History of San Diego, 1542-1908
PART TWO: CHAPTER 8: San Diego in the Mexican War
The people of San Diego lived through an anxious and exciting experience during the war with Mexico. As the only important port in Southern California, the town was of obvious strategic importance, and both sides tried to hold it as a base of operations. The most conspicuous Americans identified with the war in the West, Stockton, Frémont, Kearny, participated in movements in this neighborhood, and the hardest battle which marked the progress of the struggle in California was fought at San Pasqual. The town itself was taken, lost, and taken again by the American forces before the new flag went up to stay. In the midst of it all, the stream of social gaiety flowed on with only slight interruptions and the joy of it was actually increased, at times, by the presence of gallant soldiers from abroad.
The pleasantest memory of the period which comes down to us is the attitude of native Americans who had married Californian women and become Mexican citizens. Beset on one hand by the claims of their native land, and on the other by their obligations to their adopted country and the natural sympathies of their wives with the race to which they belonged, these Americans were certainly in a very embarrassing situation. Without exception, and with little or no hesitation, they declared for the United States. What is yet more beautiful and touching, from the American point of view, their Spanish wives stood by them, even when their own fathers and brothers were in arms on the Mexican side. If blood is thicker than water, love is thicker than blood—the love which these men felt for their country and these women for their husbands. The native population divided between the two sides, while some remained neutral. The most prominent Spanish families, the Argüellos, Bandinis, and Pedrorenas, promptly espoused the American cause when they found that war was inevitable. They clearly recognized. that Mexico could not hold the country in the face of the growing power of the United States, and wisely decided to throw their influence on the side which could offer personal security, material prosperity, and liberal self-government.
On July 29, 1846, Captain Samuel F. Dupont arrived from Monterey in the sloop-of-war, Cyane. With him were John C. Frémont and his company of 80 men, and a like number of marines; also, Kit Carson, Alexis Godey, and four Delaware Indians. The whole composed the “California Battalion” of volunteers, with Frémont as major and Archibald H. Gillespie as captain. This formidable party received a friendly greeting from leading citizens, and lost no time in hoisting the American flag on the Plaza at Old Town. The log of the Cyane shows the following entries:
July 29.—8 to meridian. At 10:30 hauled up courses, standing in for harbor of San Diego. At 11:30 came to in 9 1/2 fathoms; hoisted out boats. Found the Mexican brig Juanita at anchor in the harbor. At 11:45 sent Lieutenant Higgins alongside with instructions to overhaul her papers. At 3:40 the launch and Alligator, under command of Lieutenant Rowan, and the Marine Guard under Lieutenant Maddox, left the ship to take possession of the town of San Diego and hoist the American flag. From 4 to 8, Major Frémont left the ship with a detachment of his men. At 9 p.m. launch returned and at 10:50 the Alligator with Lieutenant Rowan, after taking possession of San Diego and hoisting the American flag, leaving all our marine guard, under Lieutenant Maddox, on shore to defend the flag and town.
July 30.—Crew employed in landing Major Frémont’s Battalion with their equipments. 8 to meridian. Finished landing Major Frémont’s troops and baggage.
August 9.—Lieutenant Maddox and the marine guard came on board; also, Lieutenant George L. Selden. Meridian to 4 p. m. Beating out to seaward.
The flag used on this occasion was a naval flag. One of the first American flags used in San Diego was made by the three daughters of Juan Bandini,—Josefa, Ysabel, and Arcadia, of red and blue flannel and white muslin sheets. The only one of these ladies now surviving is Mrs. Arcadia Bandini de Baker of Santa Monica. Their flag is preserved in the archives of the government at Washington, together with the history of its making and use.
Frémont’s orders were to use San Diego as a base for the capture of Los Angeles. After collecting cattle, horses and other supplies, he marched north Aug. 8th, riding “an uncommonly beautiful sorrel horse,” which had been presented to him by Bandini. A small garrison was left behind, but it did not remain long, or was regarded by the citizens as inadequate, for about the middle of September twelve men under Captain Ezekiel Merritt came down from Los Angeles to assist in the protection of the town, in response to a demand which had been voiced by Henry D. Fitch. Prominent citizens aided in preserving order and accepted offices under the election which was ordered by Stockton, and took place on Sept. 15th. Miguel de Pedrorena became justice of the peace, and Pedro C. Carrillo was appointed collector of customs.
Los Angeles promptly surrendered to Stockton and Frémont, who joined forces when the former arrived from San Pedro and the latter from San Diego. The victory was not lasting, however, for in a short time the Californians rose and recaptured Los Angeles. Thus encouraged, they determined to regain San Diego also. For this purpose Francisco Rico was sent south early in October with fifty men. Rico did not reach San Diego, being recalled in haste after reaching the Santa Margarita, but Sérbulo Varela was soon after sent in his stead. A number of Merritt’s men had been sent from San Diego to Los Angeles from time to time with dispatches, so that there were at that time but six or seven left. On the approach of Rico’s forces, John Bidwell, who had been left in charge at San Luis Rey, left that place and joined Merritt’s party at San Diego. The little garrison were alarmed by the approach of the Mexicans, as well as by apparently well-founded rumors of a plot of the Californians to kill the Americans. They therefore embarked on board the Stonington, a whale-ship then lying in the harbor, which had been chartered by the government. The refugees included the garrison, the American residents and their families, and a number of Californians who had reason to fear for their safety. The town was immediately occupied by the enemy, and, looking out the next morning, the refugees saw the Mexican flag floating from the flagstaff above the plaza.
