Although the most familiar events of the Texas Revolution occurred in 1836, the Goliad Campaign of 1835 comprised an important series of operations initiated by Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Anna designed to quell insurrection in Texas. In this campaign the Mexican army under Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos intended to reinforce existing Mexican garrisons at Refugio and Goliad and to safeguard the port of Copano, precursory measures directed ultimately toward buttressing and holding San Antonio de Béxar until Santa Anna brought his main army into Texas. Conversely, the campaign resulted in critical victories for Texas forces, which proved essential to Cos's defeat in the siege of Bexar. These victories of 1835 then intensified Santa Anna's endeavor to suppress the revolt against him in Texas.
Goliad, or, more accurately before 1829, La Bahía, lay on the important route from the Gulf of Mexico to San Antonio de Béxar. Copano (El Cópano), established on Aransas Bay about the same time as San Antonio, served as the principal port of entry. These three points were the key to control of South Texas. La Bahía had immense strategic importance, since it guarded the supply line from the coast to the principal city.
When the presidio and mission of La Bahía del Espíritu Santo (so-called generally, but formally named Nuestra Señora de Loreto Presidio and Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga Mission) were removed in 1749 from the Guadalupe River (at the site of present Mission Valley) to the San Antonio River, the presidio was located on the southwestern bank of the river and the mission on the northeastern bank. The settlement that grew up around the presidio also was known as La Bahía. On February 4, 1829, the congress of Coahuila and Texas elevated the presidio of La Bahía del Espíritu Santo to a villa, or town, called afterward Goliad. This new municipality owed its importance to the port of Copano, forty miles distant, which had begun to compete with Matamoros for the lucrative Mexican interior trade, for which the new town of Goliad supplied expert smugglers, as well as oxcarts and drivers who provided transportation between markets and port.
The roots of the Goliad Campaign of 1835 lay in Santa Anna's emergence in 1834 as president of Mexico and leader of the movement to establish the authority of a supreme central government (hence the "Centralist" movement); in the resulting controversy between Saltillo and Monclova regarding the political leadership of the Mexican state of Coahuila and Texas; and in the increasingly independent thinking in Texas arising in part from its distance from the central government in Mexico City and from its proximity to the United States. Citizens of Coahuila and Texas grew discontented with the Centralist policies of their new president and claimed adherence to the Constitution of 1824, a Federalist document that limited the power of the central government; Santa Anna was determined to suppress any movements in favor of maintaining federalism and opposing his presidency.
He led the first significant assault against federalism in the spring of 1835 by crushing the city of Zacatecas. He then ordered General Cos, his brother-in-law, to Texas in September to investigate the refusal of citizens at Anahuac to pay duties to the central government (see ANAHUAC DISTURBANCES). Cos's goal was to proceed to San Antonio and ultimately San Felipe de Austin via Goliad with an army of 500 men, whose purpose was to reinforce Col. Domingo de Ugartechea and chastise the citizens of Texas for their attitude. This plan was well known in Texas, for many citizens had family in the interior and business connections there. The influential John J. Linn of Guadalupe Victoria warned as early as July 1835 that Cos would land at Copano.
Initial moves to suppress rebellious intent occurred at the local level and were resisted by militia and newly formed committees of safety and correspondence. In July at La Bahía presidio, Col. Nicolás Condelle (or Conde), who had been sent to secure Goliad and Copano for Cos's projected expedition, arrested the alcalde, stripped the town of its arms, pressed citizens into service, and quartered soldiers in their homes. Clashes between the Mexican soldiers and area settlers occurred several times, paralleling the events occurring some sixty miles away at Gonzales.
Meanwhile, on September 1 the Texas schooner San Felipe, with the help of the steam tug Laura, captured the Mexican revenue vessel Correo Mexicano, which had been sent to Anahuac to restore order. Upon learning this, Cos, then commanding at Matamoros, fitted out the armed vessel Veracruzana and with two other vessels voyaged with his force to carry out Santa Anna's scheme and punish the aggressors. Philip Dimmitt, John J. Linn, and other knowledgeable Texans, urged by Capt. James W. Fannin, Jr., of the Brazos Guards, planned as early as September 18 to intercept Cos at Copano or Goliad and so prevent his march toward Bexar.
Nevertheless, the Mexican general landed at Copano about September 20. James Power, empresario of the Power and Hewetson colony and Cos's friend, sought out the general, who cordially informed the empresario of his orders to "repress with strong arm all those who, forgetting their duties to the nation which has adopted them as her children, are pushing forward with a desire to live at their own option without subjection to the laws." Power then warned the inland colonies that Cos had arrived, was marching to reinforce the government garrisons at Refugio, Goliad, and San Antonio, and would ultimately arrive at San Felipe de Austin. The landing and transport of munitions, provisions, and supplies were assisted by Condelle's garrison, with carts and reluctant laborers impressed into service from among the Refugio colonists and the citizens of Goliad.
