Military Wiki
Pancho Villa Expedition
Part of the Mexican Revolution, Border War
Cartoon by Clifford Berryman reflects American attitudes about the expedition
DateMarch 14, 1916 - February 7, 1917
LocationNorthern Mexico

American operational failure

  • United States withdrawal in 1917.
 United States MexicoVillistas
Commanders and leaders
United States John J. Pershing
United States George A. Dodd
United States Frank Tompkins
Mexico Pancho Villa
Mexico Felipe Angeles
Mexico Ismael Lopez
Casualties and losses
171 Villistas dead
24 Carrancistas dead
Total: 195 dead

General John J. Pershing in his camp at Casas Grandes, studying telegraphed orders
Pancho Villa wearing bandoliers in front of an insurgent camp

The Pancho Villa Expedition—officially known in the United States as the Mexican Expedition[1] and sometimes colloquially referred to as the Punitive Expedition—was a military operation conducted by the United States Army against the paramilitary forces of Mexican revolutionary Francisco "Pancho" Villa from 1916 to 1917 during the Mexican Revolution. The expedition was launched in retaliation for Villa's attack on the town of Columbus, New Mexico, and was the most remembered event of the Border War. The expeditions had one objective: to capture Villa dead or alive and put a stop to any future forays by his paramilitary forces on American soil.[2] The official beginning and ending dates of the Mexican Expedition are March 14, 1916, and February 7, 1917.


Trouble between the United States and Pancho Villa had been growing since 1915, when the United States government disappointed Villa by siding with and giving its official recognition to Venustiano Carranza's national government. Feeling betrayed, Villa began attacking American property and citizens in northern Mexico. The most serious incident occurred on January 11, 1916, when sixteen American employees of the American Smelting and Refining Company were removed from a train near Santa Isabel, Chihuahua, and summarily stripped and executed. Villa kept his men well below the border to avoid direct confrontation with the United States Army forces deployed to defend the border.[citation needed]

At about 4:00 am on March 9, 1916, Villa's troops attacked Columbus, New Mexico, and its detachment of the 13th Cavalry Regiment, killing ten civilians and eight soldiers, and wounding two civilians and six soldiers.[3][4] The raiders burned the town, stole many horses and mules, and seized all available machine guns, ammunition and merchandise, before fleeing back to Mexico. However, Villa's troops had suffered considerable losses, with at least sixty-seven dead and dozens more wounded. About thirteen of these later died of their wounds, and five Villistas taken prisoner by the Americans were executed. The attack may have been caused by a merchant in Columbus who supplied Villa with arms and ammunition. Villa had paid several thousand dollars in cash for the weapons, but the merchant refused to deliver them unless he was paid in gold.[citation needed]



On March 15,[5] on orders from President Woodrow Wilson, Major General John J. Pershing led an expeditionary force of 4,800 men into Mexico to capture Villa, who had already had more than a week to disperse and conceal his forces before the expedition set out to seek them out in unmapped terrain. On March 19, a Curtiss JN-3 airplane of the 1st Aero Squadron began conducting an aerial reconnaissance of the area.[6] Pershing divided his force into two "flying columns" to search for Villa, making his main base encampment at Casas Grandes, Chihuahua. Because of disputes with the Carranza administration over the use of the Mexico North Western Railway to supply Pershing's troops, the United States Army employed a truck-train system to convoy supplies to the encampment and the Signal Corps set up wireless telegraph service from the border to Pershing's headquarters. This was the first use of (non-rail) (Radio Tractors) motor vehicles in a U. S. military operation and useful provided experience for when the country entered World War I.[7]

The first battle between the Villistas and the soldiers took place on March 29, 1916, at San Geronimo Ranch, near the town of Guerrero. After a long march through the Sierra Madre, Colonel George A. Dodd and 370 men of the 7th Cavalry, launched what was is called the "last true cavalry charge" "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". May 2012.  in history. [The last mounted pistol charge of U. S. Cavalry was by Troop G, 26th Cavalry (Phikippine Scouts), near Morong, Luzon, Philippines, led by 1LT Ed Ramsey on 16 January 1942 against Japanese infantry. The last mounted pistol charge in history was made by the 3rd Platoon of the 10th Mountain Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop of the {10th Mountain Division (US) in Austria between 14 and 23 April 1945.}--source-various Articles, including 'U.S. Cavalry' and '26th Cavalry Regiment(United States)'. [During the five-hour battle, over seventy-five of Villa's men were killed or wounded and he was forced to retreat into the mountains. Only five of the Americans were hurt, none of them fatally. The battle is considered the single most successful engagement of the expedition and it was the closest Pershing's men came to capturing Villa.[8][9][9][10][11]

