Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales — the Last Engagement of the Mexican-American War

March 16, 1848

The Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales was fought on March 16, 1848, between the United States and Mexico, during the Mexican-American War. The outcome of the battle was an American victory.

General Sterling K. Price, CSA, Civil War

Sterling Price led U.S. forces at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales. Price is shown here in his Confederate uniform. This photograph was taken sometime between 1860 and 1870. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales Facts

  • Date — March 16, 1848.
  • Location — Santa Cruz de Rosales, Chihuahua, Mexico.
  • Belligerents — United States of America and Mexico.
  • American CommanderSterling Price.
  • Mexican Commander — Ángel Triás.
  • Winner — The United States won the Santa Cruz de Rosales.
  • Interesting Fact — The Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales was the last major battle of the Mexican-American War.

Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales Significance

The Battle of Santa Cruze de Rosales was important to the outcome of the Mexican-American War because it was the final major conflict of the war. It took place after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, leading to a reprimand for the U.S. commander, Sterling Price.

Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales History

On March 16, 1848, a month after signing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the last major battle of the Mexican-American War unfolded. U.S. Brigadier General Sterling Price led an attack on Mexican forces led by Governor Ángel Triás at Santa Cruz de Rosales, Chihuahua, 60 miles south of the city of Chihuahua. 

Price Advances on Chihuahua

In February 1848, General Price, commander of the Ninth Military Department, received reports of a large Mexican force heading toward El Paso from the south. 

Price responded by moving from New Mexico to El Paso with his force of roughly 665 infantry and dragoons. Upon his arrival on February 23, he learned the reports about the Mexican force were incorrect. 

Unaware of the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Price decided to march 280 miles to Chihuahua to attack Governor Triás and his 800 men at Chihuahua City.

Price Occupies Chihuahua City

On March 7, Price was near Chihuahua City when messengers sent by Triás approached him, under a flag of truce. Price was informed the war was over, but he was skeptical of the claims and decided to keep up his pursuit of Triás. Price occupied Chihuahua City and then marched 60 miles south to Santa Cruz de Rosales where Triás and the Mexicans had taken a defensive position.

Siege of Santa Cruze de Rosales

Triás repeatedly informed Price about the treaty, but Price refused to believe the claims. On March 9, Price laid siege to Santa Cruz and demanded Triás’s surrender, which he declined. 

March 16

On March 16, Price received reinforcements, giving him the men he needed to break the siege. Around 7:00 a.m., Price started to move his men into position to attack the town. His forces were in position by 10:30, when he ordered his artillery batteries to bombard the Mexican forces. 

An hour later, Price received a report that Mexican reinforcements on their way to Santa Cruze de Rosales were threatening the rear of his forces. Price responded by moving his artillery to fire on the reinforcements. When the American batteries moved, the Mexicans in the town thought Price was retreating.

However, Price quickly discovered the reinforcements were nothing more than a small group of cavalry. Price returned his focus to the town, and decided to launch a ground assault. He divided his forces into several groups and had the artillery resume the bombardment.

The Americans stormed the town and overwhelmed the Mexicans. Triás surrendered just after sundown, along with approximately 800 troops. 

Casualties

Governor Trías reported 32 soldiers killed and 25-30 wounded among his force of 804 men. However, Price estimated that the Mexicans had suffered 238 killed. The difference is attributed to the possibility that U.S. forces may have caused casualties among Mexican prisoners. 

U.S. casualties were relatively lower, with 4 killed and 19 wounded among Price’s contingent of 665 men.

Aftermath

Following his actions at Santa Cruz de Rosales, Price faced disciplinary action, and his regiment became the last military unit to return to the United States. The United States also provided restitution to the State of Chihuahua and the town of Santa Cruz de Rosales for the attack.

Sterling Price’s Report on the Battle of Santa Cruze de Rosales

The following is General Sterling Price’s official report of the Battle of Santa Cruze de Rosales. It was written to Roger Jones, Adjutant-General of the Army, on March 31, 1848, and sent to Washington, D.C. 

Note: Section headings have been added to improve the readability of the report.

Headquarters, Army of the West,

Chihuahua, March 31, 1848.

GENERAL: I have the honor to submit a report of my operations from the period of adopting the intentions expressed in my communication to the war department, dated 6th February, 1848, to the present instant.

