An unpublished manuscript account, written shortly after the author's return from the front to his native Philadelphia, describing his experiences in Mexico during the conflict from 1846-1848.
George W. McCullough was 21 when he enlisted December 1, 1846 in Philadelphia, with Co. F. 1st Pennsylvania Regiment, known as the Philadelphia Light Guards. He mustered out July 28, 1848.1
"It was likely that the Philadelphia Light Guards of Captain John Bennett existed before the beginning of hostilities with Mexico. Having volunteered early for service, the company was notified in November 1846 that it would be included in Pennsylvania's 1st Regiment. The Guards left Philadelphia by train on 7 December for the rendezvous at Pittsburgh. First Lieutenant Horace B. Field, 3rd U.S. Artillery, mustered the Light Guards into Federal service on 15 December.
The Light Guards performed faithful service during the investment of Vera Cruz, the battles of Cerro Gordo and La Hoya, action at Puebla, the defense of Perote and the battle of Huamatla. On 8 December 1847 they arrived at Mexico City for occupation duty.
The Philadelphia companies of the 1st Regiment, including the Philadelphia Light Guards, returned to their home city at about 7:00 A.M. on 24 July 1848. The welcome was tremendous. On 28 July, Captain George Taylor, 3rd U.S. Artillery, mustered the veterans out of the U.S. Army.
A total of 98 men served in the company during the war. Only one desertion was recorded. One man transferred to another unit, while two others transferred into the Guards. The company suffered three battle casualties, with one man reported as missing in action. In all eight men died in service. An additional twenty-four were discharged before their terms had expired."2
McCullough writes in the preface to his narrative: "It is not my design in the following pages to treat of the causes which led to the late Mexican war; nor yet to give a connected account of the proceedings of the various divisions of the Patriotic Army engaged in the contest. These are things known to the civilized world, and which for the benefit of future generations, I leave the Historian to record. Nor do I propose giving a full account of all that transpired even in that Division of the army which was commanded by Gen. W. Scott of which I myself was a member; but only of such incidents and adventures as came more immediately under my own observation, and which, I deemed of sufficient importance to record for my own gratification in future years as well as that of friends who have ever taken a lively interest in my welfare and for whom I entertain sentiments of the highest respect. To these this little work is respectfully dedicated by the author."
McCullough begins his narrative with a brief summary of the circumstances of his enlistment: he was already a member of the Philadelphia Light Guards in the spring of 1846 and when the President called for ten regiments of volunteers in November of that year, Captain Bennett of the Guards and his company, offered their services. However, only six members of McCullough's company were prepared to go, McCullough was one of the six. The remainder of the company was filled with volunteers. McCullough and his companions left Philadelphia on December 7, 1846, thousands turned out to see them off despite the day being a stormy one. The volunteers proceeded by rail to Harrisburg and then via canal boat to Pittsburgh, the "place of rendezvous for the Pennsylvania volunteers." McCullough reached Hollidaysburg on the 10th, the terminus of the canal on the eastern side of the mountains. The journey then continued by rail to Pittsburgh which was reached the night of December 13th. The men were mustered into military service on December 15th and received their equipment and six month's clothing money. McCullough notes that nothing important occurred during his stay in Pittsburgh except "that the 'killers' a set of rowdies from Phila. Embraced principally in Captain Hill's Company were found nightly fighting and carousing with similar characters about the theatres and such like places."
The journey then continued on December 21st, towards the seat of war, on five steamboats chartered by the government to carry the troops to New Orleans. McCullough's company traveled aboard the Circassian, in company with the Cadwalader Greys of Philadelphia. Mcullough proceeded down the Ohio stopping in Cincinnati, and Louisville, and entered the Mississippi on Christmas day, and reached Memphis the next day. Vicksburg was passed on the 27th, a stop in Baton Rouge was made to make repairs to the boat. New Orleans was reached the morning of December 29th. The soldiers encamped on the site of the "Jackson Battleground" and spent the next 17 days drilling. On January 15th, tents were struck and McCullough and his fellow soldiers embarked on the Oxnard for Brazos Santiago, which was reached the afternoon of the 22 of January. The next destination was the isle of Lobos, in the Gulf of Mexico, 10 miles off the Mexican coast. They remained encamped on this island until … drilling three times a day. General Scott arrived on February 25th and gave orders for the companies on the island to re-embark, which was done on March 2nd, in a fleet of some seventy two vessels, led by Scott to San Juan Ulloa and the walls of Vera Cruz. On the 4th cartridges were distributed and orders given to prepare to land some fifteen miles below Vera Cruz.
