Azra Grinnell

Azra Grinnell

Azra Grinnell


Former Danby Resident was a Grenadier in the Mexican War.—From Vera Cruz to the City of Mexico with Gen. Scott.
It gives us great pleasure to this week present to our readers a portrait of a former Danby resident, who more than fifty years ago marched with Gen. Winfield Scott and his “barking batteries” from Vera Cruz to the City of Mexico.

Though well along in his seventy-seventh year and a veteran of the Mexican War, which is dim history to the present generation, Mr. Grinnell is tall, erect, sturdy and vigorous. He.was born in Bloomfield, N. Y., April 15,, 1827. His father was Abram, a custom shoemaker, and his mother Mercy Lee. Arza had one sister and three brothers. His mother, a very devout woman, selected Arza as a name for her son, the name occurring in the Bible. Arza’s father died before he could remember him, and his mother died when he was seven years old. Arza and his brothers and sisters were”bound out” to neighbors, the former being apprenticed to a farmer, Ezekil Simmons by name—rough, uncouth and a hard taskmaster, but not unkind of heart. Arza got but a smattering of education in the district school during three winters.

When he was 17 he struck out for himself and got a place as expert driver with Crane & Dresbick’s caravan, the immediate forerunner of Van Amburgh’s tent show, and later of Adam Forepaugh’s circus. As a youth, Arza was somewhat gaunt, standing six feet in his stockings, wiry and resolute. He was assigned to driving the wagon containing a polar bear. During a thunder storm the bear would become frantic and the show would have to halt in the rain while the driver, with a long pole, stirred up the animal. With this show was Columbus, the first elephant ever imported to America. Arza, joined the caravan at Rutland and after a summer’s travel left it in Canada.

April 1, 1847, Mr. Grinnell enlisted for the Mexican war at Rutland in the Ninth New England Grenadiers. Of a company of 90 stalwart fellows only 24 came back. The shortest man in the company stood five feet eleven inches. One of the corporals, named Moody, was a strapping fellow 20 years old and six feet seven inches in height. Mr. Grinnell was under twenty but was six feet tall. He enlisted under Capt. Kimball, who years after, as a soldier in the New York Fire Zouaves in the rebellion, was shot and killed by Col. Corcoran while carrying dispatches through his own lines without the password.

Mr. Grinnell, with the grenadiers, was put aboard the bark Cepla and sailed from Newport, R. I., to Vera Cruz. Col. Ransom, head officer of the Norwich, Vt., military school, commanded the 9th.

Gen. Scott landed his army in surf boats three miles back of the city of Vera Cruz at San Juan D’Alur. Mr. Grinnell was in the battles of La Pasa, Cerrocordo, Contreras, Cherubusco, Chapultepec, City of Mexico and San Pascual.

At Contreras a Mexican shell exploded in the rear of where Mr. Grinnell was loading and firing, and a fragment struck him at the back of the neck. When he recovered consciousness, his regiment had deployed to a distant part of the field, but he seized a gun of beautiful design, which lay beside a dead soldier, and joined another company charging by.

August 19, 1847, the ninth sailed into the “greasers” at Cherubusco with a hearty good will and captured mules, mustangs, burros and batteries. Scott’s pets, the grenadier, were mounted on mules and burros, and laughing and cheering, with their long legs touching the ground, the tallest men in Scott’s army rode astride for three miles be-fore ordered to deploy through a broken country to avoid an ambush.

At Cerra Gordo, Mr. Grinnell saw the Mexican commander-in-chief, Gen. Santa Anna, as the latter piled off hastily, leaving his wooden leg. After Cherubusco, Chapultepec was taken. At Chapultepec, Col. Riley and forty American soldiers were captured, and thirty of them executed. Riley had enlisted with Gen. Zachery Taylor’s army. His religious opinions prompted him and a whole company of 100 men to desert at Buena Vista to the Mexican army. At Chapultepec, Scott’s men charged the deserters like fiends. The deserters were desperate and were surrounded. Riley’s men held a battery and mowed down their countrymen. Gen. Twiggs ordered the grenadiers into the van of a last desperate charge and over the breast-works the tall fellows swarmed, stabbing the deserters, who served the guns to the last. Col. Riley was captured seated on a spiked gun. Thirty of the deserters were hanged. Riley and nine others were drummed out of the army and were branded with hot irons on the cheeks with the letter ‘D.’ Mr. Grinnell says he mounted guard over a mere boy who lived at Whitehead, N. Y., twenty miles from his own home. The young man told his guard to tell his mother that he died, not as a deserter, but on the field. Mr. Grinnell never saw the lad’s mother.

Major Phillip Kearney, afterward heard of the Rebellion, had charge of the execution. While the battle of Chapultepec Castle was raging, thirty deserters were stood up in baggage wagons and the ropes were thrown over them. Reining his horse up to the long row of white-faced men who were about to die, the Major said, “You can stand there until you see the United States flag, that you deserted, float on top that castle; then, you damned traitors, you can hang there.”

As the flag was hoisted to the top the baggage wagons were driven off, leaving the men struggling and strangling to death. As Mr. Grinnell marched past where the boy stood, just as the wagon started, the lad cried out: “Don’t forget to tell mother, comrade !”

“We were armed with old muskets, Springfield make,” said Mr. Grinnell, “and carried forty rounds of ammunition. The guns weighed fourteen pounds. We loaded with great, long cartridges containing an ounce ball and three buck shot, and no matter which end of the cartridge got rammed home first, we’d be kicked over just the same.”

Mr. Grinnell saw Col. Hayes’ Texas Rangers when they rode into the City of Mexico, ragged, rough and tough, but dead-sure shots with rifle and revolver. While an armistice of thirty days was allowed, Scott’s army lay camped before the city. A French’ sailor, who spoke Spanish, brought word that the Mexicans were casting their church bells into cannon. At this Scott charged his 15,000 ragged Yankees and captured the city. Mr. Grinnell was in a scaling party that scaled the walls. He wears a bronze badge cast from the cannon made from the Mexican church bells.

Mr. Grinnell was in the street battles in Mexico. August 20, 1848, the grenadiers sailed from Vera Cruz and landed at Newport, R. I. The soldiers were so dirty and infested with vermin that they were not allowed within the fort. Mr. Grinnell went to Rutland and married Miss Elizabeth A. Congdon of Clarendon, October 19, 1848. She died September 20, 1895, leaving a son, Lannie J. Grinnell, father of Dr. W. H. Grinnell of this village.

Mr. Grinnell, in common with Mexican war veterans, was given 160 acres of western government land, which sold for $125. He lived in Danby a few years, following the occupation of farming on the west side of the town, removing from here to Elmore, and on returning east lived four years in Milford, Mass.

Mr. Grinnell went to Spencer 27 years ago, May 8, 1876, and worked for I. Prouty Co. Sixteen years ago he bought out a cigar store of C. A. Boyden. February 19, 1896, he married Mrs. Jennie C. Chamberlin of Rutland and lives at 29 Lincoln Street, Spencer, Mass. Mr. Grinnell is highly esteemed in Spencer for his splendid war record and good qualities, and has lots of friends in Danby, whom he visits occasionally.