Taylor at Buena Vista
John Pope

By the time General Taylor reached the field the retreat of the left wing and part of the left center had become practically a rout. There were no reserves and aparently nothing except scattered fragments of a force to oppose the advance of the solid columns of the enemy. Where we ascended the plateau was a little to the left rear of the extreme left of our line, which still held its ground. The first view showed us our entire left just disappearing into the deep ravine in the rear of our line of battle, with General Wool and his staff officers vainly trying to halt and reform them. Immmediately in our front and apparently covering the whole plateau to the base of the mountains, were the columns of the enemy, who had already advanced beyond the line occupied by our left and were pressing on in the pursuit. They did not seem to be four hundred yards distant from us and an advance of two hundred yards farther would have placed them so far in rear of our right, which still stood firm, that they could have turned the rear and completely destroyed our right wing also. The plain in front of us seemed to swarm with Mexicans, pressing forward to what, unless they were instantly checked, was certain and complete victory. The only force we had were two batteries of artillery, under Bragg and T. W. Sherman and they were much broken down by hard work the day before and that morning. Nevertheless they were the only hope and a desperate hope, as all thought. General Taylor at once ordered them forward. It was with difficulty the horses could pull the guns up the steep acclivity between the road and the plateau. Bragg's battery leading, he rode up to General Taylor and reported for orders. General Taylor directed him to unlimber his battery and go into action. Bragg replied:

"General, if I go into battery here I will lose my guns."

To which the General replied, "If you do not the battle is lost."

Bragg and Sherman immediately went into action with their batteries and the effect was simply amazing. The whole plateau towards the mountains was packed with the solid columns of the Mexicans advancing on our positions at quick time and cheered on by their officers with waving swords and shouts of encouragement. Their advance had already passed the left flank of the right wing of our army, which naturally began to fall back toward its right rear. The shouts of the enemy as they came on we could plainly hear and as plainly see their swarthy, scowling faces. I was sitting on my horse immediately in rear of the right section of Bragg's battery when his guns first opened. For a moment the smoke of the guns obscured the view, but almost instantly it lifted and disclosed the scene in our front. It was appalling. Long avenues were plowed through the masses of the enemy, in which the wounded were writhing and shrieking among the dead. The whole mass had nearly come to a halt and there appeared to be wavering among them, with a decided cessation of the cheering and shouting. Scant time was given to recover the shock. Again the twelve guns of Bragg and Sherman belched forth their fiery message and the mass of the Mexicans reeled before it. First they halted, then began to break up their ranks and mix themselves together in the confusion of a mob and then to fall back faster and faster and in more disorder every moment. The danger was over from this force, the main force of the enemy, but these two batteries of artillery continued to pour volley after volley into the now terror-stricken Mexicans, piling up the dead and wounded into heaps on the plain. It was a dreadful sight, but the work was effective and settled the issue of the Battle of Buena Vista.

I was of course quite near to General Taylor during all this time and he was to me far the most impressive feature of the scene. Naturally, General Taylor was a very irascible man and flew into a passion on the least provocation and for the most trifling causes. I have seen him fly into a fury with a teamster who had been careless or awkward in his driving and after using the most robust and vernacular English on the offender dismount from his horse and ply a wagon-whip over his shoulders with furious vigor. I never knew a man of his years and character so easily and completely thrown off his balance by trifles. This being his temper and habit, I watched him with a peculiar interest in this critical moment of his life, when the whole fate of a battle and of the army under his command was at stake and the chances altogether against him and when the next ten minutes would settle the question whether he was to be victorious or a dishonored general and whether his army was to be prisoners of war or victors of a glorious battle. In such a crisis it was natural that the general in command should be an object of interest and as I looked at him I was struck with surprise and admiration. He sat on his horse in an easy careless attitude, with no sign of excitement about him and with an expression of countenance as placid and pleasant and a manner as composed and quiet as if he had just arisen from a very satisfactory dinner.


The Military Memoirs of John Pope edited by Peter Cozzens and Robert I. Girardi
University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 1998, pages 194-196
Originally published in the
National Tribune 1891