Goliad Campaign of 1836

By: Harbert Davenport and Craig H. Roell

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: April 7, 2016

The Goliad Campaign of 1836, a campaign of the Texas Revolution, was a victorious operation for the Mexican army under Gen. José de Urrea. Though the defeat of Texas forces led to the execution of James W. Fannin's command in the Goliad Massacre, the campaign helped inspire ultimate victory over the Mexicans at the battle of San Jacinto.

The Texans had available a considerable number of men to deploy against the advancing Mexican army in early 1836. Some were regular troops; most were in the volunteer force (see REVOLUTIONARY ARMY). Colonel Fannin landed at Copano on February 2, 1836, with about 200 men—the four companies of the Georgia Battalion and the two small companies of captains Burr H. Duval and Luis Guerra, the latter the commander of a Mexican artillery company that had joined José Antonio Mexía at Tampico but left him at Velasco (see MEXÍA'S EXPEDITION). Six small companies, amounting to another 200, awaited Fannin at Refugio; sixty more volunteers were at San Patricio under Francis W. Johnson and James Grant. Another eighty, including Capt. John (Jack) Shackelford's company of Red Rovers, were encamped on the Lavaca River awaiting Fannin's call. Two strong companies, 100 men, recruited by Capt. Amasa Turner, were at the mouth of the Brazos under orders to report to Fannin at Copano; and Edwin Morehouse's New York Battalion had, on January 20, renewed its voyage to Texas from Nassau. This force, 190 strong, had sailed from New York on November 21, 1835, on the brig Mattawamkeag but had been detained for two months in the Bahamas on charges of piracy. Francis W. Thornton, with a small company of regulars, occupied the old presidio of Nuestra Señora de Loreto at Goliad; and James C. Neill had 150 men at San Antonio to defend the Alamo and the town of Bexar. Still, these diverse groups did not constitute a large army; but because of the scarcity of means of land transportation in Texas, they would have been, once assembled on the frontier, as large a force as Texas resources could have supplied.

Fannin went to Copano as agent of the provisional government to organize a Matamoros expedition (see MATAMOROS EXPEDITION OF 1835–36)—designed to aid Mexican Federalists against the Centralists led by Antonio López de Santa Anna—after Francis W. Johnson declined the offer following a disagreement with the General Council's provisions. With Sam Houston on self-assigned furlough, a move designed to check the dissent generated against him for his opposition to the Matamoros campaign, Fannin was the senior Texas officer in the field. On February 4 and 5 he marched the companies he had with him at Copano to the Texan camp at Refugio as a step toward the proposed Matamoros campaign, only to learn, on February 7 through Plácido Benavides, that Santa Anna's threatened movement to overwhelm Texas and suppress the rebellion was already under way. Benavides, a Mexican revolutionary from De León's colony, obtained information from the alcalde of Matamoros, warning that Bexar and Goliad were to be attacked simultaneously and that a trap awaited the Texans at Matamoros, where the Mexican army was gathering. Fannin dispatched William G. Cooke with two companies to reinforce San Patricio and removed his own headquarters to Goliad (La Bahía), leaving Amon B. King with his small garrison at Refugio and John Chenoweth with a few mounted men to guard Copano, the crucial port for Refugio, Goliad, and San Antonio. After Fannin successfully removed to Goliad, Shackelford joined him there with the Lavaca elements on February 12. Fannin ultimately reorganized his Goliad command into a single regiment consisting of the Georgia Battalion and the Lafayette Battalion.

Meantime, disaster had struck at the mouth of the Brazos. The schooner Tamaulipas, carrying Turner's two companies and the Texas army's whole supply of munitions, clothing, and shoes—badly needed by Fannin's volunteers—was wrecked on February 5 on the Brazos sand bar. Turner and his men were now employed in salvaging the cargo. Fannin learned at the same time that New Orleans underwriters had refused to insure Texas-bound cargoes consigned via Aransas Pass, thereby effectively terminating all plans for using Copano as a base. Provisions, arms, and munitions now had to be consigned via Cavallo Pass and the Matagorda ports and hauled overland from there.

