Thursday, August 4, 2016

California National Guard and Mexican forces nearly clash, August 4, 1916

A Mexican sniper shot a California National Guardsman on this day in 1916 at the Santa Cruz River and members of the patrolling 14th California Infantry returned fire.  This nearly resulted in an engagement, but leadership on both sides managed to steer clear of that.

 D. C. Guard training for border duty.

This item is really interesting in that often the Guard's role in the story of the Punitive Expedition tends to be marginalized.  The suggestion often is that because they didn't cross the border, they didn't really do much. But they did.  There are several examples such as this of Guardsmen getting into combat with small parties of Mexican raiders.  This is simply the earliest example of that I ran across, and it may well be the very first.  As we have seen from newspaper entries from this past week the Guard did not all deploy to the border at one time.  Indeed, this was not accidental as Guard units came and went, reflecting their initial state of training and the desire to not overtax them, and to get them all trained.  Nearly the entire Guard served on the border during the crisis, but not all at once.

 California National Guard, 1906.  Note how much had changed in just a decade.  These soldiers look a lot more like soldiers from the Indian Wars than ones who would serve in World War One.

That meant, and not coincidentally, that stories like we saw in the Wyoming newspapers earlier this week were common.  Soldiers who were not fit for service were getting discharged.  That leads us to another aspect of this. The Punitive Expedition is often treated a bit in a vacuum but the newspaper articles we've been reading (and if you look at Reddits "100 Years Ago" subreddit you'll see this to be even more the case) show that as time went on the huge fear and expectation that we were going to war with Mexico rapidly declined over a period of a few weeks and, instead, the disaster of World War One loomed increasingly large.  It's hard not to believe that a large part of the purpose of Federalizing the Guard changed over those few weeks and Wilson, while he may have "kept us out of war", was preparing for one, including using the border crisis to bring the Guard up to fighting speed.

In Wyoming's case, that meant getting the  Guard up to full strength, amongst other things.  As we've seen, the Guard was recruiting to make its quota.  In California's case, however, it apparently deployed very rapidly, which makes sense.

California National Guard, 1906.

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