The Battle of San Pasqual (also spelled San Pascual) was a military encounter that occurred during the Mexican-American War in what is now the San Pasqual Valley community of the city of San Diego, California.
The Americans did not expect the Californios to be formidable adversaries, but Kearny still wanted to capitalize on a surprise attack if at all possible. He also wanted more exact information about the enemy force in preparation for an attack the following morning.
Lieutenant Thomas C. Hammond together with a Californio deserter, Rafael Machado, and a detachment of six dragoons (one report says three dragoons and still another eleven) were ordered to scout Pico's position which was located in a small Indian village in San Pasqual Valley. Hammond's scouting party was discovered by Captain Leonardo Cota and some of his Californio-Mexican Lancers, while training in the valley below. The element of surprise was lost. At midnight Kearny ordered an immediate advance. It had rained that night. Men, muskets, pistols and equipment were wet and cold, but the troops after over six months without any action were eager to engage the Californios. Early in the morning of December 6, 1846, the column proceeded by twos across the ridge between Santa Maria (present day Ramona, California) and San Pasqual. During the descent while it was still dark and with a low lying fog, Kearny's force became strung out by Captain Cota's lancers, underestimating the well trained lancers and followed by General Pico's swift advancement. Accounts differ as to what command was given and by whom, but Captain Abraham R. Johnson is thought to have prematurely initiated action.
As the leading element of the American attack drew close to the Indian village, the Californios wheeled back and fired their few firearms. One of their first shots killed Captain Johnson, but the Americans continued on and were able to fire back. The Californios retreated, and the Americans pursued. Captain Benjamin D. Moore ordered a second charge. This further increased the distance between the American elements and further reduced the size of the leading element. When the Californios again turned back, they were able to deal with Captain Moore alone. He was quickly surrounded and killed. Other Americans caught up with the action, but their weapons misfired and many of them were wounded or killed by Californios using lances. Some were pulled from their horses by the Californio's lariats and then lanced. Most of the Americans were mounted on mules and were particularly vulnerable because of the mules reluctance to wheel. It was easy for the better mounted Californios to get behind the Americans and attack them with their long lances.
Both Captain Gillespie and General Kearny were wounded in the battle and several of the other officers were killed or wounded. Captain Henry Turner temporarily took command and organized a defensive position, which permitted the rest of the command to catch up with the battered lead element. Dr John S. Griffin, Kearny's surgeon, reported that the Americans had lost seventeen killed and eighteen wounded out of the fifty officers and men that actually engaged the enemy. The dead were buried in a mass grave. Pico's forces suffered two killed and 18 wounded in the battle.
American forces set up a defensive perimeter and sent Kit Carson, an accompanying soldier and an Indian guide to request reinforcements from the American fleet anchored in San Diego bay. Under the cover of darkness, Carson and his team were able to get to the American fleet and return with reinforcements several days later. At that time, the American soldiers travel to San Diego and unite with the American fleet there. There has been much debate as to which force won or lost the battle. Clearly, Kearny retained the battle area, the ability to operate and manuever, and also the initiative, though his losses were higher. After an extensive review of the battle in 1928, the U.S. Army War College declared that General Kearny had in fact gained a victory at San Pasqual.
The battle was the worst defeat for American forces during the Mexican-American War. While the Californios fared badly in Northern California, it was one of many battles and skirmishes where the Californios bested American forces in Southern California. Inexplicably, Kearny later recalled the battle as a victory for the United States, perhaps as way of covering up the embarrassing defeat.
Kearny Mesa, an area of San Diego, was later named after General Kearny. Kit Carson Park in San Diego's north east corner was named in honor of Kit Carson. Beale Air Force Base in Marysville, California is named after Edward Beale. In September 1942 Camp Gillespie was completed and named in honor of Lieutenant Archibald Gillespie. In 1944 it was handed over to the County of San Diego and rechristened Gillespie Field now a municipal airport.
Captain Benjamin D. Moore, who fell during the battle, was honored by the dedication and naming of Fort Moore in Los Angeles, California, which was memorialized with the Fort Moore Hill Pioneer Memorial.