Battle of Molino del Rey - Conflict & Dates:
The Battle of Molino del Rey was fought September 8, 1847, during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).
Armies & Commanders
Battle of Molino del Rey - Background:
Though Major General Zachary Taylor had won a series of victories at Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and Monterrey, President James K. Polk elected to shift the focus of American efforts from northern Mexico to a campaign against Mexico City. Though this was largely due to Polk's concerns about Taylor's political ambitions, it was also supported by reports that an advance against the enemy capital from the north would be exceptionally difficult. As a result, a new army was created under Major General Winfield Scott and ordered to capture the key port city of Veracruz. Landing on March 9, 1847, Scott's men moved against the city and captured it after a twenty-day siege. Building a major base at Veracruz, Scott began making preparations to advance inland before yellow fever season arrived.
Moving inland, Scott routed the Mexicans, led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna, at Cerro Gordo the following month. Driving towards Mexico City, he won battles at Contreras and Churubusco in August 1847. Nearing the gates of the city, Scott entered into a truce with Santa Anna in the hopes of ending the war. The subsequent negotiations proved futile and the truce was marred by numerous violations on the part of the Mexicans. Ending the truce in early September, Scott began making preparations for assaulting Mexico City. As this work moved forward, he received word on September 7 that a large Mexican force had occupied the Molino del Rey.
Battle of Molino del Rey - The King's Mill:
Located southwest of Mexico City, the Molino del Rey (King's Mill) consisted of a series stone buildings that once had housed flour and gunpowder mills. To the northeast, through some woods, the castle of Chapultepec towered over the area while to the west stood the fortified position of Casa de Mata. Scott's intelligence reports also suggested that the Molino was being used to cast cannon from church bells sent down from the city. As the bulk of his army would not be ready to assault Mexico City for several days, Scott determined to conduct a minor action against the Molino in the meantime. For the operation, he selected Major General William J. Worth's division which was located at nearby Tacubaya.
Battle of Molino del Rey - Plans:
Aware of Scott's intentions, Santa Anna ordered five brigades, supported by artillery, to defend the Molino and Casa de Mata. These were overseen by Brigadier Generals Antonio Leon and Francisco Perez. To the west, he stationed around 4,000 cavalry under General Juan Alvarez with the hope of striking the American flank. Forming his men before dawn on September 8, Worth intended to spearhead his attack with a 500-man storming party led by Major George Wright. In the center of his line, he placed Colonel James Duncan's battery with orders to reduce the Molino and eliminate the enemy artillery. To the right, Brigadier General John Garland's brigade, supported by Huger's Battery, had orders to block potential reinforcements from Chapultepec before striking the Molino from the east. Brigadier General Newman Clarke's brigade (temporarily led by Lieutenant Colonel James S. McIntosh) was directed to move west and assault the Casa de Mata.
Battle of Molino de Rey - The Attack Begins:
As the infantry moved forward, a force of 270 dragoons, led by Major Edwin V. Sumner, screened the American left flank. To aid in operation, Scott assigned Brigadier General George Cadwallader's brigade to Worth as a reserve. At 3:00 AM, Worth's division began advancing guided by scouts James Mason and James Duncan. Though the Mexican position was strong, this was undermined by the fact that Santa Anna had not placed anyone in overall command of its defense. As American artillery pounded the Molino, Wright's party charged forward. Attacking under heavy fire, they succeeded in overrunning the enemy lines outside the Molino. Turning the Mexican artillery on the defenders, they soon came under heavy counterattacks as the enemy realized that the American force was small (Map).
Battle of Molino del Rey - A Bloody Victory:
In the resulting fighting, the storming party lost eleven of fourteen officers, including Wright. With this thrust faltering, Garland's brigade swept in from the east. In bitter fighting they managed to drive off the Mexicans and secure the Molino. Haven taken this objective, Worth ordered his artillery to shift their fire to the Casa de Mata and directed McIntosh to attack. Advancing, McIntosh quickly found that the Casa was a stone fortress and not an earthen fort as originally believed. Surrounding the Mexican position, the Americans attacked and were repulsed. Briefly withdrawing, the Americans witnessed Mexican troops sortie from the Casa and kill nearby wounded soldiers.
With the battle at the Casa de Mata progressing, Worth was alerted to Alvarez's presence to across a ravine to the west. Fire from Duncan's guns kept the Mexican cavalry at bay and Sumner's small force crossed the ravine to provide further protection. Though artillery fire was slowly reducing the Casa de Mata, Worth directed McIntosh to attack again. In the resulting assault, McIntosh was killed as was his replacement. A third brigade commander was severely wounded. Again falling back, the Americans allowed Duncan's guns to do their work and the garrison abandoned the post a short time later. With the Mexican retreat, the battle ended.
Battle of Molino del Rey - Aftermath:
Though it lasted only two hours, the Battle of Molino del Rey proved one of the bloodiest of the conflict. American casualties numbered 116 killed and 671 wounded, including several senior officers. Mexican losses totaled 269 killed as well as approximately 500 wounded and 852 captured. In the wake of the battle, no evidence was found that the Molino del Rey was being used as a cannon foundry. Though Scott ultimately gained little from the Battle of Molino del Rey, it did serve as another blow to the already low Mexican morale. Forming his army over the coming days, Scott attacked Mexico City on September 13. Winning the Battle of Chapultepec, he captured the city and effectively won the war.