How America Fought Its Wars: Military Strategy from the American Revolution to the Civil War

By Victor Brooks; Robert Hohwald | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 20
Winfield Scott's War

The Southern Campaign in the
Mexican-American Conflict

The battle of Buena Vista proved to be the last major engagement in the northern theatre as the focus of the war shifted to a struggle for the Mexican capital city between Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and Winfield Scott. The first significant step in the American expedition to Mexico City developed in October of 1846, when Scott began a campaign to convince President Polk that victory for the United States was contingent on the capture of the enemy capital. Polk and Secretary of War Marcy were beginning to realize that victories in northern Mexico alone would not bring their adversary to the bargaining table and the administration gave its reluctant approval to Scott's plan to land 20,000 men at the port of Vera Cruz and then march inland to seize Mexico City.

On February 21st, 1847, as Santa Anna's lancers began the first stage of the battle of Buena Vista, Winfield Scott arrived at his invasion staging area at Lobos Island, about 50 miles south of the Mexican port of Tampico. The American commander had planned his expedition on the basis of 20,000 men utilizing 150 specially constructed landing vessels to secure a beach‐ head for the move inland. However, the War Department never seemed to fulfill its promises and by early March, Scott was faced with the prospect of attempting the assault with only 12,000 men and 65 landing craft. Scott decided to make the best use of the assets that he had and on March 2nd the commanding general stood on the deck of the steamer Massachusetts and reviewed a fleet of 80 paddle wheelers and sailing vessels, which carried his expeditionary force 200 miles to the south. Three days later the Americans saw the spires of Vera Cruz and the officers took special note of the imposing fortifications of Fort San Juan which guarded the sea approaches to the city. The air was so clear that Scott and his staff could make out the outline of 15,000 foot Mount Orizeba, almost 50 miles inland. The American com

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