Page images

General Scott, who was at Puebla, with the main army, awaiting this reinforcement, began his march toward the city of Mexico on the day after General Pierce's arrival. The battle of Contreras was fought on the 19th of August. In this action, the Mexican force consisted of about seven thousand men, posted in a strongly-entrenched camp under General Valencia. A portion of the American forces were ordered to move against Valencia's left flank, while a vigorous assault was made upon his front; and General Pierce's brigade formed a part of the force engaged in this latter movement, in which four thousand newly-recruited men, unable to bring their artillery to bear, contended against seven thousand disciplined soldiers, protected by intrenchments, and showering round-shot and shells against the assailing troops. In the midst of the fire of the enemy, Pierce, advancing at the head of the column and encouraging his troops, was severely injured by the fall of his horse, occasioned by the animal thrusting his foot into a crevice among the rocks, breaking his own leg, and crushing his rider heavily beneath him. He suffered great pain, but was assisted to mount another horse, and remained in the saddle until eleven o'clock at night, when beneath a torrent of rain, destitute of a tent or other protection, without food or refreshment, he stretched himself upon an ammunition wagon, where he lay, prevented by pain from finding repose. At early dawn he was again in the saddle, at the head of his brigade, which had taken its former position in front of the enemy. Soon after, the Mexican camp was stormed, and in the short space of seventeen minutes it had fallen into the hands of the assailants, together with a multitude of prisoners. The remnant of the routed enemy fled toward Churubusco, Pierce leading his brigade in pursuit, over ground strewn with the dead and dying. The pursuit was continued until past noon, Santa Anna's army having made a stand at the strong positions of Churubusco and San Antonio, where the great conflict of the day commenced. Pierce's brigade was ordered to pursue a route by which the enemy could be attacked in the rear. Against the remonstrance of General Scott, who considered him too much injured to remain on the field, Pierce advanced at the head of his brigade, and the troops were soon under fire. When the brigade had advanced about a mile, its march was impeded by a wide and deep ditch. It being impossible to leap it, General Pierce was lifted from his saddle, and, hurt as he was, contrived to wade or scramble across this obstacle, leaving his horse on the other side. In the excitement of the battle he forgot his injury, and hurried forward, leading the brigade, a distance of two or three hundred yards. But, in consequence of the exhaustion of his frame and the anguish of his injured knee, he fell, faint and almost insensible, within full range of the enemy's fire. He refused to be borne from the field, and there he lay, under the tremendous fire of Churubusco, until the enemy was routed and the contest ended. Immediately after this victory, Santa Anna sent a flag of truce pro

[ocr errors]

posing an armistice, with a view to negotiations for peace; and General Pierce was appointed by the commander-in-chief one of the commissioners to arrange the terms of this armistice, Generals Quitman and Percifer F. Smith being his colleagues in the commission. Pierce was unable to walk or to mount his horse without assistance, when the intelligence of his appointment reached him. He immediately obeyed the summons, was assisted into the saddle, and rode to Tacubaya, where, at the house of the British consul general, the American and Mexican commissioners were assembled. The conference began late in the afternoon and continued until four o'clock the next morning, when the articles were signed. Pierce then proceeded to the quarters of General Worth, where he obtained a short repose.

The armistice was of short duration. Military operations, after a temporary interruption, were actively renewed; and on the 8th of September was fought the bloody battle of Molino del Rey, one of the fiercest and most destructive of the war. General Pierce, with his brigade, participated in that battle, as well as that of Chepultepec, which was fought on the 13th of September. On the preceding day, although greatly enfeebled from previous marches and battles, General Pierce had acted with his brigade. In obedience to orders, it had occupied the field of Molina del Rey. Contrary to expectation, it was found that the enemy's force had been withdrawn from this position. Pierce remained in the field until noon, when, it being certain that the anticipated attack would not take place before the following day, he returned to the quarters of General Worth. There he became extremely ill, and was unable to leave his bed for thirty-six hours. In the meantime, the castle of Chepultepec was stormed by the troops under Generals Pillow and Quitman. Pierce's brigade behaved itself gallantly and suffered severely; and that accomplished officer Colonel Ransom, leading the ninth, or New England regiment, to the attack, was shot through the head, and fell with many other brave men, in that last battle of the war. The campaign closed with Chepultepec. The Mexicans had abandoned their capital. The victorious Americans took possession, and their flag waved over the "halls of the Montezumas," which had seen no conquering foe since the Spaniards under Cortez had taken possession more than three centuries before.

