Military Wiki
Battle of San Pasqual
Part of the Mexican-American War
Battle of San Pascual.gif
A map of the battle site.
DateDecember 6, 1846
LocationSan Pasqual Valley, San Diego, California
Result Pyrrhic American victory[1]
Californios departed the battlefield
 United States Mexico Second Federal Republic of Mexico
Commanders and leaders
Stephen Watts Kearny Andrés Pico
2 artillery pieces (unused)
Casualties and losses
19 killed,
15 wounded[2]
2 killed,
12 wounded

The Battle of San Pasqual, also spelled San Pascual, was a military encounter that occurred during the Mexican-American War in what is now the San Pasqual Valley community of the city of San Diego, California. On December 6 and December 7, 1846, General Stephen W. Kearny's US Army column, along with a smaller force of Marines, engaged a small contingent of Californios and their Presidial Lancers, led by Capt. Leonardo Cota; eventually joined by Major Andrés Pico. After US reinforcements arrived, Kearny's troops were able to reach San Diego.


General Kearny had orders to assume command of U.S. forces in California, but before entering Alta California from Santa Fe, Kearny sent back 200 of his 300 mounted dragoons after hearing from messenger Kit Carson that all of California had already been captured by Commodore Robert F. Stockton and his 400 combined sailors and Marines, and John C. Frémont and his approximate 400 man California Battalion. After a grueling 850-mile (1,370 km) march across the Sonora Desert, Kearny and his mostly mule-mounted men finally reached California in a greatly weakened condition. There they met up with Captain Archibald Gillespie of the U.S. Marines. Captain Gillespie in the preceding weeks had recently been driven out of Los Angeles, and now marched from San Diego with a message from Stockton,[3] accompanied by a detachment of mounted riflemen,[4] a native San Diegan,[4] and Navy Lieutenant Beale who commanded a small howitzer commonly known as the "Sutter cannon".[4][5][6] The total American forces amounted to about 179.[7][8]


Captain Archibald Gillespie's message from Stockton informed Kearny of the presence at San Pasqual of a force of about 100 Californio Lancers mounted on fresh horses led by Captain Leonardo Cota.[citation needed] The Americans did not expect the Californios to be formidable adversaries, but Kearny still wanted to capitalize on a surprise attack if at all possible and capture the Californios' horse herd.[citation needed] He also wanted more exact information about the enemy force in preparation for an attack the following morning.[citation needed]

Lieutenant Thomas C. Hammond, together with a Californio, the 21 year old Rafael Machado and son of Don José Manuel Machado the grantee of the El Rosarito Ranch, and a detachment of six dragoons (light cavalry)—one report says three dragoons and still another eleven—were ordered to scout Pico's position, which was located in a small Indian village in San Pasqual Valley. While Rafael sneaked into the camp to gain intelligence - Hammond became impatient and mistakenly rode too close to the camp and the sound of the horses' hooves in mud alerted Rafael's sister's brother-in-law and his future father-in-law Captain Jose Alipas who had arrived with a small force with Captain Leonardo Cota, and José María Ibarra the Californio standing guard.[9][10] While Rafael quickly ran back to Hammond's scouting party, Alipas sounded the alarm but was dismissed by General Pico until a US Army blanket and Dragoon coat was discovered on the edge of camp by Pablo Véjar.[10] The element of surprise was lost and the dragoons were chased by the Californios to the top of the adjacent ridge top with screams of 'Viva California!'.[9] At midnight Kearny ordered an immediate advance. It had rained that night. Men, muskets, pistols and equipment were wet and cold, but the troops after over six months without any action were eager to engage the Californios. Early in the morning of December 6, 1846, the column proceeded by twos across the ridge between Santa Maria (present day Ramona, California) and San Pasqual. During the descent, while it was still dark and with a low lying fog, Kearny's force became strung out, and were caught in a disadvantageous position by General Pico's swift advance.[7]


Captain Archibald Gillespie of the Marines was attacked by lancers, front and rear, at San Pascual

Accounts differ as to what command was given and by whom; however, Captain Abraham R. Johnston is thought to have prematurely initiated action. According to Sides, Kearny ordered "Trot!" which Johnston at the front of the column misunderstood and repeated as "Charge!". Kearny's force at that time was three quarters of a mile (1.2 km) from Pico's encampment. About forty of the best mounted officers and men got far ahead of the main body of the force. The mules pulling Kearny's howitzers bolted, taking one of the guns with them. Pico's force was already mounted and easily managed to remain ahead of the pursuing Americans on their weary mules. Their fresh horses and superior horsemanship made it easy for them to manoeuvre as they wished, and they led the advance group of Americans even farther away from their main force. The Americans did not know the terrain and the Californios did. A second separation developed until about twenty-eight Americans including Kearny were in the forefront of the charge. Damp powder reduced the effectiveness of the American carbines and pistols, and they were soon reduced to relying on their sabers alone. The Californios were armed with a mixture of firearms, sabers, and long lances and reatas (braided rawhide lariat) which they used with great effect.