On the morning of March 9th the 1st and 2nd Pennsylvania Regiments boarded the frigate Potomac and sailed within three miles of Vera Cruz and prepared for landing:
"… Five small vessels each having a 64 lb Paxson gun, were drawn up in a line near the shore, to protect the troops in landing. About fifty small boats, which would each hold about one company, were then fastened to the stern of a steamboat and drawn up in a line parallel to the shore. These were immediately filled with the first Division, commanded by Genl Worth, and were then cut loose, and moved side by side in a body to the shore, which was distant about one eighth of a mile. This being gained, they rushed up a sand hill, which rose up from the edge of the water, about two hundred feet in height, and planted their standard in Mexican soil. They then gave nine cheers, which were heartily responded to by those remaining on the vessels. Not a gun was fired on either side. No resistance to our landing was offered by the Mexicans. They stood in their forts and Castle, and gazed on us with astonishment while we landed on their shores…"
Once the First Division had landed the remaining Divisions, including McCullough's, under General Patterson, were ordered ashore. The troops spent the night on the beach and the following morning McCullough received orders to march into the city:
"…We were then ordered to take up our march over the sand hills for the purpose of taking possession of an old magazine, and what was called the Heights, which commanded a full view of the city. We waded through sands almost knee deep beneath the burning rays of the sun, till about 1 oclock when we were halted at the ruins of an old building probably destroyed during the war between the Mexicans and the French. Here we were halted, and refreshed ourselves with the cooling draughts of an old well… some unused to the climate had already fallen down by the way… In our first march the volunteers, that had not served in Genl Taylor's army on the Rio Grand, almost all threw away their knapsacks, finding them too burdensome to carry. These were strewed along the way from the beach to the ruins, and were eagerly picked up and relieved of their contents in the shape of clothes, by the Tennesseans and Kentuckians who had served on the upper line under Genl Taylor, and were consequently better used to marching. They were brave fellows in battle, but at the time referred to they looked more like beggars than United States Soldiers. Some had hardly sufficient clothes to cover their nakedness… In the course of our forenoon's march we were fired upon several times by small parties of Mexicans who quickly retreated without doing us much damage. While passing through the chaparral in single file a short distance from the ruins, we were fired upon by a party concealed in the bushes, who used air guns. As these made no report, we were at a loss to know what to make of the whistling balls that passed over our heads… we were then ordered to halt, and fire into the bushes whence the balls proceeded… the firing ceased…"
McCullough and his unit were then ordered along with the "First Tennesseans" to take the Heights:
"… we were directed, in company with the first Tennesseans, under command of Col. Wynecoop, to go and take possession of the Heights. We had not proceeded far till we came out into the Rail Road, where we were exposed to all the cannons of the city. The Col. Thinking it not safe to go any further in that direction, ordered us to retreat again to the ruins. … we were ordered back on the same road, to watch a party of Mexicans, that were seen coming from the city. We waited for them about an hour, concealed in the bushes, but all to no purpose, as they did not come. We then started again for the Heights, which were about one mile and a half distant… and were met by a party of Mexicans who fired on us a few times, and then on our running toward them with a furious yell quickly retreated, leaving us to take possession of the place, while they sought safety within the walls of the city."
McCullough and his fellow soldiers spent the night on the Heights, and he continues his account of the actions at Vera Cruz:
"… About sunrise we saw a party of Mexicans maneuvering about a hill some three quarters of a mile distant. These we supposed had taken some cannon there during the night with which they designed driving us from the Heights… we were ordered to try and throw up an embankment of sand… We had got an embankment about three feet high when we received orders to leave the hill, and let our places be supplied by another brigade. … the party of Mexicans… commenced running towards us, and firing upon us. They were too far off, however to do us much injury, and all escaped unhurt, except two of our Regiment that were slightly wounded. Those that took our place … drove them back to the town after a smart skirmish, in which one officer and two privates were wounded on our side, and eight or ten of the enemy killed. We returned to the ruins … This place was at first used as a hospital for the volunteers, but was subsequently abandoned in favor of the magazine… which had been taken by the Kentuckians and 2nd Reg. of Tennesseans under Genl. Pillow. The Magazine was located about two miles south of the city, on an eminence which commanded a fine view of the city and Gulph …
After resting a short time at the Ruins, we returned to the heights, accompanied by Gen. Twiggs' Division of Regulars with three pieces of artillery, who had been ordered to form a line across the road on the West side of the city to cut off all communication from within and without."
McCullough remained on the heights from the 11th – 13th of March, exposed to the elements and with little food. On the 14th he was ordered to the West side of the city:
"… we were moved to the west side of the city and placed in the bushes to guard a pass through which a party of some eight hundred Mexicans were expected to attempt a passage to the city that night. We remained … without being disturbed, the Mexicans making their ingress unobserved at another place. During the forenoon of the 15th, we were removed to the South side of the city again, and stationed at a place where two ways met.
By this time the city was completely surrounded – Gen. Worth's Division occupying the right from where we landed as far as the old ruins, Gen. Patterson's the middle, and Gen. Twiggs's the left, thus forming a line about six miles in length , which completely cut off all communication between the country and city.
In the evening of the same day our company, with company H of the I Reg. Penna. Volunteers, commanded by Captain Scott was taken to guard a part of the 2nd Reg. of Tennesseans, who were directed to cut a road to a point near the city favourable for the erection of breastworks and batteries, from which a successful attack might be made upon the city. …"
"On the night of the 17th some of General Twiggs' men shot a Mexican who attempted to pass on the road leading to Jalappa. On being searched he was found in possession of several papers of importance. Among these was a proclamation which he was dropping by the way so that it might fall into the hands of our men, and lead them to desert and go over to the Mexicans…" He then gives a translation of the circular.
