|Posted By:||Frank Masland|
|Subject:||Re: Brief History Mexican War along the Rio Grande|
|Post Date:||February 24, 2003 at 12:32:19|
|Forum:||U.S.-Mexican War Forum|
Since you obviously have an interest in this time period I am posting a letter which my great great great grand uncle wrote shortly before he died at the battle of Resaca de la Palma.
Matamoras to Corpus Christi
This is a description of the march from Matamoras to Corpus Christi from 8th to the 28th of March, 1846, by Charles Masland.
From a camp near Matamoras, April 5th, 1846:
"Dear brothers and sister, I have the pleasure to inform you that my health is perfectly restored. For some time before leaving Corpus Christi, I had been sick in the hospital with the diarrhea and when we got the order to march to this place, I was so weak and feeble that I had to purchase a horse to carry me. But by the time we arrived at the Colorado, change of air, diet, and water produced a perfect cure and I have been doing duty ever since.
"As our march to this place may be interesting to you, and I having kept the journal on the route, I herewith send you a few extracts.
"We have lain in camp for eight months at Corpus Christi exposed to all kinds of weather, from the burning rays of an almost vertical sun to the terrific Northers which prevail in that part of Texas, bordering on the Gulf during the fall and winter months. Suffering sometimes in one day the extremes of burning heat and chilling cold.
"On our arrival in Corpus Christi Bay, about 14 low, shabby, shanties contained the inhabitants of a so-called town. What a change! Three weeks had not elapsed before 50 grog shops had reared their hydra heads and stood with open doors to invite the too easily duped soldiers. Gaming tables, Ten Pin Alleys, Hot Whiskey Punch, Tom & Jerry -- everything that could afford the least attraction to the novelty-seeking soldier were spread out before him. And many --alas! too many -- surrendered at discretion. Hundreds had been born to their graves, the victims of intoxication and diseases of every kind arising from excess.
"But a ray of joy sprung up in every heart when the order for marching was received. We marched in four divisions. First the dragoons and flying artillery on the 8th of March. The first brigade on the 9th, the second on the 10th, and the third on the 11th. Our camp was now all bustle and confusion. The women were, with one or two exceptions, to be left behind, to take passage by water to Brazos, Santiago. Packing up the Ö was the order of the day.
"Here and there might be seen groups of Mexicans bargaining with our men for wearing apparel and giving cash for what they might have for nothing in a few days. For we could not carry half our plunder. The head of the column was again put in motion.
"The morning of the 11th shown most brightly and gave token of a beautiful day. All hands were in fine spirit for the march and our former busy camp looked gloomy as we cast our eyes along the line and marked the now desolate space so lately occupied by the other three divisions of the army.
"We were about to leave a place where had been filled to brim the cup of bitterness. Still a sort of regretful feeling hung over us. Many a spot on the shore of shells had become endeared to us. At eight o'clock precisely we commenced our march, our music playing, "Our Colors Floating in the Breeze."
"Our last adieus were half muttered, half cursed as we threw back a glance at Corpus Christi. We had raised the hill and were just out of sight of the town when our drums struck up, "The Girl I Left Behind Me." It certainly is a very pretty air and very appropriate when troops are marching, but my heart sent forth an Amen as our commander rode hastily up and shouted, "Stop that! Who told you to play that air?"
"After a march of twelve miles through musky timber and prairie grass, we halted on the banks of Nueces, a most delightful stream, in fact the best water in Texas. Next day we marched over a splendid prairie, through millions of flowers, the blooming cactus among the number, and halted early.
"We had halted but a moment when a troop of horses came rushing toward us about a mile distant and seemed at first as if intended to take us by storm, when they suddenly wheeled and startled in another direction. Our brigade commander knew not what to make of this exhibition, and naturally concluded it was a party of Mexicans observing our movements, especially as the state of the atmosphere at the time loomed up the distant objects so as to give them the appearance of a mounted party. An express was instantly sent out and returned in a few minutes, having ascertained them to be a drove of wild horses or mustangs. From this circumstance, the camp was called, "Camp Mustang."
