Field of Monterey, The
DESCRIPTION: "A bugle horn is chanting now, A chorus far and free, And ev'rything rejoices For the glorious victory." The Americans have won a signal victory, but the singer grieves because her love has been slain in the bloody battle
AUTHOR: Marion Dix Sullivan ?
EARLIEST DATE: 1909 (Heart Songs; a ballad with this title, by Sullivan, was published 1846)
KEYWORDS: battle war Mexico death separation grief
Sept 20-24, 1846 - Battle of Monterrey (part of the Mexican War). General Zachary Taylor captures the city, but the fight is bloody
FOUND IN: US(So)
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Randolph 665, "The Field of Monterey" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Harry Dichter and Elliott Shapiro, _Early American Sheet Music: Its Lure and Its Lore, 1768-1889_, R. R. Bowker, 1941, p. 81, describes the sheet music of the Sullivan song
cf. "Maid of Monterrey" (subject)
NOTES [1310 words]: The sadness of this song is appropriate. The battle of Monterrey was one of the more important contests of the Mexican War -- but also one of the bloodier.
One of the chief goals of President James K. Polk was to annex Texas to the United States -- it was the issue that had won him the presidency (Siegenthaler, pp. 8-9), although the actual annexation was completed a few days before Polk assumed office. But Polk wanted more -- he wanted California as well (Siegenthaler, p. 104).
Mexico wasn't willing to sell. Mexico didn't even agree with the borders of Texas claimed by the Americans, and although the country was in perpetual chaos (there was a coup even as Polk was trying to negotiate with them; Siegenthaler, p. 126), they certainly weren't interested in giving up half their country. And Polk "possessed many attributes, but patience was not one of them" (Wheelan, p. 6). Polk had promised to serve only one term as president, and if he wanted California, he had to get it fast. The only practical means, as he saw it, was war.
And so he sent Zachary Taylor, known as "Old Rough and Ready" because of his dislike for uniforms and his readiness to do battle (Eisenhower, p. 28), to the Nueces River in Texas, with a goal of provoking a fight.
Without going into too much detail, a fight is what Taylor eventually got, and he ended up invading Mexico. His force was small and far from American bases, but the Mexican troops were even worse -- unpaid, ill-disciplined, and poorly led. Taylor was almost certainly out-gunned at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, but he won. He then crossed the Rio Grande and occupied Matamoros (meaning that, no matter whose definition of the Texas boundary one accepted, he was now in Mexican territory) without resistance from the troops of General Mariano Arista (Eisenhower, p. 53-54). Pausing only briefly, he picked out six thousand men (the most he thought he could supply; Eisenhower, pp. 56-57) and kept heading south.
Then he got to Monterrey. This was the first strong position to block his way, and Mexicans under Pedro de Ampudia intended to bar his way (Eisenhower, p. 58). The local commander, General Francisco Meija, had been working to fortify the place (Wheelan, p. 184).
At first glance, the engineers had done well. The town was well-suited to defence, and to the west was a ridge known as Independence Hill and a supporting height, Federation Hill, which covered Ampudia's supply line and also guarded the flank of the town. Taylor had to somehow deal with the defenders of the hill (Eisenhower, p. 59. There was also a defensive work known as the "Black Fort" which appeared formidable. And the defenders were thought to have ten thousand men, or nearly twice Taylor's force (Grant, p. 108).
Taylor did have one advantage: The hill, the fort, and the town were not mutually supporting. Collectively strong, they could be individually attacked, and Ampudia didn't consider his forces to be strong enough to man the gaps (Wheelan, p. 184). Taylor, assuming that General Ampudia would not take the offensive, decided to attack the separate positions. Taylor would demonstrate against the town and send a large force on a long outflanking drive to attack the hill from the rear (Eisenhower, pp. 59-60).
The combatants faced each other for five days (September 20-24), with the fighting occupying September 21-23 (Eisenhower, p. 60). And, as often happens when executing such a complicated set of orders, things went rather wrong. The generals who were supposed to demonstrate against the town instead became heavily engaged and suffered severe casualties on the first day (Eisenhower, p. 60). Taylor himself had been in the thick of things (DeVoto, p. 284), but this merely meant that he had no direct control of the action.
