Villa's account of the Battle of Ojinaga begins shortly after the Battle of Tierra Blanca, as he was advancing on Chihuahua, and the city was expected to fall to him, and General Salvador Mercado, "The Great Evacuator", decided to abandon the city and retreat towards Ojinaga. Villa's account is as follows:
At the end of November I received reports of the panic which had struck the rich men of Chihuahua when they learned of my victory at Tierra Blanca. To discredit my forces, they spread rumors of crimes we were committing. But the discipline and good behavior of my troops had been demonstrated in Ciudad Juarez, where no one was killed or robbed, and no one was punished without cause. General Salvador Mercado, chief of the Huertista forces in Chihuahua, was responsible for fears. When the Battle of Tierra Blanca ended on November 25, he was in such a hurry to leave that he was already on the road to Ojinaga by the twenty-eighth, taking the principal families of the town along with him. Marcelo Caraveo, the last to leave, abandoned the city three days later, and after that - that is, after December 1, 1913 - it was at my mercy.
As I remember, I left Juarez December 3, and after five days of marching entered Chihuahua. We were met by a commission of civilians headed by a man named Don Federico Moye, who said, "Sr. Villa, we come in the interests of peace. General Mercado's troops have abandoned the place and it is yours. We hope for the treatment great conquerors give to peaceful towns. Your orders will be carried out, but respect our lives, Señor, and those of our families, and do not despoil us."
I listened calmly and answered without arrogance, but I knew the ways of people who were submissive when helpless but who continued to work under cover as implacable enemies. I explained that the inhabitants of Chihuahua, rich and poor, would have to unite in aiding the cause of the people, saying, "Señores, my forces are not puffed up with their triumphs. They will not mistreat you. But don't deceive yourselves. There will be punishment for those who commit evil acts against us. No one shall withhold the supplies my troops need or engage in conspiracies against our cause. My soldiers are ready to inflict the death penalty for such acts."
My entrance made a great impression perhaps because I had so many troops, for I had left only the Hernandez and Zaragoza brigades in Juarez. Our enemies could hardly contain their fear, but the humble people received us with affection. On my arrival I found two hundred soldiers of the 6th battalion, under three Federal officers: a captain, a lieutenant, and a second lieutenant. They were there to guarantee order but were no longer needed. I called the captain and said to him, "You are not afraid of Pancho Villa or deceived by the slanders about me. Well, you shall see you are right. I give you and your officers safe conduct to any place you wish. But as for your troops, who are from this town, don't reproach me if I keep them to fight for the popular side."
At first I assumed the office of governor of Chihuahua to stimulate public business. But after two weeks of work I transferred it to General Chao in obedience to Carranza's orders and occupied myself with military affairs only. I made a trip to Ciudad Juarez in connection with financial arrangements and the international situation. The American general at Fort Bliss, Hugh L. Scott, wanted to talk to me. We had exchanged greetings in the middle of the bridge at Ciudad Juarez, and now he wanted to visit me.
I appointed Lazaro de la Garza to attend to the collection of money. He had served me well after the taking of Torreon. As assistant collector I appointed and engineer, Felicitos Villareal, who was also a financier. These appointment were needed because the loan we received in Torreon was getting low and the Torreon bankers were showing bad faith. They were hardly free of troops when they refused to pay the drafts which I had drawn on them. They said, "We sign under duress and are not obligated to keep the agreement." But they were wrong. It was not rue that they had agreed under duress to honor the drafts. It was from fear of my troops, quite a different thing. I did not take them by the had and compel them to sign. They signed of their own free will that otherwise the people would treat them as enemies. Furthermore, the money they gave me did not really belong to them. It belonged to the people, the true owners of all the money there is in a country. The people are the ones who produce it. I , the representative of the people, had the right to demand, and it was just for them to deliver, all the money necessary for the cause.
