Author: R.T. Johnson

The Art of Getting Bogged Down – Every History Teacher’s Nightmare and Pleasure

Here is the cartoon that starting it all this morning. It is from the magazine Puck and is about John D. Rockefeller's control of the economy in the late 1800s.

Here is the cartoon that starting it all this morning. It is from the magazine Puck and is about John D. Rockefeller’s control of the economy in the late 1800s.

I am a tactile teacher. I like my students to do things with their hands, mostly by recreating and analyzing history. I like them to create products which analyze the past, compare it to the present, and signify its importance to the development of our political, economic, and social constructs. As with every teacher, I always run into problems. And it is the same problem I run into all the time. I can easily get “bogged down” in a unit. By bogged down I mean I extend the unit and the tactile learning too much. What is supposed to be a three to four week unit ends up six, or even seven. Projects and products filled with pictures, cartoons, graphs, artifacts, and charts fill up my table in the back of my classroom. Added lessons are made up at the drop of a hat – it is a vicious cycle of lesson planning. But it is always a pleasurable one.

I know teachers who spend an entire quarter on the Progressive Era. I, myself, taught an Early America Unit for six weeks because I got stuck in the 1830s and 1840s teaching about Illinois’ role in westward expansion and the problems it faced. “I have to teach about the Black Hawk War for a week” or “These kids have to know about Mormon persecution in Missouri at Hahn’s Mill and at Nauvoo, Illinois” are the kinds of thoughts that run through my mind.

Other teachers I know spend an entire week on Tammany Hall or the cartoons of Puck vs. Nast. Last year, my student teacher took six weeks to do the Civil War. She did an excellent job actually making the kids hard tack, learning the roles of several women, teaching how culture spread across country because of the war, making exhibit boards, and digging into the Emancipation Proclamation in addition to normal things teachers go into detail about the time period. She expressed a concern at one point that she was never going to get out of the Civil War. She did. And, she did a great job teaching the unit!!! But when it came time to plan the next unit, the next unit got shortchanged. And thus is the dilemma of being a history teacher.

Currently I am at the crossroad as I type. At some point in the next week, I have to get into the twentieth century in class. As I sat down this morning, my main goal was immediately sidetracked by Puck cartoons. That’s right, cartoons. I love cartoons because of their tactile and visual nature. Almost immediately, I began scheming lessons about using them as web searches, products, and tools for analysis. I was supposed to teach about Immigration in the late 1800s to start the week and then get into 3 day Teddy Roosevelt extravaganza of the Progressive Era. I still will, but it is unreal how close I came to veering out of control.

I think for every history teacher, it is a guilty pleasure to get bogged down. It is how you become a better teacher. It is how you learn how to teach history. This year, I took five days to do the Battle of Gettysburg. And you know what, I enjoyed it, the kids enjoyed it, and we both learned a lot. However, here’s the thing…I planned to get bogged down!!! At times, getting bogged down is a necessity. That is how you teach detail. “More on less” is the best motto. The issue is that I teach a survey course and I have to cover all of US History in the time frame imposed. It is just not possible in one year to cover EVERYTHING.

I spent an entire lesson about Gettysburg by examining the decisions by Lee and Meade on whether to fight on that third day.

I spent an entire lesson about Gettysburg by examining the decisions by Lee and Meade on whether to fight on that third day. It was all about strategy and high ground. Students had a great time examining documents, the terrain, morale, and the state of their armies.

So, I pick and choose what I get bogged down in. This year, it will be Civil Rights in the 1950s and the Clinton era 1990s. I have no shame in admitting that. But some things do get shortchanged. I know this year it has been Reconstruction, the Wild West (an all-time favorite era of mine to get bogged down in), the Spanish-American War, and the early 1800s (1812-1837) that take the hit for detail’s sake.

I think it is important that if you are going to teach something and have students produce products of their learning, the teacher best enjoy the topic and transmit that joy to the students about the topic. Last year, I never had so much fun teaching about World War II than spending an entire week doing D-Day. Another teacher who read this blog emailed me for the materials and we both had a blast doing the lesson 300 miles apart with me in 8th grade and she in high school. It’s OK to get bogged down, if you do it for the right reasons!!!

So, when I get back to lesson planning here in a few minutes, I will try to avoid the pitfalls of the Progressive Era planning and yearn for the time when I do get to spend extra time teaching the 1930s, D-Day, the 1950s Civil Rights Movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the 1990s changes in society. It will be worth getting bogged down. I just have to stick to my plan.

Stumbling Through the Barrios – Part Two: The Wilson Administration in Mexico

From October 12 to November 12 of 1914, the Mexicans held a conference in Aguascalientes. Comprised mainly of the generals from the warring factions, they hoped to achieve the formation of a provisional government. An alliance between Villa and Zapata spurred the country back into civil war. A provisional president, Eulalio Gutierrez, came out of Aguascalientes. This did not sit well with Carranza. When the convention ended, Carranza fled to Vera Cruz with Obregon in tow, and Villa took Gutierrez to Mexico City.

By November 23, the United States had vacated Vera Cruz. This important fact allowed Carranza to collect import duties to help rebuild his forces for the approaching war. Carranza tried to run a government out of Vera Cruz. On January 6, 1915, Carranza issued amendments to the Plan de Guadalupe. The revisions included land reform, electoral reform and worker’s rights.

On January 8, 1915, Wilson gave a speech at a Jackson Day celebration in Indianapolis. In this speech Wilson set policy towards Mexico for 1915. He declared:

“It is none of my business, it is none of yours, how they go about their business. The country is theirs, the government is theirs, their liberty is theirs… and, so far as my influence goes while I am President, nobody shall interfere with them.”[i]

Although Wilson spoke in terms of non-US intervention, the events of 1915, and those of 1914 and 1915, clearly indicate that Wilson tried to influence behavior south of the border.

President Woodrow Wilson

President Woodrow Wilson

On January 15, General Alvaro Obregon began the Constitutionalist campaign against Villa and Zapata. The only dealings between Wilson and Carranza at this point concerned the treatment of the Catholic Church. During the US occupation of Vera Cruz, the city became a haven for priests and nuns throughout Mexico. They had come to Vera Cruz fleeing the persecution of encroaching rebel forces. The city provided them with an escape route or sanctuary. Wilson wanted to insure their lives while Carranza remained in Vera Cruz. Carranza gave in for the time being, but his anti-clerical position would come into play in 1916.

In April of 1915, Obregon delivered a crushing blow to Villa at the city of Celaya. Obregon’s Constitutionalist troops consisting of 13,000 men defeated Villa’s Division of the North with 20,000 men. The key to victory concerned the use of techniques used in trench warfare. A German military advisor, Maximilian Kloss, counseled Obregon on the use of the tactics. Using barbed wire and machine guns, Obregon reached an easy victory.[ii]

Carranza’s power began to strengthen throughout Mexico. Villa retreated to his native state of Chihuahua with the remainder of his army. Constitutionalist forces forced Zapata back into his home state of Morelos. Carranza’s legions controlled the railroads, communications, and all of central Mexico. Special agent Duval West reported on the aftermath of the rebellion. On July 2, West concluded that Mexico was a deprived nation. The crops had been destroyed as a result of the revolt. The fields remained unseeded and the cattle industry had been devastated.[iii]

Wilson could no longer sit inactively by and watch Mexico be destroyed. World War I now raged on the lands and seas of Europe. Mexico had to be resolved so Wilson could concentrate on Europe. John Lind urged Wilson to recognize Carranza after Celaya but to no avail. On July 2, Wilson privately said, “I have never known a man more impossible to deal with on human terms than this man Carranza.”[iv] At this point, Wilson had a clear distinction of a moral obligation to the people of Mexico.