Fortunately, his flanking column under William J. Worth, which consisted mostly of regular army troops, had done its job and had taken the key positions on the hills (Eisenhower, p. 80), starting with Federation Hill (Wheelan, p. 188). Taylor was ready to make another push into the town itself.
He wouldn't have to, as it turned out. Wheelan, p. 185, declares that General Ampudia was "powerfully built and mustachioed, with an erect martial bearing," adding that he "appeared to be the perfect parade-ground general. In actuality, he was a political opportunist and a cruel bully who was feared and disliked by his men. But, worst of all in the present situation, Ampudia was indecisive." Wheelan also considered Ampudia a coward; reportedly the general spent the whole battle holed up at his headquarters in Monterrey's Cathedral -- and was in a hurry to give up because the Cathedral was an ammunition dump which might be exploded by American artillery! (Wheelan, p. 200).
On September 24, Ampudia ran up a flag of truce. One of Taylor's commissioners in the negotiations which followed was Colonel Jefferson Davis (Wheelan, p. 198), who had commanded troops attacking the town. Ampudia agreed to give up the town if Taylor would let him leave unmolested and grant an eight week truce. Taylor agreed -- perhaps fortunately, because, according to Eisenhower, p. 61, "The brawny Mexican troops looked neither exhausted nor beaten. Ampudia may have been defeated, but these tough soldiers had not."
Still, it was "the first serious battle of the Mexican War" (Bennett, p. 24, citing Brooks Simpson). Taylor's earlier triumphs had been more the result of the maneuver than of fighting. This time, he came to grips with the enemy. He did not win a decisive victory -- indeed, the Mexicans said that they had won! (Wheelan, p. 199), but he had gained a useful position and helped establish the reputation of the American troops.
As this song implies, the cost had been high. Mexican casualties reportedly included 700 killed (Wheelan, p. 201). American losses were proportially high as well; overall, about a fifth of the soldiers had been killed or wounded (DeVoto, p. 286). One regiment, the Fourth Infantry, lost a third of its men in one charge (Bunting, p. 24), in which a young lieutenant named Ulysses S. Grant first tested his horsemanship under enemy fire, carrying a request for additional ammunition for the troops. Grant came to consider it an unjust war (Bunting, p. 39), and early on regretted enlisting (Grant, p. 91), but when the battle came, he went to the front to fight even though his duties should have kept him behind the lines (Grant, pp. 110-112).
Polk was furious with Taylor (whom he disliked anyway as a Whig), and wanted Taylor's truce ended -- but by the time the order arrived, it was expiring anyway (Eisenhower, p. 61). Taylor headed off to his next battle -- at Buena Vista, which is also found a place in traditional song (see "On Buena Vista's Battlefield"). After further consideration, however, Polk decided to hold Taylor in place; he did not want the general to improve his reputation and perhaps strengthen his resume for the 1848 elections (Wheelan, pp. 202-203). The irony, of course, is that Taylor won the Presidency anyway.
Polk, meanwhile, finally unleashed General Winfield Scott, the overall commander of the U. S. Army, whom he had until then kept in Washington because he didn't trust the general's Whig opinions. Scott commanded the Veracruz campaign which eventually captured Mexico City and won the war (Bunting, p. 25).
In Monterrey, the Americans brought in a circus to entertain the locals (Wheelan, p. 201), but out-of-control soldiers also caused much damage, as well as murdering, raping, and robbing the locals (Wheelan, pp. 201-202). Despite the victory, Americans had perhaps little cause to be proud.
Note that the name of the battle was "Monterrery," but the song seems to get titled "Monterey." There was also a skirmish of sorts at Monterey, California (one "r" this time), but that was minor. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.8
- Bunting: Josiah Bunting III, Ulysses S. Grant [a volume in the American Presidents series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.], Times Books, 2004
- DeVoto: Bernard DeVoto, The Year of Decision: 1846, Little, Brown and Company, 1943
- Eisenhower: John S. D. Eisenhower, Zachary Taylor [a volume in the American Presidents series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.], Times Books, 2008
- Grant: (Ulysses S. Grant), Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, Volume I, Charles L. Webster & Company, 1885
- Siegenthaler: John Seigenthaler, James K. Polk [a volume in the American Presidents series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.], Times Books, 2003
- Wheelan: Joseph Wheelan, Invading Mexico: America's Continental Dream and the Mexican War, 1846-1848, Carroll & Graf, 2007
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