Skip to content

Your Horse is Ugly, and Your General Dresses You Funny

29 June 2005

The Battle of Carrizal
(Gaspar Reza Heredia, La Jornada de en medio, 26 Junio de 2005)

During the so-called “Punitive Expedition” sent to our country to search for Francisco Villa in 1916-17, an almost unknown armed conflict resulted in a rare Mexican defeat of the forces of the United States.

Seeking vengeance on the United States which stopped selling him arms, Francisco Villa and 400 cavalrymen launched an early morning raid on 9 March 1916, entering the small town of Columbus, New Mexico with blood and fire. The rapid attack took the military garrison by surprise. Villa’s men inflicted numerous casualties and retired into Mexico with the same speed they attacked.

In the United States there was enormous indignation. This was the first time that foreign troops had invaded its soil and beaten its soldiers. The people demanded action against Mexico. President Woodrow Wilson obtained permission from Venustiano Carranza for troops to enter Chihuahua, capture Villa, and return him to the United States for trial.

On 20 July 1916 three Mexican soldiers stationed at Villa Ahumada, out searching for lost cattle, were detained by a U.S. military patrol. The GIs took the Mexicans prisoner, marched them to the U.S. camp, where they proceeded to insult the state of Mexican soldiers’, their arms… and their horses. The Mexicans escaped and returned to their unit.

Informed of the incident, the Chief of Operations in Cuidad Juarez ordered an immediate halt to the U.S. movement southward. General Félix Uresti Gómez, the Commander at Villa Ahumada, then contacted the invaders, and their commander, Captain Charles T. Boyd, passing on the order and his informing the Americans that he was instructed to resist any further advances. Captain Boyd responded “in a disdainful tone” that his instructions were to advance, and he didn’t care what the Mexicans thought. Given the state of things, General Gómez returned to his own unit.

The enemy troops advanced and opened fire on the Mexicans, killing General Gómez. Despite inferior arms and numbers, the Mexican resisted bravely, and – now led by Colonel Genovero Rivas Guillén, who assumed command when General Gómez was killed – counter-attacked. The U.S. troops were forced to withdraw. 50 men were dead (27 Mexican, 23 U.S. soldiers). 27 U.S. soldiers were taken prisoner, and the Mexicans captured 22 horses and a great quantity of arms and munitions.

Under the circumstances, it was fortunate that the incident did not lead to a declaration of war. The soldiers sent to Mexico were from segregated black units. In 1916, dead black soldiers were unlikely to have the same impact as dead white soldiers on public sensibilities in the U.S. Then too, both the wounded Lieutenant Moray and interpreter Leon Spillsbery, testified that Captain Boyd had been arrogant and exhibited poor judgment when he confronted General Gómez. Another factor was that the first shots came from the invaders.

And, with respect to those shots, the Mexican surgeon who treated the 29 wounded Mexican soldiers noted that the majority of the injuries were caused by expanding bullets: prohibited by international treaty for military use by any civilized nation at that time.

The “Punitive Expedition” left Mexico without further incident on 6 February 1917. It is surprising that the Carrizal episode has remains in the shadows, given the Mexican people’s celebration of their heroes. Perhaps Mexicans are reluctant to bother our good neighbors by making public an action in which their troops played so disgraceful a role. Still, it would only be basic justice to raise a national monument, and each year to hold a commemoration service, at the place where soldiers fought and died in defense of the national territory, as is done for those sailors who also died defending their country against the United States at Tampico and Veracruz in 1914.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 28 January 2016 3:43 am

    I am working on a book on the armies of the Mexican Revolution for a UK publisher. One of the challenges, and delights, has been trying to redress the overly American viewpoint of the events of the Vera Cruz Occupation and the Pershing Expedition. Carrizal is one of the few incidents where I have been able to find two accounts by Mexicans who were there against one American one. From these I have tried to put together a fairer, more neutral, account simply of what actually happened.

    I realise that it is tempting to puff up ones ‘own’ side and denigrate the other. As I am British I have tried to stand apart and see both the good and the not so good on both sides.

    In Mexico Gen Gomez being fitted for the ‘hero’ role, whereas, as Capt Gonzales points out he was killed in the first fusillade and played no part in the fight other than having waited too long before giving orders to his men. Col Rivas is a much surer contender for the part, pretty much saving the day according to Gonzales, though you would not know this from his own modest account!

    Numbers – from the actual accounts of those who were there, the Mexicans were not outnumbered – they had about a 2 to 1 superiority, but they were out-gunned – the Americans were much better armed.

    And finally I get to the point! Your remarks about ‘dum-dum’ bullets are repeated in a couple of other modern accounts but I have not found any mention in any primary sources. Do you have one ie have you seen the surgeon’s reports you refer to? I am neutral on this one but without hard evidence from a primary source it can be nothing more than speculation. I do wonder whether it might not be a case of the formidable wounds inflicted by the .45 cal automatic pistols being unfamiliar to the doctors?

    I love all things Mexican (a long time member of the British Mexican Society) including your website – I like the off-the-wall approach! Keep up the good work. – and please respond if you can to my enquiry.

  2. Barbara Boyd Beatty permalink
    6 July 2017 1:06 pm

    You should get a copy of THE QUESTION OF PERSHING’S VERBAL ORDERS by Ann T. Gustavson Amazon $9.99 It is about our grandfather Charles T Boyd of the 10th Cavalry at Carrizal in 1916 and is very carefully researched.

    • Mike Blake permalink
      7 July 2017 6:26 am


      Thanks for the tip – I will indeed follow it up.


  1. A forgotten hero: Charles Young « The Mex Files
  2. Obvious? « The Mex Files

Leave a reply, but please stick to the topic

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: