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 6–7, 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 'Army of the West', along with a small detachment of the California Battalion led by a Marine Lieutenant, engaged a small contingent of Californios and their Presidial Lancers Los Galgos (The Greyhounds), 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 with his, 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 Companies C & K, 1st Dragoons, 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 They had just completed a 2,000 mile march; the longest march in U.S. Army history.[3]

General Kearny's Army, most originating from Fort Scott:[4][5]

  • Captain Abraham Robinson Johnston - regimental adjutant, Company K, 12 mounted dragoons
  • Captain Benjamin (Ben) Daviess Moore[6] - Company C, 60 dismounted dragoons, some mounted on mules
  • Captain Henry Smith Turner - Kearny's Army of the West Adjutant general[7][8]
  • Lieutenant William H. Emory[9] - Chief Topographical Engineer, Corps of Topographical Engineers
  • Lieutenant William H. Warner - Corps of Topographical Engineers,[10] commanding four topographical engineering 'mountainmen' Peterson, Londeau, Perrot, and Private Francois Menard
  • Lieutenant John W. Davidson - commanded 2 howitzers and 6 dragoons placed at the rear of the advance[11]
  • Second Lieutenant Thomas (Tom) C. Hammond - aide-de-camp [10][12]
  • Major Swords - assistant quartermaster[13] - rear guard for baggage train, officers' personal slaves, and civilians
  • U.S. Army Surgeon (Captain) Dr. John S. Griffin
  • Enlisted men:
    • Judge Pearce (Kearny's personal bodyguard),[6] Sergeant Williams,[6] Pat Halpin (bugalar),[14] Sergeant Falls,[9] Sergeant John Cox,[9] Private William B. Dunne,[11] Private David Streeter,[11] Private James Osbourne,[11] (Private) Dr. Erasmus Darwin French(physician asst.)[11]
    • Company C: Corporal William C. West,[15] Private George Ashmead,[15] Private Joseph T. Campbell,[15] Private John Dunlop,[15] Private William Dalton,[15] Private William C. Lucky,[15] Private Samuel F. Repoll,[15] Private Joseph B. Kennedy,[11]
    • Company K: 1st Sergeant Otis L. Moor,[15] Sergeant William Whitness,[15] Corporal George Ramsdale,[15] farrier David W. Johnston,[15] Private William G. Gholston,[15] Private William H. Fiel,[15] Private Robert S. Gregory,[15] Private Hugh McKaffray[11]

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[16][17][17][18][19] The total American force now amounted to about 179 men.[20][21]

USMC Acting-Captain (Lt.) Gillespie's Mounted Rifle Volunteers 'detachment' of the California Battalion:[5]

Captains Leonardo Cota and Jose Alipaz took a force to San Pasqual Vally with the intention to interdict and keep in check Captain Gillespie after his departure from San Diego. Later, Major Andrés Pico, after a failed search for a detachment of U.S. soldiers, joined forces with the captains and took command. These californios led a force consisting of landowners, sons of landowners, and vaqueros, many with well known and respected family names in the community:


A dragoon patrol under Lieutenant Thomas C. Hammond, guided by Rafael Machado, the son of Don José Manuel Machado grantee of Rancho El Rosario, and sent by the Machado family to assist Kearny, reconnoitered Capt. Andres Pico's force along the road at San Pasqual.[2]:187

While Rafael sneaked into the camp Lt. Hammond became suspicious he was being setup for an ambush and rode the dragoons into the camp where they spoke with an indian they found sleeping in a hut.[6] In a coincidence that has never been fully explained, a guard under the command of Rafael's concuñado, the brother of a brother-in-law, and future father-in-law Captain Jose Alipaz, challenged the dragoons and alerted the camp to their presence.[6] While Rafael quickly ran back to Hammond's scouting party, Alipas sounded the alarm but was dismissed by General Pico until a U.S. Army blanket and dragoon coat was discovered on the edge of camp by Pablo Véjar. With Capt. Alipaz, Captain Leonardo Cota and José María Ibarra, the californio standing guard, chased the dragoons to the top of the next ridge with the battle cry of "!Viva California!".[2]:187[30][31] Pico was alerted and the californio camp prepared for the U.S. Army dragoons and Marines to attack.[2]:187[30][31]

Kearny planned to attack at daylight, despite having lost the element of suprise, as well as the damp weather wetting down their powder, and the extremely poor state of the soldiers equipment and mounts - mostly mules since the horses had died on the preceding march.[2]:188[20]


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

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.[20]

