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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND
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Bonito

Any of various medium-sized tunas intermediate between the smaller mackerels and the larger tunas.

(Sch: t. 74; l. 59'; b. 19'; dr. 7'; cpl. 40; a. 1 32-pdr. car.)

Bonito--one of three schooners under construction at New York City by Brown and Bell for the Mexican Navy--was acquired by the United States Navy on 25 May 1846 soon after the outbreak of the war with Mexico and was commissioned on 30 May 1846, Lt. Hugh Y. Purviance in command.


After completing her outfitting, Bonito joined the Home Squadron in the Gulf of Mexico near the end of the last week in July. On the afternoon of 6 August, Bonito departed the anchorage at Anton Lizardo, near Veracruz, in company with the rest of the Home Squadron. Later that day, the ships anchored off the bar at the mouth of the Alvarado River. That evening, the American warships, including Bonito, opened fire on the defenses of Alvarado and continued a slow bombardment until gathering darkness forced a cease-fire order around 6:30 that evening. The approach of heavy weather during the night precluded a resumption of the attack so, the next morning, Bonito and the rest of the squadron--minus Falmouth for blockade duty off the Alvarado--headed back to Anton Lizardo.


Bonito's next action did not come until October. Before dawn on the 15th, she joined the other ships of the squadron in standing out of the anchorage bound once again for Alvarado. The ships arrived off the river mouth just after sunrise and prepared to cross the bar and enter the river. Bonito was behind Beefer, and both of them were being towed by the steamer Vixen. A strong surf foiled the first attempt by the seven ships of the squadron to cross the bar; but, that afternoon, the Americans renewed their efforts. Vixen--wearing Commodore Conner's flag--and her tows, Reefer and Bonito, crossed the bar successfully at about 1:45. The second division--consisting of Revenue Marine steamer McLane towing Nonata, Petrel, and Forward--failed. McLane grounded on the bar, and her tows fouled one another. When it became apparent that the second division would not make it across the bar, Commodore Conner decided against advancing on the Mexican ships and land defenses with only one steamer and two lightly armed, sail-propelled, schooners. Instead, he ordered Vixen to come about and, once again, aborted the mission. During both passages of the bar, the three ships of the lead division dueled with shore batteries. Bonito and Reefer escaped damage, but Vixen took two hits, and one of her men was wounded. With McLane refloated, the squadron set sail for Anton Lizardo.


Late in the evening of 16 October, Bonito put to sea from Anton Lizardo once again as part of a seven-ship squadron. The flotilla--commanded by Commodore Matthew C. Perry--had orders to reconnoiter the eastern coast of Mexico from the Coatzacoalcos River to Carmen and, if possible, to seize Tabasco and any other towns along the river. On their way to Tabasco, the American ships encountered an American bark, Coosa, communicating with the Mexicans on shore near the mouth of the Alvarado. They captured her and sent her back to Anton Lizardo as a prize. They later encountered a severe storm. After battling fierce weather for five days, the squadron--minus Bonito's sister ship Reefer separated in the heavy seas--arrived off the mouth of the Tabasco River on 22 October.


That same afternoon, the American ships entered the Tabasco River. Once again under tow of Vixen, Bonito crossed the bar shortly after midday. Once again, McLane grounded, but her tows, Nonata and boats carrying landing parties, cast off and succeeded in crossing the bar under sail. Meanwhile, Vixen, towing Bonito and Forward moved slowly against a strong current. They reached Frontera just after 3:00 that afternoon to find two steamers preparing to flee. Vixen cast loose Bonito and Forward and churned ahead to stop the flight. Only one Mexican vessel, the schooner Amado, escaped. Bonito surged forward under sail in pursuit while Vixen, Nonata, and the boats captured Frontera and the assembled shipping--two steamers and another schooner.


