Goliad Massacre


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Texas History: Massacre at Goliad

[Happened After: The Battle of the Alamo]

On reaching Refugio, thirty miles below Goliad, Colonel Fannin  learned through Major Morris, who had gone on to San Patricio with Johnson and Grant, of the advance, in force, of the Mexicans. This suspended the contemplated march on Matamoras. Fannin now took steps to concentrate his troops at Goliad, and endeavored to have the advance at San Patricio withdrawn; but the latter, holding an independent authority from the council, refused to retreat. Having taken post at Goliad, and obtained a supply of provisions, he went to work to repair that place. He complained much, and with justice, of the apathy of the Texans in not turning out more willingly to meet the enemy at the frontier, and stated the fact that he could not find a half dozen Texans in his ranks. 

The improvements on the fort, which Fannin named Defiance, consisted in blockhouses, picketing, ditching, filling in with earth and stone, etc., and mounting necessary artillery for its defense ; all of which was done under the immediate direction of Lieutenant Chadwick of the engineers. Between the middle and last of February, 1836, the troops at Goliad suffered for both provisions and clothing. In some instances they were compelled to mount guard barefooted. We have already seen the fruitless effort made by Fannin on the 28th of February to march to the relief of Travis at San Antonio — an effort which failed for want of provisions and means of transportation. He therefore returned to the fort, and was again occupied in improving his defenses.

Colonel Fannin's position had for some time been peculiarly unpleasant. He was aware of the fact that for him to remain in his exposed situation, so far from aid in men and materiel, and in the face of so strong an enemy, was not the policy of the commander-in-chief ; yet his orders from Lieutenant-Governor Robinson were, " to not make a retrograde movement, but await orders and reinforcements." Thus, between these conflicting authorities, this noble man and the gallant troops under his command were about to become victims.

Fannin Sends Reinforcements to Refugio

Hearing of the advance of the Mexicans upon Refugio, Colonel Fannin sent Captain King with twenty-eight men to remove some families yet at the mission. King reached there on the 12th of March, but seemed to have delayed his departure until the advance of Urrea's cavalry came up. He then took position with his small force in the mission, and kept the enemy at bay until he could send a messenger to Fannin at Goliad. The messenger reached the latter place about midnight on the 12th, and Fannin immediately dispatched Colonel Ward with a hundred men to his relief. Ward arrived at the mission on the evening of the 13th. In the meantime, Urrea, then on his march to Goliad, received news of the resistance made by King, and on the 13th dispatched Captain Pretalia, with a company of cavalry, to keep the Texans engaged till he could come up with the main body. The latter reached the mission at day-break on the 14th, but Ward had got into the mission.

Fannin Ordered to Retreat from Goliad

Meanwhile, General Houston, on his arrival at Gonzales, dispatched Captain Desauque with an order to Colonel Fannin, dated the 11th of March, commanding him, as soon as practicable after the receipt of the order, to fall back upon Victoria, on the Guadalupe, taking with him such artillery as could be brought off with expedition, previously adopting measures to blow up the fort before leaving its vicinity. This order was received by Colonel Fannin on the morning of the 14th, who immediately dispatched an express to Ward, stating the nature of Houston's order, and requiring him to return with all haste to Goliad. Fannin also sent out parties for teams and carts, and commenced dismounting and burying several of his guns. On the same day, he sent a note to Colonel A. C. Horton, at Matagorda, requesting him to join him as early as possible with the two hundred men under his command. This note fell into the hands of General Urrea ; but Horton joined Fannin on the 16th with twenty-seven mounted men.

