In September 1913 Constitutionalist leaders charged Francisco Pancho Villa, the daring commander of the Division of the North, with taking Torreon. The central Mexican railrod hub was the gateway to Mexico City where the usurper Victoriano Huerta occupied the blood stained presidential chair. 

In three days, between September 29 and October 1, 1913, the Constitutionalists under Villa’s command smashed the defenses of Torreon. Never before had Villa led these many men into battle. His army consisted of eight thousand men, cavalry, and two cannon. Torreon became the largest battle of the Mexican Revolution to date. Wave after wave of cavalry charges pounded the three thousand defenders under General Murguía. Finally, after Villa contemplated breaking off the attacks, his charges leapt into the city through a breach in the defense lines. Murguía ordered a hasty retreat and left the city to the rebels. To Villa’s credit he had effectively commanded a rebel army that lacked training, discipline, and heavy weaponry. The overwhelming force allowed Villa to charge straight at the enemy. This strategy would gain the self-educated general many victories but would eventually become the main cause for his most disastrous defeats. A well-entrenched defending force with superior weapons and training should have been able to repel Villa’s attack. The federal commander and his officers lacked imagination and resolve, its conscripted foot soldiers the motivation to fight. The Battle of Torreon offered a glimpse into the future for the Usurper President Huerta and his forces. Within two weeks of the loss of Torreon, Huerta had fired his Minister of War, General Manuel Mondragon.

The Battle of Torreon became the single most important prize, which propelled Villa to the height of his career. His men captured heavy artillery, half-a-million rounds of ammunition, armored rail cars, eleven cannon including the future division mascot, the three inch "El Niño" (the little one), hundreds of rail cars, and an estimated forty locomotives.  From this time on the Divisiódel Norte would travel by rail to the battlefields of Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. Villa also forced loans on Torreon’s business elite and the local banks. The “contributions” amounted to three million Pesos (approximately $31.5 million in today’s money). With 100,000 Pesos in cash ($ 1 million in today’s value) Villa dispatched his brother Hipolito and Lazaro De La Garza, the son of a well-known merchant and industrialist in Torreon, to take over the arms procurement for the División Del Norte in El Paso. 

Pancho Villa entering the city of Torreon

Pancho Villa entering the city of Torreon

De La Garza would handle the finances of the Villa army and its illustrious general until the end of 1915. He also would become Sommerfeld’s smokescreen that succeeded in hiding German financial support for Villa from the American authorities in 1915. As a result of the victory, the largest insurgent army of its time in Mexico quickly swelled to over 10,000 strong and moved along with a fully equipped hospital train, railcars loaded with kitchen supplies, soldaderas, soldier families, and cooks traveling alongside. The cavalry mounts with loads of alfalfa hay and grain recovered their energy in between engagements riding in the captured cattle cars. The train also included several water cars for the soldiers and the animals. Ammunition and artillery, some of which mounted firmly on the rail stock and heavily guarded formed the rear of this hitherto unseen modern, mobile army.