North Carolina and the Mexican Punitive Expedition

Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

                                                         U.S. Army wagon Columbus, New Mexico

What do you know about the North Carolina National Guard’s role in the Mexican Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa between 1916 and 1917? Let’s start with some background.

On March 9, 1916, around 485 men under the command of Mexican government faction leader Francisco “Pancho” Villa crossed the United States-Mexican border, and raided the small U.S. Army garrison in Columbus, New Mexico. Men of the 13th U.S. Cavalry, still sleeping, were surprised by the attack. The 13th Cavalry was responsible for patrolling the border around the town of Columbus.

According to U.S. War Department reports, 10 American officers and soldiers were killed in the raid, 2 officers and 5 soldiers wounded, 8 civilians killed, and 2 wounded. The Mexican raiders lost approximately 100 killed, with 7 wounded and captured. After about two hours of fighting, and a brief pursuit of Villa’s men into Mexico by Maj. Frank Tompkins, Villa’s men dispersed into the deserts of Chihuahua. Within 24 hours of the attack, President Woodrow Wilson decided to send the U.S. Army into Mexico.

From March 16, 1916, to February 14, 1917, a U.S. military expeditionary force of more than 14,000 regular Army troops, under the command of Brig. Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, operated in northern Mexico along the U.S. border. Known as General Pershing’s Punitive Expedition (as well as the “Mexican Border War,” “Mexican Border Crisis,” and “Pancho Villa Punitive Expedition”), its focus was the pursuit and capture of Pancho Villa, and ending the attacks along the U.S. border. Another 140,000 regular Army and National Guard troops patrolled the large border to discourage further raids.

The North Carolina National Guard was mobilized for federal service in the Mexican Border Crisis at its yearly encampment grounds of Camp Glenn near Morehead City, North Carolina, in June 1916. In September 1917, all North Carolina guard units—except for various coastal artillery units—were ordered to report to El Paso, Texas. However, North Carolina and several other states struggled in transporting and supplying their troops to the border, resulting in the North Carolina National Guard’s late arrival in Texas in October 1916. As with most National Guard units, the North Carolina National Guard (which was the 30th Infantry Division, U.S. Army) did not participate in much fighting along the Mexican border. General Pershing preferred to use regular U.S. Army units when crossing into Mexico, and left National Guard units to patrol the border.

Chinese refugee wagons U.S. Army

A commanding lieutenant colonel with the North Carolina National Guard, John Van Bokkelen Metts of Wilmington, North Carolina, was called into active U.S. military service in June 1916. He went with members of the 2nd Infantry, North Carolina National Guard, to serve in the Mexican Border Crisis between 1916 and March 1917. He and his men were stationed in Columbus, New Mexico, in February 1917, and in El Paso, Texas. Metts was commissioned a colonel in 1917 while along the Mexican border.

During his time on the border, Metts had a number of photographs taken for him of his men’s activities along the Mexican border. These photographs show men who served under Metts’ command later when the 2nd Infantry, North Carolina National Guard, was inducted into federal service for World War I. In these photographs, the 2nd North Carolina Infantry is seen with the U.S. Army in Columbus, New Mexico, on February 4, 1917, assisting in transporting Mexican refugees and Chinese railroad workers across the U.S.-Mexican border to safety from the fighting against Pancho Villa’s men.                                                                       Metts Mexican Border 1917

When it appeared that the Punitive Expedition had accomplished all it would be capable of doing, President Wilson—with the threat of war with Germany and Austria-Hungary looming—called back the U.S. Army from Mexico, and began the gradual recall of National Guard units to their respective states. The North Carolina National Guard returned to North Carolina in March 1917. Many of the men in the unit were activated into federal service for World War I when President Wilson declared war in April 1917, and other National Guard men who were discharged between April and May 1917 from the North Carolina National Guard were required to go through the draft process for WWI. Colonel Metts would lead his men in Europe, under the federal designation of the 119th Infantry Regiment, 30th Division, U.S. Army.

To see more of the images from Col. Metts and the North Carolina National Guard on the Mexican border in 1917, check out a selection of images on the State Archives of North Carolina's Flickr site from the John Van Bokkelen Metts Papers (WWI 62) in the WWI Papers.



Wilson Angley, A Brief History of the North Carolina Militia and National Guard, Research Branch, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, December 20, 1985.

Alexander F. Barnes, “On the border: The National Guard mobilizes for war in 1916,” Army Sustainment (March-April 2016), viewed at

The History of the 105th Regiment of Engineers: Divisional Engineers of the "Old Hickory" (30th) Division, compiled by Willard P. Sullivan and Harry Tucker (New York: George H. Doran Co., 1919).

Julie Prieto, “1916—The Mexican Border Campaign,” U.S. Army Center for Military History , February 2015, viewed at

Mitchell Yockelson, “The United States Armed Forces and the Mexican Punitive Expedition: Part 1,” Prologue Magazine, Fall 1997 (Vol. 29, No. 3), viewed at

Finding aid for John Van Bokkelen Metts Papers, WWI 62, WWI Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.  


This blog post is part of the State Archives of North Carolina’s World War I Social Media Project, an effort to bring original WWI archival materials to the public through social media platforms in order to increase access to the items during the WWI centennial celebration by the state of North Carolina. Between February 2017 and June 2019, the State Archives of North Carolina will be posting blog articles, Facebook posts, and Twitter posts, featuring WWI archival materials which are posted on the exact 100th anniversary of their creation during the war. Blog posts will feature interpretations of the content of WWI documents, photographs, diary entries, posters, and other records, including scans of the original archival materials, held by the State Archives of North Carolina, and will be featured in the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ WWI centennial blog.