McCullough then continues with his account of the preparations for the siege, bombardment and surrender, of Vera Cruz:
"On the 18th Gen. Worth commenced throwing up breastworks and erecting a battery near the cemetery … He continued his work without molestation till the 20th when the Mexicans discovering what he was about, opened a heavy fire upon him with balls and shells. This continued … till the completion … on the morning of the 22nd. In the afternoon Gen. Worth from his newly erected battery opened a heavy fire upon the city and sent bombs and balls… into every part of the enemy's ranks… On the 19th Generals Patterson and Pillow with the volunteers commenced a breastwork on the west side of the city, … this breastwork was made of sandbags. They were about 2 feet in length and 8 inches through. They were placed three lengths deep and eight thicknesses high. The battery consisted of 6 guns, two 64 pound and four 32 pound Paxsons… Our works at length being completed and manned with men from the Navy, orders were given to open upon the city. This order was promptly obeyed and round shot and shells were thrown in in quick succession. This seemed to produce a general panic among the Mexicans, and for several minutes their guns were unheard. At length the opened a heavy fire on our men from all parts of the city, throwing grape-shot, balls and shells.
This had not long continued till our men silenced one of their forts and knocked sown several feet of the city wall. I never saw a set of men in greater exstacies than our navy men were at this time, and indeed throughout the whole of the bombardment. On one occasion having cut down a Mexican flag staff they leaped upon the breastworks, took off their hats, and gave three cheers. A Mexican at the same time manifested his bravery by seizing the fallen flag… and holding it in his hand till the flag staff was replaced, when he waved his hat in triumph towards our men, and descended unhurt.
This state of things was continued the remainder of that day and all the following night. Nothging was heard but the roar of artillery, the crash of houses, the bursting of shells and the shrieks of the dying…
On the morning of the 26th the Mexicans sent out a flag of truce, when two of our officers were sent into the city to arrange the terms of capitulation, which were agreed upon that day. These terms were in part that the Mexicans should have the privilege of saluting their flags when lowered, which was to be done on the morning of the 29th that they should march out of the city with arms and music to a white flag planted in the centre of the plain, where they were to stack their arms, and pile up their musical instruments, after which they might go where they pleased, with the understanding that they were not to take up arms again against their conquerors. The generals were allowed a guard of twenty five armed men.
On the morning of the 29th we were taken to witness the evacuation of the city by the Mexican soldiers. Our division was formed on one side, Gen. Worth's on the other, with the "Flying Artillery" on their left. The Mexicans then marched out between us, headed by martial music from brass bands. Their appearance on the whole was good, and their movements correct. Among them were several companies of negros wearing red caps, gray coats, and white pantaloons that made quite a show.
Having reached the flag set up on the plain, the Generals of the two armies met and saluted each other, after which they faced the troops side by side, and witnessed the surrender of their arms. This being over, the Mexican soldiers disarmed passed on, followed by their wives and children, each of which bore a bundle upon her back, while many of them had the additional burden of a baby in their arms. The number of troops that laid down their arms that day was about five thousand. …
… A detachment of Marines were then placed in the castle, and another of regulars from Gen. Worth's Division in the city as a garrison, after which the rest of us were ordered back to our old encampment in the bushes. The next morning we moved down to the plain of capitulation where we remained till the 8th of April. During this time we were not allowed to go into the city without a written pass from a commanding officer …"
McCullough finally visits the city of Vera Cruz on April 2nd and gives a lengthy description of it, fortifications, architecture, including domestic residences and finally the surrounding country, and its topography, before giving a long description of domestic living arrangements of the indigenous population.
After the fall of Vera Cruz, Jalapa was the next point of attack and McCullough relates his role in that part of the campaign:
"On the 8th of April Gen. Twiggs marched with his division toward Jalapa… to await the surrender of the Mexicans, which we supposed would follow as a matter of course the taking of their principal sea-port town. But this proved to be a mere illusion; for the Mexicans were not so easily subdued and brought to terms of peace.
On the following day … our division was also ordered to march for Jalapa. We set out about 10 o'clock, leaving our sick behind, which in our regiment alone amounted to about sixty men. … the sun was so hot … the men … began to give out and to lie down by the way, so that by the time evening came on a large portion of the division were scattered along the road. … About 3 o'clock… we halted at a small town called Santa Fee… This place contained about a hundred inhabitants, but it was burnt a short time afterwards and the most of the inhabitants put to death by Capt. Walker and his men. It was here that Capt. W. so cruelly delivered up to his men a party of captives who were taken out and shot one by one in cool blood. Their offence was that a party of guerillas had been harbored in their town. Capt. W was undoubtedly a brave man but was greatly wanting in humanity…"
The conditions along the road were difficult and approximately three quarters of the division, including McCullough, became stragglers along the route of march, and were scattered along it for miles:
"… We started on however at a slow pace, but were soon scattered along the road as the previous day. The road during this day's march, was generally quite level … covered with a few scattering chaparral. About 3 o'clock in the afternoon we encamped at what is called the robber's bridge. The place is about 10 leagues from Vera Cruz… here almost every traveler is attacked by robbers, who deprive him of all his valuables, and then let him pass on. I reached this place a short time after the train, but there were many others that did not reach it till midnight, and some till the next morning.
The next day we marched over a very rough road for the distance of six miles, when we came to what is called the National Bridge, where we encamped about 2 p.m. and remained till morning. … is very strongly built of stone. It is guarded by two forts, which stand one at each end of the bridge… these forts are almost in accessible from the side next the road, and are situated to command not only the bridge … but also all the surrounding country. On the approach of Gen. Twiggs's Division, the Mexicans that guarded these forts, thinking perhaps that their force was too small to resist the approaching enemy – though 5000 strong, and commanded by Gen. Ampudia, retreated back to Cerro Gordo, leaving the whole of their works in our possession."
