Pancho Villa Expedition: Wikis


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Cartoon by Clifford Berryman reflects U.S. attitudes about the expedition
External Timeline A graphical timeline is available at
Timeline of the Mexican Revolution

The Pancho Villa Expedition (officially known in the United States as the Mexican Expedition) was a military operation conducted by the United States Army against the paramilitary forces of Francisco "Pancho" Villa from 1916 to 1917. The expedition was in retaliation for Villa's illegal incursion into the United States and attack on the village of Columbus, Luna County, New Mexico, during the Mexican Revolution. The United States Army Center of Military History officially refers to the campaign as "the Mexican Expedition". The official beginning and ending dates are March 14, 1916 and February 7, 1917.

Staging area for truck trains that supplied troops of General John J. Pershing during the Pancho Villa Expedition, in Columbus, New Mexico


Villa's attacks

Villa wearing bandoliers in front of an insurgent camp

Trouble with Villa had been growing since 1915, when the United States government disappointed Villa by siding with and giving its official recognition to Venustiano Carranza's national government. Feeling severely betrayed by the U.S. government, Villa began attacking American property and citizens in northern Mexico. The most serious incident occurred in January 1916, when 17 American employees of the ASARCO company were removed from a train at Santa Isabel, Chihuahua, and summarily stripped and executed, although one escaped by faking his death. Villa kept his men south of the border to avoid a direct confrontation with the U.S. Army forces, that were being deployed to protect the border.

The Battle of Columbus (1916)

At approximately 4:17 am on March 9, 1916, Villa's troops attacked Columbus, New Mexico and its local detachment of the U.S. 13th Cavalry Regiment. They killed 10 civilians and 8 soldiers, leaving 2 civilians and 6 military wounded, for a total of 18 killed and 8 wounded.[1][2] The raiders also burned the town, took many horses and mules, seized available machine guns, ammunition and merchandise, before they returned to Mexico. However, Villa's troops suffered considerable losses, with at least sixty-seven dead. About thirteen others would later die of their wounds. Five Mexicans were taken prisoner. The raid may have been spurred by an American merchant in Columbus who supplied Villa with weapons and ammunitions. After Villa paid several thousand dollars in cash in advance, the merchant decided to stop supplying him with weapons and demanded payment in gold.


Pershing in his Casas Grandes encampment, studies telegraphed orders.

On March 15, on orders from President Woodrow Wilson, General John J. Pershing led an expeditionary force of 4,800 men into Mexico to capture Villa. The newly adopted airplane, Curtiss JN-4, was used by the 1st Provisional Aero Squadron to conduct aerial reconnaissance. Villa had already had more than a week to disperse and conceal his forces before the punitive expedition tried to seek them out in unmapped, foreign terrain.

1st Aero Squadron on the Mexican US border, 1916, marked with "later Soviet-style red stars", as the US national insignia, on rudder and wings

Pershing divided his force into two columns to seek out Villa. Pershing made his main base encampment at Casas Grandes, Chihuahua. Due to disputes with the Carranza administration over the use of the Mexico North Western Railway to supply his troops, the Army employed a truck-train system to convoy supplies to Pershing's encampment. The Signal Corps set up wireless telegraph service from the border to Pershing's HQ. In June, Lieutenant George S. Patton raided a small community and killed Julio Cárdenas and two other men. Patton personally killed Cardenas, and is reported to have carved notches into his revolvers.[3] Cárdenas was an important leader in the Villista military organization.

However in July, U.S. forces including elements of the 7th Cavalry and the African-American U.S. 10th Cavalry Regiment attacked Mexican Federal army troops in an engagement in the Battle of Carrizal, Chihuahua, resulting in many cavalry troops becoming prisoners of the Federals, and effectively ending the 10th Cavalry's usefulness in the Villa campaign.[4] Another skirmish with Federals took place north of Parral, Chihuahua on April 12. Carranza sent General Jacinto Treviño to warn Pershing of armed Federal resistance to any further advances of Pershing's forces into other areas, and that troop movements in the direction north to the border would be the only movements acceptable to the Carranza government.

