The Mexican revolts against dictator Porfirio Diaz in 1910 led to a complex and ever shifting mixture of groups and personalities fighting for control of Mexico in an intermittent vicious civil war that would last for over two decades. Inevitably the US became involved in this vast complex with the US occupying the Mexican port of Veracruz in 1914 for six months. In early 1916 part time revolutionary general, and full time bandit, Francisco “Pancho” Villa and his “Army of the North” were on the run after being defeated by the forces of José Venustiano Carranza Garza, who would go on to become President of Mexico until assassinated in 1920. Villa was angered that the United States no longer gave him clandestine support and had switched its support to Carranza in hopes that he could form a stable government.
Desperate for supplies, Villa launched a raid on Columbus, New Mexico by five hundred of his men. Villa, relying on faulty intelligence thought that Columbus was garrisoned by 30 US troops. Actually, 341 troopers of the 13th Cavalry were stationed in the town.
Although taken by surprise, the 13th Cavalry, and the men of the town, many of whom were armed, put up a ferocious resistance after Villa’s force launched their attack in a two prong assault on 4:15 AM. In the ensuing fighting eight American soldiers were killed along with eight Americans civilians. Eight Americans were wounded. Ninety of Villa’s men were killed, thirteen were wounded and six captured. The Americans chased the retreating Mexicans fifteen miles into Mexico. The furious Americans tried executed five of the captured Mexicans by hanging, with the sixth being sentenced to life imprisonment. As the news spread throughout the US, national outrage boiled. At Fort Bliss, commanding General John J. Pershing readied his troops.