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Naval Operations in the Gulf of Mexico-Capture of Tuspan-Perry determines
on the Capture of Tabasco—The Squadron assembled off Tabasco bar-Organization of a Flotilla—The ascent of the River-The Flotilla fired upon by a Party of Mexicans under General Bruno—The Enemy repulsed-Perry casts anchor at the Seven Palms—Divides his force-Assaulted by the Enemy-Debarkation of the Naval Army-Hidalgo's breast works forced-Capture of Fort Iturbide-The City surrenders.
After the capture of Vera Cruz, the naval operations along the Mexican coast, though marked by none of those imposing events which distinguished the progress of the army, were yet of a character well calculated to test the efficiency of the seamen, and the ability of the officers by whom they were commanded. The services of the squadron were both important and hazard
The Mexican coast was effectually blockaded; Alvarado, Tuspan, Laguna, Fronteira, and all the towns of any note were taken and garrisoned, and the multifarious duties pertaining to the service performed with that skilful celerity which is only to be acquired by means of the most perfect discipline.
Alvarado was taken by Lieutenant Hunter, as described in a former part of our narrative, and Commodore Perry resolved to fit out an expedition to reduce and occupy Tuspan. The fleet employed consisted of the steamer Mississippi, frigate Raritan, sloop-of-war Albany, ships John Adams, Germantown, Decatur, Spitfire, Vixen, Scourge, Vesuvius, Hecla, Etna, Bonita, Reefer, and Petrel. Among the vessels were distributed one hundred and fifty men belonging to the Potomac, and three hundred and forty men belonging to the Ohio. After some delay at the island of
EXPEDITION AGAINST TABASCO.
Lobos, and derangement at sea in consequence of the prevalence of a norther, arrangements were made for landing on the morning of the 18th of April. The Mississippi was anchored off the bar of the river near the town, while, to enable them to ascend, the other steamers were relieved of their masts and lightened in every possible way. While the other vessels of the squadron remained at anchor under Tuspan shoals, the steamers took in tow the gunboats and barges, which carried twelve hundred men and two pieces of artillery.
The steamers, with each a gun-boat in tow, soon ploughed their way across the bar, and gained the entrance of the river amid all the difficulties presented by the breakers. Having gained an entrance by twelve o'clock, the gallant Perry hoisted his broad pennant on board the Spitfire, and led the rest of the vessels. As they proceeded, two forts from the right bank opened on the squadron, when all the boats were manned with storming-parties, and while the gun-boats and steamers briskly returned the fire of the enemy, the storming-parties rushed on and into the forts, while the enemy in terror fled from before them. Continuing to press on towards the town, they were assailed by a fire from another fort and troops posted in the chaparral. The fort was soon carried, and simultaneously a division entered the town and took possession of it, while the enemy fled in every direction. After holding the place for some time, Commodore Perry demolished the forts, and retired, leaving the Albany and gun-boat Reefer to garrison the place.
Previous to the month of June, 1847, all the Mexican ports upon the gulf had now been captured, with the exception of the city of Tabasco; and, as the latter was in commercial importance second only to Vera Cruz, Commodore Perry determined upon its speedy reduction.
Accordingly, leaving the frigate Potomac before Vera Cruz, and a small naval force at Tuspan, Alvarado, and Laguna, for the
protection of those places, Perry sailed on his proposed expedition, and on the 13th of June anchored off Tabasco bar with the following vessels of his squadron: Flag-Steamship Mississippi, Commander Adams; Albany, Captain Breese ; Raritan, Captain Forrest; John Adams, Commander McCluney; Decatur, Commander Pinckney; Germantown, Commander Buchanan; bomb brig Stromboli, Commander Archer; bomb brig Vesuvius, Commander Magruder; brig Washington, Lieutenant-Commanding Phillips Lee; Steamer Scorpion, Commander Bigelow; Steamer Spitfire, Lieutenant-Commanding Smith Lee; Steamer Vixen, Lieutenant-Commanding William Smith.