In this emergency, Bidwell was sent to San Pedro with four men in a small boat to ask for reinforcements. He returned after a dangerous voyage and steps were immediately taken to recapture the town. It often happens that we worry most about things that never occur, and the refugees in the whale-ship worried about the fact that two of the old cannon lay at the Presidio, and that the Mexicans might mount them on ox-carts, bring them down to the shore, and bombard the ships. To render such a disaster impossible, Albert B. Smith was put ashore at La Playa, and succeeded in reaching Presidio Hill by a circuitous route. He found the guns, spiked them, and returned in safety. Relieved of anxiety on this score, and emboldened by Smith’s exploit, Captain Merritt the next morning landed all his available force, together with the whalers and two cannon from the ships, and marched upon the town. The Mexican troopers were formed in battle array but soon gave way and ran off over the hills. The Mexican flag was hauled down by María Antonia Machado, who carried it off to save it from the Americans. Albert B. Smith then climbed the flagpole attached the new halyards and hauled up the American flag. Since that day, it has never been hauled down. The Mexicans shot at Smith during his daring feat, and he replied by waving his hat at them in defiance. He was not hit. and none of the Americans were wounded.
Though driven out of town the Mexican rangers retired but a short distance and continued the siege. They were reinforced late in October by 100 men from Los Angeles under command of Captains Cota and Carrillo. Their tactics were to avoid engagements and cut off supplies. Every day they appeared on the hills and shot at anyone in sight, and on one occasion drove some cattle away from the flat in town. As a consequence, provisions grew short and suffering increased.
Commodore Stockton, awakened to the fact that California had not yet been conquered, came to San Diego early in November in the 60-gun ship Congress.
“The situation of the place was found to be miserable and deplorable. The male inhabitants had abandoned the town, leaving their women and children dependent upon us for food. He at once sent Captain Samuel Gibson, of the Battalion, in the Stonington to Ensenada, and this expedition returned in a few days overland, driving about 90 horses and 200 head of cattle into the town. Stockton had in the meantime made a trip to San Pedro in the Congress, and on his return the ship grounded and was in danger of tumbling over. While the crew were engaged in staying the ship with spars, the enemy, irritated, I suppose, by the loss of his animals, came down in considerable force and made an attack; they were, however, soon driven back with the loss of two men and horses killed, and four wounded.”
The date of this report, November 23rd, marks the time when vigorous measures were begun for clearing the country of the enemy. Up to this time the American losses were one man killed and one wounded. Varela had brought a cannon, with which he attacked the post from the hill. Earthworks had been thrown up at this place in 1838, at a time when an attack was expected from General José Castro, and from this protection the rangers menaced the town. They were so near that Juan Rocha could be heard shouting to his aunt for ropa [clothing] and chocolate. From this coign of vantage J. M. Orozco amused himself by shooting at Miguel de Pedrorena while he was escorting a young lady. But this all came to an end in consequence of a gallant exploit, led by Captain Santiago E. Argüello.
This officer assailed the hill, his company dragging a cannon with them, drove the Californians from the trenches, captured their gun, and turned it against them. The enemy made a new stand behind the old Presidio walls, but soon retreated up the valley toward the mission. Argüello having been wounded in the leg, Captain Pedrorena led the men in pursuit, and about a mile up the valley exchanged shots with a party under Leandro Osuna. A little farther on an American, going to water his horse in a cañada, was killed. A skirmish occurred at the old mission, where a few rangers were taken prisoner. The enemy then scattered, a part deserted, and the rest retired to the Soledad.
One of Stockton’s first cares was now to place the town in a state of defense. The captured earthworks were speedily improved by the sailors and named Fort Stockton. It consisted of a ditch or moat, behind “which casks filled with earth were placed at intervals of two feet. Twelve guns were mounted in the spaces between these casks in a manner to command the approaches from Los Angeles and Mission Valley. One hundred men, under Lieut. Minor, were placed in the fort as a garrison. The work was well done and constituted a formidable defense for the town. The remains of the earthworks stand today, in a fair state of preservation.
Stockton now began preparations for an advance upon Los Angeles. The first thing to be considered was a supply of cattle and horses. The enemy had swept the country clean of live stock and the horses brought in by Captain Gibson were in such poor condition that they required weeks of rest to become fit for service. The Stonington was therefore sent once more down the coast, about the end of November, with a force under Captain Samuel J. Hensley, of the Battalion, to secure supplies. In this work, Bandini, Pedrorena, and Argüello, were active. Stockton had landed his force and, while awaiting the return of this expedition, he improved the time by organizing, and drilling at the old Presidio. His men consisted of sailors and marines from the fleet, members of Frémont’s “Battalion of California Volunteers,” and volunteers who enlisted here. Frémont was operating elsewhere, but Major Gillespie, Captains Hensley, Gibson, and Bell, Alexis Godey, and some Delaware Indians of his command, were here. John Bidwell was quartermaster of the entire force, a man named Fisher was commissary, and Merritt and his twelve men were already here. Among the local volunteers, Santiago E. Argüello and Miguel de Pedrorena were made captains of cavalry. Philip Crosthwaite, who was on an otter-hunting expedition to Lower California in October, reached the Rosario Mission and was surprised there to meet the fugitives, Governor Pico and his secretary, and to learn of the breaking out of the war. He hurried home and enlisted in the volunteers, under Captain Alexander Bell. William Curley, John C. Stewart, Julian Ames, John Brown, A. B. Smith, John Post, and Thomas Wrightington were members of the same company.
It is claimed that no muster rolls of these volunteer companies were ever sent to Washington, and not a man who served in them was ever able to secure a discharge. This afterward worked considerable hardship in the case of San Diego Volunteers, making it impossible to obtain the pensions to which they were entitled. It is difficult to understand how, without turning in any muster rolls, the officers secured the money to pay their men. The late Dr. Winder made some investigation of the matter, as well as the present writer, but without result. It is therefore impossible to give anything like a complete record of the services of San Diegans in this war, the only information available being that disclosed by the participants who were thoughtful enough to set down their recollections. Gillespie wrote that the force in Stockton’s camp numbered 450 men. Strict discipline was established, the men were thoroughly drilled, and even the marines soon began to present a soldierly appearance and to enjoy the new work. Bandini offered his house to the Commodore, and it was made headquarters. There was soon considerable gaiety. Stockton had his band play during the dinner hour, and invited the Bandini family and the ladies of San Diego to dine with him. There were also dancing parties in which the officers participated and many courteous attentions were shown the ladies, who afterwards spoke of this period with great enthusiasm.
