President Polk, desiring to expand the United States to the Pacific Ocean, orders General Zachary Taylor with his army to the Rio Grande on the Mexican border. Mexico controlled much of the western land, including California. Among the men was Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant. Taylor invades Mexico and defeats the Mexican Army in three hard fought battles. President Polk then orders General Winfield Scott to invade Mexico at Veracruz and march inland and capture Mexico City.
General Scott arrives at Veracruz with 100 ships crowded with 9,000 soldiers and the holds crammed with cannons, muskets and cavalry mounts. Among the soldiers are Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant and Captain Robert E. Lee.
Grant was 24 years old, a smallish fellow from Ohio. He was a hardened combat veteran from fighting with General Taylor in northern Mexico. Lee was 40 years old, stood six feet tall, and was from the famous Lee family of Virginia. He is untested in battle.
Though different in many respects, both men desired glory and increase in grade, and both know that it is during war that those things could be won if a man acted bravely.
General Scott lands his army upon the hostile Mexican shore. After a heavy bombardment of Veracruz, the Americans capture the walled city. Scott waits for the reinforcements and supplies that President Polk had promised. When the men and supplies don’t arrive and his men begin to die from yellow fever, Scott severes his link with the States and his supply base at Veracruz and marches his small army into the mountains. He must capture Mexico City lying in the center of the nation of seven million inhabitants. He will lead his men to victory or death.
General Santa Anna is waiting with an army of 30,000 soldiers to annihilate the small force of invading Americans.
Lee and Grant had ridden a short ways and were drawing near dense woods when six horsemen came out from hiding among the trees. At a word from the leader, a gaunt man with a hatchet sharp face and bulging black eyes, the riders divided with three on each side of the road. Holding their lariats coiled with the nooses open and positioned for quick throwing, they sat their horses and waited as the Americans came closer. Long endured hate showed in the men’s black eyes. Now too there was a look of anticipation of inflicting punishment upon the Yankees.
“They want us to run and then they’ll lasso and drag us,” Grant said as he and Lee stopped their mounts back some 100 feet from the Mexicans.
He had seen the battered corpses of Americans that had been roped around the neck and dragged behind a running horse until dead. “Well I don’t feel like playing the hound and hare game with them. Or riding around them either.” Lee’s voice betrayed no emotion.
“Neither do I,” Grant said and felt his urge to fight come afire.“Captain Grant,” Lee said being very formal, “I’ve heard that you’re an excellent pistol shot, is that so?”
“Colonel Lee, I usually hit what I aim at.” Grant wasn’t going to be out done in formality.
With a deliberate motion, Lee pointed a finger at the horseman who had given the order to the others, and was on Grant’s side of the road. With a sharp, commanding voice, he said, ”Captain, kill that man if one of them moves to throw his lariat, or to pull a gun.”
“Yes, sir.” Grant had drawn both of his pistols and eared back the hammers. Now he raised the guns above his horse’s head where the Mexicans could plainly see them. He wished he had a couple of the five-shooters of the Texas Rangers for then he could have killed all six of the Mexicans. He focused on the man at whom Lee had pointed, and the two nearest him. He saw the leader’s face lose the look of anticipation of roping the Americans and take on one of deep uncertainty.
Lee drew his pair of pistols and cocked them. “Forward, captain, and we’ll see if those fellows really want to use their ropes, or go for their pistols.”