Archive for May, 2013

The Halls of Montezuma – the Mexican Side of the Story

May 8, 2013

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Most Americans are familiar with the opening line of the Marine Hymn “From the halls of Montezuma…,” which refers to the 1847 Battle of Chapultepec.  Two famous military men, better known for their roles in the U.S. Civil War (Robert E. Lee and George Pickett) played roles in the battle.   Although this was a victory for American forces, the Mexican side of the story  is the more poignant of the two.

In September 1847, American military forces attacked Chapultepec Castle, which guarded Mexico City to the west.  The castle sat atop a 200-foot (60 m) tall hill, which, in recent years, was being used as the Mexican Military Academy.  General Nicolas Bravo had fewer than 1,000 men  to hold the hill, including 200 cadets, some as young as 13 years old.  The castle itself was defended by only 400 men, including 100 cadets.

The Americans, under the command of General Winfield Scott, began an artillery barrage of the castle. Marines stormed the castle using over 50 tall ladders, and managed to erect an American flag above it.  General Nicolas Bravo ordered a retreat back to the City and was himself captured. 

Six military cadets aged 13-19 refused to fall back and fought to their death.  Legend has it that, rather than allow the Mexican flag to fall into enemy hands, the last surviving teenage cadet Juan Escutia, wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and jumped off the castle wall to his death. 

The six cadets are known in Mexico as the “Ninos Heroes” or “Boy Heroes.”  There is an imposing monument to them in the entrance to Chapultepec park, and many streets and schools throughout Mexico are named after them, both collectively and individually.  At one time, they were also featured on the Mexican 5000 peso bank note.  A metro station in Mexico City is also named after them.  I am currently staying at a house between the streets named Colegio Military (Military Academy) and Heroes de 47 (Heroes of 1847).

On March 5, 1947, a few months before the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Chapultepec, U.S. President Harry Truman  placed a wreath at the monument and stood for a few moments of silent reverence. Asked by American reporters why he had gone to the monument, Truman said, “Brave men don’t belong to any one country. I respect bravery wherever I see it.”