Bunsen, Johann Ernst Friedrich Gustav (1804–1836)

By: Douglas Hale

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1994

Updated: June 18, 2020

Gustav Bunsen, soldier in the Texas war for independence, son of Johann Georg Bunsen, was born at Frankfurt am Main on August 25, 1804. The elder Bunsen was master of the Frankfurt mint. Gustav's cousin, Robert Wilhelm Bunsen, was a pioneer in chemistry, and his elder brother, George Bunsen, was a leading proponent of public education in the United States. Bunsen was trained as a physician and assimilated the doctrines of liberalism and nationalism as a university student. In 1831 he participated in the Polish rebellion against Russian domination. Two years later, in his native Frankfurt, he planned and directed an abortive revolt to overthrow the monarchical regimes of the German Confederation and establish a united and democratic national government. After the failure of this Frankfurt Insurrection on April 3, 1833, Bunsen narrowly escaped arrest by fleeing to America. He married Augusta Berchelmann at Belleville, Illinois, and settled briefly in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Shortly after Sam Houston issued his appeal for volunteers to serve against Antonio López de Santa Anna in October 1835, Bunsen joined Capt. James Tarlton's company of Louisville volunteers and set out for Texas. When these men arrived in San Antonio late in December, they found the city already in the hands of the Texas rebels. Eager for action, Bunsen then joined the expedition of James Grant and Col. Francis White Johnson against Matamoros. With only sixty-four men, Grant and Johnson marched south and arrived at the village of San Patricio on January 22, 1836. Here Bunsen and his comrades spent a month scouring the countryside for horses for the reinforcement troops they hoped to receive. By this time Santa Anna had launched a major offensive against Texas from south of the Rio Grande. Early on the morning of February 27 a troop of Mexican cavalry surprised Bunsen's party at Julian de la Garza's ranch near San Patricio and slaughtered all but five of the Texans. Bunsen was riddled with bullets before he could fire a shot. While the Mexican army drove north to besiege the defenders of the Alamo, Bunsen was buried in the Garza family plot near the banks of the Nueces River. His name is inscribed on a monument in the old San Patricio Cemetery.

Hermann Ehrenberg, Texas und Seine Revolution (Leipzig: Wigand, 1843; abridged trans. by Charlotte Churchill, With Milam and Fannin, Austin: Pemberton Press, 1968). Fannin Notes, Louis Wiltz Kemp Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Douglas Hale, "Gustav Bunsen: A German Rebel in the Texan Revolution," East Texas Historical Journal 6 (October 1968). Gustave Philipp Koerner, Memoirs (2 vols., Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Torch, 1909). Richard Schwemer, Geschichte der freien Stadt Frankfurt am Main, 1814–1866 (3 vols., Frankfurt: Baer, 1910–18).

  • Health and Medicine
  • Physicians and Surgeons
  • General Practitioners
  • Peoples
  • Germans
  • Military
  • Soldiers
Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Douglas Hale, “Bunsen, Johann Ernst Friedrich Gustav,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 25, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/bunsen-johann-ernst-friedrich-gustav.

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November 1, 1994
June 18, 2020

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