The fatal flaw of the avid Mexican War enthusiast and others, was the belief that Kearny and his men had come off of the base of San Pasqual Hill and immediately launched an attack directly north towards the Indian Village where today the Battlefield Museum is located.
However, factual archive documentation of what the participants said, never indicated a full-frontal charge of the Californios camp or, Indian Village. The 1st engagement was clearly centered on the caretta road. That bearing is due northwest toward the “rocky point.” Not north towards the Battlefield Museum as was indicated on the topographical map at the Battlefield Museum. This is further corroborated by Lt. Emory’s topo-sketch of the battlefield.
The SLP made several determinations:
- The Advanced Guard was never headed towards the Californios’ Campsite but rather, to the outside of it where they would normally have their horses in such a situation.
- The unexpected two mounted Californios sentries came up onto, and rode off on, the “road.”
- Pico was not in position to protect their camp but rather, to block off the road and attempt to stop the Americans from heading to either San Diego or Los Angeles. Lt. Emory supports this action in his topographical sketch.
- Once Captain Johnston makes his famous charge going in pursuit of the two Californios sentries on the road, General Kearny, his entourage as well as Captain Moore and his men, all give pursuit ‘behind’ the Advanced Guard. When the bugler sounds “Charge as Foragers,” and the soldiers break into a full frontal online charge, they are all still moving in the same direction, due northwest along the road towards the “rocky point.”
- Even in the second engagement, the caretta road plays a bearing in the battle. This is not only corroborated by Lt. Emory, who clearly shows the second engagement involving the road on his topographical sketch of the battlefield but is supported by actual descriptions given by battle participants.
In years of research of the Battle of San Pasqual, objective studies were conducted by the SLP. It studied patterns involving opposing forces, where both were ‘’mounted’ on horseback. This began to give a clearer picture, not only of how much quicker, elements of battle were occurring but, also how much larger of an area is quickly encompassed by a moving set of battle dynamics. When you have two mounted forces engage in battle, you will have a moving battlefield. Therefore, by studying movements, one could begin to target possible debris fields and locations pertinent to engagement.
In these detailed studies, members of the SLP had traveled to Montana and conducted research at the Battle of Little Bighorn Battlefield. Primarily, the tactics used by two opposing forces that were both mounted on horseback. This was further assisted by Chief Historian Douglas McChristian and Park Ranger, Division of Interpretation, John Doerner, along with the archaeological findings of archaeologists Douglas Scott and Richard Fox.
By 1996, the SLP was conducting further objective studies of other 19th century military battles involving strictly two ‘mounted’ opposing forces engaged in combat. The SLP was greatly assisted in this study by Dr. William Lees, Ph.D., of the Oklahoma Historical Society, who oversaw the archaeological digs at two mounted battle sites and published their original findings.
One site was the Washita Battlefield located in Roger Mills County, Oklahoma. It became of special interest because it too laid in a flood plain and thus artifact retrieval was studied from this site. It is today a National Landmark and marks the location where the site of “Black Kettle’s” village was at during the attack by the 7th Cavalry on November 25, 1868.
The other battlefield was the Kansas State Mine Creek Battlefield located between Fort Leavenworth and Fort Scott, Kansas. This Civil War battle occurred on August 28, 1864 and involved 2,600 U.S. Cavalry as well as involving a ‘retreat.’ Studying the movements of mounted forces including, during a retreat and, subsequent archaeological digs and artifact recovery from the event proved useful.
It was during these two studies that the SLP discovered yet its fourth battlefield for objective studies, the National Historic Site of Palo Alto Battlefield located in Palo Alto, Texas. This battle was significant to the SLP as it occurred also in the Mexican War, between mounted forces of both the Americans and the Mexicans. It occurred several months before the Battle of San Pasqual, on May 8, 1846.