The American forces continue on their way to Cerro Gordo, McCullough also describes the resulting battle:
"At this place [Plan del Rio] we came up with Gen. Twiggs's Division… and hearing that the pass of Cerro Gordo was strongly fortified, the officers and engineers had gone out to reconnoiter the enemy's position. … Twiggs … attempted to cut his way through the enemy; but he soon found that that was a vain attempt. … The remainder of that day and the whole of the following … the men remained in camp recruiting their strength for the approaching engagement. In the evening of the second day … Gen. Twiggs ordered several regiments to prepare for action, the 1st Penna. Being one of them. … [General Patterson] countermanded the order, and kept us in camp till the arrival of Gen. Scott with Gen. Worth's Division on the afternoon of the 16th. … Our Reg. with one of the Tennesseans was taken as a body guard to Gen. Pillow and a party of engineers who went near the enemy to examine the …strength of one of their breastworks… they returned to headquarters ad made a report, which proved afterward to be anything else but correct.
On the morning of the 17th Gen. Scott gave orders to prepare for action and to march at once to the vicinity of the enemy's encampment… Gen. Twiggs advanced to the rear of the enemy and … made an attack upon one of their batteries… The riflemen led the way, while the whole division charged up a steep precipice… after several minutes hard fighting they succeeded in reaching the top of the hill and in driving the Mexicans from the same. But having gained the position, they were placed in rather uncomfortable circumstances by the opening of batteries upon them from opposite hills with grape and round shot which caused them soon to retreat beyond the brow of the hill. About this time they were reinforced by two mountain howitzers. The Mexicans were also reinforced and …commenced charging up the hill again … our men opened upon them a destructive fire from muskets, rifles ad howitzers, … leaving the hill covered with killed and wounded.
… As soon as it was dark Gen. Twiggs … ordered his men to take up a large 24 pound cannon … to the top of the hill… The same night Gen. Pillow's Brigade, which consisted of four Regiments, viz. the First and Second Tennesseans, and the First and Second Pennsylvanians, received orders to attack one of the enemy's breastworks lying opposite Gen. Twiggs at 6 oclock in the morning. … We moved slowly along a winding road for about three miles.. then … pursued a path which turned to the left… Col. Wynecoop was ordered to take to the left with the First Penna. Reg on the right, supported by the First Tennesseans in the rear… Each division of the Brigade was to advance to a certain point, and there to await the sound of the bugle … signal … to make a simultaneous attack upon the enemy. Col. H's division had a much shorter distance … and reached the point of attack first. He was observed by the Mexicans, who at once fired upon him … in stead of falling back and awaiting the signal of attack, he … ordered his men to charge upon the breastworks, behind which were about four thousand Mexicans and thirteen pieces of artillery loaded to the muzzle with grapeshot. … The first volley from the Mexican guns seemed as though it had completely stripped the trees over our heads. Nothing could be seen but falling limbs and leaves… At this moment we were ordered to run … in about 10 minutes we were at our designated point of attack where we waited the sound of the bugle … we waited in vain, for by this time Col. H had been forced to retreat leaving about 90 of his men killed and wounded on the hill… this threw everything into confusion… Col. Camel, who had been left in command by the Gen. came up cursing and swearing like some madman. He asked some of the captains to take the lead and charge…the breastworks… we were ordered at once to advance. We did so, but had not proceeded far till the order was countermanded… After waiting there about half an hour we received intelligence that the Mexicans had surrendered… The cause of their surrender was a follows, About the time the charge was made upon the breastworks… Gen. Twiggs opened a destructive fire on the Mexicans from the hill which he had taken the previous day, making at the same time a successful attack upon another breastwork which was strongly manned and guarded by six field pieces. This was taken at the point of bayonet and with a great loss of men on both sides.
This attack was made a little too soon for Gen. Worth who was advancing to cut off the retreat of Santa Anna… At the time of his retreat Gen. Lavega, the next in command, finding himself surrounded, surrendered to us leaving in our possession about 5000 prisoners, 5 generals, 40 pieces of artillery, 10,000 stand of muskets and a large portion of provisions, clothes, and ammunition.
As soon as Gen. Scott had learned that Santa Anna had fled, he ordered Col. Kearney with a body of dragoons to follow him as fast as possible… But he proved himself too wise for them, by leaving the main road … he was enabled to elude their grasp.
Our Division was left in charge of the prisoners… The sight of these Mexican soldiers was almost enough to make me feel that we were doing wrong in waging war against them. The greater part of the army was composed of poor men that lived scattered here and there over the hills … between this and the capital… these poor beings Santa Anna had forced from their little homes during his march to Cerro Gordo and had compelled them to take up arms … To insure them against desertion in the hour of danger and conflict many of them had been chained to the cannon, in which position they remained at the time of the surrender.
Many of these men were almost naked… they lived in their camp on almost nothing, their only fare being corn, peppers and beans, which were prepared by their wives that had followed them to the army … many of the poor women were killed during the last engagement …
On the day following the surrender, April 19th, we broke their muskets in pieces before their eyes, by battering them upon rocks, while others rolled their cannons over a precipice of rocks some three hundred feet deep…
In the afternoon of the same day all the officers except Lavega and Herrera took the parole of honor, and were allowed to depart… They turned their faces toward the capitol, and with their men hasted away to make preparation to meet us again… Lavega and Hererra were retained as prisoners of war and were sent to Vera Cruz…"
McCullough describes the road from Cerro Gordo to Jalapa, which the forces passed through and camped three miles outside the city on the road to Mexico City. McCullough describes the countryside and road, the strategic advantages of Cerro Gordo, passing one of Santa Anna's mansions, and finally he gives a description of Jalapa and its inhabitants:
"… The inhabitants of this city are generally of a better class than those of Vera Cruz. The ladies of the higher class are richly attired. They may often be seen in the evenings walking out with their heads sometimes covered with beautiful silk or satin shawls, but more generally, entirely bare and richly ornamented with jewels of the most costly kind.
