Mexican-American War: Battle of Resaca de la Palma

Fighting at Resaca de la Palma
Battle of Resaca de la Palma. Public Domain

Battle of Resaca de la Palma - Dates & Conflict:

The Battle of Resaca de la Palma was fought May 9, 1846, during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).

Armies & Commanders


Battle of Resaca de la Palma - Background:

Having been defeated at the Battle of Palo Alto on May 8, 1846, Mexican General Mariano Arista elected to withdraw from the battlefield early the next morning. Retreating down the Point Isabel-Matamoras road, he sought to prevent Brigadier General Zachary Taylor from advancing to relieve Fort Texas on the Rio Grande. In looking for a position to make a stand, Arista sought terrain which would negate Taylor's advantage in light, mobile artillery which had played a critical role in the previous day's fighting. Falling back five miles, he formed a new line at Resaca de la Palma (Resaca de la Guerrero) (Map).

Here the road was hemmed in by thick chaparral and trees on either side which would negate the American artillery while providing cover for his infantry. In addition, where the road cut through the Mexican lines, it passed through a ten-foot deep, 200-foot wide ravine (the resaca). Deploying his infantry into the chaparral on either side of the resaca, Arista placed a four-gun artillery battery across the road, while holding his cavalry in reserve. Confident in the disposition of his men, he retired to his headquarters in the rear leaving Brigadier General Rómulo Díaz de la Vega to oversee the line.

Battle of Resaca del Palma - The Americans Advance:

As the Mexicans departed Palo Alto, Taylor made no immediate effort to pursue them. Still recovering from the May 8 fight, he also hoped that additional reinforcements would join him. Later in the day, he elected to push forward but decided to leave his wagon train and heavy artillery at Palo Alto to facilitate more rapid movement. Advancing along the road, the lead elements of Taylor's column encountered the Mexicans at Resaca de la Palma around 3:00 PM. Surveying the enemy line, Taylor immediately ordered his men forward to storm the Mexican position (Map).

Battle of Resaca de la Palma - The Armies Meet:

In an attempt to repeat the success of Palo Alto, Taylor ordered Captain Randolph Ridgely to move forward with the artillery. Advancing with skirmishers in support, Ridgely's gunners found it slow going due to the terrain. Opening fire, they had difficulty spotting targets in the heavy brush and were nearly overrun by a column of Mexican cavalry. Seeing the threat, they switched to canister and drove off the enemy lancers. As the infantry advanced through the chaparral in support, command and control became difficult and the fighting quickly degenerated into a series of close-quarter, squad-sized actions.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, Taylor ordered Captain Charles A. May to charge the Mexican battery with a squadron from the 2nd US Dragoons. As May's horsemen moved forward, the 4th US Infantry began probing Arista's left flank. Surging down the road, May's men succeeded in overrunning the Mexican guns and inflicted losses among their crews. Unfortunately, the momentum of the charge carried the Americans a quarter mile further south allowing the supporting Mexican infantry to recover. Charging back north, May's men were able to return to their own lines, but failed to retrieve the guns.

Though the guns had not been seized, May's troopers succeeded capturing Vega and several of his officers. With the Mexican line leaderless, Taylor promptly ordered the 5th and 8th US Infantry to complete the task. Advancing towards the resaca, they launched into a determined fight to take the battery. As they began to drive back the Mexicans, the 4th Infantry succeeded in finding a path around Arista's left. Lacking leadership, under heavy pressure on their front, and with American troops pouring into their rear, the Mexicans began to collapse and retreat.

Not believing that Taylor would attack so soon, Arista spent most of the battle in his headquarters. When learning of the 4th Infantry's approach, he raced north and personally led counterattacks to halt their advance. These were repulsed and the Arista was forced to join the general retreat south. Fleeing the battle, many Mexicans were captured while the remainder re-crossed the Rio Grande.

Battle of Resaca de la Palma - Aftermath:

The fighting for the resaca cost Taylor 45 killed and 98 wounded, while Mexican losses totaled around 160 killed, 228 wounded, and 8 guns lost. Following the defeat, Mexican forces re-crossed the Rio Grande, ending the siege of Fort Texas. Advancing to the river, Taylor paused until crossing to capture Matamoras on May 18. Having secured the disputed territory between the Nueces and Rio Grande, Taylor halted to await further reinforcements before invading Mexico. He would resume his campaign that September when he moved against the city of Monterrey.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "Mexican-American War: Battle of Resaca de la Palma." ThoughtCo, Sep. 9, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, September 9). Mexican-American War: Battle of Resaca de la Palma. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Mexican-American War: Battle of Resaca de la Palma." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).