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Biography of Alvaro Obregón

The Mexican Revolution's Military Genius


Biography of Alvaro Obregón

Alvaro Obregón

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Alvaro Obregón Salido(1880-1928) was a Mexican farmer, warlord and general. He was one of the key players in the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) and it is his election as President in 1920 that is considered by many as the ending point of the Revolution, although the violence continued afterwards. A brilliant and charismatic general, his rise to power is contributed to his effectiveness, ruthlessness, and the fact that he was the only one of the Revolution's “Big Four” still standing after 1923, as Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata and Venustiano Carranza all were assassinated.

Early Life

Obregón was born the last of eight children in the town of Huatabampo, Sonora. His father, Francisco Obregón, had lost much of the family wealth when he backed Emperor Maximilian over Benito Juárez in the 1860's. Francisco died when Alvaro was an infant, so he was raised by his mother, Cenobia Salido, and his older sisters. They had very little money but a strong home life, and most of Alvaro's siblings became schoolteachers.

Alvaro was a hard worker and very intelligent. Although he had to drop out of school, he taught himself many things, including photography and carpentry. As a young man, he saved enough to buy a failing chick pea farm and turned it into a very profitable endeavor. He also invented a chick pea harvester, which he began to manufacture and sell to other farmers. He had the reputation of being a local genius, and he had a near-photographic memory.

Obregón in the Early Years of the Revolution

Unlike most of the other important figures of the Mexican Revolution, Obregón did not have anything against Porfirio Díaz. In fact, he had prospered enough under the old dictator to have been invited to Díaz' centennial parties in 1910. Obregón watched the early stages of the revolution from the sidelines in Sonora, a fact which was often held against him later when the Revolution triumphed, as he was often accused of being a Johnny-come-lately.

He became involved in 1912 on behalf of Francisco I. Madero, who was fighting the army of Pascual Orozco in the north. Obregón recruited a force of some 300 soldiers and joined the command of General Agustín Sangines. The General, impressed by the clever young Sonoran, quickly promoted him to Colonel. He defeated a force of Orozquistas at the battle of San Joaquín under General José Inés Salazar. Shortly thereafter Orozco himself was wounded in combat in Chihuahua and fled to the United States, leaving his forces in disarray and scattered. Obregón returned to his chick pea farm.

Obregón and Huerta

When Madero was deposed and executed by Victoriano Huerta in February of 1913, Obregón once again took up arms. He offered his services to the government of the State of Sonora, which quickly reinstated him. Obregón and his army captured towns from the federal soldiers all over Sonora, and his ranks swelled with recruits and deserting federal soldiers. He proved himself to be a very skilled general, and was usually able to make the enemy meet him on ground of his own choosing.

By the summer of 1913, Obregón was the most important military figure in Sonora. His force had swollen to some 6,000 men and he routed Huertista generals including Luis Medina Barrón and Pedro Ojeda in different engagements. When Venustiano Carranza's battered army straggled into Sonora, Obregón welcomed them. For this, First Chief Carranza made Obregón supreme military commander of all revolutionary forces in the northwest in September, 1913. Obregón didn't know what to make of Carranza, that long-bearded patriarch who had basically appointed himself First Chief of the Revolution, but he knew that Carranza had skills and connections that he did not, and he decided to ally himself with “the bearded one.” This was a good move for both of them, as the Carranza-Obregón alliance defeated first Huerta, then Villa and Emiliano Zapata before disintegrating in 1920.

Obregón was a skilled negotiator and diplomat: he was even able to recruit rebellious Yaqui Indians, assuring them that he would work to give them back their land, and they became valuable troops for his army. He proved his military skill countless times, devastating Huerta's forces wherever he found them. During the lull in the fighting in the winter of 1913-1914, Obregón modernized his army, importing techniques from recent conflicts such as the Boer Wars (1880-1881,1899-1902). He was a pioneer in the use of trenches, barbed wire and foxholes. Although these new techniques proved effective time and again, he often had trouble with closed-minded older officers and discipline was a problem in the Army of the Northwest.

In mid-1914 Obregón purchased airplanes from the United States and used them to attack federal forces and gunboats. This was one of the first uses of airplanes for warfare and it was very effective, although somewhat impractical at the time. On June 23, Villa's army annihilated Huerta's federal army at the Battle of Zacatecas: out of some 12,000 federal troops in Zacatecas that morning, only about 300 staggered into neighboring Aguascalientes over the next couple of days. Desperately wanting to beat Villa to Mexico City, Obregón routed the federals at the battle of Orendain on July 6-7 and captured Guadalajara on July 8.

Surrounded, Huerta resigned on July 15, and Obregón beat Villa to the gates of Mexico City, which he took for Carranza on August 11.

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