The significance of this battlefield to the SLP was that it too involved a ‘moving’ battlefield complete with mounted, and artillery. Therefore, it had several engagement sites too. This project was overseen, and its results published by Charles Haecker, an archaeologist with the National Park Service, Intermountain Cultural Resources Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico and, part of the NPS Battlefield Protection Program.
Once the SLP established the correct location of the 1st battle engagement at San Pasqual; following the route of the caretta road on a northwest bearing towards the rocky point, it merely had to calculate the distance from the 1st engagement to the second engagement as reported by the participants themselves.
Gillespie 1 ½ mile
Carson ¾ mile
Kearny ½ mile
Smith-Turner ½ mile
Doniphan ½ mile
Griffin ½ mile
By 1997, the battlefield location involving the second engagement site was divided into three separate sites. SLP-TS-6 marked the site around the “rocky point” where upon Pico and his men had ridden after the first engagement and pondered their second move. The “rocky point” is where, today, the San Pasqual Battlefield Monument lies off Highway 78, at Santa Ysabel Creek Road. It is approximately one mile east of the entrance to the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Approximately 75 Californios, riding away from the 1st engagement, would end up at the site SLP-TS-6. Another 25 would instead, continue riding along the road west, to the top of a nearby hill, believed to be where the present dairy rests and incorrectly referred to as “Soto Hill.” Soto Hill is actually the hill adjacent the present day dairy hill, due directly west and, today supports a private residence.
It is believed that it was closer to the far corner of SLP-TS-6, where Pico and his Californios sat atop their horses when the lone Captain Moore charged around the point and, towards their location and to his death. Indeed, quickly after, rides Moore’s brother-in-law, Lieutenant Theodore Hammond, who is also quickly laid upon by the Californios as well.
It is not long after that, Kearny, with other officers and dragoons, followed the way of Moore and Hammond, charging right towards the Californios. Backed into a corner with nowhere to go, the Californios’ counter-attack is swift and vicious. Kearny quickly sounded a retreat. The Californios begin chasing the Americans down with many of the soldiers breaking away from each other and, as one soldier would later write:
“ Each man was for himself. ”
“ The fight took place near a bend of the high rocky point that makes out and around which runs the main road. Behind this bend, some Californians had halted, (it can hardly be said for concealment, for the moment you pass the whole ground is visible plainly.) A little level plain stretches off toward the northwest — there the lone tree is in sight, where Kearny was surrounded and at which Lt. Hammond was killed. There is much cactus at this bend and a high elder bush still indicates the site of the temporary hospital. ”
With the approximately 25 Californios that had ridden onto the nearby hill, they had now turned around and rejoined Pico’s group. The battlefield, alive with two mounted and opposing forces, grew large and spread out very quickly in the early morning predawn light.
At the second engagement, both forces were further north from the Rio Bernardo riverbed and more elevated on the north side of the valley floor verse the southern side. This brought them out of the fog and with more access to light as the sun was coming up, upon the battlefield.
The officers begin to establish a skirmish line that today, is suspected to run off of the northeast side of SLP-TS-8, running parallel with the present Santa Ysabel Creek Road. It was probably here that the mountain howitzer, and eventually the Sutter Gun, were placed. The remaining howitzer seized by the Californios was no doubt southwest of, and outside the boundaries of SLP-TS-7 & 8, towards the two hills (shown on Emory’s sketch) that today sits a house (Soto Hill) and a dairy.
Many historians including the local surveyor and Mexican War enthusiast, had said that any sweep of the valley floor for artifact debris would be fruitless and a waste of time because of over a century-and-a-half of floods that have ravaged the flood plain. While that would be understandable, the SLP made no assumptions and moved on with its investigation of the battlefield leaving no stone unturned. Indeed, two field surveys had already been made at the local war enthusiast’s speculated 1st engagement site (SLP-S-3) resulting in negative results.