I was also necessary to settle the conflict and find all possible resources. I returned to Chihuahua and organized a column of three brigades to advance on Ojinaga. It numbered about three thousand men, including artillery. My problem was to find a leader, since I had duties I could not leave. I summoned the generals and principal commanders to a meeting in the Federal palace. I explained the importance of the operation and suggested that they chose a leader. Present were Tomas Urbina, Herrera, Hernandez, Ortega, Jose Rodriguez, Chao, Trinidad Rodriguez, and a few others. Also present was General Panfilo Natera, chief of the Central Division, who had been on his way to consult with Carranza but was returning from Juarez by way of Zacatecas because the United States would not let him cross to Nogales. Taking advantage of his presence, I said, "My friends, the operation is of great importance. I can rid the state of Chihuahua of our enemies and leave us the masters of our action on the march south. But I cannot go, and you should choose General Natera, who is here, or General Ortega, who is familiar with the region."
I expected Natera to be chosen. I was hoping to avoid rivalries and jealousies. As it happened, Natera declined, having little knowledge of the terrain and troops, and spoke for Toribio. Not to be outdone, Toribio, though he wanted the command, responded with praise of Natera. He extolled Natera's ability and said he would gladly yield to him. The others quickly took him up on his offer, none of them wanting Toribio as his superior.
The column to take Ojinaga consisted of 500 men in the Villa brigade, under the command of Jose Rodriguez; 550 men from the Gonzales Ortega brigade, under the command of Toribio Ortega; 450 men from the Morelos brigade, under Faustino Borunda; 400 men from the Cuauhtemoc Brigade, under Trinidad Rodriguez, then a lieutenant colonel; 300 from the Contreras Brigade, under Luis Diaz Cuder. Also, there were two batteries of 75 and 80-millimeter cannon under the command of Martiniano Servin and a machine-gun regiment under Margarito Gomez.
They left Chihuahua on December 22, 1913, with munitions and equipment of all kinds. In San Sostenes they found a great deal of railroad material, arms, ammunition, and clothing which the enemy had abandoned. Four days later they were at the ranch La Mula. Two days later they were in Mulato. The next day the fought with Caraveo and Flores Alatorre, who were defeated and forced to flee. Caraveo was wounded, and 260 prisoners were taken. They got four machine guns and ten mules loaded with ammunition. Three days later, on January 1, 1914, they made contact with the enemy at Ojinaga. This time the enemy attacked, dismantled a piece of artillery, caused many casualties, and forced a retreat. The next day the battle continued, and the enemy killed 200 men. On the third day enemy cavalry came out, supported by artillery. There was a furious encounter resulting in great bloodshed, and although the enemy withdrew, driven back by Servin's cannon and the action of our troops, Ortega ceased fire during the combat, and 80 of our men were killed and 130 taken prisoner. Señor! Our forces saw the enemy withdraw without loss or damage, and the 130 prisoners were shot in Ojinaga.
Our action was paralyzed in spite of Natera's effort and ability. The trouble came of disputes and quarrels among brigade leaders, who were angry with Toribio because he was apparently unwilling to win under Natera. So, on the second day, in the heaviest of fighting, our forces retired to rest; and two days later there weariness and discontent increased; and a day later, Martin Lopez and Carlos Almeida wanted to return to Chihuahua and Jose and Trinidad Rodriguez wanted to withdraw to Jimenez. Failure demoralized them, and it was only because Servin would not follow them that that they decided either to wait one more day longer and take Servin by force or to keep fighting until the end if Natera would shoot Toribio, whom they held responsible.
On January 6, I was advised in Juarez of these events and took my measures. The news reached me at eight at night. At once I gave General Rosalio Hernandez orders to march with his troops and horses, and by two we were on the road. By telegraph I ordered Herrera and Juarez Brigade to advance by train toward Ojinaga. In this way, without preparations or supplies, I started to Ojinaga with my two brigades. In three days we were in La Mula. Having nothing to eat, we began to kill cattle on the ranches and our food was roast beef without salt. I sent General Hernandez and General Herrera to El Mulato to await my orders, and with an escort of twenty-five men, I myself made forced march to the Hacienda de San Juan. I reached camp at four on the afternoon of January 10. There was a heavy frost, and the wind almost blew us from our mounts. I appeared when spirits were lowest, and as the news of my arrival spread, everyone began to feel better. I dismounted under a cottonwood tree and stretched out on the ground. I sent for the chiefs. As soon as they came, I began to talk to them. wanting to give them an impression of calm, I had picked up a sprig of grass, and as I talked indulgently, nibbled at it.
