Maybe not more than forty Americans had made it beyond the point and fought with the Californios. The battlefield itself, over four-hundred yards in diameter, now segregated the soldiers by those that were still mounted and those that were not.
Again, the field became alive with sounds as remaining dragoons continued arriving onto the field. For those who had just survived the battle, the cold was settling back in. Everyone was waiting for the sun to rise and bring warmth into the air.
Doctor Griffin and his assistant, a Private Erasmus D. French, found themselves totally immersed in casualties. The doctor immediately offered to attend to General Kearny’s wounds, but the tired and wounded General looked around at his men. They lay around him, dead and wounded. Others continued still looking around with fright in their eyes, waiting for the Californios to re-attack and finish off what was left of them.
The General turned back to Griffin and said, “First, go and dress the wounds of the soldiers who require attention more than I do, and when you have done that, come to me.”
The Americans established a small field hospital to the right of the battlefield by a lone high elder bush. Soldiers now gathered the wounded, laying them out in a line as the two medics went to work.
As the sun ascended and its light began to pierce the valley floor, someone reported seeing a group of horsemen back to their rear. This rose fear of yet another attack from the Californios, this time, directed at the baggage train and Major Swords along with his men.
General Kearny ordered Lieutenant Emory to take a small detail and immediately go in route to San Pasqual Hill and escort the baggage train back to their location. The baggage train consisted of approximately thirty mules carrying the unit’s supplies in packs mounted on the backs of the animals.
Emory rode back to San Pasqual Hill. While Swords and the baggage train made its descent into the valley, Emory rode back up the hill and made a quick sketch of the battlefield, now during daylight conditions. With that completed, Emory, along with Swords and his men, scoured through the Indian village and on the valley floor, looking for dead and wounded.
There, he found the body of Captain Johnston, a hole right through his head. Emory looked closely at the body and noticed Johnston’s gold watch broken off at the chain and was missing. It seemed as if the plundering of the dead had already begun. They brought his body and that of another dragoon back to the second battlefield site, in the area of their field hospital, along with a double line of pack mules in tow.
On the battlefield itself, soldiers continued to bring in the dead and wounded. Captain Turner, who had temporarily replaced Kearny as being in charge due to the General’s wounds, began to see how many of their mounts now lay dead across the field.
The Americans’ only Mexican prisoner, Pablo Vejar, was brought over to the temporary field hospital. There, because of his knowledge of the Mexican language, the severely wounded Captain Gillespie was utilized to translate and assist in interrogating Vejar. An attempt was made to find out from Vejar how many casualties the Californios had suffered but Vejar explained that he had no way knowing because he had been taken prisoner early on in the battle.
Doctor Griffin then asked Vejar why he was lying, that there were ten Californios killed and at least thirty wounded. Vejar however, maintained he didn’t know but that there surely must have been many more killed and wounded than what Dr. Griffin was estimating.
At approximately 7:30 a.m., General Kearny advised Captain Turner that he wanted everyone ready to move out in a few hours. Kearny wanted to get into San Diego as soon as possible. It was there that Admiral Stockton’s ship, the Congress, stood anchored with reinforcements and supplies. He was aware, that like wolves, the Californios were grouped no more than a mile away on a hill, poised to strike again at any moment.
By 8:00 a.m., soldiers quietly began the solemn task of collecting the nineteen dead Americans and strapping their bodies to pack mules for transport to San Diego
By 9:00 a.m., this task was done and the dead laid silent, awaiting the final journey to Old Town, San Diego, some twenty-five miles due southwest.
The field hospital found Doctor Griffin and his assistant, Private French, working feverishly trying to attend to all the wounded. They of course started with the most seriously wounded but there was only so much they could do.
Captain Gillespie laid with the wounded. Next to him was Lieutenant Hammond.
Hammond was suffering from many wounds but the fatal wound one lay between his eighth and ninth ribs. After just a few hours, and with himself battling for his own life, Gillespie looked over at him. He could hear as Hammond suddenly exhaled an unusually long and final breath.