Battle of San Pasqual painting

As the leading element of the American attack drew close to a Kumeyaay village, the Californios wheeled back and fired their few firearms. One of their first shots killed Captain Johnston, but the Americans continued on and returned fire. The Californios retreated, and the Americans pursued. Captain Benjamin D. Moore ordered a second charge. This increased the distance between the American elements and further reduced the size of the leading element. When the Californios reversed, they were able to confront Captain Moore and his forces alone. He was quickly surrounded and killed. Other Americans caught up with the action, but their weapons misfired and many of them were wounded or killed by Californios using lances. Some were pulled from their horses by the Californios' lariats and then lanced. Mounted on mules, the Americans were particularly vulnerable because of the mules' noted reluctance to wheel. The better mounted Californios easily outflanked the Americans and picked them off with the long lances. The two howitzers the U.S. troops brought to the scene were not unlimbered in time to take part in the action.

Both Captain Gillespie and General Kearny were seriously wounded in the battle, and several of the other officers were killed or wounded. Captain Henry Turner temporarily took command and organized a defensive position, which permitted the rest of the command to catch up with the battered lead. Dr John S. Griffin, Kearny's surgeon, reported that the Americans had lost 17 killed and 18 wounded out of the 50 officers and men who engaged the enemy. They buried the dead in a mass grave and the bloodied and badly cutup survivors were treated and nursed by their Californio guide's sister Juanita Machado Alipas Wrightington.[11] Pico's forces suffered fewer casualties; some accounts state 2 killed and 12 wounded, whereas American witnesses claim a half dozen fatalities.

The next day, December 7, 1846, Kearny and his battered column continued its march towards San Diego. Californio lancers established a blocking position near what is now known as "Mule Hill". General Kearny ordered Lieutenant William H. Emory and a squad of dragoons to engage and drive off the menacing lancers. The dragoons easily forced the lancers away now having dry powder in their carbines while inflicting five dead before among the fleeing Californios. That evening Kearny again established a strong defensive perimeter and then sent Kit Carson, Edward Beale and a young Indian guide for reinforcements from the American fleet anchored in San Diego Bay. Under the cover of darkness, Carson and his team reached the American fleet. The US forces traveled to San Diego and united with the American fleet there. Together they were able to "drive" Californio forces (who had previously abandoned the skirmish) out of San Diego.[7]


General Kearny's official report states: “On the morning of the 7th, having made ambulances for our wounded . . . we proceeded on our march, when the enemy showed himself, occupying the hills in our front, which they left as we approached, till reaching San Bernardo a party of them took possession of a hill near to it and maintained their position until attacked by our advance, who quickly drove them from it, killing and wounding five of their number with no loss on our part.” (Cooke, 259)

Kearny sent dispatches carried by Lieutenant Beale and Kit Carson requesting urgent reinforcements to Commodore Stockton, who was headquartered at San Diego, 28 miles (45 km) to the south-southwest. Stockton quickly dispatched a unit of over 200 sailors and Marines, whose arrival caused the Californios to disperse. Kearny had already determined the night before (December 9) to continue the march the next morning, when the new forces arrived and then escorted Kearny's battered troops to San Diego, where they arrived December 12.[12]

Some time after the battle, General Kearny wrote that the US had achieved victory since the Californios had "fled the field",[12] but, his was not a highly shared view. Officers of the United States Navy viewed the battle as a defeat of the U.S. Army, while the Californios saw the engagement as a victory.[12] To this day, who won is disputed.[13]

During the late 19th and early 20th century, historians debated which force won or lost the battle. Clearly, Kearny retained the battle area, the ability to operate and maneuver, and also the initiative, though his losses were higher. The victor of the battle is still debated. The battle is also unique in that it is one of the few military battles in the United States that involved elements of the Army, Navy, Marines, and civilian volunteers, all in the same skirmish.[14]