March to El Paso

After making such arrangements both military and civil, as I deemed essential for the security and tranquility of New Mexico, I took up the line of march on the 8th of February, with one company of Missouri horse, for El Paso, where I had previously ordered a concentration of the following troops to operate against the State of Chihuahua, viz: three companies United States dragoons, commanded by Major B.L. Beal – one of which was acting as light artillery, under the command of Lieut. Love; six companies Missouri horse, under command of Col. Rolls; five companies Missouri infantry, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Easton; and Major Walker’s battalion of Santa Fe horse, three companies of horse and one of light artillery.

Arrival at El Paso

On the 23d I arrived at El Paso, distant from Santa Fe 340 miles, where measures were at once adopted for the intended operations; the peculiar characteristics and general features of the country, embracing the privations which must necessarily be endured on the road thus traveled, have been, I believe, already submitted to the department in former reports.

The additional information at El Paso confirming the many reports respecting the hostile intentions of the enemy supported by positive evidence as to the extended preparations in the fabrication of cannon and munitions of war, together with contributions of small arms from the adjoining states, induced me to change my original plan of operations, and adopt forced marches with my best mounted troops, for the purpose of striking a blow before the enemy could conceive my design. 

With this determination, I dispatched Major Walker with three companies of his battalion on the night of the 24th, to occupy the small town of Carrizal, distant from El Paso 90 miles, and so situated as to command all the passes leading to Chihuahua. This command has orders to reconnoitre the country: cut off all communication, by establishing strong pickets, and make every effort to obtain information respecting the designs and movements of the enemy.

March 1

On the 1st of March, after having been delayed by the non-arrival of my supply of trains, conducted as they were compelled to be by inexperienced officers, I resumed by march with four companies of Roll’s and two of Beale’s command, supplied with eight day’s subsistence, leaving orders for Love’s artillery, the remainder of Rall’s command, under Lieut. Col. Lane, and Easton’s infantry, with the exception of one company, which I designed as additional protection to the train, yet in the rear, to march on the 2d. Major Walker, at Carrizal, received no additional information, but succeeded in effectually stopping all communication with the enemy.

March 6

Thus far my march was successful, and continued so until the night of the 6th. When within sixty miles of Chihuahua, a small party of my advance unexpectedly came upon one of the enemy’s pickets, which, unfortunately, succeeded in escaping.

Mexican Flag of Truce

Aware, now, that my approach would be known on the following morning, I pushed forward my command until I arrived within six miles of the Sacremento, at a point termed Laguna, where I was met by a flag of truce from the general commanding the Mexican forces, protesting against the advance of my troops upon Chihuahua, upon the ground that instructions had been received from the Mexican government suspending hostilities, as a treaty of peace had been concluded and signed by commissioners on behalf of both governments. 

The evidence adduced on behalf of this assertion I did not then deem sufficiently satisfactory, and could not, therefore, comply with the proposition. Convinced of the uselessness of further conference, I was solicited to send in advance of my command two of my officers, to arrange the preliminaries of a capitulation. 

Mexican Forces Retreat from Chihuahua

To this request I yielded, and immediately dispatched Capt. McKissick, of the quartermaster’s department, and Lieut. Prince, my assistant adjutant general, who were fully made acquainted with my views. — Fearful that dissimulation was the object of this interview, I determined to move my command upon Chihuahua that night, and accordingly proceeded with rapidity, when, in about an hour after the departure of my officers, I was met by some American citizens of Chihuahua, who informed me of the retreat, the morning previous, of the Mexican army, with their munitions of war. 

Anticipating events of this nature, I had, on the previous day, detached Beall’s dragoons, so that by a forced march over the mountains during the night, he would be able to intersect the Durango road, and possibly encounter the enemy in his rapid and confused fight. For his operations, I respectfully refer to the report herewith submitted. 

Occupation of Chihuahua

At 9 o’clock at night, my troops had possession of the city. 

March 8–9

On the following morning, (the 8th,) with portions of Rall’s, Beall’s, and Walker’s commands, (the majority mounted,) and numbering about 250 men, I pursued the enemy to the town of Santa Cruz de Rosales, where he had already strongly fortified himself–a distance of 60 miles from Chihuahua — where I arrived at sunrise the morning of the 9th. 

After a careful reconnaissance of the place, I determined to carry the town by storm, notwithstanding the immense superiority of the enemy in numbers, implements and munitions of war. 