Cos left Refugio on October 1 and entered Goliad the next day with an honor guard of thirty, followed, as rapidly as it could be landed, by the infantry battalion of Morelos, which numbered more than 400. Cos dispatched Capt. Manuel Sabriego, a commander of local rancheros, and about twenty-five men to Guadalupe Victoria to seize a cannon and arrest José M. J. Carbajal, though, like the incident at Gonzales, the attempt was unsuccessful. Alcalde Plácido Benavides led the militia of Victoria against surrendering either the cannon or Carbajal. Meanwhile, the excitement erupting at Gonzales on and before September 29 both deterred Fannin's proposed plan to attack Cos and accelerated the Mexican general's march to San Antonio. The Texan companies moving to intercept Cos abandoned that objective and hurried instead to Gonzales, where the first armed clash of the revolution occurred on October 2 (see GONZALES, BATTLE OF).
Cos departed from Goliad on October 5 with his honor guard and the Morelos battalion and marched unmolested toward Bexar, leaving behind a small detachment of twenty-seven men under Lt. Col. Francisco Sandoval and Captain Sabriego. Cos left another garrison under command of Capt. Nicolás Rodríguez at Fort Lipantitlán, to the south on the Nueces River near San Patricio. Sabriego was also charged with guarding Cos's supplies, which had to be left at Goliad because no transportation was available.
Despite the action at Gonzales not all citizens diverted their attention from Goliad. Linn and Benavides, who had gone to Gonzales to train the volunteers amassing there after the battle, tried to persuade them to intercept Cos before he reached Bexar; but finding most unwilling, the two joined a company of about fifty men under Ben Fort Smith and William H. Jack, who set out to liberate Goliad and Copano from Mexican occupation. Another company of about forty men, mostly from the Matagorda area, organized under Capt. George M. Collinsworth, then marched to Guadalupe Victoria, picking up recruits along the way. Though the Matagorda company organized to carry out Fannin's plan, Fannin apparently had no personal connection with the expedition. The unit reached Victoria on October 9. There the men ate, rested, and were reinforced by some thirty additional volunteers from Victoria, Goliad, and the surrounding area, including Silvestre De León, Carbajal, Dimmitt, and Benavides, who had arrived with Linn ahead of Smith's company. Linn sent word to Refugio asking for volunteers; many arrived in time to participate in the attack.
Forty-nine men of the company then signified on October 9 their intention to "take up the line of March for Goliad" by signing the "Compact of Volunteers," a solemn pledge to "give the population of that town protection against military domination . . . [and to] stand firm to the Republican institutions of the Govt. of Mexico and of Coahuila & Texas under the constitution of 1824." Most of the Victoria-Refugio area volunteers did not sign the document, probably because of the shortness of time and the considerable recruitment at Victoria. The ultimate strength of the Collinsworth company probably reached some 120 men.
While at Victoria, Dimmitt, a De León colonist, received word from a contact at Goliad that Cos was on his way to Bexar and had left only a small garrison at the old Presidio La Bahía. Collinsworth marched his company southwestward across the prairie and after dark reached Manahuilla Creek, where they rested and sent a small party under Ira Ingram to scout the town. They were surprised by the appearance of Benjamin R. Milam, who had just escaped from prison in Monterrey and was traveling "to reach my countrymen in Texas." The well-known Milam was welcomed into Collinsworth's company, which resumed its march. Guided by those familiar with the area, the men reached Presidio La Bahía at about 11:00 P.M.; the scouting party was now reunited with the main unit. Before, during, and after the assault the company was additionally reinforced by volunteers from the Refugio area, including James Power, Ira J. Westover, Hugh McDonald Frazer, Thomas G. Western, Thomas O'Connor, John James, John B. Sideck, Samuel McCulloch, John Malone, Walter Lambert, Armand Victor Loupé, Charles Shearn, and John Dunn.
The Texans took the garrison by surprise and battled for about thirty minutes before capturing the presidio. Sandoval and Sabriego were among the prisoners, though almost twenty Mexican soldiers escaped to warn the Copano and Refugio garrisons, which then moved to Fort Lipantitlán. Prior to surrendering, Sandoval also sent word to Cos informing him of the situation. The Texans suffered several wounded but none killed; Sandoval lost three killed, seven wounded, and twenty-one made prisoner.
