División del Norte

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The División del Norte was an armed faction formed by Francisco I. Madero and initially led by General José González Salas following Madero's call to arms at the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. González Salas served in Francisco I. Madero's cabinet as Minister of War, but at the outbreak of the 1912 rebellion by Pascual Orozco, González Salas organized 6,000 troops of the Federal Army at Torreón. [1] Orozquista forces surprised González Salas at the First Battle of Rellano. They sent an explosives packed train hurtling toward the Federales, killing at least 60 and injuring González Salas. Mutinous troops killed one of his commanders and after seeing the officer's body, González Salas committed suicide. [2]

Francisco I. Madero Mexican revolutionary leader and president

Francisco Ignacio Madero González was a Mexican revolutionary, writer and statesman who served as the 33rd president of Mexico from 1911 until shortly before his assassination in 1913. He was an advocate for social justice and democracy. Madero was notable for challenging Mexican President Porfirio Díaz for the presidency in 1910 and being instrumental in sparking the Mexican Revolution.

Mexican Revolution major nationwide armed struggle in Mexico between 1910 and 1920

The Mexican Revolution, also known as the Mexican Civil War, was a major armed struggle, lasting roughly from 1910 to 1920, that radically transformed Mexican culture and government. Although recent research has focused on local and regional aspects of the Revolution, it was a genuinely national revolution. Its outbreak in 1910 resulted from the failure of the 35-year-long regime of Porfirio Díaz to find a managed solution to the presidential succession. This meant there was a political crisis among competing elites and the opportunity for agrarian insurrection. Wealthy landowner Francisco I. Madero challenged Díaz in the 1910 presidential election, and following the rigged results, revolted under the Plan of San Luis Potosí. Armed conflict ousted Díaz from power; a new election was held in 1911, bringing Madero to the presidency.

Pascual Orozco Mexican general and politician

Pascual Orozco Vázquez was a Mexican revolutionary leader who rose up with Francisco I. Madero late 1910 to depose Porfirio Díaz. Sixteen months later he revolted against the Madero government and ultimately sided with the coup d'état that deposed Madero.


The leadership of the division was then assigned to General Victoriano Huerta, who reorganized González Salas's remaining forces that had been defeated by Oroquistas. [3]

Victoriano Huerta Mexican military officer and 35th President of Mexico

José Victoriano Huerta Márquez was a Mexican military officer and 35th President of Mexico.

After Madero's overthrow in the counter-revolutionary coup that culminated the la Decena trágica , Pancho Villa assumed the leadership of the revolutionary northern division. As a result, the Division became closely associated with his name. Villa himself often led his División del Norte into battle.

Ten Tragic Days series of armed conflicts and controversies that took place in Mexico City during the Mexican Revolution

The Ten Tragic Days was a series of events that took place in Mexico City between February 9 and February 19, 1913, during the Mexican Revolution. This led up to a coup d'état and the assassination of President Francisco I. Madero, and his Vice President, José María Pino Suárez. Much of what happened these days followed from the crumbling of the Porfiriato system of repressive order giving way to chaos, and as such, these days' events have been among the most influential of the Revolution's history. Madero's martyrdom shocked a critical portion of the population, and the unwelcome foreign intervention prepared the way for the growing nationalism and anti-imperialism of the Revolution. In many ways, then, it set the tone for the Revolution's most violent period, but it also prepared the way for an agenda of profound political and social change.

Pancho Villa Mexican revolutionary

Francisco "Pancho" Villa was a Mexican revolutionary general and one of the most prominent figures of the Mexican Revolution.

General Pancho Villa commander of the Division del Norte Francisco Villa.gif
General Pancho Villa commander of the División del Norte

The División del Norte was in effect a total army rather than a regular division. Villa's troops were assigned military ranks, outfitted with hospital trains and horse ambulances (called Servicio sanitario and said to be the first employed in Mexico), used the railroads built during the Díaz administration to move quickly from one engagement to the other, and unlike some other revolutionary groups, were well equipped with machine guns and even an artillery unit (captured from the Mexican Federal Army and Rurales).

Ambulance vehicle equipped for transporting and care for ill and wounded people

An ambulance is a vehicle which can transport medical patients to treatment, and in some instances will also provide out-of-hospital medical care to the patient.

Porfirio Díaz President of Mexico

José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori was a Mexican general and politician who served seven terms as President of Mexico, a total of 31 years, from February 17, 1877 to December 1, 1880 and from December 1, 1884 to May 25, 1911. A veteran of the War of the Reform (1858–60) and the French intervention in Mexico (1862–67), Díaz rose to the rank of General, leading republican troops against the French-imposed rule of Emperor Maximilian. Seizing power in a coup in 1876, Díaz and his allies, a group of technocrats known as "Científicos", ruled Mexico for the next thirty-five years, a period known as the Porfiriato.