Price Requests an Unconditional Surrender

Dismounting Rall’s (with the exception of McNain’s company) and Walker’s commands to operate as infantry, and posting Beall’s dragoons, now augmented by one company of Rall’s regiment, to act either as a reserve or to intercept the flight of the enemy, in the event of success, I determined the attack on the west side of the town, with Rall’s command, and on the southeast angle of the same, with Walker’s command. — These arrangements perfected, I dispatched Lieut. Prince, with a flag of truce, demanding an unconditional surrender of the town and public property. 

An interview upon this summons was requested by General Trias, which I readily granted for the reason adduced — viz: that official notice from the Mexican government of a treaty of peace having been signed by commissioners, on behalf of both governments, had been received, and the solemn assurance by General Trias that he himself had no doubt of the existence of the treaty; moreover, that he felt assured that confirmation of the same from his government would reach him by a courier (express) expected in three days. 

This declaration was supported by the honor of the Mexican general, and, under the circumstances, was regarded important. 

I therefore made the proposition contained in the subsequent correspondence, which I have the honor to submit herewith. That success must inevitably follow any course I might decree, I had not the slightest doubt. 

Price Expects Reinforcements

I was expecting reinforcements of my artillery and horse, and was willing, if human life could be saved, to withdraw for a few days my forces; though, at the same time, I considered it my duty to besiege the town, as I maintained the right to dictate such terms as I deemed consistent with American honor.

Price Lays Siege to Santa Cruz de Rosales

It will thus be seen, that a small American force, not exceeding 300 men in the aggregate besieged with success a strongly fortified town, containing over 900 troops of the enemy. 

Without tents, a scarcity of provisions, and suffering from the effects of forced marches beyond a parallel, my troops cheerfully performed the onerous duties of the siege day and night, and are entitled to the highest considerations of their government.

May 9–16

From the 9th instant to the morning of the 16th, nothing of importance transpired for the subject of my report, save the correspondence before alluded to, and the arrival of small detachments of the several commands, together with two 12 pounder howitzers, of Major Walker’s battalion, under the command of Captain Hassendeubel, whom I left at Chihuahua on the morning of the 8th.

Expecting daily a sally from the enemy, my troops were constantly in the saddle ever vigilant and cautious, each appearing to possess the individual interest, which belongs more properly to the commander. That the enemy exhibited supineness — that his every effort became paralyzed by the vigilance of my troops, is sufficiently manifested by his total inaction, although numbering near four times my own. With a battery of eight pieces of artillery (several heavier than any of my guns,) and nine wall pieces, no attempt was made, designs executed, or pickets forced, to remedy the evils which were the subject of complaint in his official correspondence.

Price Receives Reinforcements

About daylight on the morning of the 16th, my expected reinforcements arrived; they consisted of part of three companies of Missouri horse, under the command of Lieut. Colonel Lane, and Love’s battery.

The reports of these officers, which I have the honor to submit, evince a zeal seldom displayed, a rapidity of movement yet to be surpassed, and an iron energy of will which recognizes no limit, and convey to the department a record of their own merits.

Price Prepares to Attack

Convinced now of the necessity of terminating a siege peculiarly burdensome to my troops, I determined at once upon an act. From several reconnaissances, I felt sure the enemy believed my main force would be directed against that portion of the town fronting my camp, as new batteries had been established, and an unusual degree of activity became apparent throughout the siege in that quarter. 

At seven o’clock, A. M., I broke up my camp, and with my entire force, excepting Beall’s dragoons, augmented by Captain McNair’s company Missouri horse, who were left to cut off a retreat on the Durango road, I proceeded round the southern point of the town, where I placed in position Walker’s battalion, protected from the enemy’s artillery by walls and houses, for the meditated assault. 

Continuing to the western side of the town, I then detached Lieutenant Colonel Lane, with two companies of the Missouri regiment, to support Love’s battery, which I ordered to take position within 500 yards of the town, on the road leading to Chihuahua, and commanding the principal plaza church, around and in which the enemy were strongly posted, reserving Rall’s remaining four companies as my centre, and so disposes as to afford timely support to the artillery under Love and Hassendeubel.

Artillery Batteries Bombard the Town

My final disposition made, Hassendeubel’s two 12 pounders having been put in battery on the west side of the town, supported by Rall’s command, I, at 10 1/2 A. M., ordered my batteries to open, which, for nearly an hour, maintained a spirited and destructive fire, clearing the houses and church of the enemy; which latter, from its flanking position and strength of construction, became the stronghold of the enemy.

