Jack Shackelford, commander of the Red Rovers under James W. Fannin at Goliad, was a survivor and chronicler of the battle of Coleto and the Goliad Massacre. He was born in Richmond, Virginia, on March 20, 1790, the son of Richard Shackelford, and was educated as a physician and surgeon. In 1811 he moved to Winnsboro, South Carolina, where he began his practice and married Maria Young, the daughter of a prominent Presbyterian minister. He served on Andrew Jackson's staff in the War of 1812. In 1818 he moved his family to Shelby County, Alabama, where he bought a plantation. He was elected to the Alabama state Senate in 1822, 1823, and 1824. As surety for a cousin whose business failed, Shackelford was forced to sell his plantation. About 1829 he was appointed to head the United States Land Office in Courtland, Alabama, and sell 400,000 acres of government land for the construction of a canal around Muscle Shoals. He then served as treasurer for the Tuscumbia, Courtland and Decatur Railroad, the first line west of the Allegheny Mountains.
With the eruption of the Texas Revolution Shackelford recruited volunteers for the cause in the fall of 1835, mustering a unit that he drilled as captain. The company, which included Shackelford's son, Fortunatus, and also two nephews, was uniformed in red jeans, hence the name Red Rovers. The volunteers arrived at Dimmit's Landing on Matagorda Bay in late January 1836 and marched to Guadalupe Victoria, where alcalde and quartermaster of the Texas Army John J. Linn "prepared for them comfortable quarters" along with "a supply of hot coffee and other refreshments." Upon their arrival at Goliad, Fannin put the Red Rovers in the newly organized Lafayette Battalion. During the battle of Coleto, Fannin positioned the Red Rovers with the New Orleans Greys on the extreme right front of the Texan square. While suffering the Mexican advance, Shackelford, after the second volley of enemy shot, ordered his company to sit down until Fannin commanded them to return fire, an example quickly followed by the other units and credited with preventing numerous casualties. In the Goliad Massacre that followed Fannin's surrender, Shackelford was spared execution, he wrote, "not from any feeling of humanity towards me, but from a necessity, for my services in their hospital." He was subsequently made to care for the wounded Mexicans. After about four weeks at Goliad, "where my sufferings were almost insupportable," he was sent with his comrade, Joseph Henry Barnard, to Bexar to care for Mexicans wounded in the battle of the Alamo. Placed in the benevolent custody of Ramón Músquiz, Shackelford remained in San Antonio with Barnard until the retreat of the Mexican army following the battle of San Jacinto allowed their escape. The two men traveled to Goliad "over the ground which had drunk the heart's blood of our mangled companions" and joined Gen. Thomas J. Rusk, whom Shackelford asked to bury the massacre victims. Barnard and Shackelford continued to Velasco, where they met with President David G. Burnet and confronted the captured "fiend incarnate," Antonio López de Santa Anna. Upset over the honorable treatment given the Mexican general, Shackelford obtained his discharge and returned to Courtland, Alabama, where he received military honors.
"Some Few Notes upon a Part of the Texas War," Shackelford's account of the battle of Coleto and the murder of Fannin's command, is perhaps the best original record of the massacre and is the best authority on Fannin's last moments. First published in Henry Stuart Foote's Texas and the Texans (1841), the account, like those of Joseph E. Field, John C. Duval, and Andrew M. Boyle, did not censure Fannin for fighting on the open prairie; Shackelford considered the collapse of the ammunition cart as merely an unfortunate circumstance. The doctor, however, "remonstrated warmly" against Fannin's resting the command before reaching the Coleto: "Col. Fannin and many others could not be made to believe that the Mexicans would dare follow us. He had too much contempt for their prowess, and too much confidence in the ability of his own little force." Shackelford reported that they did not retreat at the battle of Coleto because they were expecting reinforcements from Victoria, but also because they agreed not to abandon the wounded. Shackelford visited Texas from Alabama in 1839 and attended a dinner sponsored in his honor by Barnard E. Bee, Sr., and Albert Sidney Johnston in Houston on February 4. During the Mexican invasions of 1842 he again tried to secure volunteers for the Texas cause. He traveled to Houston and also Austin in 1846. He died in Courtland, Alabama, on January 22, 1857. In 1858 Shackelford County was established and named in his honor.