Linn, who became quartermaster of the army on October 8, and James Kerr had remained at Guadalupe Victoria to gather recruits, munitions, and provisions to take to Goliad, where the two arrived on October 11. Within a few days about fifteen more Refugio colonists reinforced the Texan garrison now commanding the old presidio, and Ben Fort Smith's company also arrived with John Alley's company. A regiment of about 100 men was organized and elected Smith colonel, Collinsworth major, and Dimmitt captain. Gen. Stephen F. Austin soon ordered that the Goliad garrison be maintained at only 100 men, the rest to join the siege at Bexar. On October 14 Smith, Alley, and Benavides marched their companies to Bexar, while Collinsworth left to return to Matagorda and recruit men. The remaining Goliad volunteers elected Dimmitt captain. Ben Milam escorted Sandoval, Sabriego, and other captured officers to San Felipe via Gonzales, where General Austin freed Sabriego to return to his family at Goliad. (Sabriego later escaped to Mexico and returned as a leader of disaffected citizens of La Bahía, the Labadeños or Badeños; the Mexican citizens of Goliad generally did not favor the Texas cause, a factor perilously ignored by Dimmitt's successor, Fannin.) At the urging of Linn and others, the remaining Mexican prisoners at Goliad were released on their own recognizance.
The Goliad Campaign of 1835 did not end with the Texan capture of La Bahía. Both Dimmitt and Austin saw the necessity of retaining Goliad as strategically essential to defeating Cos at San Antonio de Béxar. During the time that Dimmitt commanded Goliad-from about October 14, 1835, to about January 14, 1836-Austin and others drew upon his captured stores for supplies, provisions, and teams and, once these were depleted, called upon area colonists, many of whom served in Dimmitt's garrison, to contribute needed supplies. Dimmitt continued to seek reinforcements. He issued an appeal "To the inhabitants of Texas residing East of the Gaudalupe" on October 21, 1835, warning of "a war of Extermination on the part of the Enimey" and requiring that "we have either to fight for our homes or fly and leave them." That same month he sent Linn, Kerr, and Western to negotiate a treaty of neutrality with menacing Karankawas, the only Indians known to have fought on both sides of the revolution. The treaty was for the most part successful during Dimmitt's command, though Fannin was not so fortunate. Dimmitt also committed himself to evacuating citizens from the Goliad-Refugio war zone to Victoria, Matagorda, and Texana. His attack on the Centralist Mexican garrison at Fort Lipantitlán, however, became the most significant event in the Goliad Campaign of 1835, aside from Collinsworth's capture of Goliad itself.
Although Fort Lipantitlán primarily had served as a customs-inspection post and way station for overland trade between Texas and the interior, after the fall of Goliad the fort assumed the much more important role of maintaining the only link in the Mexican line between Matamoros and Bexar. Sabriego and his Badeños sustained communication between the fort and Bexar, captured Texan messages, and kept Cos informed. Lipantitlán also effectively prevented the colonists at San Patricio from openly supporting the cause against Santa Anna. More of an immediate threat, though probably unknown to Dimmitt, was General Cos's plan to use Lipantitlán in an attempt to recapture Goliad.
The idea to vanquish Fort Lipantitlán originated with Dimmitt and was approved by Power, Kerr, and Linn, who remained with the garrison as elder advisers. Indeed, it was Power who discovered and reported that a Mexican force from Lipantitlán was to recapture Goliad. Dimmitt's expedition against the Mexican post marched out of Goliad on October 21, 1835, under command of Ira Westover, Dimmitt's adjutant and a member of his advisory council. Linn, Power, and Kerr, delegates-elect to the Consultation, postponed their trip to San Felipe to counsel the expedition.
The Texan party of almost forty men, which was augmented to perhaps sixty at Refugio, drew the attention of Captain Rodríguez at Lipantitlán, inducing him to send out most of his garrison as an interception force. Meanwhile, Cos had ordered Rodríguez to launch an attack against Goliad as part of the effort to help secure Texas; Santa Anna would soon be leading an army to Bexar, and José de Urrea would be bringing another force through Goliad in February. Rodríguez's expedition thus served two purposes. The Texans evaded detection by avoiding main roads, however, arrived at the fort on November 3, and in a surprise attack captured it, finding most of the garrison away. The next day Rodríguez, recognizing the situation, returned to Lipantitlán and battled Westover's men but was defeated. Though Dimmitt criticized Westover for failing to follow orders-probably since so many enemies, especially Sabriego, were allowed to escape-the victory rallied Texan morale, enabled San Patricio to elect delegates to the Consultation and support the cause favoring the Constitution of 1824, dashed Cos's attempt to recapture Goliad, and cut the only remaining link between Matamoros and Bexar (see LIPANTITLÁN EXPEDITION).