I asked them, "How have you been doing, boys? The reports are bad. But the coyote has had his last hen from my hen house. I am to blame. Natera told me he wasn't familiar with conditions here. But nothing will happen now I am here. Don't worry, and get some sleep." That night I heard them all singing.
The next day I dictated the following orders for the attack: the troops would be divided in three columns; on the south Hernandez and Jose Rodriguez with eight hundred men, supported by Servin's artillery; on the right, that is on the east between the Conchos and the Bravo, my headquarters and nine hundred men under Trinidad Rodriguez and Herrera; on the left, Toribio Ortega with seven hundred men and Auxiliaries of San Carlos under Chavarria. All were to be ready by seven at night. The horses would be chained, guarded by one man for every ten, and at 7:30 we would advance on the city, with our hats on our backs for identification.
Before the generals and chiefs withdrew, I called Toribio Ortega and said, "Compañero, it seems that you forgot the instructions I gave you in Chihuahua and because of that many Revolutionaries like Onesimo Martinez are dead. Well, I won't pardon you a second time. Good-bye."
We were ready to take Ojinaga, and that afternoon I addressed my chiefs and soldiers: "Chiefs and soldiers of liberty, any man who turns back will be shot then and there. The password is 'Juarez', and the countersign is 'Faithful Ones'. When your gun is trained on a man, ask him, 'what number', and if he is one of us, he will answer, 'One'; if he does not answer or gives a different number, fire. Do you understand?" They shouted yes.
My right wing, under Herrera and Trinidad Rodriguez, defeated Antonio Rojas and Fernandez Ortinel in fifteen minutes and gained their objective. On the south, Mansilla and Salazar offered hardly any resistance to Jose Rodriguez and Rosalio Hernandez. And on the west, where the fighting was the heaviest, Caraveo's troops, after battling for forty-five minutes, abandoned their position when told of our success elsewhere. The action was much shorter than I could have expected. We took Ojinaga, not in an hour and a half, as I had ordered, but an hour and five minutes. When the firing was dying down in every sector, I advanced at a moderate pace and entered the streets. Everywhere I heard soldiers shouting my name and advancing without opposition.
That is all I had to do to take Ojinaga, but it was not my triumph, it was that of my officers and soldiers. Thirty five of my men were killed, among them Jesus Felipe Moya, a Revolutionary whom I had just promoted to general and for whom I wept. Four hundred of the enemy fell. We secured their horses, saddles, rifles, machine guns, and cannons.
Salvador Mercado and Pascual Orozco, who directed the battle from the Old Customs House, crossed the river and took refuge in the united States. Of the generals, chiefs, officers, and soldiers who crossed the frontier with them, only Marcelo Caraveo, with eighteen men as an escort, and Desiderio Garcia, with three or four others, ventured back into Mexican territory and set out for the south.
The next day I gave orders to clear camp, after giving the inhabitants of the town assurances of safety. Colonel John J. Pershing, in command on the other side of the river, asked permission to visit me in our territory. We greeted each other courteously. He congratulated me on my successes and I praised him for sheltering the defeated troops, since this spared me form being responsible for further casualties. When he offered me his hospitals for my wounded I answered that I could take care of them with my own facilities, but told him I was grateful for the offer and would have accepted it if necessary. In less than forty-eight hors I was ready to return to Chihuahua, leaving only the Gonzales Ortega Brigade behind as a garrison.
I made the trip by automobile, with Raul Madero, Rodolfo Fierro, Luis Aguirre Benevides, and a chauffeur.