Withdrawal to Goliad was Fannin's own idea, and it proved to be a tragic mistake. He gave as his reason for fortifying Goliad his "conviction of its importance, as being advantageously located for a depot of reinforcements, clothing, provisions and military stores. It commands the sea coast, particularly Aransas and Matagorda Bays—and consequently the only convenient landings for vessels of any tonnage." Martín Perfecto de Cos had landed at Copano in 1835 and had expected to draw his supplies through that port. The Texan capture of Goliad in October 1835 intervened between Copano and Cos and starved him into capitulation (see GOLIAD CAMPAIGN OF 1835 and BEXAR, SIEGE OF). Fannin, trained at the United States Military Academy at West Point, well knew that the Texan occupation of Goliad had contributed more to Cos's defeat than had Texan prowess in the siege of Bexar. Santa Anna knew this, too. In readying his advance, he declined reliance on Copano unless and until that port had been made safe by the weight of his advance. He collected "1800 pack mules, 33 four-wheeled wagons, and 200 two-wheeled carts" for the overland haul from the Rio Grande, means of transport that the Texans could not match. For the Texas cause, Goliad could remain important only as long as Texans held Bexar, and it is questionable how effectively Fannin could "command" Aransas Bay with a small number of infantry some forty miles away. The village of Guadalupe Victoria (now the city of Victoria) offered a more defensible and friendly place from which to command Matagorda Bay—where the supplies were—but Goliad offered better housing and was a shorter distance from Refugio, where Fannin's command had been stationed without tents and little shelter.

When Fannin withdrew to Goliad on February 12, Santa Anna's force was already on the march, with light cavalry and local Mexican rancheros, particularly from the Refugio and Goliad areas, serving as advance forces gathering intelligence. Fannin wrote as early as February 7 that "It is useless to controvert the fact that our true strength and geographical situation are well known to Santa Anna." By contrast, Fannin had no mounted troops to use for scouting the Mexican advance, and remained generally ignorant of their movements. Santa Anna's main body, 6,000 effectives (exclusive of new recruits, muleteers, teamsters, and other auxiliaries) was moving through Laredo and San Juan Bautista Presidio against Bexar. The army's only hindrance was want of forage, especially between the Nueces and the Medina rivers, where the Texans and the Indians had burned the grass. Santa Anna's advance column encamped on the Medina on February 20 and before Bexar on February 23. His right wing, more than 1,000 strong, was commanded by General Urrea, an energetic officer. It had concentrated at Matamoros late in January and waited there, collecting provisions and reinforcements, until Urrea began his march toward San Patricio on February 13, en route ultimately to Goliad, Victoria, and Brazoria, to command access to the Gulf of Mexico.

Urrea's first objective was the raiding party under Johnson and Grant. On February 9 Cooke, at San Patricio, told Fannin of the departure of Johnson and Grant with their sixty men on a foray into Tamaulipas. They had declined service under Fannin but had left behind in Cooke's charge their three cannons and a quantity of ammunition. Fannin dispatched Duval with teams and carts to take this artillery and ammunition and ordered Cooke to return with them to Goliad, where Cooke arrived about February 19. At this juncture William B. Travis, now sharing a divided command at Bexar, sent James Butler Bonham, Fannin's long-time friend, to confer with the "Acting Commander-in-Chief" at Goliad. A council on February 19, in which Bonham represented Travis, caused Fannin to toy with the idea of moving his headquarters to Bexar or reinforcing the garrison there, but nothing was done. Fannin continued at Goliad, keeping his men busy rebuilding the old presidio, which he renamed Fort Defiance.

This work was still unfinished when Travis's call for help reached Goliad on February 25. Fannin planned to leave the next day with 320 volunteers and four pieces of artillery to join Travis, calling in Chenoweth's mounted men from Copano to hold the Cibolo crossing and Captain King's company from Refugio to strengthen the Goliad garrison, now left under Ira Westover. Fannin's march to relieve Travis at Bexar, however, ended on the banks of the San Antonio River only two miles from Fort Defiance. Wagons broke down, oxen strayed, provisions were scarce, and the anxious volunteers all insisted on going along; only Westover's regulars agreed to stay at Goliad. Fannin's men lacked shoes and clothing (many were barefooted and nearly naked) and faced a well-provisioned and trained enemy of superior numbers; Fannin's aide-de-camp, John Sowers Brooks, wrote, "we can not rationally anticipate any other result to our Quixotic expedition than total defeat."

