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Battle of Palo Alto
Part of the Mexican-American War
Palo Alto nebel.jpg
Painting by Carl Nebel
DateMay 8, 1846
Locationnear Brownsville, Texas
Result United States victory
 United States  Mexico
Commanders and leaders
United States Zachary Taylor Mexico Mariano Arista
2,400 3,400 and 12 artillery pieces
Casualties and losses
9 killed
45 wounded
2 captured[1]
128 killed
129 wounded

The Battle of Palo Alto was the first major battle of the Mexican-American War and was fought on May 8, 1846, on disputed ground five miles (8 km) from the modern-day city of Brownsville, Texas. A force of some 3,400 Mexican troops – a portion of the Army of The North – led by General Mariano Arista engaged a force of 2,400 United States troops – the "Army of Observation."


The war began as a result of Mexican efforts to besiege a U.S. army installation, "Fort Texas", (Garrison: Major Brown with 7th Infantry, Capt. Loud's Artillery Co. with four 18 pounders, & Lt. Bragg's Light Artillery four guns) which the Mexicans viewed as having been built within the boundaries of Mexican Texas. General Zachary Taylor, receiving supplies from Port Isabel, heard the distant report of cannon fire. The Mexicans had begun to attack Fort Texas. Taylor gathered his troops and rushed to relieve the defenders of the fort but was intercepted by a Mexican force commanded by General Arista. Another Mexican force (1,540 men, including Artillery 14 Guns, Matamoros Natl. Guards Battalion, Mexico (Col. F. de Berra), Puebla (Col. Orihuella), & Morelia (Col. Urriza) Activos Battalions) under General Francisco Mejia were left behind at Fort Brown & Matamoros.


General Arista's army was stretched a mile wide, making an American bayonet charge impossible. Taylor, in an unlikely move, advanced his artillery to attack the enemy. It was this "Flying Artillery"—the tactic of using light artillery to attack then quickly move to another location and fire once more, developed by Major Samuel Ringgold—that won the battle for the Americans. The Mexican artillery, heavy and slow, was futile in the thick brush at Palo Alto. Arista ordered cavalry charges to flank the artillery gunners, but the American "Flying Artillery" was able to mobilize and relocate.


Ringgold died of wounds inflicted in the battle, but his death spurred a significant boost to morale across America. After the first day, Taylor arose to find that the Mexicans had withdrawn from the field of battle and moved camp to the site of the next engagement, Resaca de La Palma.

Mexicans suffered large casualties compared to the Americans for several reasons. The Mexican army had poor gunpowder compared to the Americans, shortening the range of their cannon and musket fire. The poor powder had a tendency to explode prematurely and caused many soldiers to pour smaller amounts of gunpowder, further affecting the range of their weapons. Mexican soldiers usually had little training and were often scared of the volatile gunpowder.

The battlefield is now Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park and is maintained by the National Park Service.

File:MjrRinggold Death LOC.jpg

Engraving memorializing the fatal wounding of Maj. Samuel Ringgold in the battle

Monument to the Battle of Palo Alto at West Point

Order of battle


Army of the North- Gen.div. Mariano Arista

  • Pedro Ampudia
  • Artillery: Gen. Tomas Requena
  • Chief of div. R. Linarte

12 Guns (2-8 lbs, 8-4 lbs and 2- ?lbs) Infantry

  • 1st Brigade-Gen. Jose M. Garcia : 10th Line ( Col. Jose M. Garcia, Bn.Comdte. Manuel Montero) 2-8 lbs. guns
  • 2d Brigade -Gen. R. Diaz de la Vega : 1st (Col. Nicolas Mendoza) & 6th Line (Lt. Col. F. Garcia Casanova?) 6-4 lbs guns (incl.1-4 lb. Capt Ballarta)
  • Brigade-Gen. P. Ampudia : 4th Line (Col. Jose Lopez Uraga), Villas of the North Cav. Aux, Sappers Company & 2-? lbs guns
  • Unassigned : 2d Light (Col.Jose Maria Carrasco, Lt.Col. M. Fernandez), Tampico Coast Grds Battalion (Lt. Col. Ramon Tabera), Zapadores (Sappers) Battalion (Lt. Col. Mariano Reyes)
  • Cavalry Brigade-Acting Gen. Anastasio Torrejon
  • Cavalry: 7th & 8th Line (Col. A. Torrejon?), Light Regiment of Mexico (Col. C. Montero) & Presidial Companies (Col.Sabariego)
  • 2- 4 lbs. guns
  • Irregular Cavalry (Rancheros)- A. Canales


Army of Observation – Brigadier General Zachary Taylor

1st Brigade "Left Wing" – Lt. Col. William G. Belknap

  • Artillery Battalion (acting as Infantry)-Lt. Col. Thomas Childs
  • Light Artillery-Capt. Duncan
  • 8th Infantry-Capt. Montgomery
  • Wagon Train-Capts. Crossman & Myers

2nd Brigade "Right Wing" – Colonel David E. Twiggs

  • 5th Infantry-Lt. Col. James S. McIntosh
  • Light Artillery-Ringgold
  • 3d Infantry-Capt. L. M. Morris
  • Artillery-Lt. Churchill (2- 18 lbs)
  • 4th Infantry-Maj. G. W. Allen
  • Squadrons Dragoons-Capts. Ker & Charles A. May

See also


  1. Meed, p. 31
  • Alcaraz, Ramón. "Apuntes para la historia de la guerra entre México y los Estados Unidos" Mexico, 1848
  • Balbotín, Manuel. "La invasión americana, 1846 a 1848, apuntes del subteniente de artillería"
  • Bauer, K. Jack. "The Mexican-American War, 1846–1848"
  • Chartrand, René. "Santa Anna's Mexican Army, 1821–1848"
  • Crawford, Mark. "Encyclopedia of the Mexican-American War"
  • Haecker, Charles M. . "On the Prairie of Palo Alto"
  • Brooks, N. C. . "A Complete History of The Mexican War"
  • Lopez Uraga, Jose. "Los Dias 8 Y 9 De Mayo" Mexico, 1846.

External links

Coordinates: 26°01′12″N 97°27′55″W / 26.02007°N 97.46538°W / 26.02007; -97.46538

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