"Our short march on the previous had revived all hands and we started cheerfully on the morning of the 13th. We marched this day eleven miles over a rolling prairie covered with flowers of every hue. The odor was delightful and the whole surface of the earth seemed covered with a carpet.
"The edge of the horizon in every direction was crowded with wild animals. On one side, thousands of wild horses were curveting about. And on another herds of deer might be seen standing for a moment filled with wonder at the sight of us and then bounding away as if a thousand devils chased them. Here rushed along the antelope with speed almost incredible and in the distance might be seen countless numbers of them at play. Now and then we caught the sight of the peccany, or wild hog looking much like a shingle navigating on four legs.
"The maneuvering of the wild horses was decidedly wonderful. They would form into line of battle and march accurately abreast toward us, until a signal from one of them when they would break into platoons or sections and be in a moment almost out of sight. But the charge was sublime. I cannot describe it and will not attempt. Only imagine a thousand wild steeds with eyes flashing and limbs as free and unrestrained as the wind, whose manes the hand of man has never touched. Suppose them rushing in one line across the plain, with head erect, nostrils distended, and manes and tails flying in the breeze created by their flight and you have partly seen it.
"Our adjutant made chase after one of these droves and was soon in the midst of them. He rode side by side for half an hour with a young colt when his horse began to tire. At this moment, the mother of the young colt with dozens of others, rushed like furies towards him, putting his horse into a fright. He was thrown from his seat, head foremost, and lay senseless for some minutes.
"We, this night, encamped on the Los Pintos. We left on the 14th at daybreak and marched fourteen miles through precisely the same description of country as the day before. The entire march was spent in exclamations of surprise and delight as a new object would present itself. Herds of antelopes, deers, and wild horses would rush close past us. We encamped at Santa Gatrudes(?).
"On the 15th we started at daybreak, marched through the same description of country as the preceding and encamped in the evening among the Santa Clara Mottes, as the small grove of trees are called which are here and there scattered over the prairie. Here the water was very bad and scarce. Had fuel enough to cook with.
"On the 16th we reached, early in the afternoon, Camp El Pista and on the 17th, started at quarter past five o'clock. This day we crossed a salt lake and marched through deep loose sand with not a vestige of vegetation, the teams having great difficulty to get along. The men were much fatigued this day, having marched twenty miles.
"On the 18th we were detained until about nine o'clock by the issue of rations. Our march this day was a scene of the most acute suffering ever felt. We marched through a sandy prairie. At every step we sank ankle deep into burning white sand with the piercing sun beaming down upon us and not a breath of air to relieve our misery.
"To add to our discomfort, there was not a drop of fresh water for seventeen miles, while to aggravate our miseries, we frequently came upon salt ponds. At length we arrived at a fresh water pond. The rush to it was tremendous. With what delight did I drink cup after cup of the dirty swamp water.
"Sick and sore with the privations of the preceding day, we left Camp Marcine, so called after the Secretary of War, and now advanced into a perfect heaven upon earth. I wish I could describe this part of country. If the Garden of Eden was equal to it, what a treasure our first parents must have lost. Here are the notes of ten thousand birds to charm the ear. Here are silver lakes upon whose margins the dwarf honey bean stands and casts just a shade enough to give celestial appearance to the whole, while from beds of flowers on which imagination pictures millions of tiny fairy queens to be dancing, arises a perfume so grateful to the senses, that we are lost in wonder that such scenes could possibly exist and we not know it before.
"We encamped this night at Carecita, one hundred and nineteen miles from Corpus Christi and the next day, the 20th, passed through the same descriptions of country. We saw in the afternoon and evening, several large wild bulls advancing at no great distance from us.
