Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Punitive Expedition by mid June, 1916. Where are we at in this story?

We started posting regularly about the Punitive Expedition of 1916 with the anniversary of Pancho Villa's raid on Columbus New Mexico, which of course resulted in the expedition being launched.  Indeed we started our coverage of the raid with what amounted to an hour by hour account of the March 9, 1916 attack, and we've tried (but sometimes missed) to cover the event that happened since then, a century ago, in sort of a "real time fashion".  For some of these events, we've included daily newspaper front pages, hoping to present to our readers how this would have appeared to people at home on a daily basis, while still covering the larger events of the expedition, and the day, as well.  Hopefully its been entertaining and instructive. 


But we also fear that this daily approach may cause a little bit of a loss of a sense of where, in overall terms of history, things are actually at right now.  After all, we don't live in 1916, so we don't have the sense of daily presence about 1916 that we do, presumably, about our own day and times.  And because events do not appear every day, there's some risk that our story is getting a bit lost.  So where are we in this tale?  Perhaps a recap is in order.

And in presenting that recap, perhaps I should add a little that I omitted, or at least didn't cover in great detail, about the background to the expedition that I didn't before.  Columbus New Mexico is typically treated as a shocking event as Mexican revolutionary forces crossed into the United States and attacked an American town.  What's missed is that this violence started before that, and Columbus wasn't the first raid

The Mexican Revolution that broke out in 1910 had featured an American presence in some fashion since its onset.  Indeed, Madero, in bringing the revolution about, crossed over from the US back into Mexico. So that the US would end up unwilling involved in the Mexican Revolution was inevitable.  Madero actually issued his Plan of San Luis Potosí from San Antonio, Texas, not Mexico, showing the early role the state was to unwillingly play.  That very year, as a result of the revolution in Mexico, the US stationed additional troops along the border to protect American lives and property.

The war first spread across the border June 1911 when Mexican federal forces defeated rebels at Tijuana, which they had earlier captured, and drove them across the border to  San Ysidro, California where they surrendered to the Americans.  The rebels themselves may have had some members who had been living in California, and they were not Madero's men but rather members of a radical left wing anarchist group, showing how diverse the Mexican Revolution was from the very start.

Americans were attacked for the first time that prior April when Maderistas engaged Mexican federal forces at Agua Prieta.  During the engagement the Mexican army crossed the border and attacked American troops in Douglas Arizona, who intervened in the action with the result that Aqua Prieta was left in rebel hands.  That same month, however, American forces in El Paso exchanged fire with rebels under Madero and Villa who were fighting for control of the Mexican city of Juarez.  Madero prevailed in his war with the Mexican government that year and became president, but the violence would not end, as we've already seen.  Madero would seen rebellion from his former allies, and from the former Mexican federal army, by 1912.  Revolution returned to Mexico that year.

1913 would see no attacks across the border by Mexican forces, but it did see Mexican federal troops cross to surrender after they were defeated at Nogales by troops lead by General Obregón.  The following year, 1914, brought US intervention at Vera Cruz, which we've otherwise covered, but which shows the extent to which the relationship between Mexico and the United States had deteriorated.  Indeed, diplomatic relations had been severed.

 [U.S. Naval occupation of Vera Cruz, Mexico: Tower at Vera Cruz damaged by shells from U.S.S. CHESTER - Mexican War]
 Tower damaged by Naval gunfire in the Battle of Vera Cruz.

In October of that year Mexican rebels fired into the U.S. Army camp at Naco Arizona while fighting Federal troops in Naco Sonora.  American cavalrymen, however, did not return fire in spite of some being wounded as a result of the rebel fire.

In 1915 relations between the US and Mexico got a little bumpier with the eccentric Plan de San Diego (Texas) was discovered in which some Mexican faction, which is unclear, expressed an intent to recapture land lost to the US during the Mexican War.  The origin of the plan, and who was responsible for it, remains unclear, but it called for an uprising in February 1915 to be followed, should it succeed, by the execution of all non Mexican white males in the newly "liberated" territory. As Quixotic as it was, its followers did engage in some raids in July 1915, several months after they were supposed to have occurred.  The raids, which commenced on July 11, 1915, targeted Mexican Americans, ironically, and went through September of that year until they were addressed.  Property destruction, and at least one assassination, were features of this effort, which was lead by a Mexican American but which depended upon Mexican support for material and about half the men used in the campaign.  About 300 Mexican Americans died in the struggle, some in reprisal raids by white Texans.  The odd small uprising ended when the Wilson administration recognized Carranza who then operated to terminate Mexican support for the campaign, which at least raises some questions.

