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length to drive it off, after having killed more than twenty of its number.”
A few words may here be added, to explain a little more in detail the proceedings of the sappers and miners in making their way through the houses to which Major Smith refers. At the gate of the city a powerful and well-served battery swept the street with continued discharges of grape-shot, so that it was impossible to move down directly in front of it. The problem was to take the battery or to drive the Mexicans from their guns. The houses on both sides were built mostly in continuous blocks, with an occasional interval or vacant lot. The walls of the houses were of adobe, or light volcanic stone. The operation of breaking through them was thus conducted. A detachment of the sappers and miners, led by an officer, entered a house at the outer end of the street, with the proper tools and implements, and made a breach in the party or division wall large enough for a man to go through to the next house, and so on successively. Lieutenant McClellan led the party on one side of the street. It was a highly dangerous service, as every house had Mexican soldiers in it, and there was continuous fighting until the Americans drove out the occupants. It was Lieutenant McClellan's duty—or at least ho considered it to be so—to pass first into the opening. In one instance, where it was necessary to cross a vacant space between two houses which did not join, he nearly lost his life by falling into a ditch of stagnant water. The party at length forced their way through the houses till they
reached those which overlooked the battery, and where they could fire upon the Mexicans who manned the guns.
These having been shot or driven away, the Americans descended from the houses, took the guns, and turned them on the gate, which was forced, and the city entered.
On the 14th day of September, 1847, General Scott, with six thousand five hundred men, the whole of his effective army remaining in the field, entered and took possession of the city of Mexico. With the exception of a few slight skirmishes, this was the close of the war in that part of the country.
No minute and detailed account has been given of those military operations in Mexico in which Lieutenant McClellan was engaged, -which, indeed, could not have been done without swelling this part of the memoir to a disproportionate bulk. Our aim has been merely to present a continuous and intelligible narrative of what was done by him. The movements of the campaign, its sieges, assaults, and battles, were planned by others; and he can claim no higher merit—though this is not inconsiderable—than that of having faithfully executed the orders received from his superiors in rank. Nor has the moral element involved in the Mexican War -the question how far it was provoked or unpro
voked, or how far we were right or wrong-been taken into consideration. Such an inquiry has now become as obsolete as would be a discussion of the moral judgment to be passed upon the conspirators who took the life of Julius Cæsar. But no candid person, whatever he may think of the merits of the contest, can deny that the conduct of the war and its results reflected the highest honor upon the courage of the American army, both regulars and volunteers, as well as upon the skill and accomplishments of our officers. Not that there were not grave errors committed, both at Washington and in the field; not that the volunteers did not sometimes show the infirmities of raw troops; but these shadows in the picture were as nothing to its lights. The whole campaign was especially remarkable for the brilliant, dashing, and reckless courage displayed in it,-for that quality which the French call élan, which is so captivating to civilians, and for the want of which so much fault has been found with our officers and soldiers in the present civil
But the tactics in the Mexican War were founded
upon and regulated by an accurate knowledge of the enemy; and the distinguished and veteran soldier who led our armies in that campaign would never have taken the risks he did had the Mexican soldiers been like those in the Southern army, and the Mexican officers men like Lee, Johnston, Jackson, and Beauregard.
The public mind judges of military movements and of battles by the event: the plan that fails is a bad plan, and the successful general is the great
general. Without doubt, this is a correct judgment in the long run; but in particular cases the rulo could not always be applied without injustice. Hannibal was defeated by Scipio at Zama, and Napoleon was defeated by the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo; but it does not follow that Scipio was a greater general than Hannibal, or the Duke of Wellington than Napoleon. Mexico was taken by a series of rapid and daring movements, and Richmond has not yet been taken; and thus the inference is drawn that, had the latter city been assailed in the same way as the former was, it too would have fallen, as Mexico did. But those who reason thus forget the sharp lesson we learned at Bull Run,-a disastrous battle forced upon the army by a popular sentiment which ignorantly clamored for the dash and rapidity which accomplished such brilliant results in the Valley of Mexico. Nelson won the battle of Aboukir by a very daring and dangerous plan of attack, which had the good fortune to be successful. Cooper, in his preface to the last edition of “The Two Admirals,” says that had he attacked an American fleet in the same way he would have had occasion to repent the boldness of the experiment; but then Nelson, who, like all great commanders, was a man of correct observation and sound judgment, would probably not have tried such an experiment with an American fleet.
To Lieutenant McClellan his year of active service in Mexico was of great value in his professional training; for it was a period crowded with rich opportunities for putting into practice the knowledge
he had gained at West Point, and which was still fresh in his mind. The corps of engineers attached to the army was so small that much work was of necessity exacted from each officer, and higher responsibilities were devolved upon the younger men than would have been the case in any European army. Lieutenant McClellan had an unusually large experience both of field-work and in the investment of fortified places. And it is no more than just to him to add that he proved himself equal to every trust laid upon him. His knowledge of his profession was shown to be thorough, exact, and ready, and his coolness and self-possession on “the perilous edge of battle” was like that of the bronzed veteran of a hundred fights. The number of men in our country-indeed, in any country -competent to pass a correct judgment upon military measures and military men, is not large; but upon this select body Lieutenant McClellan had made his mark during the Mexican War, and he was recognized by them as a soldier upon whose courage, ability, and devotion his country might confidently repose in her hour of need.
Lieutenant McClellan remained with his company in the city of Mexico, in the discharge of garrison-duty, till May 28, 1848, when they were marched down to Vera Cruz and embarked for home, arriving at West Point on the 22d of June. After his return he was brevetted first lieutenant for conduct at Contreras, and afterwards captain for conduct at Molino del Rey, which latter honor he declined, as he had not been present in the battle.