"On the 21st, we started very early and about ten o'clock, reached the Rio Colorado, a broad stream with high bluff banks. It was at the crossing of this river that General Taylor expected to be attacked. The cavalry and first and second brigades reached the Colorado on the 20th.
"Colonel Camales with five or six hundred Mexicans were encamped on the opposite bank of the river. He told General Taylor it was useless to attempt to cross, that the first who put his foot in the water would be shot down, that he was only performing his duty, the neglect of which, would certainly cost him his property, perhaps his life. That his feelings must give place to his duty, et cetera.
"General Taylor replied that crossing was indispensable and was sorry for the Colonel's feelings, duty, et cetera, but positively he would cross, while General Worth, riding forward, exclaimed, "Come on, boys, if there's any shooting to be done, I'll have a hand in it. First brigade forward" -- and dashed into the stream, followed by his command, covered by artillery who were posted on the opposite bank, ready to return the first fire of the Mexicans. They, no doubt, thought that discretion was the better part of valor, so retreated without firing a shot.
"On the 21st our brigade came up with the main body of the armory and encamped four miles from the Colorado. On the morning on the 23rd, the whole army moved for the Rio Grande. We marched twelve miles through a prairie of very high grass, teaming with rattlesnakes larger than I had ever seen before. A man of the Fourth Infantry was bitten by one of them, but by the timely and skillful attention of the surgeons who scarified the wound until it bled freely and then applied ammonia, he recovered. Not so a mule bitten by the same snake. He, the poor devil, lay down in agonies and died in a half an hour afterward.
"On the morning of the 24th we debouched upon a prairie and in a few minutes arrived at the forks of the road leading to Matamoras and Point Isabel. General Taylor, hearing that a number of houses at Point Isabel had been burnt down by the order of General Mejia, started with the Second Dragoons for that place, leaving the command of the army with General Worth. He moved us about four miles near Matamoras, in consequence of our then position being a bad one and a rumor that the force from Matamoras were on the march to give us battle.
"This night we slept as the saying is, "like a trooperís horse," flee(?) accoutered, our arms loaded and ready at a momentís warning. But the morning came without even an alarm to form the subject for a camp yarn.
"We remained at this camp until the 28th, General Taylor, having arrived from Point Isabel, finding the report untrue. At half past six o'clock, we marched towards Matamoras. The arms were closely inspected at reveille, the old priming thrown out and the new substituted as it was confidently expected we should be attacked in the course of our march.
"Our regiment having paraded previous to starting, our commanding officer thus addressed us, 'Third, this day for the first time, the stars and stripes of our country will be planted on the Rio Grande, opposite the stronghold of the enemy. If any resistance will be made, it will be made this day. I trust that every man will do his duty in case of a contest and I need say no more'.
"Every man was then directed to re-examine his priming, which done, we took up the line of march. Never did I see men in such spirits. All had a merry song, a laugh or a light word. About a mile this side the river, we saw the first house we had looked upon since we left Corpus Christi, a distance of about a hundred and sixty miles. The dark-eyed Mexicans were lolling about the doors of the some of the houses gazing very cooly at us with their large sombreros drawn down to keep off the rays of the sun.
"To the brief question, "Matamoras?" They replied in very good English, "One mile." A moment after we saw the city, our bands struck up Yankee Doodle. The colors of each regiment were flung to the breeze and we marched opposite the city. We soon planted a flag staff and the stars and stripes were seen proudly waving under the guns of the citadel.
"I had no doubt in the position in which we were encamped they could give us a terrible raking. But they appeared to take their fill in looking on, the opposite bank being densely crowded. Our position is strictly pacific, merely taking possession of the country, but ready on the first aggression on their part to retaliate. I will send you more particulars in my next. Want of space must be my excuse now.
"Yours et cetera, Charles Masland, Sergeant Major, Third Infantry. To Matthew H. Masland, Germantown, Pennsylvania."
And note: The writer of the above was in the battle of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, May 8th and 9th, 1846. In the latter battle he was killed as they were charging on a Mexican battery.