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Second Battle of Agua Prieta

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Title: Second Battle of Agua Prieta  
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Subject: Pancho Villa, History of Sonora, First Battle of Agua Prieta, Battle of Cuautla (1911), Battle of Ciudad Juárez (1911)
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Second Battle of Agua Prieta

Second Battle of Agua Prieta
Part of Mexican Revolution

Pancho Villa and his army in northern Mexico.
Date November 1, 1915
Location Agua Prieta, Sonora
Result Carrancista victory
Villistas Carrancistas
Commanders and leaders
Pancho Villa Plutarco Elías Calles
15,000 6,500
Casualties and losses
unknown 45 dead
90 wounded

The Second Battle of Agua Prieta was fought between the forces of Pancho Villa and those of the future President of Mexico, Plutarco Elías Calles, a supporter of Venustiano Carranza, on November 1, 1915, at Agua Prieta,[1] Sonora, as part of the Mexican Revolution. Villa's attack on the town was repulsed by Calles. The battle helped to establish Carranza's control over Mexico and directly led to his becoming, with United States recognition, president.[2] Villa believed that Calles had received tactical and strategic support from the United States since the town is located across the border from Douglas, Arizona[3] and launched his raid on Columbus, New Mexico partly as a reprisal.


In mid 1915, the administration of Woodrow Wilson switched from backing Pancho Villa to supporting his opponent, Venustiano Carranza. Villa believed that help rendered by the United States to Carranza at Agua Prieta was the major factor in his defeat.

After the defeat of General Victoriano Huerta the revolutionary forces split among themselves. Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa reconciled their differences during the Convention of Aguascalientes, and as a result were often referred to as the "Conventionalistas", but they came into conflict with the so-called "Constitutionalistas", or "Carrancistas", of Venustiano Carranza, who saw himself as the legitimate president of Mexico and leader of the revolution. Initially Villa and Zapata were successful, jointly occupied Mexico City, and forced Carranza and his supporters to flee to Veracruz. The tide however began to turn in early 1915 and culminated in Villa's defeat at the Battle of Celaya in April of that year. As a result, by October 1915, Villa was in control of only his home state of Chihuahua which left him just the city of Juárez as a connection with the United States through which he could illegally import arms.[1]

Prior to late 1915 Pancho Villa's relations with the United States had been pretty good and at one time Villa even considered President Woodrow Wilson as "a kind of American Madero, an idealist and friend of the poor".[4] In fact, in April 1915, Wilson issued a sharply worded statement which threatened American intervention in Mexico if the civil war were to continue; this constituted a form of indirect support for Villa who was reeling from his defeat at Celaya as, Villa hoped, it might put an end to Carranza's advance.[4]

As a result Villa believed that if he managed to wrest control of the north from Carranza, the United States would recognize him as president of Mexico. However, Villa was also running out of badly needed money with which to buy additional arms and pay his demoralized soldiers. As a result, in mid-1915 he turned to expropriating the haciendas and factories of people who had stayed out of politics so far, which meant that the revolutionaries had previously left them alone. Many of these were partly American owned. This contributed to political pressure in the United States for Wilson to back Carranza. Further factors that contributed to the switch in American policy included support for Carranza from the American Federation of Labor, concern over German intelligence operations in Mexico related to World War I, Carranza's new found commitment to protecting properties of foreigners in Mexico, and the military successes of Carranza's generals.[4] Unbeknownst to Villa, who was crossing the Sierra Madre Occidental, in October 1915, the United States recognized Carranza as the president of Mexico.[1]

However, the American support for Carranza now went beyond political recognition and diplomacy. The United States placed an embargo on sales of arms to Villa.[3][4] More crucially, President Wilson gave his permission for Carranzista troops to cross through American territory in order for them to be able to quickly strengthen the garrison at Agua Prieta. About 3,500 fresh, veteran troops, travelled through Arizona and New Mexico and arrived in the town in early October, bringing the total number of defenders to 6,500.[1] Villa was completely unaware of this development; according to the American correspondent and friend of Villa, John W. Roberts, Villa believed the town was defended by only 1,200 soldiers.[3]

Additionally, concerned about bullets and artillery shells falling over the border and the possibility of the fighting spilling to the American side, General Frederick Funston stationed three infantry regiments, some cavalry and one regiment of artillery in the cross-border town of Douglas, Arizona. While the American troops in the end did not take part in the fighting, their nearby presence, would later lead Villa to believe that the Americans provided Carranza's forces with crucial logistical support, which contributed to his growing anti-Americanism.[1]


General Plutarco Calles, the victor of Agua Prieta.

