ADVENTURES IN MEXICO


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General M'Laurin to J. F. H. Claiborne
Jackson, Mississippi, July 16th, 1860


"Your note of the 5th instant, containing memoranda found among General Quitman's papers in relation to the little party which went from Covington County to Mexico in the winter of 1847 and attached themselves to his command, and of which you make inquiries, etc., has been received.

"In the month of January, 1847, a party of nine young men, all of us then residing in Covington County, in this state, determined to go to Mexico at their own expense, to engage in the exciting events then transpiring. At New Orleans we provided ourselves with complete suits of uniform for private soldiers; also a rifle apiece of the ordinary Kentucky make, but of the best quality, with all the accoutrements we conceived necessary for efficient service, such as bowie knives, revolvers, etc., together with a box of superior medicines, and written directions for their use, for most of the diseases consequent upon the climate and life we were about to enter upon, prepared by our friend Dr. E. D. Fenner, of New Orleans. We then embarked for Tampico, the rendezvous of the American army previous to the attack on Vera Cruz. We landed at Tampico on the 28th of January, where General Quitman had arrived a few days before with his command of the Georgia and Alabama regiments, under the command respectively of Col. Jackson and Col. Coffee. On the day after our arrival I reported our presence to Gen. Quitman, who had known most of us at home, and who evinced every mark of pleasure and delight at our course, and immediately accepted our offer to attach ourselves to his command, and at the same time assured us that he would use every effort to make our position as pleasant as possible of which he redeemed beyond the pledge. On the 22nd of February, at the suggestion of General Quitman, and by consent of Colonel Jackson, our little rifle squad connected ourselves to Company 'D' of the 1st Georgia regiment (musketry), which company was, for the most part, composed of well educated and intelligent young men of the city of Columbus, Georgia, and commanded by Capt. Davis, who, though a tailor, as Gen. Quitman frequently remarked, was every inch a man and a soldier.

"General Quitman's command remained in their quarters at Tampico until the 7th or 8th of March, when his and General Shields's command were taken aboard the steamer New Orleans, and reached the point of rendezvous of Gen. Scott's division at Point Lizardo, some 18 or 20 miles south of Vera Cruz, on the 9th of March about noon. Ours was the last of that division that was expected to arrive, except the South Carolina regiment, which had been detained by adverse winds. About 4 o'clock P.M., at a given signal, the whole fleet containing that well-appointed army raised steam and hoisted sail, and in two hours were greeted by the castle San Juan d'Ulloa and the heavy artillery on the main land guarding Vera Cruz. It was a calm, clear, beautiful evening, and just as the sun was disappearing behind Mt. Orizaba, beyond Vera Cruz, the landing of General Scott's command commenced some four miles below the city. Gen. Quitman's command landed and formed on the shore just at dark, in which ground we slept with our arms at hand. About 1 o'clock in the morning, while I was lying in the calm moonlight on my blanket on the sand beach with a high fever on me, and awake, and when all around was as still as if all mankind were at peace with each other, a picket guard gave an alarm, and in an instant line on line of armed men, as far as the eye could reach through the dim light, were in position and ready for any foe.

"Next day General Quitman's command remained on the beach where they landed. During that day the South Carolina regiment landed, under the command of Col. Butler, and were placed under Gen. Quitman.

"That evening, I think it was, Gen. Quitman was ordered to leave his position. And that night the new recruits (the South Carolinians and our little squad of Mississippi’s) began to taste the first realities of a soldier's life, by having to cut their way through dense chaparral. By next morning they reached near the point occupied by General Pillow the day before, who was ordered to fall back, and Gen. Quitman ordered to occupy the same ground.

"I will here remark that Mr. Jasper M'Donald, son of Governor M'Donald, of Georgia, who was in possession of a' Mississippi rifle,' attached himself to our little rifle squad at Tampico, and continued with us. And I would further remark, that Capt. Davis refused to let me march with his company that night in consequence of my attack of fever, and ordered Mr. Wm. Laird, one of our mess, to remain with me on the beach, where one of each mess in each regiment was left to take care of the sick and baggage.

