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Battle of Mulege
Part of Mexican-American War
Mulege-marines.jpg
American forces after capturing the hill at Mulege.
Date October 1, 1847
Location Mulegé, Mexico
Result United States victory
Belligerents
United States United States Mexico Mexico
Commanders
Land:
US Naval Jack 29 stars.svg Lieutenant Tunis Craven
Sea:
US Naval Jack 29 stars.svg Captain Thomas O'Selfridge
Mexico Captain Manuel Pineda
Strength
Land:
17 marines,
57 sailors
Sea:
1 sloop-of-war,
1 armed launch
Land:
~200 militia
Sea:
1 schooner
Casualties and losses
2 wounded unknown human casualties,
1 schooner captured

The Battle of Mulege was an American attack on Mulege, Mexico during the Mexican-American War. On October 1, 1847, United States Marines and sailors fought with Mexican militia.

Contents

Background

On August 10, 1847, United States Navy Commodore William Shubrick had resumed command of the Pacific Squadron. His first orders upon retaking command was the sending of sloops-of-war USS Dale and USS Portsmouth along with the frigate Congress to commence a new blockade of Mazatlán, Guaymas and San Blas, Mexico.

When the Dale arrived alone at La Paz in mid-September, the commander of the U.S. occupation force there, Lieutanant Colonel Henry S. Burton, persuaded the Dale's commander, Thomas O'Selfridge, to sail for Loreto and Mulegé to prevent the landing of supplies from Guaymas and to secure a pledge of neutrality from the Mexican inhabitants.

On September 30, the Dale entered the port of Mulegé under British colors. After Dale was anchored, it lowered the British flag and raised the Stars and Stripes. Lieutenant Tunis Augustus Macdonough Craven of Dale, tried to go ashore, but was prevented by a party of Mexicans. He then suggested boats seize the Mexican Navy schooner Magdalena, which lay in anchor.

Craven and fifty men in four boats rowed to the schooner and towed her back to the Dale. After discovering her bottom was full of holes from scuttling, they burned their prize and continued a blockade. On October 1, Commander Selfridge sent a letter ashore warning the Mexican authorities to lay down their arms, to preserve neutrality and to abstain from contact with the mainland.

Captain Pineda replied by stating that he refused to be neutral and is in protest against the Dale's use of British flag to enter the port, and boasted he would recapture La Paz which had recently been captured.

Battle

Pineda's defiance did not go unanswered. At 2:00 pm that afternoon, Lieutenant Craven with seventeen marines and fifty-seven sailors clambered into their boats and rowed up a creek that led to the heart of the town. The party landed on the creek's right bank. Just after landing, USS Dale began her bombardment which reportedly had little effect.

Now on shore, the American marines and sailors proceeded to a nearby hill, covered with armed Mexicans, apparently a militia force. Lieutenant Craven suspected the hill to be where the Mexicans would make their stand. Before reaching the hill, however, a shot was fired from a window of a nearby house and from a thicket to the American's left.

USS Dale bombarding Mulege during the engagement, a small captured schooner is also depicted.

Immediately, Craven dispatched a small force to attack and burn the house while he attacked the thicket. The house was burned and Lieutenant Craven encountered noone in the brush, obviously meaning the Mexicans fired and quickly withdrew, typical militia tactics.

The United States lieutenant then refocused on the hill. After marching a short distance further, to a height which commanded the Mexican held hill, Craven issued the following order;

"Men, we are to go to the top of that hill. If we are fired on in ascending, it wil break our order, as the hill is so steep. As soon as the fire from the enemy commences, let the word be, ever man for the top of the hill, be who reaches it first is the best man!"

With this order and few words of encouragement, the Americans attacked. The hill, as stated was steep and covered in cactus, the Mexicans abandoned it before the Americans approached and maneuvered to several hidden positions overlooking one side of the hill near the above mentined creek. Once the American fighting men were at the hill's summit, Craven ordered his men to rest. The Americans did not encounter resistance while climbing the hill.

The creek at Mulege.

When the Craven's men began preparing for a short break, the Mexicans opened fire from their concealed positions behind rocks and foliage, another ambuscade. The American forces responded with several volleys of return fire which forced the Mexicans to flee up the creek. Craven did not pursue the retreating Mexicans, instead he headed back towards the shore. A controversial move which has many historians today, believing the Mexicans repulsed the American attack, thus resulting in a Mexican victory at the battle.

This was not true however, marching through town, Lieutenant Craven's men were again attacked by Mexican insurgents firing from their homes and bushes on the left side of the stream. An American launch floating off Mulege, armed with a cannon, was then ordered to bombard the Mexican homes where some of the enemy fire had originated from.

The landing force attacked also. Craven later reported that after attacking the homes and bushes, the Mexicans hastily retreated up and into the surrounding hills, thus ending the fighting that day. Craven then proceeded to take his men back aboard the Dale after driving the Mexican garrison from their town.

Aftermath

Mexican casualties are unknown but Craven wrote later on in his report;

"...it is supposed we killed many of the enemy, as our fire upon them was in heavy volleys."

Lieutenant Craven reported only two men slightly wounded. After the battle at Mulege, USS Dale set sails for La Paz, with a small schooner in tow, captured at Mulege without incident. Once at La Paz, Dale's commander chartered another small schooner from an American citizen living at La Paz.

The schooner, christened USS Libertad, was originally a Mexican Navy vessel of the same name, captured by USS Cyane exactly a year earlier on October 1, 1846, at Loreto and apparently sold to an American business man, Peter Davisin, in La Paz for commerce. She was armed and placed under the command of Lieutenant Craven.

References

  • Nathan Covington Brooks, A Complete History of the Mexican War (The Rio Grande Press, Inc., 1965). Justin H. Smith, The War With Mexico, Vols. I and II. (Peter Smith, Gloucester, Mass., 1963).
  • John R. Spears, The History of the Navy, Vol. III (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1897), pp. 401-409. K. Jack Bauer, Surfboats and Horse Marines (U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis, Md., 1969).
  • President James K. Polk's Message on War with Mexico, May 11, 1846, in Documents of American History, 9th edition, Vol. I (Prentice Hall, Inc., 1979), p. 311.
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