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


Ampudia and Taylor:   A Note on Strategy

 
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  • Conflicts of 1846-48:  
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  • Officers Capitulate: Ampudia and Taylor
  • A Note on Strategy
  • A Note on Severed Heads
  • Leader within Walls:  Santa Anna
  • Generals for Social Order
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  • The Future of New/Old Nations
    That a battle was fought at all at Monterrey, in September 1846, resulted from personal and political considerations, as much as military. Planners on each side began by making correct inferences from an unrealistic evaluation of the terrain in northern Mexico.  Once action seemed imminent, pride and stubbornness drew Ampudia and Taylor on into the engagement. 

    Both Santa Anna and Ampudia anticipated that U.S. forces, moving south of the Río Grande, would try to move through a gap in the Sierra Madre (either Saltillo or Tula), then strike for San Luis Potosí, some 200 miles south of Saltillo.  Other U.S. forces would try to take the port of Tampico, in order to establish a supply route to the overland operation. Polk, his War Department, and Taylor thought at first in much the same terms. 

    Santa Anna then, believing that neither Monterrey nor Tampico could be held successfully, ordered Ampudia to defend the Saltillo gap, while other forces would defend Tula.  Ampudia's original plan recognized this logic, but it also called for directing guerrilla attacks against Taylor's forces as they moved toward the Saltillo-Monterrey area.  This tactic of pushing some units out north of Saltillo imposed on Ampudia certain liabilities.  He would have to maintain some kind of cooperation with the inhabitants of the area, even if they did not cooperate with him.  He began issuing stringent regulations that demanded civilian commitment to the defense.  Soon, though, he was complaining that merchants in Monterrey wanted to conduct business as usual, and were even cashing bills of exchange that came in from the Yankees. Outraged, he forgot his own strategic analysis and proceeded to conduct a strict though brief military defense of the city. 
     
    Some Mexican forces outside Monterrey, which were supposed to be operating against Taylor's communications, decided even before Ampudia did that his position was lost, and withdrew from the area without trying to help him.  Civilians in Monterrey, personal enemies of Ampudia, insisted later that they would have fought to the end, although during the battle they had asked Taylor to let civilian families leave (which he refused).  They blamed Ampudia for not having fought enough, but also for having destroyed many houses in order to convert the city into a fortification.

     
    After the capitulation, Taylor claimed that he had lacked enough men to cut off all the routes into Monterrey. While he might have tried to cut off any Mexican forces in Monterrey, by moving directly against the Saltillo gap, this could leave him without the force to operate against the roads from Tampico.  As soon as most of Ampudia's men were gathered at Monterrey. Taylor had some reason to attack the city, rather than leave Ampudia in his rear while he moved against Saltillo or Linares. 

    Commanders on both sides knew, though they regularly ignored the fact, that the gaps through the northern Sierra led into a wide inhospitable terrain between Saltillo and Santa Anna's headquarters in San Luis Potosí. Any Mexican force operating north of Saltillo, or east of Tula, would be out of touch from day-to-day control by Santa Anna. 

     
    At the same time, any U.S. force that got past Saltillo or Tula would have serious difficulty supplying itself.  Though at least one Mexican force had operated successfully from Tampico to San Luis Potosí in an earlier civil war, this route would be far more difficult for an invader with wagons, artillery, and no local friends.

    While Taylor did later move some forces south toward Tampico, the earlier capitulation was consistent with the ideas of those people in the United States who wanted the Army to take no more than a buffer zone in northern Mexico. It recognized a natural line, across which neither Army could operate with much comfort or security.



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