Sergeant John Cox laid among the wounded feeling very sick. His stomach wanted to vomit and in doing so, caused him to spew forth blood out of his mouth. Lapsing in and out of consciousness, he fought from going into shock. General Kearny lost consciousness and for a while, it was thought that he would surely die from his wounds.
General Pico and his triumphed forces now held the valley just west of the battlefield. Californios were on top of nearby hills looking down on the white intruders of their land. Their enemy’s dead and wounded lay strewn across the valley floor. The Americans had felt the bite of the Greyhounds. This now had become the bloodiest battle of the Mexican war ever fought on California soil.
The Greyhounds however, had their dead and wounded too. The dragoons and riflemen, though few, indeed had weapons that had found their mark. With his dead Californios left on the field with the Americans, Pico had his wounded taken to an adobe ranch-house about five miles away, due west.
The adobe house was a part of a 17,000-acre ranch owned by British Shipping Captain, Joseph F. Snook. At this time, he and his wife, Maria Antonia Alvarado, resided at another residence in Old Town, San Diego.
The Snook Adobe near Mule Hill was located half-way up a hill above a natural spring-fed creek. The Indians had their village just on the opposite side of the creek. When the Snooks’ were not at their ranch-adobe, the Indians took care of the residence and ranch including, a nearby corral containing a herd of horses and mules as well as cattle grazing nearby.
It was here that about fifteen wounded Californios were laid while their compadres made a desperate attempt to tend to their wounds. Most of the wounded were from Los Angeles and Pico allowed them to try to make it back north to either heal or die. While the Mexican wounded were being tended to at the Snook Adobe, the rest of the Greyhounds kept vigil over the battlefield.
Then, perhaps the most extraordinary display of battlefield integrity between the two imposing forces occurred. As his fellow comrades lay in front of him dead and wounded, Doctor Griffin sent a messenger out to General Pico of the Californios. Griffin offered to come out to Pico’s camp to tend to the Mexican wounded as well. Pico, being the proud and machismo Mexican General that he was, sent the messenger back with word that the Californios did not need his services, that none of his men required the doctor’s attention.
By 11 :00 a.m. that morning, Kearny’s staff had convinced him that they could not move out for San Diego but would rather have to camp off the field for the night. Many of the wounded were too critically injured to ride and they had lost too many mounts in the battle to spare any mules for the dead. They needed the time to make ambulances to carry those wounded who could not ride.
The orders were then given to unstrap the dead from the pack mules and lay them out. They would have to be buried on the battlefield instead.
Captain Turner then made a decision to send messengers in dispatch to San Diego. He chose a mountain man named Alexis Godey, and one of Gillespie’s Volunteers named Thomas Burgess, along with a third unknown individual.
Turner addressed the dispatch to Admiral Stockton asking for reinforcements, provisions, and wheeled carettas to carry the wounded on to San Diego. The three messengers then left immediately by mount for Old Town.
Doctor Griffin and Private French continued working into the afternoon tending the wounded. As the decision had been made to set camp there overnight, the camp was now established to the right of the field near the field hospital, up on elevated ground, giving the Americans some defensible ground among rocks and cactus.
The soldiers were put on line with their swords as they began to cut away at a solid wall of cactus. As one of the officers noted, “Every precaution for defense of our camp from a night attack was taken.” Having never left the valley, the Mexicans continued to show themselves about a mile away on a pair of hills located right in the middle of the valley floor.
By 5:00 p.m., it was already again cold and dark. The Americans could see the Mexicans’ camp fires on the two hills. They could hear the Californios yelling out taunts and cheers. Everyone in the camp was very tense and aware that the Mexicans could be receiving reinforcements and could re-attack at any time.
Because of the tremendous fear of being re-attacked, and the immense discomfort of the cactus, no one could sleep. Indeed, the Americans had left the battlefield quickly. So quickly, they had not had time to adequately search for all their missing dead and wounded.
