The División del Norte was an armed faction formed by Madero and initially led by General José González Salas following the call to arms from Francisco Madero at the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. After Salas committed suicide following his defeat at the hands of Pascual Orozco at the First Battle of Rellano, the leadership of the division was given to Victoriano Huerta. After Huerta's overthrow in la Decena trágica and the murder of Madero, Pancho Villa assumed the leadership of the division. As a result the Division became closely associated with his name. Villa often led his División del Norte into battle himself.
The División del Norte was in effect a total army rather than a regular division. Villa's troops were assigned military ranks, outfitted with hospital trains and horse ambulances (called Servicio sanitario and said to be the first employed in Mexico), used the railroads built during the Díaz administration to move quickly from one engagement to the other, and unlike some other revolutionary groups, were well equipped with machine guns and even an artillery unit (captured from the Mexican Federal Army and Rurales). Villa attempted to supply a horse to each infantryman, rather than only his cavalry detachments (Los dorados) in order to increase the speed of movement of his army, thus creating an early version of mobile infantry, or a late version of dragoons. Numerous foreign mercenaries served in the Falange extranjero (foreign legion) of the División, including such notables as Ivor Thord-Gray and the son of Giuseppe Garibaldi.
The División del Norte at its height numbered some 50,000 men. This was the largest revolutionary force ever amassed in the Americas. Pancho Villa's notoriety no doubt played an important part to recruiting such large numbers of men. Despite having such numerical advantage, the División del Norte was defeated at the Battle of Celaya on April 1915 by forces of Álvaro Obregón. The outcome of the battle came to the favor of Obregón who used defensive tactics from current European battle reports of World War I. The División del Norte with its cavalry charges was no match for well placed barbed wire, trenches, artillery and machine gun nests.
- The Course of Mexican History: Seventh Edition Michael Meyer
- *René De La Pedraja Tomán, "Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941", McFarland, 2006, .
- Frank McLynn, "Villa and Zapata. A History of the Mexican Revolution", Basic Books, 2000, .
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