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The Mexican War and California
Captain Archibald Gillespie's Report to Commodare Robert Stockton Concerning The Battle of San Pasqual
 
 
Transcript of report, by Gillespie to Stockton, on the Battle of San Pasqual. Spelling, punctuation, etc. are as written.



San Diego December 25th 1846
Commodore R. F. Stockton
Commander in Chief
U.S. Forces in California & the Pacific, San Diego

Sir,

Agreeably to your orders, I marched from San Diego on the 3d instant, at 8 0,clock in the evening, to meet Gen'l Kearney, then supposed to be at Warner's=Pass: my force consisting of Capt' Gibson's Company of Mounted Riflemen 27 strong; and Lieut Beale with one piece of Artillery (Sutter 4 pdr), Passed Midn Duncan and ten Carbineers.
The night was cold and clear, and the moon shining brightly, our horses and mules travelled well, considering their weak condition. At 3 O,clock A.M. of the 4th, we arrived at the Rancho in the Cajon Valley, where we encamped to rest and await daylight, to commence the ascent of the mountains, the trail being rocky and of difficult passage for a Field piece. Although it had been reported that the Enemy were in considerable numbers about this place, we saw no signs of them, and at 9 O,clock on the 4th, commenced our march for the hills. For the first three leagues, our road passed through pretty valleys, covered with wild Oats, here and there interspersed with Oaks and


Sycamores of great size and age; it then crossed a ridge of high mountains, completly covered with rocks and stones, a species of white granite. Towards Sunset we descended the east side of the mountain, and entered upon the pretty valley of Santa Maria.
 
Encamping for the night at the Rancho of Mr Edward Stokes, we commenced our march again on the morning of the 5th at 9 O,clock. much rain had fallen during the night, and as we began the ascent of the mountains, with direction for Santa Isabel, it poured in torrents, effectually drenching our party. When about half the distance between Ste Isabel and Sta Maria, the weather cleared; and at One 0,clock, one of the advance returned, reporting that Lieut Rhusau had met with Gen'l Kearneys advance, & had proceeded forward to report my approach. Our Flag was immediatly given to the breeze, and displayed for the first time upon those distant mountains; cheering the way=worn Soldiers with the sight of the "Stars and Stripes", where they least expected to meet them.

I soon joined Gen'l Kearney, was received with great kindness by himself and officers, and reported to him what you had ordered; giving him all the information in my power, in relation to the state and condition of the Country; and, also, said to him, that a force of Insurgents under Andres Pico, was reported to be at San Pascual,


and that you advised him "to beat up their Camp", should he feel so disposed. This proposition was received with great pleasure by all parties, particularly, Capt Moore of 1st Dragoons, who was extremely desirous to meet the Enemy as soon as possible. As my Horses and Mules had not fed that morning, (there was no grass at Santa Maria) and Gen'l Kearney had determined to proceed to Santa Maria to encamp, he gave me permission to halt, in a little dell at the side of the trail, where we found fine grass, and to join him in the evening. We halted for about two hours, and then commenced our return down the mountain, reaching our camp of the previous night at about dark. Upon arriving in the valley, the rain fell in sheets accompanied by a cold north wind; chilling both men and animals, and giving us the dreary expectation of passing a night, exposed to the merciless pelting of a furious Storm. At the Rancho I found that General Kearney had moved, forward, two miles further, to a small valley a short distance from the road; for the purpose of feeding his animals, they having been almost without food for three days. The Troops were obliged to water their horses and mules at Santa Maria, there being no water in the valley; they had nearly completed this when we came up; yet many of the Soldiers were lying upon the wet ground, not=


