Battle of Buena Vista

February 22–23, 1847 — Mexican-American War

The Battle of Buena Vista was fought from February 22–23, 1847, between the United States and Mexico, during the Mexican-American War. The outcome of the battle was an American victory. The battle is considered to be the bloodiest battle of the war.

Battle of Buena Vista, 1847, LOC

The Battle of Buena Vista. Image Source: Yale University Library.

Battle of Buena Vista Facts

  • Date — February 22–23, 1847.
  • Location — Puerto de la Angostura, Coahuila, Mexico.
  • Belligerents — United States of America and Mexico.
  • American CommanderZachary Taylor.
  • Mexican Commander — Antonio López de Santa Anna.
  • Winner — The United States won the Battle of Buena Vista.
  • Fun Fact — The battle was named after the nearby Hacienda Buena Vista.
  • Interesting Fact — One of the Americans killed at Buena Vista was Henry Clay Jr., the son of statesman Henry Clay, who was a vocal opponent of the war.
  • Interesting Fact — The Battle of Buena Vista is considered the “Bloodiest Battle of the Mexican-American War” due to the number of casualties.
  • Interesting Fact — The Battle of Buena Vista was the last major engagement of the war in Northern Mexico.

Battle of Buena Vista Significance

The Battle of Monterrey was important to the outcome of the Mexican-American War because Santa Anna’s decision to attack Taylor near Buena Vista left Mexican forces at Veracruz shorthanded. The American victory also strengthened U.S. control of Northern Mexico.

Battle of Buena Vista, Lithograph, Bayot
This illustration depicts the Battle of Buena Vista. Image Source: Yale University Library.

Battle of Buena Vista History

In the months leading up to the Battle of Buena Vista, Major General Zachary Taylor moved his troops into Mexico and captured Monterrey on September 24, 1846. Taylor agreed to an armistice with Mexican officials, angering President James K. Polk, who believed the terms were unfavorable to the United States.

Polk responded by transferring most of Taylor’s forces to the command of Major General Winfield Scott, who planned to advance from Veracruz to Mexico City. Taylor’s forces were reduced by January 1847, leading him to gather his remaining men around Saltillo, Mexico, southwest of Monterrey.

Mexican forces captured and killed a U.S. courier, carrying letters that included details about the placement of U.S. troops and plans to attack Mexico City. Santa Anna, who was at San Luis Potosi, roughly 250 miles south of Santillo, responded by assembling an expedition to engage the Americans. He planned to go north to attack Taylor first, then return south to attack Scott. 

Santa Anna Moves Toward Taylor

Santa Anna marched north with approximately 15,000 men. At first, Taylor did not believe reports that Santa Anna was moving towards him. However, on February 21, 1847, the presence of the Mexican Army near Saltilla was confirmed. 

In response, Taylor decided to move out of Saltillo and take defensive positions along the Angostura Mountain Pass. The position he chose was about halfway between Saltillo and Agua Nueva, which were roughly seven miles apart. 

Taylor ordered his second-in-command, Brigadier General John Wool, to organize the men on the high grand, to counter Mexican Calvary. While the Americans moved into position, Santa Anna marched into Agua Nueva.

Battle of Buena Vista Begins — February 22

On the morning of February 22, Taylor observed Mexican forces moving into position and preparing to attack. Santa Anna, interpreting American movements as a sign of weakness, insisted they surrender, but Taylor declined.

The battle started in the afternoon when Mexican light infantry, led by General Pedro de Ampudia attempted to ascend a mountain on the left of the American defenses. The Americans repelled the attack and skirmishes continued until the evening. 

As darkness fell, both sides withdrew. Overnight, a light rain fell and both armies moved into position to resume the battle the next day.

Battle of Buena Vista, 1847, Intense Fighting
This illustration depicts hand-to-hand fighting at the Battle of Buena Vista. Image Source: Yale University Library.

September 23

Early on February 23, Santa Anna issued the order for the main assault. The Mexican forces advanced along the Saltillo Road but encountered resistance from an American artillery battery in the pass, under the command of Captain John M. Washington.

On the American left, two Mexican divisions were able to push back the U.S. 2nd Indiana Regiment and threatened to break the American line. General Wool sent reinforcements to slow the Mexican advance and then ordered the forces in the center of the American line to slowly fall back. He provided them with artillery support to protect the maneuver.

Soon after, General Taylor arrived and helped rally the American troops.

Meanwhile, the Mexican Cavalry moved around the American left to launch an attack on Hacienda Buena Vista from the rear. However, they encountered resistance from some of the American forces that had retreated earlier.

General Wool successfully formed a new battle line, which kept the Mexicans from breaking through. 

The Battle of Buena Vista Ends

Later in the day, a U.S. counterattack was repelled by the Mexicans, who then launched a successful counteroffensive that captured two American artillery pieces. However, the remaining American artillery batteries helped keep the Mexicans from advancing further, leading Santa Anna to decide to withdraw.

Overnight, Santa Anna started moving south so he could deal with Scott and try to protect Mexico City. 

Taylor, who was significantly outnumbered, anticipated a Mexican attack and was surprised when he found the Mexicans were leaving. Taylor did not pursue Santa Anna. 

Battle of Buena Vista, 1847, Mexican Retreat
This illustration depicts the Mexican retreat from the Battle of Buena Vista. Image Source: Yale University Library.

Estimated Casualties

The Battle of Buena Vista resulted in estimated U.S. casualties of 267 killed, 456 wounded, and 23 missing. Mexican losses were considerably higher, with 600 killed, 1,000 wounded, and 1,800 missing.

Aftermath

The victory at the Battle of Buena Vista further enhanced Taylor’s reputation and played a role in his successful presidential campaign in 1848. 

Despite suffering substantial losses at Buena Vista, Santa Anna managed to rebuild his forces to confront Scott’s army, however, the delay in arriving at Veracruz allowed Scott to lay siege to Veracruz.

A few days later, Taylor sent two American forces toward Chihuahua One of them fought at the Battle of the Sacramento River (February 28, 1847).

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Battle of Buena Vista
  • Date February 22–23, 1847
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Buena Vista, Mexican-American War, Zachary Taylor
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date April 14, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update November 7, 2023

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