The females of the poorer classes, which live principally in the suburbs of the city, present in their dress quite a contrast with those above described, and on the whole make but a sorry appearance. They are usually half-breeds, or a mixture of Spanish and Indian, and are exceedingly dark complected. Their dress consists of a skirt that fastens at the waist and descends a little below the knee, and a rough shawl that is suspended on their heads and falls down over their shoulders. But often even this is dispensed with, and they are seen with nothing upon their upper extremities save the covering which nature gave them, their hair, … looking as though it had never seen a comb, or enjoyed the luxury of being dressed. I have witnessed many scenes of poverty in my own country, but never saw anything to be compared to that exhibited by the poorer classes in the best parts of Mexico…"
McCullough and his fellow soldiers remained in their camp near Jalapa until May 7th. McCullough complains of the poor conditions of the men of General Patterson's Division, no tents, poor food and provisions, exposure to the weather, both sun and rain, with the result that many men died during this period. McCullough writes censoring the conduct of his officers which he characterizes as shameful and a disgrace.
On May 7th, McCullough writes that the brigade marched for Perote under the command of General Quitman. McCullough describes the route, passing through small villages including LaHoy:
"… The Pass of Lahoy is naturally a strongly fortified place. On each side of the road is a steep rugged hill, which is impregnable except from the side opposite the road. These hills were both strongly fortified with artillery when Gen. Worth came to the Pass. The road also was obstructed by two breastworks, from which with two or three pieces of cannon any enemy could have been driven back … But strange to say, Worth found this strongly fortified place entirely deserted by the panic-struck Mexicans."
McCullough and his fellow soldiers stop in a small town, Las Vigas, for the night, and here he sleeps under a roof for the first time in Mexico. The following morning they continue to Perote:
"… About 1 p.m. we came in sight of the castle of Perote … We reached the castle about 3 P.M. The 1st Penna. Reg. was placed in it as a garrison, while that portion of Gen. Worth's Division that occupied it on our arrival, moved forward to their camp on the following morning. …"
McCullough gives a detailed description of the Castle of Perote and its fortifications, the town of Perote and an account of the ascent of a nearby mountain. McCullough and his men spent several months at Perote on garrison duty, in less than ideal conditions, eventually Perote became the "general hospital of the line". McCullough then gives an account of the scandalous medical "treatment" given the American soldier here and excoriates the doctors and medical staff.
On June 19th to McCullough's relief, he receives orders to leave Perote for Jalapa:
"… by orders … to advance toward Jalapa to meet a train that was coming up under command of Gen. Cadwalader … at 12 oclock at night reached Las Vigas, where we were fired on by the picket guard of a party of guerillas. Capt. Walker with his horsemen charged upon them and drove them into town. We then retreated about a mile and waited for daylight. … we passed through Las Vigas, and charged upon the guerillas, who had possession of the hill commanding the road, and were there awaiting the approach of the train. They very soon began to retreat, firing upon us as they ran. We followed them closely for about a mile, leaving several of their number killed and wounded on the way… By this time the train had come up, and we returned in advance of it to Las Vigas where we set fire to all the houses lying on the road, these being entirely deserted by the inhabitants who had gone with the guerillas… Leaving this place in ruins … we returned to the Castle … and remained at Perote till the 27th when the Second Reg. of Penna. Volunteers, with six companies of our reg. joined it, and the whole advanced toward the Capitol, leaving but four Companies of the first Penna Reg. viz. B., E., F. H. with Capt. Walker's Company of horse and a company of artillery commanded by Capt. Taylor amounting in all to a little over three hundred men to guard the castle…"
On the 23rd of August McCullough along with 260 foot soldiers, a company of mounted riflemen and two pieces of artillery were ordered to Jalapa to escort a wagon train bound for Perote. After reaching Jalapa, the men were involved in several skirmishes:
"… On the next morning Col. Wynecoop with Capt. Walker and a company of Georgia Dragoons went to a small town about 12 miles distant from Jalapa in pursuit of a company of guerillas. On their approach to the town the alarm bell was rung and the Lancers stationed there made their escape. Col. W. charged upon some stores and houses, but without doing much damage to any. … Aug. 27th the Mexicans shot one our men out in the suburbs of the city severely wounding him. On hearing of this the Col. Sent out Twenty Five men under command of Lieut. Denny who killed several Mexicans and brought the wounded man to the hospital.
Some of the Mexicans… had pasted up bills at the corners of the streets, stating that we had come down for the purpose of plundering their town and destroying their churches, and calling upon the citizens to turn out and expel the Perote Guerillas, as they called us, from their midst. On seeing this Col. W. with a body of men went down to the Printing Office for the purpose of destroying it. But on the Proprietors of the Press giving security that no more printing should be done there during the war, he consented to leave it undisturbed. The Mexicans were very wrathy and made some heavy threats as to what they would do in future, but their threats and anger were not much regarded by the Col. Who bid them seek revenge, if they were disposed to do so, at the Pass of Lahoy. …"
McCullough and his fellow soldiers remained on guard at Perote largely cut off from mail and communication from the army, and received news infrequently, only learning on August 30th that General Scott had advanced nearly to the gates of Mexico City and had granted an armistice so that the Mexican Commissioners could confer with their minister on terms of peace. On the 15th of September they learned that the armistice had been broken by Santa Anna and that Scott had moved into the capital with his army, and "that peace was no more probable now than when the first American gun was fired on the shores of Mexico."
