DESERT EXPLORER

California Desert trips,interesting places to visit: ghost towns, old mines, lost treasure, personalities and bits of the old west

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The desert is sort of my second home. The places described below are special and worth visiting provided you know the story. That's what this blog is all about. Now I have tried as best I can to be factual but sometimes you hate to let facts get in the way of a good yarn.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

THE BATTLE OF SAN PASQUAL



 Who won the battle of San Pasqual?   The Commanding General Steven Watt Kearny claimed an American Victory when the Mexican Calvary fled from the field.  A soldier who witnessed the battle wrote that the Americans had been saved from decimation by the capture of their howitzer by the Mexicans who by that measure considered themselves the victors and left the field of battle.

The Army of The West was formed at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas Territory. General Kearny, the commanding officer, received orders from the Secretary of War to capture for the United States all Mexican territory from the Rio Grande to the Pacific Coast.   

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On the first leg of this historic foray, units composed of unruly enlistees from Missouri and experienced combat regulars.  They proceeded from the barracks at Fort Leavenworth on a cavalry march west 529 miles to Bent’s Fort located in the future state of Colorado.
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On the second leg, eight-hundred mounted soldiers and an artillery battery headed south along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, over 7,000 foot Raton Pass through a number of small Mexican villages to the city of Las Vegas.  Kearny got word, from local officials, that the Mexican Army under General Manuel Armijo and a force of 2,000 men were poised to confront the Americans at the entrance to a canyon south of Santa Fe. 

Fortunately, before the troops reached the described canyon, two federal agents from Washington secretly arrived in Santa Fe, met with General Armijo, offered him a bribe of an undisclosed amount which he accepted and wisely took flight to El Paso.  Mexican troops stationed in the canyon surrendered quickly upon hearing that Armijo had fled. The Army of the West took possession of the vast territory of New Mexico without a shot being fired. The vast territory included the future states of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and parts of Utah and Colorado.

After establishing a provisional government for the newly acquired territory,   Kearny began planning his route to California.    The troop would endure lengthy stretches of uneven rocky terrain placing an unwavering burden on men and their mounts.  

  Three hundred cavalrymen accompanied by two howitzers proceeded to the south on a route that would take them along the Rio del Norte for 200 miles then turned to the West and after crossing the Continental Divide follow the Gila Valley to the Colorado River. 

Kit Carson met General Kearny shortly after the troops left Santa Fe. Carson was headed to Washington with news of conditions in California.   He told the General that Commodore Stockton of the U.S. Navy had accepted surrender of the Mexican government in California.  Based on the good news, Kearny decided to reduce his force to 150 men and ordered Carson to return to California as his guide.

As predicted, the march to the West proved hard on both men and stock.  The gun carriages hauling the howitzers bogged in the soft sand requiring troops pulling and troops pushing the heavy wheels over irregular and unstable terrain.   

The ninety mile stretch of desert between the Colorado River and San Diego proved the hardest part of the entire 1900 miles from Fort Leavenworth.   The weary troops arrived at Warner’s Ranch northeast of San Diego on 2 December, 1846, under a disagreeable winter storm with heavy rain and soggy soil.

 They found that the Mexicans had retaken parts of California and that the Americans now held only the ports of Monterey, and San Francisco.  Commodore Stockton and a force of 200 men were besieged by Mexican fighters at the Presidio in San Diego awaiting the arrival of Kearny.

On 5 December, the troops moved down the road toward San Diego.  On the way, they met a contingent of thirty-one American soldiers from San Diego commanded by Captain Archibald Gillespie and learned that 150 Mexican Lancers were stationed only twelve miles away.  

It was decided that the Army of The West would proceed with a frontal attack on the Lancers at first light the next morning.  The troops were in high spirits and anxious, after their long tortuous trek, to kill Mexicans.  Unfortunately, the wet weather had continued soaking both men and equipment rendering much of the gun power unusable.  In addition, the overworked horses and mules needed more time to rest and recruit before battle. These factors and poor leadership on the part of the American officers would lead to the decimation described by the observer cited above.

On 6 December at 0200 hours, troops prepared for battle and started toward the enemy camp at the Indian settlement of San Pasqual.   Kearny called a halt on a ridge line along the east side of the valley about 1.5 miles from the enemy’s camp.  Twelve cavalrymen took the lead followed by Kearny and 50 mounted troops.  Gillespie’s men formed the third wave followed by the howitzers and gun crew.


