Red Rovers

By: Hobart Huson

Revised by: William V. Scott

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: April 21, 2021


The Red Rovers, also known as the Alabama Red Rovers, a volunteer military company that participated in the Texas Revolution as a unit of the Lafayette Battalion of James W. Fannin's regiment, was organized by its captain, physician Jack Shackelford, at Courtland, Alabama, in November 1835 in response to a plea for help that was printed in the Huntsville Democrat. The company was so named for the fact that its members were uniformed in red pants. As a third of Courtland’s population had volunteered, the remaining citizens of the hamlet also mobilized in making the volunteer company uniforms; ladies and children of the town made uniforms for their husbands, fathers, sons, nephews, cousins, or friends. There were two uniforms made—one for field use and the other for dress. The field uniform consisted of caped hunting frocks and jeans made of a rusty red-dyed linsey-woolsey, with large hunting knives strapped to their hips and coonskin caps atop their heads. Their dress uniforms were red velveteen jackets and caps worn with white pants and a blue sash. The women of Courtland also presented the red clad soldiers with a simple red banner to serve as a company guidon and dubbed the men, the “Alabama Red Rovers.”

The company, which mustered about sixty to seventy men, was equipped with arms and military supplies from the Alabama state arsenal. The Red Rovers remained in camp at Courtland until December 12, 1835, when they started for Texas. When the Red Rovers boarded the mule-drawn train cars of the Tuscumbia, Courtland and Decatur Railroad (TC&DRR) for the first leg of their journey to Texas, they likely became the first military force in the United States to be transported by rail. The track of the TC&DRR disembarked at Tuscumbia where the company boarded the steamboat William Penn which took them up the Tennessee River and over to Paducah, Kentucky, where the men transferred to the vessel The Kentuckian that carried them down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, where they landed on January 1, 1836. After being inspected by Stephen F. Austin and Nicholas Adolphus Sterne, after a couple days at New Orleans, the Red Rovers started the last leg of their journey to Texas upon the Brutus.

The company arrived in Texas on January 19, 1836, and the Brutus deposited its seasick North Alabamian cargo at Dimitt’s Landing. The men remained at Dimitt's Landing until accepted for Texas service on February 3. The Alabamians had about a two-week retreat in their recent locale until their officers could determine the garrison to which these men were to be sent. Finally, on February 4, Shackelford and his men were ordered to the fort at Goliad. They were publicly entertained when they arrived at Victoria on their way to Goliad. Physician Joseph H. Barnard accompanied the unit from Matagorda to Goliad, and on February 12, the Red Rovers got their first glimpse of the “solidarity and durability” of the fort as they marched into Fort Defiance, the Texian’s name for Presidio La Bahía. The Alabama Red Rovers were the last company sent to the garrison and were assigned to the Lafayette Battalion. During the Goliad Campaign of 1836 they were sent on several local expeditions, including two to the Carlos Rancho. On March 18 they extricated Albert C. Horton's men from Aranama Mission, where they were besieged by the Mexican forces. After many ignored orders and pleas, Col. James W. Fannin, Jr., ordered the evacuation of the fort on March 19. The Red Rovers were Fannin’s vanguard on his exodus. Later in the day the Mexican army surrounded the Texians in what became the battle of Coleto.

At the battle of Coleto, the Red Rovers occupied the extreme right of the front side of the square and acquitted themselves like veterans. The next day, on Shackelford’s forty-sixth birthday, Fannin surrendered his men and arms to Gen. José de Urrea. The unit was surrendered with Fannin's regiment, and Fannin’s command was taken back to Presidio La Bahia and held as prisoners. Most of the men shared a common fate in the Goliad Massacre. On Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, all of Fannin’s men that were well enough to travel were marched from the wall under false pretenses, and, within a couple miles of the fort, they were halted and immediately massacred. The wounded at the fort were dragged out of the church and executed.

Shackelford was spared for his medical experience, but his eldest son and two nephews were killed. Sources vary, from four up to fifteen, regarding the number of Red Rovers who were able to escape the gruesome death of their comrades. A handful of men survived by being in the advance and running from the bullets, or, like Shackelford and Barnard, having medical experience. Jack Shackelford returned home to Courtland alone on July 9, 1836.

John Crittenden Duval, Early Times in Texas, or the Adventures of Jack Dobell (Austin: Gammel, 1892; new ed., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986). Henry Stuart Foote, Texas and the Texans (2 vols., Philadelphia: Cowperthwait, 1841; rpt., Austin: Steck, 1935). Lester Hamilton, Goliad Survivor: Isaac D. Hamilton (San Antonio: Naylor, 1971). Stephen L. Hardin, Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996). Clifford Hopewell, Remember Goliad: Their Silent Tents (Austin: Eakin Press, 1998). Alan C. Huffines, The Texas War of Independence 1835–1836: From Outbreak to the Alamo to San Jacinto (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2005). Hobart Huson, Dr. J. H. Barnard’s Journal, 1949. John J. Linn, Reminiscences of Fifty Years in Texas (New York: Sadlier, 1883; 2d ed., Austin: Steck, 1935; rpt., Austin: State House, 1986). William H. Oberste, “Remember Goliad” (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1949). Stuart Reid, The Texan Army, 1836–1846 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2003). Dennis Riedesel, Isaac Hamilton: Surviving Amidst the Texas Revolution. (Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2012). Col. James Edmonds Saunders, Early Settlers of Alabama with Notes and Genealogies by Elizabeth Saunders Blair Stubbs (New Orleans: L. Graham & Son, Ltd., 1899). Dudley Goodall Wooten, ed., A Comprehensive History of Texas (2 vols., Dallas: Scarff, 1898; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1986).

Categories:

  • Military

Time Periods:

  • Texas Revolution

Places:

  • Southeast Texas

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

Hobart Huson Revised by William V. Scott, “Red Rovers,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 01, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/red-rovers.

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1952
April 21, 2021

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