Thursday, July 16, 2015

Álvaro Obregón: Pancho Villa Meets His Match in the Mexican Revolution, 1915

Francisco Pancho Villa and Álvaro Obregón hated each other. For a while during the Mexican Revolution, they fought for the same coalition, but by 1915 -- one hundred years ago this year -- that coalition was split into new warring factions.  Villa and Emiliano Zapata broke for the Conventionists (Villistas and Zapatistas), Obregón for the Constitutionalists (Carrancistas). 

In 1915, armies led by Obregón and Villa battled for supremacy. Whereas Villa preferred attack mode with trains and horse cavalry, Obregón took advantage of newer lethal technology -- a combination of barbed wire, machine guns and artillery -- to fight on the tactical defensive.

At Celaya in the spring of 1915, Obregón and Villa fought two battles, and Obregón's men won both of them. Obregón's position was entrenched and fortified, bristling with machine guns and shielded with barbed wire. He used an updated version of an ancient formation best suited against cavalry charges -- the phalanx, hedgehog or square. (Note the square formation was used 200 years ago in the Napoleonic Wars, and in the Mexican-American War, at the Battle of Palo Alto, Texas, for instance, on May 8, 1846).

The Obregón-Villa series of battles were bloody and terrible; the two commanders wanted to kill each other with their bare hands, if possible. At the Second Battle of Celaya, April 13-15, 1915, Villa sent in wave after wave of horse cavalry to the attack. Horses tend not to be very enthused about charging into barbed wire and machine gun fire, and casualties were extremely high. Overall, Villa lost perhaps 50% casualties out of some 22,000 troops engaged, whereas Obregón's forces suffered about 1,050 killed out of 15,000 troops engaged. Obregón ordered all captured Villista officers to be shot (typical of both sides in this horrid conflict). 

 In June, 1915, Obregón was badly wounded in another battle against Pancho Villa; the story goes that, finding himself in an exposed spot and bleeding profusely,  Obregón tried to shoot himself dead rather than be captured, but his pistol didn't go off (a lucky accident caused by a junior staff officer making a mistake the night before, while cleaning the weapon). He didn't die, but he did lose an arm as a result of the original wound.

Obregón continued to battle the now beleaguered Villa until the Revolution began winding down around 1920, whereupon  Obregón was elected president of Mexico. Villa was bought off and subsequently, in 1923, assassinated. Obregón was reelected as president in 1928 but then promptly assassinated by a supporter of the Cristero Rebellion -- but that's for another post. Pancho Villa was forty-five when he died; Álvaro Obregón made it to the hoary age of forty-eight.

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune. 


Charles Gramlich said...

Lots of great stories from south of the border

Luma Rosa said...

Hi, Erik!
I remember something studied in school about the government of General Porfirio Diaz and like most of the population was unhappy with the economic policy, which gave opportunities for foreign investors, mainly American and British, which began to explore the country's natural resources through mining, estates and oil industry. Modernity came to the rich but not the poor. This policy is also adopted in the country - I remember when I was there and saw the glaring inequality.
Everything we learn in school enrollment is so superficial that does not bring in any historical reality. I just know the motto: "Viva Zapata!". Moreover, the films create caricatures in that baffle instead of entering. I will enjoy reading your posts.
I do not know if I make myself understood with my Old English ... :)

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks for the comments ~! Charles, oh yes. Luma Rosa, yes. Things are oversimplified and confusing. The Mexican Revolution was a big mess, lots of casualties and chaos. Seems as if its legacies (and even the detailed facts) are still being sorted out one hundred years later.