On April 12, 1916, about 100 men of the all-black 13th Cavalry were attacked by an estimated 500 Mexican troops as they were leaving the town of Parral. Colonel Frank Tompkins knew that his outnumbered Buffalo Soldiers could not win a conventional engagement,but in a running battle he and his men were able to reach a fortified village nearby while repulsing Mexican cavalry charges at the same time. Two Americans were killed in the fight and another six were wounded and 1 soldier missing, the Mexicans lost between fourteen and seventy men, according to conflicting accounts.[12][13] One report claims 1 known Mexican civilian wounded and 40 Mexicans killed.[14] Colonel Dodd and the 7th Cavalry fought another engagement on April 22 with about 200 Villistas, under Candelaro Cervantes, at the small village of Tomochic. As the Americans entered the village, the Mexicans opened fire from the surrounding hills. Dodd first sent patrols out to engage the Villistas' rear guard, to the east of Tomochic, and after they were "scattered" the main body was located on a plain, to the north of town, and brought into action. Skirmishing continued, but after dark the Villistas retreated and the Americans moved to in Tomochic. The 7th Cavalry lost two men killed and four wounded, while Dodd reported his men had killed at least thirty Villistas.[15]

The next battle was on May 5, at a ranch near Ojos Azules. Six troops of the 11th Cavalry and a detachment of Apache Scouts charged Julio Acosta and his 100 Villistas in what Friedrich Katz called the "greatest victory that the Punitive Expedition would achieve." Without a single casualty, the Americans killed forty-one Villistas and wounded many more. The survivors, including Acosta, were dispersed, but they later regrouped to continue fighting the Mexican government.[16][17][18]

While the 11th Cavalry was engaged at Ojos Azules, dozens of Mexican raiders, under a Villista officer, attacked the towns of Boquillas and Glenn Springs, Texas. The Mexicans won at Glenn Springs against a squad of just nine 14th Cavalry soldiers, while at Boquillas they robbed the town and took two captives. U.S. Army sent a punitive expedition to Coahuila to free the captives and regain the stolen property. On May 12, Colonel George T. Langhorne and two troopers from the 8th Cavalry rescued the captives at El Pino without a fight, and three days later a small detachment of cavalry encountered the raiders at Castillon. Five of the Villistas were killed and two wounded; the Americans had no casualties.[19][20][21]

On May 14, Lieutenant George S. Patton, 8th Cavalry, raided the San Miguelito Ranch, near Rubio, Chihuahua. Patton, a future World War II general, was out looking to buy some corn from the Mexicans when he came across the ranch of Julio Cárdenas, an important leader in the Villista military organization. With fifteen men and three Dodge armored cars, Patton led America's first armored vehicle attack and personally shot Cárdenas and two other men. The young lieutenant then had the three Mexicans strapped to the hood of the cars and driven back to General Pershing's headquarters at Colonia Dublán. Patton is said to have carved three notches into the twin Colt Peacemakers he carried, representing the men he killed that day. General Pershing nicknamed him the "Bandito".[22][23][24][25]

The Villistas launched an attack of their own on May 25. This time a small force of ten men from the 7th Cavalry were out looking for stray cattle and correcting maps when they were ambushed by twenty rebels just south of Cruces. One American corporal was killed and two other men were wounded, though they killed two of the "bandit leaders" and drove off the rest.[26][27]

On June 2, Lieutenant James A. Shannon and twenty Apache scouts fought a small skirmish with some of Candelaro Cervantes' men after they stole a few horses from the 5th Cavalry. Shannon and the Apaches found the rebels' trail, which was a week old by then, and followed it for some time until finally catching up with the Mexicans near Las Varas Pass, about forty miles south of Namiquipa. Using the cover of darkness, Shannon and his scouts attacked the Villistas' hideout, killing one of them and wounding another without losses to themselves. The rebel who died was thought to be the leader as he carried a sword during the fight.[28]

Another skirmish was fought on June 9, north of Pershing's headquarters and the city of Chihuahua. Twenty men from the 13th Cavalry encountered an equally small force of Villistas and chased them through Santa Clara Canyon. Three of the Mexicans were killed and the rest escaped. There were no American casualties.[29]

