Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Fight Over Santa Anna's Leg

Santa Anna's Leg
The San Jacinto Battle Monument and Museum failed in its efforts to have the wooden and cork leg used by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna moved from the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield to Texas.

Santa Anna is an important figure in Texas' fight for independence. The general is the villain of the Texians' defeats at the Alamo and Goliad.  Texas officials believe that artificial leg rightfully belongs in a Texas museum. However, Illinois officials want the artifact to remain in Springfield. 

In an attempt to move the leg to Texas, San Jacinto museum officials launched a petition to get the White House involved as a mediator. The effort was ill-conceived from the beginning. The museum created the petition in hopes it would draw people to its new website, not realizing it had only thirty days to collect the signatures needed to earn a White House response. The website began just before the time ran out, and the unpublicized petition fell well short of the White House threshold.

While Texas has long wanted the piece, the state has no real claim to it. Santa Anna had both his original legs when he led Mexican forces against the rebellious Texians. He eventually lost the war and territory in the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto. Two years later, in Veracruz, Mexico, Santa Anna was fighting invading French forces when cannon fire shattered his ankle, forcing the amputation of his leg. He had the leg buried with full military honors.

The general lost the leg during the Mexican War when he he was forced to beat a hasty retreat on a donkey during the Battle of Cerro Gordo in 1847.  A group of Illinois infantrymen captured Santa Anna’s carriage with a sack of gold and the prosthesis. They kept the leg. The veteran who owned it even sold peeks at the leg during the 1850s and 1860s for ten cents a pop, before his family donated it to the state.

Now here is the Civil War connection.
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
After the fall of Veracruz, Santa Anna assumed personal command of the Mexican Army. He decided to stop the American invasion near the village of Cerro Gordo. The Mexican commander selected a position about ten miles east of Jalapa where the National Highway went through a pass and where his right flank was protected by the Rio del Plan. The area's key terrain feature was Cerro Gordo or Fat Mountain which rose to about a thousand feet on the north side of the National Highway. Santa Anna believed the river and mountains would force General Winfield Scott to advance on the highway where Santa Anna's twelve thousand troops and forty three cannons could ambush the Americans.

Battle of Cerro Gordo
Scott's advance, lead by General David E. Twiggs, stopped his march at Rio del Plan when he learned that Santa  Anna was assembling a strong force at a pass about four miles up the National Highway. Twiggs, who is best known for surrendering Union forces in Texas to the Confederacy, ordered a reconnaissance of the Mexican positions. General Robert Patterson's Third Division arrived the next day and the generals planned to attack on April 14. Patterson had a brief career as a Union general in the Civil War before he was defeated at the Battle of Hoke's Run and mustered out of the service. However, Patterson and Twiggs could not agree on a plan and Patterson decided to postpone the attack until Scott joined the two divisions.

Battle of Cerro Gordo
After Scott reached Plan del Rio, he assigned Captain Robert E. Lee to examine a northern route around the Mexican position defending the National Road that 1st Lieutenant P. G. T. Beauregard had discovered. Lee probed deeper to the rear of the enemy position, and Scott ordered a road constructed on this trail. The road through the thick woods was completed by the time Worth's division arrived on April 17. The Army of Invasion of 8,500 men faced a Mexican army under the command of Santa Anna estimated to be 12,000 to 18,000. On the following day Scott launched a multi-pronged attack on the flanks and rear of the Santa Anna's position. Scott was confident of success and said his forces could continue to pursue the Mexicans "until stopped by darkness or enemy fortifications."

The American troops chased the fleeing Mexicans and "added much to the enemy's loss in prisoners, killed, and wounded." General Scott supposed the "retreating army to be nearly disorganized; and hence my [his] haste to follow, in an hour or so to profit by events." He intended to reach Jalapa early the next day. "We shall not probably again meet with serious opposition this side of Perote — certainly not, unless delayed by the want of means of transportation." American casualties were sixty four killed and 353 wounded.
Perhaps the most curious acquisition was one of Santa Anna's cork legs that he used in place of the amputated leg he lost in the Pastry War with the French. Soldiers from the Fourth Illinois found the prosthesis in the general’s abandoned baggage. The men quickly invented an appropriate parody of one of their favorite marching songs, adapting "The Girl I Left Behind Me" into "The Leg I Left Behind Me."

"Illinois museum has Santa Anna’s leg, and Texas site wants it," Dallas Morning News, May 9, 2014. 
Eisenhower, So Far from God, 278-279.
Scott, Winfield Report on the events following the capture of Vera Cruz and the battle at Cero Gordo.
Steven E. Woodworth, Manifest Destinies: America's Westward Expansion and the Road to the Civil War

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