"Shortly after Col. Jackson, with the Georgia regiment, had taken possession of some temporary trenches made by General Pillow on the day previous, a party of Mexicans in considerable strength came within three or four hundred yards and opened a harmless fire upon that regiment. At the request of Mr. M'Donald and the squad of Mississippians, Col. Jackson gave them permission to go without any officer to a point on the sand hills within efficient range and commence war on their own hook; this they quickly put into execution. But the sharp crack of the rifles soon attracted the attention of Gen. Quitman, who, it seems, had given orders that no shot should be fired without his express orders, but this order had not been delivered to Col. Jackson. Gen. Quitman was soon upon the ground, and stopped the sport; but the matter was soon explained by Col. Jackson, and Gen. Quitman himself ordered the rifles and some fifteen of Capt. Davis's company to go to another point and attack the Mexicans. This party was commanded by Capt. Davis, and numbered twenty-three, besides Capt. Davis; but before they reached the point designated, while passing the sharp crest of a sand hill, they were attacked by another party of Mexicans on their flank, at some hundred and twenty yards distant. This was answered by Capt. Davis; and Gen. Quitman, though on foot, was soon upon the ground, and ordered them to fight it out where they stood. The Mexicans being in considerable strength, divided into companies of some fifty, by firing and falling back kept up an incessant roll, showing generally but a part of their persons above the sharp apex of the opposite ridge. After this little fight had lasted some twenty-five or thirty minutes, and Mr. Thos. J. Lott, of the Mississippi squad, Mr. M'Donald, and some six or eight others were hors de combat, Gen. Quitman, whose entire person had been exposed to the Mexican fire most of this time, ordered up Lieut. Col. Dickerson and two companies of the South Carolina regiment. Col. Dickerson was badly wounded almost as soon as he reached the ground; the fight continued some ten or fifteen minutes after their arrival, when the Mexicans retired, and several ponies and other trophies were secured by the victors. These particulars I got from the actors and eye-witnesses, and among them Gen. Quitman, who frequently assured me that the little squad of Mississippians fully sustained the reputation of their state on that occasion, which was as warm while it lasted as need be, as not a single one of Capt. Davis's little command escaped without a brush or a wound from a Mexican ball.

"Some ten or twelve of those who were wounded were placed in hospital near the scene of the fight (which occurred on Thursday), and all seemed to be doing well, when, on Saturday night, by an unfeeling, or rather brutal command of Maj. Gen. Patterson, the wounded were ordered to be removed from the house they were in to a house some mile or two off, for no other purpose than to let this Gen. Patterson occupy the house for his head-quarters (Gen. Scott's and Gen. Quitman's head-quarters were in their marquees upon the sand); the weather at night was very warm. Mr. M'Donald and others, whose wounds were among the worst, refused to be removed; but after the officer who had been ordered to make the removal informed Gen. Patterson of this refusal, it was agreed that some of those who were most dangerously wounded should remain until near daylight the next morning (Sunday), when the atmosphere would be cooler, and the removal took place at that time, by four men carrying each one of the wounded in a blanket; this removal, however, irritated Mr. Lott's wound, which was in the thigh. A high fever supervened in an hour or two. The wounded thigh began to swell.  That night mortification commenced, and at four o'clock on Monday morning he died. This removal retarded the recovery of many of the others who were wounded, but they did recover. I may be wrong in thus denouncing General Patterson, but I can not think so.  I wish I could. Mr. Thos. J. Lott was about the only man I ever knew who was utterly incapable of fear, and, like nearly all truly brave men, he was generous and obliging, often to a fault. He was the grandson of your old friend, Joseph M'Afee, Sen., of Covington County, now dead for many years, and the nephew of Joseph M'Afee, Jun., late senator from that county, and of Madison M'Afee, our late popular auditor of popular accounts, and the cousin of your friend, Col. John Watts, a former senator from that county also.

"The siege of Vera Cruz progressed. Gen. Scott closed his lines around the city. Communication with it was cut off by land and by sea, under the command of Commodore Perry. About the 23d or 24th of March Gen. Scott made his last demand on the city to surrender, which, being refused, he gave them warning that at a certain hour he would open his batteries upon the city; and at the appointed hour he commenced a brisk and effective cannonade, which was answered by fifty guns to his one. This grand display continued for near three days.

"The day after it began my health had improved, so that Dr. Cuyler, of the regular army (a man as remarkable for his kindness of heart as he is distinguished in his profession), who had been my physician, permitted me to rejoin my company. On the 27th General Quitman informed me that he had received instructions from headquarters, that, if the city did not capitulate before that time, at one o'clock next morning the whole American army would be ordered to the attack. But the carnage and bloodshed consequent upon such an assault was averted by the cessation of hostilities, and the agreement to surrender by the enemy. On the 29th the city was formally surrendered.