The fire of the enemy, during this time, from all his heavy guns and wall pieces, was incessant, but, from their position, without effect. — Observing that large gun of the enemy, which I afterwards learned to be a 9 pounder, had been brought to bear upon Hassendeubel’s battery, and evidently with a view to silence it, Lieut. Dyer, of the ordnance, belonging to my staff, but who volunteered for duty with Love’s battery, was ordered to reinforce Hassendeubel with a 24 pounder howizter and a 6 pounder gun. 

This movement having been perceived by the enemy, his battery was reinforced, and an incessant fire of canister, grape, and round shot was opened upon our batteries, but without doing material injury. Lieut. Dyer was soon in position, where he continued a direct fire upon this battery, placed in embrasure in one of the principal streets leading to the main plaza, as well as the church and a large building, upon both of which were stationed a strong force. 

For the upwards of an hour this battery was served with great effect, clearing the houses and church during which time it was exposed to the fire of the enemy’s batteries, which, throughout mantained a most rapid firing.

I now ordered Lieut. Love, with a 24 pounder howitzer and a 5 pounder gun, (the remainder of his battery having been disabled in firing,) to advance upon the position occupied by Lieut. Dyer, determined if possible, to silence the enemy’s 9 pounder, which contributed, by the efficient manner in which it was served, greatly to our annoyance. 

Reports of Mexican Reinforcements

Immediately thereafter I received information that my rear was threatened by a large cavalry force of the enemy, supposed to be about 900 strong, and intended as a reinforcement for the enemy within the town. I immediately withdrew my artillery to a commanding position about three quarters of a mile from the town, and in the direction of the Chihuahua road; ordering, at the same time the remainder of my command to the same point, for the purpose of attacking this supposed reinforcement. 

This movement was evidently regarded by the enemy as a prelude to a signal defeat. – Loud cheers arose from the town, the houses were again covered by the soldiery, a flag was immediately run up from an angle of the church, and the fire of the enemy’s heavy guns became unusually brisk. I soon discovered the report of a large reinforcement of the enemy in my rear to be incorrect, and that only a small body of cavalry had threatened it, which I soon dispersed with the command under Lieutenant Col. Lane.

Price Storms the Town

I now determined to storm the town, agreeably to the dispositions made at the commencement of the attack; and therefore gave orders for Ralls, Lane, and Walker to resume their former positions, dismount their men, and charge the town at the points assigned them, as soon as my batteries should re-open.

Lieut. Love was ordered to take up his former position. About 31/2 P. M., the action was resumed, and the fire of our battery returned with unusual briskness. Lieut. Love’s battery at this time consisted of one 24 pounder howitzer, one 6 pounder, and one 5 pounder. For a more detailed report of this battery, and the efficien aid contributed by the officers who kindly assisted at it, I respectfully refer to Lieutenant Love’s report, which I take pleasure in endorsing, from my personal observations upon that day.

For the particulars of the several storming parties, I must also refer to the reports of their respective chiefs, which I desire to be identified as a portion of my own. The charge of Ralls was commenced under my own eye, and in a manner which foreboded success. So soon as time would permit, I witnessed the persevering efforts of Major Walker’s command, and felt confident of the result.

I would also refer to Major Beall’s report for the duty assigned the squadron of dragoons, under the command of Capt. Grier. In affording protection to my battery on the 16th, in the judgment and activity displayed to intercept any attempt by flight of the enemy, and in the discharge of the highly important duties of the siege, I discovered talent and ability.

I feel confident that I cannot add to the known reputation of this command; for the second time has it shared with me the honors of victory. Although the first was at the sacrifice of its gallant and accomplished leader, (the lamented Burgwin,) yet I cannot refrain from according that tribute of praise which is due the distinguished services they have performed since forming a portion of my command.

Mexicans Surrender

Shortly after sundown the enemy surrendered. Gen. Trias and forty-two (42) of his principal officers were made prisoners of war; and eleven pieces of artillery, nine wall pieces, besides 577 stand of arms, fell into our hands. 

Casualties

Our loss in the action was one lieutenant, two corporals, and one private killed; and nineteen privates wounded. The loss of the enemy–from the evidence of commanding officers herewith submitted–was two officers, and 236 non-commissioned officers and privates; the number wounded cannot be correctly ascertained.

