At 4:00 a.m. March 9, 1916, the border town of Columbus, New Mexico was awakened by shouts of “Viva Villa!!” and gunfire. The United States was being invaded by Mexican military forces led by Doroteo Arango. He was more widely known by his adopted name of Francisco “Pancho” Villa. Villa was told the town would be guarded by only 30 soldiers. Instead Villa’s men faced return gunfire from the 330 men of the 13th U.S. Cavalry. When the sun set on Columbus that first day, ten civilians and eight soldiers were killed. Two civilians and six soldiers were wounded. Mexican statistics included 73 killed, 100 wounded and 5 captured and hanged.
In nearby Deming, 30 members of Company “I”, 1st New Mexico Infantry heard of the raid. Without being ordered, they made their way to Columbus arriving several hours later. The arrival of the New Mexican soldiers allowed the cavalry to pursue Villa’s forces. Once the immediate threat of a return engagement by the Mexicans subsided, the 30 men returned to Deming. All of New Mexico’s units were then put on immediate alert.
President Woodrow Wilson ordered a partial mobilization of the National Guard on March 11th. More than 5,000 officers and men from units in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona responded to the call. On May 9th, all of the state’s National Guard units were mustered into federal service.
The 1st New Mexico Infantry was stationed with the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry. These were the only National Guard units attached to Maj. Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing’s Punitive Expedition. Neither unit crossed the border to join in the pursuit of Villa’s forces, but instead remained on the border as a quick reaction force.
Battery “A”, 1st New Mexico Field Artillery from Roswell arrived in Columbus on May 12. This was the first National Guard field artillery unit on the border. The battery was ordered to Fort Bliss, Texas from Columbus and arrived at its new station on June 19th. The entire battery was attached to the 6th U.S. Field Artillery. The training the battery received while attached to the 6th U.S. Field Artillery would prove invaluable during the battery’s service in World War I.
Among the honors the battery performed while stationed on the border were:
¨ It was chosen to fire the official salute over the body of Maj. Gen. Frederick Funston as it passed through Fort Bliss in funerary procession on its way to California.
¨ It fired the salute of honor for Pershing as he returned from the punitive expedition.
As an expression of the appreciation the citizens of El Paso had for this battery, the citizens inaugurated “New Mexico Day”, observed on March 19, 1917. The battery participated in reviews and exhibition drills witnessed by the Governor of New Mexico, William C. McDonald, his staff, Pershing, and thousands of grateful citizens of El Paso. The celebration was the culmination of their time on the border. On March 23, 1917, the battery was mustered out of federal service and left for Roswell.
The 1st New Mexico Infantry was mustered out of federal active duty during the first week of April 1917. The training they received and the hardships they endured prepared the New Mexico men for service in World War I when they were called up once again on April 21, 1917.