Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park | RESACA DE LA PALMA BATTLEFIELD

Resaca de la Palma Battlefield in Brownsville, Texas

Resaca de la Palma Battlefield in Brownsville, Texas

After the fighting ended at Palo Alto on May 8, 1846, the Mexican Army of the North under the command of General Mariano Arista did its best to collect its wounded and bury its dead, then retreated six miles south before dawn on May 9th to Resaca de la Palma, a dry riverbed left behind when the Rio Grande River changed course. Using the thick brush on the banks of the resaca for cover, they hoped to have better luck against General Zachary Taylor’s 2,300 American troops.

General Arista’s strategy at the Battle of Palo Alto was to engage the Americans in an infantry battle with plenty of close combat, for with more soldiers (somewhere around 3,500) and a very capable cavalry, a victory would be in his favor. Instead, the battle turned into an artillery showdown, and the American’s superior weapons routed the Mexicans. At Resaca de la Palma, Arista once again hoped for a more traditional infantry battle.

Like the Palo Alto battlefield, Resaca de la Palma was a spot on the Matamoros Road, a road that connected the towns of Matamoros on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande and Port Isabel near the Gulf of Mexico on the Texas side. Arista’s army was blocking the road to keep the Americans from reaching Fort Texas (later named Fort Brown) just a few miles south on the Texas side of the Rio Grande across from Matamoros. The Mexicans had been laying siege to the fort since May 3rd.

This time the fighting was a more traditional infantry and cavalry battle. Artillery was used as well, but not as effectively as on the open terrain at Palo Alto. Even so, and despite the Mexicans outnumbering the Americans, the battle results were the same. The fighting started around 3 PM, and within two hours the Mexican soldiers began fleeing back across the Rio Grande to Matamoros. American loses were 45 dead and 97 wounded, while the Mexican casualty total was 158 dead, 228 wounded, and 168 missing. Many men drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande.

News of the fighting did not reach Washington until two days later on May 11th, so the siege of Fort Texas and the fighting at Palo Alto and Resaca de le Palma had occurred before war had even been declared. It would be two more days before the U. S. Congress approved President James Polk’s declaration of war on Mexico, starting what would become known as the Mexican-American War.

To get to Resaca de la Palma from the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park Visitor Center, simply turn left out of the parking lot onto Paredes Line Road and head south for roughly six miles. The official address is 1024 Paredes Line Road. The park is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 9 AM to 3 PM. The gate to the parking lot is locked at closing time. Pedestrians can still walk the grounds anytime during daylight hours, but there’s not much street parking, so visiting after hours is not all that feasible.

Nearly all of the Resaca de la Palma Battlefield now lies beneath houses, offices, and shopping centers in Brownsville, Texas. The only undeveloped section is a 35-acre plot of land just outside the downtown area, and this is the parcel that was added to Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park in 2009. The park consists of a field encircled by a paved path, a parking lot that can hold 19 vehicles, a small picnic area, and a restroom building. There is also a cannon and a small monument near the parking lot. The cannon was originally placed a half mile north of this location in 1917 by the U. S. Army to mark the spot where the battle took place. The monument and a base for the cannon were added in 1931 by the Daughters of the American Revolution. The two were moved a number of times over the years until finally being installed at this spot in 2018.

Cannon and small memorial commemorate the fighting at Resaca de la Palma in Brownsville, Texas

Cannon and small memorial commemorate the fighting at Resaca de la Palma in Brownsville, Texas

Monument marks the location of the Resaca de al Palma battlefield in Brownsville, Texas

Monument marks the location of the Resaca de al Palma battlefield

Restroom building at the Resaca de la Palma battlefield unit of Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park

Restroom building at the Resaca de la Palma battlefield in Brownsville, Texas

The park property is actually a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the water-filled Resaca de la Palma. At the time of the battle, the resaca was mainly dry with only small pools of rain water here and there. In fact, it was dry until recent times. The city of Brownsville dredged it and now pumps water into it for flood control and water storage.

Satellite view of the Resaca de la Palma unit of Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park

Satellite view of the Resaca de la Palma unit of Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park

Today visitors can walk around the field where fighting took place on a half-mile paved path. Information about the battle is provided on wayside exhibits along the trail. Trees and other vegetaion line the resaca, so it is not possible to see the water other than by taking a short trail at the far end of the loop down to the riverbank. It was vegetation like this that the Mexicans used for cover. Not only were the men hidden from view, but they were also better protected from the American artillery that had soundly beaten them the day before at Palo Alto.

Paved path around what remains of the the Resaca de la Palma battlefield in Brownsville, Texas

Paved path around what remains of the the Resaca de la Palma battlefield in Brownsville, Texas

Side trail leads down to the bank of the Resaca de la Palma at the battlefield site in Brownsville, Texas

Side trail leads down to the bank of the Resaca de la Palma at the battlefield site in Brownsville, Texas

On the south side of the loop is another side trail near a tree with two picnic tables underneath it (the only tree on the open field) that ventures into the brush so visitors can get a close-up look at just how thick the vegetation was. Mexican soldiers had to use axes just to clear spots on which to stand. It was in this brush where Americans and Mexicans fought with swords, bayonets, and even their fists.

Picnic tables under the only shade tree on the Resaca de la Palma battlefield in Brownsville, Texas

Picnic tables under the only shade tree on the Resaca de la Palma battlefield in Brownsville, Texas

Thick brush along the Resaca de la Palma was used as cover by the Mexican Army

Thick brush along the Resaca de la Palma was used as cover by the Mexican Army

A walk around what remains of the Resaca de la Palma battlefield takes about 30 minutes if you read all the information. Other than saying you were there, there’s not much too it. It’s really for those who are either into military history or who just have to see everything at Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park.

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Last updated on June 24, 2022
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