Battle of Gonzales


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First Battle for Texas Independence; Hostility Begins

[Happened After: The Texas Independence Movement Begins]

About the middle of September, 1835, General Cos landed at Matagorda, with five hundred additional Mexican troops, and proceeded on his way to Bexar. On his arrival in Texas, active operations commenced. In 1831, the commandant at Bexar had furnished the corporation of Gonzales with a piece of artillery, to aid them in their defense against the Indians. They continued to retain it, and claimed it as a gift. The Mexicans averred that it had only been loaned. Ugartachea, wishing to disarm them of this cannon, dispatched, through the political chief of Bexar, an order for it. They refused to deliver it up, on the ground of the alleged gift, declaring that the only object of the military at Bexar was to disarm them; and that they had no use for the cannon at Bexar, as they had there, besides those mounted, eighteen pieces unmounted. This refusal being made known at the latter place, Ugartachea dispatched a force of one hundred cavalry, under Captain Castonado, to exact the delivery, giving him orders first to send a demand to the alcalde for the cannon, and, if refused, then to employ force. When Castonado with his cavalry arrived on the west bank of the Guadalupe, he found that the ferry-boat and canoes had all been removed to the left bank of the river. This was on Tuesday, the 29th of September. On the first demand, however, the committee of safety for Gonzales had dispatched an express eastward for aid, as they anticipated this force of the enemy. A movement had already been made to send a body of Texans to Copano, to intercept the troops under Cos; but, on the receipt of the news from Gonzales, the volunteers directed their course, by a forced march, to that point. The intelligence of the Mexican advance reached Bastrop on the morning of the 27th. Energetic measures were immediately taken, and the volunteers from that quarter rendezvoused at the " house of James Curtis" on the 28th.

On the 29th, the actual force at Gonzales was only eighteen men, under the command of Captain Albert Martin. In reply to the demand for the cannon which was made by the Mexicans across the river, they were informed that the alcalde was not at home, but would return in the evening. This answer was given in order to gain time. The enemy then retired to a point on the prairie about half a mile from the ferry, where they encamped.

The alcalde not having made his appearance, the regidor of the town informed the Mexicans that the authorities could do nothing until they had consulted with the political chief of Brazos. It is proper here to state that Santa Anna had lately appointed Don Rafael Musquiz governor of Coahuila and Texas, and that the political chief of Bexar had surrendered to his authority, but no other chief of Texas had done so. The people on the right bank of the Guadalupe, at the first alarm, had passed over to the side of Gonzales, and swelled the number of its defenders. The volunteers from the Colorado and Brazos did not wait to organize, but advanced rapidly to the point of danger. On Wednesday, the 30th, the Texan force numbered about a hundred men. The enemy made one or two feints at the ferry and at the ford, about half a mile below, but, finding the Texans vigilant, they retired to a mound about three hundred yards from the ford, where they passed Wednesday night. By Thursday, the Texan force had increased to a hundred and sixty-eight men. They now organized, and elected John H. Moore colonel, and J. W. E. Wallace lieutenant-colonel.

The Attack

Finding themselves strong enough to make an attack, on Thursday evening (October 1, 1835), at seven o'clock, the Texans set out on their march across the Guadalupe river. Fifty of their men were mounted; and they likewise carried with them the brass six-pounder, the bone of contention. The Mexican picket having fired on the advance of the Texans, aroused the main body of the enemy, and both parties immediately formed in order of battle. Here they rested on their arms ; but at four o'clock, on Friday morning, the 2d of October, the enemy, taking advantage of a thick fog, retired to a high mound, and formed. The Texans did not discover this movement till daylight. As soon as they saw it, they advanced upon the Mexicans, under cover of the fog. The Texan scouts discovered the enemy, fired their pieces, and retired, the Mexicans in pursuit ; but a discharge from the six-pounder caused the latter to retreat precipitately to their former position, three hundred and fifty yards distant. The Texans then took possession of a cornfield, and levelled the fence, so as to make room for the fire of the six-pounder.

At this moment, the enemy sounded a parley, and sent Smithers (a Texan, who, in retiring from San Antonio, they had made a prisoner) to request an interview. By this time the fog had cleared away, and the opposing forces were in full view of each other. Colonels Moore and Wallace met Captain Castonado on the prairie, when the latter demanded why they were fighting. Moore replied that the cannon which the Mexicans were attempting to take had been placed at Gonzales for the defense of the constitution and the constitutional authorities, and that no other authority would be obeyed. Castonado stated that he was a republican, and did not wish to fight the Texans; that his orders were to demand the cannon, and, if not delivered up, to take a position in the vicinity, and await further order. But Colonel Moore was not to be evaded in this manner; he accordingly summoned Captain Castonado to join the Texans, or to surrender. This not being admissible, the commanders retired to their respective lines. The Texans now opened the battle with their artillery, and charged upon the enemy. The latter soon fled in the direction of Bexar, and the Texans returned to Gonzales, where they arrived at two o'clock in the afternoon, well satisfied with this first rencontre, and without the loss of a man. The Mexicans had a few killed.