withstanding the heavy rain, almost exhausted by their long and arduous march; indeed, the whole force, save the officers, presented an appearance of weariness and fatigue, rarely, if ever, met with upon any other service. The men were without any exception sadly in want of clothing; that which they wore was ragged and torn; they were almost without shoes; and although we were constantly accustomed to much privation and suffering, my men considered their own condition, superior to that of these way=worn Soldiers, whose strength and spirits seemed to be entirely gone. It was quite dark, when my command took the same position, in the old adobe houses, as upon the night previous. At this moment Captain Johnson 1st Dragoons, Aide de Camp to Gen'l Kearney, applied to me for my Guide to conduct a reconnoitering party to San Pascual. I desired Capt' Johnson to present my compliments to the General, and request him to permit me to make the reconnaisance from my Command; as my "mountain men" could make it with more secrecy and success, than his tired Soldiers; and these latter, would have more time to rest. The Captain promised to state what I desired, & immediatly left with the Guide. Whilst my men awaited their suppers, they looked to their arms and put them in fine condition; and Lieut Beale and Midn Duncan soon had our field piece in order for action. At about Eight O'clock, being desirous to


know what were the General's intentions relative to the attack upon the Enemy, I despatched Lieut Beale and Lieut Godey (Volunteers) to Gen'l Kearney's Camp for orders. They returned about 2 O'clock on the morning of the 6th, with orders "to Saddle, and meet the General upon the road to San Pascual, in half an hour". In fifteen minutes we were in column, awaiting the approach of the Dragoons. In about half an hour the General arrived, ordered me to follow upon his rear; and, as I understood him, to order my Gun and Carbineers to remain at the Rancho of Santa Maria, to take care of the Baggage, in Company with a few dragoons and Capt' Emory's party of the Topographical Corps. Midn Duncan was ordered to the Rancho, and had hardly unsaddled and turned his horses and mules loose, when I received an order for the Gun to be brought up. I should here state, that upon General Kearney's giving me the first order, I represented to him, that my Gun was a very fine brass 4 pdr, in the best older and preparation for action; that the Artillerists were brave young men and the very best gunners; and I hoped, he would therefore change his order; he replied, "Order it to the rear Sir" - my desire to
prevent this, was from hastily observing, that the two Mountain howitzers in the General's Command, were lashed with rawhides, and their limbers looking as if they would


fall to pieces at the first fire. Lieut Rhusau was directed to order the Sutter Gun to be brought up, and Mid Duncan to report to Major Swords, Quartermaster in charge of the Baggage Train.
 
The weather had cleared, the moon shone as bright as day almost, but the wind coming from the snow covered mountains, made it so cold, we could scarcely hold our bridle reins.

Our road lay over a mountain which divides the valley of San Pscual from that of Santa Maria, and is about six miles in length. The ascent is quite regular, the road smooth, and has been used by the native Californians for carts. As day dawned, we arrived at the top of the hill, which immediatly overlooks the Valley of San Pascual, a halt was ordered and preparations made to engage the Enemy. General Kearney addressed the Dragoons and Riflemen, telling them, to "be steady and obey implicitly the orders of their officers; that their Country expected them to do their duty; and that one thrust of the sabre point, was far more effective than any number of cuts." - The General told me, that Capt' Moore would direct the charge, and had orders to surround the Indian Village; in the performance of which duty, he wished me to cooperate all in my power; to follow Capt Moore, and if possible, capture every man; to shoot any who might resist or attempt to escape, but make exertions to capture


man and horse. Lieutenant Davidson, 1st Dragoons, in Command of the Howitzers, was ordered to follow in the rear of my Command. Major Swords with his Command had not yet come up. The order to march is given. We proceed down the mountain. The clang of the heavy Dragoon Sabres, echoing amongst the hills upon this cold frosty morning, and reverberating from the mountain top back upon the Valley, seemed like so many alarm bells to give notice of our approach. The grey light of morn appeared as we approached the valley. We were marching by Twos, and as the advance, Commanded by Capt Johnson had reached the plain, the General gave the order to "Trot," which Capt Johnson misunderstood for "charge;" a shout, and off dashed the Dragoons at the Charge, as fast as their tired, worn out mules and horses could be urged; whilst my command was still upon the hill side, and more than a half mile from the Indian Village; the boundaries of which, were clearly shown by the fire that was opened upon the advance, by the Enemy posted in a gulley at the side fronting our approach. Many of the Dragoons of Capt Moore's rear being unable to keep up with the leading files, and as the charge should be graduated, in the onset, to the speed of the slowest horses, I held back, and amidst much murmuring, prevented my command from advancing


