The Mexican Expedition (1916-17)


Figure 1.--Reports on the incidents along the southwest border with Mexico filled American newspapers in early 1916, culminating in Villa's raid on Columbus, New Mexico (March 9). Then thee were detailed exports on the Pershing Expedition which entered Mexico (March 19). This presumaably inspired the caption here.

President Wilson decided to support Carranza in the Mexican Civil War (1915). This enfuriated northern commander Panco Villa who had expected American assistance. Villa retaliated by ordering attacks ion americans in northern Mexico and along the border. The most serious incident occurred when Villa's men stopped a Mexican train and found several American engineers (January 1916). The Villistas forced the Americans off the train and then stripped, shot, md mutilated them. Villa ordered his men to stay south of the border to avoid an incident on American terriory which he seems to have realized would have serious consequences. The exception to this was an attck on the border town of Columbus, New Mexico (March 9, 1916). This was no accident. A substantial Villista force attacked the town and its small military post. They shot and killed several resident and burned down much of the town. There were 24 casualties. They escaped back into Mexico with horses and mules, merchandise and guns from the stores, as well as money. Americans were outraged and newspapers throughout the country demanded action. Wilson was also outraged seeing Villa as little more than a bandit. President Wilson ordered General John J. Pershing to enter Mexico and arrest Villa. Pershing was an old calvalry man who had commanded black troops (the Buffalo soldiers) on the Western frontier, earning him the nick name Black Jack Pershing. Perhing crossed the border with a 12,000 mn expeditionary force. Eventually almost the entire American Army was involved in the operation. Villa seems to have anticipated the American reaction and used the time after the Columbus raid to disperse and conceal his forces. Pershing entered Mexico in two columns looking for Villa. The whole affair is generally seen as a minor footnote to the massive World War I drama in Europe. It is not well established, however, just how the affair affected German thinking.

Mexican Revolution (1910-20)

French Emperor Napoleon III during the American Civil War provided French troops to install Emperor Mazimillian on the French throne (1864). Benito Juárez led the resistance to Maximillian. With support from the United States, Maximillian's forces were defeated and he was shot (1867). Juarez failed to successfully implement his reformist ideas. Mexican General Porfirio Díaz seized control and became president (1867). Díaz dominated Mexico for four decades as an authoritarian dictator. Díaz through foreign loans developed the country's economy and infrastructure, but did little to addresses the country's serious social problems. Resistance to Díaz coaleased around Francisco I Madero, an intelectual lawyer who became an impasioned spokesman for democracy and reform. Madero managed to overthrow Díaz (1910), but proved incapable of carrying out his reforms. Conservatives an revolutionaries were disatisfied with Madero. Unable to control the the forces that put him into power, Mexico spun out of control. Following his overthrow by General Huerta, he was arrsted and shot (1913). Huerta associated with the conservative forces backing Diaz then had to face Madero's supporters. Carranza, Obregon, Villa, and Zapata coalesed to defeat Huerta. Then Carranza and Obregon united to fight the more revolutionary Zapata and Villa. President Wilson decided to support Carranza in the Mexican Civil War which outrahed Villa (1915).

Villa's Revenge (1915-16)

President Wilson's support of Carranza enfuriated northern commander Panco Villa who had expected American assistance. Villa retaliated by ordering attacks on Americans in northern Mexico and along the border. Numerous incidents were reported. The most serious incident occurred when Villa's men stopped a Mexican train and found several American engineers (January 1916). The Villistas forced the Americans off the train and then stripped, shot, md mutilated them. Villa ordered his men to stay south of the border to avoid an incident on American terriory which he seems to have realized would have serious consequences.

Columbus Raid (March 8-9)

The exception to this was an attck on the border town of Columbus, New Mexico (March 9, 1916). This was no accident. A substantial Villista force estimated at 500-1,000 men attacked the town. Elements of the 13th calvary were stationed at Columbus and the raid turned into a running gun fight. They shot and killed several resident and burned down much of the town. There were 24 American casualties (14 military, 10 civilian). The Villistas escaped back into Mexico with horses and mules, merchandise and guns from the stores, as well as money. Americans were outraged and newspapers throughout the country demanded action. Wilson was also outraged seeing Villa as little more than a bandit.