The Battle of Refugio

To return to the mission of Refugio. Colonel Ward gave orders to set out on the march to rejoin Fannin on the following morning (the 14th) at daybreak. When the morning dawned, however, it was believed, from the report of one of the sentinels, that the Mexicans were in large force in the neighborhood. To satisfy themselves on this point, Captain King was sent out. with thirteen men to ascertain the fact. Shortly afterward a firing was heard in the direction King had taken. Ward with his command advanced rapidly till they found themselves in front of six or eight hundred of the enemy. Ward again retreated to the mission. The church was an old stone building, in ruins, but strong. Three sides of it were, however, exposed to an assault. The fourth side was formed by a stone wall, one hundred and fifty feet in length, used as a place of burial, and containing many tombs : from the end of this wall the ground descended. Captain Bulloch's company of thirty-five men were placed in the churchyard to protect the mission from an assault in that direction. The remainder of Ward's command barricaded the church, made loopholes, and otherwise prepared for defense. General Urrea now ordered a charge, at the same time bringing up a four-pounder to batter down the door. The Texans waited till their rifles could take effect, when they opened such a fire, that the enemy, after repeated charges, broke and fled. During this affair, which lasted nearly all of the 14th of March, the Mexicans lost about two hundred in killed and wounded : the Texan loss was only three severely wounded!

The enemy having retreated to their camp, some five or six hundred yards distant, had posted sentinels around the mission. At night the Texans, finding their ammunition nearly exhausted, determined to retreat; but, as they could not remove their wounded, they resolved first to leave them a supply of water. Accordingly, after dark, the whole Texan command marched to the spring, about four hundred yards distant, dispersed the enemy's guard stationed there —killing four of them-supplied themselves with water, filled the gourds of their wounded comrades, and bade them a last farewell.

Colonel Ward Surrenders

Colonel Ward with his forces then set out on their retreat, and, marching through the woods and swamps, where the enemy's cavalry could not follow, they reached the San Antonio river on the third day. On the second day, however, a few of the men left the command in search of water, but did not again join it. The next morning, the 19th, Ward crossed the river, and resumed the march in the direction of Victoria. That evening they heard the firing between Fannin and Urrea, apparently about ten miles distant. They endeavored to reach the combatants, but, darkness coming on, they found themselves in the Guadalupe swamp, where they spent the night. On the following morning, in emerging from the river-bottom into the prairie, they were attacked by some five hundred of the enemy's cavalry. The Texans fired about three rounds, when, their powder being entirely exhausted, they retreated into the swamp, where they passed the night. The next day, the 21st, Ward set out again toward Victoria, where he and his command surrendered to the enemy as prisoners-of-war.

Captain King and his Command Surrender and are Murdered

To return to Captain King. He had been sent out, on the morning of the 14th, to reconnoiter ; but his return to the mission being cut off, he attempted to reach Goliad. He lost his way, however, and found himself, after two days' march (on the morning of the 16th), only three miles from the mission, in an open prairie, and his ammunition wet. Under these circumstances, he was surrounded, and obliged to surrender, previous to which one of his men was mortally wounded. In six hours afterward, Captain King and his command were shot, on the road to Goliad, about a mile from the mission, and, being stripped of their clothing, were left a prey to wild beasts!

Colonel Fannin, receiving no news from his first express to Ward, sent a second, and then a third, who were perhaps all taken by the enemy. It was only on the 18th that he first received any account of Ward. On the 17th, Colonel A. C. Horton, who had come in the day before from Matagorda, was ordered to reconnoiter the enemy. On his return, he reported a large force of them a few miles from the fort, marching slowly and in good order. Colonel Fannin immediately had the cannon dug up and remounted, expecting an engagement that night or the next morning. During the night of the 17th, the guard was doubled. The enemy were seen hovering about the place on the 18th, and in some force on the left bank of the San Antonio river, near the old mission. Colonel Horton was sent over with such mounted force as he could collect, and made a furious charge upon the party at the mission. The latter retreated to the timber, and, being there supported by their infantry, Colonel Horton fell back in good order. Captain Shackleford volunteered to go over with his company to the aid of Horton; but just as they were about to commence the attack, the guns from Fort Defiance caused the enemy to make a precipitate retreat.