After the futile river-crossing Fannin decided that since the movement toward Bexar would expose supplies and provisions accumulating at the Matagorda ports some sixty miles away, it would be better to return to Goliad and continue fortifying the old presidio. But he declined to fall back to where the provisions were located, even though his command seriously needed them. Fannin realized the need as early as February 28. But the provisional government, not perceiving the actual field situation, had ordered him to make no retrograde movements but to await reinforcements at Goliad, and would not give him the authority to retreat; and Fannin, who was becoming increasingly doubtful of his ability to command, awaited orders. The two-day attempt to relieve Bexar cost him precious time and popularity and caused bitter resentment among many of his men, especially the New Orleans Greys. Of all of this the Goliad commander was quite aware. Fannin also incurred ill feelings through his involvement in the quarrel within the provisional government between the council and Governor Henry Smith over the Matamoros expedition, an involvement that also strained his relationship with his second in command, William Ward.

Meanwhile, Johnson and Grant were still determined to carry out an expedition to Matamoros, and General Urrea was eager to subdue them. Johnson, with thirty-four men and a hundred fresh horses, had returned to San Patricio on February 26. The command had encamped in five separate parties, two of about seven men each guarding the horses and the others in three widely separated houses in different parts of the town. The night was "very raw and excessively cold," with continuous rain. Taking advantage of the adverse weather, General Urrea surprised the Texans at three o'clock the following morning, and all were killed or captured except Johnson and four others who escaped (see SAN PATRICIO, BATTLE OF). Leaving a detachment to occupy San Patricio, Urrea then backtracked to find Grant, whose party he surprised on March 2 at Agua Dulce Creek. Dr. Grant and thirteen of his men were killed, six were captured, and only six escaped, including Plácido Benavides, who reported the event to Fannin at Goliad (see AGUA DULCE CREEK, BATTLE OF).

With Travis under siege at the Alamo (see ALAMO, BATTLE OF) and Copano rendered useless by Urrea's advance, Fannin's small force could serve no good purpose by continuing at Goliad, as Fannin well knew. He wrote acting governor James W. Robinson on February 22, "I learn from several sources, that as soon as Bexar is retaken, they next march here, and thus complete their chain of communication to the Interior and Gulf. I am resolved to await your orders, let the consequence be what it may. But I say to you, candidly . . . that unless the people of Texas, forthwith, turn out in mass . . . those now in the field will be sacrificed . . . and if we are not to be sustained in a proper manner, and in good time, receive orders to fall back to the Provisions, and on the Colonies, and let us all go together. I have orders from you not to make a retrograde movement, but to await orders and reinforcements. If a large force gets here, and in possession of the provisions and stores of Matagorda Bay, being all now in Texas, it will be a desperate game for us all."

Robinson's order "not to make a retrograde movement" was coupled with orders "to hold your position at Copano, and if possible, at San Patricio." Fannin had attempted neither, wanting to maintain an option in the event of an attack by a superior force. He sought only to pass on to higher authority the responsibility for an order he knew would be unpopular with his men, who, having labored resentfully to fortify the old Goliad presidio, were now eager to confront the Mexicans and determined to test their labors, not retreat. Thus, rebuilding the fort immobilized the force and compelled it to a defense.

Fannin imagined that his letter of February 7 to Robinson, advising him of Benavides's warning about the imminence of Santa Anna's incursion, had aroused Texas colonists and that they would hurry to Goliad as they had hurried to Gonzales in 1835; but it was Travis's ringing calls from the Alamo, and not Fannin's letter, that brought colonists into the field in 1836. Indeed, by late February Fannin had lost confidence in the Texas colonists; their refusal to reinforce his army angered him. Frustrating him further, the members of the Convention of 1836 had no appreciation of danger and took no measures to meet the coming emergency. The convention supposed as late as March 5 that Fannin had united with Travis, that other reinforcements had joined them, and that the Alamo was safe.