Bonito overhauled and captured Amado; and, soon, the rest of the American force--minus a garrison for Frontera--joined her. Together, they continued the ascent of the river in an effort to reach the objective before the Mexicans could increase and consolidate their defenses. Progress, however, remained slow; and the squadron did not reach Tabasco until the early afternoon of the 25th after having stopped that morning at abandoned Fort Acachapan to spike the guns. The American force traded a few desultory shots with the intransigent Mexican garrison which, though it had retired from the town, refused to surrender it. After passing a tense night at Tabasco, Perry concluded that he had insuf£icient forces to hold Tabasco though enough strength to capture it. That conclusion coupled with a humanitarian desire to spare civilians the suffering of a bombardment--his big guns provided most of his punch--prompted Perry to order a retirement downriver. About 24 hours after its arrival, the squadron weighed anchor £or Frontera and dropped anchor there shortly after midnight.


After destroying some of the prizes and sending others back to Anton Lizardo, the squadron departed Frontera on 31 October and headed back to Anton Lizardo, leaving McLane and Forward on blockade station off the mouth of the Tabasco. Bonito remained at the anchorage until 12 November. That morning, she set sail with six other ships of the squadron bound for Tampico. The Tampico enterprise proved to be a walkover, for the Mexicans had abandoned the city upon hearing of the venture through captured dispatches. The squadron moved up to the town unopposed on 14 November. The ships remained in the vicinity until the end of the month when Commodore Conners began dispersing the squadron. At that time, Bonito left the Panuco River and returned to Anton Lizardo along with Vixen and Petrel, all three towed by Mississippi.


In an effort to cut off the rest of Mexico from supplies coming through Yucatan, Commodore Conners sent Commodore Perry to the town of Carmen with the ships Mississippi, Vixen, Bonito, and Petrel. They arrived off the bar on 20 December; and, leaving the deep-draft Mississippi outside the river mouth, the other three ships crossed the bar and easily captured the town. Leaving Vixen and Petrel at Carmen, Perry broke his flag in Bonito to recross the bar on 22 December. He then transferred his flag to Mississippi which in turn took Bonito in tow. Upon their arrival at the mouth of the Tabasco River, Mississippi cast loose the schooner, replenished her water supply, and departed the area on Christmas Day 1846.


Bonito remained on blockade duty of the mouth of the Tabasco River for just over two months. Early in February 1847, orders went out for the Home Squadron to gather at Anton Lizardo in preparation for the Veracruz operation. During the 9 March landing, Bonito moved to within 90 yards of the shoreline with the four other schooners serving as gunboats. Since General Winfield Scott's Army troops went ashore unopposed, Bonito and her colleagues played no active role in the assault. However, later in the siege on 22 and 23 March, she joined them in bombarding Veracruz itself. On the latter day, the little schooners, augmented by steamers Vixen and Spitfire, moved inshore as far as possible to bombard the town and the Castle San Juan de Ulloa guarding it.


Veracruz capitulated formally on 29 March. Bonito's next operation began on l April when she stood out of the anchorage at Anton Lizardo, once more bound for Alvarado. By noon, she and 12 other American warships were anchored off the bar at Alvarado. Unknown to them was the fact that Alvarado's garrison had already abandoned the town and that it had surrendered the previous day to Scourge. Six of the ships, including Bonito, crossed the bar to threaten the town. However, as soon as the surrender became known, the ships landed marines to hold the town and prepared to ascend the river. The following morning, Bonito joined six other ships in a day-long excursion upriver as far as Tlacotalpan. The only practical results of this operation were receipt of the surrender of the sleepy little town and surrounding countryside and the promise of 500 horses for the Army at a low price. By midnight, Bonito and her colleagues were back at Alvarado, and not long thereafter, she returned to the anchorage at Sacrificios Island near Veracruz.