Meanwhile, an Indian scout had been sent out to ascertain where the Californian forces lay. He returned with the report that about fifty of them were encamped at San Bernardo, some thirty miles out. This force in reality numbered about eighty and was under the command of General Andrés Pico. Captain Gillespie was immediately ordered to take as many men as he could mount, with a piece of artillery, and endeavor to to surprise them. On December 3rd, before this expedition departed, however, two deserters from Pico’s camp came in and reported that Pico had been reinforced by 100 men. While Stockton, was examining these deserters at his headquarters, with his aid-de-camp, Lieut. Andrew F. V. Gray, of the Congress, Captain Edward Stokes arrived from the Santa Ysabel rancho, bringing the following letter from General Stephen W. Kearny, giving the information that he was approaching by way of Warner’s:
“Headquarters Army of the West, Camp at Warner’s.
December 2, 1846.
I (this afternoon) reached here, escorted by a party of the First Regiment Dragoons. I came by orders from the President of the United States. We left Santa Fe on the 25th of September, having taken possession of New Mexico, annexed it to the United States, established a civil government in that territory, and secured order, peace, and quietness there.
“If you can send a party to open communication with us, on the route to this place, and to inform me of the state of affairs in California, I wish you would do so, and as quickly as possible.
“The fear of this letter falling into Mexican hands prevents me from writing more.
“Your express by Mr. Carson was met on the Del Norte, and your mail must have reached Washington at least ten days since. You might use the bearer, Mr. Stokes, to conduct your party to this place.
“Very respectfully your obedient servant,
This letter greatly surprised Stockton, who had previously known nothing of Kearny’s approach. It did not occur to him that Kearny might be in any danger, but on the contrary he seems to have thought, that the junction of these new forces with the expedition he was about to send out might afford an excellent opportunity of carrying out his own plan for the surprise and defeat of the enemy. He therefore hurried the preparations for Gillespie’s departure, and in the meantime sent the following reply:
“Headquarters, San Diego, December 3, 1846,
half-past six o’clock p. m.
I have this moment received your note of yesterday, by Mr. Stokes, and have ordered Captain Gillespie, with a detachment of mounted riflemen and a field-piece, to your camp without delay.
“Captain Gillespie is well-informed in relation to the present state of things in California, and will give you all needful information. I need not, therefore, detain him by saying anything on the subject. I will merely state that I have this evening received information, by two deserters from the rebel camp, of the arrival of an additional force in this neighborhood of one hundred men, which in addition to the force previously here, makes their number about one hundred and fifty.
“I send with Captain Gillespie, as a guide, one of the deserters, that you may make inquiries of him, and, if you see fit, endeavor to surprise them.
“Faithfully, your obedient servant,
ROBT. F. STOCKTON.
Commander-in-chief and Governor of the Territory of California.”
The expedition left the same evening, December 3rd, about 7 o’clock. It consisted of Captain Gillespie in command; Captain Samuel Gibson, with a company of twenty-five volunteers, among Whom were Philip Crosthwaite of Captain Bell’s company, Alexis Godey, Burgess, and Henry Booker; and ten carbineers from the Congress under Acting Lieutenant Edward F. Beale and Midshipman James M. Duncan; thirty-nine men in all. Captain Stokes also returned with the party and one of the deserters, Rafael Machado, was sent as a guide.
They took all the available horses in San Diego and a brass four-pounder piece. The mountings of this gun were made by the ship’s carpenter, but it proved impossible to secure harness for hitching horses to it, and the men were obliged to drag it along by lariats attached to the pommels of their saddles. The route taken was by way of the old mission and, El Cajon to the Santa María Rancho. The trip was full of hardships, rations giving out and the expedition moving over rough and unbeaten trails. On the second day out, December 5th, at about one P. M., they joined General Kearny’s force at Ballena, between the Santa Ysabel and Santa María ranchos, without having met the enemy. The junction of the forces was effected in the midst of a cold, pouring rain.
A council of war was now held. It was certain that the enemy was between the Americans and San Diego, but in what force was not known; he might have 80 men or he might have double that number. It appears that Lieutenant Beale strongly advised avoiding an engagement, and suggested that an effort be made, instead, to capture the horses of the Mexicans. It is highly probable that in giving this advice Beale was influenced by the reports of the numbers and equipment of the Californians, and also by the wretched condition of Kearny’s force. Both the men and their mounts were emaciated and weak, and the cold rain which had been falling all day and which continued to fall all night caused them to suffer extremely and rendered them almost unable to walk.
Kearny, however, determined to attack. Without doubt, he was influenced to this course largely by the advice of Kit Carson, who declared that the Californians were cowards and would not fight. At first he planned to send Captain Moore with sixty men and make a night attack, but for some reason changed his mind and sent Lieutenant Thomas C. Hammond, with ten men, including Sergeant Williams and Private George Pierce, with Machado as guide, to reconnoiter. They succeeded in getting near the Indian huts at San Pasqual occupied by Pico’s men, and the guide and Sergeant Williams advanced to the door and saw the men asleep on the floor and a lone Indian keeping guard. They beckoned the Indian without the hut and began to converse with him, when a sentinel hailed the main party, and they all retreated precipitately. In this retreat they lost a blanket and jacket, which betrayed the presence of the force to Pico.
