Chapter 4: The U.S. - Mexican War in San Diego
6. Who won the Battle of San Pascual?
The Battle of San Pascual marked the high water mark of the Californio resistance during the war. It was the bloodiest battle fought in California and was a victory for the partisan forces.
The American troops under Lieutenant Archibald Gillespie and Stephen W. Kearny had joined forces near the present-day city of Ramona, in the Santa Maria valley. Kearny's men numbered about 150, including the Delaware Indians with Kit Carson and the African-American servants of the officers and drovers. Gillespie's party had thirty-nine soldiers including Rafael Machado, a local Californio. The total American force was about 179. The Californios under General Andrés Pico had about 100 men.
JoséF. Palomares, one of Pico's men at the battle recalled:
With our lances and swords we attacked the enemy forces, who could not make good use of neither their firearms nor of their swords. . . . We did not fire a single shot, the combat was more favorable to us with our sidearms (swords). Quickly the battle became so bloody that we became intermingled one with the other and barely were able to distinguish one from the other by voice and by the dim light of dawn which began to break.
Felicita, a San Pascual Indian woman, recalled:
The Americans did not shoot their guns many times: perhaps the rain had made the powder wet. They struck with their guns and used the sword, while the Mexicans used their long lances and their riatas. The mules that the Americans rode were frightened and ran all through the willows by the river. After rode the Mexicans on their swift horses, striking with the lance and lassoing with the riata; it was a very terrible time.
Dead on the field of battle were nineteen American soldiers. Two more died later from their wounds. Kearny himself had suffered three lance wounds and temporarily relieved himself of command. The Californios had eleven wounded and one of their group taken prisoner, Pablo Véjar. Juan Alvarado was wounded in the back by a rifle ball. There may have been some American deaths from friendly fire. Lieutenant Emory recalled finding the body of Captain Johnston; he had been shot in the head. He was the only American to be killed by a bullet wound. There were many American wounded and these were taken with the remnants of the U.S. troops to a camp on a hill near San Pascual. There they buried the dead in a mass grave and then sent a messenger to Commodore Stockton in San Diego to ask for help.
After several days of being virtually surrounded by the Californio army Kearny's troops were finally able to move on toward San Diego in safety arriving on the afternoon of December 12, 1846. Later General Kearny wrote that the battle of December 6th had been a "
victory" and that the Californios had "
fled from the field." Generally the Navy officers, headed by Stockton, considered the Battle of San Pascual a defeat for the U.S. Army. Of course the Californios considered this engagement a victory and news of it spread throughout the district.
Kearny's defeat was a product of his overconfidence in the condition of his own men and an underestimation of the Mexican's will to fight. The battle of San Pascual proved that despite internal dissention and division many Californios were willing to die to defend their homeland from the American invasion. The signficance of this battle should not be lost on those proponents of "
the peaceful conquest" of California.
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