Battle of Palo Alto

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Battle of Palo Alto
Part of the Mexican-American War
Palo Alto nebel.jpg
Painting by Carl Nebel
Date May 8, 1846
Location near Brownsville, Texas
Result American victory
 United States Mexico Mexico
Commanders and leaders
United States Zachary Taylor Mexico Mariano Arista
2,288[1]:57 and 8 artillery pieces 3,709[1]:57 and 12 artillery pieces
Casualties and losses
4 killed
48 wounded
2 missing[1]:57[2]
102 killed
129 wounded
26 missing[1]:57

The Battle of Palo Alto was the first major battle of the Mexican–American War and was fought on May 8, 1846, on disputed ground five miles (8 km) from the modern-day city of Brownsville, Texas. A force of some 3,700 Mexican troops – a portion of the Army of The North – led by General Mariano Arista engaged a force of approximately 2,300 United States troops – the "Army of Occupation" led by General Zachary Taylor.[1]:19,57


Following the Thornton Affair, Arista on the last day in April, started crossing the Rio Grande at Longoreno with his main army, first with General Pedro de Ampudia's 1st Brigade and four guns.[1]:49 Taylor prepared Fort Texas to withstand a siege while he moved most of his forces to protect his supply base at Fort Polk.[1]:49 Fort Texas was garrisoned by Taylor with 500 men under Major Jacob Brown, including the 7th Infantry, Capt. Allen Lowd's four 18-pounders, and Lt. Braxton Bragg's field battery.[1]:49

The battle began as a result of Mexican efforts to besiege Fort Texas on May 3, General Zachary Taylor, receiving supplies from Fort Polk on Point Isabel, heard the distant report of cannon fire.[1]:49 Taylor started his return to Fort Texas on May 7 with 2,228 men plus his 200-wagon supply train.[1]:52 General Arista immediately left his camp at the Tanques del Ramireno with his army with the intention of blocking Taylor.[1]:52 Ampudia's brigade left the Fort Texas siege to join him.[1]:52–53 Taylor's scouts sighted the Mexican force at noon on the 8th.[1]:53


Facing north and moving left to right, General Arista's army consisted of General Antonio Canales Rosillo's 400 irregular cavalry in chaparral, Anastasio Torrejon's cavalry brigade consisting of the 8th, 7th and Light Cavalry, astride the Point Isabel road, then came General Jose Maria Garcia's brigade of the 4th and 10th Infantry with two 8-pounders, then General Romulo Diaz de la Vega's brigade of the 10th and 6th Infantry with five 4-pounders, then the Tampico Corps, the 2d Light Infantry and a sapper battalion with a 4-pounder.[1]:53 Behind this line was Col. Cayetano Montero's light cavalry.[1]:53

Facing south and moving right to left, Taylor placed Col. David E. Twiggs with Lt. Col. James S. McIntosh's 5th Infantry and Capt. Samuel Ringgold's artillery battery, followed by Capt. Lewis N. Morris' 3d Infantry with Lt. William H. Churchill's two 18-pounders astride the road, followed by Capt. George W. Allen's 4th Infantry, Lt. Thomas Childs' artillery battalion, Lt. Col. William G. Belknap's wing, James Duncan's battery, then Capt. William R. Montgomery's 8th Infantry on the American left.[1]:54 Lt. Col. Charles A. May's dragoon squadron guarded the left flank and Capt. Croghan Ker guarded the train.[1]:54

Taylor halted his columns and formed a line behind his batteries when the Mexican artillery started firing at 2 PM.[1]:54 The American artillery was very effective while the Mexican artillery often fell short.[1]:54 Arista ordered Torrejon's cavalry to attack the American right, but progress was slow, allowing Twiggs to form the 5th Infantry into a square to meet them with a couple of volleys.[1]:54

A fire started from a cannon burning wad which halted fighting for an hour as the smoke paralleled the lines.[1]:55 Arista pulled back 1000 yards on his left and Taylor advanced accordingly, rotating the axis of the battle 40 degrees counterclockwise.[1]:55 May failed to turn the Mexican left before the artillery duel resumed.[1]:55 Child's artillery battalion formed a square to repel another Torrejon cavalry charge.[1]:55 Duncan's battery stopped Arista from turning the American left and then advanced with the 8th Infantry and Ker's dragoons to drive the Mexican right from the field.[1]:55 A charge ordered by Arista at this time resulted in the light cavalry fleeing along the Mexican line, taking the 6th Infantry with them.[1]:55

Fighting stopped with dusk and both armies camped for the night.[1]:55


The morning of the 9th revealed the Mexican army slowly moving south.[1]:59 Taylor sent forward a 220-man battalion under McCall to reconnoiter the Mexican positions.[1]:59 The Battle of Resaca de la Palma would follow.

