The series of fights that together make up the battle of Refugio occurred between March 12 and 15, 1836, during the Texas Revolution, at Nuestra Señora del Refugio Mission in Refugio County. In early March 1836 Carlos de la Garza and about eighty rancheros, serving as scouts and advance cavalry for Mexican general José de Urrea's invading army, raided the village of Refugio. On March 10, during the Goliad campaign of 1836, James W. Fannin, Jr., sent Amon B. King and twenty-eight men to Refugio to help the families besieged there escape to Goliad, knowing that their destination lay in the path by which the main Mexican force under Urrea was expected daily. On March 12, before leaving Refugio, King stubbornly sought to punish Garza and his rancheros. He underestimated Garza's strength and resolve, however, and was forced to retreat with the families back to the mission, where he took refuge and sent word to Fannin at Goliad for help. In what proved to be a disastrous move, Fannin dispatched Lt. Col. William Ward and the Georgia Battalion, together with some of Peyton S. Wyatt's men, to relieve King's command. Ward and some 120 men successfully allayed the siege in the afternoon of March 13. Nevertheless, as John J. Linn wrote, "A difference of opinion arose between the two commanders in relation to the command, which seemed to be irreconcilable, as they could not be coerced into a concert of action, even by the perils that threatened them both so imminently."
With both commanders quarreling over rank yet anxious for a fight, the Texian force divided. Some of Ward's men went with King on a punitive mission against the rancheros, and while they were out Urrea and the main force of 1,500 men surrounded Ward's party at the mission. When King attempted to return to the mission, he came upon the rear of Urrea's army and was forced to make a stand in the timber on the Mission River within site of Ward's command. The troops held their ground valiantly from late morning to dark, March 14, while Ward withstood several vigorous assaults. Mexican losses were heavy; the Texans suffered few casualties but were short of food, water, and ammunition. Ward sent James Humphries to Goliad to advise Fannin, who finally got word to Ward through Edward Perry to retreat to Victoria, where they were to rendezvous. Volunteers were left with the wounded and families, and Ward apparently left the mission with the remainder of his battalion on the night of March 14 and traveled in the direction of Copano through woods and swamps to avoid the Mexican cavalry. King's company also tried to escape during the night but was overtaken on March 15 and marched back as prisoners to the mission, now occupied by Urrea's forces. The next day those remaining from Ward's battalion, together with King and all of his company, were executed, except for two Germans and Lewis T. Ayers, who were spared with the local families by the German-born Lt. Col. Juan José Holzinger. Ward's men managed to reach Victoria, but finding the village occupied by Urrea's troops, continued their retreat to Dimitt's Landing, where they surrendered to Urrea. Except for those detailed as laborers to build boats at Victoria, they were marched back to La Bahía, where they were executed in the Goliad Massacre with Fannin's men on March 27, 1836. Though the battle of Refugio is one of the less-known engagements of the Texas Revolution, its consequences are significant. Fannin disastrously split his forces by ordering King and Ward into the path of Urrea's army, a move that reduced by about 150 the number of men he was able to bring to bear against the Mexicans at the battle of Coleto. King and Ward, whose quarrel over rank divided their own small force, refused to return to Goliad before engaging Mexican troops. This prevented their rejoining Fannin, thereby delaying Fannin's retreat to Victoria—a delay that contributed to his defeat at the Coleto and resulted as well in the Texas misfortune in the battle of Refugio and the execution of King's men. Most historians have judged the entire episode as folly. The clash of stubborn personalities, together with their contempt for the prowess of the Mexican army, reduced Fannin's, Ward's, and King's effectiveness, contributing to their defeat and to the calamity of the Goliad Massacre.