The last engagement of the Mexican Expedition was fought on June 21 when American forces, including elements of the 7th Cavalry and the African-American 10th Cavalry, were defeated by Carrancista soldiers at the Battle of Carrizal. Captain Charles T. Boyd and ten of his men were killed with 10 wounded while another twenty-four {23 soldiers and 1 civilian interpreter} were taken prisoner {and later released to the United States}. The Mexicans did not do much better; they reported the loss of twenty-four men killed and forty-three wounded, including their commander, General Félix Uresti Gómez. When General Pershing learned of the battle he was furious and asked for permission to attack the Carrancista garrison of Chihuahua. President Wilson refused, knowing that it would certainly start a war.[1][30][31][32]

While the expedition did make contact with Villista formations, killing two of his generals and about 160 of his men, it failed in its major objectives, neither stopping border raids—which continued while the expedition was in Mexico—nor capturing Villa. However, between the date of the American withdrawal and Villa's retirement in 1920, Villa's troops were no longer an effective fighting force, being hemmed in by American and Mexican federal troops and suffering money and arms blockades on both sides of the border.[citation needed]

National Guard service

United States National Guard units from Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico were called into service on May 8, 1916.[33] With congressional approval of the National Defense Act on June 3, 1916, Guard units from the remainder of the states, and the District of Columbia, were also called for duty on the border.[34] On June 18, President Wilson called out 110,000 National Guard for border service but only one regiment of the National Guard, the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry, served in Mexico with Pershing's Expedition.[35] The bulk of the National Guard troops would cross the border into Mexico but were used mainly as a show of force. They spent most of their time training.[citation needed]

Nonetheless, activities on the border were far from dull. The troops were on constant alert as border raids were still an occasional nuisance. The Mexican Expedition was an excellent training environment for the officers and men of the National Guard, who were recalled to federal service later that same year for duty in World War I. Many National Guard leaders in both World Wars traced their first federal service to the Mexican Expedition.[citation needed]


  • May 5, 1916: Glenn Springs Texas. 3 US Soldiers & 1 Civilian killed; 8 US soldiers wounded. Mexican casualties are believed to be two killed and unknown number of wounded.
  • June 15, 1916: San Ygnacio, Tex. 4 US soldiers killed and 5 wounded. 6 Mexicans killed
  • July 31, 1916: Fort Hancock, Texas. 1 US Soldier and 1 Civilian Customs Inspector killed and 1 soldier wounded.[38] 3 Mexicans killed and 3 captured by Mexican Govt troops.


The bulk of American forces were withdrawn in January 1917. Pershing publicly claimed the expedition was a success, though he complained privately to his family that President Wilson had imposed too many restrictions, which made it impossible for him to fulfill his mission.[24] He admitted to having been "outwitted and out-bluffed at every turn""Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". May 2012.  and wrote that "when the true history is written, it will not be a very inspiring chapter for school children, or even grownups to contemplate. Having dashed into Mexico with the intention of eating the Mexicans raw, we turned back at the first repulse and are now sneaking home under cover, like a whipped curr with its tail between its legs."[citation needed]

Pershing was permitted to bring into New Mexico 527 Chinese refugees who had assisted him during the expedition, despite the ban on Chinese immigration at that time under the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Chinese refugees, known as "Pershing's Chinese", were allowed to remain in the U.S. if they worked under the supervision of the military as cooks and servants on bases. In 1921, Congress passed Public Resolution 29, which allowed them to remain in the country permanently under the conditions of the 1892 Geary Act. Most of them settled in San Antonio.[39]

Soldiers who took part in the Villa campaign were awarded the Mexican Service Medal.[40]

Order of battle

United States Army:

External Timeline A graphical timeline is available at
Timeline of the Mexican Revolution


