Guerra used his position to smooth Huerta's admission into the National Military College, where he excelled at astronomy and mathematics. In 1877 he received his military commission and went on to lead a distinguished career putting down rebellions under the Porfirian regime. In 1901 he was promoted to brigadier general.
During the Mexican Revolution of 1910, the besieged president Porfirio Díaz dispatched Huerta to the south to quell Emiliano Zapata's revolt, but the general was called back to Mexico City before engaging the rebels in combat when Díaz fell from power. Huerta then served as the military escort for the ousted Díaz from Mexico City to Veracruz.
Francisco Léon de la Barra, the interim president, sent Huerta south again to disarm and defeat Zapata's forces, a mission in which he failed. When Francisco Madero took office he expressed disappointment in Huerta's inability to defeat Emiliano Zapata and in his connections with Bernardo Reyes, Madero's only serious political opponent in the 1911 election.
In 1912 Madero grudgingly sent Huerta to suppress a revolt initiated by Pascual Orozco in the north. Huerta defeated Orozco and almost put Pancho Villa, then serving under Huerta, before the firing squad for theft. Only Madero's intervention saved Villa, and the incident strained relations between the two men.
Stationed in Mexico City, Huerta knew of the growing conspiracy to oust Madero headed by Generals Bernardo Reyes and Félix Días, the nephew of the former dictator. Huerta declined to join the rebels, but as they attacked the National Palace in February 1913 and the tide of the battle increasingly pointed toward a successful rebellion, Huerta saw an opportunity for personal political gain.
He made a secret deal with Félix Días and switched sides in exchange for the position of provisional president. On February 19, 1913, he arrested Madero and his vice president and demanded their resignations. Three days later, as the men were being transferred from the palace to a military prison, they were shot and killed, an assassination that many scholars believe Huerta ordered.
Almost immediately, domestic and foreign opponents to Huerta's presidency sprung up. Rebellions throughout Mexico erupted, and in the face of congressional criticism, Huerta disbanded the congress and arrested many of its members. He resorted to a system of mandatory military service that forced the poor, with little or no training, to fight his opponents. This forced conscription failed, as many deserted or joined the rebellions.
The United States, under the leadership of Woodrow Wilson, took offense to Huerta's violent seizure of power and attempted to convince him to hold elections and declare peace with the his internal adversaries, the Constitutionalists. Huerta ignored these requests, and the United States actively assisted his opponents by supplying them with arms.
The northern states of Coahuila, Chihuahua, and Sonora refused to recognize Huerta's presidency, and their leader, Venustiano Carranza, declared himself president of Mexico. At the same time Alvaro Obregón, also from the north, led forces south toward Mexico City to force Huerta's surrender.
Obregón's forces engaged Huerta's troops during the summer of 1914, taking several key areas, including the city of Guadalajara. Huerta, perhaps sensing impending defeat, resigned the presidency on July 15, 1914, and fled to Europe. With the help of the German government, Huerta conspired to regain his presidency through a revolution based out of El Paso, Texas.
He joined forces with his former adversary, Pascual Orozco. The two men met in Newman, New Mexico, on June 28, 1915, and federal authorities who had been monitoring Huerta were waiting for them. Huerta and Orozco were arrested, and Huerta died on January 13, 1916, while in the custody of U.S. federal authorities.