Battle of San Pasqual

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Battle of San Pasqual
Part of the Mexican-American War
P36 HiRes.gif
A map of the battle site.
Date December 6-10, 1846
Location San 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
150[2]:188 75[2]:188
Casualties and losses
18 killed,
13 wounded[2]:188
12 wounded
1 captured[2]:188

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 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 sent back most of his force after meeting up with Kit Carson near Socorro on 6 Oct. and hearing of the seizure of California by Commodore Robert F. Stockton, Kearny keeping only about 100 men.[2]:137 Kearny's force, guided by Carson, reached Warner's Ranch in California on 2 Dec., in a greatly weakened condition.[2]:187

After turning back the Americans trying to recapture Los Angeles in the Battle of Dominguez Rancho, Capt. Jose Maria Flores sent about 100 men to San Luis Obispo to confront Lt. Col. John C. Fremont's 300 men moving south from Monterey, and sent another 100 men to watch Stockton's base at San Diego, but Flores kept the bulk of his men at Los Angeles.[2]:186

Captain Archibald Gillespie with 39 men, met Kearney on 5 Dec. with a message from Stockton requesting Kearny confront Flores' men outside San Diego.[2]:187[3][4][4][5][6] The total American force now amounted to about 179 men.[7][8]


A dragoon patrol under Lieutenant Thomas C. Hammond, guided by Rafael Machado, son of Don José Manuel Machado the grantee of the Rancho El Rosario, reconnoitered Capt. Andres Pico's force along the road at San Pasqual.[2]:187 While Rafael sneaked into the camp, but the noise of their departure alerted Rafael's sister's brother-in-law.[2]:187[9][10] Pico was alerted and prepared for the American attack.[2]:187[10] [9] Kearny planned to attack at daylight on 6 Dec., despite the cold and damp wetting down their powder.[2]:188[7]


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

Captain Abraham R. Johnston's advance guard, while still three quarters of a mile from Pico, was ordered by Kearny to "Trot!", which Johnston misunderstood as "Gallop!".[2]:188 As a consequence, Johnston's charge was unsupported and his dragoons was forced to withdraw.[2]:188 Pico then withdrew a half mile to higher ground.[2]:188

A second charge ordered by Capt. Benjamin D. Moore, separated the Americans more, and the Californians met his dragoons with a countercharge by lancers.[2]:188 Gillespie arrived within fifteen minutes with the artillery, prompting Pico to withdraw.[2]:188

Battle of San Pasqual painting


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]

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.[11]

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.[12]

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.”[13]

Some time after the battle, General Kearny wrote that the US had achieved victory since the Californios had "fled the field",[11] but the Californios saw the engagement as a victory.[11][14] The battle is 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.[15]

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.[16]


See also[edit]

Coordinates: 33°5′10″N 116°59′24″W / 33.08611°N 116.99000°W / 33.08611; -116.99000[17]


  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. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Bauer, K.J., 1974, The Mexican War, 1846-1848, New York:Macmillan, ISBN0803261071
  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. ^ a b Johns, Sally Cavell (1973). "VIVA LOS CALIFORNIOS!: The Battle of San Pasqual". The Journal of San Diego History (San Diego History Center) 19 (4). 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". The Artilleryman 27 (2). 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. ^ a b c Sides, Hampton (2006). Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West. Random Houst Digital, Inc. p. 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. ^ a b Captain Archibald 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. ^ a b 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. ^ a b c 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. 
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Cooke, Philip St George (1964). The Conquest of New Mexico and California, An Historical and Personal Narrative. Albuquerque, New Mexico: Horn and Wallace. p. 259. 
  14. ^ "The Battle of San Pasqual". The California State Military Museum. California State Military Department. Retrieved 24 March 2010. 
  15. ^ "San Pasqual Battlefield Site Location Project". Retrieved 9 July 2010. 
  16. ^ "San Pasqual Battlefield Site Location Project". Retrieved 9 July 2010. 
  17. ^ "San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

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