The well-trained Mexican fighters with rested horses moved out at once to receive a charge by the Americans.  Kearny ordered troops to advance and the riders deployed into combat formation.  At about one mile from General Andres Pico’s line, the Americans charged.  The official record stated that Kearny called for a trot but the captain in charge of the advance misunderstood and gave the order to charge which meant a full gallop for over a mile.

The riders reached the enemy on mounts in pitiful condition:  outmatched by the lancers who had the advantage of spears attached to poles, a ­­­primeval weapon, that could overtop a cavalry saber in combat       The lancers clearly won the initial skirmish.  American casualties exceeded their adversary by more than two-to-one.    


 The advanced attack riders had gotten to the Mexican camp well ahead Kearny’s main force.  The bloody hand-to-hand battle that followed pitted lancer spear against rifle butt and bayonet. The Americans were unable to effectively fire their water soaked weapons. 

One observer Jose F. Palomares wrote in part:  “With our lances and swords we attacked the enemy force who could not make good use of neither their firearms nor their swords.  We did not fire a single shot …  Quickly the battle became so bloody that we became intermingled one with the other and barely were able to distinguish one from  the other by voice and by the dim light of dawn which began to break”   


In the second engagement, the American were quickly outflanked by the Lancers who captured one of the two cannons, killed Captain Gillespie and departed from the scene.  A third of the American force had been killed or wounded.  General Kearny received wounds but remained in charge.  The injured and exhausted American troops camped on the battlefield that night. (The siege of Commodore Stockton’s force in San Diego had been breached a few days before the battle of San Pasqual.)



On 7 December, the Americans carrying their wounded moved slowly toward San Diego 25 miles to the south.  The Mexican fighters blockaded the road ahead forcing Kearny to form a defensive perimeter at a place that became known as Mule Hill.  Kearny dispatched Kit Carson and Lt. Edward Beale to San Diego by different routes with a request to Commodore Stockton for reinforcements.

The Mexican Lancers had, according to most witnesses, won the battle of San Pasqual Valley and would remain to hold and hopefully starve the Americans sequestered on Mule Hill forcing them to surrender.  

On 11 December 200 marines and sailors arrived in the valley sent by Commodore Stockton to support and bring Kearny’s troops to San Diego.   The bloodiest battle in the history of California ended when the Lancers withdrew from the field and the American troops finally arrived in San Diego

General Kearny resumed his conquest of California leaving San Diego on 28 December, with a force of 500 foot-soldiers and a battery of artillery.  Captain Fremont’s forces coming south from Northern California and Kearny’s forces coming up from San Diego would bring an end to the war in California.

First, Kearny and his troops would face General Flores who placed a defensive line on the west bank of the San Gabriel River.   The Americans, despite cannon fire, crossed the river in battle formation while their artillery, located on to the east bank, laced the Mexican position with canisters.   After a failed attempt to turn the left flank of the advancing Americans, Flores withdrew.


The next day the Americans approached the Los Angeles River.  From a high point to the northwest Flores opened up with cannons and a cavalry attack that was quickly squelched by the return of American cannon fire.  Again Flores withdrew his small army. 

The following day the Mexican Army surrendered to KearnyCalifornia was finally in the hands of the Army of the West and General Kearny had completed his orders to capturing all the territory between the Rio Grande and the Pacific Coast.  As a reward for outstanding leadership, he would later receive his second star as a major general.

Stephen Watts Kearny remained in California as the military governor of California before returning to Washington DC.  He died at the age of 54 from yellow fever

General Andres Pico signed the Treaty of Cahuenga ending the Mexican resistance in California.  He later became a Brigadier General of the California Militia and was elected California State Senator from Los Angeles.  He died in September, 1894, in Los Angeles.

Battle of San Pasqual took place in San Pasqual Valley located near Escondido, San Diego County

Battle of San Gabriel River took place generally in and around the City of Montebello.  An historic marker is located on the northeast corner of Washington Blvd. and Bluff Road.

Battle of La Mesa (Los Angeles River) took place in and around the City of Vernon.  An historic marker is located at 4409 Exchange Ave at Downey Road.