Unrelated to this, that same year, Villistas engaged US forces in Nogales in a light action that represented a spill over over the siege in Nogales Sonora.  Fighting later that year resulted in the disastrous decision by Wilson to allow transit of Constitutionalist troops by rail over Texas, which we already addressed, and which we believe is directly responsible for the Columbus raid a few months later.

Prior to that, however, in January 1916 Villa drew the horrified attention of Americans when his forces executed eighteen Americans who were removed from a train at Santa Isabel, Chihuahua.  The horrific action was made without any excuse that's rational and naturally defined many people's views of Villa at that time.  The raid on Columbus followed that March, which is where we of course picked up the story. 

 Villa leading his forces prior to his 1915 defeat at Celaya
In that story, we've been dealing with the Punitive Expedition itself, but we missed a couple of subsequent raids that occurred in spite of the large force of Americans pursuing Villa in northern Mexico.  But first we'll get to events in the story that actually preceded those. 
On April 1  the 10th Cavalry fought The Battle of Agua Caliente.

 Agua Caliente in better times.  The name of the town means "Hot Water".
The 10th Cavalry encountered 150 Villistas under General Beltran at the town of Agua Caliente.  The ensuing battle resulted in a true cavalry charge of Mexican positions.  Mexican forces broke under the charge which resulted in no losses to the Americans.
The unit thereafter pursued retreating Villistas for the next several days. As the unit advanced it ran short of provisions due to being so isolated.  The unit became partially provisioned with the assistance of Constitutionalist officers and through the efforts of their commanding officer, who wrote a personal check to a mining company in exchange for $1,100.00, which was used to purchase provisions.  Amazingly, only one day prior to the battle  The 10th Cavalry become isolated by a blizzard
On  April 8 troops under R. L. Howze nearly got into an engagement with Mexican Federal troops.   Two days later, however, they clashed with Villistas, April 10, 1916. near La Joya de Herrera and dispersed them, killing their commander, a Captain Silva.
On April 12-13 the U.S. Army found that it was now confronting Constitutionalist forces, i.e. the recognized government of Mexico, in the  The Battle of Parral.  With this, which had been coming on for awhile, the expedition entered a new and very dangerous phase. 

 Corporal Richard Tannous, 13th Cavalry, wounded at Parral.
U.S. cavalry under Major Frank Tompkins, who had been at Columbus the day it was raided and who had first lead U.S. troops across the border, entered Parral and was met with hostility right from the onset.  Warned by an officer of Carranzas that his Constitutionalist troops fire on American forces, Tompkins immediately started to withdraw them  During the withdraw, with hostile Mexican demonstrators jeering the U.S. forces, Mexican troops fired on the American forces and a battle ensued.  While Mexican forces started the battle, it was lopsided with the Mexicans suffering about sixty deaths to an American two.  Tompkins withdrew his troops from the town under fire and sought to take them to Santa Cruz de Villegas, a fortified town better suited for a defense.  There Tompkins sent dispatch riders for reinforcements which soon arrived in the form of more cavalrymen of the all black 10th Cavalry Regiment. 
Tompkins' troops reentered Parral two days later. This marked the high water mark of the Punitive Expedition.  At this point, the Punitive Expedition reached its deepest point in Mexico.  This is both impressive, as it happened so rapidly, and a bit deflating, as after only one month of operations the mission to pursue Villa had effectively been halted and converted into one that was now sort of an indistinct policing occupation, which hoped for more aggressive Constitutionalist policing of the border. 