General Pierce remained in Mexico until December, 1847, when, as the warfare was over and peace about being concluded, he set out on his return home. In nine months, crowded full of incident, he had seen far more of actual service than many professional soldiers during their whole lives. As soon as the treaty of peace was signed, he gave up his commission, and returned to the practice of the law, again proposing to spend the remainder of his days in the bosom of his family. All the dreams of his youth were now fulfilled; the military ardor that had struck an hereditary root in his breast had enjoyed its scope and was satisfied;

and he flattered himself that no circumstances could hereafter occur to draw him from the retirement of domestic peace. New Hampshire received him with pride and honor, and even with more enthusiastic affection than ever. At his departure he had received a splendid sword at the hands of many of his friends, in token of their confidence; he had shown himself well worthy to wear, and able to use, a soldier's weapon; and his native state now gave him another, the testimonial of approved valor and warlike conduct.*

The intervening years from his return from Mexico to his election to the presidency, were spent by General Pierce in close attention to his profession as a lawyer-an employment scarcely varied or interrupted except by those episodes of political activity in which he felt compelled to engage. In the presidential canvass of 1848, he used his best efforts in behalf of the candidate of his party, General Cass. When the series of measures known under the collective term of the compromise were passed by Congress in 1850, General Pierce gave them his decided approval, as a settlement of the agitated questions regarding slavery. On previous occasions, however, he had expressed opinions adverse to the extension of slavery; and at a public meeting at Concord, on the 5th of June, 1845, in a speech in reply to John P. Hale, Mr. Pierce said (as reported in the New Hampshire Patriot of June 12, 1845):

"He had only to say now, what he had always said, that he regarded slavery as one of the greatest moral and social evils-a curse upon the whole country, and this he believed to be the sentiment of all men, of all parties, at the North. He was free to admit that he had himself approached this subject of annexation [of Texas] with all his prejudices and prepossessions against it, and on one ground alone-its slavery feature. His convictions on this subject were, as had been stated, strong; not the result of any new light, but deeply fixed and abiding. The only difficulty in his mind ever had been that of a recognition, by any new act of our government, of the institution of domestic slavery; and he had found it extremely difficult to bring his mind to a condition impartially to weigh the argument for and against the measure."

Some years subsequently, in the New Hampshire constitutional con vention, on the 1st January, 1851, General Pierce remarked: "I would take the ground of the non-extension of slavery-that slavery should not become stronger. But Congress have only re-enacted the old law of 1793. Union-loving men, desiring peace and loving their country, con ceded that point, unwillingly conceded it, and planting themselves upon this law against the outburst of popular feeling, resisted the agitation. which is assaulting all who stand up for their country. But the gentleman says that the law is obnoxious! What single thing is there connected with slavery that is not obnoxious? Even the gentleman from

* Hawthorne.

Marlborough [Dr. Batcheler, an ultra abolitionist] can not feel more deeply than I do on this subject," &c.

In the autumn of 1850, in pursuance of a vote of the people, a convention assembled at Concord for the revision of the constitution of New Hampshire. General Pierce was elected its president by an almost unanimous vote, in a body which included Judge Woodbury and other of the most eminent citizens of the state. His conduct as presiding officer was satisfactory to all parties. The amendments proposed by the convention were numerous, and were all rejected by the people.