See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 "Mexican Expedition Campaign". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  2. "Prologue: Selected Articles". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  3. "Buffalo Soldiers at Huachuca: Villa's Raid on Columbus, New Mexico". 1993. Retrieved 2008-11-10. 
  4. "The March Of Events: Making Mexico Understand". April 1916. pp. 584–593. Retrieved 2009-08-04. 
  5. Hal Marcovitz (March 2002). Pancho Villa. Infobase Publishing. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-7910-7257-8. Retrieved 18 March 2011. 
  6. James W. Hurst (2008). Pancho Villa and Black Jack Pershing: the Punitive Expedition in Mexico. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 122. ISBN 978-0-313-35004-7. Retrieved 18 March 2011. 
  7. "The Early Days of Motorized Military Vehicles". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  8. John Pike. "2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Boot, pg. 199
  10. Beede, pg. 218-219
  11. Saturday, 22 August 2009 Michael Duffy (2009-08-22). "Primary Documents - General Pershing on Military Operations in Mexico, 30 March 1916". First World Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  12. Boot, pg. 201-203
  13. "History: World War I — City of Albuquerque". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  14. Annual reports of the Secretary of war .p.279
  15. "The Hearts of the Children - Mexican Expedition 1916-1917". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  16. John Pike. "Cavalry Lasts - The Last Cavalry Charge". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  17. Katz, pg. 575
  18. "The United States Army | Fort Huachuca, AZ". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  19. "GLENN SPRINGS RAID | The Handbook of Texas Online| Texas State Historical Association (TSHA)". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  20. Beede, pg. 203-204
  21. "OUR CAVALRY KILL 5 BANDITS, SEIZE 2; RESCUE CAPTIVES; Ringleaders in Glenn Springs Raid Overtaken 135 Miles South of Border. PAINE AND DEEMER FREED Langhorne's Men Ride Day and Night and 30 Volunteers Make Final Dash. PRISONER POSED AS GERMAN Deemer Says Outlaw Told of Order to Protect Germans as Supporters of Brigands". The New York Times. May 18, 1916. 
  22. Cardena's Family Saw Him Die at Bay; Shot Four Times, Villa Captain Fought Before Mother, Wife, and Daughter, New York Times, May 23, 1916 at 5.
  23. "Patton Headquarters website timeline". 1919-11-11. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 "Punitive Expedition - Pancho Villa Punitive Expedition". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  25. "In Pursuit of Pancho Villa 1916-1917". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  26. Pierce pg. 87
  27. "George S.Patton". 1941-12-07. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  28. Elser, Frank B. (June 4, 1916). "APACHE SCOUTS KILL OUTLAW IN SKIRMISH; Lieut. Shannon's Detail Routs Band and Follows Trail to 100 Hidden Rifles". The New York Times. 
  29. Pierce, pg. 87
  30. Hurst, James W. Pancho Villa and Black Jack Pershing Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2008. ISBN 0-313-35004-3
  31. Pierce, pg. 87-88
  32. Annual reports of the Secretary of War .pp.279-280
  33. Prologue Magazine, Winter 1997, Vol. 29, No. 4, The United States Armed Forces and the Mexican Punitive Expedition: Part 2 By Mitchell Yockelson, Retrieved 24 Feb 10,
  34. War Department, Annual Report of the Secretary of War for the Fiscal Year, 1916, Vol. 1 (1916)
  35. Historical & Pictoral Review National Guard of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Baton Rouge: Army and Navy Press. 1939. 
  36. "Annual Reports of the Secretary of War 1916". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  37. See also New York Division reports .p.18
  38. "The Ogden standard., July 31, 1916, 4 P.M. CITY EDITION, Image 1". 1916-07-31.;words=Hancock+Fort?date1=1916&rows=20&searchType=basic&state=&date2=1916&proxtext=Fort+Hancock&y=9&x=12&dateFilterType=yearRange&index=7. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  39. "Chinese in Texas". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  40. AR 600-8-22 MILITARY AWARDS 2/25/1995, p. 70


  • Boot, Max (2003). The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 046500721X. LCCN 2004-695066. 
  • Beede, Benjamin R. (1994). The War of 1898, and U.S. interventions, 1898-1934: an encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-8240-5624-8. 
  • Eisenhower, John S. D. (1995). Intervention!: The United States and the Mexican Revolution, 1913-1917. 
  • Hurst, James W. Pancho Villa and Black Jack Pershing: The Punitive Expedition in Mexico (2007) excerpt and text search
  • Katz, Friedrich (1978). "Pancho Villa and the Attack on Columbus, New Mexico". pp. 101–130.  in JSTOR (subscription required)
  • Katz, Friedrich. The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States, and the Mexican Revolution (1984)
  • Katz, Friedrich (1998). The life and times of Pancho Villa. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-3046-6. 
  • Pierce, Frank C. (1917). A brief history of the lower Rio Grande valley. George Banta publishing company. 
  • Urban, Andrew. "Asylum in the Midst of Chinese Exclusion: Pershing's Punitive Expedition and the Columbus Refugees from Mexico, 1916–1921," Journal of Policy History Vol 23 (2011): 204-229. [1] (subscription required)
  • White, E. Bruce and Francisco Villa, "The Muddied Waters of Columbus, New Mexico," The Americas Vol 32 Nbr 1 (July 1975), pp. 72–98, Academy of American Franciscan History. in JSTOR (subscription required)

External links

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