In a twist of fate that May, a German U-boat sank the cruise ship Lusitania. In a division of policy, Wilson took a pro-ally stance. This breach of neutrality resulted in William Jennings Bryan resigning as Secretary of State. On January 9, Wilson designated Robert Lansing to be the new Secretary of State. Lansing, a pro-ally like Wilson, had definite ideas to help Wilson end the situation in Mexico. This would allow Wilson to devote himself to Europe.

On August 5 and 6, Lansing first met with the A.B.C. Powers in a series of conferences. These conferences resulted in the recognition of Carranza on October 18. Wilson and Lansing both thought of the troubles in Mexico as behind them. General Hugh Lenox Scott, the Army Chief of Staff, thought otherwise. Scott thought “the recognition of Carranza had the effect of solidifying the power of a man who had rewarded us with kicks on every occasion and making an outlaw out of the man who had helped us.”[v] Scott was speaking of Pancho Villa. On October 31, Villa learned of the recognition from a newspaperman.[vi] Villa demanded the United States pay him for protecting American lives and property. The United States government gave him nothing.

Carranza concentrated on solidifying his power the next four months. Wilson’s eyes turned to Europe. The Mexican problem remained far from over. Carranza’s stance of Mexican self-determination had served him well as a rebel. He had rebuked the Wilson administration at every turn in his rise to power. Relations at this time had not developed any further. Carranza’s anti-clerical decrees separating the Catholic Church from the state further exacerbated the difficult relations. Wilson was chastised by several US Catholic leaders, most notably Francis Kelly, to intervene on behalf of the Catholic Church. Wilson could only plead to Carranza. As 1916 arrived, Wilson would need Catholic support in his re-election bid.

Pancho Villa and what is left of his Division of the North

Pancho Villa and what is left of his Division of the North

Pancho Villa stole the spotlight from both Wilson and Carranza in 1916. On January 11, Villa’s remaining band attacked a train near Santa Isabel, Mexico killing 16 American passengers. This event received little attention from Wilson but it proved to be a harbinger of things to come. In the early morning hours of March 9, Pancho Villa crossed the border into New Mexico. At the city of Columbus, Villa’s band attacked, ravaged, and burnt part of the town killing fifteen and wounding seven others.[vii]

Villa’s band of some 500 men met some resistance by U.S. forces under the command of Colonel Herbert Slocumb. They managed to kill 100 of Villa’s men and find two wallets that belonged to Pancho Villa. The wallets contained papers linking Villa to the Santa Isabel murders and a declaration of war against the United States from December of 1915.[viii]

By 4 p.m. of the day, Wilson had made up his mind on the appropriate response. “An adequate force will be sent at once in pursuit of Villa with the single objective of capturing him and putting a stop to his forays.”[ix] Wilson came to this decision after meeting with Secretary of War Newton Baker, Army Chief of Staff Hugh Lenox Scott, and Wilson’s personal Chief of Staff, Joseph Tumulty. The chain of command took effect with the call going out to Brigadier General John J. Pershing to lead the expedition. In a letter to Pershing on March 11, Scott ordered that the troops be withdrawn as soon as the de facto government of Mexico relieved them of this work.[x] Wilson again used for to achieve his goal. Although limited, as with Vera Cruz, the armed forces became the means to achieve political goals. Wilson could ill afford to have hostilities along the U.S. border with the 1916 election only seven months away. US citizens had to feel safe in their own country.

As with every other decision he had made, Wilson had deep moral reservations. In speaking with Joseph Tumulty, Wilson would say:

“I have to sleep with my conscience in these matters and I shall be held responsible for every drop of blood that may be spent in the enterprise of this intervention. I am seriously considering every phase of this difficult matter, and I can frankly say to you, and you may inform the cabinet officers who discuss it with you, that there won’t be any war with Mexico if I can prevent it, no matter how loud the gentlemen on the hill yells for it and demands it.” He would later say in the same conversation, “I will not resort to war with Mexico until I have exhausted every means to get out of this mess. I know they will call me a coward or a quitter but that will not disturb me. Time, the great solvent, will, I am sure, vindicate this policy of humanity and forbearance. Men forget what is at the back of this struggle in Mexico. It is the age long struggle of a people to come into their own, and while we look upon the incidents in the foreground, let us not forget the tragic reality in the background which towers above this sad picture. The gentle men who criticize me speak as if America was afraid to fight Mexico, poor Mexico, with its pitiful men, women, and children fighting to gain a foothold in their own land.”[xi]

Wilson had come to understand the Mexican situation but felt that he could be of little help to the Mexican people. His duty as President concerned protecting the lives of American citizens. A greater call of humanity had to take a backseat in his administration’s policy towards Mexico.


On March 15, Pershing crossed into Mexico with 4800 men and 4175 animals. Pershing also had eight airplanes to use in his pursuit of Villa.[xii] Wilson put strict limitations on the US forces. They could not use the Mexican railways to advance or use Mexican towns as campsites. Wilson’s reasoning being that the two factors would indicate an occupying or invasionary force.

The United States failed to get permission from Carranza for the expedition. At the time, military commanders on both sides had agreed that either side could pursue bandits 15 leagues (45 miles) on either side of the border.[xiii] This expedition stretched further than 15 leagues. Carranza met with John Silliman and John W. Belt met with Foreign Affairs Minister Jesus Acuna. Carranza and Acuna felt they had achieved some sort of victory in Villa’s raids. Villa’s raid meant that the Constitutionalists and is a testament to their power and control. On the other hand, they did not appreciate American forces on their Mexican soil. Carranza told Silliman that he sent General Gutierrez with Constitutionalist troops after Villa. Negotiations soon began on the terms of the US expedition.

By March 18, Pershing drove 85 miles into Mexico. The negotiations had failed. Carranza would allow a force of 1000 men with a time limit of eight days. These troops could only go 40 miles into Mexico. The position that Wilson wanted “is to cooperate with the forces of General Carranza in removing a cause of irritation to both governments and to retire from Mexico as soon as this object is accomplished.”[xiv] There did not exist any cooperation according to Pershing. Pershing felt that “Carranza had no more control of what happened on the border than if he lived in London.”[xv] Pershing would later say the restrictions placed upon him related to “to a man looking for a needle in a haystack with an armed guard standing over the stack forbidding you to look in the hay.”[xvi]

For the remainder of March and the early part of April, the Pershing expedition went without incident. It did not clash with Villa or the Constitutionalist troops. It appeared to be on a wild goose chase. On April 13 a scout force under the command Major Frank Tomkins encountered a mob at the city of Parral. Two US casualties resulted from the incident. Carranza reiterated his stance of American withdrawal before incidents more serious than this occur. Robert Lansing replied that the troops would soon be withdrawn “as soon as the mission is accomplished.”[xvii] Tensions escalated between the two governments with neither side giving in.

In the first of two conferences, General Scott met with General Obregon on April 28. The first conference turned into a failure. Scott proposed cooperation in making a Villa sandwich. The US would be the bread coming down from the North and the Constitutionalists would be the bread coming in from the South. Obregon only wanted the withdrawal of US forces and the safety of the border. The first conference broke off but it eased tensions a little bit. The second night began as a midnight meeting on May 2. It would last until May 9. The two men agreed that Mexico would protect its side of the border. The second part called for the gradual withdrawal of Pershing’s forces.

