Battles of the War
The Battle of Buena Vista
The Battle of Buena Vista on February 23, 1847, was perhaps the most dramatic fight of the U.S.-Mexican War. After the Battle of Monterey in September 1846, President James K. Polk ordered the bulk of Taylor’s veterans and regulars to join an expedition under General Winfield Scott, who would land at Vera Cruz and march on Mexico City. Taylor was to defend his position near Saltillo with 5,000 inexperienced troops.
Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, recognizing this as a military opportunity, moved quickly to catch the Americans while they made their transition. Santa Anna and an army of 20,000 hurried north from San Luis Potosi to crush Taylor before turning south to deal with Scott. Taylor, hearing of the Mexican movement upon his position, deployed his outnumbered command in a mountain pass near the Hacienda Buena Vista, where his small numbers might do the most good.
Santa Anna demanded Taylor’s surrender on February 22, but was refused. The Mexicans then skirmished with the Americans to ascertain their positions and numbers. Santa Anna ordered an all-out assault the following morning and had broken the U.S. line by mid-day. Taylor rushed forward his only reserves, the 1st Mississippi Rifles under Colonel Jefferson Davis. These troops stabilized the U.S. line by routing a Mexican cavalry breakthrough. Santa Anna’s attack stalled.
Taylor unwisely ordered his men to counter-attack the still-dangerous enemy that afternoon, and the U.S. troops ran headlong into withering fire. The audacity of the attack threw off Santa Anna’s planned final blow and the Mexican attack stumbled to a halt by dark. More than 3,400 of Santa Anna’s men lay dead or wounded; Taylor lost 650. The Mexican Army declared victory the following day and retreated.