LoC caption:  "Removing Sgt. Benjamin McGhee of the 13th Cavalry who was badly wounded at Parral, Mexico."
 Hugh Scott
Gen Hugh Scott, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and General Alvaro Obregon, Minister of War of the Mexican Government, met in El Paso to discuss problems that had arisen due to the American intervention in Mexico.  The meetings continued to May 2 and resulted in an understanding between the two governments providing that the United States would slowly withdraw from Mexico and the Mexican government would undertake measures to prevent future raids into the United States.  The understanding was then submitted to the governments of the respective parties to see if they would agree to it.  They didn't.
Alvaro Obregon
On May 5 Villistas crossed the border again, amazingly, this time at Glenn Springs and Boquillas Texas.  A Villista force of over 200 men were held up by a much smaller party of US troops of the 14th Infantry and the raid, which was mostly designed to acquire supplies, turned to property destruction.  The US lost three soldiers and once civilian killed in the raids and captured a Villista officer.  The Villistas, for their part, took with them two civilian captives who were freed several days later after pursuing US cavalry negotiated for their release, and with the release being accomplished when the Villistas simply fled.

 Cavalryman George S. Patton, in 1918 with a Renault tank, two years following his introduction into armed fame in Mexico.

Constitutionalist, i.e., the ruling government, resistance to the American incursion began to significantly stiffen thereafter and the situation became increasingly tense.   This lead, as we recently noted, to the passage of the National Defense Act of 1916.  The act, coming in the context of the crisis with Mexico, laid the groundwork for the expansion of the Armed Forces, call up of the National Guard, and the creation of the Reserve Officers Training Corps.  Part of this reflected the fears of entering the war in Europe, which looked increasingly likely, but much of it also addressed the fear that a war with Mexico might be coming.
Chances of that occurring greatly increased on June 15 when the presence of a large American force in Mexico again proved inadequate to stop raids across the American border.  On that day Mexican forces, of some kind, attack San Ygnacio, Texas.  In spite, of perhaps because of, the Punitive Expedition, about 100 men of undetermined Mexican loyalties, perhaps Constitutionalist or perhaps Seditionist, attacked the town which was defended successfully by the 14th Cavalry.  Casualties were generally light on both sides during the battle, although four Americans and six Mexicans were killed.  The raid served to heighten already high tensions and the mobilization of the National Guard, dealt here extensively recently, immediately followed.

 New York National Guardsmen in Texas, 1916.

Mobilized New York National Guardsman.

National Guard Camp, Camp Ordway Virginia, 1916.
But, before the Guard could have any impact on the border, another major, and embarrassing, engagement would happen in Mexico, the Battle of Carrizal. 
Following the Battle of Parral, American forces did not advance further into Mexico but scouted out from locations that they were encamped in.  On June 20 the 10th Cavalry went out on such an expedition from Colonia Dublan and received reports of a Mexican Constitutionalist force in the vicinity.  They proceeded to encounter the force at Carrizal. The Mexican forces was deployed to block their further advance to the west and informed the American unit of the same, which in turn informed the Mexican force that it was to proceed through the town.  The Mexican force agreed to let a portion of the American one advance, ultimately, but fired upon it once it entered the town.
A battle ultimately ensued which resulted in the loss of ten enlisted men and two officers.  Unit cohesion was lost in the battle on both sides and the cavalry did not advance past the town. Several enlisted men were taken prisoner by Mexican forces but were repatriated at El Paso Texas ten days later.  Mexican losses were heavier, including the loss of their commanding officer in the unit.  Nonetheless, the battle may be taken as an indicator as to how the US expedition had bogged down into a type of stalemate whose character was changing.

 US troops being repatriated at El Paso.

The engagement was the costliest action that the US engaged in during the Punitive Expedition and it was correctly judged to be a defeat at the time.  The battle came at a point in time in which the US and Mexico were teetering on the brink of war and Pershing was sufficiently angered by it so that he sought permission to advance on Chihuahua City.  President Wilson denied him that permission which likely adverted full scale war breaking out.

The battle proved to be the breaking point for Mexico and the United States, but not in the way that newspapers featured here would have predicted.  With war now clearly looming, both Wilson and Carranza stepped away from it.  By July 5 the forces that were propelling the two nations to war had backed off and the crisis, while still there, was largely passed.   The occupation, for that is what it now was, in turn took on a disturbingly familiar American character.  The mission to capture or kill Villa had failed, although his forces were irreparably damaged and he would in turn fail in his goals.   The civil war in Mexico continued on nonetheless.  The United States had no clear way out of the country it had entered, even though it wished to find one.  The U.S. Army had proven brilliantly effective at moving under adverse conditions but US success didn't mean that US interests still couldn't be touched.

All caught up?

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