Battle of Chapultepec September 12–13, 1847
General Lopez de Santa Anna was in command of the army at Mexico City, and understood that Chapultepec Castle was an important position for the defense of the city.:313 The castle sat atop a 200-ft-tall hill, which was used as the Mexican Military Academy.:313 Although Santa Anna’s total forces defending Mexico City were larger than Scott’s, he had to defend multiple positions, since he did not know from where the attack would come. He did not have enough troops to effectively defend both the southern causeways into Mexico City and Chapultepec Castle, at a distance from the capital. At Chapultepec, General Nicolás Bravo had fewer than 1,000 men:313 (832: Total including 250: 10th Infantry, 115: Querétaro Battalion, 277: Mina Battalion, 211: Union Battalion, 27: Toluca Battalion and 42: la Patria Battalion with seven guns(Gen. Manuel Gamboa with two 24-lb, one 8-lb, three 4-lb. and one howitzer) to hold the hill, including 200 cadets, some as young as 13 years old. Also defending the castle was the Batallón de San Blas under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Felipe Xicoténcatl, a hero of the battle, along with six cadets who died defending the castle. Thinking that the attack would come from the south, Santa Anna devoted preparation time and troops there, both before and during the bombardment. He did not realize his mistake until the U.S. troops were actually on the hill, but that was too late.
Chapultepec Castle was not built as a fortress but as a luxury residence, later converted to the military academy. It was obviously strategically positioned, but its stone walls were vulnerable to cannon fire. U.S. forces used its heavy artillery to bombard the castle before the infantry attack. The Mexican forces had attempted to fortify the defenses by digging shallow trenches and placing sandbags. During the artillery bombardment, the defenders had nowhere to shelter and they had no way to defend against this attack from a distance. Destruction of the walls, sandbags, and other defenses was demoralizing for many defenders, and some began abandoning their positions. Only when the bombardment went on all day did Santa Anna realize the main attack was to be on Chapultepec. If he sent forces there, they would be exposed to U.S. fire in the flat land below the hill, and they could not reach the hill to help the defenders there during the bombardment. Santa Anna consulted with Nicolás Bravo, confessing to him that many of his demoralized troops were also likely to melt away if sent into a situation that would have high casualties.
Scott organized two storming parties of about 250 men each, including 40 Marines.:313 The first party consisted of Captain Samuel Mackenzie’s 256 men and Gideon Pillow’s division, who would advance from the Molino east up the hill.:313 The second storming party consisted of Captain Silas Casey’s men and John A. Quitman’s division, advancing along the Tacubaya Road,:313 but Casey was replaced by Major Levi Twiggs. Only Twiggs’ division and Bennett Riley’s brigade were left on the American right flank.:312
The U.S. forces began an artillery barrage against Chapultepec at dawn on September 12.:312 It was halted at dark and resumed at first light on September 13.:316 At 8:00 am, the bombardment was halted and General Scott ordered the infantry attack.:316 Three assault columns formed. On the left were the 11th and 14th Infantry under Colonel William Trousdale moving east along the Anzures aqueduct, in the center were four companies of the Voltigeur regiment under Colonel Timothy Patrick Andrews along with the 9th and 15th Infantry moving through the swamp and western edge of the grove, and on the right were the remaining four Voltigeur companies under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph E. Johnston.:316
Pillow was quickly hit in the foot and called for reinforcements, which came from John A. Quitman’s division, but the attack faltered when fired upon by the Moelia Battalion battery.:317 Andrews’s column cleared the grove of Mexican troops and linked up with Johnston.:316 The attack by the 9th and 15th Infantries stalled waiting for scaling ladders, and Col. Truman B. Ransom, commander of the 9th Infantry, was killed.:316–317
Quitman sent Persifor Smith’s brigade to his right and brought in James Shields, plus the New York and 2d Pennsylvania Regiments into the assault.:317 At the same time, Newman S. Clarke’s brigade arrived on the western slope, as did the scaling ladders.:317 The Voltigeurs soon planted their flag on the parapet.
