Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June 21, 1916 – Battle of Carrizal Sparks Second Mexican-American War

The chaotic Mexican Revolution finally began war with the United States after an altercation at the town of Carrizal in the northern state of Chihuahua, Mexico. About one hundred troopers from the US 10th Cavalry attacked some 150 Mexican Federal soldiers, leading to a Mexican victory even though they had taken two-thirds casualties. Two American cavalry officers and fourteen troopers were killed while twenty-three more were captured. In a move that is surrounded by controversy to this day, many of the prisoners were killed. News of the mass execution struck deeply in the American conscious, pushed the deeper by Hearst newspapers, which called for war.

While there had been routine troubles with American outlaws and Mexican banditos on either side using the border to their advantage since before the first Mexican War (1846-1848), the Mexican Revolution began a whole new environment of turmoil between the nations. In 1910, Francisco Madero overthrew the dictator Porfirio Díaz, who had held onto power as president since 1884 and twice before. Díaz had worked to free Mexico of American influence while furthering Mexico on pseudo-liberal lines with a theme of "Order followed by Progress." Decades after Díaz suspended the non-consecutive presidencies rule that he himself had implemented, Madero finally spoke up that he would run in the 1910 election. Díaz imprisoned him, but Madero escaped and published “Plan de San Luis Potosí” calling for no re-elections, which made him into a revolutionary craved by the Mexican people.

Unfortunately, the goal of the revolution was unclear. Numerous movements began from agrarianists, socialists, anarchists, and more. Madero remained focused on simple election reform; after his ragtag army of peasants and Indians defeated the Federal forces, he insisted on an election in 1911, which he handily won. His goals did not match the calls for social reform, so, by 1913, Madero had lost the public approval needed to stave off a coup by General Victoriano Huerta, Felix Díaz (nephew of Porfirio), and US Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson, creating a stable Mexico under military rule to combat the numerous armies forming under commanders such as moderate socialist Venustiano Carranza, populist Emiliano Zapata, and militaristic democrat Francisco “Pancho” Villa. When Huerta fled Mexico City, Carranza came to power and was backed by US President Woodrow Wilson.

Villa, meanwhile, formed up his army in the north and fought on. He believed wholly in the Plan de San Luis and distrusted Carranza, who sent General Álvaro Obregón to put down Villa. On April 13, 1915, Villa was badly defeated at the Battle of Celaya, losing in a headlong assault that ended with 4,000 men dead and 6,000 captured. Blaming an American arms dealer for bad ammunition, Villa raided Columbus, NM, stealing from an army depot and destroying much of the town before his cavalry was driven off by American infantry. The American public, which had taken Villa as a romantic hero despite numerous border raids already, turned against him and agreed with Wilson’s encouraging Carranza as the basis for a stable government for Mexico. Unwilling to risk war but needing to control public outrage, Wilson dispatched Brigadier General John J. Pershing with a force of some 10,000 into Mexico to catch Villa. Early in the Punitive Expedition, Pershing gained intelligence that Villa was in Carrizal, and he sent cavalry under Captain Charles Trumbull Boyd to investigate. Boyd ordered an attack even though the soldiers in Carrizal were Federal Mexican, and the battle was quickly lost.

The following execution of prisoners is believed to have been the action of soldiers who had lost their commander, General Felix Gomez. In chaos or under questionable orders, twelve of the Americans were killed. Conspiracy theories suggest that Villa was behind the slayings, using double-agents or simple bribes to bring about the deaths. Word returned to Pershing, who sent it on to Washington with a request for leniency on orders to respect Mexican sovereignty and move freely. Congress, egged on by a suddenly bloodthirsty America, approved despite Wilson’s call for peace. Although he would work effectively to mobilize America, Wilson’s attempts at diplomacy would be used against him in the 1916 election with the slogan “He kept us out of war” as many believed that a swifter, wider military action could have spared much of the destruction on and across the border. At the beginning of his two-term presidency in 1917, Charles Evans Hughes directed Pershing to move on Mexico City quickly, seize control, and work with local leaders to establish occupation zones.

The Second Mexican War would be short, but bloody, and also thrust America into war with Germany, Mexico’s ally by 1917. Longer and even bloodier would be the occupation of Mexico, which would easily prove as problematic as that of the Philippines. While the middle region of Mexico would come to order fairly swiftly, the north would continue to fight under the image of Pancho Villa (who would be killed in battle in 1919) and the south was barely less than a warzone under "The Attila of the South" Zapata. The result would be the splitting of Mexico into Mexico, an independent state of South Mexico (nicknamed Oaxaca), and territory in Baja and Chihuahua that would come under American sovereignty. Today, Mexico is a thriving nation in open trade with the United States and Canada, while Oaxaca works to recover from its Cold War communist dictatorship.


In reality, the captured American soldiers were traded diplomatically. The ABC Powers (Argentina, Brazil, and Chile) aided in diplomacy that would maintain peace between the United States and Mexico as both sides were truly reluctant for war.

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