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The battle of Coleto, the culmination of
the Goliad Campaign of 1836, occurred near
Coleto Creek in Goliad County on March 19
and 20, 1836. Originally called "the
battle of the prairie" and "la
batalla del encinal [oak grove] del Perdido
[Creek]," it was one of the most significant
engagements of the Texas Revolution. The
battle, however, cannot properly be considered
as isolated from the series of errors and misfortunes
that preceded it, errors for which the Texas commander,
W. Fannin, Jr.,
was ultimately responsible.
The most exasperating decision confronting Fannin
was whether to abandon Goliad after having fortified
it, and if so, when. He had already been informed
of Gen. José
de Urrea's advancing
Mexican army by Plácido
the defeat of Texas forces under Francis W. Johnson
and James Grant at the battles of San
Patricio and Battle
of Agua Dulce Creek.
The Mexican advance caused the Texans to abandon the
of Copano, thus
making Goliad considerably less important strategically,
as Fannin knew. He had received word that the Alamo
had fallen as well. Still, he continued to fortify
Fort Defiance, as he christened the La Bahía presidio,
and awaited orders from superiors to abandon the site,
knowing also that a retreat would not be well received
among his men, who were eager to confront the Mexicans.
immediately consequential to the battle of Coleto
was Fannin's dispatching Amon
B. King's men and
Ward and the Georgia
Battalion to Refugio,
a move primarily induced by the activities of Carlos
de la Garza and
his rancheros, who were operating as advance cavalry
for General Urrea. Not only did the decision to send
Ward and King into Urrea's known path dangerously
divide the Goliad garrison, thus reducing by about
150 the men Fannin would be able to bring against
Urrea at Coleto Creek, but the move became the main
reason Fannin waited so long to abandon Goliad.
refused to do so until he learned of King and Ward's
fate, even after he received Sam Houston's order to
fall back to Victoria.
King had taken the Goliad garrison's wagons and teams
with him to Refugio, however, Fannin delayed his retreat
further, awaiting the arrival of Albert C. Horton's
men from Guadalupe Victoria, who were bringing needed
carts and twenty yokes of oxen garnered by army quartermaster
John J. Linn.
Accounts are not in agreement, but Horton apparently
arrived by March 16. In addition, by capturing virtually
all of Fannin's couriers sent to find King and Ward,
Urrea learned the details of the Goliad commander's
plans and schemed accordingly.
Fannin, however, was unable to find out his opponent's
true strength or position, though on March 17 Horton's
cavalry did discover Col. Juan
with the Jiménez and San Luis battalions, 500 veterans
of the battle of the Alamo whom Antonio López de Santa
Anna had sent from Bexar to reinforce Urrea.
finally learned of King and Ward's defeat in the battle
of Refugio from Hugh McDonald Frazer on March 17, but
he still did not order the retreat to Victoria until
the next day. March 18 was spent instead in a series
of skirmishes between Horton's cavalry and Urrea's advance
forces, which by then had reached Goliad. Fannin, thinking
the fort was about to be besieged, kept the garrison
on alert and attempted no retreat even that night, the
result of a council decision based on Horton's observations.
During this delay the oxen, which were to be hitched
to the carts made ready for the removal to Victoria,
were left unfed.
|At last the Texans began their retreat, by 9:00 A.M. on March
19 under a heavy fog. Fannin insisted on taking nine cumbersome
artillery pieces of various calibers and about 1,000 muskets,
though he neglected to take enough water and food for more than
a few meals. The carts were heavily loaded, the hungry oxen
were tired and unruly, and progress was slow. Urrea, expecting
to lay siege to the fort, was unaware of Fannin's departure
until 11:00 A.M. But the Texans forfeited about an hour of their
lead while crossing the San Antonio River; a cart broke down,
and the largest cannon fell into the river and had to be fished
out. Another valuable hour was lost when Fannin ordered the
oxen detached for grazing after the column had proceeded about
a mile past Manahuilla Creek. John Shackelford, Burr H. Duval,
and Ira Westover protested this stop, arguing that the column
should not rest until reaching the protection of the Coleto
Creek timber. Shackelford particularly noted his commander's
contempt for the Mexican army's prowess and his disbelief that
Urrea would dare follow them-an assumption apparently common
among Fannin's men.
had quickly left Goliad without his artillery and the
full complement of his force in order to narrow Fannin's
two-hour lead. Mexican sources indicate that he set
out with eighty cavalrymen and 360 infantrymen. He discovered
through his mounted scouts the location of Fannin's
column and that the rebel force was considerably smaller
than supposed, information that prompted him to return
100 infantrymen to Goliad to help secure Presidio La
Bahía and escort the artillery ordered to join him as
soon as possible.