Pershing Enters Mexico (March 19)

President Wilson ordered General John J. Pershing to enter Mexico and arrest Villa. Pershing was an old calvalry man who had commanded black troops (the Buffalo soldiers) on the Western frontier, earning him the nickname Black Jack Pershing. Wilson's orders were for Pershing to find and arrest Villa, but to respect the sovereignty of Mexico while doing so.

American Forces

Perhing crossed the border with a 12,000 mn expeditionary force. Pershing's command consisted of the 7th, 10th, 11th, and 13th Cavalry regiments, 6th and 16th Infantry regiments, part of the 6th Field Artillery, and additional supporting units which entered Meico. They were subsequently followed by the 5th Cavalry, 17th and 24th Infantry regiments, and engineer and other units. This in essence was virtually the entire American Army. Before the Expedition was over, much of the National Guard was Federalized and concentrated on the southwest border with Mexico. The Curtiss JN-3 was used for aerial surveillance. Villa seems to have anticipated the American reaction and used the time after the Columbus raid to disperse and conceal his forces. Norther Mexico was a huge ara, much of it unmapped. Pershing entered Mexico in two columns looking for Villa.

Penetration

Element's of the Pershing Expedition moved as far as 400 miles into Mexico. Therewere long periods without any action. The action that did occur were mostly small skirmishes with small bands of insurgents.

Patton Raid (June)

George S. Patton, the famed American World War II commander, raided a town and killed Julio Cárdenas and two other Villistas. Cárdenas was an important Villista commander.

Carrizal (June 21)

A less successful raid occurred at the village of Carrizal. U.S. soldiers attacked Mexican Government troops at Carrizal. A unit of the 10th Cavalry was nearly destroyed. Several Mexicans were wounded or killed.

Withdrawl

The United States withdrew most of the expedtionary force (January 1917) and the remainder by the next month. . Pershing in public described a succesful mission. Privately he claimed that restrictions imposed by President Wilsom made it impossible to accomplish his objectives, namely finding Villa.

End of the Affair

Some historians believe that the United States may have declared war on Mexico had it not been for developents in Europe which caused the United States to declare war on Germany (April 1917). The Germans were certainly following the situation. The Zimmerman Telegram (January 1917) was a factor in the American declaration of war. The American failure in Mexico may have affected the German assessment of America's military capaility. It is undestandable that military peopke may have been unaware of Ameerica's potentialm power. It seems increbidle that the Foreign Minister was so poorly informed. We suspect that he gave great credence to the German Navy's claims that U-boats would prevent an American army from reaching France. The United States and Mexico eventually restored normal diplomatic negotitions.

Mission Assessment

The Pershing Expedition did kill some Villistas, including two important commanders. But it failed to find Villa or seriously affect his organization. Nor did it put an end to the border raids. Incidents continued into 1919. There were engagements at Buena Vista, Mexico (December 1, 1917), San Bernardino Canyon, Mexico (December 26, 1917), near La Grulla, Texas (January 8-9, 1918), Pilares, Mexico (March 28, 1918), Nogales, Arizona (August 27, 1918), and near E1 Paso, Texas (June 15-16, 1919). There were numerous problems faced by Pershing . There was problems with Meican Government officials who whatever their attitude about Villa, objected to the Americans in Mexico. There were incidents with Mexican citizens who commonly resented the American presence. The local population was generally sympathetic with Villa and the Ameicans had trouble getting useful intelligence. The many open catinas also probed to be a destraction to troop operations. Basically give the area Villa had to hide and the inaccessibilty of much of the area combined with local support, made it impossible for a rather limited force to find Villa.

Overll Assessment

The Kaiser in early 1917 made perhaps the most importaqnt decession of World War I. He gambled that the War could be won by German U-boats before the United States could intervene in force. This proved to be a huge mistake because it was the American infantry in 1918 that proved to be the decisive force in breaking the Germam Western Front. What we do not know is the German decession making process. The Germans clearly thought it would take considerable time to recruit, trin, and equip a major force and the U-bpats might even be able to prevent its deployment to France. We wonder if reports from Mexico may have caused the Germans to underestimate the potential miluitary contribution of the United States. One impact of the Mexican Expedition was that it seems to have determined Wilson's choice for the commander of the AEF. While Pershing chafed at the limitations placed on him byWilson in Mexico, he never complained to the press.






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Created: 1:42 AM 5/15/2006
Last updated: 11:44 PM 2/24/2011