News reached McCullough, and the others at Perote, on the 25th that Santa Anna had surrounded the garrison at Puebla and that Col. Childs, the American commander needed reinforcements immediately.
"… Gen. Lane came up with between three and Four Thousand recruits, consisting of regulars and volunteers. He remained till the 6th to rest his men a little. … we had obtained permission to accompany them to Puebla, the Castle being garrisoned by about 200 men who had been left in the hospital… About 12 M. on the 6th we left as rear guard to the train. We had in all about 300 men in our Division consisting of about 250 foot men, Capt. Walker's mounted riflemen, and a part of Capt. Taylor's Company, who manned two pieces of Artillery. We marched about 21 miles that afternoon … At 8 p.m. encamped at a town called Tepeyahualco… contains about 600 inhabitants, the most of whom are Indians… The next morning about sunrise we started on and marched about 12 miles … We encamped at a large hacienda on the edge of the plain… There we had it just as on the previous evening. The officers enjoyed a comfortable fire and dry beds in the hacienda, while the men were obliged to endure the peltings of the storm … We had no fire, no meat, no coffee and no water… At an early hour on the 9th we commenced drilling, which we continued to do till near noon. Leaving then about 1500 men to guard the train, the balance of the Army, amounting to about 2500 in all, started on a forced march to Huamantla, to cut off a body of men that we heard were waiting there for us to enter a pass where they intended to attack us in the rear while Santa Anna attacked us in front. Captain Walker with about 200 cavalry was sent in advance of the main army. On approaching the town he discovered the lancers, and ordered his men to charge on them. This was done with so much daring and with such terrible fierceness that they fled from the Plaza, leaving five pieces of artillery in possession of Capt. W. He then sent his men out through the town in small parties for the purpose of completely dislodging the lancers… At the time Walker charged upon the town we were ordered to run as fast as possible to his rescue. This order was promptly obeyed. As we came near the town we observed a detachment of two or three thousand soldiers under command of Major Ittibidy entering the city on an adjoining road. … Just as we entered the town we were halted with the artillery, while the Indians surrounded the town so as to cut off the escape of the enemy. We were then ordered to charge simultaneously toward the Plaza. By this time the Mexicans had rallied their forces, returned to the Plaza, retaken three pieces of their artillery and killed Capt. Walker and a number of his men. They then fled leaving us in possession of the town. Capt. Walker's death was much lamented. He was a brave man, but perhaps he was too rash for his own good. … He had done good service in the Texan Wars … After the enemy had fled the soldiers of our army were guilty of an act that was both contrary to the wishes of their officers and dishonourable to themselves. I mean the plundering of the town. … that in their plundering they made it a point to treat with all due kindness the women, children and all other peaceable citizens, taking vengeance only on those that had killed their brethren, and on those that lived by plundering the traveler, and robbing the poor…
We started for our camp about sundown carrying with us our killed and wounded. The army was soon divided and scattered by the way. Our Reg. and the horsemen were the only ones that reached camp that night. The rest lost their way… After our departure from Huamantla the Mexican soldiers returned, and a party of Lancers were sent out in pursuit of us to cut off all the stragglers… When they found a man drunk, as was the case with several, they sat on their horse and lanced him to pieces. The next morning, Oct. 10th, after burying our dead … marched 6 miles to a small town called Nopaluca where we encamped. …About 8 o'clock the following morning we started on… Toward night we entered what is called the Pass of Penal… The Pass itself is about 7 miles in length and is exceedingly rough…Here the Mexicans had large rocks so arranged that a single man could have started them from their places, and sent them down with dreadful force upon our train. This they intended to do, while their artillery attacked us in the rear, and their lancers on the right. This was all well enough planned, but it was poorly executed. The attack which we made upon them at Huamantla deranged their calculations, and spoiled their fun… We all got through safely however, and about 10 p.m. encamped at a small town called Amazoc, having marched thirty miles that day…"
At sunrise on October 12th McCullough and the army set out for Puebla, which they reached about 2 p.m.:
"… and with little trouble gained possession of it, notwithstanding it was guarded by about 8,000 Mexican soldiers under command of Santa Anna who had entered 28 days before. As we entered we were fired upon from the tops of the houses and from the steeples of the churches. But separating into small detachments we charged through the main streets, breaking through some of the houses and ascending the roofs, from which we soon dislodged the enemy. The Mexican flag was torn down from the steeple of one of the churches and the stripes and stars run up in its stead. All this was effected and the whole Mexican Army of 8000 men driven out of town, with little or no loss on our part… We found Col. Childs and his men completely hemmed in by the enemy. On the first entrance of Santa Anna, he had been obliged to take refuge in a small fort standing on an eminence east of the city, together with the Bishop's Palace … round which they had thrown up embankments and planted several pieces of artillery. Here they remained several days in close confinement. At length they made a charge upon the city and succeeded in breaking through several houses, and reaching a favorable point for the erection of a breastwork … This put them in possession of a large stone building which stood in an open lot… This building was but one story high, had a flat roof which was surmounted with a brick wall some six feet high, through which they broke holes so as to watch the movements of the enemy. In this building … Col. C and his men remained till we came to their rescue. …"
The American forces gained complete possession of the city and McCullough was quartered in a building in the Twiloo Gardens. McCullough then gives a lengthy and detailed description of the city, its architecture and gardens.