|Horton's approximately thirty cavalrymen served as advance guards
on all sides of Fannin's column. The unalert rear guard, however,
which included Hermann
, failed to detect
the Mexican cavalry. Meanwhile, the Texans had scarcely resumed
march after resting the oxen before another cart broke down;
its contents had to be transferred to another wagon. Fannin
then sent Horton to scout the Coleto Creek timber, now in sight,
when the Mexican cavalry emerged from behind them. Upon overtaking
the lumbering Texan position at about 1:30 P.M., the Mexican
commander ordered his cavalry to halt Fannin's advance toward
the protective timber. Fannin set up a skirmish line with artillery
while the column attempted to reach Coleto Creek, about two
the danger, he then formed his men into a moving square
and continued toward the closer timber of Perdido Creek,
which was less than a mile away when the Texans were
overtaken by Mexican cavalry. Caught in a valley some
six feet below its surroundings, the Texans were trying
to get to the more defensible higher ground about 400
to 500 yards distant, when their ammunition cart broke
down. While Fannin called a council to determine the
feasibility of taking what ammunition they could and
reaching the timber, Urrea, seeing his advantage, attacked.
|With little water, and situated in an open prairie covered with
high grass that occluded vision of their enemy, Fannin's men
made ready their defense
Their hollow square was three ranks deep. Each man received
three or four muskets. Bayonets, rifles, more than forty pairs
of pistols, and abundant ammunition complemented this arsenal.
The San Antonio Greys and Red Rovers formed the front line;
Duval's Mustangs and others, including Frazer's Refugio militia,
formed the rear. The left flank was defended by Westover's regulars,
the right by the Mobile Greys. The artillery was placed in the
corners (except when moved as needed), and Fannin assumed a
command position in the rear of the right flank. In addition,
an outpost of sharpshooters formed around Abel Morgan's hospital
wagon, which had become immobilized earlier when an ox was hit
by Mexican fire.
Soon after Urrea's cavalry managed to stop Fannin's retreat,
the Mexican general amassed his troops and attacked the square.
The rifle companies under Morales assaulted the left, the grenadiers
and part of the San Luis Battalion charged the right under Urrea's
direct supervision, the Jiménez Battalion under Col. Mariano
Salas attacked the front, and Col. Gabriel Núñez's cavalry charged
differ widely about the numbers of men involved on March
19. Fannin defended his position with about 300 men.
Urrea wrote that he had eighty cavalry and 260 infantry
at the time the Texans were overtaken, a figure confirmed
by Peña, who also stressed that most of the Mexican
troops were Alamo veterans. Many Texas sources give
unrealistically high numbers for Urrea's pursuit force.
Clearly the Mexican general set out with only a small
force of veteran troops to ensure catching Fannin, and
left orders for a larger force, including artillery,
to follow and aid in battling the Texans once they were
It seems likely that Urrea had between 300 and 500 men when
he overtook Fannin, and after receiving reinforcements by morning,
March 20, he had between 700 and 1,000.
The battle of Coleto lasted until after sunset on March 19.
The Texans made effective use of their bayonets, multiple muskets,
and nine cannons; their square remained unbroken. Dr. Joseph
H. Barnard recorded that seven of his comrades had been killed
and sixty wounded (forty severely), Fannin among them. The Mexican
general was impressed with both the "withering fire of
the enemy" and their ability to repulse his three charges.
Ironically, Urrea retired because of ammunition depletion. His
casualties were heavy as well, though accounts vary widely.
He then positioned snipers in the tall grass around the square
and inflicted additional casualties before Texan sharpshooters
were able to quell these attacks by firing at the flashes illuminating
the darkness. Ultimately, the Texans under Fannin suffered ten
deaths on March 19.
men hardly felt defeated and anxiously awaited Horton's
return with reinforcements from Guadalupe Victoria.
None came, however, for Horton was unable to cut through
the Mexican lines. William Ward and the Georgia Battalion,
defeated in the battle of Refugio, were close enough
to hear the Coleto gunfire during their retreat to Victoria,
but were exhausted and hungry. Urrea knew from captured
couriers that Ward and Fannin would try to rendezvous
at Victoria, so with the aid of Carlos de la Garza's
men, he kept the Georgia Battalion isolated in the Guadalupe
riverbottom until they surrendered.
