Battle of Cerro Gordo

April 17–18, 1847

The Battle of Cerro Gordo was fought on April 18, 1847, between the United States and Mexico, during the Mexican-American War. The outcome of the battle was an American victory, allowing General Winfield Scott to march to Puebla and capture the city.

Battle of Cerro Gordo, 1847, American Attack on Cerro Gordo Hill

This illustration depicts Americans charging up Cerro Gordo Hill on April 18. Image Source: Yale University Library.

Battle of Cerro Gordo Facts

  • Date — April 17–18, 1847.
  • Location — Near Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico.
  • Belligerents — United States of America and Mexico.
  • American CommanderWinfield Scott.
  • Mexican Commander — Antonio López de Santa Anna.
  • Winner — The United States won the Battle of Cerro Gordo.
  • Fun Fact — Santa Anna lost a chest containing $11,000 in gold and his wooden leg, which was recovered by American forces.
Winfield Scott, General, Mexican-American War
General Winfield Scott (USA). Image Source: Yale University Library.

Battle of Cerro Gordo Significance

The Battle of Cerro Gordo was important to the outcome of the Mexican-American War because Mexican forces were unable to stop General Winfield Scott’s march toward Mexico City.

Battle of Cerro Gordo History

Mexican and American forces clashed at Cerro Gordo, Mexico, on April 17-18, 1847, during General Winfield Scott’s Mexico City Campaign of the Mexican-American War. A prominent hill, officially called El Telégrafo, was locally known as Cerro Gordo and was the site of the battle.

Mexican Position

Following the Siege of Veracruz, General Scott marched toward Mexico City. He crossed the Antigua River on April 2, into a region that was defended by General Santa Anna and his army. In preparation, Santa Anna organized his defenses west of Plan Del Rio, where the road Scott was marching went through a narrow passage.

Santa Anna intended to trap Scott’s army and delay the American advance from the coast. If successful, Scott’s forces would be stuck in the lowlands where the men would be susceptible to Yellow Fever. Scott decided to avoid being trapped in the lowlands and prepared to engage the Mexicans.

Battle of Cerro Gordo, 1847, American Artillery
This illustration depicts American artillery at the Battle of Cerro Gordo. Image Source: Yale University Library.

American Preparations

Upon learning of Santa Anna’s location, Scott sent Brigadier General David Twiggs with around 2,600 troops and artillery to Plan del Rio. Twiggs arrived on April 11 and sent his engineer, Lieutenant P.G.T. Beauregard, to scout the Mexican positions. 

Beauregard suggested the Mexicans could be outflanked by securing La Atalaya Hill, in front of El Telégrafo. However, Twiggs decided to launch a direct attack on the Mexican positions and informed Scott. 

Twiggs believed the Mexican forces numbered around 4,000, but Santa Anna had a much larger force of approximately 14,000 men under his command.

Scott Arrives

Major General Robert Patterson’s division of volunteers reached the area on April 12. Patterson’s brigade commanders, Brigadier General Gideon Pillow and Brigadier General James Shields, convinced Twiggs to abandon the idea of launching the attack that day. 

On April 14, Patterson, who had been ill and bedridden, decided to delay any attack until Scott was at Plan del Rio. Upon his arrival, Scott insisted on a comprehensive reconnaissance of the Mexican positions, which was carried out by Captain Robert E. Lee. After gathering the information, Scott decided not to move ahead with the direct attack.

Robert E. Lee, 1838, Portrait
Robert E. Lee, circa 1838. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Lee Finds a Route Around the Mexican Army

Lee’s report indicated that Santa Anna had assigned a small number of troops to defend the left flank of the Mexican Army. This was likely because Santa Anna believed the rugged terrain would keep the Americans from attacking that area. 

However, Lee believed the area was passable, allowing U.S. forces to possibly bypass Mexican defenses. If they moved undetected, they would be able to encircle the entire Mexican line and capture the Jalapa Road near the village of Cerro Gordo, behind El Telégrafo.

Essentially, if enough troops could advance along this route without being spotted, they could capture the Jalapa Road near the village of Cerro Gordo, behind El Telégrafo. If successful, the Americans would effectively trap Santa Anna and the Mexican Army.

Scott decided to use the path identified by Lee and issued orders to prepare to attack on the morning of April 18. Lee would guide General Twigg and his division through the pass, supported by General Shields and his brigade.

Battle of Cerro Gordo, 1847, Mexican Cavalry Charge, v2
This illustration depicts fighting at the Battle of Cerro Gordo on April 18. Image Source: Yale University Library.

April 17

On April 17, Twiggs and Shields started their flanking maneuver. However, the Americans skirmished with Mexican pickets, which quickly escalated into a full-scale battle. The action raised the alarm along the Mexican line, and Santa Anna’s troops on La Atalaya Hill prepared to be attacked.

Colonel William S. Harney led an assault on the hill, successfully driving the Mexicans from the toward Cerro Gordo. Harney pursued them toward Cerro Gordo. 

Due to the attack on La Atalaya, Santa Anna mistakenly believed that Scott intended to capture El Telégrafo, not the Jalapa Road.

April 18

On the morning of April 18, Harney led an attack on El Telégrafo. Although Santa Anna sent reinforcements, the Mexicans were unable to stop the Americans from capturing the hill. 

Meanwhile, Shields’s brigade, with support from Colonel Bennett Riley’s brigade, moved around the hill. encircled the Mexican camp at Cerro Gordo, and launched an attack.

The Mexicans were caught by surprise and were easily routed by the American forces.

Battle of Cerro Gordo, 1847, Capture of Mexican Supply Wagons
This illustration depicts Americans capturing the Mexican baggage train. Image Source: Yale University Library.

Casualties

After two days of intense combat, American casualties amounted to 63 killed and 353 wounded.  Santa Anna’s army suffered around 1,000 killed and wounded, along with an additional 3,000 men who were captured. Most of the captives were paroled and released under the condition that they would not engage in further hostilities. 

The Americans also captured 43 cannons and most of the Mexican baggage train, which included personal belongings belonging to Santa Anna and his staff. Among Santa Anna’s captured belongings were a chest filled with roughly $11,000 in gold and his wooden leg.

Aftermath

While most of Santa Anna’s troops managed to retreat along the Jalapa Road toward Jalapa, General Scott successfully moved his army out of the lowlands, and away from the danger of Yellow Fever.

Once he was out of the lowlands, Scott organized his forces and continued to move toward Mexico City. However, the Americans would engage Mexican forces again at the Battle of Contreras (August 19–20, 1847) and the Battle of Churubusco (August 20, 1847).

Citation Information

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

  • Article Title Battle of Cerro Gordo
  • Date April 17–18, 1847
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Cerro Gordo, Winfield Scott
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date April 21, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update November 7, 2023

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