History Lesson: From Scott’s Campaign on Mexico City

I am doing research for one of my classes, American Military History, and I have to write an analysis of General Winfield Scott's campaign to take Mexico City in the Mexican-American War.  In the October 1846, Scott was tasked with development of a strategy to bring this war to an end. But while I wouldn't mind having a discussion about the battles and all, the reason I am writing has to do with Scott's observation of conditions and understanding them as facts that had to be dealt with in order to assure victory.

General Scott is considered to be one of the finest strategists in the American military. Mexico was not going to surrender or ask for peace so long as the United States forces were camped out in their northern lands.  For political reasons, the war had to be concluded quickly.  General Zachary Taylor fought to a stalemate in the north and it was apparent that no emergency bells were sounding in the Mexican government over their presence there. Scott was asked to make something happen and he did.

Realizing that another approach would be necessary, he chose a route that was similar to Cortes' route taken in 1519, threatening over half the population and infrastructure.  Scott wanted to execute an amphibious landing at Vera Cruz, the first amphibious landing of an American military force in its short history, and then march overland to Mexico City.  His rationale was this: since the Mexican government was in no hurry to come to the table, pressure was necessary to force them there.  As only 7% of the Mexican population and no critical infrastructure existed in the north, there was no urgency.  Now there would be.

However, a number of factors came into play.  Scott realized that this march would extend his lines away from the sea.  He understood that there was a certain amount of insurgent activity in the region.  And he knew he was outmanned.  Scott stepped off the page of traditional military campaigning and plugged in a new model.  His forces were instructed that any violation of the rights of the locals would be strictly punished.  He made a point of reaching out and even requiring personnel to salute Catholic priests.  He hired the civilians to aid in securing the route, developing the supply lines and manning mule trains.

There is so much more to the story, but the points are these.  Scott realized that to win the battle, he could not simply land and march on, taking every battle along the way in a full frontal assault.  He had to be much more creative.  He took time to understand the lay of the land.  He had personnel reconnoiter the area (a young Capt. Robert E. Lee became one of Scott's favorites after his exemplary reconnaissance during this campaign). Once he struck and defeated an aggressor, he didn't pursue them directly; he re-grouped then moved forward, giving his army an opportunity to re-concentrate its strength.  He triumphed when the odds were clearly against him and as the Military Governor of Mexico he won a reputation of fairness and equanimity.

The next time you are faced with adversity, instead of getting mad and becoming combative, ask yourself if there is another approach.  Is there a way to win over essential allies?  Is there a different point you aren't seeing?  Sheer power doesn't always win. Seeing other places to "attack" can sometimes be more successful than an all-out siege.

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