Captain Abraham R. Johnston's advance guard, while still three quarters of a mile (1.2 km) from Pico's forces, was ordered by Kearny to "Trot!", which Johnston misunderstood as "Gallop!".[2]:188 Forty of the best mounted pulled far ahead of the main body of the force. The mules pulling the howitzers bolted, taking one of the guns with them. Pico's mounted force remained ahead of the pursuing U.S. forces. Their fresh horses and superior horsemanship allowed them to outmanoeuvre, they led the advance group of dragoons away from their the main force. The Americans did not know the terrain and the Californios did. A second separation developed until twenty-eight dragoons including Kearny were separated. Damp powder reduced the effectiveness of carbines to clubs and pistols to hammers, as described by a native woman that witnessed the battle. The Californios were armed with long lances and reatas (braided rawhide lariat) which they used with great effect. As a consequence, Johnston's charge was unsupported and his dragoons were forced to withdraw.[2]:188

As the leading element of the American attack drew close to a Kumeyaay village, the Californios wheeled back and fired their few firearms. At this time Captain Johnston was killed by a bullet. 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 The charge was quickly surrounded and Capt. Moore was killed. Gillespie arrived within fifteen minutes with the artillery. Mules are reluctant to wheel, and the horse mounted Californios outflanked the Americans and captured one of the unattended howitzers. Gillespie's men unlimbered the remaining howitzer - John Sutter's Russian made bronze four pounder. Gillespie used a sabre to fight off a vicious personal attack made by a group of lancers in revenge for his previous actions during his occupation of Los Angeles, and the now broken agreement to cease hostilities, taking a lance thrust just over the heart that pierced a lung. Either this action (traditional U.S. view) or in response to the unusual degree of bloodshed (traditional Californio view), prompted Pico to withdraw.[2]:188

Battle of San Pasqual painting


The next day, December 7, 1846, after assurances by Dr Griffin that the worst of the injured could be moved, Captain Turner marched the column towards San Diego. Californio lancers established a blocking position near what is now known as "Mule Hill". Captain Turner 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 among the fleeing Californios. That evening Kearny regained his command again and 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.[20]

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.[32]

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 Pico's lancers. They buried the dead in a mass grave on the battle field. Once arriving in San Diego the badly cutup survivors were treated by their Californio guide's sister, Nurse Juanita Machado Alipas de Wrightington, known as the Florence Nightingale of San Diego for her charity work for the heavily oppresed native peoples camped outside San Diego.[33]

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.”[34]

General Kearny was promoted for his valiant actions at San Pasqual.[35]

Some time after the battle, General Kearny wrote that the US had achieved victory since the Californios had "fled the field",[32] but the Californios saw the engagement as a victory.[32][36] 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.[37]

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.[37] Certainly, these early experiences tempered Kearny's imposition of martial law on the californio population and established a mutual degree of respect between the population and their new government administrators; something lacking in the Californios' relationship with their previous government administrators.

Dr. French, the surgeon's assistant, wrote a poem:[citation needed]

The Battle of San Pasgual

Twenty new graves must be made today;
Twenty cold bodies to be laid away.
Or bury them down in one single bed;
In one single tomb let them rest with the dead.
At the lone midnight hour they were carried along,
No salute could be fired—no funeral song;
For our battle had been in the land of the foe,
And now in dark silence to the tomb they must go:
We kindred were there to embalm with a tear,
The last dying moments to friendship so dear;
Nor even to weep on that desolate night;
As their loved ones were buried forever from sight.
Long had we marched through the heat and the rain;
Crossed the great rivers that swept through the plain;
Encountered the mountains that stood in our way,
And passed through the forest without fear or delay.
We came to the border—the Mexican land;
To mountains of granite, and rivers of sand,
Marched through deep passes and narrow defiles,
‘Till we came to the valley of sun light and smiles,—
Here our flag we raised high for the breezes were free,
As we came to the city of Santa Fe.
Now echo of cannon pealed loud through the air,,
The American troops in full conquest were there:
And we marched through the streets of that time honored place,
And seized the domain of the Mexican race.
Nor yet was our halting, for onward we pressed;
To reach the Pacific; the shore of the west:—
The great rocky mountains we passed in our glee,
Intent to embrace the white waves of the Sea.
California was reached, and her vales of renown,
Were spread in their beauty like gems in a crown.
The journey to us was like a parade
Or some pleasure seeking, holiday made.
But here just at dawn when all nature was still,
The foe we attacked at the base of the hill,
And e’re in our triumph the conquest could gain;
In the tide of the fight our companions were slain.
So down in the willows beneath the dark cloud,
Which rolled in the sky like a burial shroud;
We laid the brave men that so suddenly died;
E’re they marched o’er the land they had barely espied.
Then peaceful their sleep in the lone grave shall be,
They shall feel no more wounds—no more battle shall see.
No foe with their chargers and lances draw nigh—
No grief e’re their zephyr’ soft sigh.
Farewell; we have left thee; companions in arms;
Our lives may be joyful, or filled with alarms—
Whatever our joy or sorrow may be,
We’ll remember the graves by the one willow tree.