It appeared as though a settlement had been reached. During the conference, two more raids took place in Texas. Neither were by Villa or his men. The first occurred at Glen Springs, the second at Baquilas. These events fuel to the fire of a bad situation. The Mexican government took a different approach this time. It took a month but on June 12 Constitutionalist forces captured Louis de la Rosa and his band of 40 men. It looked like the situation had started to turn.

On June 21, an incident occurred near the town of Carrizal. US forces clashed with Constitutionalist troops. The Constitutionalist took 23 Americans prisoner. The threat of war increased as Wilson previously called up the National Guard on June 18 in response to the Glen Springs raid. 125,000 sat north of the border waiting for their orders from Wilson. Communiqués went back and forth from Washington to Mexico City in an attempt to prevent further hostilities. To solve the problem, Carranza proposed a Mexican-American Conference.

The conference finally began in New London, Connecticut in September of 1916. The American delegation put its proposal on the table first. Represented by Secretary of the Interior Franklin Lane, Dr. John R. Mott, and L.S. Rowe, the US wanted protection of life and property on the border and in Mexico, a call for a claims commission, and religious tolerance in Mexico. The Mexican delegation only wanted the withdrawal of the expedition.

Talks broke off early before they resumed in October in Atlantic City. Mexico restated it position for withdrawal. The US had changed its position. Franklin Lane tried to Mexico to concede to Wilson’s demands by threatening to withdraw recognition of Carranza’s government. In November, the two sides reached an agreement that Carranza would later refused to sign.

Meanwhile, back in Mexico, a constitutional convention took place in Queretaro. The convention resulted in a new Mexican constitution. It put Carranza firmly in the driver’s seat in Mexico. Many questions still remained about the Mexican situation at the end of 1916. Pershing’s troops still remained in Mexico. Pancho Villa started acting up. The biggest area of concern was how the new constitution would affect Mexican-American relations.

On January 25, 1917, Pershing’s troops began the march northward to the United States. The intervention had been a debacle. Villa still remained at large and in a state of mind the Mexicans called “delirio de grandesa” or delirium of greatness.[xviii] The expedition failed not only in its concept but managed to strain relations between the two countries.

“When the true history is written, it will not be a very inspiring chapter for school children, or even grownups to contemplate. Having dashed into Mexico with the intention of eating the Mexicans raw, we turned back at the first repulse and are now sneaking home under cover, like a whipped curr with its tail between its legs.” ~ General John J. Pershing

“When the true history is written, it will not be a very inspiring chapter for school children, or even grownups to contemplate. Having dashed into Mexico with the intention of eating the Mexicans raw, we turned back at the first repulse and are now sneaking home under cover, like a whipped curr with its tail between its legs.” ~ General John J. Pershing

The new Mexican constitution went into effect on January 31 1917. Three articles of the Constitution concerned the Wilson administration. Article 3 called for a free education. It literally shut the Catholic Church out of the system. Article 27 caused more controversy. It included land reform, but more importantly, it claimed that sub-soil rights belonged to the nation. The meaning of this is that Mexico nationalized it oil, copper, and other minerals. It appeared that way on the surface, but in reality, the Mexican government could dispose and distribute these minerals any way it saw fit. This meant that foreign companies could run the mines and oil wells but not own them.[xix] Article 130 prohibited the Catholic Church from criticizing the government.

Wilson dealt with Carranza mainly on Article 27. Wilson wanted the Mexican government to buy the wells and mines from the foreign owners. At this time, Wilson did not have any leverage with which to persuade Carranza.

Wilson would later in 1917 freeze Mexico’s gold reserves in hopes of changing Carranza’s mind. In order to do that, Wilson had to first formally recognize the new government and its constitution. On March 11, the Mexican people officially elected Carranza as President. Henry Fletcher presented his credentials as US Ambassador to Mexico on March 13. Ygnacios Bonillas arrived as the Mexican Ambassador to the United States on April 17. With formal diplomatic ties in place, Wilson placed himself in a much better position to dictate what went on inside Mexico.

A few weeks earlier, the United States had declared war on Germany. The Mexican oil fields would be crucial to a victory for either side. Corruption still ran rampant in Mexico. The oil fields in the state of Huasteca Veracruzana were under the control of General Manuel Palaez. He leased oil fields to companies for $35,000 a year.[xx] Palaez circumnavigated Carranza’s policy and padded his own pockets in the process.

Mexican oil financed the revolution. By 1914, Mexico produced 26 million barrels a day. By 1918, production increased 250% to 63 million barrels a day. Too crude to be used directly by foreign companies, the oil of Mexico went to the US to be refined by US companies. In order to keep Carranza out of his little enterprise, Palaez blew up bridges and railway tracks so the Constitutionalists could not get the oil rich state.[xxi]

Wilson began using diplomatic measures at a greater rate in April. In hopes of this, Wilson wanted Mexico at peace while he fought with Germany. In March, a Paris newspaper released a copy of the Zimmerman Telegram. The United States previously received the note in February. German Minister Arthur Zimmerman wrote the note to Carranza urging an alliance between Germany and Mexico. If Germany won the war, Mexico would gain back territory lost to the US in the Mexican-American War in 1848. Wilson let the note be published in hopes of causing anti-German sentiment around the world. Wilson did not use the note in negotiations with Carranza. However, in April, Carranza declared Mexico’s neutrality in World War I to the Mexican Congress.

As the war developed in Europe, Secretary of State Robert Lansing wanted the US to occupy the oil fields. Wilson said no.[xxii] Wilson, on the other hand, did not have any intention of letting Mexico implement the new constitution.[xxiii] In addition to freezing Mexico’s gold reserves, Wilson used other ways to make Carranza tow the line to Wilson’s policies. Wilson held up needed supplies and ammunition at the border. Carranza still had insurgencies to deal with. In writing to Wilson, Carranza began each letter with the heading, “Great and Good Friend.”[xxiv] This did not do any good. Wilson suspended loans until Carranza swug around to Wilson’s way of thinking. Wilson then used Mexico’s oil to help achieve victory in World War I and allow foreign interests in Mexico.

While Carranza succeeded in defeating Wilson as a revolutionary, Carranza could not match up to Wilson as a president. Carranza died at the direction of Alvaro Obregon in March of 1920. Obregon had driven Carranza from office because Carranza let foreign interests back into Mexico. Obregon also ordered the murder of Zapata in Chinameca in 1919. Villa lasted until his assassination in 1923 in Parral. Obregon would be the President of Mexico from 1920 to 1924.

The Mexican Revolution developed into the first great revolution of the twentieth century. Wilson had the distinct challenge to protect the United States. Wilson’s unique policies failed until 1917. Due in part to the special agents he sent, but more for his moral obligation of self-determination. He replied in 1915 that “Mexico must be handled with Velvet gloves.” His advisors felt otherwise. Colonel Edward House saw Mexico as needing intervention. He remarked on one occasion, “We should Mexico very much as we have Cuba and for the same reasons.”[xxv] House referred to the Platt Amendment, a result of the Spanish-American War, which enabled the US to oversee the Cuban economy. House would later say, “If a man’s house is on fire, he should be glad to have his neighbors come and put it out, provided they did not take his property, and it should be the same way with nations.”[xxvi] Wilson did not agree. He tried to let Mexico solve its own problems.

