Goliad – The Other Alamo
by Celia Hayes
At the very beginning, the 1835 revolt of Texian settlers against the authority of Mexico rather resembled the American Revolution, some sixty years before – a likeness not lost on the Anglo-American Texians. Both the Colonies and the Texians were far-distant communities accustomed to manage their own affairs with a bare minimum of interference from a central governing authority. Colonists and Texians began standing on their rights as citizens, but a heavy-handed response provoked a response that spiraled into open revolt. “Since they’re trying to squash us like bugs for being rebellious, we might as give them a real rebellion and put up a fight,” summed up the attitude, in 1776 as well as 1835.
The Mexican government promptly sent an army to remind the Anglo-Texan settlers of who was really in charge. The rumor that among the baggage carried along in General Martin Cos’ was 800 pairs of iron hobbles, with which to march selected Texas rebels back to Mexico did win any friends among the Anglo or Hispanic settlers in Texas, nor did the generals’ widely reported remarks that it was time to break up the foreign settlements in Texas. Cos’ army, intended to re-establish and ensure Mexican authority, instead was ignominiously beaten and sent packing late in 1835.
Over the winter of 1835-36 a scratch Texan army of volunteers held two presidios guarding the southern approaches from further invasion, while representatives of the various communities met to sort out what to do next. First, they formed a shaky provisional government, and appointed Sam Houston to command the Army. Then, in scattershot fashion, they appointed three more officers to high command; it would have been farcical, if the consequences hadn’t been so dire. With no clear command, with military companies and commanders pursuing their own various plans and strategies, the Texas settlers and companies of volunteers were unprepared to face the terrible wrath of the Napoleon of the West and President of Mexico, strongman, caudillo and professional soldier, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. He did not wait for spring, or the grass to grow tall enough, or the deep mud to dry out: he intended to punish this rebellious province with the utmost severity. Under his personal command, his army reached the Rio Grande at Laredo in mid-February, and laid siege to a tumbledown former mission garrisoned by a scratch force of volunteers . . . San Antonio de Valero, called simply the Alamo. But this story is about the other presidio, and another garrison of Texans and volunteers; Bahia del Espiritu Santo, or Goliad.
Santa Anna detached General Don Jose Urrea and a force of about a thousand soldiers, a third of them heavy cavalry, to guard his eastern flank along the rivers and lowlands of the Gulf coast….and to mop up the Anglo-Texan garrisons at San Patricio and Goliad. A small force at San Patricio, which had embarked on ill-considered expedition to raid Matamoros was surrounded and wiped out. Then it was the turn of Colonel James Fannin with 500 men holed up at the presidio in Goliad. Those 500 represented the largest body of fighting men among the Texians – and for the moment were still at large. Three couriers arrived from William Barrett Travis’ tiny garrison in the Alamo, begging for help and reinforcements. Fannin was battered from each direction with bad news and the consequences of bad decisions, or even worse, decisions not made until they were forced upon him. He made an abortive attempt to march to
San Antonio, to come to Travis’ aid… but
turned back after a few miles, assuming that relief of the Alamo
was just not possible.
In the mean time, spurred by the knowledge that they must either fight, or go under, to death or exile, a new convention of settlers met at Washington-on-the-Brazos, and declared independence on March 2. In short time they had drafted a constitution, elected an interim government, and commissioned Sam Houston as commander of what army was left.
went to Gonzalez, intending to rally the settlers’ militia there and lift the
siege of the Alamo. He arrived there on the
very same day that news came that Santa Anna’s army had finally broken through
the walls. Travis’ rag-tag collection of volunteers had held for fourteen days.
They had bought time with their blood. Houston sent word to Fannin, ordering
him to retreat north. But Fannin had sent out a small force to protect
Anglo-Texan settlers in a nearby town, and refused to leave until he heard from
them. When he finally decided to fall back, and join up with , it was already too late. Urrea’s
column had already made contact. Fannin and his men moved out of Goliad on
March 19th, temporarily shielded by fog, but they were caught in the
open, a little short of Coleto Creek. They fought in a classic hollow square,
three ranks deep for a day and a night, tormented by lack of water, and the
cries of the wounded. By daylight the next morning, Urrea had brought up field
guns, and raked the square with grapeshot. Houston
Fannin signaled for a parley and surrendered; he and his men believing they would be permitted honorable terms. They were brought back to Goliad and held under guard in the presidio for a week, along with some Texian stragglers who had been rounded up in the neighborhood, and a party of volunteers newly arrived from the States. They were locked up in the small presidio chapel at night; under such tight conditions as they slept standing up, leaning against the stone walls or each other. Fannin and his men all assumed they would be disarmed, and sent back to the United States. Three English-speaking professional soldiers among Urreas’ officers assumed the same. They were horrified when Santa Anna sent orders that all the prisoners were to be executed. Urrea himself asked for leniency and Colonel Portillo, the commander left in charge of Goliad was personally revolted … but he obeyed orders.
On the morning of Palm Sunday, 1836, those of Fannin’s garrison able to walk - about three hundred - were divided into three groups, and marched out of town in three different directions, before being shot down by their guards. Forty wounded were dragged into the courtyard in front of the chapel doors and executed as they lay on the ground. Fannin himself was shot last of all, knowing what had happened to his men. Reportedly he asked only that he not be shot in the face, that his personal belongings be sent to his family, and that he be given decent burial. He was executed at point blank range with a shot in the face, his belongings were looted and his body was dumped into a trench with those of others and burnt, although many were left where they lay. A handful survived by escaping into the brush or jumping into the river. Another handful of prisoners were kept out of the columns; they were concealed in the Presidio by one of Portillo’s officers or rescued by Francita Alavez, the common-law wife of Captain Telesforo Alavez, who would become known as the Angel of Goliad,
Santa Anna, who had been thought of as a competent soldier and a more than usually slippery politician, was branded a brute - and as he was decoyed farther and farther into Texas in pursuit of Sam Houston - an overreaching and arrogant fool. A month later, when Houston and finished falling back into East Texas and training all the men who had gathered to him, Houston’s army turned and fought. Santa Anna’s grand army disintegrated, as Houston’s men shouted “Remember the Alamo!”… and “Remember Goliad!”
My own series about the Germans in Texas, the Adelsverein Trilogy, starts with a boy soldier escaping from the massacre, which experience affects him for the rest of his life. It is a curiosity of history that the Alamo is famous, and the Goliad hardly known outside of Texas. Writer John Willingham, who came out with a novel about James Fannin and the Goliad last year, speculates that it might have been because the siege and fall of the Alamo tapped into a kind of ‘heroic last stand of the 300 at Thermopylae’ mind-set, while the massacre of the Texians at Goliad was a sad and squalid exercise in judicial murder.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Celia Hayes lives in San Antonio, Texas and is the author of six novels set on the American frontier: To Truckee's Trail -- an account of the first wagon train to cross the Sierra Nevada, the Adelsverein Trilogy -- which tells the story of the German settlements in the Texas Hill Country, and Daughter of Texas, and Deep in the Heart, a two-part account of a woman's life during the years of the Republic of Texas. Visit Celia at http://www.celiahayes.com
*Pictures were taken on scene by the author.