Fannin Retreats from Goliad

Fannin made arrangements to follow Houston's order to retreat to Victoria. During the night, Colonel Horton and his twenty-eight horsemen were in the saddle, and proceeded on the Victoria road. The way being reported clear of the foe, the fort was dismantled, the buildings burnt, and the Texan force, about three hundred strong, set out early. It was ten o'clock, however, before the rear-guard had crossed the San Antonio river. Much time was consumed in getting the artillery up the banks; besides, a cart broke down, and its load had to be distributed among the other wagons. Still they advanced in good order, and as briskly as the ox-teams and the freight would permit. At length, after a march of six or eight miles toward the waters of the Coleta, Colonel Fannin ordered a halt, to graze and rest the oxen, and refresh the troops. Fannin had all along committed the error of entertaining a too great contempt for the enemy. Captain Shackleford remonstrated against the halt until they should reach the Coleta, then five miles distant, but he was overruled. " Colonel Fannin and many others," says the gallant captain, " could not be made to believe that the Mexicans would dare follow us."

The Battle of Coleta

After a halt of an hour, the march was resumed. Colonel Horton with his cavalry was sent in advance, to examine the Coleta crossing. Shortly after resuming the march, two of the enemy appeared, as if coming out of the timber bordering on the Coleta, about a mile distant, and rather to the rear and right of the Texan army ; then four more appeared, and finally three hundred and fifty cavalry emerged from the same quarter, and advanced rapidly with the view of cutting off the Texans from the skirt of timber about a mile or more in front. " Our artillery," says Captain Shackleford, " was ordered to open on them, and cover our rear. About this time we discovered a large force of infantry emerging from the same skirt of woodland at which their cavalry had first been seen."

Fannin attempted to reach the timber in front, but the rapid approach of the enemy made him prepare immediately for battle. They were in an open prairie, the nearest timber being that in front. The breaking down of an ammunition-wagon also hindered them from advancing to an eminence nearby; they were therefore compelled to form in a depression in the plain, six or seven feet below the surrounding surface. The Texans were compelled to form in an oblong square, the artillery being judiciously posted. The enemy's cavalry coming up within a quarter of a mile, dismounted, and fired a harmless volley with their scopettes. Thus they continued to advance and fire. Colonel Fannin, with great coolness, repeated to his men the order "not to fire." By this time all the Texan infantry sat down, leaving the artillerists and Colonel Fannin alone standing. The Mexican cavalry having now come within one hundred yards, the command was given, and the Texans opened a fire with rifles, muskets, and artillery. About this time Colonel Fannin received a wound in the fleshy part of the thigh. While engaged with the enemy's cavalry on their right flank, the Texans found the Mexican infantry, one thousand or twelve hundred strong, advancing on their rear and left flank. Coming within range, they fired a volley, and charged bayonets. They were received by a piece of artillery, Duval's rifle-men, and some other troops, whose fire cut them down with great slaughter. This Mexican infantry was the celebrated Tampico regiment. They fell down in the grass, and occasionally raised up to shoot; but whenever they showed their heads, the Texan rifles generally took them down. A body of the enemy's cavalry then made an attempt upon the Texan rear ; but, at a distance of sixty yards, they were so well received with double canister charged with musket-balls, and by the riflemen, that they fell by scores, and made a sudden retreat, choosing to return afterward on foot.

The conflict had by this time become general. The Texans having no water to sponge their cannon, they became so hot they could not use them, but were forced to rely wholly on their small-arms. With these they continued the fight most manfully from one o'clock until sundown. At dusk, the Campeachy Indians (who could not well understand the word of command at the mission of Refugio) were placed in the high grass, about thirty yards from the Texan lines, from which they poured a destructive fire ; but so soon as it was sufficiently dark for the Texans to see the flash of their guns, they seldom flashed twice from the same point. Among those wounded was Harry Ripley, a son of General Ripley, of Louisiana, a youth of eighteen years. He had his thigh broken. Mrs. Cash (who was with the Texan army), at his request, helped him into a cart, and fixed a prop for him to lean on, and a rest for his rifle. Thus he continued the fight until another shot broke his right arm. Such was the spirit of the Texans at the battle of the Coleta.