Secretary of State Robert Lansing remarked upon taking office that “there were too many players in Mexico.”[xxvii]    With Huerta, Villa, Zapata, Carranza, the Catholic Church, and the foreign business community, there developed too many variable to try and control. This became the main thrust of “watchful waiting.” Wilson tried to keep abreast of the situation through the use of special agents, but they only confused Wilson. Conflicting reports from the agents made it more difficult to develop a policy in 1913 and 1914. So Woodrow Wilson would wait.

Wilson’s moral reservation throughout the whole dilemma developed from the fact that he wanted to help the Mexican people. He had to wait. When someone came out on top, he would deal with them at that time. It may not have been the politically correct thing to do, but for Wilson, it remained the human and moral thing to do. Throughout the revolution, change in the revolution changed Wilson’s policy. He pronounced in 1915 that “I am willing to get anything for an American that money and free enterprise can obtain, except the suppression of the rights of other men.”[xxviii] With his special agents in the barrios of Mexico, forces in Vera Cruz, the expedition of Pershing, Wilson gambled in his pursuit of stability and order south of the border. All the while, he held firmly to his moral belief and tried to cheat the irony of fate.


Read Part One:



[i] Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson Volume 32, 38-39.

[ii] Eisenhower, 176.

[iii] Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson Volume 33, 303.

[iv] Cumberland, 277.

[v] Eisenhower, 186.

[vi] Arthur S. Link, Ed. Wilson Confusion and Crises 1915-1916. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1964), 196.

[vii] P. Edward Haley. Revolution and Intervention: The Diplomacy of Taft and Wilson in Mexico 1910 – 1917. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1970), 188.

[viii] Link, Wilson Confusion and Crises 1915-1916, 206.

[ix] Haley, 188.

[x] Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson Volume 36, 285-286.

[xi] Tumulty, 157-158.

[xii] Herbert Malloy Mason, Jr. The Great Pursuit (new York, New York: Random House, 1970), 84.

[xiii] Link, Wilson Confusion and Crises 1915-1916, 96.

[xiv] Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson Volume 36, 332.

[xv] Mason, 169.

[xvi] Calhoun, 57.

[xvii] Haley, 199.

[xviii] Link, Wilson Confusion and Crises 1915-1916, 206.

[xix] Daniel James, Mexico and the Americans (New York, New York: Frederich Praeger Inc., 1963), 181.

[xx] E. David Cronon, Ed. The Cabinet Diaries of Josephus Daniels 1913-1921 (Lincoln, Nebraska: The Universiy of Nebraska Press, 1963), 43.

[xxi] Brown, 122, 201.

[xxii] Haley, 259.

[xxiii] Link, Woodrow Wilson and a Revolutionary World 1913-1921, 23.

[xxiv] Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United State 1917, (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1926), 939, 1014, 1080-1082.

[xxv] ,The Papers of Woodrow Wilson Volume 33, 420.

[xxvi] Mark T. Gilderhus. Pan-American Visions: Woodrow Wilson and the Western Hemisphere 1913-1921 (Tuscon, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press, 1986), 33.

[xxvii] Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United State The Papers of Robert Lansing Volume II, (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1940), 539.

[xxviii] Link, Wilson and a Revolutionary World 1913-1921, 25.

Stumbling Through the Barrios – Part One: The Wilson Administration in Mexico

On March 5, 1913, Thomas Woodrow Wilson began his first day as President of the United States. He arrived in office with the hopes of implementing a progressive domestic platform. Wilson had a background as a historian, political scientist, and a scholar, but he lacked expertise in foreign affairs. In referring to this misgiving, Wilson said that “it would be the irony of fate if my administration had to chiefly deal with foreign affairs.”[1] Fate proved to be quite ironic indeed.


Less than a month prior to his inauguration, fate began to weave a tangled web for Wilson. On February 9, events took place in Mexico that would occupy much of Wilson’s time and energy the next four years. In what has become known as “The Tragic Ten Days”, General Victoriano Huerta, with the help of Felix Diaz, usurped the Presidency of Francisco Madero. Huerta then shocked the world when he announced that Madero and Vice-President Pino Suarez were murdered while supposedly trying to escape outside the Lecumberri Prison on February 22.

Between the time of the murders and Wilson’s inauguration, Huerta solidified his power with the aid of Mexican Federal Army Generals. These Generals took control of the states of Mexico with the use of the Mexican Federal Army.[2] With the Generals maintaining order and stability, Huerta now needed the recognition of his government by foreign countries. Recognition would provide Huerta with money, loans, and trade to even further solidify his power. The United States government did not give him anything.

The United States Ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson, began to push Woodrow Wilson for recognition of Huerta’s government. A holdover from the Taft administration, Henry Lane Wilson argued that recognition would promote American business interests and insure protection of American’s and their property.[iii] In a memo to Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, Henry Lane Wilson felt that “unless the same type of government as was implanted here by General Porfirio Diaz is again established, new revolutions will break forth and general unrest will be renewed.”[iv] But, Woodrow Wilson did not want any part of recognition of Huerta’s regime.

Other governments began to conditionally recognize Huerta. They included Great Britain, Spain, China, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Norway, Russia, and most Latin American nations.[v] Since 1848, it had been the policy of the United States to recognize de facto governments. Yet, Wilson added constitutional legitimacy to the factors for recognition. On March 11, Wilson replied that “we can have no sympathy with those who seek to seize the power of government to advance their own personal interests of ambitions.”[vi] Wilson had a moral revulsion to the means Huerta used to rise to power. “To recognize a coup de’etat,” Wilson said, “would be to sanction and encourage government by assassination throughout the Western Hemisphere.”[vii]

As Wilson’s outrage grew, so did the outrage of Mexicans. In the central state of Morelos, Emiliano Zapata clung to his Plan de Ayala of 1911 which called for land reform throughout all of Mexico. While in the North, Venustiano Carranza repudiated Heurta’s claim and declared himself First Chief of the Constitutionalist Army. Carranza proceeded to set up a provisional government in the northern state of Coahuila.[viii] Both of these men mattered little to Wilson at the time. His primary concern now lied with Huerta.

Venustiano Carranza

Venustiano Carranza

With unsure footing, Wilson began to implement his plan toward Mexico by using the standard diplomatic channels of Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson. However, his distrust of the ambassador led Wilson to take a unique and different approach to foreign affairs. With morality being his principal consideration, Wilson circumvented the State Department and began sending special agents into Mexico. Their assignments including a reporting of the conditions and to convey to the Mexican government Wilson wishes or demands. In response to Henry Lane Wilson, Woodrow Wilson chose men whom he felt had their “hearts in the right place.”[ix] Wilson distrusted the slow moving bureaucracy of the State Department.[x] Using the President’s contingent fund, Wilson financed this covert operation with the knowledge of Congress.[xi]

On June 1, William Bayard Hale became Wilson’s first agent to set foot on Mexican soil. A reporter by trade, Hale would wire his findings to a fictitious F.A. Muschenhiem in New York City. These reports would then proceed to the home of Ben G. Davies, the Chief Clerk in the State Department. Davies would then give the reports to Bryan who would then give them to Wilson.[xii] While the reports were secret, Hale’s presence soon leaked out when he began to perturb Henry Lane Wilson. In a memo to Bryan, Henry Lane Wilson spoke of his dislike for Hale and Woodrow Wilson’s intentions.[xiii] This confrontation resulted in the ambassador being recalled to Washington and relived of his duties in July.

