"The Psychological Moment"

“As incidents go, [Tampico] was a most innocuous affair.”—The Landing at Veracruz: 1914

What really happened at Tampico?    On April 7, 1914, there was a skirmish between Constitutionalist and Federalist troops at the Inturbidé bridge over Panuco river, a train trestle of the Tampico-Victoria line.  Afterwards, federalist colonel Ramón Hinojosa ordered the area to be secured by Tamaulipas guardsmen.  All unauthorized persons were to be arrested.  Two days later, on a routine mission to buy some gasoline, paymaster Charles Copp of the USS Dolphin came ashore under the bridge with 8 bluejackets pulling at the oars of a whaleboat, where they were promptly arrested.

Veracruz Invasion: Following in the Footsteps of Winfield Scott

Winfield Scott at Veracruz

To the men in the Wilson administration who ordered American troops to seize the Mexican port of Veracruz, the world appeared a very different place than we imagine :

"It was 1914, an Age was approaching an unsuspected and violent end.  The comforting vision that had illuminated the Edwardian world was about to be lost in a darkness from which none other has emerged.  One August dawn, [the lights would go out] across Europe, and afterwards it would be impossible for anything to be quite the same again.  [..] At the time, there seemed no reason to fear that the most colossal accident in mankind’s experience was soon to occur."  —The Landing at Veracruz: 1914

Cuba, Nicaragua, the Philippines and Haiti had been theaters of war in the years preceding the Veracruz expedition.   Hawaii had been annexed and Puerto Rico and Guam seized.  American interests had been upheld by force of arms in the Dominican Republic, Panama, Argentina, Chile, Korea and China by the generation of soldiers, sailors and marines who were called upon to intervene in the Mexican Revolution.

The unofficial nature of John Lind's unofficial mission

John Lind arrived in Mexico as an unofficial ambassador to an unrecognized regime with a letter of introduction from President Woodrow Wilson, addressed “To whom it may Concern”.  Not withstanding, Victoriano Huerta extended every courtesy to Lind, while politely overlooking Lind’s principle objective of inducing him to step down.  Thus, Lind’s official mission was somewhat of a non-starter.   It is more difficult to judge the success of Lind’s unofficial mission of navigating American interests through the rough waters of the Mexican revolution.

From Merida to Monterrey, Americans ruined by April 1914 U.S. invasion of Veracruz


Up until the U.S. Invasion of Veracruz, American ranchers, farmers, miners and merchants were affected by the Mexican Revolution in much the same way as Mexicans of similar station: expropriations, inflation, and payment in rebel currencies, all worthless outside of Mexico. The situation changed for the worse when the blue jackets landed in Veracruz.

While the assets of Texas oil interests and the major investors such as J.P. Morgan Jr. and John Stillman were protected, the result of the U.S. intervention for the typical American settler in Mexico was utter ruin. From Sonora to Jalisco, from Monterrey to Merida, Americans suffered the wrath of enraged Mexicans.

Pancho Villa finds himself on the receiving end of weapons left by U.S. troops

The U.S. intervention at Veracruz was only partially successful in cutting off the arms supply to Victoriano Huerta’s federal army, but had a big impact in denying Huerta the revenues from the Veracruz customs house.

By mid-summer of 1914, Huerta decided there was nothing left for him except to save his skin.  After a heart-felt final address to his cronies in Congress where he declared that he had always had the best intentions for the fatherland, he fled Mexico.  The subsequent collapse of the federal army left 4 powers in Mexico: the armies of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata in the north and south respectively, Victoriano Carranza’s Constitutionalist forces commanded by Alvaro Obregon holding the west coast and the center from Guadalajara to Mexico City, and the Americans, ensconced in Veracruz.   When the Americans pulled out in November 1914, there remained 3 scorpions in the bottle.

Nationalist Reaction to April 1914 U.S. Invasion of Veracruz

Carranza shocked Woodrow Wilson with his statement that his Constitutionalists would join forces with Huerta to oppose the Americans, should they extend their occupation out of Veracruz.  

Pancho Villa, on the other hand, told Wilson's agent, George Carruthers

"...all Europe would laugh at us if we went to war with you.  They would say 'that lillte drunken Huerta has drawn them into a tangle at last".   ... Honest, I hope the Americans bottle up Veracruz so tight they can't even get water into it." —The Landing at Veracruz

To Pancho Villa, Lucio Blanco and Alvaro Obregon go the credit for avoiding the terrible catastrophe which would have inevitably occurred if the revolutionaries had joined with Huerta in a war against the United States. This astute analysis of Ivor Thord-Gray in “Gringo Rebel” reveals an aspect of the April 1914 US invasion of Veracruz which has been generally overlooked. Not all the revolutionary leaders were so cool headed, and many fell victim to a nationalistic fever where their hated for the gringo invaders obscured the danger of allowing Victoriano Huerta to consolidate his power.

The opportunity was not lost on Huerta, who in his “sick, alcohol bathed brain”, played it for all it was worth. Zimmerman’s German spy network sprung into action, inciting an already inflamed Mexican nationalism to ravanche for war of 1846.  The situation was confused:

Wilson cabinet plans the April 1914 U.S. Invasion of Veracruz

When looking at the question of who in the Wilson administration knew what, and when, we can follow the thread through the narrative of Benjamin R. Beede:

“No longer content to manipulate Mexican events covertly, either through political intrigues, arms embargoes, arms sales, or U.S. army maneuvers on the border, the Wilson administration began developing contingency plans for war with Mexico in November 1913.  At a cabinet meeting in early January 1914, the Wilson administration officially embraced a policy of armed intervention in Mexico.

What Wilson knew before the April 1914 U.S. Invasion of Veracruz

Contemporary historians still incorrectly refer to the cargo of the SS Ypiranga destined for Victoriano Huerta’s regime as German arms, so perhaps we might wonder what the senior members of the Wilson administration actually knew at the time.   After all, J.P. Morgan’s control of the Hamburg-American Packet Line, owner of the Ypiranga, was carefully obscured for decades.  The actual nature of the cargo, though, was apparently not a complete secret, as is evidenced by this letter to the editor of the New York Times from South Dakota Representative Charles H. Burke, published 14 months after the U.S. invasion of Veracruz:

Woodrow Wilson on the April 1914 U.S. Invasion of Veracruz

The American public was brought into the plans of policy makers to invade Mexico in a typically round-about way: the offended dignity of America demanded a martial response.

“I therefore come to ask your approval that I should use the armed forces of the United States in such ways, and to such an extent, as may be necessary to obtain from Gen. Huerta and his adherents the fullest recognition of the rights and dignity of the United States”       —Woodrow Wilson, April 20, 1914, message to Congress

Josephus Danials on the April 1914 U.S. Invasion of Veracruz

"Washington, D.C.
April 21, 1914

Vera Cruz, Mexico
Seize custom house.  Do not permit war supplies to be delivered to Huerta government or to any other party.


This terse Communiqué from Secretary of Navy Josephus Danials to Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher brought an end to the lives of over 200 Mexican Naval Cadets and an undetermined number of Veracruz citizens, although it failed to prevent the war supplies aboard the S.S. Ypiranga from being eventually delivered to the Huerta government.

The actual objective of protecting American control over strategic resources in Mexico, and of influencing the outcome of the Mexican Revolution, was revealed in a round-about way by Josephus Danials, some thirty years later, in his memoir:

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