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El Puchero

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El Puchero
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Author(s): Richard McSherry
Date Published: 2008/08
Page Count: 256
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-499-7
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-500-0

One medical man’s Mexican War

This curiously titled book—El Puchero—is principally comprised of the journal entries of a young surgeon of volunteers on campaign with Scott during the American-Mexican War. This is a very rare book in every sense and cannot be readily found or purchased by the modern reader, which will only enhance its pleasure, because its author has an easy, companionable style and is ready to appreciate incident, humour and the essential detail of camp life and the battlefield. All the principal engagements of Scott's campaign are described in authentic detail including the capture of Mexico City itself. The journal has been augmented with contemporary accounts and overviews of the actions witnessed by the author making this title a well rounded source for the subject.

Is not the enemy falling back towards his strong defences? Certainly. See! first one spot is vacated, then another—they are falling back, decidedly, clearly! Behold, a villainous piece, at a redoubt half way or more up the steep—a long twelve, apparently—that is never silent; it seemed at every shot to plough a way through the assailing column. The deepest pain was expressed in the countenance of every beholder about me. When noticing that piece, every man of us felt himself in personal torture. We could not see exactly its effects, for a turn of the hill; but imagination filled out the picture. Like some insatiate monster, it passed through the throng of human beings, eating its way and leaving a great gap behind. But the column, undaunted, moved steadily onward; sometimes there was a momentary suspense, but it was for physical obstacles; directly again, the onward, upward motion was resumed.<br>
You may imagine, but I cannot describe, what the feelings of the spectators were. I thought of all excitements I had ever known, or witnessed, and felt how far they fell short of this most engrossing spectacle. There were some scores of Americans perched up in trees, and on various house-tops, looking over the scene; but the spectators of the other side were in numbers beyond all calculation, surely there were up wards of one hundred thousand. I looked at the city, where the domes and towers of the cathedral, the churches, and convents, were blackened with myriads of people—hosts stood upon the house-tops, and dense clusters of human beings on every elevation. All the while the work at the castle was going on. The hated piece was captured, and heads of regiments and companies were seen to sink in the ditch, then mount the walls. See them—they stop to wave the regimental flags, as they go over, then a period of the closest fighting, and shortly, the tricolour falls, and the American ensign waves over the proud Castle of Chapultepec.<br>
The troops most under my eye were of the 3rd division of regulars, with a brigade of the 1st; the operations of our own division, with Smith’s brigade of the 2nd, were scarcely to be seen from my point of observation. We (surgeons) were immediately engrossed in our bloody work, when an express came for assistance at the castle. Meantime, accounts were coming in to us rapidly, of our losses in capturing that great work; and the first death I heard of was that of the gallant and high-souled Major Twiggs, of the Marine corps, who received his death-wound through the heart, at the head of a storming party, of which he was commander. In early life he earned merited distinction under the immortal Decatur, when his frigate, the President, after having whipped the Endymion frigate, fell a prey to the British fleet. <br>
I volunteered for the castle, set out immediately, and reached there at the finale, when the last shots were being exchanged at the base with the retreating enemy. I had very soon the satisfaction of learning that the active piece at the redoubt had done no execution whatever, as every shot passed over the heads of the assailants. It was not, and perhaps could not have been, sufficiently depressed to clear the steep hill below it. <br>
Heaps of dead and wounded presented themselves to my vision on every hand as I approached the castle. The wounded Americans were carried in as fast as possible; the Mexicans, though there was every disposition to give them the attention humanity required, had to bide their time. Our losses had been heavy, but theirs greater incomparably, notwithstanding the shelter they had enjoyed to the last moment from their defences. Their dead bodies lay in masses of tens, twenties, or more, wherever there had been concentration; some there were gasping in the last agonies, with their dark faces upturned to the sun, like fish thrown on shore by the angler, writhing and struggling in death; others lay motionless, but an occasional gasp, an up-heaving of the chest, alone gave evidence that the vital spark had not entirely fled.<br>
Upon entering the castle, I was arrested by some Mexican officers, who besought me to see a person, apparently a general officer, to whom they were attending. One moment sufficed. A ball had passed through his neck, another through his head; he was speechless and motionless, the blood was passing into his windpipe, but his dying eyes seemed to say he knew his own condition, as I believe he did. As his case was hopeless, I passed immediately on, only pausing a moment to gaze on the fearful mutilations of the human body lying around. There were crushed heads, mangled limbs, and torn up bodies, brains, hearts, lungs, and bowels released from their natural confines, eyes hanging out from their sockets, and all the lacerations and contusions that follow the use of fire-arms, the sabre, or the bayonet.<br>
Brave officers, who had just participated actively in the fearful scene, told me they had enough of the horrors of war, and hoped never again to witness them.