1839: Warwick Bampfylde Freeman to Charles Dudley Freeman

This letter was written by Warwick Bampfylde Freeman (1815-Aft1870), son of Henry Gibbard Freeman (1789-1875) and Elizabeth Stokes (1793-1880). Warwick wrote the letter to his brother, Charles Dudley Freeman (1825-1891). He also mentions their brother William H. Freeman (1818-1886).

It’s not clear to me why Freeman was in Mexico interacting so extensively with the Mexican Army. By the tone of the letter, he seems to be there in a civilian capacity. The Mexican War wasn’t until several years later. The war of Texas Independence was already over; at least the hostilities were over and Texas was recognized as an independent nation by the US & Europe. Letter gives a great description of the Mexican army uniforms and the deplorable state of their military fitness & readiness in 1839.

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Addressed to Mr. Charles S. Freeman, Care of Henry G. Freeman, Esq., Philadelphia

12 December 1839

My Dear Charles,

It appears to me a very long time since I wrote to you – certainly much longer than it really is. And as I have not yet had the pleasure of hearing from my brother Charley, I may perhaps infer that his ideas of the passage of days, weeks, and months, are more accurate and correct than mine.

I have frequently wished, since we were obliged to part in June last at the Rail Road Depot in Third Street, that you were with me. And if it were possible, I should like, just before leaving Mexico, to transport you from home to where I now am, not only that I might anticipate the joy of our meeting, but because you would perhaps see some things here and during our homeward voyage, which would gratify your curiosity.

I am not aware that you have followed dear William’s example, and evinced any military ambition, but you would I think be struck with the appearance of the Mexican soldiers, who are so numerous as to constitute apparently one half of the entire population of the country, & of this number, the proportion of Officers of different grades, is about one to every two men.

You remember the recent Revolution in Texas, and the remarkably sanguinary and cowardly spirit evinced by the Mexican Troops upon all occasions during their efforts to reconquer that province. You also remember the success with which very small detachments of Texans vanquished large bodies of the regular Army. The surprise, which these facts was calculated to produce, disappears upon seeing a few of the men who compose the mass of the Mexican soldiers.

Those whom I saw at Vera Cruz, immediately after landing, were almost all without shoes or any covering for the feet. Their uniform consisted of a blue cotton jacket & pantaloons, trimmed with red cord or braid, and the caps, which resemble in shape, the brown grocer bags, in which our grocer’s pack sugar, are covered with a material similar to that of the coat & pantaloons.

This dress, which you will readily imagine is not calculated to have a very martial effect, is rendered still less so by its uniformly tattered & soiled condition while the soldiers themselves, who are filthy to a disgusting degree, are at the same time so small & feeble in body, as sometimes to appear almost unable to carry their muskets.

During my journey from the sea coast to the table land, we were escorted upon different portions of the route, by small detachments of cavalry, who are frequently stationed at certain points of the road, as a means of defending the “diligence” from the attacks of banditti.

Washington Irving

You have read, I think, my dear Charley, Washington Irving’s “Tour to the Prairies,” which I remember to have seen among our books at home, and you will probably recollect the interesting description of Mr. L_____ (Mr. [Charles Joseph] Latrobe) – a Scientific gentleman who formed one of the expedition. This same gentleman afterwards visited Mexico, and published his observations and descriptions which are equally correct and interesting in a little volume called the “Rambler in Mexico,” which if you could find it I think would afford you pleasure.

While on his way from this city to Vera Cruz, he had the privilege of an escort rather superior, I believe, to those generally obtained, in consideration of which, and upon the score of additional security, he payed a larger sum than usual. Not feeling, however, his confidence increased upon a better acquaintance with his military friends, he availed himself of one of the stoppages at a “Posada” or Inn upon the road to inspect their equipments and found that in case of need they would have been perfectly useless. One gun wanted a lock, another a flint, the barrel of one cracked, & another wanted a ramrod. One soldier had indeed a musket which would perhaps have borne a discharge, but he had no ammunition. And another had a well-filled cartouche box, but he had no musket!

For my own part, I must confess that I could not help thinking as I looked from time to time upon our gallant troops galloping beside us, or ranging themselves upon the sides of the road, to be replaced by others, that they were exceedingly like the large monkeys, which are clothed with the hues of the rainbow, and taught to ride the poney in a menagerie.

I am anxious to know, dear Charley, in what way you have been employed since Father’s withdrawal from the Auction business.

Allow me to assume an elder brother’s privilege, and urge upon you the importance of seizing every opportunity to improve your mind & character – by so doing you will probably differ from most of the young men around you, but upon a little reflection, you will, I am sure, see the necessity of selecting more lofty examples for your imitation. Should your experience resemble mine, you will not attain my age without realizing that all kinds of knowledge are useful, perhaps when we least expect it. And the truth of the ancient saying that “knowledge is power.”

It is nothing more than sober truth to say of this cultivation of the intellect & character that while it qualifies for any station in life, and for useful and successful intercourse with the world, it at the same time furnishes us with resources, which are equally valuable in prosperity or in adversity, in youth or in old age.

Farewell, my dear Charley, & believe me your sincerely attached brother, — Warwick


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