“I guess we are nearer Mexican soil than any other National Gaurdsmen. So if anything happens the old Eight will be right there.” -Letter from Sam Avery, 7/4/16
The Mexican Revolution lasted from 1910-1920 and was the first major civil war of the 20th Century. It began in 1910 with an uprising led by Francisco Madero against the dictatorship of Mexican President Porfirio Diaz, spanned the period of the Great War and involved multiple opposing factions which relied on competing German and American support.
In 1913, power changed hands from Francisco Madero to General Victoriano Huerta who in February had seized the Presidency in a coup initially supported by the United States. As Huerta’s rule evolved into a ruthless dictatorship supported with arms and finances from the German Empire, a series of diplomatic crises occurred culminating in the “Tampico Affair” on April 9, 1914 which involved the temporary seizure and imprisonment of nine American sailors by Huerta loyalists. In response to this provocation the United States then occupied the Port of Veracruz to restrict Mexican commerce, and threw its support behind the opposition forces of Venustiano Carranza who finally defeated Huerta’s armies in battle and wrested control of the Presidency on July 15, 1914. Huerta went into exile abroad in England and Spain where he continued to plot a return to power with German support, the goal of which was to keep the United States distracted from direct involvement in the Great War in Europe. Huerta finally returned to the United States in April, 1915 in order to complete his counter-revolutionary plans, but was arrested in El Paso, Texas on June 27 and imprisoned at Fort Bliss for conspiracy to violate U.S. neutrality laws.
After Venustiano Carranza finally took control of the Mexican Presidency in 1914, some of his former military commanders including Generals Francisco “Pancho” Villa and Emiliano Zapata became disillusioned with his lack of promised reforms (especially concerning land redistribution) and turned against him, taking their rebel armies into the field once more. Major engagements between the warring factions and attacks against American interests continued throughout 1915-1916, including a massacre of Texas businessmen on a train near Chihuahua, Mexico and numerous cross-border guerilla incursions into Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
Despite the fact that his Presidency had been formally recognized by the United States, Carranza adopted a hostile posture towards America and instead continued to openly curry favor with the German Empire for financial and military aid. German Army reservists living as expatriates in Mexico also recieved commissions in the “Constitutionalist” army, and were actively serving in the Northern Forces south of the U.S. Border.
On March 8, 1916, Pancho Villa crossed the United States border with 500-1000 men and raided Columbus, New Mexico. His motives were two-fold; retaliation for the continued American recognition of Venustiano Carranza’s government, and a bid to provoke direct American military intervention in Mexico that would ultimately weaken Carranza’s hold on power. Villa’s raid destroyed the town and left 24 American soldiers and civilians dead. In response, President Woodrow Wilson dispatched General John J. Pershing and a force of 10,000 regular U.S. Army troops into Mexico on a Punitive Expedition to attempt Villa’s capture. Numerous skirmishes with bands of insurgents and even outright battles with Mexican Army units ensued.
President Wilson also sent several divisions of Army and National Guard troops to protect the southern U.S. border against further Mexican raids and counter-attacks which continued to disturb the Border Region in Arizona and Texas from 1917-1919.
Sgt. Sam Avery of K Co., 8th Mass. N.G. was among them…
Read Soldier’s Mail from South on the Border here.