The Carrizal Affair: a Study of United States Diplomatic Relations With Mexico, 1916

Date of Graduation

Summer 1973


Master of Arts in History



Committee Chair

James Giglio


On March 9, 1916, the Mexican revolutionary, Pancho Villa, conducted a raid on the town of Columbus, New Mexico, and in response, President Woodrow Wilson ordered a United States Army expeditionary force commanded by Brigadier Gerneral John J. Pershing to pursue Villa into Mexico. Although Venustiano Carranza, President of the de facto Government of Mexico, privately acquiesced to the pursuit, he demanded the withdrawal of the foreign army after an incident at Parral, a small town deep in Chihuahua. The United States ignored these demands since Villa was still loose. Carranza then informed the United States that if its troops moved in any direction but north his army would resist. In response to this threat, Pershing ordered two troops of cavalry to scout Carranzista activity east of his main camp at Colonia Dublan, Chihuahua. On June 21, 1916, this force engaged a force four times its number at the village of Carrizal. The versions vary as to exactly what happened between Captain Charles T. Boyd, the commander of "C" Troop, Tenth Cavalry, and General Felix U. Gomez, the commander of Carranza forces. What is known is that Boyd was personally ordered by Pershing to "avoid a fight if possible." Boyd instead ordered his troops to attack the Mexican forces after conferring with Gomez and requesting permission to pass through the town. The result was a disaster for Boyd and his force: nine men were killed including Boyd and his second in command, First Lieutenant Henry R. Adair, twenty-one Americans were captured, and the remainder were left to find their way across one hundred miles of hostile desert to friendly lines. Although the battle itself is minor in the annals of the United States Army, it was the important turning point in the purpose of the Punitive Expedition of 1916 because both Wilson and Carranza decided that the probability of war was such that another means of settling the difficulties between the two countries was necessary. Boyd's last battle also was an embarrassment to the President in an election year, and it forced Woodrow Wilson to negotiate the withdrawal of the Expedition from a position of weakness. The purpose of this paper is to examine the diplomatic maneuvering that followed the Carrizal Affair. Military matters, although extremely important, are mentioned only when they have a direct bearing on the diplomatic affairs being discussed. The primary source material has been the State Department Papers from the National Archives, especially the correspondence between Secretary of State Robert Lansing and the Chief United States Commissioner, Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane.

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