[MEXICAN WAR]. BACKUS, Electus, (? - 1862), Colonel, U.S. Army. Autograph manuscript, the Mexican War memoirs of Electus Backus, comtaining daily entries from 2 May 1846 to 9 July 1848, [Buffalo, NY, October 1848]. 67 pages, folio (plus 12pp. of neatly pasted newspaper clippings), disbound, page 1 detached, minor defects. [With:] BACKUS. Two autograph letters (one initialled, one unsigned), to the Gov. of New York, Buffalo, 5 October 1848 and September 1848, explaining aspects of the Battle of Monterrey, plus a 2pp. ink sketch of the terrain near Monterrey.
EYEWITNESS TO THE BATTLE OF MONTERREY: THE MEXICAN WAR DIARY OF CAPTAIN ELECTUS BACKUS
An officer's fine, unpublished, first-hand account of the Mexican War, including the key Battle of Monterrey (21-24 September 1846) in which his gallantey earned him a brevet promotion to Major. Backus, who is mentioned in most accounts of Monterrey, recounts his regiment's trip to Texas and into Mexico, and devotes 9 pages to the hard-fought Battle of Monterrey. His 1st Infantry was in the vanguard of the attack ordered by General Zachary Taylor: "...We then entered the town by a street running south...in the direction of one of the Mexican batteries...East of this was Fort Diablo. The two were connected by an entrenched line which was filled with infantry...The 3rd received a discharge of grape from the battery and of small arms from the trenches, which made awful havoc in its ranks. At the same moment we received a fire in front of musketry from an enemy concealed behind walls, buildings, and shrubbery...I looked for a superior officer for instructions, & finding none senior to myself, I ordered the troops to advance. A few yards brought us to a tannery, the yard of which was filled with the enemy, which opened a rapid fire upon us. This was returned with much spirit and the enemy was soon destroyed, dispersed, or captured...About 150 yards in our front (east) was a large distillery having a strong flat roof ... On this roof was posted some 200 Mexican Infantry, having a breastwork of sand bags. Directly North...was a redoubt with five pieces of artillery & many infantry troops...I directed [our men] to open their fire upon the enemy on the roof of the distillery...The roof was soon cleared and the enemy fled from the building...." According to one historian, Backus disregarded orders from his divisional commander, Garland, to retire. His men's continued resistence probably prevented a serious defeat. "The roll of Backus had been critical..." (J.S.D. Eisenhower, So Far From God: The U.S. War With Mexico, 1846-1848, p.137). "Our troops were again advancing upon the redoubt...Our men poured a deliberate fire into the gage of the work. Its effect was electrical. Before our pieces were reloaded the enemy was in full retreat towards Fort Diablo...At about 12 O'clock Colonel Garland received orders to carry the second work...my command was directed to support the battery...It was ascertained that the ammunition was nearly exhausted, and the troops were slowly withdrawn."
The battle was renewed the 23rd of September, and Backus describes the house-to-house fighting which took place that day: "The 3rd Infantry, the Ohio regiment, and the Texans pressed into the north side of the town and cutting through from house to house with picks and bars, they forced the enemy back to the plaza with much loss. Fort Diablo was abandoned by the enemy and occupied by General [John A,] Quitman." On the following day the Mexicans asked for terms: "The Mexican flag was lowered at the Citadel at 12 P.M. today, and the Star Spangled Banner spread its folds to the breeze saluted by the hearty and reiterated cheers of a victorious army." In addition to chronicling military events, the journal discusses the the Army's interaction with the civilian population and alledged atrocities committed by both sides.
Mexican War diaries are infrequently offered at auction: one containing an account of the Battle of Buena Vista was sold here 5 December 1991, lot 4258, $6,500; another was sold at California Book Auctions, 15 September 1999, lot 3879, $9,000.