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United States Interventions in Mexico

  • Between the War for Independence and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the armed forces of the United States have participated in twenty-one principal wars and in numerous smaller conflicts and operations. In each of these American men and women have paid a high price for the nation's freedom, selflessly sacrificing life or limb for an honorable cause.

    Principal sources of information for the figures, explanatory text and illustrations appearing below include the National Archives and Records Administration; U.S. Navy Historical Center; Department of Defense; Department of Veterans Affairs; and The Oxford Companion to American Military History, from which all quotations are taken.

    United States Interventions in Mexico, 1914-1917

    During the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917), the United States government ordered two military incursions into Mexico.  The first entailed an invasion and occupation of the city of Veracruz in 1914, and the second was the “Punitive Expedition” of 1916-1917, commanded by General John J. Pershing.  President Woodrow Wilson was reluctant to send U.S. troops to Mexico in 1914, but “yielded to pressure from American business interests, cabinet members, newspapers, and representatives of the Southwest.”  Reluctant or not, Wilson desired to depose the government of General Victoriano Huerta by seizing the port of Veracruz, through which flowed most of the armaments and supplies imported for the Mexican army.  Wilson’s quarrel with Huerta was twofold:  first, Huerta “could not maintain order and protect U.S. private and public interests” in Mexico; and second, Huerta was “a dictator who imposed himself on the Mexican republic after murdering his democratically elected predecessor.”   American warships arrived on the scene in April, 1914 and shelled the city, taking “a terrible toll” on the civilian population, which had decided to resist the invasion.  At the same time, the U.S. Navy and Marines seized the opportunity to experiment with amphibious landing techniques, with “an almost comic opera” effect.  Between the landing and the occupation (which lasted through November) U.S. troops did help oversee the removal of Huerta from office mainly by supplying the revolutionary forces of Venustiano Carranza with arms and other critical materials. 

    When a revolutionary faction headed by Francisco “Pancho” Villa staged a raid on the town of Columbus, New Mexico in 1916, killing sixteen Americans in the process, President Wilson ordered a force under General Pershing to find and capture Villa and thus eliminate the threat that Villa’s band of 500 posed along the U.S.-Mexican border.   With 12,000 soldiers, observation aircraft, cavalry, and motorized supply vehicles in support, the Punitive Expedition penetrated 419 miles into Mexico in search of the outlaws.  They encountered serious resistance only a few times, and never found Villa.  In the meantime, with the Americans chasing after him, Villa’s popularity mushroomed as did his band of combatants, which grew to number about 5,000 by the time President Wilson ordered Pershing to withdraw in January 1917.  Carranza, who was acting president of Mexico at the time, was elected president under a new constitution just a few weeks later.  And not long after that, Pershing was appointed commander of the American Expeditionary Force, the nation’s most important contribution to the Allied war effort in Europe during World War I.   



    American Casualties, Occupation of Vera Cruz, 1914

    Branch of ServiceKilled in ActionNon-mortal Wounds
    Marines 513
    Total    2270

    American Casualties, Punitive Expedition to Mexico, 1916

    Branch of ServiceNumber ServingKilled in ActionOther DeathsNon-mortal Wounds