On July 9, Hale filed what has become known as “The Hale Report.” In it, he described a spreading civil war in the North and just south of Mexico City. He called Mexico “a country on the loose.” Huerta’s power began to crumble as Durango, Campeche, and Sonara fell to Constitutionalist forces under Carranza and General Alvero Obregon. Hale concluded that “intervention is not necessary but the United States represent itself as a powerful neighbor.[xiv]

The civil war did not sit well with Woodrow Wilson. He felt it his moral obligation to stop the bloodshed short of intervention by the United States. Wilson sent in John Lind, the former Governor of Minnesota, with a list of demands warning that “the United States at this time doesn’t feel at liberty any longer to stand inactively by.”[xv] Lind’s mission included a set of proposals to the Huerta regime. First, that there be an end to the bloodshed, then a call for free elections. The proposals also included that Huerta would be a candidate, that he would abide by the results of the election, and if all these conditions were met, the United States would recognize the new government.[xvi]

Lind arrived in Vera Cruz on August 9 and met with Hale before going to Mexico City. When Lind first arrived in Mexico City he met with Mexican Foreign Minister Frederico Gamboa. Lind put forth Wilson’s proposals and personally felt that he “was offering Mexico the only possible plan by which she may find her way out of her difficulties and avoid worse ones.”[xvii] It was to no avail. On August 18, Gamboa politely gave a negative response to the proposals.

Mexico’s problems worsened. Huerta’s finances began to dwindle. Non-recognition by the United States, along with its influence in the world, made it almost impossible for Huerta to hold on. On August 26, Lind went back to Vera Cruz. On August 27, before a joint session of Congress, Woodrow Wilson put forth his new policy of “Watchful Waiting” with regards to Mexican affairs.[xviii] The policy called for the United States to patient and to be a friend towards Mexico. In the speech, Wilson also called for American citizens in Mexico to leave.

John Lind

John Lind

The second event of August 27 came as a surprise to the Wilson Administration. In a wire to Secretary Bryan, the Charge d’Affaires of the American Embassy in Mexico City, Nelson O’Shuaghnessy, reported that Huerta agreed to Wilson’s initial proposals put forth by Lind. With the concession by Huerta, it seemed as though Wilson’s initial policies began to take hold. The next six weeks weeks was a honeymoon of sorts for Mexican-American relations with the elections scheduled to take place on October 26.

On October 2, the whole picture of Mexico changed. On that day, Pancho Villa and his Division of the North attacked the city of Torreon. The city soon fell on October 10, a major blow to Huerta’s Federalist Army. Two days later, in an attempt to solidify his power, Huerta had 112 deputies of the Mexican Congress arrested. He soon declared himself to be a candidate in the upcoming elections. On October 23, Felix Diaz returned from his post as Ambassador to Japan. He wanted to run against Huerta for President. With this threat to his power, Huerta ordered Diaz to be arrested and shot. The USS Louisiana broke the coded message and relayed its content to Diaz. On October 27, Diaz climbed the rooftops of Vera Cruz to the United States Consulate. From there he managed to escape to the USS Wheeling docked in the harbor.[xix]

That same day, Woodrow Wilson gave a speech before the Southern Commercial Congress in Mobile, Alabama. A Pan-American gathering with diplomats in the audience, Wilson proceeded to talk about the Mexico situation. He continued his moral theme by stating that “morality, not expedience, must guide us.” He also issued a call to establish constitutional liberty in the world.[xx] His plan now not only included the elimination of Huerta but also to secure for Mexico a “better government under which all businesses will be safer.”[xxi]

Up to this point in time, Woodrow Wilson had misread the whole situation in Mexico. Every effort he tried ultimately failed. Wilson mistakenly viewed the problem to be a political one.[xxii] The factors that fueled the revolution went far beyond politics. They included land reform, foreign economic dominance, religion, education, and self-determination. In describing Mexico, Louis Para y Pardo said “Mexico is the mother of foreigners and the step-mother of Mexicans.”[xxiii]

The problems in Mexico began under General Porfirio Diaz. Between 1876 and 1911, Mexico flourished but Mexicans did not. Foreign money poured into Mexico in vast amounts. The United States and Great Britain each had over one billion dollars invested in oil and mining industries in Mexico.[xxiv] In the Diaz era, large estates of land called haciendas covered the countryside. The owner, mostly foreign, were called hacendados. These estates were not just one or two acres but in the tens of thousands. Haciendas of 100,000 to 1 million acres were not uncommon.[xxv] The Mexicans worked in the fields, tended the cattle, or worked in oil field or mines. The hacendados referred to this blue collar populace as either peasants or peons. The peasants and peons made up eighty-five percent of the Mexican population that did not have any wealth.

Foreigners owned most of the land and almost every aspect of the Mexican economy. The French were in textiles and banking, the British in oil, railways, and mining, and the United States in oil, banking, railways, mining, and public utilities.[xxvi] All of these countries wanted to maintain their place in spite of Huerta and the oncoming revolution.

Problems with the Catholic Church were also inherent in the Revolution. The church at the time wielded a great influence because of its wealth and holdings, its monopoly on religion, and its own political party.[xxvii] The church intertwined itself with the state and it feared the revolution. In the fall of 1913, the church’s party supported Frederico Gamboa for president. The church had wanted Huerta in hopes of maintaining the status quo. When liberals blocked the nomination of Eduardo Tamirez as Minister of Education in September of 1913, the church protested and Huerta listened. Huerta needed the funds of the church after the Battle of Torreon to help keep him in power. These events were the main reason for the arrest of 112 deputies of the Mexican Congress.

Among the few goals that Pancho Villa articulated was public education for all Mexicans. Villa, almost illiterate, had a passion for schools. Villa felt that if every Mexican had an education, Mexico would not be in the troubles it was in. He thought that if he had an education, he would not have turned to a life of crime.[xxviii]

Villa and Zapata in happier times

Villa and Zapata in happier times

In the wake of Huerta’s usurpation, foreign companies began to try and stabilize Mexico. Four companies tried to persuade Wilson to propose fall elections.[xxix] In what has become known as the Dodge Plan, D.J. Haff represented the Southern Pacific Railroad, the Green Cananea Copper Company, Dodge and Company, and Doheny’s Petroleum Company in calling for recognition if Huerta held fall elections, suspended hostilities, and supported the newly elected president.[xxx] The proposals closely resembled Wilson’s without the moral ties.

Great Britain’s economic influence came under the direction of Lord Cowdray. An oilman of great wealth, Cowdray’s influence derived from the fact that his oil fueled the British Navy. He is rumored to have bribed Mexican officials to keep his oil fields.[xxxi] With World War I approaching, Cowdray pressured the British government into conditional recognition of Huerta in March of 1913, and full recognition on October 12, 1913. When the new British Ambassador, Sir Lionel Carden, arrived in Vera Cruz on October 12, Fred Adams, a local agent for Cowdray’s El Aguila Oil Company, escorted him in Mexico.[xxxii]

With all these factors taking place, Huerta remained in power on November 1, 1913. There would be three additional factors that be the undoing of Victoriano Huerta. There could not be three more different men than Emiliano Zapata, Venustiano Carranza, and Pancho Villa. All of them had different ideas about the revolution but they all had one goal: to remove Huerta from office.