Picketing, ditching, and mounting cannons for the defense of Fort Defiance were completed about March 1, and Fannin thought the fort ready to stand a siege. Ammunition was not too plentiful; provisions were dangerously scarce. These were now abundant at Cox's Point and Dimitt's Landing on Matagorda Bay, and Fannin exerted himself to have them hauled to the fort. The wagons sent for provisions, however, did not return until March 10 and 11.

Fannin might have held the line of the Guadalupe River if that had been his object. Amasa Turner's two companies had salvaged the Tamaulipas but were still at the mouth of the Brazos, kept there by local influences that thought only of the defense of local ports. The Mattawamkeag, with Morehouse's New York Battalion, waited for convoy in the Mississippi from February 12 until March 3, when it sailed for Matagorda Bay; it touched at the mouth of the Brazos en route. The William and Francis, with William P. Miller and seventy-five recruits for the Legion of Texas Cavalry, sailed from the mouth of the Mississippi on March 5 under John M. Allen, who had recruited a company of regulars in New Orleans, intended to sail on the Equity at about the same time.

Both Miller and Allen were acting under orders issued by General Houston in December 1835, which were, in effect, that they should recruit their respective companies as soon as practicable and report with them to Copano. Disregarding the turn of events since these orders were issued, both officers insisted on literal compliance and refused to take passage for Matagorda Bay. Most of Allen's men refused to embark at Copano. On March 5 the Mattawamkeag arrived off the mouth of the Brazos and from there sailed for Cavallo Pass, where it fell in with the Texan schooner Liberty and her prize, the Pelicano. The Mattawamkeag and the Liberty crossed the dangerous bar, but the Pelicano was lost inside the pass. The New York Battalion was then diverted to salvaging her cargo rather than landing at Cox's Point to reinforce Fannin as originally ordered. Meanwhile, acting governor Robinson wrote Fannin on March 6 to "use your own discretion to remain where you are or to retreet as you may think best for the safety of the brave Volunteers Under your command."

Travis's letter of March 3 reached the convention after the Alamo had fallen. Houston and his staff, after reading it, departed for Gonzales. On March 8 Houston, now appointed major general and commander in chief by the convention, ordered Neill, at Gonzales, and Fannin, at Goliad, to undertake joint action to aid Travis. Fannin received this order on March 12. He was preparing the next day to start for Cibolo Creek with 300 men to meet Houston, when a cry for relief came from Amon B. King, whom he had sent with his available carts and teams and some thirty men to Refugio on March 11 to remove some families stranded there.

Despite Houston's warning in January against sending out small parties when the Mexican army was so near, Fannin had sent out at least two: one on March 10 under William C. Francis of Shackelford's company to Carlos de la Garza's ranch, a suspected "nest of spies"; and King's party sent to Refugio. King's mission was particularly shortsighted on Fannin's part, since King was sent directly into Urrea's known path with enough men to attract attention but too few to repel attack by the Mexican army. A better choice might have been to send Hugh McDonald Frazer and the Refugio militia, since they would have been aiding evacuation of their fellow colonists. Regardless, historians generally agree that sending King to Refugio was the initial significant misjudgment that ended in catastrophe for Fannin's command.

Fannin's march to join Neill awaited King's return. On March 12 King, while collecting the scattered families, decided to punish some local rancheros who had been plundering Refugio, and in so doing blundered upon one of Urrea's advance cavalry outposts at Esteban López's lower ranch (the site of modern Bonnie View). King managed to gather the scattered families and, pursued by a Mexican force of about fifty or sixty men, retreated with the families into Nuestra Señora del Refugio Mission, from where he sent word to Fannin for help.

