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    Description

    Mexican War Officer's Letter Group by William Chapman of the 5th Infantry. Nine letters, totaling 35 pages, 8" x 10", all addressed to his wife dated February 5, 1847 through May 21, 1848. Most of the letters are written as though copied from a journal, as they include daily entries composed over a period of days/weeks. Chapman is a keen observer and describes in great detail his observations of his surroundings, as well as the political intrigues of the day. Also included is a period fair copy in Chapman's hand of a letter to Chapman dated March 17, 1848 commending him on his efficiency in filing his returns (likely sent as an enclosure in one of his letters).

    In a letter dated Feb 5, 1847. Chapman writes his wife in great detail of preparations for the Battle of Vera Cruz: "We have been very busy making preparations for our departure. Part of the Artillery Battalions and the 8th Infantry have already gone down the river to embark. The 4th Infantry follows tomorrow. The 5th next day if not tomorrow. The then 6th & so on. Our destination is Vera Cruz, but we are to effect a landing some 30 miles below it... We are to make a combined attack by land and sea upon the Castle of San Juan d'Ulloa..." In that same letter he writes: "We have just heard from Capt Graham that Lieut Richey of our Reg. who has been serving with the 1st Dragoons for some time past was lassoed on the plaza in the town of Villa Grande while carrying dispatches from Genl Scott to Genl Taylor at Victoria... he was lassoed and dragged for some distance, and then they cut off his ears and stabbed him with his own sword... they got possession of his dispatches which contained a plan of our future operations. What effect this will have I cannot say... We also learn from Captain Graham that Col Bowling and 80 men of the Arkansas Regiment were surprised sixty miles beyond Saltillo by 500 Mexicans and captured without firing a gun... I also understand that Genl Taylor has in confinement some Mexicans suspected of concerned in Richey's murder and intends [on] hanging them I hope."

    Writing from the encampment at Vera Cruz: "March 31st 1847...I promised... to give you a more detailed account of our operations from day to day. I do not think I can do better than to copy verbatim my rough notes taken upon the spot and at such times as duty and fatigues would permit... 19th March. Troops busily engaged in the trenches, preparing our mortar batteries - much firing from the town and castle upon our working parties. Good luck attended our men and all returned safe to camp. 20th [March] heavy firing all day from the enemy's batteries. At 10 P.M. Capt. E.R. Smith's company and mine under Capt. Merrill ordered forward to support the parties working in the trenches. We were much annoyed by the sand blowing from the parapets and found it necessary to keep our heads covered up to prevent being blinded... 21st [March] the enemy opened a brisk fire of shot and shells from these batteries upon our trenches near the cemetary. Many of these shots passed through our parapets, burying our men in sand and also through the walls of the cemetary. One marine who was lying behind and again this wall was killed by a shot striking it behind his back. There were no external signs of the wounds. Shells were bustling all over us..."

    In a ten page letter dated December 19, 1847 (but written over the course of two weeks, making entries almost daily), Chapman narrates multiple aspects of his day to day life and observations, likely copying from his daily writings. In part: "... The whole army is speculating as to what particular corps are to go to Zacatecas and San Luis Potosi; but nothing will be done until Genl Butler arrives...we are to be reorganized in a few days into Brigades and there is no telling under whose command we shall fall. It is Genl Scott's intention I believe to mix the old and new troops together by making three Brigades of the Regular Army... I heard a report tonight that Mr. Trist had positively refused to be the bearer of the Mexican proposals for peace to our government, as he thought their demands too unreasonable and absurd... This is the great day of our Lady of Guadalupe and thousands have gone to the village of Guadalupe to celebrate it, it was here that she is said to have appeared to the Indians... Dec. 14, 1847. The Army has been reorganized we are now under command of Col. Riley and our Brigade (3rd) consists of Duncan's battery, 2' Artillery, 2', 4', 5' Regiments of Infantry and the Voltigeurs. The 6' & 8' Regts of Infantry are mad as the devil because they are Brigaded with two mustang regiments under Gen'l Cadwalader... Dec 16, 1847. We received orders today to march to Tacubaya tomorrow which is in all human probability preparatory to a move on Queretaro. All the Padres in this convent are very sorry to part with us... Genl Worth's report was published today and he makes McPhail one of the heroes of Churubusco, where he actually did worse than nothing. Worth is something like a Martin Scott pretty much of a scoundrel... Dec. 30, 1847. A report has been going the rounds today that Col. Withers on his way to Rial del Monte had been attacked and had lost his Artillery. An expedition was sent out last night to cut off some Guerillas... January 2, 1848. Genl Valencia and two colonels were taken prisoners at his hacienda near Mexico yesterday by Col Wynkoop and the Texian Rangers. They had gone out expecting to catch Jaranta the Guerilla Priest, who was said to be lurking about in that neighborhood..." Chapman often feels slighted by General Worth, and shares all these slights with his wife.

    Chapman is not alone in his need for glory. At the close of the War, General Pillow was court martialed for insubordination for sending an anonymous letter signed "Leonidas" that credited Pillow with the victories at Contreras and Churubusco. Chapman's letter dated April 20, 1848 describes in details the intrigue as it unfolded: "Mr. Trist's evidence in the case of Genl. Pillow yesterday... is couched in the severest language... he openly denounced Pillow as a villain and he says Pillow attempted to make use of him as a tool in consequence of the relation in which he stood to Mr. Polk as commissioner, to glorify himself at the expense of other Generals in this Army for his superiors in every respect. I do not know what will become of Pillow, if there is more such evidence. I understand that there are two witnesses (Major Burns Paymaster and Major Caldwell voltigeurs) who will swear, the former, that Genl Pillow had nothing to do with the 'Leonidas' letter; and the latter, that he saw Genl. Pillow kill a Mexican officer at Churubusco. Now it is already proved that Genl. P. knew all about that letter and sanctioned its publication, which makes him responsible for its contents, whether it was in his own hand writing or not. As for his killing a Mexican officer, it is strange no one saw it but Major Caldwell..."

    Condition: Overall condition of the letters is near fine, with some having minor separations occurring at the mail folds. Paper is clean, with a few of the letters exhibiting some wear along the exterior folds. Six of the letters are accompanied by the original transmittal envelope, and a seventh letter uses the integral sheet as a cover.


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    March, 2016
    12th Saturday
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