Battle of San Pasqual
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. The series of military skirmishes ended with both sides claiming victory, and the victor of the battle is still debated. On December 6 and December 7, 1846, General Stephen W. Kearny's US 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 U.S. 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.:137 Kearny's force, guided by Carson, reached Warner's Ranch in California on 2 Dec., in a greatly weakened condition.:187 They had just completed a 2,000 mile march; the longest march in U.S. Army history.
- Captain Abraham Robinson Johnston - regimental adjutant, Company K, 12 mounted dragoons
- Captain Benjamin (Ben) Daviess Moore - Company C, 60 dismounted dragoons, some mounted on mules
- Captain Henry Smith Turner - Kearny's Army of the West Adjutant general
- Lieutenant William H. Emory - Chief Topographical Engineer, Corps of Topographical Engineers
- Lieutenant William H. Warner - Corps of Topographical Engineers, 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
- Second Lieutenant Thomas (Tom) C. Hammond - aide-de-camp 
- Major Swords - assistant quartermaster - 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), Sergeant Williams, Pat Halpin (bugler), Sergeant Falls, Sergeant John Cox, Private William B. Dunne, Private David Streeter, Private James Osbourne, (Private) Dr. Erasmus Darwin French(physician asst.)
- Company C: Corporal William C. West, Private George Ashmead, Private Joseph T. Campbell, Private John Dunlop, Private William Dalton, Private William C. Leckey, Private Samuel F. Repoll, Private Joseph B. Kennedy,
- Company K: 1st Sergeant Otis L. Moor, Sergeant William Whitness, Corporal George Ramsdale, farrier David W. Johnston, Private William G. Gholston, Private William H. Fiel, Private Robert S. Gregory, Private Hugh McKaffray
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.:186
Captain Archibald Gillespie with 39 men, met Kearny on 5 Dec. with a message from Stockton requesting Kearny confront Flores' men outside San Diego.:187 The total American force now amounted to 179 men.
USMC Acting-Captain (Lt.) Gillespie's Mounted Rifle Volunteers 'detachment' of the California Battalion:
- 10 U.S. Navy sailor carbiners from 'Fleet on the Pacific Coast' F Company aboard the USS Congress commanded by Acting-Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale and Passed-Midshipman James M. Duncan (later commanded USS Norwich (1861) )
- Sutter Fort's Russian brass 4-pounder cannon; it had been hidden after Mexican authorities tried to use the cannon against Californios at the Battle of Cahuenga Pass during the 1831 tax revolt. Charles Weber disclosed its location to Gillespie.
- 26 Mounted Rifle Company, commanded by Acting-Captain (Sgt.) Samual Gibson (later commanded company B of 26th Arkansas Infantry Regiment) and longtime Kit Carson and John Fremont associate, Acting-Lieutenant Alexander Godey: including Antoine Robidoux(interpreter), Philip Crosthwaite, Beatitude Patitoux, William (Col. Owl) Henry Russel l, Daniel Sexton, Franklin Sears, Thomas Burgess, Jean Nutrelle, Private Henry Booker.
- Rafael Machado, Californio guide provided by San Diego
Captains Leonardo Cota and Jose Alipaz took a force to San Pasqual Valley 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:
- Don Leonardo Cota: Capt. Enrique Abilia (Los Angeles), Capt. Ramon Carillo(Los Angeles), Capt. Jose Maria Cota(Los Angeles), Capt. Carlos Dominguez(Los Angeles), Capt. Nicolas Hermosillo(Los Angeles), Capt. Jose Alipaz (San Juan Capistrano), Capt. Ramon O. Suna (San Diego)
- General Andres Pico: Don Leandro Osuna (San Diego), Capt. Juan Bautista Moreno, Capt. Tomás A. Sanchez, Capt. Pablo Vejar, Capt. Manuel Vejar
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.:187
While Machado sneaked into the camp, Lt. Hammond became suspicious he was being set up for an ambush and rode the dragoons into the camp, where they spoke with an Indian they found sleeping in a hut. In a coincidence that has never been fully explained, a guard under the command of Machado'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. While Machado quickly ran back to Hammond's scouting party, Alipaz sounded the alarm but was dismissed by General Pico, until a U.S. Army blanket and dragoon coat were 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!".:187 Pico was alerted, and the Californio camp prepared for the U.S. Army dragoons and marines to attack.:187
Kearny had planned a surprise attack at daylight, despite the damp weather wetting down their powder and the extremely poor state of the soldiers' equipment and mounts — mostly mules, as the horses had died on the preceding march.:188
Having lost the element of surprise, 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.
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!".: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 outmaneuver and lead the advance group of dragoons away from the main force. The Californios had a distinct advantage over the U.S. soldiers in their knowledge of the terrain. 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.:188
As the leading element of the U.S. force's 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.:188
A second charge ordered by Capt. Benjamin D. Moore further separated the Americans, and the Californios met his dragoons with a counter-charge by lancers.: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 broken agreement to cease hostilities. He took a lance thrust just over the heart that pierced a lung. Either this action (traditional U.S. view) or the unusual degree of bloodshed (traditional Californio view), prompted Pico to withdraw.:188
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 toward 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. With dry powder in their carbines, the dragoons easily forced the lancers away, while inflicting five dead among the fleeing Californios. That evening Kearny regained his command, established a strong defensive perimeter and then sent dispatches requesting urgent reinforcements, carried to Commodore Stockton by Lieutenant Edward Beale, Kit Carson and a young Indian guide. Under cover of darkness they each took different routes to the commodore's headquarters 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. Stockton's unit then escorted Kearny's battered troops to San Diego, where they arrived December 12.
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 battlefield. When they arrived in San Diego, the wounded 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 oppressed native peoples camped outside San Diego.
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.”
General Kearny was promoted for his valiant actions at San Pasqual.
Some time after the battle, General Kearny wrote that the U.S. had achieved victory since the Californios had "fled the field," but the Californios saw the engagement as their victory. The battle is unique, as it was 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.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, 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 significantly higher; however, he did not implement his battle plan, his ammunition was compromised, and he outran his artillery and supply line. The victor of the battle is still debated.
- Fort Moore was constructed on North Hill Street, originally as an improvised defensive position used by Lt. Gillespie, and later was modified into a fort, after the popular revolt in Los Angeles was subdued.
- Captains Leonardo Cota and Jose Alipaz were honored by U.S. Marines with a plaque at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. It states, "Under this tree Leonardo Cota and Jose Alipaz planned the battle of San Pasqual in 1846."
- Kearny Mesa, an area of San Diego, was later named after the U.S. general.
- Kit Carson Park on the south side of Escondido was named in his honor.
- Beale Air Force Base in Marysville, California was 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.
- List of conflicts in the United States
- Battles of the Mexican-American War
- History of San Diego
- Pauma Massacre
- Temecula Massacre
- Captain John Strother Griffin (1816–1898), physician during the battle
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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.
John C. Pinheiro (1 January 2007). Manifest Ambition: James K. Polk and Civil-military Relations During the Mexican War. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-275-98409-0.
Dwight Lancelot Clarke (1961). Stephen Watts Kearny: Soldier of the West. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 232.
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The first battle of the war for Kearny was a Pyrrhic victory at San Pasqual, but Kearny recovered and led a large force in a successful operation against prepared forces of Californios.
- Niderost, Eric (26 May 2016). "Mexican-American Clash at San Pasqual". Military History. McLean, Virginia: Sovereign Media. Retrieved 15 March 2017.
The lancers left the field, enabling the Americans to technically claim a victory, albeit a mostly Pyrrhic one. Three officers and 21 men were dead, and another 17 were wounded.
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