Revolution Spirit Spreads Like Wildfire

The ball of revolution was now fairly put in motion. The news of the defeat of the Mexicans reached San Antonio on the 4th of October, when Colonel Ugartachea, as an old friend of Colonel Austin, addressed him a letter referring to that and previous transactions. After stating that Captain Castonado had retired from Gonzales by his order, he informed him that he would himself set out the next day (the 5th), " with the knowledge of Cos, with a force composed of every description of arms, sufficient to prove that the Mexicans would never suffer themselves to be insulted." He stated, however, in conclusion, that if Austin " would use his influence with the political chief to have the gun delivered up to the writer, wherever it might meet him, from that spot he would immediately return ; if not, he would act militarily, and the consequence would be, a war declared by the colonists, which should be maintained by the nation with corresponding dignity."

The news of the affair at Gonzales soon spread throughout Texas. In the extreme eastern settlements the people were aroused. On the evening of the 5th of October, they held a meeting at San Augustine. Great enthusiasm was manifested, and a company was raised to leave for the seat of war on the 10th. Houston and Rusk were there. They set out for the west on the 6th. William F. Johnson, one of the proscribed, started on the 5th. Zavala quitted his residence on the San Jacinto, and repaired to San Felipe. Expresses and circulars were sent everywhere, to raise volunteers. The object, "to take Bexar, and drive the Mexican soldiery out of Texas," was boldly announced at San Felipe, and repeated by every committee of safety in the country. Then came a stirring appeal from Colonel John H. Moore, dated at Gonzales, on the 6th of October, at eleven o'clock at night. Colonel Ugartachea had set out from Bexar on the 5th, with five hundred troops and three pieces of artillery, and was expected at Gonzales on the 7th. "Hasten your march," says Colonel Moore, "and join us as soon as you possibly can." Moore then had three hundred men at Gonzales ; but Captain W. D. C. Hall and others were on the march.

Mexico Abolishes Constitution of 1824

At this period, Texas had no head, but the nearness of danger enabled the people to act energetically without one. By common consent, however, San Felipe was adopted as a sort of center of action, and Stephen F. Austin was looked to for orders and advice.

While these events were passing in Texas, the destruction of the federal constitution was consummated in Mexico. By a decree of the 3d of October, 1835, the state legislatures were abolished, and their places supplied by a department council. The governors of the several states, and, in fact, all officers, were made dependent on the supreme power. This was the work of Santa Anna, yet his name does not appear in the decree. It was the finishing blow in the overthrow of civil liberty in Mexico. The people of Texas saw it, and foresaw it. The arrival of the news did not change their purpose or their action, for these had been already determined on. The affair at Gonzales was the first overt act on the part of their oppressors. They met and repelled it, as did the people at Lexington and Concord. There was no time to enroll, organize, or to provide for pay and rations. The instinct of patriotism was sufficient for the crisis, and the Texans met it like men who knew the worth of liberty.

The people of San Augustine nominated General Sam Houston to take the command of the troops in eastern Texas ; and on the 8th of October, the committee at Nacogdoches concurred in the nomination, requesting him to take measures to raise volunteers in Texas and the United States. In the absence of ready means, the land and customhouse dues, in the hands of government-officers in Texas, were appropriated. For the rest, and for horses and other property occasionally pressed into the service, promises of repayment were made, and certificates given.

The volunteers continued to arrive at Gonzales, and in a short time the force there was such, that Colonel Ugartachea halted in his purpose. The Texans were well supplied with provisions, but needed arms and ammunition; and, to obtain these, extraordinary exertions were used by the committees. As a temporary head was requisite to give direction to these hasty and energetic movements, the committee at San Felipe proposed that one member from each of the other committees of safety should be appointed to repair without delay to San Felipe, and form a permanent council. The proposition was immediately accepted; a council was organized, and R. R. Royall chosen president. This plan of organization came from Austin, who up to that time had been obliged to act as " a kind of natural chief," which was a responsibility he did not wish to assume. The appointment of this council enabled them to dispense with the services of Austin at San Felipe, that they might be employed in the army. He arrived at Gonzales on the evening of the 10th of October, and was elected commander-in-chief of the forces. [See Next: Texans Capture Goliad]





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