The Mexican Border (1916-1917)
History of The Iowa National Guard
CW2 David L. Snook
On March 9, 1916, Mexican rebels, led by General Francisco (Pancho) Villa, attacked the U. S. Army garrison at Columbus, New Mexico. A number of American soldiers and civilians were killed and considerable property was destroyed. Mexico was in the midst of a decade-long period of revolution and civil war, and Villa and his followers were retaliating against United States recognition of the government of his political rival, Venustiano Carranza. On the day following the raid, President Woodrow Wilson ordered Brigadier General John J. Pershing to organize an expeditionary force to assist the Mexican government in apprehending Villa.
On March 15, Pershing’s expedition entered Mexico. It chased Villa through much of northern Mexico, never quite catching him but managing to disperse most of his forces. As American troops pursued Villa deeper into Mexico, clashes with Carranza’s followers also took place. The threat of a wider war led President Wilson to call 75,000 National Guardsmen into federal service to help police the border.
On May 9, the National Guards of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas were called into federal service. On June 18, the entire National Guard, except for coast artillery units, was called to duty. Within days, the first of 158,664 National Guardsmen were on their way to camps in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. All units of the Iowa National Guard were mustered into federal service and dispatched to the Mexican border.
In 1916, the Iowa National Guard consisted of three infantry regiments, one cavalry squadron and one field artillery battalion. First Infantry elements were from Tipton, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Charles City, Manchester, Burlington, Washington, Keokuk, Fairfield and Clinton. Units of the Second Infantry were from Webster City, Eagle Grove, Mason City, Ida Grove, Sheldon, Fort Dodge, Sioux City, Ames, Le Mars and Cherokee. Soldiers of the Third Infantry came from Des Moines, Winterset, Creston, Centerville, Shenandoah, Villisca, Ottumwa, Oskaloosa, Glenwood, Corning, Council Bluffs, Red Oak and Boone. The First Cavalry Squadron had troops in Grinnell, Ida Grove, Manchester, Mason City and Red Oak. Batteries of the First Field Artillery Battalion were located in Clinton, Davenport and Muscatine.
Almost thirty days of training and conditioning at Camp Dodge, near Des Moines, preceded the deployment of Iowa troops, known as the Iowa Brigade, to the Mexican border. All Iowa soldiers were assigned to duty on the Mexican border near Brownsville, Texas, with the exception of the First Cavalry Squadron, which was sent to Donna, Texas.
U. S. Army Brigadier General James Parker, commander of the Brownsville District, had these words of praise for the Iowa Brigade: "It came here well-trained as far as marksmanship was concerned, and it has added to its record since being here by the high scores of its teams at the Jacksonville competition. In respect to other training, no troops in this district have performed more faithful service than the Iowa Brigade. Its camp has always been a model of precision and cleanliness. The discipline and subordination of the Iowa troops has been excellent. The appearance of the regiments of the Iowa Brigade, on review or on parade, always shows precision, steadiness and neatness of uniform. For these results, we are indebted to the spirit of pride which has animated the men and the intelligent supervision of the officers, especially their commander, Brigadier General H. A. Allen. It has been a great pleasure to command such troops."
In late 1916 and early 1917, as the threat of war with Imperial Germany began to loom larger, U. S. forces were gradually withdrawn from Mexico. In January of 1917, all Iowa troops had been returned to state control. Although Pancho Villa was never captured, the efforts of American troops in Mexico and along the border were not entirely wasted. Dispersal of Villa’s band put an end to serious border incidents. Equally important, from a military point of view, was the intensive field training received by both Regular Army and National Guard troops. The full mobilization of the National Guard and the excellent training which took place would be valuable experience for the mobilization for World War I, which the United States would enter in only a few months.