past the Dragoons, until seeing the Enemy retreat from the position at the Village, and appear to be en route, and that Capt Moore was endeavoring to bring his men into line, I ordered my men to follow, and dashed forward hoping to reach the left, but before We could get up a second charge was ordered; and some of the Enemy having spread over the Valley, & as I supposed, with the view of falling upon our rear, I deployed to the left, ordered the men to dismount and drive them from their hiding in the tall cane and grass. This movement had the desired effect; one prisoner was taken - Pablo Beja, the Second in Command under Andres Pico - and many who endeavored to pass to the rear being discovered, fled at the approach of the Riflemen. My men having become very much separated, I halted an instant to reunite them; and with Capt Gibson at my side followed upon the rear of the Dragoons, passing many of them, and dislodging from the hills many of the Enemy, who considered themselves out of Rifle range. After a pursuit of over a mile and a half, the Dragoons came upon the Enemy in the open plain, where they made a stand, evidently having observed the scattered position of our force. As we came up, I saw a party of some twenty-five or thirty dragoons, slowly turning before a superior force of the Enemy. Sword in hand I dashed forward to them crying, "Rally men, for


God's sake rally, show a front, dont turn your backs, face them, face them, follow me" - but to no effect; their brave leader had fallen, pierced by many lances; their travel worn horses being incapable of any more exertion, themselves chilled y the cold; their limbs stiffened by their clothing, soaked by the rain of the night previous; and being almost surrounded, they were completely panic stricken; the best men of this command, having already fallen in unequal combat. Instead of the Dragoons heeding my efforts to rally them, they passed my left, when I fell in upon the center of the Enemy, and was immediatly surrounded and saluted with the cry of recognition, "Ya, es Gillespie, adentro hombres, adentro." There is Gillespie. At him men, at him! - Four lances were darted at me instantly, which being parried, the fifth and sixth quickly followed, accompanied by the discharge of an Escopeta, almost, into my face. At this moment I noticed a lance "in rest" coming from the front, and when leaning over the neck of my horse, parrying the charge, I was struck on the back of the neck by another lance, at the collar of my coat, with such force, as to be thrown clear from my saddle to the ground, with my sabre under me. As I attempted to rise


I received a thrust from a lance from behind me, striking above the heart, making a severe gash open to the lungs. I turned my face in the direction of my assailant, when, one of the Enemy riding at full speed, charged upon me, dashed his lance at my face, struck and cutting my upper lip, broke a front tooth, and threw me upon my back, as his horse jumped over me. Recovering myself immediatly and getting upon my feet, I was enabled to cut my way out of the crowd, towards one of the howitzers, where our scattered force had begun to rally. Dragoons and a few Riflemen were flying across the field, fighting single handed against overpowering numbers; the carbines of the Dragoons (Hall's breech= loading) had become utterly useless from the rain of the night previous, and were in many instances clubbed, the men having apparently lost confidence in their sabres; the dead and wounded were lying in every direction; whilst the yell and clash of arms with the firing of the Rifles from an elevation on the right of the field, proved the bravery and desperation with which our men fought against such odds, On my way to the rear, though faint and staggering from loss of blood, which fairly poured from the wound over the heart, I rushed towards one of Gen'l Kearney's Howitzer's, which was very near the center of the field entirely deserted, with


