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It is a bad plan that admits of no modification. PUBLILIUS SYRUS—FIRST CENTURY, BC If the battles of the war between México and the United States had gone no farther than the frontiers of the two states, then the confluence of the Mexicans’ civil and international conflicts never might have taken place. But that did not prove to be the case. Indeed, the plans of both governments for a war of the frontiers perished in the shooting that began on April 24, 1846. At the start of the conflict, President James K. Polk set forth his strategy . “I gave it as my opinion that the first movement should be to march a competent force in to the Northern Provinces and seize and hold them until peace was made. In this they [the cabinet] concurred.”1 Here, Polk assumed that, by seizing some of the land he sought and then holding that territory against counter-thrusts, he would compel the other side to surrender. Implicit in this assumption was the conviction that the Mexicans would surrender approximately half of their nation while they still possessed armies in the center of the country. It is unclear by what logic the president assumed that México, which for ten years refused to THE GHOSTS OF SARAGOSSA The Invasion of Central México Levinson_Wars_text_new_WarsLayoutNew4.11.05 10/18/13 2:08 PM Page 15 acknowledge the loss of one of its states (Texas), would subsequently accept the loss of half of its national territory. For their parts, the Mexicans clung to the hope voiced by their federal government’s minister of exterior relations, Manuel de la Peña y Peña. Shortly before the outbreak of war, he informed the governors of all Mexican states: “Realistically, our only hope would not be for victory, but simply the avoidance of certain defeat. . . . At present we cannot even find the necessary funds to maintain our troops on the frontier, which is hundreds of leagues long.”2 Mexican commanders based their plans for successful resistance upon three eventualities. First, they hoped that the fighting could be confined to the frontiers. If not, they would fortify the passes of the Sierra Madre and thereby compel any sea-borne invasion force to remain on the torrid and unhealthy littoral, fighting on open plains. There, the leaders of México’s army hoped that their formidable cavalry forces might cut off advancing columns of the US Army. If both of these options failed, the Mexican command intended to place greater emphasis upon the hit-and-run tactics of guerrilla warfare. In that type of conflict, the highly mobile Mexican cavalry and its intimate knowledge of the home terrain would provide advantages that the more slowly moving US infantry and artillery might find difficult to overcome.3 In part, President Polk’s illusions probably rested upon the reports he received prior to the outbreak of hostilities from his envoy, John Slidell. Like Polk, he was a firm believer in the cause of territorial expansion. The two Democrats first met in the political arena, where Slidell served as both a US Congressman and Senator from Louisiana.4 In November 1845, Polk dispatched him to Mexico City with instructions to offer the Mexican government $5 million for Nuevo México, $20 million for Alta and Baja California, and an additional $25 million if the ter16 Wars within War Levinson_Wars_text_new_WarsLayoutNew4.11.05 10/18/13 2:08 PM Page 16 ritory from the Rio Grande to Monterrey could be bought.5 President José Joaqúin de Herrera refused to receive Slidell. Further, General Mariano Paredes y Arrillaga used Slidell’s presence as grounds for accusing Herrera of 17 The Ghost of Saragossa: The Invasion of Central Mexico Although both friend and foe recognized Santa Anna as a competent military leader, the combined effects of US artillery and rebellious peasants frustrated the best of his efforts. Carlos Paris, Portrait of General Antonio López de Santa Anna, 19th Century. Museo Nacional de Historia. Reproducción Autorizada por el Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. Levinson_Wars_text_new_WarsLayoutNew4.11.05 10/18/13 2:08 PM Page 17 TABLE 2.1 SUMMARY OF THE 1842 CENSUS OF MEXICO All states States along Scott’s route to Mexico City Aguascalientes 69,693 México 1,389,520 Californias 33,439 Puebla 661,902 Chiapas 141,206 Veracruz 254,380 Chihuahua 147,600 Coahuila 75,340 Total 2,305,802 Durango 162,618 % of the nation 32...


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