From the Annals of the Border Wars – In 1916, the U.S. military expedition against Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa was attacked by Mexican government troops at Carrizal, Mexico. The attack nearly brought the two nations to war. The controversial expedition was led by U.S. Brigadier General John J. Pershing and was in response to Villa’s attack on Columbus, New Mexico in which 17 Americans were killed and the town center burned and Villa’s execution of 16 American citizens in Mexico.
The final struggle of the Mexican Revolution was between federal forces under the command of Venustiano Carranza’s government and Villa, the last revolutionary holdout. By 1915, Villa had been fairly well contained to the mountains of Northern Mexico and from there had staged his raid on Columbus on March 9. Cavalry from the nearby Camp Furlong pursued the Mexicans, killing several dozen rebels on U.S. soil and in Mexico before turning back. On March 15, President Woodrow Wilson ordered Pershing to begin a punitive expedition into Mexico to capture or kill Villa and disperse his rebels. The expedition eventually involved some 10,000 U.S. troops and personnel. It was the first U.S. military operation to employ mechanized vehicles, including automobiles and airplanes.
The expedition proved futile as Pershing failed to capture Villa. For almost 11 months, Villa eluded Pershing’s troops aided by his intimate knowledge of the mountains of Northern Mexico and his popular support from the locals. The expedition created unrest in Mexico and a diplomatic crisis between the countries which came to a head when Mexican government troops attacked a detachment of the 10th Cavalry at Carrizal. If not for the critical situation in Europe, war might have been declared. By January 1917, the failure of the expedition was obvious and after continued pressure from the Mexican government, Wilson ordered the troops to return to the U.S.
Photo of Villa, Pershing and Obregon from 1914.