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The Arrival of Kearny

Upon the initiation of hostilities, President Polk breveted Colonel Stephen Kearny a Brigadier General to serve as the commander for the newly created "Army of the West." Kearny's orders were to ride to Santa Fé, New Mexico with a regiment of Dragoons, secure the territory, establish a garrison and civil government there, and then ride another 1000 miles to California, where he was to do the same. Kearney bloodlessly pacified New Mexico, and then set off to California with 300 dragoons, making one of the longest and most difficult marches in American history, as the road was virtually impassible for supply wagons, and game and water was scarce. It was thus sensible that when Kearny received a dispatch from Kit Carson, telling him that Stockton had secured California, he sent 200 of his force back to Santa Fe, and pushed on with only three companies, all he thought necessary for garrison duty. However, as he came upon the Colorado River, he encountered a party of Mexicans driving a large herd of horses. Capturing them, he learned that a revolt had broken out in California, that the Americans had lost Los Angeles and the rebels effectively controlled the interior of the territory beyond the grasp of Stockton's squadron. Kearny thus pushed rapidly forward, apparently eagerly anticipating combat, as he believed that the Mexicans were poor fighters and would be easily routed by his cavalrymen.14

Arriving at a foreign-owned ranch, he was able to send and receive dispatches from Stockton, and he proceeded towards San Diego to meet up with the forces the Commodore was marshalling there. He rendezvoused en route with Gillespie who was leading a thirty-man greeting party. Hearing that a large band of Californios was nearby, Kearny decided to engage them immediately. The resulting Battle of San Pascual was a disaster for the Americans, who attacked in a hasty helter-skelter fashion through a thick mist, and were badly bloodied by Californio lances, which proved superior to clumsy American cavalry sabers. Twenty-two of Kearny's men were killed, and another sixteen were wounded, including the General himself, a devastating losses for his tiny contingent, although Kearny obstinately claimed a tactical victory, as his forces held the field after the Californios rode off. However, his situation was precarious, as the Californios had cut off his path from Stockton in San Diego. He thus dug himself in on Mule Hill, sent messengers Kit Carson and Edward Beale sneaking off to Stockton, and awaited aid, which was quickly forthcoming, as a battalion of 200 sailors marched in to relieve him two days later. Meeting Stockton for the first time in San Diego, the two men now began planning the re-conquest of California.

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