|Special Collections Division
the University of Texas
at Arlington Libraries
Vol. XV * No. 1 * Spring 2001
"Flight of Santa Anna from the Battle of Cerro Gordo," (Philadelphia: R. McGee, ca.1848).
The last issue of the Compass Rose featured a graphic of the USS Mississippi, a frigate that participated in the landings at Vera Cruz during the Mexican War. In this issue, we feature the journal of Thomas Lindsay, a soldier from Pennsylvania who landed with the forces at Vera Cruz. The journal, purchased by Special Collections with the assistance of Jenkins and Virginia Garrett, is an important addition to the Mexican War collection.
The landing at Vera Cruz was the largest amphibious landing before World War II, and involved some fifteen thousand men. It was crucial to General Winfield Scotts campaign to defeat Mexico. Scott had hoped to land in February 1847, and quickly move his forces out of the coastal region to avoid yellow fever. However, the invasion was delayed until March 9, 1847.
Thomas Lindsay titled his journal "History of the War of Mexico," and in it he covers one year of the war from the landings at Vera Cruz to June 25, 1848, when the war ended. In common with other journal writers, Lindsay occasionally gets dates incorrect. The most obvious example is his statement that the landing at Vera Cruz occurred in April, when it actually took place in March. This is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the journal, however. Other events and names of participants do correspond to the historical record.
Randy Hackenburgs Pennsylvania in the War with Mexico lists a "Thomas Lindsey" serving in the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment, Company F, of the Philadelphia Light Guards, under Captain John Bennett. This is more than likely our journal writer, with the name misspelled in the source that Hackenburg used for his research. The entry states that Lindsay enlisted as a private in Philadelphia, December 1, 1846, at the age of twenty-five, was promoted to corporal June 1, 1847, and mustered out with his company July 28, 1848. The journal writer mentions the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment, Captain Bennett, and that the 1st and 2nd Pennsylvania, the New York, South Carolina, and Massachusetts regiments were under the command of Colonel Wynkoop.
Hackenburg states that the Light Guards performed faithful service during the investment of Vera Cruz, the battles of Cerro Gordo and La Hoya, the defense of Perote, and the battle of Huamantla. They arrived in Mexico City on December 8, 1847, for occupation duty. This information is borne out by the journal, which describes actions and encampments at Vera Cruz, Jalapa, Puebla, Perote, Cerro Gordo, and Mexico City. The writer describes his activities by the day and month, but it is difficult at times to follow what month he is describing. While the date is always listed, the change of month is not always noted. While Lindsay describes well-known battles of the war, it is the perspective of the soldier that makes this journal important. He describes places, battles, sickness, and hunger; news heard from other units; and the victory celebration when the war is over. The journal provides an excellent example of the average soldiers view of the war.
After the surrender of Vera Cruz, Lindsays unit marched toward Jalapa "under a hot sun with scarcely any water to drink . . . a great many men gave out from weakny [sic] and some were tired out . . . the road being the greater part of the way soft and sandy." On April 17th Lindsay comes down with billous (yellow) fever, a condition that will plague him for several days. He also mentions that on the 17th "General Twig obtained his position after a very hard battle in which he lost a great number of men killed and wounded." On the 18th the battle continued with the troops advancing through "chaparral which was so thick that they could not see 20 yards ahead and the grape and canister shot poured down on them like hail." As the battle ensued, Captain Bennetts troops took off in "a run and a yell" and caused the enemy to surrender "one of the strongest places in all of Mexico." This was Lindsays description of the Battle of Cerro Gordo.
The ravages of yellow fever began to take their hold on Lindsay on the 19th through the 22nd of April. His entry for the 19th states that his unit marched for Jalapa, but he remained at the hospital "very low with a fever and no attendance . . . 20th still was no better . . . [I am] expected to die here . . . [I] was out of my head part of the time . . . still had no one to tend to me or fetch me water which I drank a great deal." On the 21st, Lindsay continues, ". . . I went to my bed and laid there burning up with the fever not expected to live till morning." Lindsay did survive the night and later went to Jalapa to stay in the hospital there where there was plenty to eat and drink.
After his recovery, Lindsay described religious ceremonies and torch light parades. On May 19, he described four men who were caught stealing. Their punishment was to be whipped, have their heads shaved, and marched through town with a sign reading "robber" on their backs.
May 30th we learn that " report correct that Santa Anna had been taken prisoner." In addition, on June 2 "today is the day that Gen. Scott was to receive a final answer from the City of Mexico peace or not." The journal continues with accounts of a visit to the halls of Montezuma and a bullfight. Christmas of 1847 brought the prospect of no food. Lindsay started his entry for Christmas Day with the prospect of having nothing for breakfast and a poor prospect for the rest of the day. A Mexican mule driver arrived, and the soldiers robbed him in the presence of their officers. Because of this they had corn beef for dinner and dry bread and coffee for supper. A final entry for the 25th notes, "We went to bed hungry."
May 1, 1848, a grand review was held with Generals Patterson and Worth present among others. On May 25, word was received that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had been ratified. The evening of the 27th was very festive with a "grand spree among the soldiers . . . Blakely one of the newly elected officers gave a blow out . . . the quarters were brilliantly illuminated." This was followed with music and cheering. The group then proceeded to the quarters of Colonel Wynkoop, who then gave a speech. The journal concludes with Lindsays company boarding the schooner Sarah Churchman bound for New Orleans. The final entry is a simple one: "Return home June 25th, 1848." Lindsay would be mustered out with his unit three days later.
While this journal does have some gaps due to its binding coming apart, it provides a personal view of the Mexican War from a soldier who was present at some of the important battles and had firsthand knowledge of the hardships of the war. We are also given a glimpse of what it was like for this young Philadelphia resident to experience what must have been a strange land.
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