The U.S.-Mexican War and
    the Peoples of the Year 2000

Conflicts of 1846-48:

Officers Capitulate on Terms:  Ampudia and Taylor


Inputs from the Politics of Today  

Inputs from History 

  • Population & Rebellion 

  • Deluded White Chieftains 

  • Conflicts of 1846-48:  
  • Opening Attack on Indigenous Life
  • A Border World Rebels
  • Officers Capitulate: Ampudia and Taylor
  • A Note on Strategy
  • A Note on Severed Heads
  • Leader within Walls:  Santa Anna
  • Generals for Social Order
  • The Sorting of Identities
  • The Future of New/Old Nations 
    People who are fighting each other in war may still accept the idea that they belong to a single, "civilized," international or transnational society.  This was true even within the bitterness of the U.S.-Mexican War.  It was notably true for two generals whom their governments censured for agreeing on a local cease-fire:  Pedro de Ampudia and Zachary Taylor. 

    While both generals understood something of the complexity of the strategic situation, they acted simply. Taylor led U.S. troops across the Río Grande, to attack Monterrey, capital of the state of Nuevo León.  Ampudia, commanding the defenders, held out for a few days, then offered to capitulate -- that is, to give up the city on specified terms that would prefer the integrity and honor of his force.  Taylor at first demanded a simple surrender, then conceded the capitulation.  All the Mexican forces would be allowed to withdraw, beyond a line drawn south and west of the city. They would keep their arms, except for some artillery pieces. 

    When Ampudia delivered the city of Monterrey to Taylor, the two generals were acting according to the standards of one kind of cooperative society, operating at command level, managed by men who were not very gentle or sophisticated, and who wished that they could cut down all kinds of opposition:  from their own soldiers, from indigenous peoples, and also from the ordinary or selfish interests of local landowner society. 

    "el honor militar, que en cierta manera es común a todos los Ejércitos del mundo civilizado"
    ("military honor, which in some sense is common to all the Armies of the civilized world")
    -- Pedro Ampudia to Zachary Taylor, Monterrey, 23 September 1846
    Ampudia, in communications both to his own government and to Taylor, justified the capitulation on the grounds that he was preserving military "honor."  To his own superiors, he added the practical point that he was preserving his forces intact to fight again on another day -- which both they and he in fact did.

    Later, when each general was censured by his own government for having failed, the critics did not condemn their man for having fought too gently, but for having fought to no desired end. Ampudia's superior Santa Anna, the president-general of Mexico, lambasted him for defending Monterrey at all, risking battle at a place where he could not win. Polk, when he condemned Taylor, talked policy, not tactics: Taylor was guilty of disloyalty to the administration, not of reluctance to fight. Later, when Taylor came close to suffering defeat at Buena Vista, Polk criticized Taylor for having risked a forward position, much in the same terms that Santa Anna used to damn Ampudia.

    In any world defined according to national sovereignties, Polk was opposed to Santa Anna, and Taylor to Ampudia.  In any world judged by the social purposes of its leaders, the lines must be drawn differently.  Already in 1846, across the North American continent, steps were being taken that brought together like-minded leaders from supposedly opposed nations.  Each cluster of the like-minded might become part of a single sector in the transnational, globalized world that would emerge a century later.

    Polk and Santa Anna were collaborators in the goal of devoting that world to the interest of individualistic operators -- very much as special interests would later find clauses for themselves within the frame of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

    Taylor and Ampudia were collaborators in a different sector of that world:  military men, rather disconnected from local society, yet dealing with that society under conditions that provoked them to rage.

    Neither Ampudia nor Taylor inspired much confidence in their executive skills.  Certainly Taylor was never the finished professional officer that was his U.S. rival Winfield Scott.  But both Taylor and Scott belonged to a party, the Whig, that stood for some kind of planning beyond local interests.

    The two presidents shared one vision of the war. Taylor and Ampudia shared a very different one. It was a conflict between advantage and honor, between cynical calculation and quick anger, between ordinary policy and a belief that proper officers could come to an understanding across the gulf between nations.

    The Transnational Frame
    James Knox Polk Zachary Taylor
    Antonio López de Santa Anna Pedro de Ampudia


  • K. Jack Bauer, Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest  (1985)
  • Diccionario Porrua: "Ampudia, Pedro"
  • Miguel Angel González Quiroga, "Nuevo León ante la invasión norteamericana," in Laura Herrera Serna, coord., México en guerra (1846-1848) Perspectivas regionales (1997)
  • Miguel Angel González Quiroga, "Nuevo León ocupado," in Josefina Zoraida Vázquez, coord., México al tiempo de su guerra con Estados Unidos (1846-1848) (1997)

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