Hammond returned about 2 A. M. and reported that he had found the enemy and had been seen, but not pursued, by them. Notwithstanding the misfortune to the reconnoitering party, the General seems still to have expected, as Dr. John S. Griffin naively says in his journal, to “surprise” the enemy. Camp was broken at once, and soon all were upon the road, in the following order: First rode an advance guard of twelve men, on the best horses, under Captain Abraham R. Johnston. After them came General Kearny with Lieutenants Wm. H. Emory and Wm. H. Warner, of the engineers, and four or five of their men. Then Captain Benjamin D. Moore and Lieutenant Hammond, with about fifty mounted dragoons. Next Captains Gillespie and Gibson, with twenty volunteers. Then Lieutenant John W. Davidson, in charge of the artillery, with a few dragoons. The balance of the force, some fifty or sixty men brought up the rear under Major Swords. The rain ceased with daylight, but it was very cold and the men, having had no shelter during the night, were stiff and jaded. And, strangest of all, their arms were not recharged!
As day dawned on the morning of December 6th, the advance came out on the hillside above the village of San Pasqual, and, looking down into the valley through the fog, saw the campfires of the Californians burning brightly and the lancers moving about three-quarters of a mile away. Without waiting for the main force to come up, Kearny ordered a trot, then a charge, and Captain Johnston and his twelve men dashed down the hill. After them rode the General and his little party. It was not, as a rule, the policy of the Californians to stand still and receive a charge. They were superb horsemen and skilled lancers, but not beef-eaters. But seeing only twenty men coming, they stood firm discharged what muskets and pistols they had, and received the Americans upon their lances. Captain Johnston fell at the first fire with a ball through his forehead, and a dragoon was badly wounded. The men kept on, there was a confused struggle for a few moments, and then the Americans fell back. A ranger now dashed by; it was Juan (or Francisco) Lara, and Lieutenant Beale fired several shots at him and brought him down with a broken leg. Six months later Lara’s leg was amputated by a French physician and he lived in Los Angeles many years. By this time the main body of the troops came in sight and, seeing them, the Californians drew off and retreated rapidly down the valley.
Captain Moore, seeing the Californians retreating, now ordered Lieutenant Hammond and his men to follow, which they did, in a wild charge. The statement has been made that a recall was sounded which the men did not hear, but there is no official confirmation of this statement. Kearny ordered the troops to close up in support, and they did so to the best of their ability. But the tired and balky mules could not be hurried and only those having the best mounts, about fifty in all, came up in time to take part in the second conflict; the balance of the men never saw the enemy until after the fight was over. The charge was made without any attempt at order; the men rushed down the road at full speed, pell-mell, hurly-burly, strung out in a line half a mile long.
At a distance of about half a mile from the village the road divided, the main road leading out upon the plain toward the San Bernardo and Rincon ranchos and a branch leading up a ravine on the side of the valley. Upon reaching this point, part of Pico’s men kept straight ahead on the main road and the remainder turned up this side road, where they were concealed by a rocky spur, and waited for the Americans to come. Those of the troops who were riding the best horses soon reached and passed this ambuscade, among them General Kearny, Captain Moore, Lieutenant Hammond, Captain Gillespie, and a number of the men; then Pico suddenly wheeled his lancers and charged back on their front, and the detachment in ambush rode out and attacked them on the side and rear. A brief but terrible butchery ensued.
The miserable condition of Kearny’s men and mounts was evident enough to the Californians, who are said to have exclaimed, as they saw them coming, “Aquí bamos hacer matanza!” [“Here we are going to have a slaughter!”] . The Americans found their arms useless, but defended themselves as best they could with sabres and clubbed muskets. A scene of the greatest confusion followed, the chief feature of which was the ruthless slaughter of the almost helpless troops by the rangers. This lasted about ten minutes; and then, the struggling troops on their 1agging mules beginning to come up and the howitzers approaching, the Californians again put spurs to their horses and galloped away, part going down the valley and others over the hills.
The story of this terrible conflict was never known in detail, even by the participants, but a few of the incidents and a record of results have come down to us. Captain Moore was killed early in the fight, in a combat with Pico. The General was armed with a lance and the captain with a sword, which broke at the hilt while parrying the lance. Moore then reached for his pistol, seeing which, two rangers rushed in and killed him with their lances. One of these men was José Antonio Serrano, the other Leandro Osuna, both residents of San Diego. Moore’s body was found near a pond of water, his sword hilt still in his hand, and the blade broken in two pieces.
Captain Gillespie, a skillful swordsman, was attacked by Dolores Higuera, commonly called “El Guero.” Gillespie received first a slight wound in the chest, and was then struck full in the mouth and had two of his teeth knocked out. He was thrown from his horse where he lay still and feigned death. Higuera seized his horse with the saddle and bridle, also Gillespie’s fine zerape, and made off with them. Had he not been in such haste to secure this loot, he would probably have discovered that his antagonist was shamming, and have killed him. He afterward offered to restore this property to Gillespie, who refused to receive it, since its loss had saved his life. General Kearny was singled out by a young Californian, who twice wounded him, but spared his life. While in San Diego at a later date the General inquired for this young man, had him call, greeted him warmly, and praised his brave and soldierly conduct. Carson was thrown from his horse and his rifle was broken.
Davis says that in this fight General Pico’s conduct was brave and honorable; that he watched the conduct of his men, and whenever he saw a soldier unhorsed and wounded, called upon his men to spare his life. Kearny says in his report, however, that most of the killed and wounded were lanced while unhorsed and incapable of resistance. They all ,had as many as three lance thrusts and some as many as ten. An instance of unsoldierly conduct is related by Frémont as having been told him in Los Angeles by an eye-witness: “One of the Californians in the melee ran his sword through the body of a Christian or Mexican Indian who was fighting on the American side. When he felt the sword going through him the Indian knew that he was killed and called out, ‘Baste!’ (enough). ‘Otra vez’, (another time), said the soldier-murderer, and ran him through the second time. `Ahi esta’ (there it is), said he. ‘Si senor’ (yes, sir), said the dying man, with the submission of an Indian to his fate.”