Commendation of the Troops

In submitting to the consideration of the government the operations which have been performed by my troops, I feel anxious to exhibit that high degree of praise their conduct on this occasion so justly merits. The exceedingly onerous duties of forced marches, over a sterile and desert country of nearly 320 miles, without tents or transportation trains, with merely a few days’ rations of subsistence, have been willingly, indeed cheerfully, endured by my gallant column. I feel a sense of pride in recording the distinguished bravery of all – regulars and volunteers; believing that feeling will be reciprocated by the war department, and cherished by the American people.

Commendation of Officers and Staff

The distinguished conduct of Lieutenant Love – in the highly efficient manner in which his battery was served; in the rapidity of movement which characterized his conduct, when ordered to reinforce me, traveling night and day, going into battery four hours after his arrival, and his unceasing efforts during the entire day in working his battery–deserves especial notice; and I cannot refrain from expressing the strongest recommendation for that honorable gratitude from this country which the brave soldier acquires by his exploits.

To Colonel Ralls, to Lieutenant Colonel Lane, to Major Walker, and their brave officers and men, I must accord the highest honors; unflinching in the performance, they each and all vied, where duty called them, for the crowning result of success. Ralls, on the west, charged with animation and enthusiasm; Walker, on the southeast, stormed with daring and bold determination; Lane, on the northwest, with a small command, forces the enemy’s barriers, gained the main plaza, but, overwhelmed by numbers, prudently withdrew, in good order, his small command. In this charge, the brave but lamented Lieutenant G. O. Hepburn, Missouri mounted horse, fell, leading the men gloriously, cheering and animating them to the last. His country has lost a valuable officer; his relatives and friends must look to his deeds, worthy of record upon the page of history, to console them for their loss.

From the officers of my personal staff, I have received the most important services and encouraging aid. Capt. McKissick, assistant quartermaster, Capt. Garrison, assistant commissary of subsistence, Maj. Spalding, pay department, and Lieutenant Prince, A. D. C. and A. A. A. General, served during the contest near my person, conveying my orders with promptness wherever necessity demanded.

Captain McKissick, suffering severely from sickness, resumed his position in the field, rendering valuable services throughout the action.

To the medical staff, conducted by Assistant Surgeon R. T. Simpson United States army, I have to express my acknowledgements. The attention and ability displayed by Assistant Surgeon Simpson to our wounded upon the field, as well as those of the enemy after the action, has won for him admiration and esteem from both armies.

I also mention, with pleasure, the services of Capt. Haley, Missouri horse, acting brigade inspector of my command, who voluntarily led his company at the storming of the town, under the immediate command of Colonel Ralls.

I also take great pleasure in recording the services of Messrs. James L. Collins, E. W. Pomeroy, and W. C. Skinner, American citizens, resident at Chihuahua, who volunteered their services as aids-de-camp upon that duty.

Of these gentlemen I must take particular mention. The valuable information received from the former upon my arrival at El Paso, as respects the condition of the enemy, a knowledge of the country and its language, together with his unremitting efforts to second my views in all that pertains to these occurrences, and the personal exertions of the two latter, in assisting me to remount my command at this place, with their services on the 16th, entitle them to my warmest thanks.

I respectfully transmit herewith a special field return of the forces engaged in the action of the 16th: a report of the killed and wounded; a list of officers paroled; a list of stores captured;a muster-roll of the enemy’s forces, as furnished by Gen. Trias; and two topographical sketches of the town, showing the position of my several commands; prepared respectively by Captain Hassendeubel, of Maj. Walker’s battalion, and Assistant Surgeon Horace R. Wirtz, United States army.

I think proper to state here, that every exertion was made by Lieut. Col. Easton, commanding battalion of infantry, Lieut. Webber, commanding two sections of Captain Hassendeubel’s artillery, and those officers who were necessarily absent with the trains, including Major Bodine, pay department, in charge of the public funds, to share the honor of the attack.

I would also inform the department that Gen. Manuel Armijo, late governor of New Mexico, surrendered himself to me as a prisoner of war on the 21st inst., and is now on his parole of honor; a copy of which together with that of Gen. Trias, I have the honor herewith to submit.

I am, sir, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

STERLING PRICE

Brig. Gen. U. S. A. Comd’g.

To Brig. Gen. R. JONES,

Adjt. Gen. U. S. A., Washington, D. C.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales — the Last Engagement of the Mexican-American War
  • Date March 16, 1848
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales, Sterling Price
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 20, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 2, 2024

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