On the 19th of June, 1852, the democratic national convention assembled at Baltimore, for the nomination of candidates for president and vice-president of the United States. In the previous January, the democratic state convention of New Hampshire had signified their preference for Franklin Pierce as the presidential candidate—a demonstration which drew from him a response addressed to his friend, Mr. Atherton. We make the following extract:

"To these my sincere and grateful acknowledgments, I desire to add, the same motives which induced me several years ago to retire from public life, and which since that time controlled my judgment in this respect, now impel me to say, that the use of my name, in any event, before the democratic national convention at Baltimore, to which you are a delegate, would be utterly repugnant to my taste and wishes."

Notwithstanding this letter, it is believed that the New Hampshire delegates to the convention, particularly Charles G. Atherton and Edmund Burke, were determined to avail themselves of any favorable opportunity which might occur, in the expected non-agreement of the convention on a candidate, to endeavor to effect the nomination of General Pierce. The opportunity was presented.

The convention continued its sessions during four days. Thirty-five ballotings were held, with a continually-decreasing prospect that the friends of any one of the gentlemen hitherto prominent before the people would succeed in obtaining the two-thirds vote that was requisite for a nomination.

For ten successive ballottings after General Pierce's name had been brought forward on the thirty-fifth ballot, when he received fifteen votes, the whole number given to him failed to exceed thirty votes at any one time, as Virginia, Maine, and New Hampshire, had voted for him. On the forty-eighth ballot he received fifty-five votes; and on the forty-ninth and final ballot, North Carolina had determined to cast her vote for Pierce, and James C. Dobbins, one of her delegates, was about to give it. He made a most eloquent speech at the moment, which had a powerful influence on the convention, and led to Pierce's nomination. He received two hundred and eighty-two votes, against eleven for all others, and was declared the nominee of the convention. Quickly as the lightning-flash

could blazon it abroad (says Hawthorne), his name was on every tongue from end to end of this vast country. Within an hour he grew to be


The presidential election of November, 1852, did not turn upon the personal popularity of the candidates. General Pierce received the united vote of the democratic party throughout the nation, in addition, as was supposed, to the votes of fifty thousand whigs who were dissatisfied with the nomination of General Scott. Of the votes of the electoral colleges, Pierce received two hundred and fifty-four, and Scott forty-two


In the midst of the congratulations of his countrymen, General Pierce and his wife were plunged into the deepest affliction, by a sad accident which deprived them of their last remaining child. Their son Benjamin was a promising youth in the thirteenth year of his age. He not only had great inclination to study, but was one of those affectionate boys who win the love and esteem of all. If ever child promised to fulfil the expectations of his friends, it was he, whose charming voice and sweet countenance dwell on the memory of all who knew him.


On a winter's morning-the 6th of January, 1853-the president elect, his wife and son, were seated with a feeling of perfect security, for a short journey on the railroad between Andover and Lawrence, MassachuThere was a sound like a peal of thunder. The car was thrown off the track, and dashed against the rocks. Benjamin Pierce was instantly killed, and several other passengers were severely injured. Some died of their wounds. The president elect was childless. The eyes of his dear, his only son, had shut for ever to the light, and the soul had departed. The afflicted parents wept with heartfelt agony. That son, on whom they doated, they were never to see more. Like four of his predecessors in the presidency-Washington, Madison, Jackson, and Polk-General Pierce was destined to enter on the honors of the executive of the nation in the solitude of a childless life.

One of the president's biographers remarks: "And now, in the midst. of all his triumphs, the secret sting of sadness remains buried in his heart. Providence has so dispensed the good and the evil of life, that every man, whatever his station or however happy his lot, finds crosses and afflictions which always counterbalance his pleasures. There is no perfect happiness on earth. Prosperity is a dream; glory a mistake; the world a deception, which finds only phantoms, leaving nothing solid. in the heart. God alone can comfort our afflictions, and in the meditation of his holy law and submission to his eternal decrees do the bereaved parents seek those consolations which they have never found in the world, and which, while softening their afflictions here below, will secure to them their immortal reward hereafter."

General Pierce and his wife have always been regular attendants on VOL. II.-41

« PreviousContinue »