California and the Punitive Expedition, 1916
Woodland's National Guard and the Punitive Expedition of 1916
(Company F, 2nd Infantry Regiment, California National Guard)
by Larry Schapiro
The members of Woodland National Guard Company F look in good shape on November 11, 1916 upon their return to California after months of service on the border with Mexico protecting the U. S. against further attacks by Mexican revolutionary Poncho Villa and his Villistas. (Photo from the Doc Chandler family.)
The members of Woodland National Guard Company F look in good shape on November 11, 1916 upon their return to California after months of service on the border with Mexico protecting the U. S. against further attacks by Mexican revolutionary Poncho Villa and his Villistas. (Photo from the Doc Chandler family.)

Nearly forgotten is the California National Guard's participation in the 1916 Mexican Punitive Expedition. The call up of the California National Guard, along with the militias and national guards of all the other states, came about as the result of Mexican revolutionary Poncho Villa's attacks on U. S. soil, including a March 9, 1916 assault on Columbus, New Mexico, killing 18 Americans and setting part of Columbus on fire. (Columbia Encyclopedia, "Francisco Villa" (1975); James P. Finley, "Buffalo Soldiers at Huachuca: Villa's Raid on Columbus, New Mexico" Huachuca Illustrated, A Magazine of the Fort Huachuca Museum (1993).)

The initial military response by the United States was, beginning March 16, 1916 and ending February 14, 1917, to send a force of about 14,000 Army troops under the command of Brigadier General John J. Pershing to northern Mexico under orders to disrupt Villa and put an end to the border raids.

In addition, approximately 158,000 National Guard troops, including Woodland's Company F, were activated to patrol the American side of the border with Mexico for the purpose of protecting against any more border raids and to prepare for possible war with Mexico. (A. Axelrod, America's Wars, p. 364 (2002).)

On June 19, 1916, The Woodland Daily Democrat notified the community that the California National Guard had sent an order to the captain of Company F, Lester Caldwell, placing "your men under arms service United States."

But not so fast. Company F needed a minimum of 68 guardsmen before the Army would call them for national service. It had but 52. (The Woodland Daily Democrat, June 19, 1916.)

The patriotic spirit in Yolo County prevailed and on June 23 enough enlistees had joined Company F to meet the numerical requirement to be called up for service on the Mexican border. A Woodland Daily Democrat headline boasted "Local Company has five more than required." (June 23, 1916.) Members of Company F were quartered at Camp Hiram Johnson, Sacramento while waiting to be sent to the border. (The Woodland Daily Democrat, June 24, 1916.)

On June 28, 1916, members of Woodland's Company F officially became soldiers in the United States Army. "Yesterday three officers and sixty-eight men of the guard formed at Woodland held up their hands and swore allegiance to the flag as soldiers of the regular Army." The day after being sworn in, orders were received from the Army "to 'proceed at once' to Nogales, Ariz." The soldiers would not proceed alone. Yolo County Judge W. A. Anderson announced he would be sending along with them to Nogales "a goat for a mascot." (The Woodland Daily Democrat, June 29, 1916.)

July 1st found Company F soldiers on their way to the Mexican border. There was "No time for Co. F's friends to bid farewell." (The Woodland Daily Democrat, July 1, 1916.)

Woodland's Company F arrived in Nogales, Arizona on July 3, their new home for awhile. "From the top of the hills Mexican outposts can be seen, and occasionally a Mexican scout comes into view." (The Woodland Daily Democrat, July 6, 1916.) By July 7, "California troops were under fire from the Mexican side of the border." (The Woodland Daily Democrat, July 7, 1916.)

In addition to the members of Company F, by mid-July, the Army camp in Nogales was home to about 12,000 soldiers. (The Woodland Daily Democrat, July 13, 1916.) Company F's Sergeant C. L. Hiddleson reported that "Six million rounds of ammunition are stored in the arsenal. The government is buying up all the mules and horses it can lay hold of." (The Woodland Daily Democrat, July 20, 1916.)

The Army provided 28 ½ cents a day for three meals for each soldier. But $525 raised by a Woodland committee for Company F members, Sergeant C. L. Hiddleson explained "has enabled us to enjoy some things that we would not otherwise have had." (The Woodland Daily Democrat, July 18 and 21 1916.)

The Army waited for "the boys of Woodland's company" to get to Arizona have them undergo "a second physical examination to determine their fitness for continued army service." (The Woodland Daily Democrat, July 10, 1916.) As a result of the physical, various members of Company F were sent home, including R. A. Byers, who was rejected as being too short. E. W. Milligan was told that he could no longer stay with Company F in Arizona "because one of his toes was not as supple and flexible as it should be." (The Woodland Daily Democrat, August 2, 1916.)

