Mexican-American War: Battle of Churubusco

Battle of Churubusco. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Churubusco - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Churubusco was fought August 20, 1847, during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).

Armies & Commanders

United States


  • General Manuel Rincon
  • General Pedro Anaya
  • 3,800

Battle of Churubusco - Background:

With the beginning of the Mexican-American War in May 1946, Brigadier General Zachary Taylor won quick victories in Texas at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. Pausing to reinforce, he later invaded northern Mexico and captured the city of Monterrey. Though pleased with Taylor's success, President James K. Polk was increasingly concerned about the general's political aspirations. As a result of this, and reports that an advance on Mexico City from Monterrey would be difficult, he began stripping Taylor's army of men to form a new command for Major General Winfield Scott. This new army was tasked with capturing the port of Veracruz before moving inland against the Mexican capital. Polk's approach nearly brought disaster when a badly outnumbered Taylor was attacked at Buena Vista in February 1847. In desperate fighting, he was able to hold off the Mexicans.

Landing at Veracruz in March 1847, Scott captured the city after a twenty-day siege. Concerned about yellow fever along the coast, he quickly began marching inland and was soon confronted by a Mexican army led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Attacking the Mexicans at Cerro Gordo on April 18, he routed the enemy before advancing to capture Puebla. Resuming the campaign in early August, Scott elected to approach Mexico City from the south rather than force the enemy defenses at El Peñón. Rounding Lakes Chalco and Xochimilco his men arrived at San Augustin on August 18. Having anticipated an American advance from the east, Santa Anna began redeploying his army to the south and assumed a line along the Churubusco River (Map).

Battle of Churubusco - Situation Before Contreras:

To defend the southern approaches to the city, Santa Anna deployed troops under General Francisco Perez at Coyoacan with forces led by General Nicholas Bravo to the east at Churubusco. In the west, the Mexican right was held General Gabriel Valencia's Army of the North at San Angel. Having established his new position, Santa Anna was separated from the Americans by a vast lava field known as the Pedregal. On August 18 Scott directed Major General William J. Worth to take his division along the direct road to Mexico City. Marching along the east edge of the Pedregal, the division and accompanying dragoons came under heavy fire at San Antonio, just south of Churubusco. Unable to flank the enemy due to the Pedregal to the west and water to the east, Worth elected to halt.

In the west, Valencia, a political rival of Santa Anna, elected to advance his men five miles south to a position near the villages of Contreras and Padierna. Seeking to break the deadlock, Scott sent one of his engineers, Major Robert E. Lee, to find a path through the Pedregal to the west. Successful, Lee began leading American troops from Major Generals David Twiggs and Gideon Pillow's divisions across the rough terrain on August 19. In the course of this movement, an artillery duel commenced with Valencia. As this continued, American troops moved unnoticed to the north and west and took positions around San Geronimo before nightfall.

Battle of Churubusco - The Mexican Withdrawal:

Attacking around dawn, American forces shattered Valencia's command at the Battle of Contreras. Realizing that the triumph had unhinged the Mexican defenses in the area, Scott issued a series of orders following Valencia's defeat. Among these were orders which countermanded earlier directives for Worth's and Major General John Quitman's divisions to move west. Instead, these were ordered north towards San Antonio. Sending troops west into the Pedregal, Worth quickly outflanked the Mexican position and sent them reeling north. With his position south of the Churubusco River collapsing, Santa Anna made the decision to begin pulling back towards Mexico City. To do so, it was critical that his forces hold the bridge at Churubusco.

Command of the Mexican forces at Churubusco fell to General Manuel Rincon who directed his troops to occupy fortifications near the bridge as well as the San Mateo Convent to the southwest. Among the defenders were members of the San Patricio Battalion which consisted of Irish deserters from the American army. With the two wings of his army converging on Churubusco, Scott immediately ordered Worth and Pillow to attack the bridge while Twiggs' division assaulted the convent. In an uncharacteristic move, Scott had not scouted either of these positions and was unaware of their strength. While these attacks moved forward, the brigades of Brigadier Generals James Shields and Franklin Pierce were to move north over the bridge at Coyoacan before turning east for Portales. Had Scott reconnoitered Churubusco, he most likely would have sent the bulk of his men along Shields' route.

Battle of Churubusco - A Bloody Victory:

Moving forward, the initial assaults against the bridge failed as Mexican forces held. They were aided by the timely arrival of militia reinforcements. Renewing the assault, the brigades of Brigadier Generals Newman S. Clarke and George Cadwalader finally carried the position after a determined attack. To the north, Shields successfully crossed the river before meeting a superior Mexican force at Portales. Under pressure, he was reinforced by the Mounted Rifles and a company of dragoons which were stripped from Twiggs' division. With the bridge taken, American forces were able to reduce the convent. Charging forward, Captain Edmund B. Alexander led the 3rd Infantry in storming its walls. The convent quickly fell and many of the surviving San Patricios were captured. At Portales, Shields began to gain the upper hand and the enemy began to retreat as Worth's division was seen advancing from bridge to the south.

Battle of Churubusco - Aftermath:

Uniting, the Americans mounted an ineffective pursuit of the Mexicans as they fled towards Mexico city. Their efforts were hampered by the narrow causeways which traversed swampy terrain. The fighting at Churubusco cost Scott 139 killed, 865 wounded, and 40 missing. Mexican losses numbered 263 killed, 460 wounded, 1,261 captured, and 20 missing. A disastrous day for Santa Anna, August 20 saw his forces defeated at Contreras and Churubusco and his entire defensive line south of the city shattered. In an effort to buy time to reorganize, Santa Anna requested short truce which Scott granted. It was Scott's hope that peace could be negotiated without his army having to storm the city. This truce quickly failed and Scott resumed operations in early September. These saw him win a costly victory at Molino del Rey before successfully taking Mexico City on September 13 after the Battle of Chapultepec.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "Mexican-American War: Battle of Churubusco." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, February 16). Mexican-American War: Battle of Churubusco. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Mexican-American War: Battle of Churubusco." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).