Villa Versus Carranza
With Huerta gone, hostilities between Villa and Carranza broke out almost immediately. A number of delegates from the leading figures of the revolution got together at the Convention of Aguascalientes in October of 1914, but the interim government put together at the convention did not last and the country was once again embroiled in a civil war. Zapata remained holed up in Morelos, only fighting those who ventured onto his turf, and Obregón decided to support Carranza, mostly because he felt Villa was a loose cannon and the lesser of two evils.
Carranza set himself up as President of Mexico until elections could take place and sent Obregón and his army after the rebellious Villa. At first, Villa and his generals, such as Felipe Angeles, scored decisive victories against Carranza. But in April, Obregón brought his army north and lured Villa into a fight. The Battle of Celaya took place from April 6-15, 1915 and was a huge victory for Obregón. Villa limped away but Obregón chased him and the two fought at the Battle of Trinidad (April 29-June 5, 1915). Trinidad was another huge loss for Villa and the once-mighty Division of the North was in tatters.
In October, Villa crossed the mountains into Sonora, where he hoped to defeat Carranza's forces and regroup. During the crossing, Villa lost Rodolfo Fierro, his most loyal officer and cruel hatchet man. Carranza had reinforced Sonora, however, and Villa was defeated. He was forced to cross back into Chihuahua with what was left of his army. By December, it was evident to Villa's officers that Obregón and Carranza had won: most of the Division of the North accepted an offer of amnesty and switched sides. Villa himself headed into the mountains with 200 men, determined to keep fighting.
The Guerrilla Campaign and the Attack on Columbus
Villa had officially gone rogue. His army down to a couple of hundred men, he resorted to banditry to keep his men supplied with food and ammunition. Villa became increasingly erratic, and blamed the Americans for his losses in Sonora. He detested Woodrow Wilson for recognizing the Carranza government and began harassing any and all Americans that crossed his path.
On the morning of March 9, 1916, Villa attacked Columbus, New Mexico, with 400 men. The plan was to defeat the small garrison and make off with weapons and ammunition as well as to rob the bank and get revenge on one Sam Ravel, an American arms dealer who had once double-crossed Villa and a Columbus resident. The attack failed on every level: the American garrison was much stronger than Villa had suspected, the bank went unrobbed, and Sam Ravel had gone to El Paso. Still, the fame Villa gained by having the guts to attack a town in the United States gave him a new lease on life. Recruits once again joined his army and word of his deeds were spread far and wide, often romanticized in song.
The Americans sent General Jack Pershing into Mexico after Villa. On March 15, he took 5,000 American soldiers across the border. This action became known as the “Punitive Expedition” and it was a fiasco. Finding the elusive Villa proved next to impossible and logistics were a nightmare. Villa was wounded in a skirmish in late March and spent two months recovering alone in a hidden cave: he dispersed his men into small squads and told them to fight on while he healed. When he came out, many of his men had been killed, including some of his best officers. Undaunted, he took again to the hills, fighting both the Americans and Carranza's forces. In June, there was a confrontation between Carranza's forces and the Americans just south of Ciudad Juárez. Cool heads prevented another war between Mexico and the United States, but it was clear that it was time for Pershing to leave. By early 1917 all American forces had left Mexico, and Villa was still at large.