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Battles of the War

The Battle of Palo Alto

The Battle of Palo Alto, the first major engagement of the U.S.-Mexican War, was fought on May 8, 1846, just north of present-day Brownsville, Texas. Weeks earlier, U.S. General Zachary Taylor had led 3,000 troops to the Rio Grande and established Fort Texas opposite the Mexican City of Matamoros, as well as a supply base, Fort Polk, at Point Isabel about forty miles away on the Gulf Coast.

The Battle of Palo Alto

Mexican General Mariano Arista countered by bringing a 4,000-man force, the Army of the North, to Matamoros. He crossed the Rio Grande to the west and headed east to place his army between Taylor and his supply base, while putting Fort Texas under siege. Taylor managed to slip past Arista’s trap with the bulk of his forces on May 1, but left behind a small American garrison in dire straits. Taylor moved to Point Isabel, gathered all available supplies and reinforcements, and moved with a column of 2,200 men to the relief of Fort Texas. Arista, catching wind of this move, left forces to continue the siege while he led 3,400 troops north to intercept Taylor.

The two armies located each other at the scrubby crossroads of Palo Alto in the early afternoon of May 8. Each side deployed their troops, and the American troops stepped boldly forward to within 800 yards of the Mexicans. Almost immediately the superiority of the U.S. cannons and artillery tactics came to bear. Over the next three hours, the battle consisted mostly of a lopsided artillery duel. Attempts by the Mexican cavalry to turn the U.S. flank proved unsuccessful, and Arista ordered his troops out of action and moved to a strong defensive position at Resaca de la Palma. Arista lost between 250 and 400 men at Palo Alto, double the number of American losses.