"This siege of Vera Cruz cost the American army but seventeen lives lost by Mexican missiles, but hundreds by the climate and exposed life of the soldier. Not one of our little squad but what was more or less sick, and continued so until after we arrived at home.

"About the 1st of April Gen. Quitman was ordered to advance upon Alvarado to take that place, and secure as many horses as possible to enable Gen. Scott to move into the interior: the result of that expedition is a matter of history. It is needless to say how much disappointment was expressed by the whole command, when, about eighteen miles above Alvarado, word was received that the place had been evacuated by the Mexican soldiery (some three thousand in number), and the place had surrendered to the navy. The disappointment expressed by General Quitman's command (the Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama regiments) was not at losing the horses, but at losing a chance for a respectable fight, his command being about fifteen hundred.

"After our return from Alvarado Gen. Quitman took up quarters on the plain south of the city of Vera Cruz. The only water we could get to drink was procured by digging some three feet into the loose sand, when the brackish sea-water percolated through, and afforded us an abundant supply, though very warm and disagreeable. This water excited that terrible scourge of armies, the diarrhea. The Georgians and Alabamians were acclimated, and had learned to be prudent in their diet. The Mississippians, as we were called, were all sick, but no more of us died; but the South Carolinians suffered exceedingly, from three to nine dying every day from the time we returned from Alvarado until we left for home.

"General Quitman, at this time, was confident that no more active service would be had by the American army that summer, and he was confident that after the battle of Buena Vista and the fall of Vera Cruz the war was virtually closed. This opinion was at that time generally entertained both by the American army in Mexico and by the people at home. So with this prospect of an uneventful life in Mexico, and the wretched health of nearly all of us, we determined to return home; and, through the kindness of Gen. Quitman, we procured passage in the American store-ship 'America,' commanded by one Joseph P. Levy. We went on board about the 13th, together with some 150 invalid soldiers on deck, and some thirty, mostly invalid officers, in the cabin. We paid for cabin passage one dollar per day, and after a passage of nineteen days we landed at New Orleans. The captain having by that time sold out, at more than California prices, a large lot of his private stores, such as brandy, whisky, cigars, etc., which speculation and quick trip was duly reported by a committee appointed by the cabin passengers to Col. —--, of the commissary department, on our arrival in New Orleans, who did not wait to hear the whole story told, but gave Captain Levy permission to retire from the American service.

"I have extended this communication much beyond what I intended, but I do not wish to close without a slight tribute to real worth where it is due. While I lay sick, before the surrender of Vera Cruz, Dr. Cuyler directed Mr. M'Kenzie to procure certain articles of food, etc., suited to my condition. Mr. M'Kenzie sought for them at all the sutlers' booths, but could not find them. He then went to the quartermaster's department. He was told by the clerks that the things he wished were there, but were difficult to come at. He told them that Dr. Cuyler thought it absolutely necessary to his friend's recovery that these things should be obtained. This made no impression upon them. He came back and told Dr. Cuyler of his failure, who started him on a second search, but with no better success than before, until he reached the quarter-master's department again, where he became very importunate, and the clerks were about to put him out, when Captain Irwin, the chief of that department in Gen. Scott's division, entered, and by accident overheard a part of this conversation. He called Mr. M'Kenzie to him, heard his requests, and demanded of the clerks if these things were there. They said they were, but very difficult to get at. Captain Irwin ordered them to get the articles, and never to let him hear of a soldier applying for any thing and being refused under such circumstances; that difficulty of access must never be given as an excuse for not furnishing any article in that department. This produced the articles in a few minutes. While the clerks were thus engaged, he told Mr. M'Kenzie that hereafter, when any thing was wanting in that department, he must not hesitate to come directly to him, be it ever so small, and if it was to be had he should have it. This is but one of the least of the thousand good offices of Captain Irwin to the sick soldiers on that line, and he should have a monument to his memory.

"The names of this little party of Covington County boys are, Daniel C. M'Kenzie, George W. Steele, Arthur Lott, Wm. Laird, Wm. Blair Lord, Laurin Rankin Magee, Hugh A. M'Leod, Thomas J. Lott (killed), Cornelius M'Laurin.

"Pardon this very long and hasty document, prepared in the course of a few hours in one day, and from memory alone. Your note revived so many old associations that I found it very difficult to condense and say what I wished to. This has not been written with the anticipation that it will be published, but you can use it as you may choose in whole or in part."


Life and Correspondence of John A. Quitman, Major-General, U.S.A,and Governor of the State of Mississippi



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