By one o'clock, P. M., of the 14th, the flotilla selected for the expedition was fairly under way. The steamers Scourge, Scorpion, Spitfire, and Vixen, had towed over the bar the brigs Stromboli, Washington, and Vesuvius; and the three divisions of surf-boats, launches, and cutters, carrying seven field-pieces, and filled with officers and men detailed for service from the vessels of the squadron left behind. The city being situated seventyfive miles up the river, Tabasco could only be approached by vessels of the lightest draft. At Fronteira, the bomb brig Etna, Commander Van Brunt, and the schooner Bonita, LieutenantCommanding Berrien, joined the expedition.
Here the flotilla was reorganized, and after being formed into divisions, the ascent of the river was begun in the following
Perry in the Scorpion took the lead, with the brigs Vesuvius and Washington in tow, and the boats containing the detachments of officers and men from the Mississippi, Potomac, and John Adams.
The Spitfire towed the Stromboli and Bonita; and the Vixen towed the Etna, and detachments from the Germantown, Raritan, and Decatur.
In ascending the river, the commodore kept under way all
PERRY CASTS ANCHOR AT THE SEVEN PALMS.
night. At a distance of ten leagues from its mouth, the river was found to be contracted so much, that an enemy stationed in the thick chaparral covering the banks, could command the opposite shore with musketry alone.
It was not, however, until the evening of the 15th, that the enemy made any attempt to oppose the progress of the flotilla. General Bruno, who had posted himself with a strong detachment behind a breastwork in the chaparral, at the bend of the river where the channel ran close to the right bank, suddenly poured a plunging but ineffectual fire upon the deck of the Scorpion. This attack, though totally unexpected, was instantly replied to by a fire of grape and canister from the Vesuvius and Washington, and by rapid volleys of musketry from their tops and from the Scorpion and the boats in tow. These volleys effectually silenced the enemy, who shortly afterwards abandoned his breastwork with some loss, and the remainder of the divisions swept past without any molestation whatever.
By sunset the flotilla had arrived at the Seven Palms, a noted landmark two leagues below the city; and though it had been occasionally annoyed by desultory firing from the chaparral, the loss amounted to only one man wounded.
Near the landmark the enemy was found to occupy the right bank of the river in considerable numbers. Night was now approaching, and as the channel by nearing that side subjected his men to a galling fire from the chaparral, Perry ordered the rigging to be barricaded with cots, hammocks, and bags; and thus sheltered, after making his preparations for a movement upon the city by land and water, the ensuing morning, he cast anchor, and rested his men against the toils of the morrow.
On the morning of the 16th, the boats of the flotilla, filled with their complement of men, were arranged in three divisions, under the respective commands of Captains Breese, Forrest, and
McCluney. The artillery formed a fourth division, under the command of Captain A. Slidell Mackenzie.
The schooner Bonita was now towed into position, for the double
purpose of covering the landing and protecting the soundingparty under Lieutenants Alden and May.
Just as the latter had discovered an insufficiency of water for the brigs, the enemy opened a heavy fire of musketry from a concealed breastwork, called by them “ Calmena,” by which one officer and three men were wounded.
A raking fire of grape, canister, and musketry was promptly thrown from the flotilla along the bank and into the chaparral, by which that of the enemy was checked; and then Commodore Perry, standing erect in his barge in front of the first division, gave the spirit-stirring order, « Three cheers, and land!” Then burst forth the loud hurrahs! from over a thousand manly voices, and the sinewy rowers, bending simultaneously to their oars, impelled the numerous boats towards the right bank. Commodore Perry and Captain Mayo were the first to reach it, and in ten minutes afterwards, clambering up the steep bank and lifting the cannon rapidly to the top, the whole of the detachment, consisting of nine hundred seamen, including officers, and two hundred and twenty marines, were safely landed without hindrance or impediment.
While the little army, thus boldly debarked in the face of the enemy, were preparing to march upon the city, “ the light-draft steamers Spitfire, Vixen, and Scourge, picked up all the boats, took them and the Bonita in tow, and stood for the city, followed by the Scorpion, who forced her way over the obstruction under a heavy head of steam."
These movements by land and water had the effect of disconcerting the enemy, who, expecting an attack by water only, found his strong works turned by a movement for which he was not prepared.