Conspicuous among the rangers were Captain Juan B. Moreno, Juan Lobo a ranchero of Mission Vieja, and Dolores Higuera. Casimiro Rubio was wounded, one account says fatally. The horse of Pablo Véjar fell early in the second fight, and he was taken prisoner. Gabriel Garcia killed Henry Booker, one of the men in charge of a howitzer, which was captured by the Californians. This gun came up at full speed near the close of the fight, the mules being frightened and the men unable to control them, and plunged madly after the retreating enemy. Seeing this, the rangers closed in on the gun, captured one of the men in charge of it, wounded the second, killed Booker, and made off with the howitzer.
The Americans rallied around the remaining howitzer in a circle to protect it from attack. As soon as it was ascertained that the Californians had drawn off, Kearny’s first thought was of his rear guard, following at some distance under Major Swords, with the baggage. Some of the Californians were still seen in the rear, and Lieutenant Emory was sent back with a few men. He, met Major Swords at the foot of the first hill, in the rear of the enemy’s first position. Returning, they took up the body of Captain Johnston, which was partially plundered, his watch being gone, and carried it into camp.
It was a sadly demoralized body of men who now stood on their guard waiting to see what would happen next. The first report sent in by Kearny stated that he had 18 killed and 14 or 15 wounded. His official report places the killed at 19 and the wounded at 15. Griffin’s diary says 19 men were killed, one missing supposed to be killed and 17 wounded. The best conclusion appears to be that 19 was the correct number of the killed; that 19 were wounded and 3 of these died later, making the total deaths 22; and one missing; making the total casualties, 39—every man, save two, engaged. The discrepancy is only in the number of wounded, General Kearny having apparently failed to take any account of a number of slight wounds. Only one death and one wound were caused by firearms, all the rest being due to lance, and sabre thrusts. Folowing is a list of those killed and wounded.
Killed: Captains Johnston and Moore; Lieutenant Hammond ; Sergeants Moore and Whitness; Corporals West and Ramsdale; privates Ashmead, Campbell, Dunlop, Dalton, Lucky, Repsoll, Gholston, Fiel and Gregory, of the dragoons, and Booker, of the, volunteers; farrier Johnson; and Menard, of the engineers.
Missing and supposed to have been killed: McKaffray, of the dragoons.
Wounded: General Kearny; Captains Gillespie and Gibson, of the volunteers; Lieutenants Warner of the engineers and Beale of the navy; Sergeant Cox, dragoons, who died December 9th; Roubidoux, interpreter; Kennedy of the dragoons, who died at San Diego December 21st, David Streeter, who also died; and ten other dragoons.
Of the two prisoners taken by the Americans, Lara and Véjar, the latter was placed under the care of Philip Crosthwaite, who soon had to protect him from attack by one of the Delaware Indians. This Indian apparently did not believe in taking prisoners, and therefore proceeded to try to massacre Véjar, but was prevented from doing so.
Regarding the losses of the Californians, the accounts are very conflicting. General Kearny, in his official report, expressed the opinion that “the number of their dead and wounded must have been considerable,” although he adds that they carried off all but a few. Judge Benjamin Hayes, who was personally acquainted with many of the Californians, and their friend for years, was never able to discover that a single one of Pico’s men was killed. The prisoner, Véjar, thought that Lara was killed and twelve men wounded. He had probably seen Lara fall from his horse at the time he was shot; but as Véjar was taken prisoner early in the second action, he could have known little about the casualties. Pico himself reported to General Flores that he had eleven men slightly wounded. Two days later, upon Kearny’s offering to send Dr. Griffin to Pico’s camp to care for his wounded, the latter replied that he had none. Doubtless this was a piece of bravado, but it is clearly the fact that not more than eleven or twelve were wounded, and there is a strong doubt whether a single man was killed. A ranger named Andrado was shot in the thigh; he lived at Old Town in after years. Another wounded ranger was named Alvarado; he was shot in the thigh, but recovered.
Camp was made and the dead and wounded collected and cared for. Kearny first gave orders that the eighteen bodies should be packed on mules, to be carried to San Diego; but it was found there were not enough strong mules to carry both the dead and the wounded, and it therefore became necessary to bury the dead. They were interred at night, under a willow tree to the east of the camp. The burial was hurried and secret, as it was believed that if the graves were found the bodies would be disinterred and stripped. The bodies were afterward removed to the American cemetery near Old Town, but now rest in the military burying ground in the government cemetery at La Playa. “Thus,” says Emory in his diary, with deep feeling, “were put to rest together, and forever, a band of brave and heroic men. The long march of two thousand miles had brought our little command, both officers and men, to know each other well. Community of hardships, dangers, and privations, had produced relations of mutual regard which caused their loss to sink deeply in our memories.”
The General’s wounds were so serious that it became necessary for Captain Turner to take command. The day was spent in caring for the wounded and making ambulances. It took Dr. Griffin all day to dress the wounds. The situation of the camp was on a little height, surrounded by cactus, in a defensible position, but without water. The ground was covered with rocks and cacti, so that it was hard to find a place where the wounded could rest comfortably. The provisions were exhausted, the horses dead, the mules on their last legs, the men worn out and suffering from the cold, and the Californians on guard near by. Pico reported to Flores that he only awaited the arrival of Cota to attack and that the Americans could not escape.
Among the matters to which Captain Turner gave early attention were the questions of reinforcements and transportation for the wounded. Being informed by Beale that there were wheeled vehicles in San Diego, he determined to send there for help. Godey, Burgess, and one other man were selected for this service and started early in the day, bearing the following letter:
“Headquarters, Camp near San Pasqual, December 6, 1846.
Commodore R. F. Stockton, U. S. Navy, San Diego.
“Sir: I have the honor to report to you that at early dawn this morning Gen. Kearny, with a detachment of the United States Dragoons and Captain Gillespie’s Company of mounted riflemen, had an engagement with a very considerable Mexican force near this camp.