M1905 Howitzer used by U.S. Forces

While the expedition did make contact with Villista formations and killed two of his generals, it failed in its major objectives, neither stopping border raids (which continued while the expedition was in Mexico, although both National Guard troops and Texas Rangers were stationed on the border) nor capturing Villa. However, between the date of the American withdrawal and Villa's retirement in 1920, Villa's troops were no longer an effective fighting force, being hemmed in by American and Mexican federal troops and money and arms blockades on both sides of the border.

Withdrawal and final battle

Members of the 6th and 16th Infantry withdrawing homeward in January 1917.

The bulk of American forces were withdrawn in January 1917. Pershing publicly claimed the expedition was a success, although privately he complained to family that President Wilson had imposed too many restrictions, which made it impossible for him to fulfill his mission.[citation needed] He admitted to having been "outwitted and out-bluffed at every turn," and wrote "when the true history is written, it will not be a very inspiring chapter for school children, or even grownups to contemplate. Having dashed into Mexico with the intention of eating the Mexicans raw, we turned back at the first repulse and are now sneaking home under cover, like a whipped curr with its tail between its legs." Warfare on the border continued though, American forces went on to fight the Battle of Ambos Nogales, the bloodiest engagemesnt between United States and Mexican forces during the revolution.

General Pershing was permitted to bring into New Mexico 527 Chinese refugees who had assisted him during the expedition, despite the ban on Chinese immigration that existed at that time due to the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Chinese refugees, known as "Pershing's Chinese," were allowed to remain in the United States on the condition that they work under the supervision of the military as cooks and servants on bases. In 1921, Congress passed Public Resolution 29, which allowed them to remain in the United States permanently under the conditions of the 1892 Geary Act. Most of them settled in San Antonio.[5]

Soldiers who took part in the campaign were honored with the Mexican Service Medal.

A training ground for the Army National Guard

Company A, First Arkansas Infantry, on the skirmish line near Deming, New Mexico, during the 1916 Mexican Expedition

National Guard units from Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico had been called into service on May 8, 1916.[6] With congressional approval of the National Defense Act on June 3, 1916, National Guard units from the remainder of the states and the District of Columbia were also called for duty on the border..[7] In mid-June President Wilson called out 110,000 National Guard for border service. None of the National Guard troops would cross the border into Mexico but were used instead as a show of force. Nonetheless, activities on the border were far from dull. The troops had to be on constant alert as border raids were still an occasional nuisance. Three of the raids were particularly bloody. On May 5, 1916, Mexican bandits attacked an outpost at Glenn Springs, Texas, killing one civilian and wounding three American soldiers. On June 15 bandits killed four American soldiers at San Ygnacio, Texas, and on July 31 one American soldier and a U.S. customs inspector were killed. In all three cases Mexican raiders were killed and wounded, but the exact numbers are unknown.[8] The Mexican Expedition proved to be an excellent training environment for the officers and men of the National Guard who would be recalled to Federal Service later that same year (1917) for duty in World War I. Many National Guard leaders in both World Wars traced their first Federal Service to the Mexican Expedition.

U.S. Army units involved in the punitive expedition

See also


  1. ^ "Buffalo Soldiers at Huachuca: Villa's Raid on Columbus, New Mexico". Huachuca Illustrated 1. 1993. Retrieved 2008-11-10. 
  2. ^ "The March Of Events: Making Mexico Understand". The World's Work: A History of Our Time XXXI: 584–593. April 1916. Retrieved 2009-08-04. 
  3. ^ Patton Headquarters website timeline
  4. ^ NAMED CAMPAIGNS - MEXICAN EXPEDITION US Army Center for Military History
  5. ^ Chinese in Texas
  6. ^ Prologue Magazine, Winter 1997, Vol. 29, No. 4, The United States Armed Forces and the Mexican Punitive Expedition: Part 2 By Mitchell Yockelson, Retrieved 24 Feb 10,
  7. ^ War Department, Annual Report of the Secretary of War for the Fiscal Year, 1916, Vol. 1 (1916)
  8. ^ Prologue Magazine, Winter 1997, Vol. 29, No. 4, The United States Armed Forces and the Mexican Punitive Expedition: Part 2 By Mitchell Yockelson, Retrieved 24 Feb 10,


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