Rurales is a Mexican term used to describe two different government forces. The best known is the Guardia Rural, founded by President Benito Juárez in 1861 as a rural police force controlled by the president and expanded by President Porfirio Díaz, a former army general, and used as an effective force of repression. It was a counterweight to the Mexican Army, whose nineteenth-century generals often overthrew the president. The rurales were dissolved during the Mexican Revolution.

Villa attempted to supply a horse to each infantryman, rather than only his cavalry detachments (Los dorados) in order to increase the speed of movement of his army, thus creating an early version of mobile infantry, or a late version of dragoons. Numerous foreign mercenaries served in the Falange extranjero (foreign legion) of the División, including such notables as Ivor Thord-Gray and the son of Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Mounted infantry were infantry who rode horses instead of marching. The original dragoons were essentially mounted infantry. According to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, "Mounted rifles are half cavalry, mounted infantry merely specially mobile infantry." Today, with motor vehicles having replaced horses for military transport, the motorized infantry are in some respects successors to mounted infantry.

Mercenary soldier who fights for hire

A mercenary, sometimes known as a soldier of fortune, is an individual who takes part in military conflict for personal profit, is otherwise an outsider to the conflict, and is not a member of any other official military. Mercenaries fight for money or other forms of payment rather than for political interests. In the last century, mercenaries have increasingly come to be seen as less entitled to protections by rules of war than non-mercenaries. Indeed, the Geneva Conventions declare that mercenaries are not recognized as legitimate combatants and do not have to be granted the same legal protections as captured soldiers of a regular army. In practice, whether or not a person is a mercenary may be a matter of degree, as financial and political interests may overlap, as was often the case among Italian condottieri.

Ivor Thord-Gray Swedish-born adventurer, ethnologist and linguist

Ivor Thord-Gray was a Swedish-born adventurer, sailor, prison guard, soldier, government official, police officer, rubber plantation owner, ethnologist, linguist, investor, and author. He participated in thirteen wars spanning the continents of Africa, Asia, North America, and Europe.

Villa excluded women soldaderas from the División del Norte. U.S. American journalist John Reed spent time with Villa and the División del Norte, writing in his book about the Mexican Revolution Insurgent Mexico that "Up to [Villa's] day, Mexican armies had always carried with them hundreds of the women and children of soldiers; Villa was the first man to think of swift forced marches of bodies of cavalry, leaving their women behind." [4]


Soldaderas, often called Adelitas, were women in the military who participated in the conflict of the Mexican Revolution, ranging from commanding officers to combatants to camp followers. "In many respects, the Mexican revolution was not only a men's but a women's revolution." Although some revolutionary women achieved officer status, coronelas, "there are no reports of a woman achieving the rank of general." Since revolutionary armies did not have formal ranks, some women officers were called generala or coronela, even though they commanded relatively few men. A number of women took male identities, dressing as men, and being called by the male version of their given name, among them Ángel Jiménez and Amelio Robles.

John Reed (journalist) American journalist, poet, and communist activist

John Silas "Jack" Reed was an American journalist, poet, and socialist activist, best remembered for Ten Days That Shook the World, his first-hand account of the Bolshevik Revolution. He married the writer and feminist Louise Bryant in 1916. Reed died of typhus in Russia in 1920. He is one of three Americans honored by being buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.

The División del Norte at its height numbered some 50,000 men. This was the largest revolutionary force ever amassed in the Americas. Pancho Villa's notoriety no doubt played an important part to recruiting such large numbers of men. Despite having such numerical advantage, the División del Norte was defeated at the Battle of Celaya on April 1915 by forces of Álvaro Obregón. The outcome of the battle came to the favor of Obregón who used defensive tactics from current European battle reports of World War I. The División del Norte with its cavalry charges was no match for well placed barbed wire, trenches, artillery and machine gun nests.

Metro Division del Norte with stylized image of Pancho Villa Metro Division del Norte 01.jpg
Metro División del Norte with stylized image of Pancho Villa

In 1980, the Mexico City metro opened the Metro División del Norte station on Line 3. There is a nearby Avenida División del Norte. The logo for the metro station is a stylized version of Villa, but not his name.

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  1. Alan Knight, Mexican Revolution, vol. 1: Porfirians, Liberals and Peasants. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press 1986, p. 321.
  2. Knight, The Mexican Revolution, vol. 1, p. 322.
  3. Knight, The Mexican Revolution, vol. 1, p. 325.
  4. John Reed, Insurgent Mexico. New York: Appleton 1914, p. 144, excerpted in The Mexican Revolution: A Brief History with Documents, Mark Wasserman, ed. Boston: Bedford 2012, p. 51.