Fannin received King's plea at 1:00 A.M. on March 13 and ordered William Ward and the Georgia Battalion and a portion of Peyton S. Wyatt's company to King's relief. Ward, Fannin's second in command, was wholly inexperienced like most of the Goliad garrison, so Fannin then sent John Sowers Brooks and Joseph M. Chadwick to ensure Ward's success; but their guides got lost in the dark and their force returned to Goliad. Fannin's orders to Ward, like his aborted march on February 25 to relieve Travis and his orders to King, were basically issued on impulse, without any real consideration of the military problems involved. Sending Ward's detachment to Refugio meant placing one-third of the Goliad garrison—more men than Travis had had in the Alamo—without provisions, transport, or reserve ammunition, and without proper support, directly in the path of Urrea's advancing main army.

Ward left Goliad at 3:00 A.M. on March 13, force-marched twenty-seven miles across rain-soaked prairie, and relieved the besieged King at about three that afternoon. After this initial skirmish Ward decided to rest his men overnight before returning to Fort Defiance. Meanwhile, Santa Anna was sending Urrea reinforcements from Bexar—Col. Juan Morales's Jiménez and San Luis battalions—and Urrea was en route to Refugio, having been informed of Ward's movements through such scouts as Carlos de la Garza's rancheros. Expecting Texan reinforcements to land at Copano—William P. Miller's volunteers were then en route aboard the William and Francis—Urrea initially mistook Ward's maneuver for an occupation of that port. Therefore, upon being advised that the Georgia Battalion stopped at Refugio, the Mexican general sent Capt. Rafael Pretalia's cavalry unit along with Guadalupe de los Santos's local rancheros to hold Ward there until the main Mexican army could arrive. Urrea marched from the Aransas River at midnight with 180 infantry, 100 cavalry, and an artillery piece, leaving the rest of the army, under Col. Francisco Garay, to follow. Had Ward shown equal energy, and had he and King not disagreed, they might have been at Goliad at dawn the following day.

Instead of returning to Goliad, however, Ward and his men, like King's, were eager for a fight, and they found one early the next day, March 14. King refused to return to Goliad with Ward until he had punished the rancheros on López's lower ranch. His party of twenty-eight men ambushed and killed eight local Mexicans, assumed to be spies, sitting around a campfire; indeed, one of them had been in Luis Guerra's Mexican company, formerly of Fannin's command, and was found with communications to Urrea written while he had been at Fort Defiance. Meanwhile, Ward sent a force under his second in command, Warren J. Mitchell, on a reconnoitering mission. As Urrea's army of some 1,500 men approached, Mitchell's detachment returned to the mission.

Suffering heavy losses conservatively estimated at 100 dead and fifty wounded, excluding ranchero casualties, Urrea launched several vigorous assaults on Ward's position, all of which the Texans repulsed with minor casualties. King's detachment, returning in mid-afternoon on the western margin of the Mission River, stumbled upon the rear of Urrea's army and was at once attacked. King took position in a wood on the bank of the river and resisted all efforts by Col. Gabriel Núñez's cavalry and Colonel Garay's infantry to dislodge him, valiantly inflicting punishing losses on his assailants until darkness ended the fight.

Having exhausted most of their ammunition and provisions, both King and Ward tried to escape. Captured dispatches led Urrea to suppose that the Texans would retreat toward Goliad, but Ward marched out on the Copano road and so escaped. King crossed the Mission River where it was not considered fordable, wetting his little remaining gunpowder; when overtaken the next day by Carlos de la Garza's rancheros, he was unable to resist. He and his men were returned to the old mission. In obedience to the Mexican decree of December 30, 1835, which commanded death to all armed rebels, most of King's men were shot on March 16. Col. Juan José Holsinger of the Mexican army spared and liberated eight of the men, including Refugio colonists Lewis T. Ayers, Francis Dieterich, and Benjamin Odlum.

Ward and his command retreated in the riverbottom swamps toward Guadalupe Victoria, where Ward logically assumed Fannin now would be, since the Goliad commander had ordered him to rendezvous there in the event that his retreat to Goliad was cut off (see REFUGIO, BATTLE OF). Urrea left his wounded and a detachment at the Refugio mission under command of Col. Rafael de la Vara, charged also with guarding Copano, then dispatched cavalry units and local rancheros after Ward's men and proceeded with about 900 effectives toward Goliad.