Suddenly, without warning and under the cover of darkness, several San Pasqual Indians arrived at the Americans’ camp with a wounded dragoon. They had found him earlier in the evening when some of the women had gone down to the river at the spring to fetch water.
As the soldiers tended to their newly arrived wounded comrade, the Indians saw the Americans’ demise. As Americans sat around campfires trying to stay warm, the Indians helped them construct six travois to be pulled by mules and on which to lay their most seriously wounded. The travois were constructed out of willow and cottonwood with furs in the middle on which to lay the wounded.
Meanwhile, with the sun gone and the temperatures dropping low, Private James Osbourne of Company ‘C’ was still lying out on the edge of the battlefield. Left alone, he struggled with a serious lance wound in the neck, and with the severe cold.
The Chief of the San Pasqual Indians, Panto, rode over to the Californios and negotiated with Pico to leave the Americans alone for the night in order that they might retrieve any wounded left on the field and to be allowed to bury their dead. Pico granted this request.
A solemn order was finally given. It was to select a site and dig a large pit in which to intern the dead. It was to be done as discreetly as possible so as the Mexicans or Indians would not re-dig it up and pilfer the bodies. Knowing that their camp would later be gone over by scavengers, a decision was made to bury the dead far away from the camp. The site had to be left unmarked and yet, had to be distinguishable enough so that at a later time, the site could be relocated for re-internment purposes This for a proper Christian and military burial.
By 9:00 p.m., a work detail was busy digging the large burial pit. The bodies were already stiffened and indeed, it was hard to imagine that earlier that morning, all of these individuals had been with them all, alive and well.
At about the same time, General Pico and his Greyhounds decided to leave the nearby two hills across from the Americans’ camp. Disappearing off into the darkness, the Americans were left to themselves for a while.
The beaten, weathered soldiers were laid out in clusters among the cactus on the hill, unable to sleep at all. They couldn’t sleep from the shivering cold, or from the horror and terror of war they had witnessed upon this day’s dawning. In the darkness, they feared yet that death could return in the form of the Californios re-attacking them even this night.
Small fires were mustered and around them, conversations of a sort filled the night air. Smoke from burning sagebrush and cottonwood filtered into the darkness as shaded conversations emerged among the enlisted. They wanted to know why things had gone so wrong for them? So many of them now lay dead and wounded, and they now could be cut off from San Diego by the Mexicans.
There seemed a need to vent so many emotions. There were those who now laid in the darkness filled with grief, anger, remorse, vindictiveness, and fear. They wanted to blame someone or something for the deaths of their comrades. Some immediately looked at Scout Kit Carson and Captain Gillespie of the Marines. They had advised General Kearny that the Mexicans would surely run in fear of the show of such U.S. military strength. . . that the Mexicans were easy to whip. What they had seen today however, couldn’t have been further from the truth.
What they had instead seen was one of the most awesome displays of military courage and might from a small civilian force that was out-gunned over two to one.
Fighting with the spirit that could only come from protecting one’s homeland from foreign aggression, the Mexicans had turned the tables on the Americans and with deadly results.
Others were quick to blame General Kearny himself for the slaughter that had occurred that morning. Despite the General had been severely wounded and even refused treatment until his more serious wounded men could be tended to, some of the soldiers thought, “It was a damn good thing, it would have been well if they [the Mexicans] had killed him.“
Others spoke of even darker tales. As this Sunday night found them all in their current predicament alongside the battlefield, some uttered memories of just Friday night when, while camped at the tiny closed-up mission at Santa Ysabel, the officers came into a stash of wine. It was said that the officers got drunk on the beverage and filled their canteens with it before leaving.
Many of the men remembered the night for while the enlisted lay freezing in the dark cold of the night, they had caught word of the officers together enjoying wine which they would not share with their subordinates.
Now, as these men lay in groups wondering what their fate was to be, some began to wonder if the officers had been drunk going into battle, having drank the wine they had poured into their canteens from Friday night?