After this victory Dimmitt continued to plan his garrison's role in driving Cos from San Antonio, though his command became increasingly beset with troubles. Upon returning to Goliad after the Lipantitlán expedition, Westover's force encountered a party that included James Grant and the governor of Coahuila and Texas, Agustín Viesca, recently escaped from a Matamoros prison. Dimmitt, who was now leaning toward independence from Mexico, refused to recognize Viesca's authority, an act that outraged Linn, Kerr, Westover, Grant, and others still loyal to Mexico. Austin was soon beleaguered with letters of protest against Dimmitt's conduct. Fearing that the cooperation of the Federalists of northern Mexico against Santa Anna might be jeopardized, Austin removed Dimmitt from office without a hearing on November 18. The General Council, however, which also rejected Viesca's authority, refused to remove Dimmitt from his command after his men issued a series of resolutions protesting Austin's action. The incident strained Dimmitt's already deteriorating relationship with Westover, who soon left the garrison to take his seat on the General Council.
The Viesca incident occurred while Dimmitt was trying to restore his authority among those in his command eager to join Robert C. Morris's New Orleans Greys, who passed through Goliad en route to join the siege against Cos at Bexar. Faced with a mutinous situation, Dimmitt put the presidio of La Bahía and the town of Goliad under martial law briefly until the disorder was quelled. The Greys, now mounted and provisioned from Goliad stores, proceeded on to Bexar on November 19. Still, Dimmitt's men remained eager to join the movement against Cos, an interest not lost on their captain.
Though concerned with Cos, Dimmitt also contemplated an expedition against Matamoros, an idea he originated (despite its usual attribution to James Grant and Francis W. Johnson). Indeed, the assault against Fort Lipantitlán was part of this scheme. Dimmitt was well informed of Mexican plans and movements both through his own contacts and through other Tejanos of the Victoria-Goliad-Refugio-San Patricio area. Therefore he knew more than most that the cooperation of Federalists in northern Mexico against Centralists at Matamoros and Bexar was very likely forthcoming in late November and early December 1835, and even suggested that Gen. Lorenzo de Zavala lead the assault. Though Austin favored the idea of an expedition against Matamoros led by Mexican Federalists of the interior, he was more immediately interested in assaulting Bexar, a concern necessarily shared by Dimmitt. The Matamoros project failed to materialize after José Antonio Mexía's defeat at Tampico (see TAMPICO EXPEDITION), and because of the antagonism engendered by Johnson and Grant's attempt to launch their own assault on Matamoros, an act that ultimately contributed to Dimmitt's resigning his command (see MATAMOROS EXPEDITION OF 1835–36).
Although Austin's army, provisioned and supplied by Dimmitt's stores at Goliad, had held Cos under siege at Bexar since October, an attack had not been made, and it became questionable whether an assault was preferable to abandoning the siege and falling back to a fortified Goliad before Santa Anna's main army could arrive from Mexico. When Edward Burleson succeeded Austin after the latter was sent to the United States by the provisional government, the new commander sent his adjutant and inspector general, Col. James Bowie, to "superintend the strengthening of the fortifications." Bowie arrived at Goliad about November 29, found Dimmitt's postponed expedition to Bexar now under way, and apparently joined it. About December 6 Dimmitt, probably Bowie, and a contingent of the Goliad garrison proceeded to Bexar and participated in the final assault against General Cos that had been initiated by Ben Milam and launched the morning of December 5. Whatever immediate contribution Dimmitt's force made in the success of the assault, Cos's ultimate defeat stemmed from the cutting of supply lines formerly guarded by Fort Lipantitlán, Goliad, and Copano, the keys to South Texas now controlled by the Texans (see BEXAR, SIEGE OF).
Dimmitt's party, probably with Bowie, returned to Goliad about December 14, its commander now convinced of the necessity of Texas independence from Mexico, since Mexía's action at Tampico failed to stir up a Federalist insurrection against Santa Anna in the eastern states of Mexico. Dimmitt designed what has been called the first Texas flag of independence, decorated with a bloody arm holding a bloody sword on a white field, and raised it on December 20 to commemorate the declaration that he and Ira Ingram framed, proclaiming Texas "a free, sovereign and independent State" (see FLAGS OF THE TEXAS REVOLUTION, and GOLIAD DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE). These actions antagonized Johnson and Grant, who, having depleted the provisions at Bexar, passed through Goliad in January 1836 en route to capture Matamoros; on this, their own controversial expedition, they depleted Dimmitt's stores as well. Thus Texan forces remained divided as to purpose, Bexar and Goliad suffered weakened conditions, and provisions became critically scarce.
The Goliad Campaign of 1835 ended much as it began, foreshadowing the imminent arrival of the government army under Santa Anna. From Cos's vantage point the campaign had been a failure, since it resulted in the loss of Copano, Goliad, Lipantitlán, San Patricio, and ultimately Bexar. For the Texans it achieved significant, essential victories, but it also exposed the alienation of northern Mexican Federalists from Texas interests and revealed the fractures within Texan forces and the scarcity of munitions and supplies needed to battle Santa Anna successfully. Goliad continued to be crucial to both sides in 1836, though the outcomes of the later campaign, dominated by James W. Fannin and José Urrea, would be quite reversed (see GOLIAD CAMPAIGN OF 1836).