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The Siege of Veracruz

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The Siege of Veracruz

General Winfield Scott by Robert Walter Weir, 1855

Artist: Robert Walter Weir, 1855

The Siege of Veracruz:

The siege of Veracruz was an important event during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). The Americans, determined to take the city, landed their forces and began a bombardment of the city and its forts. The American artillery did great damage, and the city surrendered on March 27, 1847 after a 20-day siege. Capturing Veracruz allowed the Americans to support their army with supplies and reinforcements, and led to the capture of Mexico City and Mexico's surrender.

The Mexican-American War:

After years of tension, war had broken out between Mexico and the USA in 1846. Mexico was still angry about the loss of Texas, and the USA coveted Mexico's northwestern lands, such as California and New Mexico. At first, General Zachary Taylor invaded Mexico from the north, hoping Mexico would surrender or sue for peace after a few battles. When Mexico kept fighting, the USA decided to open another front and sent an invasion force led by General Winfield Scott to take Mexico City from the east. Veracruz would be an important first step.

Landing at Veracruz:

Veracruz was guarded by four forts: San Juan de Ulúa, which covered the harbor, Concepción, which guarded the northern approach of the city, and San Fernando and Santa Barbara, which guarded the city from the land. The fort at San Juan was particularly formidable. Scott decided to leave it alone: he instead landed his forces a few miles south of the city at Collada beach. Scott had thousands of men on dozens of warships and transports: the landing was complicated but began on March 9, 1847. The amphibious landing was barely contested by the Mexicans, who preferred to remain in their fortresses and behind the high walls of Veracruz.

The Siege of Veracruz:

Scott's first aim was to cut off the city. He did so by keeping the fleet near the harbor but out of reach of the guns of San Juan. Then he spread his men out in a rough semi-circle around the city: within a few days of the landing the city was basically cut off. Using his own artillery and some massive borrowed cannons from the warships, Scott began pounding the city walls and fortifications on March 22. He had selected a fine position for his guns, where he could hit the city but the city’s guns were ineffective. The warships in the harbor also opened fire.

The Surrender of Veracruz:

Late in the day on March 26, the people of Veracruz (including the consuls of Great Britain, Spain, France and Prussia, who had not been allowed to leave the city) convinced the ranking military officer, General Morales, to surrender (Morales escaped and had a subordinate surrender in his stead). After some haggling (and the threat of renewed bombardment) the two sides signed an agreement on March 27. It was fairly generous to the Mexicans: the soldiers were disarmed and set free although made to promise not to take up arms again against the Americans. The property and religion of civilians was to be respected.

The Occupation of Veracruz:

Scott made a great effort to win the hearts and minds of the citizens of Veracruz: he even dressed up in his best uniform to attend mass at the cathedral. The port was re-opened with American customs officers, attempting to re-coup some of the costs of war. Those soldiers who stepped out of line were punished harshly: one man was hanged for rape. Still, it was an uneasy occupation. Scott was in a hurry to get inland before Yellow Fever season could begin. He left a garrison at each of the forts and began his march: before long, he would meet General Santa Anna at the Battle of Cerro Gordo.

Legacy of the Siege of Veracruz:

 

At the time, the assault on Veracruz was the largest amphibious attack in history. It is a credit to Scott's planning that it went as smoothly as it did. In the end, he took the city with fewer than 70 casualties, killed and injured. Mexican figures are unknown, but estimated to be 400 soldiers and 400 civilians killed, with countless more injured.

For the invasion of Mexico, Veracruz was a crucial first step. It was an auspicious beginning to an invasion and had many positive effects on the American war effort. It gave Scott the prestige and confidence he would need to march to Mexico City and made the soldiers believe that winning was possible.

For the Mexicans, the loss of Veracruz was a disaster. It was probably a foregone conclusion - the Mexican defenders were outgunned - but to have any hopes of successfully defending their homeland they needed to make the landing and capture of Veracruz costly for the invaders. This they failed to do, giving the invaders control of an important port.

Sources:

Eisenhower, John S.D. So Far from God: the U.S. War with Mexico, 1846-1848. Norman: the University of Oklahoma Press, 1989

Scheina, Robert L. Latin America's Wars, Volume 1: The Age of the Caudillo 1791-1899 Washington, D.C.: Brassey's Inc., 2003.

Wheelan, Joseph. Invading Mexico: America's Continental Dream and the Mexican War, 1846-1848. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2007.

 

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