  • Fort Moore constructed on North Hill Street, originally an improvised defensive position used by Lt. Gillespie and later modified into a fort after the popular revolt in Los Angeles was subdued.
  • Captains Leonardo Cota and Jose Alipaz are honored by US Marines with a plaque previously aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, "Under this tree Leonardo Cota and Jose Alpaz planned the battle of San Pasqual in 1846"
  • 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[edit]

Coordinates: 33°5′10″N 116°59′24″W / 33.08611°N 116.99000°W / 33.08611; -116.99000[38]


  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. ^ The Journal of San Diego History 62 “Your Affectionate Son, Robinson” American Expansionism and the Life of Captain Abraham Robinson Johnston, 1815-1846 Winner of the 2005 Milton Fintzelberg Memorial Award Steven L. Wright
  4. ^ "Journal of the Military Service Institution of the United States, Volume 16" Military Service Institution of the United States, By authority of the Executive Council, 1895.
  5. ^ a b Edwin Legrand Sabin "Kit Carson Days, 1809-1868: Adventures in the Path of Empire," Volume 2, pages 524 - 531, Nebraska Press, 1995.
  6. ^ a b c d e Son of Capt. B. D. Moore
  7. ^ Letters of Captain Henry S. Turner on the Kearny-Fremont ... . Turner, Henry Smith, 1811-1881;view=1up;seq=6
  8. ^ The Leading Facts of New Mexican History, By Ralph Emerson Twitchell
  9. ^ a b c Notes of a military reconnoissance from Fort Leavenworth, in Missouri to San ... By United States. Army. Corps of Topographical Engineers, William Hemsley Emory,
  10. ^ a b "California and the Mexican War: The Battle of San Pasqual," California State Military Department The California State Military Museum, last accessed 7/20/2014.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v THE CHARGE, last accessed 7/20/2014.
  12. ^ Thomas C. Hammond class of 1842*.html
  13. ^ "Get a Look at the Mighty Pacific: Thomas Swords Dragoon Quartermaster" William Gorenfeld (c) October 9, 2007. Last accessed 7/20/2014
  14. ^ "The Conquest of California: The Battle of San Pasqual" Westerners Los Angeles Corral, Number 207, Spring 1997
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o The works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Volume 22 By Hubert Howe Bancroft, last accessed 7/20/2014.
  16. ^ 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. 
  17. ^ 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." 
  18. ^ Cresap, Cap (2006). "Clearing Up The Confusion About California Cannon Of John Sutter". The Artilleryman 27 (2). Retrieved 15 March 2012. 
  19. ^ George Hruby (September 1996). "THE USE OF ARTILLERY AT THE BATTLE OF SAN PASQUAL". San Pasqual Battlefield Site Location Project. Retrieved 15 March 2012. 
  20. ^ a b c d 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. 
  21. ^ THE JOURNALS OF MARINE SECOND LIEUTENANT HENRY BULLS WATSON 1845-1848, page 261, Last accessed 03/14/2012..
  22. ^ "Battalion of Sailors, from the fleet on the Pacific coast 1847" Together we served, last accessed 7/20/2014.
  23. ^ " A Brief History of John Sutter and his Bronze Field Cannon" interpreted by Stephen Beck -Archivist, Sacramento Historic Sites Association, last accessed 7/20/2014.
  24. ^ "A Brief History of John Sutter and his Bronze Field Cannon" as interpreted by Stephen Beck -Archivist, Sacramento Historic Sites Association,
  25. ^ William Henry Russell, Callaway, Jackson, Cass Co., MO Copyright. All rights reserved. Submitted by: Bill LaBach The biography of William Henry Russell from the Dictionary of American Biography (New York, 1935) follows (note that he was actually born in Fayette County, KY but practiced law in Nicholas County, KY): RUSSELL, WILLIAM HENRY (Oct. 9, 1802-Oct, 13, 1873), last accessed 7/21/2014
  26. ^ a b c d e f An historical sketch of Los Angeles county, California. From the Spanish occupancy, by the founding of the mission San Gabriel Archangel, September 8, 1771, to July 4, 1876, last accessed 7/21/2014.
  27. ^ Tomás A. Sanchez: The Californio Sheriff of Los Angeles By Alvaro Parra | August 22, 2013, last accessed 7/21/2014.
  28. ^ Sally Cavell Jones, "The Battle of San Pascual," Masters Thesis, USD, 1973, p. 72. Various estimates of troops sizes are discussed in this work. A partial list of the Californios soldiers commanded by Andrés Pico at San Pascual are as follows (from Grugal, "Military Movements into San Diego," p. 114)
  29. ^ The U.S.-Mexican War in San Diego, 1846-1847 Loyalty and Resistance By Richard Griswold del Castillo, last accessed 7/21/2014.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ 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. 
  33. ^ 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.
  34. ^ 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. 
  35. ^ SNAFU: Great American Military Disasters by Geoffrey Ragan,
  36. ^ "The Battle of San Pasqual". The California State Military Museum. California State Military Department. Retrieved 24 March 2010. 
  37. ^ a b "San Pasqual Battlefield Site Location Project". Retrieved 9 July 2010. 
  38. ^ "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)