The SLP then decided to conduct exploratory field surveys of the battlefield in an effort to ascertain whether or not the sites did, or did not, contain artifacts of any sort pertaining to the battle. It should be noted that nearly fifteen years earlier, the American Battlefield Protection Program had sent one of its members to San Pasqual to survey the battlefield. The final findings were that the battlefield was ravaged by so many years of flooding that it indeed had no potential for salvageable artifact recovery.
The goal of the SLP was then to set up a grid pattern and conduct an initial field survey of several of the sites. If any artifacts from the battle were located, the exact location would be plotted, and the artifact retrieved for further examination and analysis. Two very interesting artifacts were indeed located at two of the site locations: SLP-TS-8 and SLP-TS-6.
A soldier’s coat button was discovered inside SLP-TS-8 at 3-inches. Three inches is important because that is the depth where 1846 resides and, the depth where over 200 other artifacts from these same soldiers were located at Mule Hill. The button is an interesting find because it may or may not be from the actual battle. The button was identified as a Symmetrical Spread Eagle, Lined Shield, introduced in an expedient fashion for the Mexican War in 1847. Now the Battle of San Pasqual was in 1846. However, the date of 1847 comes from when the patent was filed. During war time, was the button already being produced in 1846 with the patent finally getting filed and finalized the next year in 1847? We don’t know. There is a 10% margin of error on the 1847 date.
We also know that the Army sent a contingent of soldiers back to the battlefield in 1848. It was the group sent from Los Angeles to recover the dead there and to rebury them in San Diego. If so, was SLP-TS-8 where the reburial detail was camped while removing all the bodies from the burial pit? Or, was the button close to the burial pit and its location? If so, was the original grave site in the close vicinity of SLP-TS-8?
A third time that U.S. soldiers were camped in the San Pasqual Valley was during the Civil War. Soldiers camped for a short amount of time on the valley floor before moving on.
However, the most important and powerful significance of the find was that many had been wrong. This one significant artifact proved beyond all doubt that indeed, artifacts from the battlefield were still in fact retrievable. Not “all” the artifacts had been washed away as others had previously suggested. It also showed the importance of accurate historical research by the SLP in helping target specific sites with field surveys and, it was paying off!
One of the most remarkable finds by the SLP was a piece of confirmed, fired, canister shot. It was recovered at site SLP-TS-6. Consistent with other artifact debris found from these soldiers, it too was found at 3-inches.
The object, a round ball measuring 0.630-inch in diameter and 0.383 grains in weight, was made of lead. There were two flattened areas on one side giving evidence of having been fired. There were no signs of impact.
Further analysis of the ball was done by the Director of Fort Leavenworth Museum in Kansas, Steve Allie, an artillery expert on the 12 lb. Mountain Howitzer, which was used at this battle. Allie stated that the diameter and weight of the ball fits perfectly for use in canister-shot. Knowing that General Kearny had stated in his official report that no howitzer was brought into action at this battle, Allie was asked what the difference was between canister-shot and “grape-shot” which might have been fired from the Sutter Gun? Besides, both are round metal balls of the same approximate size and weight so how could one tell if the ball found was canister-shot or grape-shot? Allie then asked what the ball was made of? He was told, “lead.”
Without hesitation, Allie replied that grapeshot was made of iron and so was canister shot, except for the Mountain Howitzer. Canister-shot for the Mountain Howitzer was made of lead.
This now told the SLP that somewhere within 350 yards of where this canister-shot was found, there was a Mountain Howitzer fired. Finding other pieces of canister-shot in this area could also result in a possible shot-trajectory being able to be plotted, using a reverse trajectory. This could help locate the general location of the artillery piece when it was fired.
Recoveries of artifacts such as this piece of canister-shot and, other objects discovered on the battlefield, gave much reason and support for the San Pasqual Battlefield Site Location Project or, as it would have any other organization that promoted the archaeological investigation of the San Pasqual Battlefield. It now appeared possible that other artifacts, including artillery–related debris might still be on the battlefield which could yield even more important clues concerning the use of artillery at this battle. Indeed, located even in a flood plain, the battlefield still had secrets to offer up.