“We have about eighteen killed and fourteen or fifteen wounded, several so severely that it may be impracticable to move them for several clays. I have to suggest to you the propriety of despatching, without delay, a considerable force to meet us on the road to San Diego, via the Soledad and San Bernardo, or to find us at this place; also that you will send up carts or some other means of transporting our wounded to San Diego. We are without provisions, and in our present situation find it impracticable to obtain cattle from the ranches in the vicinity.
“Gen. Kearny is among the wounded, but it is hoped not dangerously; Captains Moore and Johnston, First Dragoons, killed; Lieutenant Hammond, First Dragoons, dangerously wounded.
“I am, sir, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
H. S. TURNER.
Captain, U.S.A., Commanding.”
Of the adventures of these men on the way we know little, but they reached San Diego safely the following day, December 7th. Another messenger had preceded them; this was Captain Stokes who, after witnessing the beginning of the battle and without waiting to see the close, hurried away to San Diego and gave a highly-colored account. He saw a great many men engaged and was sure the Americans had suffered defeat. Very little attention seems to have been paid to this vague report, but when Godey and his comrades arrived the next day the gravity of the situation began to be realized. This incident has been much discussed, and one writer goes so far as to say that Stockton only left a fandango at Bandini’s house long enough to hear Godey’s story, gave a contemptuous refusal to do anything, and returned to the merry-making. It may be true that the Commodore was found at a ball, and also that he showed irritation and made use of hasty words, as he might be excused for doing. It appears, however, that he at once set about the sending of a relief expedition with two pieces of artillery, and at first intended to have it leave on the evening of the 7th and to join it himself the next day, but it was found that it could not move so soon. Gillespie’s party had taken all the good horses, Hensley had not yet returned from the south with more, there were no carriages for the guns, and supplies of all kinds were scarce. Godey and his men returned with letters to Kearny, but seem to have carried with them the impression that no relief would be sent.
At 10 P. M. on the 9th a messenger arrived who made the urgency of the situation unmistakable. This was Lieutenant Beale, bleeding, exhausted, reduced to a skeleton, and scarcely recognizable. He was so weak that the pickets had to carry him in and soon after telling his story became delirious. Of his two fellow messengers, Carson and the Indian alcalde Panto, the latter arrived a short time before, and the former soon after, he came in. It was now imperative that the relief column should start, at once. The effort to get the artillery ready was therefore abandoned, and 215 of the sailors and marines who had been drilling on Presidio Hill were started off, with one fieldpiece, under Lieutenant Andrew F. V. Gray, of the Congress. Lieutenant Jacob Zeilin, also of the Congress, was in charge of the marines. They marched until nearly daylight on the 10th, then camped in a secluded spot, and remained concealed during the day. They succeeded in evading Pico’s men and joined Kearny’s force at 2 P.M. on the 11th.
After burying their dead on the night of the 6th, the Americans spent a sleepless and uncomfortable night. “Day dawned,” says Emory, “on the most tattered and ill-fed detachment of men that ever the United States mustered under her colors.” Kearny was able to resume command, and at an early hour gave the order to march. The wounded were placed in six litters made by “the mountain men,” Peterson, Londeau, and Perrot, formed of poles placed like the shafts of a wagon and each dragged by a mule, one end of the poles resting on the ground and the men reclining on a bed of willow branches woven between. This was but a crude conveyance and the roughness and stoniness of the ground caused the wounded great suffering, despite the utmost care. The wounded and baggage were placed in the center.
The route taken was toward the San Bernardo rancho, along the hills to the right of the stream. The enemy retired as they advanced, keeping near the bed of the stream, on the opposite side. At Snook’s San Bernardo rancho the horses and mules were watered and a few chickens killed for the sick. They also found a number of cattle here and proceeded to drive them along, moving toward the bed of the stream in the hope of finding grass. About a mile from the ranch house, near the foot of a detached hill, the Californians suddenly appeared in the rear and a body of thirty or forty of them dashed off to take possession of the hill. Kearny sent Captain Gibson with six or eight volunteers, who drove these horsemen from the hill with a few volleys and without loss. The booty in this skirmish consisted of three spears, abandoned by the foe. The cattle had been lost in this movement, and as it appeared that any attempt at a further advance would bring on a fight and might cause the loss of the wounded and the baggage, it was determined to halt for the night. The men were now dismounted with the intention of performing the rest of the journey on foot. An insufficient supply of water was secured by digging and the fattest of the mules was killed for meat. The enemy took up a position across the creek and threw out pickets and the siege began.
Early the next morning (December 8th) a ranger came in with a flag of truce, bringing some sugar, tea, and a change of clothing for Captain Gillespie, sent by his servant from San Diego. He also brought from Pico a proposal for the exchange of prisoners. Godey, Burgess, and their companion had been captured by the Californians. Pico treated these prisoners well and inquired for the welfare of the wounded, particularly for Captain Gillespie, whom he knew. He had four prisoners, Godey, Burgess, their unnamed companion, and the man captured with the howitzer. Kearny had only Véjar and the wounded Lara.
Emory’s simple and straightforward account reads as follows:
“In the morning a flag of truce was sent into our camp, informing us that Andrés Pico, the commander of the Mexican forces, had just captured four Americans, and wished to exchange them for a like number of Californians. We had but one to exchange (this was Pablo Véjar), and with this fellow I was sent to meet Andrés Pico, whom I found to be a gentlemanly looking and rather handsome man. The conversation was short, for I saw the man he wished to exchange was Burgess, one of those sent on the morning of the 6th to San Diego, and we were very anxious to know the result of his mission. Taking rather a contemptuous leave of his late captors, he informed us of the safe arrival of himself and Godey at San Diego. He also stated that when captured, his party, consisting of himself and two others, on their return from San Diego, had previously “cached” their letters under a tree, which he pointed out; but on subsequent examination, we found the letters had been abstracted.”
