The Battle of Monte de las Cruces:
In October of 1810 a ragged and undisciplined but massive army under the command of Father Miguel Hidalgo and Ignacio Allende made its way towards Mexico City. This “army” was little more than a mob of Mexicans angry after centuries of abuses by the Spanish, and had recently whetted its appetite for plunder by sacking the city of Guanajuato. The Viceroy and Spanish officers and bureaucrats were terrified and rounded up whatever forces were at hand to try and defeat them before they reached Mexico City. The rebel army and a royalist force under Torcuato Trujillo met at Monte de las Cruces on October 30, 1810.
Father Hidalgo and The Cry of Dolores:
Only a month before, on September 16, Father Hidalgo had rallied the peasants and Indians of Mexico with his famous “Cry of Dolores,” in which he spoke from the pulpit of the church in the town of Dolores and declared himself in rebellion against the Spanish crown. Almost instantly, he found himself joined by first hundreds and then thousands of disaffected Mexicans full of rage against the Spanish elite. This angry mob descended on the town of Guanajuato on September 28, sacking it after slaying the defenders. Hidalgo and Allende decided to press on to Mexico City.
The Rebels March on Mexico City:
After the ruthless sacking of Guanajuato, the leaders of the rebellion regrouped and reorganized. Allende, a professional soldier who had been part of the same conspiracy as Hidalgo, tried to weed out the rabble from the professional soldiers and wage a “proper” war, but Hidalgo would have none of it: he felt that they needed the numbers and also that the spoils of war were for the poor and underprivileged. The strongest federal army was at San Luís Potosí and the rebels realized that the capital was practically undefended. By the second week of October, the rebel army was ready to march.
Defense of the City:
Spanish colonial officials and citizens in Mexico City were terrified. The rebel army was held together only by their lust for loot and desire to horribly murder all Spaniards. The Viceroy, Francisco Xavier Venegas, hastily organized the defense of the city, putting every available soldier under the command of the ranking military officer in the city, Lieutenant Colonel Torcuato Trujillo. Estimates of the royalist force range from as low as 1,400 up to 7,000 infantry and cavalry and no more than a handful of cannons. Meanwhile, the army at San Luis Potosi was mobilized and rushed to save Mexico City.
Monte de las Cruces:
Monte de las Cruces, or “Mount of the Crosses” was where bandits were crucified on a large hill west of the city. Trujillo picked the spot as a good place to set a defense, trusting that the mob would attack him at the place of his choosing. Monte de las Cruces is a steep hill covered with pines. Trujillo had received his orders from the Viceroy himself, telling him basically to defend the entrance to the city to the last man to buy time for the army of Potosí under General Calleja to arrive. One of the officers in Trujillo’s force was a promising young lieutenant named Agustín de Iturbide.
The Battle of Monte de las Cruces:
On October 30, 1810, battle was joined between Trujillo and his small force and the massive mob – some estimates put the insurgent “army” at 80,000 men and women – on the slopes of Monte de las Cruces. The battle raged all day, with the disciplined, well-armed soldiers under Trujillo holding their own against overwhelming numbers. The first two assaults were driven back, but late in the afternoon, a third assault managed to capture the artillery and surround the royalist forces, who were barely able to break out and make their way back to Mexico City. The sheer numbers of the attackers had proven too much.
Aftermath of the Battle of Monte de las Cruces:
The Battle of Monte de las Cruces was a victory for the insurgents, as Trujillo failed to drive the insurgent army away from Mexico City. His force had been beaten badly: he lost an estimated half his men, while the attackers had lost some 2,000 with many more wounded, losses they were better able to bear. Many of the rebels deserted, however, leaving Hidalgo and Allende with a much smaller force than before the battle.
Mexico City was saved by an unlikely source: Father Hidalgo himself. The city was wide open and practically undefended, but (against Allende’s advice) Hidalgo retreated back to Guanajuato. Many have speculated at Hidalgo’s refusal to take the city: most think he either feared that Calleja’s army was close (it was, but not close enough to save Mexico City) or that he simply had tired of the carnage.
In any event, in spite of the fact that it was a victory for the insurgents, Monte de las Cruces marks a very important turning point in the first phase of Mexico’s War for Independence. Once he retreated to Guanajuato, Hidalgo would spend the rest of the war on the defensive, fleeing from Calleja’s mighty royalist army. The next major engagement would come in January at Calderon Bridge, a sound defeat for the rebels. Their momentum and initiative lost, the end would come quickly for Hidalgo, Allende and the other leaders of the rebellion: most would be captured and executed within the next nine months.
Monte de las Cruces is today not considered one of the most important battles of Mexico’s War of Independence, but rather a footnote: an inevitable victory by a much larger force over a smaller one. If, however, the battle shook Hidalgo’s confidence, it is much more important to the overall course of the war.
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Villalpando, José Manuel. Miguel Hidalgo. Mexico City: Editorial Planeta, 2002.