The fall of 1913 produced some of the most memorable battles in the Mexican Revolution. Pancho Villa with the ever growing Division of the North steamrolled through Chihuahua cutting the lifelines of the federal army. Villa's army was not the crude, rag tag assembly of amateur fighters one would expect. It had up-to-date artillery, the soldiers wore uniforms, and had brand new German Mauser 7 mm rifles. Notable about Villa's army was also a tightly organized supply system, form the chief buyer in the US, Felix A. Sommerfeld, to the supply organization operating all along the US -Mexican border, sourcing and shipping munitions, uniforms, medicine, saddles and anything else an army needed to where ever Villa went. The money that sustained this huge army that eventually number 40,000 soldiers came from confiscated cattle, customs revenue, and "volunteer taxes" from the wealthier residents of Chihuahua (usually Spaniards) who, Villa determined, could afford it.
While Villa consolidated power and established an effective administration in Ciudad Juarez in October 1913, the battle for control over Chihuahua raged on. The rebel general decided to challenge the opposing federal army at Tierra Blanca. He preempted the mounting danger of being pinned down in Juarez by federal reinforcements, which were on their way from Chihuahua City. The little railway station some thirty miles south of the border offered multiple advantages: Moving the battleground away from Juarez, Victoriano Huerta’s forces did not get the chance to create a border incident by firing into El Paso. In addition, the sandy terrain made it harder for the federals to move their heavy artillery into place. On November 23rd the federals under General José Ines Salazar challenged the entrenched Villistas.
Typical for Villa’s crude planning he “had no reserves, no grand strategy and not even any real tactics; it later transpired that he had not coordinated the movements of his various commanders.” By all military standards the battle should have been a rout for the federal army. For a while it looked that way. The Villistas ran short of ammunition, were outflanked, and on the brink of disaster. It was a combination of Villa’s daring charges with him leading the way against the federal positions and the unbelievable mistakes of General Salazar. Leading three hundred cavalry into the line of fire, Villa managed to push the federals back. Rudolfo Fierro, Villa's crazy-eyed executioner and fighting buddy, sent a máquina loca into the federal positions. This crazy train consisted of a locomotive and coal tender that instead of fuel contained dynamite wrapped in shrapnel of all shapes and forms. The locomotive was set to full steam and, without an engineer, sent on its way down the tracks into enemy positions. Upon impact with the barricades it blew up. A tremendous explosion sent the unsuspecting federal soldiers racing for cover in a panic. Now Emil Holmdahl’s artillery kicked in gear and carved a breach into the enemy lines. A horrendous slaughter followed in which “more than one thousand” Orozquistas fell despite holding up white flags. The decisive battle for Chihuahua ended in a huge fiesta on the night of November 25th.