Meanwhile, on March 11, General Houston arrived at Gonzales and learned that the Alamo had fallen on March 6. He hurried Capt. Francis J. Dusanque to Goliad with these tidings and ordered Fannin to fall back to Guadalupe Victoria "as soon as practicable . . . with your command, and such artillery as can be brought with expedition. The remainder will be sunk in the river." Houston further ordered Fannin to blow up Fort Defiance, defend and help evacuate Victoria, and forward one-third of his effective force to Gonzales.

Fannin received this order either on March 13 or 14; the day is a matter of considerable historical dispute, since he has been charged with disobeying Houston's command by dispatching Ward to Refugio, then remaining at Goliad awaiting Ward's return. Houston's order to retreat "as soon as practicable" gave Fannin some discretion, however. The more significant question is not why Fannin lingered after March 14, but why he had dallied after February 25, when he learned that Santa Anna was at Bexar. Regardless, Houston himself expressed little confidence in Fannin in his letter to James Collinsworth of March 13: "I would not rely on any co-operation from him. . . . The projected expedition to Matamoras, under the agency of the council has already cost us 237 lives; and where the effects are to end, none can foresee. . . . I fear La Bahia (Goliad) is in siege."

Ironically for Fannin, he now had his long-awaited order to retreat but had neither the means to perform it effectively nor an accounting of his dispatched personnel. Nearly all his carts and teams were with King at Refugio, and only a few hours earlier Ward had marched to King's relief. A small company of Texans under Capt. Sam A. White was at Guadalupe Victoria, assembling carts and teams primarily gathered from among the residents by the alcalde of Victoria and quartermaster of the army John J. Linn. By so doing, Linn deprived his own citizens of a means of escape, but he directed them to Cox's Point. Although Guadalupe Victoria was the principal town in De León's colony and primarily a Mexican village, the De León family, including José M. J. Carbajal, Silvestre and Fernando De León, and Benavides, together with most of their colonists, supported the cause against Santa Anna and were legitimately concerned about their treatment by Urrea's approaching Mexican army.

A swift retreat to Victoria was in Fannin's best interest not only because the Guadalupe River made for a more defensible line and the citizens of Victoria, unlike those of Goliad, were friendly; but the village afforded some provisions, and needed reinforcements were already there or nearby. In addition to White's company Albert C. Horton was also near Victoria with more than forty men, many of them mounted. Philip Dimmitt, the former Goliad commander, recruited a company of twenty-one men there as well, though Houston called them to Gonzales; and Morehouse's New York Battalion was reorganizing on Matagorda Bay. Turner's two companies were still at the mouth of the Brazos, though Robinson had ordered them to Bexar. Miller and his men, heading for Copano, were, unknown to Fannin, somewhere off Aransas Pass.

On March 14, while Ward and King were fighting the battle of Refugio, Fannin dispatched successive couriers to them and to Horton and White at Victoria. The expert rancheros of Carlos de la Garza and others captured all of these couriers, whose messages supplied Urrea with exact knowledge of Fannin's situation, strength, and intentions. Fannin, having no mounted men and watched on all sides by Mexican cavalry and rancheros, was virtually blind.

Horton and thirty-one mounted men, escorting the teams and carts from Victoria, joined Fannin late on March 14. These were the last reinforcements the Goliad commander received; the garrison now totaled some 330 men, excluding King's and Ward's commands and various unattached supernumeraries. Prudence dictated that Fannin retreat quickly to Victoria. This was what Ward expected him to do, and having first eluded Urrea at Refugio by marching toward Copano, Ward left the Copano road at Melon Creek and marched across country toward Victoria, where he believed Fannin would be. Colonel Fannin, however, spent March 15 and 16 "in vain anticipation of Ward's return," though he did plan for the retreat by selecting nine pieces of artillery to take with him and burying seven others. At 4:00 P.M. on March 17 he learned of King and Ward's fate through Hugh McDonald Frazer of the Refugio militia, who had volunteered to investigate.