Emiliano Zapata had been a poor peasant in the state of Morelos whose only interest concerned the rights of the poor. Zapata issued his call to revolution in 1911 with the Plan de Ayala, designed to give land in his home state back to the peasants. This Robin Hood mentality did not sit well with either Madero or Huerta. Whenever the Federal forces tried to attack the peasants rose up in defense. The Zapatista army was a roving band, making it hard to track and defeat. A great natural leader of men, Zapata ruled by decree because in Morelos there was no government, no schools, no standing army, and no churches.[xxxiii] Zapata would say, “Revolutions will come and go but I will continue with mine.”[xxxiv]

First Chief Venustiano Carranza, on the other hand, firmly believed in middle class civilian control in Mexico.[xxxv] His sole intention of the revolution was to restore the constitutional regime of Madero.[xxxvi] Unlike Zapata, Carranza did not have any reforms in his Plan de Guadalupe. It only called for the overthrow of Huerta and elections for a legal successor. In the interim, Carranza would rule until a successor was chosen. Carranza took the stance that this revolution was a Mexican affair. He would say that “Only Mexicans could shoot at Mexicans.” Carranza’s Mexican self-determination based itself on foreign influence. He thought that “The revolution that compromises commits suicide.”[xxxvii] The thought of outside interference to Carranza meant that the revolution would be unjust and a futile attempt at serious change.

Pancho Villa’s similarity to Zapata is that of their peasant background. Villa had no designs on power, just the revenge of Madero’s death. After being in exile in El Paso, Texas, Villa rode across the border with eight men into Mexico on March 23, 1913.[xxxviii] While a proponent of education, Villa was consumed with his hatred of the Catholic Church in Mexico. He would say, “I believe in God but not in organized religion” and “I shall do what I can to take the church out of politics and to open the eyes of the people to the tricks of the thieving priests.”[xxxix] Villa would align his Division of the North with Carranza that cost Carranza four French 75mm cannons.[xl] As 1913 wore on, Villa’s Division of the North grew in size as he amassed funds through the taxing of the mines and stealing cattle in the state Chihuahua.

Huerta’s imminent removal revolved around two factors: the spreading revolution picking up its pace, and Woodrow Wilson hopefully learning from his mistakes. Wilson began to view the revolution with deep sympathy for social reform as well as political emancipation.[xli] United State policy now became “inspired by a higher humanity, but our sense of duty and responsibility, and by our determination that human liberty will prevail in our hemisphere.”[xlii]

By backing out of the deal with Wilson, Huerta gained some support by not bowing to Wilson’s wishes and Huerta, for a time, became a symbol of Mexican independence.[xliii] This did last long for on November 15, 1913, Villa’s Division of the North captured the town of Juarez and took 3000 Federalist Army prisoners. Wilson’s response only changed slightly this time. The special agents arrived in Mexico, but now they would deal only with Carranza and Villa.

John Lind remained in Vera Cruz as an observer. Hale had met with Carranza in Nogales in late October without any result, and George C. Carrothers had been dispatched to Villa. On November 20, Wilson wanted to isolate Huerta, “cut him off from foreign sympathy and aid, and domestic credit, whether material or moral, and so to force him out”, but the last piece of the puzzle was still missing.[xliv]

Since March 12, 1912, the United States had banned the sale of arms to Mexico. On February 3, 1914, Wilson lifted the ban, thereby opening the door to a whole host of other problems. The question now became how the rebels would pay for the weapons. For Villa, his taxes and cattle now included the confiscation of church property. For Carranza, the oil fields would buy his bullets, and Zapata relied on sugar.

On February 19, 1914, the murder of Robert Benton by Villa resulted in the questioning of Wilson’s policy. Benton was a Scotsman who owned land in Chihuahua. He did not approve of Villa’s men stealing cattle to finance the revolution. When Benton went to confront Villa, he was killed. Villa claimed that he shot Benton in self-defense. George Carothers confronted Villa regarding the incident. Villa assured Carothers that Benton was safe. Carothers informed Washington of his conservation with Villa. The United States published Carothers’ report. When the truth about Benton came out, Wilson came under attack for helping to spread the violence by dropping the arms ban. Wilson was once again at a crossroads. He could not trust Huerta. Villa developed into a murderer, liar, and thief. Meanwhile, Carranza refused American help or interference and God only knew where Zapata was hiding.

On April 10, 1914, Huerta gave Wilson just what he needed to speed up the revolution and oust Huerta in the process while giving the US a foothold in Mexico. At the port city of Tampico on the east coast of Mexico, Mexican soldiers under the command of Colonel Ramon Hinojosa arrested a detachment of nine men from the USS Dolphin (a whaleboat) while loading gasoline. They were marched through the streets for an hour before being set free. The commander of the US Fleet stationed off the coast, Admiral William Mayo, confronted Mexican General Zaragoza and demanded an apology in the form of a 21 gun salute to the American flag on US ships in the harbor. Admiral Mayo set a deadline for the salute on April 19 at 6:00 p.m. Huerta felt that because the US did not recognize his government that there should be no apology.[xlv]

Meanwhile back in Washington, Wilson met with House and Senate and Foreign Relations Committees. Wilson viewed the event in Tampico as trivial but the real problem revolved around “a studied and planned exhibition of ill and contempt for the American government on the part of Huerta.”[xlvi]

On April 20, the two governments had not reached a settlement. The deadline passed without the salute. Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress on this day. In a speech titled, “The Situation in Mexico and Our Dealings with General Victoriano Huerta in Mexico City,” Wilson reacted to the Tampico incident. Wilson proclaimed, “If armed conflict should unhappily come as a result of his attitude or personal resentment, we should only be fighting Huerta.”[xlvii] In essence, Wilson went before Congress to obtain from Huerta the fullest recognition of rights and dignity regarding the Tampico incident.

Also on April 20, word arrived from the American Consulate in Vera Cruz that a ship, the Ypiranga, would be arriving from Germany with a large shipment of ammunition for Huerta. Upon receipt, the Federalist forces would leave Vera Cruz and tear up the railroad tracks on the way out.[xlviii] The time was right for Wilson to directly intervene. On April 21, the United States Marines landed and took possession of Vera Cruz.

With the Marines in Vera Cruz, Wilson tried to clean up the intervention in the eyes of both Mexico and the international community. George Carrothers received orders to go to Carranza and explain the United States’ stance. Bryan wrote letters to foreign powers, most notably the A.B.C. Powers (Argentina, Brazil, and Chile).[xlix] These letters stated that the United States did not seek any territory in Mexico, only a redress of grievances. Wilson put his point across but Carranza became outraged at the intervention. Pancho Villa, on the other hand, had confidence in the U.S. claim that it did not want a war with the Constitutionalists. Villa gave his approval of U.S. force with Huerta during on April 23 with Carrothers. Wilson still had his own reservations. “It is hard to take action of this kind. I have tried to keep out of this Mexican mess, but now we are on the brink of war and there is no alternative.”[l]

The A.B.C. Powers solved the next problem for Wilson. They offered themselves as mediators on April 25 to help solve the dispute. Both Wilson and Huerta agreed to conference set for May 18 in Niagara Falls, Canada. With Marines in Vera Cruz, Huerta’s finds decreased even more. Vera Cruz had previously provided Huerta with valuable money from the collection of import taxes at the port. Mexico now looked very small to Huerta. Carranza and Villa closed in from the North, the Marines blocked the East and Zapata the South. The mediation might provide Huerta with a way out safely.