The defending troops at Agua Prieta were led by General Plutarco Calles and many of them were veterans who had already defeated Pancho Villa at the Battle of Celaya earlier in the year.[1][3] Calles, building on Alvaro Obregon's experience at Celaya, had build extensive fortifications around the city, with deep trenches, barbed wire and numerous machine gun nests.[3]

Villa arrived at Agua Prieta on October 30, where, while giving his men a day of rest, he finally learned that United States had recognized Carranza, but not that they had also permitted him to cross American territory to strengthen the defenses of the town. As a result, Villa still believed that a swift cavalry charge, carried under the cover of darkness was capable of capturing the city in one stroke.[4][5] His staff officers believed that the town would be captured within five hours.[5]

The next day, Villa began his attack with an artillery barrage in the early afternoon which only managed to detonate some of the land mines around the town that had been placed there by the Carranzistas.[5] Once darkness has fallen he made some feints at various locations in order to hide the direction of his main attack. Shortly after midnight, on November 2, he launched his frontal assaults from the east and south of Agua Prieta.[5]

As the Villista cavalry was charging towards the trenches however, two searchlights illuminated the battlefield, making the horsemen an easy target for Calles' machine guns. The front trenches were manned by units led by another future president of Mexico, Colonel Lázaro Cárdenas.[6] Villa's horsemen were decimated by machine gun fire and land mines. The few that managed to make it near the trenches encountered electrified barbed wire. The charge collapsed and the attack was a failure.[5]

Pancho Villa wanted to continue with the cavalry charges on the following day, however, his troops were ready to mutiny. He was also running low on supplies and ammunition. As a result, Villa withdrew and arrived at Naco on November 4. Even though there his men were given rest and supplies were acquired, more than 1,500 deserted from his army.[5]


After resting his troops at Naco, Villa gathered up the remainder of his forces and attacked the town of [5]

While most sources state that the searchlights which illuminated the battlefield for Calles' machine guns were on the Mexican side of the border, Villa strongly believed that they were on the American side. Coupled with the fact that Wilson had allowed Carranza to transport troops across Arizona, this led to a complete change in attitude of Villa towards the United States. Previously, while engaging in an occasional border raid for supplies, Villa considered himself a friend of the Americans; now he wanted revenge for what he regarded as their treachery.[3]

As a result, in March 1916, Villa led the remains of his Division del Norte on a raid on the American town of Columbus in New Mexico. Some sources attribute the raid to American support for Carranza, while others point to the fact that some Columbus residents had cheated Villa out of money he had paid for armaments.[7] This in turn resulted in the failed Mexican Expedition, led by General John J. Pershing whose purpose was to capture Villa or kill him.[3][7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f John S. D. Eisenhower, "Intervention!: the United States and the Mexican Revolution, 1913-1917", W. W. Norton & Company, 1993, pg. 191, [1]
  2. ^ Cindy Hayostek, "Douglas", Arcadia Publishing, 2009, pg. 27
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Friedrich Katz, "The life and times of Pancho Villa", Stanford University Press, 1998, pg. 525-526, [2]
  4. ^ a b c d e Frank McLynn, "Villa and Zapata: A History of the Mexican Revolution", Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2002, pgs. 92-95, [3]
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h René De La Pedraja Tomán, "Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941", McFarland, 2006, pg. 253, [4]
  6. ^ Enrique Krauze, "Mexico: biography of power : a history of modern Mexico, 1810-1996", HarperCollins, 1998, pg. 440, [5]
  7. ^ a b Lee Stacy, "Mexico and the United States", Marshall Cavendish, 2002, pg. 213, [6]

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