A little after dark, General Urrea drew off his troops. The Texans lost during the day seven killed, several mortally and sixty badly wounded. The enemy's loss must have been five times as great. Urrea's force in the action was estimated at twelve hundred infantry and seven hundred cavalry. The Texans, exclusive of Colonel Horton's mounted force, were about two hundred and seventy-five in all. Horton, having gone on in advance to examine the pass of the Coleta, had dismounted with his men. So soon as they heard the firing between the contending parties in their rear, the word " To horse !" was given, when the party galloped back to the prairie. Here they had a full view of the engagement; and, seeing the Texans very nearly surrounded by so large a force of the enemy, Horton's lieutenant, Moore, objected to any attempt to reach their comrades by penetrating the Mexican lines, alleging that they would all be cut to pieces. Immediately he dashed off in another direction, taking with him nearly all the party. Colonel Horton, being thus left with so few men, had no other alternative than to retire also. He therefore retreated to Victoria.*

* Such were the statements made to Captain Shackleford by his lieutenant, Francis, and Joseph Fenner, a private of his company, who were with Horton. "I candidly believe," says the captain, "even with the whole of his force, he never could have cut his way through such an immense number of Mexican cavalry."

The description of the battle of the Coleta, as it appeared just after one of those attempts to charge in the evening, is thus given by an eye-witness : " The scene was now dreadful to behold. Killed and maimed men and horses were strewn over the plain ; the wounded were rending the air with their distressing moans ; while a great number of horses without riders were rushing to and fro back upon the enemy's lines, increasing the confusion among them : they thus became so entangled, the one with the other, that their retreat resembled the headlong flight of a herd of buffaloes, rather than the retreat of a well-drilled, regular army, as they were."

The enemy took position for the night in the skirt of woods in front. The Texans were occupied in forming a breastwork of earth, carts, wagons, and packs. "It has been often asked," says Captain Shackleford, "as a matter of surprise, why we did not retreat in the night. A few reasons, I think, ought to satisfy every candid man on this point. During the engagement, our teams had all been killed, wounded, or had strayed off ; so that we had no possible way of taking off our wounded companions. Those who could have deserted them under such circumstances, possess feelings which I shall never envy. I will mention another reason, which may have more weight with some persons than the one already given. We had been contending for five hours, without intermission, with a force more than seven times larger than our own; had driven the enemy from the field with great slaughter ; and calculated on a reinforcement from Victoria in the morning, when we expected to consummate our victory."

* It is probable that the enemy's strength was over-estimated in the battle of Coleta. This was the last action in which Urrea was engaged in Texas. On the 24th of April his force, including the troops sent to him under the command of Colonel Juan Morales, was only eleven hundred and sixty-five. If to these we add the detachments by him left at Copano, sixty; mission of Refugio, five; Goliad, one hundred and seventy-four; Matagorda, one hundred and eighty-nine; and Victoria, forty—the total is sixteen hundred and thirty-three. Ma-king allowance for the slain of the enemy at the Coleta, and the wounded in that and previous engagements who had recovered, it is probable that his force did not exceed seventeen hundred, or at farthest eighteen hundred, at the battle of Coleta.—Filisola's Defence, p. 30.

Captain Shackleford does not inform us why they expected aid from Victoria ; at all events, none came. On the other hand, the reinforcement sent to the enemy from Bexar, consisting of five hundred men under Colonel Morales, with three pieces of artillery, and of which Urrea had received notice on the 18th, arrived in the Mexican camp at half-past six on the morning of the 20th. Early on that morning, Urrea displayed his whole force in the most imposing manner, together with his pack-mules and artillery. The fire of the latter commenced, but without effect. They kept out of the range of the Texan riflemen, who reserved their fire for close quarters. After the Mexicans had discharged a few rounds, they raised a white flag, but it was soon taken down. The Texan wounded had " suffered agonies for want of water." Their officers held a consultation, and it was the opinion of a majority that they could not save the wounded without a capitulation. The unexpected appearance of artillery in the ranks of the enemy likewise conduced to this conclusion, for the Texan breastwork was only intended to resist small-arms.