the rawhides which bound the limbers to the fore axle uncut, and the two mules faced to rear. I called to many as they passed and repassed, "for God's sake save this Gun," without avail. I endeavored to start the Mules, but they would not move; and finding myself getting weaker, I left it to the Enemy and pursued my way to the rear. Upon going a short distance, I met the Second Howitzer coming up, which was placed in battery at once, when I heard the cry, "where is the Match"? and the answer, "There is none"! - "Where is the port=fire"? "It is not lit." Lieut Warner of Top' Engineers fired his pistol upon the powder without success; quick as thought, I lit my Segar Match (Machero) as I ordered a Dragoon to put on more powder, & instantly fired the Gun; as I handed the match to a Dragoon, I fainted. Gen'l Kearney, Lieut Davidson (who had charge of the Howitzers), Lieut Warner and several others were seated on their horses all this time. As I recovered I saw Capt Emory bearing upon his back the fixed ammunition for the Howitzers, they having been brought up by Lieut Davidson, without any supply. It appears that as the Howitzer was fired by me, the Enemy were suddenly checked in their charge upon the Gun. Midn Duncan now came up at a rattling pace, and instantly poured a shower of Grape upon the enemy from


the Sutter Gun, and cleared the field, Lieut Beale and Lt Rhusau (of the Rifles) pursued the Enemy with a portion of Capt Gibson's Company (that officer being dangerously wounded in two places) and drove them from the Valley.
 
Those who had escaped wounds or were not in the heat of the action, had now an opportunity to look to the killed and wounded. It was a sad, distressing sight. Captains Moore and Johnson, Eighteen Dragoons and one Rifleman Killed. General Kearney, Lieutenants Warner and Hammond and eighteen dragoons; Capt Gillespie Capt Gibson and one private of the Rifles, wounded. most every one with two and three desperate cuts. Lieutenant Hammond had nine wounds upon the breast, several cuts through the lungs. He died in a short time lying near my head. The whole force now moved to the heights on the right of the field, which having a sort of breastwork of rocks, afforded us a secure camp. The Surgeon (Dr J.S. Griffin U.S.A) immediatly attended to the wounded, who lay in every direction around me, many of the men cut and lacerated in the most shocking manner. Dr Griffin was occupied without cessation from Sunrise until after dark, and even then dressed a fourth wound for myself, upon the right fore=arm that passed unnoticed in the morning.

Of the occurrences of this day after


the battle, I only know from report, for my own suffering was so great, I could not notice what happened around me. Nineteen were buried at twilight of evening in one grave. The brave Capt Moore was laid beside those who had so gallantly followed him. Capt Johnson, who was shot in the first onset at the Village, and Lieut Hammond were, also, buried in the same Grave. At one time in the

morning it was thought that General Kearney was dying, but it proved he had swooned from great pain and exhaustion. Capt Gibson and Lieut Warner were also great sufferers, but all our wounds were slight compared to many of the Dragoons, who have since died. Many narrow escapes had been made, and, also, many feats of bravery had been performed during this hand to hand battle. Capt Turner's jacket was cut by lances in many places, Capt Emory saved the General's life, just as a Lance was charged at him from the rear, whilst the latter defended himself from the front. One of my men (Sexton) was set upon by five of the Enemy, had him upon the ground and nearly overpowered, when he was accidentally seen by Lieut Beale, who dashed forward at the greatest peril and saved Sexton, almost, from the grasp of death. And, again, Lieut Beale pursued the standard bearer of the Enemy so closely, that the flag would have been his, but


for the falling of his horse, just as he (Beale) laid his hand upon the staff and dealt the bearer a blow. Some of my men being dressed in hunting shits and being strangers to the Dragoons, were set upon by the latter in several instances. One of my best men (Sears) received a blow upon the top of his head, from the but of a carbine in the hands of a very stout trooper, before I could interpose to save the the blow; indeed, the whole fight appeared to be one of confusion and disorder. Our force was 153; of this number not more than 45 bore the brunt of the fight. The Enemy were about 70 strong, and as near as can be ascertained, they had 27 killed and wounded. my riflemen are certain of 18 killed or wounded and the Dragoons report ten or twelve.