The United States sent as its delegates: Frederich Lehman, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Lamar, and Secretary H. Percival Dodge. Mexico sent Emilio Rabasa, Augustin Rodriguez, and Rafael Elguero as its secretary. Wilson put forth his intentions in a letter to the American delegates. Wilson wanted the delegates to “deal with the facts as they stand in Mexico right now, obtain a solution without the use of force, the elimination of Huerta, transfer of power without bloodshed, and suggest that a prompt agreement upon a clear programme which the Constitutionalists can accept is the best and only way to stop the process of arms.”[li]

On May 26, the mediators put a plan on the table for a settlement. Their plan called for the resignation of Huerta, a provisional government of four (1 Huertista, 1 Constitutionalist, and 2 Neutrals), and a call for elections. This provisional board would then address the problems of general amnesty, agrarian reforms, foreign claims of debt from the revolution, and education. In a surprising turn on May 27, the mediators began conferring with Carranza. The United States opposed negotiating with Carranza, only wanting to deal with the government in power at that time.

On May 29, the Mexican delegation submitted its plan. It closely resembled the mediator’s plan. The only difference between the two concerned the withdrawal of American forces from Vera Cruz and the recognition of the Mexican government by the United States. The Mexican delegation questioned Wilson’s intentions for Mexico. Were his intentions for the good of the United States or for the good of Mexico? As the conference went on, it became clear that Wilson’s intentions were for the good of the United States. That same day, May 29, three delegates from Carranza arrived at the conference. The U.S. refused to recognize these delegates. It gave away the U.S. intention of wanting to control the type of government put in power in Mexico.

Later, on June 16, the United States met with Carranza’s delegation in Buffalo, New York. The main thrust of this meeting revolved around Carranza’s wishes that the conference only deal with the problem between the United States and Mexico and not Mexico’s internal problems. The convention in Niagara Falls soon broke up on July 2 when the matter of recognition of either Mexican delegation became the main topic of the conference.

Meanwhile, back in Mexico, the Constitutionalists were closing in on Mexico City. They did have some difficulties along the way. Pancho Villa had resigned as head of the Division of the North in a disagreement with Carranza over the Zacatepas campaign. Secretary Bryan sent Carrothers in to patch things up between the two. On July 9, Villa and Carranza reached an agreement. It drew lines between the power of the two men in the revolution and upon Huerta’s removal. Carranza would be the man in charge and Villa’s role would be strictly military. The United State government had reason to be concerned even with this agreement.[lii]

On July 15, Victoriano Huerta resigned as president of Mexico and fled to Spain. In his place he appointed Francisco S. Carvajal. Carvajal did not want the job very much. On his first day as President, he announced he would turn the government over to the Constitutionalist so that there would not be any more bloodshed. On August 15, General Alvaro Obregon arrived to clear the way for Carranza.


The question now became, with Huerta gone, would the United States give its recognition to the new Constitutionalist government under Carranza? The answer had previously come in a letter to Carranza on July 23. Wilson gave Carranza three conditions to meet for recognition. First, debt from foreigner had to be paid. The second factor would be how Carranza treated his former political and military prisoners. The final factor concerned how Carranza treated the Catholic Church. In a letter back to Wilson on August 3, Carranza declared his plan to take over. He planned to call for an armistice, declare amnesty for political and military prisoners, and address Mexico’s foreign debts and property damage.

During the month of August in 1914, Carranza tried to establish some form of government. Wilson responded again with special agents. Paul Fuller went to deal with Carranza and Hubert H. Hall went to Zapata. George Carrothers remained with Villa in a private rail car which Villa had provided him along with two Chinese servants.[liii] John R. Silliman and Leon Canova stationed themselves in Mexico City and John Lind remained in Vera Cruz.

As August came to a close, the revolutionaries began to argue amongst themselves. On September 1, Zapata still clung to his Plan de Ayala. He wanted Carranza to attach his name, step aside, and name Zapata as President of Mexico. On September 7, tensions began to ease with Villa-Obregon Pact. This document dictated the construction of the new government. It called for the cessation of military and revolutionary rule, the appointment of Carranza as the provisional president, appointment of judges, and provisions for new elections.[liv] This, of course, was only temporary. On September 23, Villa rescinded and declared war on Carranza. The Wilson Administration’s head were spinning at this point in time. Huerta was out, nobody else was in. Wilson continued to ‘watchfully wait.’ He was kept abreast of the situation by his special agents but his influence remained nil. The decision for Mexico had to be made by the Mexicans themselves.

Read Part Two:



[1] David Healey, Drive to Hegemony (Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 166.

[2] Howard F. Cline, The United States and Mexico (New York, New York: Antheneum, 1971), 135.

[iii] Larry D. Hill, Emissaries to a Revolution (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1973), 7.

[iv] Josephus Daniels, The Wilson Era Years of Peace 1910 – 1917 (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: North Carolina Press, 1944), 180.

[v] Cline, 141.

[vi] Arthur S. Link, ed, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson Volume 27 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978), 172.

[vii] Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era 1910 – 1917 (New York, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1954), 109.

[viii] Arthur S. Link, ed, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson Volume 28 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978), 73.

[ix] Frederick C. Calhoun, Power and Principle (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 1986), 35.

[x] Ray Standard Baker, Woodrow Wilson Life and Letters President 1913-1914 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran, & Company, 1921), 257-258.

[xi] Hill, 21.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson Volume 28, 30.

[xiv] Ibid., 18, 30.

[xv] Ibid., 110-111.

[xvi] Ibid., 110-111.

[xvii] Hill, 75.

[xviii] Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson Volume28, 227-231.

[xix] Robert E. Quirk, The Mexican Revolution and the Catholic Church 1910-1929 (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1973), 49-50.

[xx] Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson Volume28, 448-452.

[xxi] Harley Notter, The Origins of the Foreign Policy of Woodrow Wilson (New York, New York: Russell and Russell, Inc., 1965), 275.

[xxii] Cline, 145.

[xxiii] William Appleman Williams, Americans in a Changing World (New York, New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1978), 128.

[xxiv] Jonathon Brown. Oil and Revolution in Mexico (Berkeley, California: The University of California Press, 1993), 201.

[xxv] Charles C. Cumberland, The Mexican Revolution The Constitutionalist Years (Austin, Texas: The University of Texas Press, 1972), 229.

[xxvi] John Reed, Insurgent Mexico (New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1969 edited with an introduction by Albert L. Michaels and James W. Wilkie), 17-19.

[xxvii] Cumberland, 216-217.

[xxviii] Reed, 122.

[xxix] Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era 1910 – 1917, 111.

[xxx] Ibid., 212.

[xxxi] Brown, 212.

[xxxii] Hill, 99.

[xxxiii] Quirk, 40.

[xxxiv] John Womack, Jr., Zapata and the Mexican Revolution (New York, New York: Alfred P. Knopf, 1971), 197.

[xxxv] Quirk, 43.

[xxxvi] Ibid., 40.

[xxxvii] Atrhur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and a Revolutionary World 1913-1921 (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 21.

[xxxviii] John S.D. Eisenhower, Intervention (New York, New York: WW Norton and Company, 1993), 47.

[xxxix] Quirk, 40.

[xl] Eisenhower, 50.

[xli] Notter, 291.

[xlii] Notter, 292.

[xliii] Cline, 150.

[xliv] Hill, 124.

[xlv] Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States 1914 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office), 454, 468.

[xlvi] Lester D. Langley, The Banana Wars (Lexington, Kentucky: The University of Kentucky Press, 1983), 89.

[xlvii] Department of State, 474.

[xlviii] Ibid., 477.

[xlix] Ibid., 482.

