Felipe Angeles

Felipe Angeles

When in the spring of 1914 Venustiano Carranza ordered Felix Sommerfeld to go to Pancho Villa's camp and see what could be done to instill a sense of order and control into the Division of the North, Sommerfeld did not go alone. Carranza dispatched his Secretary of War, Felipe Angeles, to join him. 

Ángeles had been an officer in the federal army under President Diaz. Born in the state of Hidalgo on June 13th1869, Ángeles grew up on a livestock farm. When he was only fourteen-years-old, his father sent the extremely bright Felipe to the Heroico Colegio Militar at Chapultepec, an equivalent to West Point in the United States. Ángeles did extremely well in math and sciences. He concentrated his studies on artillery, which brought him into close contact with the chief of artillery and future Secretary of War, Manuel Mondragon. When he graduated, the college offered him various lectureships. In 1898, Ángeles married the German-American Clara Kraus. It did not take long for Ángeles to become fluent in German. In 1904, Mondragon sent the artillery major to the United States to study the newest development in the war industry of the time: Smokeless powder. When the thirty-five-year-old Ángeles returned he was promoted lieutenant colonel. He now spoke English fluently. In 1908, Mondragon sent him to France where the Mexican army much to German chagrin was now buying most of their heavy guns. Ángeles, as a result of the travels and contact with democratic and parliamentary regimes, had developed a thorough social conscience. He began to publish articles on his ideas for political reform in Mexico. Officers of the federal army were not supposed to have political ideas and especially not mingle in politics. Accordingly, in 1908, he was arrested and charged with sedition. Thanks to his incredible brainpower and the goodwill of General Mondragon, the star officer was released and returned to an assignment in France.

For Ángeles there was no turning back. In the autumn of the Diaz regime he clearly saw the need for change. When Francisco Madero surfaced from the sea of anti-reelectionist activists, many of whom were far too radical for Ángeles, he had found his cause. Upon the outbreak of the revolution, the colonel, who was by then studying modern artillery warfare in Paris, requested to return to Mexico. With his political views known to his superiors the request was denied. He had to remain in France where he was to“distinguish himself.” In May 1911, Colonel Ángeles became a knight of the Legion of Honor, an award Napoleon Bonaparte had instituted in lieu of nobility titles when France became a republic.

Finally, in January 1912, after the Mexican presidential elections, Ángeles returned home. Madero appointed him commander of Ángeles’ alma mater, theColegio Militar. In June 1912, Ángeles, now brigadier general, received an active command to replace Huerta in the war against Zapata. Huerta had been unable to smash the peasant forces by using the most brutal tactics of mass execution and torture, wiping out whole villages, and terrorizing the civilian population. Ángeles applied a new set of “anti-insurgent” tactics hitherto unknown in Mexico. While he did not defeat Zapata, he introduced rules of engagement, humane treatment of prisoners, prevention of civilian casualties, and a code-of-honor in dealing with the enemy. Despite the fierce fighting, Ángeles succeeded in winning many hearts and minds throughout the population of Morelos. His tactics reduced Zapata’s ability to recruit. The development of trust between the warring factions also lends truth to William Bayard Hale’s claim that the Zapatistas stood down throughout the “Decena Tragica,” the rebellion taking place in Mexico City.

According to historian Ross, it was in Cuernavaca where the President asked Ángeles to become the new supreme military commander and replace Huerta as soon as possible. With the loyal general having agreed to move his forces to the capital Madero returned the next morning. Ángeles, who accompanied Madero to Mexico City, brought one thousand men with sufficient weapons and ammunition to the Presidential Palace. The army staff rejected Madero’s request to make Ángeles supreme commander. His promotion to brigadier general had not yet been confirmed in congress, making him theoretically ineligible for the position. However, he took over responsibility for the artillery emplacements in the center of the capital. A week later Felipe Ángeles, the trusted and loyal artillery commander who had been in charge of defending the Presidential Palace, received orders to move to another position further way. General Blanquet now took over the responsibility for the President’s security. Considering that everyone, including Sommerfeld, Gustavo Madero, and the president knew of Blanquet’s questionable loyalty, it is hard to understand that no one stopped Ángeles’ reassignment. Then the coup happened: In a broad sweep with black lists in hand, Huerta’s agents went through the city and arrested influential members of the Madero government. General Felipe Ángeles who faithfully continued his artillery fire on the Ciudadela ended up a prisoner within hours. 

He languished in prison until July 1913, 100 years ago. After he made it to safety in the United States he joined the Constitutionalist movement and became one of the most influential military tacticians in the Mexican Revolution.