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Siege of La Paz
Part of Mexican-American War
Marines-la-paz-sm.jpg
U.S. Marines, raising the American flag over La Paz, Mexico, 1847.
Date November 27-December 8, 1847
Location La Paz, Mexico
Result United States victory, Mexican withdrawal, siege lifted.
Belligerents
United States United States Mexico Mexico
Commanders
United States Lt. Colonel Henry S. Burton Mexico Captain Manuel Pineda
Strength
111 militia,
2 artillery pieces
~500 militia
Casualties and losses
unknown wounded ~36 killed,
unknown wounded.

The Siege of La Paz was a Mexican siege of their own city of La Paz. Mexican militia forces attempted to destroy the American militia garrison, occupying the peninsular town. The siege occurred over a twelve day period in November and December 1847, at the end of the Mexican-American War.

Contents

Background

Captain Manuel Pineda, of the Mexican Army had been drafting Mexican peasants to serve in his campaign on the western coast of Mexico. After his militia army was defeated twice at the Battle of La Paz and the Battle of San José del Cabo, Captain Pineda decided to continue the campaign with a prolonged engagement at La Paz, hoping to finish what he failed to do at the first battle.

The American garrison at this time included 111 men, of the New York Volunteers, a milita force from New York and was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Henry S. Burton when they landed peacefully in La Paz on June 21. Two 6 pound field guns were also among the American militia, holding down an old adobe barracks.

The United States Navy at this time had no warships to help protect San Jose, all of which had sailed north to Alta California for orders, others left Mexican waters for supplies. Leaving the American garrison with no ability to evacuate La Paz, should it become necessary.

Siege

After the defeat at San Jose, Captain Pineda's force had been increased by the company which had been repulsed, bringing his total strength to around 500 men. On or about November 26, Pineda set out from his base at La Laguna for La Paz. The next day he arrived and began positioning his troops around the settlement. That same day, Pineda launched an assault on the town, which he personally led.

They advanced, under cover of ravines and cacti, toward the United States Army's barracks position. Before the first battle at La Paz, the New York militia had assembled a type of small redoubt, made of palm tree logs and dirt. The logs were placed in front of their small two gun artillery battery and formed into a makeshift wall to protect the men themselves.

An 1847 map of Mexico, La Paz is located near the tip of the Baja California Peninsula.

When the second Mexican attack came to La Paz, the Americans, who used their knowledge from the first battle, improved their defense works to make them even more effective than during Pineda's first attack. The Mexicans, on foot, charged the American position but were driven back by accurate musket fire and shot from the American battery. The main Mexican attack failed so Pineda resorted to ineffective skirmishing for the remainder of the siege.

Pineda's militia also set fire to many of the buildings at La Paz. On December 8, a little boat, sent to the United States Navy blockading fleet at Mazatlán on November 21 by Lt. Colonel Burton, arrived back at La Paz with food, water and ammunition. Later the same day, USS Cyane, under Commodore William Shubrick's orders, arrived at San Jose from San Blas.

Cyane's mission was to relieve the American army garrison which was before then, stranded on the Baja Peninsula with the ocean at their backs and an overwhelming Mexican army in front. Once Captain Manuel Pineda learned of the Cyane's arrival at La Paz, he ordered a retreat, thus Cyane lifted the siege which resulted in an American victory. Pineda's campaign was not over yet though, he would move on to besiege San Jose del Cabo in the following days.

Aftermath

While the number of Mexican casualties during the second attack on La Paz is not known, Henry Burton reported finding thirty-six freshly dug graves around the Mexican camp after they had retreated. No Americans had been killed, some are said to have been wounded. Lieutenant Tunis Craven described the appearance of the ruined town later on in a report.

"All of that part of the town not protected by the garrison's muskets was burned, the vine and fig tree, as well as the graceful palm-all being devoured. Such are the beauties of war."

While the Mexicans were besieging La Paz, President James K. Polk, in his annual message to the United States Congress, on December 7, 1847, stated:

"Early after the commencement of the war, New Mexico and the Californias were taken possession by our forces. Our military and naval commanders were ordered to conquer and to hold them, subject to be disposed of by a treaty of peace. These Provinces are now in our undisputed occupation and have been so for many months, all resistance on the part of Mexico having ceased within their limits. . . . I am satisfied that they should never be surrendered to Mexico."

He apparently wrote this, not knowing the Mexicans were indeed defending the Californias from the United States invasion.

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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