Future U.S. Civil War General (1861-1865) and future U.S. President Ulysses Grant (1869-1877) was a 24-year-old Brevet 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry when he travelled in early March 1846 under the command of General Zachary Taylor from Corpus Christi to Point Isabel as renamed by the general. (Formerly named El Fronton de Santa Isabel and now named Port Isabel).  

Second Lieutenant Grant (pictured above) intended to march on foot with the rest of the infantry brigade. Instead, he rode on a wild mustang that he had purchased at the Corpus Christi camp from a commander’s servant for $5. (The servant had paid $3). Grant, a West Point graduate, had excellent horsemanship skills and was able to break the Mexican mustang quickly.

A few days march from Corpus Christi he described a massive herd of wild horses, similar to his new horse. Lieutenant Grant and other officers then rode out from the column of American troops. They rode two to three miles to the right of the Army column to see the size of the herd.

“As far as the eye could reach to our right, the herd extended. To the left, it extended equally,” wrote Grant.  “There was no estimating the number of animals in it; I have no idea that they could all have been corralled in the State of Rhode Island, or Delaware, at one time. If they had been, they would have been so thick that the pasturage would have given out the first day.”

When the Army reached the Arroyo Colorado (which Grant called the “Colorado River”), it had to improvise on how to cross it. (The location of the crossing is in today’s Cameron County east of Harlingen.) Grant pointed out that the army did not bring a pontoon train that would have enabled ease in transporting wagons and supplies across. The soldiers also had no training in bridge building.

Grant lamented, “To add to the embarrassment of the situation, the army was here, for the first time, threatened with opposition. [Mexican] Buglers, concealed from our view by the brush on the opposite side, sounded the ‘assembly,’ and other military calls. …[T]hey gave the impression that there was a large number of them and that, if the troops were in proportion to the noise, they were sufficient to devour General Taylor and his army.”

But, that was not the case. The Mexican soldiers on the opposite side of the arroyo were few and were there to assess the coming advance of the U.S. Army. After a few U.S. cavalry dashed into the arroyo and swam across, the Mexican “opposition” dispersed. Grant did not remember one shot being fired. The army could now focus on crossing.

Troops waded across the arroyo, which was up to their necks. Grant explained, “Teams were crossed by attaching a long rope to the end of the wagon tongue, passing it between the two swing mules and by the side of the leader, hitching his bridle as well as the bridle of the mules in rear to it, and carrying the end to men on the opposite shore. …A rope long enough to cross the river, therefore, was attached to the back axle of the wagon, and men behind would hold the rope to prevent the wagon ‘beating’ the mules into the water.”

Years later, Grant noted wryly that “[i]n this manner the artillery and transportation of the ‘army of occupation’ crossed the Colorado River.” 

By mid-March the advance of this occupation army reached the Rio Grande and established camp near the river bank opposite Matamoros. The camp site became the future Fort Brown. The base of supplies was established 25 miles away on the coast at Point Isabel to receive critical cargo, including siege guns, via oceangoing vessels. General Taylor’s army of almost 3,000 men was establishing itself to await the first act of aggression by the Mexican Army.  

Mexico considered the American army an army of invasion of territory that Mexico claimed was still under its flag. However, the United States now claimed it as part of the new 28th state of Texas that it had annexed only three months before (December 29, 1845).

Editor’s Note: Source: Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant in Two Volumes (Vol. I) (Charles L. Webster & Company, New York 1885), pp. 84-91.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Salomon Torres, director of event initiatives for the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service and co-founder of the upcoming Rio Grande Guardian-sponsored conference, “To Conquer. To Defend. Conference to commemorate the 175th Anniversary of the U.S.-Mexico War (1846-1848). For more information on the conference, click here

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