The remaining prisoners were sent to Los Angeles by Pico. The letters buried by Godey and his comrades to keep them from falling into the enemy’s hands, having been found and seized, Kearny failed to receive them; and Burgess, ignorant of their contents, gave the general to understand that help was refused. The situation now seemed more desperate than ever. The wounded were in no condition to move, and starvation was drawing near. It was therefore determined to send another party to San Diego with despatches, in the hope of having Stockton understand the true situation, and of prevailing upon him to come to their relief. Lieutenant Beale volunteered for this service, and Carson and the Indian alcalde Panto were also sent. The command settled down to await the result of this mission, though not hopeful of its outcome, and determined to cut their way through as soon as the wounded were in condition to move. In the meantime, the baggage was burned, as it was thought there was no longer any hope of getting through with it.
The dispatch-bearers began their hazardous journey at night, creeping past the sentinels inch by inch, so close they could hear them whisper and smell the smoke of their cigaritos. At one time Beale thought all was over. Pressing Carson’s thigh to get his attention, and putting his mouth upon his ear, he whispered: “We are gone; let us jump and fight it out.” Carson said: “No; I have been in worse places before and Providence saved me.” His religious reliance encouraged the sinking hopes of Beale, and they got through. After passing the sentinels they took different routes, and, as we have seen, all arrived. The Indian, being acquainted with the country, arrived first and in best condition; but Beale and Carson suffered terribly from the rocks, thorns, and fatigue.
This night, December 8-9th, was one of the hardest the little company had spent. Emory tells one of the incidents with touching simplicity:
“Don Antonio Robideaux, a thin man of 55 years, slept next to me. The loss of blood from his wounds, added to the coldness of the night, 28 degrees Fahrenheit, made me think he would never see daylight, but I was mistaken. He woke me to ask if I did not smell coffee, and expressed the belief that a cup of that beverage would save his life, and that nothing else would. Not knowing there had been any coffee in camp for many days, I supposed that a dream had carried him back to the cafés of St. Louis and New Orleans, and it was with some surprise that I found my cook heating a cup of coffee over a small fire made of wild sage. One of the most agreeable little offices performed in my life, and I believe in the cook’s, to whom the coffee belonged, was to pour this precious draft into the waning body of our friend Robidoaux. His warmth returned and with it hopes of life.
“In gratitude he gave me the half of a cake made of brown flour, almost black with dirt, and which had, for greater security been hidden in the clothes of his Mexican servant, a man who scorned ablutions. I ate more than half without inspection, when, on breaking off a piece, the bodies of several of the most loathsome insects were exposed to my view. My hunger, however, overcame my fastidiousness, and the morceau did not appear particularly disgusting.”
The annals of the following day (December 9th) are pathetically brief. Dr. Griffin’s diary says: “In camp; nothing going on; the enemy parading the hills on the other side of the valley. We are reduced to mule meat.” Sergeant Cox died in the night, and was buried on the hill in a deep grave and covered with stones. He was a young man and married a pretty wife just before leaving Fort Leavenworth.
On the 10th, while the horses and mules were grazing near by, the Californians tried to stampede them by driving up a band of wild horses and mules, some with dry hides attached to their tails. This movement was seen, and by active work, a stampede prevented. One of the enemy’s mules was shot, and, proving fat, was butchered and eaten and proved, in the language of Dr. Griffin, “a godsend.” The wounded were now improving, and Dr. Griffin reported that most of them could ride. General Kearny therefore determined to move the next day. About two o’clock the next morning, however, when everything was quiet in camp, one of the sentries reported that he heard voices speaking in English. This was shortly followed by the tramp of feet, and soon Lieutenant Gray and his men were welcomed into camp with joy. They busied themselves until day in distributing food and caring for the wants of their comrades. The jack-tars were delighted with the adventure and only sorry they had no opportunity to fight. When the sun rose the enemy had disappeared, leaving the cattle behind. At ten o’clock, camp was broken and the march commenced, in close order. At night they arrived at Alvarado’s Peñasquitos rancho, where they camped and made free with the turkeys, chickens, goats, and wine. A good night’s rest followed, and on the morning of the 12th they set out gaily for San Diego, which they reached about 4 P. M. and received a warm welcome from the troops and inhabitants.
The wounded men were distributed among the private families in San Diego, taken in charge by Dr. R. F. Maxwell, surgeon of the Cane, and very tenderly nursed back to health. All but two recovered: Streeter, who was cut in sixteen places, and Kennedy, who died December 21st. Wm. Heath Davis, wbo visited the invalids, says that they all had the utmost horror of the Californians. He spoke particularly of one young man who lapsed into delirium during his visit and called out in terror, thinking the Californians were upon him.
How shall Kearny’s encounter with Pico be characterized? Kearny himself called it a “victory,” and thought it might “assist in forming the wreath of our national glory.” Looking back to it over a period of sixty years, it is impossible to regard it otherwise than as a defeat, even though it is true that the Americans finally reached San Diego, which was their objective, with the major portion of their forces. The performance of a commander must be judged by the use he makes of his opportunities, and it is difficult to imagine how General Kearny could have made worse use of the opportunity which he had, after the union of his forces with the first relief party, under Gillespie, to overwhelm the Mexican commander and end the war in California at San Pasqual.
Had he chosen to avoid a fight he might have found excuse for such a course in the fact that his men and horses were utterly worn out by a long and arduous journey across the deserts, and that the way was open, as shown by Gillespie’s march. There are times when the avoidance of battle is good generalship. Beale advised this course and there were surely some arguments in its favor, yet it seems clear that most commanders, in General Kearny’s situation would have chosen the opportunity to strike a decisive blow at the enemy and thus crown the long adventure of the Army of the West with a victory of lasting importance.