McCullough remained in Puebla until the morning of October 19th, when several detachments were ordered to Allixico, some 18 miles away:
"… where it was rumored a body of the enemy were stationed. We advanced under command of Gen. Lane, and about dark came up with the Mexican picket. These we drove in, and then commenced running toward the town. Our Cavalry charged upon a company of lancers that had formed a line across the road, and scattered them in all directions leaving about one hundred dead upon the field. Thinking it not safe to enter the town that time in the evening, we halted out about a quarter of a mile from it, planted our cannon, and commenced bombarding it. We had not continued this more than a half hour when there was a flag of truce sent out, surrendering the town to us…"
They then marched to Cholula, 12 miles northwest of Puebla. Then returned to Puebla where they remained until the 25th when they were ordered to return to Perote.
"… Oct. 30th , a company of Mexican Lancers, then in the employ of the U. States Army, arrived with despatches from Gen. Scott, to be forwarded to Vera Cruz and thence to Washington. These Lancers had formerly been a notorious band of Guerillas, and were imprisoned by the Mexican authorities at Puebla when the army first took … that place. They were released from their confinement by Gen. Scott, who then took them into the employ of the Army to act as dispatch bearers and spies. These duties they performed with great fidelity … They were a bold, fearless set of men, who never shrunk from danger, and when attacked generally fought with courage and success …"
On November 28th McCullough and his regiment were ordered from Perote back to Puebla. McCullough became quite unwell on the march and rode in a wagon during much of the journey. He arrived in Puebla several days later. The next morning orders were received to march to Mexico City. That day 250 wagons and 2000 men, under the command of General Cushan, set out for the capital. McCullough provides a description of the route of march and the scenes and towns encountered along the way.
"…At about sundown we encamped at what is called the White Bridge, having marched 22 miles that day. The men were scattered for miles, so that out of two Thousand, not more than five hundred reached the encampment at the same time. The rest were coming in all night and some did not reach camp till the following morning. The mules also gave out and died by the way, so that the wagons were scattered as well as the men. Our company were quartered in an old house… We were now in the neighborhood of Mount Papacatapel, which was formerly a volcano, but is now covered with snow … In the morning we crossed the white bridge before referred to . It is about 150 yards long, 60 ft wide, and 50 ft. high… It then passes over a small prairie on which stands the little town of Rio Frio … The town consists of a few miserable huts, that are inhabited by a few persons that live principally by robbing all that pass unguarded … Leaving seven companies of the 2nd Ohio Regt at Rio Frio to guard the pass, and to protect the trains, that might pass through, we advanced toward the City of Mexico… About sundown we encamped in a small village on the side of the hill overlooking the valley, called Venta de Cordova. Here we had pretty comfortable quarters… within ten miles of the city, we came to the place where the road passes between two lakes. The northern lake is called Tezuco, the southern Xachimilca …"
McCullough describes the fortifications erected along the road by the Mexican forces along the road into Mexico and gives a brief account of Scott's advance into the city.
McCullough then continues his account of his travel into Mexico City:
"… About sunrise on the morning of Dec. 8th we formed in platoons, and prepared for entering the long-looked for City of Mexico. But how different were the circumstances that surrounded us then from those that surrounded us just one year previous when we were about leaving our homes to engage in a perilous enterprise abroad. Nearly one half of our fellow soldiers had fallen either by the hand of disease or that of the enemy… We entered the city about 12M., amid the joyful shouts and joyful acclamations of our fellow soldiers, who unlike ourselves, had entered it before …"
McCullough and his men are quartered in a convent, and he gives an account of his travels through the city and his impressions of it. He describes the layout of the city, its streets, irrigation and aqueducts, etc., he visits churches, the "Halls of Montezumas", the Plaza, Cathedral, Museum, Market, National Theater, the Mexican fortifications, Castle of Chapultepec, and other points of interest.
McCullough describes tensions between the "regular" troops and the volunteers, which occasionally boiled over:
"On the 13th I, with a number of others, was put on guard to keep the volunteers in their quarters while the Regulars were allowed to go where they pleased. This we found to be an unpleasant task; for the men were so much enraged at the partiality that was manifested in favour of the Regulars, that they forced their way past the guards, went down town and got drunk, raised a riot with the Rangers, and then concluded the day by going to a ball, where they turned everything upside down. This they did through revenge; thinking that as they were blamed with all the mischief that was done they might as well have the game as the name … From that till the 19th all was confusion. Some would force their way out in spite of consequences, while others would lounge about the quarters, completely down on every thing like a Regular or an officer. This was more especially the case with regard to the officers of the Regulars, who had become obnoxious to the volunteers, on account of their haughty and overbearing deportment toward them. … American citizens who volunteer to fight their country's battles have too much spirit to be trampled upon by a few petty officers who have been elevated to a place of honour and respectability at the government's expense…"
On the 19th, the 1st and 2nd Pennsylvania, the New York, Massachusetts, and the South Carolina regiments were ordered to march to the village of San Angel, 7 miles southwest of Mexico City, where they remained until the 21st, when they were moved one mile closer to the city.
