Down Mexico Way
March 3, 2008
Eighty-five years before the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom to combat terrorist forces in Afghanistan, it fought another campaign against a foreign group that had launched an attack on American soil. Although it was not called a terrorist attack at the time, it could be classified as one by todayAca,!a,,cs definitions.
For over a year before the beginning of the Mexican Punitive Expedition, there had been a series of incidents and minor raids along the U.S. border with Mexico. Doroteo Arango ArAfA!mbula, otherwise known as Pancho Villa, and his Mexican Revolutionary Army had been targeting Americans and American interests in Mexico.
On the morning of March 9, 1916, VillaAca,!a,,cs men raided the town of Columbus, New Mexico. It was the event that citizens on the U.S. side of the border had been nervously dreading. The Villistas burned buildings, looted businesses, seized horses, killed civilians, and battled troopers of the 13th U.S. Cavalry Regiment. As a result, President Woodrow Wilson sent Regular Army troops under General John J. Pershing into Mexico to find Villa and his men. He also mobilized 150,000 National Guardsmen and sent most of them to the Mexican border to back up the Punitive Expedition -- just in case.
By the first week of April 1916, a month had passed since the raid on Columbus, and almost a month had gone by since PershingAca,!a,,cs nearly 10,000 pursuing American Army troops had entered Mexico on March 15. Pershing had split his men into two columns in hopes of finding the trail of VillaAca,!a,,cs forces. By early April, his forces had penetrated some 350 miles over the rough and sometimes unforgiving terrain of northern Mexico.
The soldiers crossed narrow, rocky mountain passes and desert plains as they followed trails through the Mexican countryside in search of the Villistas. On the plains men suffered through the sweltering heat of day, while in the mountains they braved the freezing cold of night. Horses and pack animals grew lean from the lack of grazing and supply problems, but still the Soldiers persevered.
Adding to the problematic nature of the Punitive Expedition were the complications of operating in a foreign nation. The Mexican Government did not want American troops in its country; the Mexican Army saw American forces as a hindrance to its own efforts to fight the Villistas; and the Mexican people did not want to aid Americanos.
In the end, the Mexican Punitive Expedition lasted for almost a year but did not result in the capture or death of Pancho Villa. However, the American Soldiers faced the adverse conditions admirably, gained valuable experience, and worked with new technologies such as the airplanes, motorized transportation, and wireless telegraph (radios). The National Guardsmen, moreover, gained valuable experience in mobilization and field service. Less than a year later, these skills and experiences would serve many of them well on the battlefields of Europe during the First World War.