Bonito next put to sea on 12 April when she and the bulk of the squadron embarked upon the mission to capture Tuxpan. Though scattered by a storm en route, the ships arrived off the mouth of the Tuxpan River singly on the morning of 17 April. The following morning, Bonito joined Spitfire, Vixen, Scourge, Petrel, and Reefer in crossing the bar into the river. That afternoon, in company with 30 barges, the warships started up the river toward Tuxpan. Along the way, they dueled with three sets of fortifications before sending landing parties ashore which carried all three for the Americans. By about 3:30 that afternoon, the flotilla hove to off Tuxpan and disembarked a force which quickly secured the town. The ships remained at Tuxpan for four days while landing parties carried out expeditions in the surrounding countryside and destroyed or carried off any item of military value to the Mexicans. On 22 April, the ships departed Tuxpan, sailed down the river, and crossed the bar. Leaving Albany and Reefer to cover the river mouth, the rest of the squadron, including Bonito, headed back to Anton Lizardo.


Early in May, Bonito joined Etna on blockade station off Frontera at the mouth of the Tabasco River. On 12 and 13 June, the remaining ships of Perry's squadron joined them in preparation for the ascent of the Tabasco River to capture the town of San Juan Bautista--called Tabasco by the Americans. On 14 June, Bonito crossed the bar with the eight other ships of the squadron whose drafts were shallow enough to make the crossing. After capturing Frontera quickly that afternoon, the nine warships--towing 40 ship's boats and carrying a landing force of almost 1,200 men--began the journey upriver. The flotilla moved slowly up the river on the evening and night of the 14th, through the morning of the 15th and into the afternoon.


At about 4:00 on the 15th, the ships approached the first of three ambushes laid by the Mexicans. About 150 Mexicans opened on the ships with musketry, but most of their shots passed harmlessly over the ships. Bonito and her colleagues returned the fire and continued unscathed on their mission. At dusk, the squadron reached a treacherous curve in the river called Devil's Bend. There they encountered the second ambush--an ineffectual fusillade quickly suppressed by ships' gunfire. However, they learned that the Mexicans had placed obstructions in the river just above the bend and had erected a breastwork on the right bank adjacent to the obstructions. Realizing that his ships had no chance of passing the double obstacle at night and that his landing force might be required ashore to carry the breastwork by storm, Perry decided upon the dangerous expedient of passing the night in the narrows of the bend.


His gamble that the forces opposing him were given more to bravado than bravery paid handsome dividends. The ships passed the night with only a minor incident and, early the next morning, set about the work of putting the landing force ashore. Bonito, Spitfire, and Scourge laid down a barrage of grape, shell, and musketry. The landing went forward unopposed and completed the task by 8:00 on the morning of the 16th. The double obstacle proved no real problem to the landing party which marched by it between its right flank and the river bank. The ships themselves quickly dispatched the obstructions in the river with explosive charges and moved on upriver to join in the combined operation against the major defensive work, Fort Acachapan. Perry's land force, however, arrived first and carried the redoubt with a highly unorganized, but mad and noisy dash. The Mexicans simply abandoned the fortification and dispersed into the chaparral.


From that point on, the leading role in the capture of Tabasco reverted to the faster moving force afloat. The ships arrived at the town late on the morning of the 16th and found it ungarrisoned. Shortly after noon, a landing force from the ships took formal possession of the town. Perry and the main landing force reached the town about three hours later. The squadron remained at Tabasco until 22 June destroying all fortifications and military items it could find. Then, leaving Spitfire, Scourge, and Etna at Tabasco, Perry retired downriver with the remainder of the force. Eventually, the Americans had to retire from Tabasco altogether. By late July, yellow fever and ever braver Mexican troops forced the small garrison back downriver to Frontera. Bonito remained at Frontera with Scourge and Etna while the rest of the squadron recrossed the bar and returned to Sacrificios Island.


For the remainder of the Mexican War, Bonito served on blockade station off the east coast of Mexico. Sometime during the summer of 1848, she returned to the United States at Norfolk, Va. She remained there until sold on 15 October 1848.

Raymond A. Mann


6 January 2006