Instead of retreating hastily to Victoria, Fannin spent March 18 taking "the necessary measures for a retreat in accordance with the resolution of the officers in council last evening." He and his men had no intention of making a hurried retreat, nor any apparent concern for their situation. The men were still ready for a fight, and most, including their commander, little esteemed the prowess of their enemy. Urrea, knowing Fannin's intentions, dispatched cavalry units and rancheros to hold the Texans at Goliad, as he had done with Ward at Refugio; and, expecting daily Morales's battalions from San Antonio, was bringing up the remainder of his army to lay siege to Fort Defiance. Morales and his 500 men occupied their assigned position on Manahuilla Creek about three miles north of Goliad on March 17; Urrea reached the San Antonio River the same day and joined Morales the next. The Mexican army now totaled at least 1,400 men, excluding the 200 rancheros.

Horton had discovered Morales's battalions during a scouting mission on March 17, at which time a council among Fannin and his officers determined to retreat the next morning. At that time Urrea's advance cavalry appeared, and Horton, sent to chase them, tired his horses. Fannin, thinking these advance units were the whole of Urrea's army, assumed Fort Defiance would soon be put under siege and so kept the garrison on alert, ordered the buried cannons dug up and remounted, and the village of La Bahía burned. The oxen, sole means of removing artillery, supplies, munitions, and baggage, were left standing unfed in the corrals. No retreat was attempted even that night, a delay based on Horton's seeing Mexican troops at the San Antonio River crossing and his concern that the night was too dark to keep to the road.

The retreat, started at midmorning during a heavy fog on March 19, was late and much confused. Provisions so painfully accumulated were burned; rations for the march were not saved; the unearthed cannons were spiked. Fannin still insisted on bringing nine brass cannons and 500 spare muskets. The carts were heavily loaded, the hungry oxen unruly. Precious time was lost as a cart broke down; the largest artillery piece fell into the San Antonio River and required an hour's labor to retrieve. Even so, the retreat might have been accomplished had Fannin listened to the urgings of Duval, Westover, and Shackelford and pushed his march to the shelter of the woods bordering Coleto Creek. Instead, Fannin halted the column to rest the men and graze the hungry oxen on the broad prairie between Manahuilla and Coleto creeks, thus losing another precious hour. Had this halt been made in the Coleto woods, water, forage for the teams, a defensible position, and superior marksmanship would have multiplied Texan strength.

Fannin and many of his men, contemptuous of Mexican military abilities, did not believe the enemy would follow them. Urrea, skillfully stalking his foe, mistook Fannin's unexplained delay for an intention to stand and fight at Goliad and was not immediately prepared to intercept him; thus he allowed the Texans a two-hour lead, which Fannin unfortunately lost crossing the San Antonio River and grazing the oxen. His resting the teams beyond Manahuilla Creek allowed Urrea to overtake the Texans on the open prairie, and the breakdown of the overloaded ammunition cart then prevented Fannin's little army from reaching the shelter of Encinal del Perdido, a closer, smaller wood toward the north.

Surrounded on the prairie, without food and without water, Fannin's inexperienced command fought the seasoned veterans with whom Urrea had encircled them throughout the long and bloody afternoon of March 19. The Texans suffered ten deaths and sixty or more wounded; Urrea lost considerably more, perhaps some fifty killed and 140 wounded, but reports vary widely. Fannin's men, unwilling to leave their wounded, chose not to escape under cover of darkness as they might otherwise have done. They were aroused on the following morning by fire of Urrea's artillery, which had arrived with Mexican reinforcements overnight. The Texan commander was convinced of the futility of continuing the fight and the necessity of seeking surrender terms, especially since his men were huddled helplessly in improvised trenches, were without food, and had no water for the wounded. By order of el presidente, Santa Anna, and by congressional decree, however, Urrea could offer no terms other than unconditional surrender (see COLETO, BATTLE OF).

Horton and about thirty mounted men had gone forward to hold the Coleto crossing before the fighting began on March 19. They were not included in the capitulation, having escaped after attempting to break through Mexican lines; they returned to the edge of the timber and eventually retreated to Victoria. Horton could see no useful purpose in adding his men to the general sacrifice. His comrades did expect that he would bring reinforcements the next morning, but finding Victoria virtually deserted—Dimmitt, Linn, and White had since departed—Horton continued on to Gonzales, though he made no attempt to hold that place and await Ward's men, who were thought to be retreating from Refugio.

