Conflict & Dates:
The Occupation of Veracruz lasted from April 21 to November 23, 1914, and occurred during the Mexican Revolution.
Forces & Commanders
- Rear Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher
- 757 rising to 3,948 men (during the fighting)
- General Gustavo Maass
- Commodore Manuel Azueta
The Tampico Affair:
Early 1914 found Mexico in the midst of civil war as rebel forces led by Venustiano Carranza and Pancho Villa battled to overthrow usurper General Victoriano Huerta. Unwilling to recognized Huerta's regime, US President Woodrow Wilson recalled the American ambassador from Mexico City. Not wishing to directly intervene in the fighting, Wilson instructed American warships to concentrate off the ports of Tampico and Veracruz to protect US interests and property. On April 9, 1914, an unarmed whaleboat from the gunboat USS Dolphin landed at Tampico to pick up drummed gasoline from a German merchant.
Coming ashore, the American sailors were detained by Huerta's federalist troops and taken to the military headquarters. The local commander, Colonel Ramon Hinojosa recognized his men's error and had the Americans returned to their boat. The military governor, General Ignacio Zaragoza contacted the American consul and apologized for the incident and asked that his regrets be conveyed to Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo offshore. Learning of the incident, Mayo demanded an official apology and that the American flag be raised and saluted in the city.
Moving to Military Action:
Lacking the authority to grant Mayo's demands, Zaragoza forwarded them to Huerta. While he was willing to issue the apology, he refused to raise and salute the American flag as Wilson had not recognized his government. Declaring that "the salute will be fired," Wilson gave Huerta until 6:00 PM on April 19 to comply and began moving additional naval units to the Mexican coast. With the passage of the deadline, Wilson addressed Congress on April 20 and detailed a series of incidents that demonstrated the Mexican government's contempt for the United States.
In speaking to Congress, he asked for permission to use military action if necessary and stated that in any action there be "no thought of aggression or selfish aggrandizement" only efforts to "maintain the dignity and authority of the United States." While a joint resolution quickly passed in the House, it stalled in the Senate where some senators called for harsher measures. While debate continued, the US State Department was tracking the Hamburg-American liner SS Ypiranga which was steaming towards Veracruz with a cargo of small arms for Huerta's army.
Desiring to prevent the arms from reaching Huerta, the decision was made to occupy the port of Veracruz. As not to antagonize the German Empire, US forces would not land until the cargo had been off-loaded from Ypiranga. Though Wilson wished have the Senate's approval, an urgent cable from US Consul William Canada at Veracruz early on April 21 which informed him of the liner's imminent arrival. With this news, Wilson instructed Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to "take Veracruz at once." This message was relayed to Rear Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher who commanded the squadron off the port.
Possessing the battleships USS Florida and Utah and the transport USS Prairie which carried 350 Marines, Fletcher received his orders at 8:00 AM on April 21. Due to weather considerations, he immediately moved forward and asked Canada to inform the local Mexican commander, General Gustavo Maass, that his men would be taking control of the waterfront. Canada complied and asked Maass not to resist. Under orders not to surrender, Maass began mobilizing the 600 men of the 18th and 19th Infantry Battalions, as well as the midshipmen at the Mexican Naval Academy. He also began arming civilian volunteers.
Around 10:50 AM, the Americans began landing under the command of Captain William Rush of Florida. The initial force consisted of around 500 Marines and 300 sailors from the battleships' landing parties. Meeting no resistance, the Americans landed at Pier 4 and moved towards their objectives. The "bluejackets" advanced to take the customs house, post and telegraph offices, and railroad terminal while the Marines were to capture the rail yard, the cable office, and the powerplant. Establishing his headquarters in the Terminal Hotel, Rush sent a semaphore unit to the room to open communications with Fletcher.
While Maass began advancing his men towards the waterfront, the midshipmen at the Naval Academy worked to fortify the building. Fighting began when a local policeman, Aurelio Monffort, fired on the Americans. Killed by return fire, Monffort's action led to widespread, disorganized fighting. Believing that a large force was in the city, Rush signaled for reinforcements and Utah's landing party and Marines were sent ashore. Wishing to avoid further bloodshed, Fletcher asked Canada to arrange a ceasefire with the Mexican authorities. This effort failed when no Mexican leaders could be found.
Concerned about sustaining additional casualties by advancing into the city, Fletcher ordered Rush to hold his position and remain on the defensive through the night. During the night of April 21/22 additional American warships arrived bringing reinforcements. It was also during this time, that Fletcher concluded that the entire city would need to be occupied. Additional Marines and sailors began landing around 4:00 AM, and at 8:30 AM Rush resumed his advance with ships in the harbor providing gunfire support.
Attacking near the Avenue Independencia, the Marines methodically worked from building to building eliminating Mexican resistance. On their left, the 2nd Seaman Regiment, led by USS New Hampshire's Captain E.A. Anderson, pressed up the Calle Francisco Canal. Told that his line of advance had been cleared of snipers, Anderson did not send out scouts and marched his men in parade ground formation. Encountering heavy Mexican fire, Anderson's men took losses and were forced to fall back. Supported by the fleet's guns, Anderson resumed his attack and took the Naval Academy and Artillery Barracks. Additional American forces arrived through the morning and by noon much of the city had been taken.
The Occupation of Veracruz
In the fighting, 19 Americans were killed 72 wounded. Mexican losses were around 152-172 killed and 195-250 wounded. Minor sniping incidents continued until April 24 when, after the local authorities refused to cooperate, Fletcher declared martial law. On April 30, the US Army 5th Reinforced Brigade under Brigadier General Frederick Funston arrived and took over the occupation of the city. While many of the Marines remained, the naval units returned to their ships. While some in the United States called for a full invasion of Mexico, Wilson limited American involvement to the occupation Veracruz. Battling rebel forces, Huerta was not able to oppose it militarily. Following Huerta's downfall in July, discussions began with the new Carranza government. American forces remained in Veracruz for seven months and finally departed on November 23 after the ABC Powers Conference mediated many of the issues between the two nations.
- National Archives: The United States Armed Forces and the Mexican Punitive Expedition
- Veterans Museum: US Intervention in Mexico
- Davis, Thomas (2007). With No Thought of Aggression Military History Quarterly. 20(1), 34-43.