One cause of our having dearly obtained this victory, without any advantageous results, can be traced to the reconnaissance made by Lieut Hammond. The Guide, Rafael Machado, whom I sent to General Kearney by Capt Johnson, reported to me, that the party went to the foot of the mountain on the side of the valley, and not more than half a mile from it. From this point he was sent to find an Indian and ascertain if the Californians were there, their numbers, and the position of their horses. This duty Rafael accomplished with great success, getting actually amongst the Enemy as they lay asleep, dragged out an Indian and obtained


the necessary information. Rafael supposed there were about One hundred under Andres Pico, many of them boys. So near was Rafael to them, the Indian became alarmed for the safety of the former, and urged him to escape as quickly as possible. Unfortunately for the success of the enterprize, Lieut Hammond became impatient at Rafael's apparent delay, rode out with his men from their hiding place, and actually went past, close, to the very huts where the Enemy were sleeping, arousing them by the clang of their heavy Sabres and the hurried tramp of their horses. As the Dragoons reascended the mountain at a racing pace, the Californians cheered and shouted [Gillespie's insert: Live California, Down with the Americans Sons of ____ "Viva California," "Baja Los Americanos," "Hijos de___," and one even followed almost to the top of the first hill. Immediatly upon the return of the Reconnoitering party Lieut Beale was sent with orders to me.

Every precaution for defence of our Camp from a night attack was taken. The Enemy showed themselves upon the hills opposite during the day, keeping well out of reach of my field piece range.

Early in the evening they built fires opposite to our Camp, and at about 8 O'clock gave several cheers and shouts and left. The night passed in quiet.
The morning of the 7th dawned upon the saddest and most dispirited Camp,


perhaps, ever known in the American Arms. There was great suffering amongst the wounded, with scarcely any means of alleviation. A Sort of Ambulances had been made by lashing poles on the sides of a Mule and tying Buffalo robes thereto, to transport such of the wounded as could not ride, and everything being done which lay in the power of Major Sword, Capts Turner and Emory to save distress; we commenced our march for San Diego. The Enemy was in sight upon the hills at some distance, apparently not disposed to renew the fight. We took the road over the hills towards the Valley of San Bernado, as upon the direct road the Enemy would have great advantages over our march, we being so much encumbered by the many wounded and pack Mules. At about 2 P.M. we arrived at the Rancho of San Bernado, where we saw signs of the Enemy having but lately retired from that point. The Indians told me, that they had brought to the Rancho some fifteen or eighteen wounded, one mortally and nearly dead; that upon leaving, they said they were going to Los Angeles. After a short rest and watering, we proceeded on the march, and when in the center of the Valley, the Enemy showed themselves from out a ravine, rushing at the charge with the evident intention to surround us. We immediatly moved by the left flank toward a round hill well protected by rocks, the top of


which the Enemy gained possession as we reached the base, but were soon dislodged by Captain Emory, at the head of a small party of his own and my men. Lieut Beale & Mid Duncan with the Carbineers, soon dragged the Sutter Gun to the top of the hill, which quickly gave us the quiet possession of the place. The Rifles had knocked three of the Californians from their Saddles, making them leave three lances in the hasty flight.

We remained at this point until the arrival of the reinforcement under Lieuts Gray, and Zeilin of Marines on the morning of the 11th, when we marched for San Diego and arrived on the 13th, having buried one of our wounded at San Bernado.

Such is the detailed account of the unfortunate affair of San Pascual, and if in making this report I have frequently referred to myself, it has been solely to keep up the narrative; and I now particularly represent to the Commander in Chief, the gallantry and courage of Capt Gibson, Lieutenants Beale and Rhusau, and the valliant bearing of all my command, and beg for them the highest applause and approbation, for conduct so brave and meritorious.

Copy of Official Report of the Battle of San Pascual made to Commodore R.F. Stockton, Commander in Chief in the Pacific and in California, by Capt A.H. Gillespie U.S.M. Corps Commanding Volunteers, Military Commandant of Southern Dept of California. San Diego Dec'r 25th 1846

 

Posted 23 March 2009


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