Choosing the latter course, Kearny should have planned and fought, his battle in thorough soldierly fashion, instead of neglecting every precaution and exposing his followers to every danger. On the night before the battle he had a good knowledge of the situation and numbers of the enemy, and knew that his own presence had been discovered through the detection of his scouts. He knew Pico had separated himself from his horses, and he had the benefit of the suggestion that it would be well to capture the animals, then make a night attack on the Mexican camp. Failing to adopt this plan, it was obviously his duty to prepare his forces for battle in the morning by having them recharge their water-soaked guns, form in a compact column, and advance in such a manner that they could be readily disposed to advantage and so meet the situation as it should develop. Think of sending men into battle with guns that could not be fired, mounted upon horses that could scarcely be ridden, and scattered along over a distance of half a mile in helter-skelter fashion! That is what General Kearny did. The result was inevitable—nearly every one of his men actually engaged was horribly slaughtered or grievously wounded, and his own life was saved only by the magnanimity of a gallant young foeman. He was able to inflict almost no damage in return for this fierce assault, and there is a strong probability that he would have been utterly annihilated, or compelled to surrender before reaching San Diego, except for the timely arrival of a second and powerful relief party from Commodore Stockton with ample ammunition and provisions.
The only possible explanation of Kearny’s incapacity was that he underestimated the strength and ability of his chivalrous opponent. This fault is very serious in a soldier under any circumstances; in Kearny’s case, with the information supplied by Stockton, by a deserter from Pico’s camp who came with Gillespie, and by his own scouts, it was utterly inexcusable. All the glory of the battle of San Pasqual belongs to General Andrés Pico and his Mexican rangers. They made a hard and skillful fight with nothing but lances and swords against a more numerous enemy armed with muskets and howitzers, and withdrew in good order prepared to renew the attack at any favorable moment. The issue was finally determined by the arrival of reinforcements, not by the skill of the American commander. If Kearny be judged by the use be made of his opportunity, he met inglorious defeat at San Pasqual. It is hard for a soldier to confess his mistakes, and Kearny made no attempt to do so. In his official report, he suppressed material facts and tried to regain the lost battle on paper. Doubtless he suffered some injustice at the hands of his rivals for supreme authority in California, but the undisputed facts of the case leave no room to doubt his failure.
The war ended, so far as California was concerned, with the battle of San Gabriel, near Los Angeles, January 9, 1847, and the treaty signed four days later by John C. Frémont for the United States, and Andrés Pico, for Mexico. From that day henceforth San Diego was undisputed American soil.
The 29th day of July, 1906, the sixtieth anniversary of the first raising of the American flag, was observed by the people of San Diego with fitting ceremonies. Fully four thousand people assembled on the plaza at Old Town and gave earnest attention to the proceedings. In the procession were included the Mexican War Veterans, the Loyal Legion, Confederate Veterans, Sons of the Revolution, the Grand Army of the Republic, Spanish War Veterans, a battalion of the U. S. Coast Artillery, Company B Seventh Infantry National Guard of California, Masonic and other fraternal societies, and public officials.
Mayor John L. Sehon, chairman of the committee on arrangements, acted as master of ceremonies. After the invocation, a large new flag, donated by the sons of George Lyons, was raised on the flagpole already standing on the old plaza, by Major Charles G. Woodward, U. S. A. Following this, a large granite boulder, designed to mark the spot where the first flag was raised sixty years before, and bearing a suitable inscription, was unveiled by Miss Frémont, daughter of John C. Frémont, assisted by Mayor Sehon, U. S. Grant Jr., Major Edwin A. Sherman, president of the Mexican War Veterans, Colonel E. T. Blackmer, Captain Joseph D. Dexter, and others. A salute was fired, and the oration of the day was delivered by William E. Smythe. Another feature of the day was the planting of a large date palm by Dr. T. C. Stockton and a committee of citizens, to commemorate the work of Commodore Stockton at San Diego. Hon. W. W. Bowers made appropriate remarks at this ceremony.
Return to Books.
HISTORY OF SAN DIEGO
Introduction: The Historical Pre-Eminence of San Diego
PART ONE: Period of Discovery and Mission Rule
- The Spanish Explorers
- Beginning of the Mission Epoch
- The Taming of the Indian
- The Day of Mission Greatness
- The End of Franciscan Rule
Priests of San Diego Mission
PART TWO: When Old Town Was San Diego
- Life on Presidio Hill Under the Spanish Flag
List of Spanish and Mexican commandants
- Beginnings of Agriculture and Commerce
List of Ranchos in San Diego County
- Political Life in Mexican Days
- Early Homes, Visitors and Families
- Pleasant Memories of Social Life
- Prominent Spanish Families
- The Indians’ Relations With the Settlers
List of Mission Indian Lands
- San Diego in the Mexican War
- Public Affairs After the War
- Accounts of Early Visitors and Settlers
- Annals of the Close of Old San Diego
- American Families of the Early Time
- The Journalism of Old San Diego
- Abortive Attempt to Establish New San Diego
PART THREE: The Horton Period
- The Founder of the Modern City
- Horton’s Own Story
- Early Railroad Efforts, Including the Texas and Pacific
- San Diego’s First Boom
- Some Aspects of Social Life
PART FOUR: Period of “The Great Boom”
PART FIVE: The Last Two Decades
- Local Annals, After the Boom
- Political Affairs and Municipal Campaigns
- Later Journalism and Literature [new material in second edition]
- The Disaster to the Bennington
- The Twentieth Century Days
- John D. Spreckels Solves the Railroad Problem
PART SIX: Institutions of Civic Life
- Churches and Religious Life
- Schools and Education
- Records of the Bench and Bar
- Growth of the Medical Profession
- The Public Library
- Story of the City Parks
- The Chamber of Commerce
- Banks and Banking
- Secret, Fraternal and Other Societies
- Account of the Fire Department
PART SEVEN: Miscellaneous Topics
- History of the San Diego Climate
- San Diego Bay, Harbor and River
- Governmental Activities
- The Suburbs of San Diego
Political Roster, City of San Diego
Political Roster, San Diego County