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October 26, 2007

“The Battle of Thermopylae of the West”

141. [MAP]. UNITED STATES. ARMY. CORPS OF TOPOGRAPHICAL ENGINEERS. McCLELLAN, [George Brinton] & [William] Turnbull. Battle of Cerro Gordo April 17th & 18th 1847. From Surveys Made by Major Turnbull & Capt. McClellan, Topl. Engs. Drawn by Capt. McClellan. [below neat line] United States Troops Commanded by Genl. Scott... Mexican Troops Commanded by Genl. Santa-Anna... [text at left] Worth’s Division... Twigg’s Division... Patterson’s Division... Officers... Rank & File. N.p., n.d. Lithograph map, original hand coloring (Mexican positions in light blue; U.S. positions in orange), neat line to neat line: 31.1 x 46.8 cm; map & legend below: 32.4 x 46.8 cm; overall sheet size: 46.2 x 68.5 cm. Creased where formerly folded, but flattened and carefully conserved, including repair on verso which fills a few minor losses at old fold junctures, generally fine, with very generous margins.

            Garrett & Goodwin, The Mexican-American War, p. 429. Phillips, America, p. 217. Similar to the map of the same title which appeared in United States 30th Congress, 1st Session. Senate Executive Document 1. Message from the President of the United States to the two houses of Congress, at the commencement of the first session...December 7, 1847. Washington: Printed by Wendell and Van Benthuysen, 1848 (Garrett & Goodwin, The Mexican-American War, p. 321), but with some variances. Here the title commences 2.5 cm below neat line, the lettering is different, the paper is slightly heavier than in the government report, and the impression is much finer.

            The map delineates one of Scott’s most significant victories on his march to Mexico City, and the battle is sometimes referred to as “the Thermopylae of the West.” Faced with heavily fortified Mexican positions blocking the defile at Cerro Gordo, Scott, badly outnumbered by almost two to one, faced the grim prospect of a frontal assault on his foe’s fortifications. Robert E. Lee, however, found a little used road that skirted the main positions and allowed U.S. troops to flank the Mexican army. While Pillow demonstrated in front of the main Mexican line, troops under Worth, Twiggs, and Shields carried out a flanking maneuver that was so successful, despite being revealed to Santa Anna by a deserter, that the Mexican troops were routed. Santa Anna himself barely avoided capture, although his coach and artificial leg did not, the latter of which is in a museum in Springfield, Illinois, a souvenir of the company from that state that seized the prize. All of these movements are shown dramatically on this excellent map, and the success of the flanking maneuver is made obvious by the color scheme. ($600-1,200)

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