The Battle of San Pasqual
The Battle of San Pasqual.

As General Stephen Watts Kearny and his Army of the West headed down the Rio Grande on their way to California they had a fateful meeting around today’s Socorro with John C. Fremont’s scout Kit Carson. The scout was traveling east, heading for Washington D.C. with dispatches proclaiming victory in California. The news came as a big surprise to Kearny as his orders were to capture the golden prize.
It seems Fremont had been on another of his famous mapping expeditions in the Far West. This time he was in California where he was told to leave. He did, bidding his time in the Sierra Nevada and when word arrived that war had broken out between the United States and Mexico, he gathered his little army and took California by storm in what became known as the Bear Flag Revolt. The revolt was declared successful but someone forgot to tell the Californios. Meanwhile, Fremont sent Carson was to Washington with dispatches declaring victory.
What Carson could have no way of knowing was the Californios had turned things around and the American forces were holed up in the seaports.
Kearny ordered Carson to turn his dispatches over to his scout, Tom Fitzpatrick and then guide the Army of the West to California where he would assume control. Fitzpatrick did make it all the way to the nation’s capital to deliver the news.
Ordering 200 hundred of his dragoons to return to Santa Fe, Kearny took the remaining 100 and with Carson in the lead, proceeded on a rapid march to the Pacific.
They traveled through the rugged mountains along the Gila River, and past the Pima Villages, the Army of the West finally reached the Yuma Crossing at the Colorado River. Word of their coming had already been passed on to the Californios by the local natives in the area. As the army pushed ever westward, signs began to indicate that maybe the Americans weren’t in control of California after all. Prior to reaching Warner’s Ranch, about 60 miles from San Diego, Kearny was informed the Californios held all the land and the Americans were in control of the seaports. This sudden turn of events caused the general to send to San Diego for reinforcements. By the time the dragoons arrived at Stokes Ranch, Captain Archibald Gillespie of the U.S. Marines, Navy Lieutenant Ned Beale and a contingent of Marines arrived to reinforce them. This was the same Ned Beale who would, some ten years later, lead the survey of a wagon road to California using camels.
When informed of the presence of Californios nearby Kearny dispatched a patrol to investigate. The patrol crept up on the enemy troops and found them taking a siesta and posting no guards. At that moment the dragoons could have rounded up all their horses and captured the entire 180 men in Andres Pico little army. Instead, they rustled around, making a lot of noise and careless to the point of leaving some of their equipment behind in their rush to rejoin the main force.
Pico had not been convinced of the Americans presence in the area until one of his men brought him a dragoon jacket and a blanket with US stamped on it. The comic—opera events that followed were not one of this nation’s proudest military moments. America had its Bunker Hill, New Orleans, San Juan Hill, Belleau Wood, Bastogne, Iwo Jima and Khe Sanh but thank God there was only one San Pasqual.
San Pasqual is a hilly, rugged area about 35 miles from San Diego. It was a rainy morning that December 6th when the two opposing forces faced each other across an open plain. Pico’s lancers, among the best horsemen in the world, watched anxiously as the dragoons, on their worn-out mules, prepared to advance on that cold, wet plain. Kearny had given the signal to advance at a trot but this order was misinterpreted by Lieutenant Abraham Johnston and his twelve men on the far end of the line. With still over three-quarters of a mile to go they charged full speed ahead. Captain Benjamin Moore took off in an attempt to stop them. By this time twenty-eight out of Kearny’s forty-man force was riding helter-skelter towards the still-waiting lancers. The dragoons, mounted on their trail-weary mules, their powder wet from the rain, were now strung out across the plain.
Pico decided to retreat a short distance and let the mules run some more and by the time the dragoons caught up with them the mules had galloped a mile and a half.
Now it was Pico’s turn to charge and Captain Moore fell, mortally wounded with sixteen lance wounds in his body. When the dragoons tried to fire, they found their powder was wet and their weapons were of no use. The lancers now took their reatas and pulled the dragoons from their saddles and lanced them.
During the charge, Carson’s horse was shot out from under him and his rifle stock was broken in the fall. The intrepid little trapper ran on foot to join the melee. Even General Kearny was not spared, as he suffered a humiliating lance wound in the worst place for a horseman; it would be a long time before the general would sit comfortably again. Quick action by Lieutenant William Emory was all that saved Kearny’s life.
As if to rub a little salt in the wounds, Pico’s lancers roped and dragged one of the two howitzers the dragoons had lugged all the way from Fort Leavenworth. Only two of the twenty-two dragoons killed died by gunfire; the rest were dispatched by the lancers.
When the Californios broke off the battle, Kearny dispatched Lt. Beale, Carson and an unidentified Indian to sneak through the enemy lines and run to San Diego for help. All three made it safely through the lines, although all lost their footwear in the process and had to hoof it barefoot all the way to San Diego.
When the rescue party arrived at the scene they found the Army of the West in poor condition. From its glorious beginning to this unfortunate ending, they marched unceremoniously into San Diego.

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