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BATTLE OF CONTRERAS.
The Mexican fire overshot the stormers, and, before the pieces could be depressed, the men clambered over the earthen parapet with deafening cheers, and attacked the garrison hand to hand. A brief but terrific conflict ensued. Intermingled with the firing, the clash of swords and the crashing blows from musket and rifle stocks could be distinctly heard. Valencia himself suddenly disappeared, while his officers and men, taken by surprise-compacted together into a confused struggling mass-assaulted in their midst, in front and in rear at one and the same moment, were perfectly paralyzed, and suffered themselves to be cut to pieces with dreadful slaughter, while the survivors, unable to resist the impetuous avalanche of intrepid Americans, animated as by one heart, threw down their arms in vast numbers, and took to flight in all directions. Some fled to the mountains, others across the Pedregal, and others again, in the direction of Contreras and San Angel. Five hundred fugitives jammed up in a narrow pass, were headed by thirty men, and surrendered themselves prisoners of war.
The road was literally strewn with the dead and dying ; nor did the pursuit pause until it received a check, near the village of San Angel, from the fire of the Mexican reserve.
So fierce had been the assault, that the brunt of the action lasted only seventeen minutes, and in that brief space of time the fort had been captured, and its defenders completely routed.
During the storm of the hill, the other portions of Smith's command had not been idle. Cadwalader had ably supported Riley. Smith's brigade under Major Dimmick met the large body of Mexican cavalry, and drove them at the point of the bayonet; then, turning back, rushed up the slope in front of the work, and fell upon the enemy outside, just as he was escaping from Riley's furious attack from the rear.
In the mean time, completely deceived by the masterly arrangements of Smith and Shields, the Mexican reserve remained perplexed and inactive before the village of Contreras, until the
disastrous defeat of Valencia compelled it to fall back upon San Angel and Churubusco, leaving Shields at leisure to cut off the fugitives, numbers of whom, coming under the fire of the South Carolina regiment, broke away in utter despair, and took refuge among the rocks and ravines of the Pedregal.
The victory being achieved before the detachments from Worth's and Quitman's divisions arrived in sight, they were ordered back to their former positions; Worth to attack San Antonio in front with his whole force, while Pillow's and Twiggs's divisions—so lately led by Smith, but now each under its appropriate commander-moving from Contreras through San Angel and Cuyoacan, approached it in the rear.
To the skill and bravery of General Persifor F. Smith and his intrepid subordinates, is the American nation indebted for the great victory of Contreras. Its results were, seven hundred of the enemy killed; eight hundred and thirteen taken prisoners, among whom were four generals-Salas, Mendoza, Garcia, and Guadalupe—and eighty-eight inferior officers; many colours and standards, twenty-two pieces of brass ordnance, thousands of small arms and accoutrements, an immense quantity of shot, shells, powder, and cartridges, besides seven hundred pack-mules and many horses.*
Our loss was one officer killed, and one wounded, and about fifty men killed and wounded. t
Among the ordnance captured, were the two guns lost by the 4th artillery—but without dishonour-at the battle of Buena Vista. By a singular and pleasing coincidence, these were first recognised by Captain Drum, of the same regiment, and the tidings of their recovery so exhilarated the spirits of the men under his command, that they sprang rapturously forward, and, amidst deafening cheers, caressed and embraced them as objects of affection long mourned as lost, but now suddenly and unexpectedly restored.
* Scott's Official Report.
+ Letter to the New York Courier.
Contreras-San Antonio-Worth's Operations on the 20th-Topography of the
Battle-Grounds of Contreras, San Antonio, and Churubusco—The Advance on Churubusco-Scott's Plan of Batile-Description of the Mexican Defences at Churubusco— The Batile commenced-Operations of Twiggs, Terrible Position of Taylor's Battery-Attack of Shields upon the Mexican Reserve-Bravery of the Mexicans-Gallant conduct of the New York and South Carolina Regiments
– Mexican Defence of San Pablo, The Deserters—San Antonio forced and turned by Worth-His advance upon Churubusco-Storm of the Tête-du-PontEffect of Duncan's Battery-Storm and Surrender of San Pablo-The Mexicans routed at all Points-Daring Charge of Harney's Dragoons-Result of the Vic. tory-Mexican and American Loss.
Viewed in every aspect, the victory of Contreras was productive of the most important consequences to the American army.
It was the first victory gained in the valley of Mexico.
It cut the line of the enemy's defences, and rendered no longer a matter of doubt the advance of our troops upon Churubusco; the only remaining exterior defence, and the last obstacle protecting the causeway by which the Garitas, or small forts at the gates of the city, could be easily approached.
It broke down the confidence of the Mexicans in the strength of their fortifications, by exhibiting in the most impressive manner their inability to successfully defend them, and it reinvigorated the spirit of the Americans, to whom the change of route, from the National to the Acapulco road, had been ominous of the difficul. ties by which they were beset, and upon whom the check received on the 19th before both San Antonio and the hill of Contreras, was calculated to conjure up the most fearful presentiments of evil, while it encouraged the enemy to increased exertions.