Due to the warm summer weather in Nogales, the soldiers were buying out the city's supply of "soda water." "The two soda-dispensing houses in the town have not been able to meet the demand." (The Woodland Daily Democrat, July 11, 1916.) But the sodas were not cheap. Sergeant Hiddleson told readers of The Woodland Daily Democrat that "added prices are often charged us because we are in uniform." (July 13, 1916.) To the rescue of Company F "and many other fellows here" came "Carl Nichols, who has had long experience in the grocery business in Woodland." Nichols opened a "refreshment booth to oppose the high prices being charged." (The Woodland Daily Democrat, July 18, 1916.) But even with reduced prices, there was difficulty for some in making any purchases. Unfortunately, a month and a half after being called up for service, Company F soldiers had not yet been paid "due to errors in the payroll." (The Woodland Daily Democrat, August 19, 1916.)

Training of the Company F soldiers in Arizona went well beyond what they learned in Woodland. "There are three hours' drill each morning, except Sunday." (The Woodland Daily Democrat, July 13, 1916.) This includes sharpshooting practice. (The Woodland Daily Democrat, July 7, 1916.) California Adjutant General Charles Thomas observed "The California boys at Nogales are looking like a bunch of athletes." (The Woodland Daily Democrat, August 21, 1916.)

"By the end of August it was clear the national guard had served its purpose. The presence of 150,000 state troops discouraged further depredations on American soil by Mexicans. Its numbers over awed the Mexicans clamoring for war with the United States." (Warrant Officer 1 Brett Landis, "California and the Punitive Expedition, 1916," MexBdr1916.)

The members of Company F returned to Yolo County on November 16, 1916. "All the bells in the church and school steeples were pealing in a mighty chorus, the whistles at the waterworks, fire house and shops were shrieking as they never shrieked before, the band played with a fervor that only patriotism can inspire, and the hubbub reached its climax when the yells of the crowds mingled with the other noises as Company F's train pulled into the Southern Pacific depot." Further, a public reception was held at the armory in Woodland. (The Woodland Daily Democrat, November 16, 1916.)

On April 6, 1917, less than five months after Company F returned home to Yolo County, America entered World War I. "Though the expedition failed to capture Villa, it did provide a valuable training experience for the men who took part." (Kennedy Hickman, "Mexican Revolution: U.S. Punitive Expedition,, Military History.) "The mobilization and modernization of the Army during the expedition would prove invaluable in preparing the military and its officers for the grim experience of World War I." (New York State Archives, Winter 2010, Volume 9, Number 3.) The training and experiences while stationed in Arizona may well have saved the lives of Company F members who fought in World War I. As Company F Captain Lester Caldwell noted upon their return, they were a "well seasoned and efficient body." (The Woodland Daily Democrat, November 16, 1916.)

"When the rolls were taken at the peak of mobilization on 31 August 1916, they would count 7,003 officers and 133,256 enlisted men in federal service, which when combined with the number of regular troops on active duty, led to the most men in U.S. uniform since the American Civil War." (Maj. John M. Cyrulik, A Strategic Examination of the Punitive Expedition into Mexico, 1916-1917, p. 60; U.S. War Department, Report of the Secretary of War, 1916. p. 13 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1916).)

Some of America's future important military leaders were part of the Punitive Expedition of 1916. One of the new second lieutenants sent to the border was Omar Nelson Bradley, who rose to the rank of five-star General of the Army (Bradley, Omar N., and Blair, Clay, A General's Life, Simon and Schuster, NY, 1983.) Others included George C. Marshall (a 1st Lieut. in Texas Maneuver Division in 1911) and Matthew B. Ridgway (2d Lieut., Eagle Pass, Texas, 1917) (James P. Finley, Buffalo Soldiers at Huachuca: Organizing the Punitive Expedition, Huachuca Illustrated, A Magazine of the Fort Huachuca Museum (Volume 1, 1993).) During the Punitive Expedition of 1916, Lieutenant George S. Patton was assigned to the 8th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Bliss, Texas as aide to then-Brigadier General John J. Pershing in Pershing's pursuit of Poncho Villa. Then-Second Lieutenant Patton raided a small community and personally killed Julio Cárdenas, an important leader in the Villista military organization. (Patton Headquarters website timeline.)

Dr. J. L. Abrahamson, author of America Arms for a New Century: The Making of a Great Military Power (1981) "points out that Wilson's mobilization of the National Guard to protect our southern border at the beginning of the Punitive Expedition exposed the militia's inadequacies (p. 118). Despite a last-minute recruiting effort that had flooded the Guard with new members, its units fell 100,000 men short of the prescribed war strength of 250,000 men (pp. 108-111). Many of the guardsmen proved physically incapable of field service, some having never even fired a rifle before (p. 111). The mobilization also revealed the Guard's lack of engineers, cavalry, artillery, and other special troops needed to support its infantry units (p. 111)." (James M. Hancy, "General Pershing's Punitive Expedition of 1916: Success or Failure," p. 8, Troy University.) "[T]he military training and experience that Pershing, his men, and the entire country endured as a result of this expedition prepared them well for World War I and contributed to the American Expeditionary Force's distinguished performance and the resultant Allied victory." (Id., p. 23.)

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Updated 8 February 2016