Rumors were also floating through the enlisted ranks concerning a Private named Hugh McCaffry. Some said that as McCaffry rode with the advance guard at the initial charge, that he was the one who shot and killed Captain Johnston, and then ran away during the chaos of battle that followed. McCaffry had been in trouble before but everyone in the ranks knew that McCaffry was about to be court-martialed by Captain Johnston, his Commanding Officer.
Some of the enlisted men shook their heads and wondered where McCaffry was at? He was unaccounted for. Others thought he was crazy. How could he survive as a white man, in enemy territory, filled with Mexicans and Indians? Surely, he would be caught and killed. Still others thought the whole idea of McCaffry killing Johnston in battle was hogwash. McCaffry was crazy but not that crazy.
At another small fire near the wounded officers, Lieutenant Emory and others were also talking about this dark rumor. Even worse, Emory and Major Swords talked of the fact that when they picked up Captain Johnston’s body from the battlefield, they noticed someone had already broken off and taken his gold watch.
Some asked who could do such a thing? The Mexicans had taken off after the initial confrontation. They hadn’t taken the watch. The Indians had stayed up in the hills above the battlefield, too frightened to come down and be involved in a fight that was not their business. So what scoundrel had taken Johnston’s watch? If McCaffry had done such deeds as was rumored, to kill Johnston then steal his watch and run off, perhaps they had far underestimated the private and his run-ins with military law.
Someone wondered how a Mexican could have gotten off such a shot at
Johnston considering, he was riding at full gallop in early morning darkness? It was impossible, someone thought, that any Mexican could have hit such a small target with such precision right through the head.
Still another thought was that it had to be someone close to Johnston like McCaffry. If McCaffry is innocent, then where is he? McCaffry had both motive and opportunity.
They thought if McCaffry had fled off, and indeed, he had not shown up alive, dead, or wounded, he could not survive long in enemy territory. Eventually, he would be caught by the Americans and if guilty of such an atrocity, would be put to death.
Now however, there were other matters more pressing and until that bridge was crossed, Captain Johnston’s honor would be maintained; that he died gallantly in battle.
Other small conversations floated among the officers including with the wounded General and Lieutenant Davidson. In a moment of calm, the wounded General turned to Davidson and admitted he had made a severe mistake in not letting the howitzers lead the column as Davidson had so pleaded for from him before they descended San Pasqual Hill.
As the fires slowly burned down among the men, still conversations in the dark filled the night air. Everyone was apprehensive about being attacked again.
Voices carried the stories of comrades that had been bosom buddies since days in Weston, Missouri and Fort Leavenworth. Friendships that had been welded solid by the long, nearly 2000-mile journey from Kansas, through New Mexico and the hellish trek through the Arizona-California desert, only to come to this ending.
Besides those that mourned their dead and wounded comrades in arms, there were those in the darkness that wondered what happened to their buddies who never returned from the battlefield this morning. Where was Private Osbourne?
At around midnight, due east of the Americans’ camp, the bodies of nineteen Americans were laid side-by-side in the large pit. Laid next to them were the bodies of possibly six Californios. Ironically, men who had fought against each other were now being buried together. Out of respect for the families of the dead soldiers, none of the surviving officers dared tell anyone that they also buried Mexicans in the same pit as the Americans. They simply didn’t have the time or manpower to go through the bother of digging separate pits.
In an almost haunting way, the scent of the bodies had attracted a pack of coyotes, who, while the pit was being refilled with earth, now began to howl, sending an eeriness across the silent battlefield.
The grave had been made easy to conceal. It was dug not far from their camp, east, and on the other side of the river. Buried in sandy soil adjacent the bank of the river, the now covered pit blended in with the rest of the sandy terrain. Their only marker of the grave site was a lone willow tree.
For the group of American soldiers now hunkered down just off the battlefield, it was history’s longest night. In the darkness, many sat upright and like corpses, were sleeping with their eyes opened.