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Huerta took power after president Francisco Madero was assassinated, along with his vice-president. The identity of those responsible for the assassination was never established. Huerta inherited the weaknesses of both the Porfirista and Madero Federal armies.
In February 1912, the Federal army consisted of 32,594 regulars and 15,550 irregulars. This was far below the official number of 80,000 as stated by the army executive. By September of the same year the official strength of the army was 85,000 men. In addition there were 16,000 Rurales, 4,000 Urban Police and 16,200 Militia, rural guards and other pro-government men under arms. In April 1914 Huerta claimed his army had reached the size of 250,000 men, with 31 regiments of Rurales and 31,000 Militia. A more realistic assessment of his men by that July was 71,000, while U.S. observers said it was closer to 40,000.
Specific numbers aside, the rapid expansion of the army had led to a deterioration in the quality of the average recruit, or more accurately, conscript. Huerta made an attempt to increase the size of the army by ordering a mass levy, or forced conscription from the streets by his press-gangs, who would fall upon men as they left church or pull them from cinemas. Very few of the men under his command were volunteers and many deserted the army. Huerta tried improving morale by increasing pay in May 1913 by 50%. At the same time 382 military cadets were given commissions and attempts were made to increase the number in training.
Federal army generals were often corrupt and guilty of undermining morale with poor leadership. Some were so corrupt their dealings extended as far as selling ammunition, food and uniforms to the enemy. Also guilty of this corruption were Huerta's two sons, Victoriano Jr. and Jorge, both of whom had been placed in important positions overseeing the procurement of arms, supplies, uniforms and ammunition.
Despite these problems Huerta worked at creating an army capable of keeping him in power. He tried to expand the army by creating new units to distance them from the defeatism of the former Porfirista army. To bolster the resolve of the population he militarized society in the Prussian style, including military-style uniforms for all government employees and schoolboys and military drills on Sundays. Huerta and his general also sent 31 cadets to Europe to study military aviation in order to increase Mexico's air power.
Huerta's greatest success was attracting the support of many former rebels, such as Benjamin Argumedo, "Cheche" Campos and, most notably, Pascual Orozco. Orozco offered Huerta the services of his 3,000–4,000 seasoned men, who proved essential in the fight against the Constitutionalist armies. When not helping the defence of Federal garrisons and towns, Orozco's men acted as very effective guerrillas.
The Federal Army was disbanded on August 13, 1914. At the time the full strength of the Federal army was 10 Generals of Division, 61 Generals of Brigade, 1,006 Jefes, 2,446 Officers, 24,800 other ranks and 7,058 horses. In addition there were 21 regiments of Rurales with 500 men in each, a total of 10,500 men.