadily driven back along with a second line of Illinois volunteers. Wool sent a messenger to General Lane to hold the line at all costs. The Illini managed to conduct a fighting withdrawal under the pressure of the Mexican attack. At this crucial moment General Taylor returned to the field and made his presence known to his men he was escorted by the Mississippi Rifles under Col. Jefferson Davis. The Mississippians hit the flank of Ampudia's attacking column and Davis was wounded in the foot. Meanwhile Wool rallied the broken regiments using the walls of the hacienda at Buena Vista as a defensive position supported by a battery under Thomas W. Sherman and two regiments of dragoons. The 3rd Indiana was brought to the support of Davis and the two regiments formed an inverted V. The Mexicans attacked this new line. The Hoosiers and Mississippians held their fire so long that the confused attackers paused briefly and where then hit by a wave of gunfire. About 2,000 Mexicans were now pinned down. A young Mexican lieutenant attempted to trick the U.S. into a cease fire by saying that Santa Anna wished to meet with the U.S. commander. Taylor and Wool saw through the ploy but it did buy the trapped Mexicans enough time to escape.

Santa Anna renewed an attack on the main U.S. position led by General Francisco Pérez with artillery support. An artillery battery under Braxton Bragg unlimbered with orders to maintain his position at all costs. Taylor rode over to Captain Bragg and after a brief conversation in which Bragg replied he was using single shot, Taylor ordered "double-shot your guns and give them hell, Bragg". Later this order, although misquoted as "give them a little more grape Captain Bragg, would be used as a campaign slogan which carried Taylor into the White House. The Pérez's attack was repulsed as a heavy rain fell over the field. During the night Santa Anna withdrew to Agua Nueva.

Results

The Battle of Buena Vista was the last major battle in northern Mexico. This was Taylor's greatest battle of the war and also his last, as he returned to the U.S. to pursue his political career. His success at Buena Vista and his legendary command to Capt. Bragg, helped him win election as President of the United States in 1848. Santa Anna, suffering great losses withdraw to the south. He would next be forced defend Mexico City against an army under Winfield Scott.

See Also

Sources

  • Bauer, K. Jack, "The Mexican War, 1846-1848"
  • Nevin, David; editor, "The Mexican War" (1978)
  • Americas Library (http://www.americaslibrary.gov/cgi-bin/page.cgi/jb/reform/buena_1)
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