The Battle of San Pasquale – – a Moment in the Mexican War

Nearby History Almost Overlooked

American forces, Battle of San PasqualeAlthough I’ve lived in San Diego most of my life, I’ve never visited the site of the Battle of San Pasquale, located 8 miles east of Escondido on Highway 78, a stone’s throw from the Wild Animal Park, and about 30 minutes from my home.

The site was established so visitors could view the battlefield where American and Californio forces fought on December 6, 1846. Operated by the San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park Volunteer Association, hours are 10am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday. A re-enactment of the battle is held each December.

A visitor’s center and small museum overlook the hills and valley where the battle began, with a glassed-in room for Reenactor San Pasquale Battlefieldunobstructed viewing. On duty is a reenactor dressed in Old California clothes, who lends an authentic air to visiting tourists (and frontier travelers).

What Was the Battle of San Pasquale?

In an attempt to conquer California, an American force under Brigadier General Stephen Kearny marched from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, across the desert and into Santa Fe. There, Kearny learned (erroneously) that California was in American hands. Unfortunately, upon hearing the news, Kearny sent two-thirds of his troops back to Santa Fe, and continued west with only 100 men.

On the night of December 5, 1846, Kearny and his Californios foes learned of one another’s presence, and at dawn on the 6th, U.S. troops rode down the hills and into the valley below. During the battle, the Californios lances gave the Mexicans a decided advantage. During the battle, 18 soldiers were killed.

The next morning, Kearny attempted to move his force to San Diego, but were stopped on Mule Hill where they were besieged by Californios until December 11, when troops from San Diego arrived to rescue them.

The Heroes Who Saved the American Forces

Monument to Kit Carson and Edward BealeAmong the Americans trapped on Mule Hill were scouts Kit Carson and Edward Beale. A monument is now erected near the visitor’s center, to honor their service to Kearny’s forces. It reads:

The army sent from Santa Fe to occupy California was met and defeated by the Mexicans at San Pasquale. The American forces were driven upon a butte in the desert, on which there was no water, and there surrounded by the Mexican forces, Edward F. Beale and Kit Carson, both famous explorers in the West, volunteered to get through the Mexican lines and get reinforcements from Stockton’s fleet at San Diego. They succeeded in crawling past three cordons of Mexican sentries in the night, and by hiding in ravines in the day, and traveling by night they reached Stockton’s fleet after enduring great hardships.

A Return for the Frontier Traveler

I was surprised at how interesting the visitor center and museum was, and what an effective job they did telling the story of the battle – through maps, diagrams and a board that correlated the stages of the battle with what could be seen from the viewing room.

I’m sorry it took me so long to get to the site – – and sorry that I didn’t learn until this visit that once a month a reenactor gives a presentation on the armament using during the period. I’ll definitely head back up north for that one!

Interested in Learning More?

The Battle of San Pasquale

Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West, by Hampton Sides

Invading Mexico: America’s Continental Dream and the Mexican War, 1846-1848, by Joseph Wheelan