  • Kearny Mesa, an area of San Diego, was later named after the US general.
  • Kit Carson Park on the south side of Escondido was named in his honor.
  • Beale Air Force Base in Marysville, California is named after Edward Beale.
  • Camp Gillespie, completed in 1942 during World War II, was named in honor of Lieutenant Archibald Gillespie. In 1944 the federal government transferred the property to the County of San Diego. It rechristened the facility as Gillespie Field, since used as a municipal airport.
  • Captain Benjamin D. Moore, who was killed from battle wounds, was honored by the dedication and naming of Fort Moore in downtown Los Angeles, California. The Fort Moore Hill Pioneer Memorial further honors Moore and other American pioneers.
  • The site of the battle is commemorated as San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park, a site on the National Register of Historic Places.

See also

Coordinates: 33°5′10″N 116°59′24″W / 33.08611°N 116.99°W / 33.08611; -116.99[15]


  1. John Wilson. "The Shooting of James King". Stanford University School of Medicine and the Predecessor Schools : An Historical Perspective. Stanford University. Retrieved 20 March 2011. "Although the Californians retreated and the Americans remained in possession of the battlefield, their victory was a pyrrhic one for their attack was ill-conceived and many American lives were recklessly and needlessly sacrificed." 
  2. Cooke, Philip St. George (1964). The Conquest of New Mexico and California, An Historical and Personal Narrative. Albuquerque, NM: Horn and Wallace. pp. 256–258. 
  3. Robert F. Stockton (18 February 1848). "Commodore Stockton's Report on the War in California". California State Military Museum. California State Military Department. Retrieved 15 March 2012. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Johns, Sally Cavell (1973). "VIVA LOS CALIFORNIOS!: The Battle of San Pasqual". San Diego History Center. Retrieved 15 March 2012. "The following day Stockton received the message and immediately sent a detachment of mounted riflemen under the command of Captain Gillespie. The force included Rafael Machado,70 a native San Diegan, and Navy Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale71 in charge of a four-pounder fieldpiece. The company marching to join the Army of the West totaled thirty-nine men." 
  5. Cresap, Cap (2006). "Clearing Up The Confusion About California Cannon Of John Sutter". Retrieved 15 March 2012. 
  6. George Hruby (September 1996). "THE USE OF ARTILLERY AT THE BATTLE OF SAN PASQUAL". San Pasqual Battlefield Site Location Project. Retrieved 15 March 2012. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Sides, Hampton (2006). Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West. Random Houst Digital, Inc.. pp. 2006. ISBN 978-0-7393-2672-5. Retrieved 19 March 2011. 
  8. THE JOURNALS OF MARINE SECOND LIEUTENANT HENRY BULLS WATSON 1845-1848, page 261, Last accessed 03/14/2012..
  9. 9.0 9.1 Captain Archi H. Gillespie "The Mexican War and California: Captain Archibald Gillespie's Report to Commodore Robert Stockton Concerning The Battle of San Pasqual",The California State Military Museum, last accessed 03/12/2012.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Arthur Woodward "Lances at San Pasqual (Concluded)" California Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 1, Mar., 1947, page 32, last accessed from JSTOR 3/12/2010.
  11. Machado de Wrightington, Juana 1878 Los Tiempos Pasados de la Alta California. Recuerdos de la Sra. D.a Juana Machado de Ridington [sic], January 11, 1878. North San Diego. Ms. interview by Thomas Savage, C-D 119. Bancroft Library.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Richard Griswold del Castillo. "The U.S.-Mexican War in San Diego, 1846–1847: Loyalty and Resistance". The Journal of San Diego History. Retrieved 18 October 2008. 
  13. "The Battle of San Pasqual". The California State Military Museum. California State Military Department. Retrieved 24 March 2010. 
  14. "San Pasqual Battlefield Site Location Project". Retrieved 9 July 2010. 
  15. "San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. 


  • Sides, Hampton, Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West, Doubleday (2006), hardcover, 462 pages, ISBN 978-0-385-50777-6

External links

Further reading

  • Coy, Owen C., PhD, "The Battle of San Pasqual," Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1921.
  • Dunne, William B. Notes on the Battle of San Pascual (Berkeley: Bancroft Library)
  • Executive Document Number 1, accompanying the President's message at the Second Session of the 30th Congress, December, 1848, including the Report of Commodore Stockton.
  • Jones, Sally Cavell, The Battle of San Pascual (Masters Thesis, USD, 1973)

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