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Battle of Rio San Gabriel
Part of the Mexican-American War
Date January 8, 1847
Location near Los Angeles, California
Result United States victory
Belligerents
 United States  Mexico
Commanders
Robert F. Stockton
Stephen Watts Kearny
José Mariá Flores
Strength
600
cavalry,
marines,
sailors
160 militia
Casualties and losses
8 wounded ~80 killed or wounded

The Battle of Rio San Gabriel was a decisive action of the California campaign of the Mexican-American War and occurred at the sites of present-day Montebello and Pico Rivera on January 8, 1847.

Contents

Background

After the Battle of San Pasqual, the battered Army of the West commanded by General Stephen W. Kearny went to the headquarters of Commodore Robert F. Stockton at San Diego, California. Stockton's next objective was to recapture Pueblo de Los Angeles. That settlement had been previously captured by Stockton's forces but was left in the command of Captain Archibald Gillespie and had been lost to the Californio militia, commanded by General José Mariá Flores.

Kearny and Stockton initially disputed the right of command. Although Kearny had superior orders from the United States War Department, he had previously sent most of his troops back to Santa Fe, New Mexico, believing that the war in California had ended, and his remaining force sustained heavy losses in the US defeat at the Battle of San Pasqual. Stockton had a larger force and was familiar with the area, so Kearny did not initially dispute Stockton's command of the campaign to recapture Los Angeles. Stockton departed San Diego in late December with a force of over 600 seamen and Marines, as well as Kearny's remaining force of about sixty dragoons.

Battle

U.S. scouts discovered the Mexican position at a key ford along the San Gabriel River on January 7, 1847. Stockton and Kearny planned a crossing for the next day. The U.S. forces were formed into a hollow square with the artillery and baggage in the center. Kearny ordered the artillery unlimbered to cover the crossing, but Stockton countered the order and began to move across the river. The crossing proved to be especially difficult because Flores was in a good position to contest the crossing from the heights across the river, and the ford had patches of quicksand at the bottom of the knee deep water.

The U.S. 560 man force came under fire as it crossed, but because of a lack of sufficient guns and ammunition, and inadequate gunpowder, the Californio's artillery proved to be ineffective. The U.S. officers and men manhandled their cannon across while the forward quarter of the square took cover on the riverbank. Stockton personally helped unlimber and direct the artillery, which silenced both Californio cannons. Kearny led and commanded the assault force while Stockton stayed with the guns. The left flank of the square took a Californio hilltop position and held it against a counterattack from Militia Lancers shouting "Viva Los Californios". Then the whole square charged forward shouting "New Orleans, New Orleans", in honor of Andrew Jackson's great victory against Great Britain there that day thirty-one years before. The charge took the heights, and Flores withdrew his smaller force. The battle had lasted an hour and a half, and while 8 Americans were wounded in the battle, as opposed to 7 Californio casualties, the battle was decisive in the campaign for control of Los Angeles, and Alta California.

Aftermath

Stockton and Kearny stayed on the field overnight and resumed the pursuit the next day, thinking to overwhelm Flores' troops in the Battle of La Mesa, at the confluence of the San Gabriel and Los Angeles Rivers in present day Vernon. The Americans suffered 6 casualties as opposed to 40 for the Californios. On January 10 the U.S. forces reoccupied Los Angeles, and Archibald Gillespie was able to raise the same U.S. Flag over the house which he was forced to bring down a year before during the Siege of Los Angeles.

After Los Angeles and the whole of southern California was secured, the command issue between Stockton and Kearny heated up once again. Stockton, who had been the initial military governor of California, later granted that post to his aide, Lieutenant-Colonel (later General) John C. Fremont. Kearny, based on his more recent orders from the War Department, asserted that post for himself but was initially ignored, and Fremont represented the United States at the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga on January 13, 1847, at Campo de Cahuenga. Based on that snub, Kearny later brought charges against Fremont. A court-martial did convict Fremont, but President James Polk later pardoned him.

Some historians believe that the Battle of Rio San Gabriel was under-reported because of the influence of the politically-ambitious Frémont and his father-in-law Senator Thomas Hart Benton, in order to make Frémont look better by downplaying Stockton and Kearny. Others believed that if reports were made of the brave and resistant Californio Lancers, recruiting for the US Army would be difficult, motivation for the Mexicans would be great, and the US Congress would further divide over this war.

On January 10, 1847, Stockton established his headquarters on Wine Street, now known as Olvera Street, in the pueblo settlement of Ciudad de Los Angeles and assisted in setting up a civil government; that home is still standing as part of the historic area. He left California overland on June 20, 1847, and arrived at Washington, D.C. on about December 1. He later served in the United States Senate, representing New Jersey.

Kearny left California in August 1847 for Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and was reassigned to the war in Mexico.

A memorial, marked by a plaque flanked by two cannons, is located at the corner of Washington Blvd. and Bluff Rd. in Montebello. Volunteers in costume re-enact the battle annually.

See also

References

  • Hubert Howe Bancroft; Volume 22; History of California, Volume 5: 1846 - 1848

Published in 1886 (indexed at end of volume 24)

  • Nevin, David; editor, The Mexican War (1978)
  • Bauer, K. Jack, "The Mexican-American War 1846-48"
  • Eisenhower, John S. D., So Far from God: The U.S. War with Mexico, 1846-1848 (1989)

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