The Fall of Monterrey

The Texas Story Project.

In 1915, Pancho Villa, a freedom fighter and his army, the Villistas, waged a furious war against the Venustiano Carranza for the fate of Mexico. This revolution was long and costly, but after several successful campaigns Pancho Villa was soon ready to set his sights on the city of Monterrey. The following will show not only how that battle unfolded, but how a single soldier fit into this brief chapter of history.

Due to the success of his guerilla tactics, Pancho Villa began preparations for the assault on the Mexican capitol of Monterrey, which would strike a massive blow against the government and Carranza. However, word soon spread that Carranza’s men, the Carrancistas, stood on the verge of taking the city of Torreon. In response, Villa assigned one of his lieutenants, Felipe Angeles, to not only defend Torreon but to capture Saltillo and Monterrey as well. Angeles accepted this mission despite his insistence that  focusing on the capitol would have proved more beneficial to the war effort. This was his first independent command.

Angeles and his men left immediately to assist General Emilio Madero in the defense of Torreon. Between the two military leaders and their combined army of 11,000 men, the Villistas were able to easily secure the city once more. Having denied the Carrancistas of their prize, Madero and his men joined Angeles on his trek to the capitol.    

The city of Saltillo was the only Carrancista post left standing between the Villistas and Monterrey, however, it was heavily fortified. In an effort to draw the Carrancistas away from Saltillo and thin their ranks, Angeles sent Madero and a small regiment of soldiers to attack a small town known as Estación Marte as a feint tactic. Outnumbered and caught by surprised, the remaining Carrancistas were unable to fight back against Angeles and his army and were driven out of the city. Saltillo was claimed by the Villistas who now stood closer than ever to their sought after prize.

With defeat seeming imminent, the Carrancistas last hope of defending their capitol was to make their final stand in Ramos Arizpe, a small town outside of Saltillo. However, on that day, a giant fog settled on the battlefield, rendering both sides virtually blind. Thus, on January 8th began not only one of the most vital battles of the revolution, but one of the strangest battles in the history of warfare. Soldiers were unable to discern friend from foe and often mistakenly shot at both. The Carrancistas mistakenly walked away with thousands of rounds of Villista ammunition believing it to be theirs. Madero himself was captured three times by enemies who promptly released him after he convinced them he was an ally due to the similarity of their uniform. As the fog cleared, the Villistas soon gained advantage and won the day, securing more than 3,000 prisoners and countless rounds of ammunition.

The remaining Carranza forces had no choice but to flee Monterrey before the Villistas' arrival. Officers knew that any who stayed would be rounded up by the enemy and executed. In protest of Pancho Villa's more violent solutions, upon reaching the capitol, Angeles chose to release his 3,000 prisoners provided that they swear to never fight for the side of Carranza again. Some soldiers quickly rejoined the fight, while other chose to leave the war behind them and even fled the country.

One officer who fled before the Villistas arrival was Enrique Mena. Upon word of their defeat and impending doom, Enrique quickly discarded his uniform and gathered his wife and daughter. They quickly fled to the United States border along with many other soldiers seeking refuge. Upon hearing the pleas of the men and their families, the soldiers guarding the border opened the gate and granted them refuge.   

Sometime after crossing the border, Enrique moved to San Antonio and had a son named Carlos. Enrique disappeared shortly after the death of his wife, leaving his son an orphan at the age of ten. Carlos grew to become a soldier as well, fighting in both World War II and Vietnam, and is now today a grandfather and businessman. Though Enrique’s fate remains unclear, his role in the history of Mexico as well as the history of his lineage remain ever certain as a man living in history and fleeing from its grasp for his sake and that of his family.

Nicolas McKay is an El Paso native and a student at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.

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