[l] Joseph P. Tumulty. Woodrow Wilson as I Know Him. (Garden City, New York: Country Life Press, 1921), 152.

[li] Department of State, 488.

[lii] Ibid., 485

[liii] Hill., 189.

[liv] Hill., 189.

The Future of This Blog

I am awaiting the future of the blog. Look for a new design shortly too.

I am awaiting the future of the blog. Look for a new design shortly too.

In the past year, I have pretty much become semi-retired from writing about history as you can probably tell from the lack of posts. Although I still love teaching and learning about history, right now I don’t see myself continuing to write about it much online. From time to time I will post and I will enjoy that when it happens, and it will happen.

So, that leaves me with a dilemma. Do I just leave the blog as it is? Do I delete the contents? Do I let someone else take it over? Or, do I take it in a different direction? Or do I delete a bunch of posts and go with a different theme? Do I go with a picture of the day, artifact of the week, or document of the day? Or do I do most of these suggestions?

I have put a lot of thought in to what is going to happen. And to be honest, I still don’t know where it will go. But I do know The History Rat will continue. It will contain posts about teaching history. It will be focused more on Illinois history (So, I will be deleting some old posts). I will write the occasional post about an event in history. For the most part, though, I will occasionally seek out writers to detail the past. And those writers will have a unique perspective. They will be kids. They will not just be any kids. These kids will be some of the best projects, websites, papers, and exhibits I read that are participating in the National History Day competition. It is really quite invigorating to read the enthusiasm with which they write!

I almost have two posts by two young authors lined up. If they are published, you will be pleased to see the depth of their writing and analysis! I hope to have those up by November.

I, myself, will be posting this fall about the Presidential Election of 1864, and I might be convinced to write another post about the craft of teaching history by having students do history. I am currently thinking about how to best teach the War of 1812. Whether that post comes to fruition remains to be seen, but I can see something coming around in some format.

I also think it would be great to post something weekly like a picture, document, or artifact that teachers can use in their classrooms. I sometimes build lessons entirely around one object, and to be honest, those are the lessons the students remember most because you keep going back to the document 3 or 4 times in the lesson. I really do enjoy writing about how that works and collaborating with other teachers who have actually tried out my lesson designs!

Now that I began to write about some ideas that I can do, my brain is now on overload on what I want do.

Thanks for following and continuing to follow The History Rat!


R.T. Johnson

Grant and the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House: Fighting It Out If It Takes All Summer

Incessant would be the best word to describe the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House in May of 1864. With nearly 100,000 men in tow, General Ulysses S. Grant hammered away at the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of Robert E. Lee in mid May. Grant hoped to weaken and pound Lee’s forces into submission and shorten the war. Grant said, “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.” In what has become known as the second part of Grant’s Overland Campaign, the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House is was of the least known battles of the war, but it is well-known for its loss of life and the tenacity of Grant to attack at costs. Lee’s army began the battle with 52,000+ men. By the end of the battle, Lee would be left with just about 75% of his men.

After the Wilderness Campaign, Grant did something no Union General accomplished after a battle against Robert E. Lee, Grant kept advancing. His troops were enthused and the result would be known quickly within days. When Grant left the Wilderness battlefield, it soon became apparent to Robert E. Lee that he must keep the Army of Northern Virginia between the Union and Richmond. With his smaller and dwindling force, Lee was able to outmaneuver Grant after the Wilderness to gain a tactical advantage and set up defensive positions near Spotsylvania Court House. From May 8th to the 21st, the two generals would slug it out. Grant knew that Lee could take his punches, but sooner or later, Lee would ultimately run out of men and supplies. The Union could essentially manufacture both.

Over the course of two weeks, Grant tried to remove Lee from his defensive positions. It was to no avail. The tactics were beginning to change in this war. Lee could no longer afford to slug it out like boxers in the middle of a ring. He had to dig earthworks, arrange trees and other objects to provide cover, and most importantly, he had to keep his army alive. Resembling something of what would be World War I trenches some 50 years later, Lee had his soldiers build trenches all that summer to avoid Union sharpshooters and to thwart Union advances.

Heth's Salient at Spotsylvania Phot courtesy of the U.S. Army Military History Institute

Heth’s Salient at Spotsylvania Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Military History Institute

Over the course of the 14 days of the battle, heavy casualties made headlines. Grant would lose 18,000 of his 100,000 man army while Lee had 12,000 casualties. The loss of life was staggering to many in the press.

A Virginia newspaper account

A Virginia newspaper account

However, Grant was not one to dabble in what the press thought. He had one job to do and that was to destroy Lee’s army that summer. At a place called the Bloody Angle, Grant almost succeeded on May 12.

The most vulnerable point of the Bloody Angle for Lee was a place called the Muleshoe Salient which connected two parts of his lines. The Union tried to concentrate its attack there. For 22 hours, forces under the command of Colonel Emory Upton almost broke through the lines on May 10. Two days later, Upton would try again with an entire corps. The Union did capture a large number of Confederate forces but somehow Lee’s forces held on but a terrible cost. Historian Curtis Crockett describes Upton unusual formation for the attack:

Abandoning the standard attack—a line of men charging in a wave—he condensed his troops into a human battering ram, a tight column of men surging at lightning speed with one aim: to breach the enemy’s entrenchments. If it had worked at Rappahannock Station, it would work here. Upton was sure of it [...] the struggle at the entrenchments lasted only seconds with the sheer numbers of Union troops prevailing. The first Union men to reach and climb over the works were shot instantly; many were bayonetted by the Georgians who initially refused to give ground. The Union troops gave as good as they got: The flag bearer of the 44th Georgia was stabbed 14 times by Upton’s men.

Earthworks at Spotsylvania

Earthworks at Spotsylvania

Attacking an entrenched position would be a struggle for Grant at Spotsylvania but also at the next battle at Cold Harbor. While taking heavy losses, Upton was able to create a small hole in the Salient, but was unable to hold any territory gained. For the Union soldiers, the attack was devastating. One soldier said, “I came back, tired out and heartsick. I sat down in the woods, and as I thought of the desolation and misery around me, my feelings overcame me and I cried like a little child.”

The carnage was unfathomable. Private G.N. Galloway recalled:

“The dead and wounded were torn to pieces by the canister as it swept the ground where they had fallen. The mud was halfway to our knees. . . Our losses were frightful. What remained of many different regiments that had come up to our support had concentrated at this point, and had planted their tattered colors upon a slight rise of ground where they stayed during the latter part of the day.”

The fighting that began at 5 a.m. on the 12th would last until 3 a.m. the next. 22 hours of hell on Earth. This was the highpoint of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. When Lee moved back a few hundred yards to new even more fortified positions, the fighting at the Muleshoe Salient came to a close.

A Confederate counter attack on May 19 took extremely heavy casualties. Lee’s days of fighting an offensive war were over after Spotsylvania. He did not have the men to do so. He was also beginning to lose too many officers. With Longstreet injured at the Wilderness, Lee struggled to maintain his lines and ranks at Spotsylvania because of officers who lacked experience. In addition, while Spotsylvania was a military stalemate, Lee may thwarted Grant from winning the battle, but Lee had done nothing to stop Grant from winning the war. The war in the East would soon become a war of attrition. Grant would give a large-scale attack one more try at Cold Harbor, but soon, Grant would know that Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia did not have much left to fight with. So, he would attack and attack some more.


Ordeal by Fire by James McPherson

Red River to Appamattox by Shelby Foote


The Valley of the Shadow of Death from Civil War by Ken Burns