Ward, having fed and rested his men at Fagan's ranch on March 18, headed for Victoria via the Guadalupe timber. On the nineteenth he heard the sound of Fannin's battle at the Coleto, an estimated ten miles distant, and after losing valuable time trying to join Fannin there, returned to the Guadalupe riverbottom that night. Urrea, knowing that Fannin expected reinforcements and that Ward planned to rejoin his commander at Victoria, already had dispatched the rancheros of Carlos de la Garza and others who knew the land well to prevent Ward from joining Fannin and to pick up stragglers. After Fannin's surrender on March 20, Urrea pressed toward Victoria, where he skirmished with some of Ward's men trying to enter the town. Ward, with the remnants of the Georgia Battalion dispirited, footsore, hungry, and without ammunition, again retreated into the Guadalupe woods. There a number of his men left him, and ten of them eventually escaped.

At 10 P.M. on March 21 Ward aroused his remaining men and sought to march by night to Dimitt's Landing. After halting on March 22 within two miles of that place to kill a beef for food, he was surrounded by Urrea's cavalry and forced to surrender on the terms accorded Fannin. Except for those who escaped en route from Refugio and those Urrea detained in Victoria as laborers to build boats, which would enable the Mexican army to cross the swollen Guadalupe River and continue toward Brazoria, Ward and the rest of his command, about eighty-five men, were marched back to Goliad and imprisoned with Fannin's men.

Despite Urrea's rather reserved plea to Santa Anna to treat Fannin's command as prisoners of war, the Mexican president determined to carry out the decree of December 30, 1835; and, doubting Urrea's resolution to execute so many prisoners, sent the order directly to Col. José Nicolás de la Portilla, whom Urrea had left in charge of Goliad. Portilla carried out the order and executed Fannin's command, including Ward's battalion—more than 400 men—on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, in the event known as the Goliad Massacre. Fannin's Goliad campaign had reached its tragic end.

The reinforcements Fannin's men so anxiously hoped for were either grouping near Gonzales awaiting Houston's orders or arrived too late to do any good. On March 19, while Fannin was fighting to the death in the battle of Coleto, Edwin Morehouse of the New York Battalion was with President David G. Burnet's new ad interim government at Groce's Retreat on the Brazos, seeking his commission as major of this command. The battalion took no part in any major engagement of the revolution, however. By the time William P. Miller's Nashville Battalion landed at Copano, Urrea's forces under Rafael de la Vara had occupied the port. Miller and his recruits were surprised without arms and taken prisoner without resistance about March 22. Though also imprisoned at Goliad, they were separated from Fannin's men and spared. These men, along with others spared as laborers, physicians, orderlies, and carpenters, were later marched as prisoners to Matamoros, escorted by the retreating Mexican army following Houston's victorious battle of San Jacinto. Many escaped on the way, and most were later freed by the Mexican government.

For General Urrea, the Goliad Campaign of 1836 was the most significant victory in a series of successful operations against the Texans to secure the gulf region from San Patricio to Brazoria. Indeed, "so great was the reputation he had established during the campaign," wrote a fellow officer, that "he was looked upon as an anchor of salvation." After taking possession of Guadalupe Victoria on March 21, he captured and occupied the various ports along the coast, fording rivers swollen from excessive rains. Matagorda was taken on April 13, Columbia on April 21, and Brazoria the following day. Urrea started for Velasco and Galveston on April 23, when he received orders from Gen. Vicente Filisola to retreat as a consequence of Santa Anna's defeat at San Jacinto. Despite Urrea's adamant insistence that "the high spirit of my division" be utilized to reinforce his comrade and triumphantly counterattack Houston, he was reassigned to the reserve units by his superiors. The victor of the Goliad campaign of 1836 then bitterly backtracked to Matamoros.

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Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution

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

Harbert Davenport and Craig H. Roell, “Goliad Campaign of 1836,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 01, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/goliad-campaign-of-1836.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 7, 2016