Fannin Surrenders

The Texans now raised a white flag, which was promptly answered by the enemy. Major Wallace and Captain Chadwick went out, and in a short time returned and reported that General Urrea would treat only with the commanding officer. Colonel Fannin, though lame, went out, assuring his men that he would make no other than an honorable capitulation. He returned in a short time, and communicated the terms of the agreement which he had made with Urrea. They were in substance as follows :

1. That the Texans should be received and treated as prisoners-of-war, according to the usages of the most civilized nations. 2. That private property should be respected and restored ; but that the side-arms of the officers should be given up. 3. That the men should be sent to Copano, and thence, in eight days, to the United States, or so soon thereafter as vessels could be procured to take them. 4. That the officers should be paroled, and returned to the United States in like manner. General Urrea immediately sent Colonel Holzinger and other officers to consummate the agreement. It was reduced to writing in both the English and Spanish languages, read over two or three times, signed, and the writings exchanged in " the most formal and solemn manner."

The Texans immediately piled their arms, and such of them as were able to march were hurried off to Goliad, where they arrived at sunset on the same day (the 20th). The wounded, among whom was Colonel Fannin, did not reach the place till the 22d. At Goliad the prisoners were crowded into the old church, with no other food than a scanty pittance of beef, without bread or salt. Colonel Fannin was placed under the care of Colonel Holzinger, a German engineer in the Mexican service. So soon as Fannin learned how badly his men were treated, he wrote to General Urrea, stating the facts, and reminding him of the terms of the capitulation.

The Massacre at Goliad

On the March 23, 1836, Colonel Fannin and Colonel Holzinger proceeded to Copano, to ascertain if a vessel could be procured to convey the Texans to the United States ; but the vessel they expected to obtain had already left that port. They did not return till the 26th. On the 23rd, Major Miller, with eighty Texan volunteers, who had just landed at Copano, were taken prisoners and brought into Goliad by Colonel Vara. Again, on the 25th, Colonel Ward and his men, captured by Urrea, as has already been stated, were brought in.

The evening of the March 26th passed off pleasantly enough. Colonel Fannin was entertaining his friends with the prospect of returning to the United States ; and some of the young men, who could perform well on the flute, were playing " Home, sweet home." How happy we are that the veil of the future is suspended before us ! At seven o'clock that night, an order, brought by an extraordinary courier from Santa Anna, required the prisoners to be shot ! Detailed regulations were sent as to the mode of executing this cold-blooded and atrocious order. Colonel Portilla, the commandant of the place, did not long hesitate in its execution. He had four hundred and forty-five prisoners under his charge. Eighty of these, brought from Copano, having just landed, and who as yet had done no fighting, were considered as not within the scope of the order, and for the time were excused. The services of four of the Texan physicians—that is, Drs. Joseph H. Bernard, Field, Hall, and Shackleford—being needed to take care of the Mexican wounded, their lives were spared. So likewise were four others, who were assistants in the hospital.

At dawn of day, on Palm Sunday, March 27th, the Texans were awakened by a Mexican officer, who said he wished them to form a line, that they might be counted. The men were marched out in separate divisions, under different pretexts. Some were told that they were to be taken to Copano, in order to be sent home ; others that they were going out to slaughter beeves ; and others, again, that they were being removed to make room in the fort for Santa Anna. Dr. Shackleford, who had been invited by Colonel Guerrier to his tent, about a hundred yards southeastwardly from the fort, says: " In about half an hour, we heard the report of a volley of small-arms, toward the river, and to the east of the fort. I immediately inquired the cause of the firing, and was assured by the officer that ' he did not know, but supposed it was the guard firing off their guns.' In about fifteen or twenty minutes thereafter, another such volley was fired, directly south of us, and in front.