Ringgold was mortally wounded during the battle but Ringgold's and Duncan's effective cannoneers with their "Flying Artillery"—the tactic of using light artillery to attack then quickly move to another location and fire once more, carried the day and won the battle for the Americans.[1]:57

The battlefield is now Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park and is maintained by the National Park Service.

File:Battle of Palo Alto site.jpg
Battle of Palo Alto site
File:MjrRinggold Death LOC.jpg
Engraving memorializing the fatal wounding of Maj. Samuel Ringgold in the battle
File:Palo Alto.JPG
Monument to the Battle of Palo Alto at West Point

Order of battle


Army of the North- Gen.div. Mariano Arista

  • Pedro Ampudia
  • Artillery: Gen. Tomas Requena
  • Chief of div. R. Linarte

12 Guns (2 8-lb, 8 4-lb and 2 6-lb)


  • 1st Brigade-Gen. Jose M. Garcia : 10th Line ( Col. Jose M. Garcia, Bn.Comdte. Manuel Montero) 2 8-lb guns
  • 2d Brigade -Gen. R. Diaz de la Vega : 1st (Col. Nicolas Mendoza) & 6th Line (Lt. Col. F. Garcia Casanova) 6 4-lb guns (incl. 1 4-lb Capt Ballarta)
  • Brigade-Gen. P. Ampudia : 4th Line (Col. Jose Lopez Uraga), Villas of the North Cav. Aux, Sappers Company & 2 ?-lb guns
  • Unassigned : 2d Light (Col.Jose Maria Carrasco, Lt.Col. M. Fernandez), Tampico Coast Grds Battalion (Lt. Col. Ramon Tabera), Zapadores (Sappers) Battalion (Lt. Col. Mariano Reyes)
  • Cavalry Brigade-Acting Gen. Anastasio Torrejon
  • Cavalry: 7th & 8th Line (Col. A. Torrejon?), Light Regiment of Mexico (Col. C. Montero) & Presidial Companies (Col. Sabariego)
  • 2 4-lb guns
  • Irregular Cavalry (Rancheros)- A. Canales


Army of Observation – Brigadier General Zachary Taylor

1st Brigade "Left Wing" – Lt. Col. William G. Belknap

  • Artillery Battalion (acting as Infantry)-Lt. Col. Thomas Childs
  • Light Artillery-Capt. Duncan
  • 8th Infantry-Capt. Montgomery
  • Wagon Train-Capts. Crossman & Myers

2nd Brigade "Right Wing" – Colonel David E. Twiggs

  • 5th Infantry-Lt. Col. James S. McIntosh
  • Light Artillery-Ringgold
  • 3d Infantry-Capt. L. M. Morris
  • Artillery-Lt. Churchill (2 18-lb)
  • 4th Infantry-Maj. G. W. Allen
  • Squadrons Dragoons-Capts. Ker & Charles A. May


Fort Polk

Zachary Taylor established this fort on March 24, 1846 as a supply base for his operations leading up to the Battle of Palo Alto, and used it until 1850. He garrisoned it with two artillery companies under Major John Munroe.[1]:39 Major Charles Thomas was the Depot Quartermaster using wagons and river steamers to supply Taylor.[1]:84

Taylor established camps for those heeding his call for volunteers at Point Isabel, the north end of Brazos Island, and along the Rio Grande between Barita and Fort Brown, at a place known as Camp Belknap.[1]:83

See also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 1.26 1.27 1.28 1.29 1.30 1.31 1.32 Bauer, K.J., 1974, The Mexican War, 1846-1848, New York:Macmillan, ISBN 0803261071
  2. Meed, p. 31

Additional Reading

  • Alcaraz, Ramón. "Apuntes para la historia de la guerra entre México y los Estados Unidos" Mexico, 1848
  • Balbotín, Manuel. "La invasión americana, 1846 a 1848, apuntes del subteniente de artillería"
  • Chartrand, René. "Santa Anna's Mexican Army, 1821–1848"
  • Crawford, Mark. "Encyclopedia of the Mexican-American War"
  • Haecker, Charles M. . "On the Prairie of Palo Alto"
  • Brooks, N. C. . "A Complete History of The Mexican War"
  • Lopez Uraga, Jose. "Los Dias 8 Y 9 De Mayo" Mexico, 1846.

External links

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