By 9:00 am, General Bravo surrendered to the New York Regiment, and the American flag flew over the castle.:318 Santa Anna watched the Americans take Chapultepec, while an aide exclaimed, “let the Mexican flag never be touched by a foreign enemy”. He also exclaimed, “I believe if we were to plant our batteries in Hell, the damned Yankees would take them from us.”
During the battle, five Mexican military cadets, and one of their instructors, refused to fall back when General Bravo finally ordered retreat, and fought to the death.:316 These were teniente (lieutenant) Juan de la Barrera and cadets Agustín Melgar, Juan Escutia, Vicente Suárez, Francisco Márquez, and Fernando Montes de Oca, all between the ages of 13 and 19. According to legend, the last of the six, Juan Escutia, grabbed the Mexican flag, wrapped it around himself, and jumped off the castle point to prevent the flag from falling into enemy hands. In 1967, Gabriel Flores painted a mural depicting Los Niños Héroes. The mural decorates the ceiling of the palace, showing Escutia wrapped in the flag, apparently falling from above. A monument stands in Chapultepec Park commemorating their courage. The cadets are eulogized in Mexican history as los Niños Héroes, the Child Heroes or Heroic Cadets.
Thirty men from the Saint Patrick’s Battalion, a group of former United States Army soldiers who joined the Mexican side, were executed en masse during the battle. They had been previously captured at the Battle of Churubusco. Colonel William S. Harney specified that they were to be hanged with Chapultepec in view and that the precise moment of their death was to occur when the U.S. flag replaced the Mexican tricolor atop the citadel.
General Scott arrived at the castle and was mobbed by cheering soldiers.:318 William J. Worth’s division was sent by Scott to support Trousdale’s men on La Verónica Causeway (now Avenida Melchor Ocampo) for the main attack against the San Cosme Gate.:319 Defended by Gen. Rangel’s Granaderos Battalion, part Matamoros, Morelia, and Santa Anna Battalions (Col. Gonzalez), part 3d Light (Lt. Col. Echeagaray), & 1st Light (Comdt. Marquez) Trousdale, followed by John Garland, Newman Clarke, and George Cadwalader’s brigades, began advancing up the causeway.
General Quitman quickly gathered the troops in Chapultepec, except the 15th Infantry, who guarded the castle and prisoners, and designed as a feint, headed down the Belén Causeway, stopping at the Belen Garita.:318 The gate was manned by the Morelia Battalion, under the command of General Andrés Terrés’ (three guns and 180 men: 2d Mexico Activos) and the paseo to the north by General Ramirez.:318 Troops began to desert, and when Terres ran out of ammunition, he withdrew into the Ciudadela.:319 Led by the Mounted Rifles (fighting on foot), Quitman breached the Belén Gate at 1:20 pm.:319 General Scott later commented, “Brave Rifles, you have gone through fire and come out steel”.:319
Worth started his advance down the San Cosme causeway at 4:00 pm, having fended off an attack by 1,500 of Torrejon’s cavalry.:320 Garland’s brigade used the arches of the aqueduct to advance on the right.:320 Clarke’s men on the right passed through a tunnel made by sappers.:320 Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant, and some 4th Infantry used the bell tower of San Cosme Church south of the causeway to place a mountain howitzer.:320 On the north side of the road, naval officer Raphael Semmes repeated Grant’s successful maneuver.:320 Lt. George Terrett then led a group of U.S. Marines behind the Mexican defenders, and climbing to the roof, unleashed a deadly volley on the artillery gunners.:320 By 6 pm, Worth had broken through the gate, and the defenders scattered, many retreating into the Ciudadela, sweeping Santa Anna along with them.:320 As night fell, Worth lobbed five mortar rounds into the city, which fell near the National Palace.
The city was yet to be taken, Santa Anna had 5,000 troops in the Ciudadela (armory) and 7,000 in other parts of the city.:321 Six of his generals were taken prisoner.:321 At 1 AM the next day, he ordered a withdrawal to Guadalupe Hidalgo while the city authorities appeared at Scott’s headquarters at 4 AM.:321 By 7 am, the American flag was flying over the Ciudadela.:321 Historian K. Jack Bauer gives the Mexican casualties as approximately 3,000; including 823 taken prisoner.