At the same time I could distinguish the heads of some of the men through the boughs of some peach-trees, and could hear their screams. It was then, for the first time, the awful conviction seized upon our minds that treachery and murder had begun their work ! Shortly afterward, Colonel Guerrier appeared at the mouth of the tent. I asked him if it could be possible they were murdering our men. He replied that ' it was so ; but he had not given the order, neither had he executed it.' "

In about an hour more, the wounded were dragged out and butchered. Colonel Fannin was the last to suffer. When informed of his fate, he met it like a soldier. He handed his watch to the officer whose business it was to murder him, and requested him to have him shot in the breast and not in the head, and likewise to see that his remains should be decently buried. These natural and proper requirements the officer promised should be fulfilled, but, with that perfidy which is so prominent a characteristic of the Mexican race, he failed to do either ! Fannin seated himself in a chair, tied the hand-kerchief over his eyes, and bared his bosom to receive the fire of the soldiers.

As the different divisions were brought to the place of execution, they were ordered to sit down with their backs to the guard. In one instance, " young Fenner rose on his feet, and exclaimed, ' Boys, they are going to kill us—die with your faces to them, like men !' At same moment, two other young men, flourishing their caps over their heads, shouted at the top of their voices, ' Hurrah for Texas !' "

Many attempted to escape ; but the most of those who survived the first fire were cut down by the pursuing cavalry, or afterward shot. It is believed that, in all, twenty-seven of those who were marched out to be slaughtered made their escape ; leaving three hundred and thirty who suffered death on that Sunday morning.*

* Number of prisoners at Goliad, on the 27th of March, according to Portilla 445
Major Miller's command (80)
Physicians and attendants (8)
Escaped from the slaughter (27)= 115 total spared/escaped
Number who suffered death 330
Names of those who escaped, according to Dr. Shackleford : —
New Orleans Grays : William L. Hunter, William Brannon, John Reese, David Jones, B. H. Holland.
Huntsville Volunteers : Bennett Butler, Milton Irish.
Mustangs : William Morer, John C. Duval, William Mason, John Holliday, John Van Bibber, Charles Spain, Sharpe.
Burke's Company: Herman Eremby, Thomas Kemp, N. J. Devany. Horton's Company : Daniel Martindale, William Hadden, Charles Smith. Red Rovers : Isaac D. Hamilton, D. Cooper, L. M. Brooks, William Simpson. Company not recollected : N. Rosen, William Murphy, John Williams.
Foote, vol. ii., p. 244.

The dead were then stripped, and their naked bodies thrown into piles. A few brush were placed over them, and an attempt made to burn them up, but with such poor success, that their hands and feet, and much of their flesh, were left a prey to dogs and vultures! Texas has erected no monument to perpetuate the memory of these heroic victims of a cruel barbarism ; yet they have a memorial in the hearts of their countrymen more durable than brass or marble.

Colonel Fannin doubtless erred in postponing for four days the obedience to the order of the commander-in-chief to retreat with all possible dispatch to Victoria, on the Guadalupe ; and also in sending out Lieutenant-Colonel Ward in search of Captain King. But these errors sprang from the noblest feelings of humanity : first, in an attempt to save from the approaching enemy some Texan settlers at the mission of Refugio ; again, in an endeavor to rescue King and his men at the same place ; and, finally, to save Ward and his command—until all was lost, but honor.

The "public vengeance" of the Mexican tyrant, however, was satisfied. Deliberately and in cold blood he had caused three hundred and thirty of the sternest friends of Texas—her friends while living and dying—to tread the winepress for her redemption. He chose the Lord's day for this sacrifice. It was accepted; and God waited his own good time for retribution—a retribution which brought Santa Anna a trembling coward to the feet of the Texan victors, whose magnanimity prolonged his miserable life to waste the land of his birth with anarchy and civil war ! [See Next: The Runaway Scrape]




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