The morning of December 7 was a quiet and solemn one on the battlefield of San Pasqual. There, about 149 men, racked with freezing cold, battle fatigue, little water or no food, and the fear of death in the form of another attack, quietly watched the sun rise above the valley. Its light, somewhat diffused through clouds, flooded the valley with some renewed hope or vigor.
The men, many of whom wore rags for uniforms and wrapped cloth for boots, whose swords were rusted in their scabbards, began to see at least one ray of hope. They could see the two hills across from them in the middle of the valley floor were clear of any Californios.
Despite the pitiful condition of Kearny’s unit, there was a renewed energy to set out for San Diego. There, they could find much needed reinforcements and supplies, and for all involved, it would mean finally reaching the Pacific Ocean. There was even more hope that reinforcements might meet them halfway considering they had sent out three messengers for San Diego the day before.
As the men slowly came down from the heights to the right of the battlefield, they prepared to move out. Again, several began scouring the battlefield for debris and men. Two men were still not accounted for. One was Private McCaffry and the other was Private Osboume who laid alone on the field with a serious lance wound to the neck. Osboume was finally found and brought back but the soldiers could not find any trace of McCaffry.
Mexican sentries were suddenly seen in the distance and the Americans knew their bout with the Californios was not over yet. General Kearny was put back in his saddle and six travois were filled with wounded who were too disabled to walk.
The order was given to move out and soon the Americans were trudging along a trail leading along the north side of the valley, headed west. The Indians had told them where they might find food and water at the Snook Adobe where fellow Indians were waiting at
For the wounded on the travois, the ride was torturously painful. The wooden poles dragged along the ground, bumping and jostling around those upon the travois,’ only added to their agony.
Sergeant John Cox was one of those individuals. He now had difficulty breathing caused by his stomach being distended, irritating the diaphragm and causing hiccups. He also continued to heave, his stomach wanting to throw-up blood as it leaked inside.
Meanwhile, at the Snook Adobe, fifteen Mexican soldiers lay in agony from their battle wounds. Being the group was from Los Angeles, the order was given to move them north as soon as possible. The nearby Indians watched as the small band of wounded Californios were remounted and slowly set off for the San Luis Rey Mission and later, for San Juan Capistrano.
The Americans, moving in a square formation, placed their pack mules and wounded in the center. General Kearny was again in-charge but aided by Captain Henry Smith Turner. As they moved slowly forward, the Mexicans backed off but continued to play cat and mouse with them. They would suddenly appear upon a hill, only to disappear, and then reappear on another.
In response, the Americans diverted from their route several times. They eventually got about five miles when they reached the adobe.
Located upon the side of a hill, it was separated from an adjacent hill and Indian village located just off a natural spring-fed creek. Directly below it ran a main road from the valley, going north to Mission San Luis Rey or, south to the San Diego Mission.
It was here at the adobe that the order was given to halt. It was about two o’clock in the afternoon when the break in their march was ordered. They rounded up chickens to be used as food for the wounded. They also brought up some head of cattle for the weary force.
The Indians there told the officers of Pico’s wounded being there just hours earlier while the soldiers filled their cork canteens with the water flowing through the small creek. They also made a point of getting their mounts to water underneath the shade of oak trees.
Being there but a few hours, the Americans prepared to move on. They wanted to head south just barely over a mile to the Rio Bernardo River where they would camp for the night.
The Americans broke free of the adobe and headed south, riding near the San Diego-Los Angeles Road, headed for the Rio Bernardo River. The slow-moving square-shaped formation of soldiers moved through the middle of a large open valley, void of any trees. When they were but a half-mile away from the adobe and about half-mile yet from the river, something caught their eye to the rear.
Looking back at the creek where they had just gotten water, a terrifying sight beheld them. Like a swarm of bees coming their way, the pack of Greyhounds again began their decent down upon the beleaguered and tattered American force.
The Mexicans had made a very clever move. While the Americans were watching and expecting the enemy from the south, the Californios now came from behind and were attacking them instead, from the north.
The Americans were caught in a very dangerous position. They were right in the middle of an open valley floor with no cover or concealment against the enemy. To make matters worse, they were carrying their wounded and pack train in the middle of their formation. The somewhat spread out formation was about 200 hundred yards to the right of a large hill with some rock outcroppings.
As seventy-five Californios came at them, the Americans turned and faced their threat dead on. All the while, moving the entire formation in a three-squad flanking movement toward the hill two-hundred yards away. As the Americans repulsed the Mexicans, they continued a very orderly retreat or flanking movement to the hill to secure the high ground.
It was the longest 200 yards the Americans had ever run for. To reach the hill was now a matter of survival. For John Cox and the other severely wounded on the travois, the 200-hundred-yard run caused excruciating pain, being hauled like rocking potatoes, quickly and roughly over the hard terrain.
Also, during this maneuver, the Americans, in the dash for their lives, lost all their cattle that they drove in front of them. They even lost the chickens they had just collected.