McCullough relates several incidents showing that hostilities had not entirely ended despite the capture of the capital:
"… That evening the Col. With several other officers who volunteered to go with him, and about 30 Texan Rangers, started out on a scout in pursuit of a Mexican General. … at length came to a town where they thought he was. They charged on it, but soon ascertained that he was not there, but had gone to a neighboring town. … and coming to the town, charged upon a house, where the Genl. was said to be… At length the Col. Suspecting that he was still there told the man of the house that if he (the Gen) have himself up that they would mot injure him… At this moment the Gen. stepped forward, saying "I am general Valencia" … The Col. Ordered him to het his horse and accompany them. He obeyed though there were 300 lancers nearby, who might have rescued him had they known it in time. He was taken to Gen. Scott and on the next day let go on his parol of honor."
"On the morning of the 6th of Jany. Gen Cadwallader with his division marched to Taluca… in the afternoon of the same day four of our men were out walking about, and … were suddenly attacked by Mexicans, who killed one and wounded the other three. The latter succeeded in reaching camp… this enraged the men so, that without order or command, they sized their muskets and rushed out upon the Mexicans near where the murder was committed, killing some 20 persons, some of whom were guilty and some innocent…"
McCullough relates the hatred that the men of his brigade had for their commander General Cusion and the various ways and means that they made their "loathing" for him known to the general. And then relates two items of news which caused the morale of the troops to plummet:
"On the 8th of February we received news from the United States that Frist had no power to make a Treaty with the Mexican Commissioners, and that the President and Congress would not recognize his treaty if made. This, as might be expected, was cooler to our spirits, and tended to discourage the expectations which for some time we had fondly indulged. We now saw that much time must be lost before a treaty could be made and ratified, until which time we of course could not be released and allowed to return home.
But what was our astonishment when we learned that Gen Scott, our brave commander in chief, had been suspended by the Government from Command, and that thenceforth to the end of the war we should have to fight under another, of whom we knew but little. … For a few days all was dark and gloomy. The soldiers had no spirit to move or speak of anything save the unkind treatment of the government toward Gem. Scott.
In the mean while news came from Taluco that Gen. Cadwallader's Division were obliged to be under arms constantly to repel an anticipated attack of a party of Lancers that were hovering around them under Gen. Alvares. News also came that the state of San Luis with others were doing all they could to continue the war, and that they were even planning an expedition to retake the Capital. This news in connexion with the above had a depressing influence and made Peace stock very low again…"
"On the 1st of March Gen. Lane returned, after being on a scout for several days in pursuit of Santa Anna. Lane had only a small body of men with him, but they were feared wherever they went by the Mexicans. In one town on which they charged they found a large body of Lancers. These they completely routed after killing 120 of their number and taking 35 prisoners, having none killed on their side, and only three wounded. But they failed with all their perseverance and bravery to take Santa Anna. He was too old a fox, and had been chased too often to be caught sleeping. They consequently returned without him, though each man bore in his hand a lance, a piece of gold, or some other valuable, which they brought back as trophies of their conquests…"
On the 4th McCullough along with seven companies of the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment were ordered to escort a train of 272 wagons hauling silver, gold, and wounded soldiers to Vera Cruz. McCullough describes the hardships endured on this march over much of the same ground he had covered since leaving Vera Cruz. After reaching Vera Cruz, McCullough and his companions remained there from the 20th of March until the 1st of April. To McCullough's great disappointment he and his men were ordered to march with a company of 500 wagons back to Mexico City, and accomplished that 300 mile march in 13 ½ days, the quickest that had been made in the country. While McCullough was in Mexico City, debate finally began in the Mexican Congress upon the Treaty of Peace:
"… and on the 7th of May the Congress finally organized. Soon after its organization Herrera and Peny y Peny were run for the Presidential seat. The latter gained it by a vote of 11 to 4.
On the 9th the Treaty was introduced for consideration, and during this time all sorts of news circulated through the Mexican prints… At length after waiting a few days in anxious suspense we received intelligence that it had passed the house by a vote of 51 to 35, the peace party having a majority of 16. But it was still feared that it would not pass the Senate. However in a short time our fears were dispelled by the acceptable tidings that it had passed that body by a vote of 33 to 4…
This news went through the army with lightning speed and was received with many a hearty cheer… On the following day we received orders to prepare to return home by the 30th . These orders were received with joy… The 30th came and according to orders, our Brigade turned their faces toward Vera Cruz, and after twelve days hard marching … we arrived at Encero, about 60 miles distant from Vera Cruz. Here we encamped and remained till the vessels were in readiness for us to embark. …We left Encero for Vera Cruz on the evening of the 15th, and arrived there about 12 o'clock on the night of the 17th… the next day … embarked on the sloop Sarah Churchman. Two companies besides ours was placed on this sloop, making in all 175 men, while the vessel was scarcely able to accommodate properly one half of that number … But this made no difference to the government officers it seemed. They were done with us now, and consequently were satisfied to get us packed into any kind of a hole…"
At length McCullough arrived in New Orleans and proceeded up the Mississippi and then to Wheeling, Pittsburg, Harrisburg, and finally Philadelphia, being cheered by the citizens of each place, and greeted by thousands of appreciative citizens of their native Philadelphia who had turned out to welcome the regiment home. McCullough was discharged on the 28th of July.
1. Hackenburg, Randy W., Pennsylvania in The War with Mexico, p. 147 (Shippensburg: 1992)
2. ibid, p. 143 (Inventory #: 30793)