Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 19.djvu/345

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General Joseph E. Johnston. 339

were appointed to arrange the terms of its surrender. Worthier ambassadors of victory could not have been chosen.

The army then moved along the great national road, made by the old Spaniards, to the ancient capital of Mexico. On April 12, 1847, cannon shots from Cerro Gordo checked the cavalry advance, and made it certain Santa Anna would give battle there. At the head of a pass, winding its ascending way through a narrow defile of mountains, the enemy had fortified himself by a series of breast- works, armed with cannon, which commanded the road and each other. It was easy to see that on the left the position could not be taken. Skillful reconnoisances, in which Johnston bore a con- spicuous part, decided the plan of battle, which was an attack upon the right. At the beginning of the assault Johnston was ordered to make one more reconnoisance. The rattle of the musketry had been heard but a few minutes when he fell, severely wounded, at the head of his daring movement. Of such is the kingdom of vic- tory ! There is the dangerous pass ; there the difficult height; there the hero's place: there he falls ! An army rushes over him to tri- umph. So the steep cone was carried "the lofty and difficult height of Cerro Gordo," as the commanding general called it.

A soldier's wounds are the rounds in his ladder. His letter of credit is written in his blood. His noble traffic is the safety of oth- ers in return for blows to himself. Johnston's wounds pointed to him as the fit man to be lieutenant-colonel of the fine regiment of Voltiguers. At their head he led the assault upon Chapultepec, and at their head he was again shot down. But his wounds could not impede him from entering the City of Mexico, as commandant of the regiment he had so gallantly led.

After the war he was for a time acting inspector-general. Still later he was made lieutenant-colonel of cavalry. Finally he was appointed quartermaster, with the rank of brigadier the highest prize which was then accessible.

Such was the prologue to the more stupendous drama upon which the curtain was now to rise. On one side of that curtain hung every ambitious hope, the fruition whereof might now be counted sure; on the other the strain of an unequal and untried power against the odds of number and organized resource. To choose the latter was to plunge into an angry flood which might prove the dark abyss. It was the leap from sure eminence into the storm and roar of the elements. To Johnston there was no alternative. His choice was