Seeing the Americans now making the desperate attempt to get to the hill, Pico made another brilliant military maneuver. He broke off about thirty Greyhounds from the attack and had them begin to ride straight up and over the hill the Americans were now attempting to get to. It was a maneuver to envelop the Americans or close in around them in the shape of a horse shoe. This movement also closed off any escape route by the Americans to try and head south to San Diego. Some of the Californios arriving at the top of the hill dismounted and began to lay down fire from behind rocks upon the Americans, who themselves were now seeking cover from behind what rocks they could find.
The Americans were thrown into confusion by the Mexicans who had moved very quickly and decisively. The officers and others in the unit now had an even more alarming problem.
They saw the Greyhounds were trying to surround them. The Californios were also taking the high ground, which in any military skirmish could prove victorious, or fatal, depending on who held it or who didn’t.
General Kearny, although mounted, was severely wounded making it difficult for the General to issue immediate orders under battlefield conditions. His adjutant, Captain Turner simply didn’t respond to the immediate threat now upon the soldiers. Those among the ranks, who were also as confused, looked at Turner for orders but none were being given. Timing was now critical because the Californios were quickly closing in from several directions.
With no orders coming from anyone, Lieutenant Emory made a sudden and decisive move. He saw they had to immediately repeal the Californios from the hill or they were all doomed.
Meanwhile, the main force of Californios broke off from the Americans and rode around the opposite side of the hill, perhaps in an attempt to back up their thirty compadres on top of the hill. Raising his sword, Emory yelled out, “Men follow me!”
Taking about six to eight men, Emory charged on foot, slowly moving among the rocks for cover, around the bottom edge of the hill. He and his men then began to fire at the Mexicans from the south side of the first rock outcroppings located on the southwest side of the hill. This, while the Californios continued laying down ground fire from behind the large boulders at the main American force.
Meanwhile, other Americans in the unit, assisting Emory’s movement, opened fire on the Greyhounds from the north side of the hill. This placed the Mexicans in the middle of a deadly crossfire. At least three Californios were shot almost instantly right out of their saddles.
In advancing up the hill, several Americans were wounded. Despite this, and seeing the urgency of the situation, they grew rapidly in numbers in attacking the small band of thirty to forty Mexicans.
The Americans quickly took the top of the hill, shooting at least five of the Californios, some very severely. After about no more than minutes, the Mexicans retreated, leaving behind lances and ammunition but retrieving their wounded. They fled down the hill and across the valley due southeast where they met up with the rest of the Californios force.
As a finality to the skirmish, Lieutenant Beale and Midshipman James M. Duncan, took several of Captain Gillespie’s men and carried the Sutter Gun to the top of the hill. They positioned the Russian made gun towards the South, while placing the remaining howitzer on the road down below the west side of the hill.
As both sides now regrouped to reconsider their options, the sun quickly descended behind the mountains to the west. The skirmish, although but minutes long, had brought Doctor Griffin more wounded.
As the night took hold, General Pico’s force was quickly growing in numbers from other Mexicans coming from nearby ranchos to join the fight. He immediately had his Greyhounds seal off Kearny’s route south to San Diego. With three lines of sentries, he encircled the entire southern circumference of the hill with Californios. In addition, a small contingent remained at the Snook Ranch Adobe to the north of the hill.
As General Kearny and Captain Turner watched the Mexican’s sentry fires come to life that night, they saw the small fires form three lines just south of them, stretching from east to west, cutting right across the San Diego-Los Angeles Road. They were cut off from San Diego. Kearny and Turner had decisions to make. They had severely wounded personnel to care for including the General himself. With them, they could not move quickly at all and this also limited the chances of attacking the enemy.
They had lost all their food supplies during the attack. What few provisions they had were being carried by a few number of tired, skinny, and beaten down pack mules. To make matters worse, they were with little water and the Rio Bernardo River, which was just out of their grasp due south, was dry. Even if it wasn’t, Pico had his men posted between the river and the hill keeping the Americans from being able to access it.
The American officers were also pondering whether or not the three messengers they had sent out the day before, had made it to San Diego? If they did, another question was whether or not Admiral Stockton, who was docked in the San Diego bay on the USS Congress, would in fact send reinforcements. The decision was made to hunker down on the hill that night and see what tomorrow would bring.
A field hospital was maintained in a small flat area above and between the two rock outcroppings. The rest of the soldiers laid the wounded there while others manned sentry sites among the boulders, looking south and watching the Mexican’s fires burn into the night.
One of the wounded on top of the hill was John Cox. He lapsed in and out of consciousness, still occasionally vomiting blood. He was acquiring a fever and going into chills.
Doctor Griffin was aware of John’s condition as he was with all the wounded, some of whom were cut in up to sixteen places. Griffin saw major problems with their present military situation, especially with any attempt to get food and water for the wounded. For sure without water, the situation was grave.
Another major problem for the doctor was that the temperature was in the thirties and forties (Fahrenheit) along with a gentle rain that had returned. The hill had absolutely no trees growing on it, nothing but sage brush. The wounded, already in such agony from torturous wounds, had now to endure getting wet in freezing temperatures with no real source of heat.
The camp slowly came to life as the men scoured for any brush that could sustain a campfire. Soon, several small fires were lit atop the hill, fairly close to the doctor and his wounded. Then, a decision was made to slaughter a mule to create a broth soup of a sort.