by Mike Cox
you’re tired and ready to hit the beach at South
Padre, the 120-mile drive from Corpus
Christi can seem like it’s going to take forever.
But imagine walking that distance. And in a time before convenience
stores, Dairy Queens or any other places to get water or something
That is what it was like in the late winter of 1846 when Gen. Zachary
Taylor started his Army on its march from Corpus
Christi to Point Isabel (now Port
Isabel) and the nearby Rio Grande.
Fearing trouble with Mexico following Texas’ admission into the Union
as the 28th state, President James K. Polk had ordered troops to Texas
in the largest American military mobilization since the War of 1812.
Half of the entire American army gathered at Corpus
They had been in place six months when the directive came from the
president on February 3 to leave Corpus
Christi and head for the Rio Grande. After that, getting ready
-- the chief difficulty being the acquisition of enough wagons and
livestock to move all his equipment -- took Taylor another month.
The general also dispatched a reconnoitering party to determine the
best route to take.
Regiment by regiment, companies of cavalry, artillery and infantry
– finally began leaving their camp on the middle Texas
coast on March 8. With staggered departure dates they would follow
the old Mexican cart road to Matamoras, Taylor’s engineers having
decided that moving troops down the shifting sands of Padre Island
would be even more difficult than traversing the no man’s land between
the Nueces and Rio Grande.
Horsemen moving faster than foot soldiers or cannon and caissons,
all the elements had instructions to rendezvous and hold near what
is now Sarita
in Kenedy County for the last leg of the troop movement. Taylor had
sent an advance party to set up a supply depot there.
Though spring would not officially arrive for nearly two weeks, for
all practical purposes summer had already begun in South
Texas. It was hot, the humidity was high and gnats swarmed around
the sweaty faces of the infantrymen.
Still, this land claimed by both Mexico and the U.S. could be beautiful
if it got enough rain. And it had been a wet winter. One soldier who
made the trip wrote that the land they army traveled through was “prairie…covered
with flowers…scattered wood and chaparral [brush].”
That chaparral grew tall and thick. The needle-studded cactus and
thick mesquite hid rattlesnakes, scorpions and other critters. At
night, mountain lions prowled the brush. Too, Mexican scouts taking
care not to be seen shadowed the American troops to report on their
days out of Corpus
Christi, as the soldiers moved down the two-rut wagon road, a
soldier on the right flank heard something moving near him in the
brush. Griping his rifle tightly, he peered into the dense foliage.
Suddenly he saw something that stopped him in his tracks. Acting on
instinct, he raised his weapon and pulled the trigger. Though fired
at close range, the rifle ball only slid off the thick skull of the
Bellowing in pain, the enraged recipient of the bullet lowered his
bleeding head and charged the hapless infantryman. Not having time
to reload, the soldier fell into unorganized retreat, rushing back
to his comrades in arms.
Unimpressed at being outnumbered, the attacker ran at full speed toward
the column, which broke and took flight like so many flushed quail.
Officers drew their sabers and enlisted men brandished bayoneted rifles,
but no one could shoot for fear of killing one of their own.
Finally, the wounded aggressor withdrew from the field. Adrenaline
still surging through their bodies, the soldiers reformed their column
and resumed their trek southward.
The first elements of the U.S. force reached the area that would become
on March 28, nearly three weeks after leaving Corpus
Christi. Later that spring, Taylor’s soldiers fought two battles
in the Lower Rio Grande Valley – Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma
– before crossing the river and proceeding on to the next big fight
Only later did it begin to seem funny that the first shot fired in
anger by a U.S. soldier in what would be a two-year campaign had been
aimed at a cantankerous longhorn
bull, not a Mexican soldier.
Mike Cox - "Texas Tales"
March 20 , 2008 column
Texas | Online
Magazine | Texas Towns | Features
Mike Cox's "The Texas Rangers: Wearing the Cinco Peso, 1821-1900,"
the first of a two-volume, 250,000-word definitive history of the
Rangers, was released by Forge Books in New York on March 18, 2008
Kirkus Review, the American Library Association's Book List and the
San Antonio Express-News have all written rave reviews about this
book, the first mainstream, popular history of the Rangers since 1935.
by Mike Cox - Order Here