At the Coleto battlefield, Urrea posted detachments at three
points around Fannin's square to prevent escape and kept the
Texans on stiff watch throughout the night with false bugle
Fannin's position became critical during the night because the
lack of water and inability to light fires made treating the
wounded impossible; the situation was made even more unbearable
by a cold and rainy norther. The cries of the wounded demoralized
everyone. The lack of water, which was required to cool and
clean the cannons during fire, also guaranteed that the artillery
would be ineffective the next day, especially considering that
the artillerists had sustained a high number of casualties.
Furthermore, ammunition was low. A council among Fannin and
his officers weighing these facts concluded that they could
not sustain another battle. The proposition to escape to the
Perdido or Coleto creek timber under dark and before Urrea received
reinforcements was rejected, since after much debate the men
unanimously voted not to abandon the wounded, among whom the
unwounded all had friends or relatives. They therefore began
digging trenches and erecting barricades of carts and dead animals
in preparation for the next day's battle. By the time this was
completed, the Mexican position had been reinforced with munitions,
fresh troops, and two or three artillery pieces from Goliad.
Urrea placed his artillery on the slopes overlooking the Texan
position and grouped for battle at 6:15 A.M., March 20.
After the Mexican artillery had fired one or possibly two rounds,
Fannin was convinced that making another stand would be futile.
Another consultation among his officers produced the decision
to seek honorable terms for surrender for the sake of the wounded,
and to hope the Mexicans would adhere to them. Fannin's men
apparently drafted terms of surrender guaranteeing that they
would be considered prisoners of war, that their wounded would
be treated, and that they sooner or later would be paroled to
the United States. But Urrea could not ratify such an agreement;
he was bound by Santa Anna's orders and congressional decree
to accept no terms other than unconditional surrender. He made
it clear to Fannin in person that he could offer only to intercede
on the Texans' behalf with Santa Anna. The extant document of
capitulation, signed by Benjamin C. Wallace, Joseph M. Chadwick,
and Fannin, shows that the Texas commander surrendered his men
"subject to the disposition of the supreme government";
but Fannin apparently did not make this fact clear to his men,
since survivors' accounts indicate that the Texans were led
to believe they were surrendering honorably as prisoners of
war and would be returned to the United States. This discrepancy
is significant only in light of the ultimate fate of Fannin's
command. Nevertheless, traditional Texan renditions inaccurately
imply some insidious conspiracy in the surrender episode.
Texans able to walk were escorted back to Goliad. Texas
physicians were made to care for the Mexican wounded
to the neglect of their own men. Many of the Texas wounded
were not transported to Goliad for three days; Fannin
himself was left on the field for two. Urrea, meanwhile,
continued his advance to secure Guadalupe Victoria,
from where he wrote Santa Anna recommending clemency
for the Goliad prisoners. One week after Fannin's surrender,
however, Santa Anna bypassed Urrea and ordered Col.
José Nicolás de la Portilla, the commander at Goliad,
to carry out the congressional decree of December 30,
1835, that captured armed rebels must be executed as
entire command, together with William Ward and the Georgia Battalion,
were shot in the Goliad Massacre on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836.
Although the battle of Coleto is usually considered meaningful
only as a prologue to the massacre, it does have separate significance.
The sequence of events underscores the tragedy of Fannin's inability
to make timely decisions crucial for success. This disadvantage
was worsened by his disrespect for the capabilities of his enemy
and a reluctance, common in the Texas army, to coordinate campaigns.
Urrea, by contrast, showed skill in staying alert to Fannin's
plans, keeping the Texans inside the presidio an extra day,
pursuing and catching them by taking advantage of every opportunity,
and isolating Ward's men near Victoria while successfully battling
Fannin's command at Coleto Creek. Still, the Texans, though
most were relatively untrained volunteers, obeyed their commanders
and withstood the onslaught of seasoned enemy troops. The intensity
of this battle produced heroism on both sides.
The battle's greatest significance, however, remains bound up
in its consequences. Urrea's victory gained him greater esteem
in the army but also incurred the jealousy of other generals,
especially Santa Anna, who had only recently suffered through
his difficult victory at the Alamo. Ironically, the triumph
caused overconfidence among Mexican leaders, who, like Santa
Anna, now believed the campaign against the rebellion to be
nearing a successful conclusion. Finally, it was the Goliad
Massacre and not the defeat and surrender at Coleto Creek that
soured United States opinion against Mexico and gave Houston
and the Texas army the second half of the rallying cry that
inspired victory at the battle of San Jacinto: "Remember
the Alamo! Remember Goliad!" The assumed location of the
Coleto battlefield is now maintained as Fannin
Battleground State Historic Site by the Texas Parks and
Wildlife Department and is near Fannin, Texas (once called Fanning's
Defeat), on U.S. Highway 59 between Goliad and Victoria.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of the North Mexican
States and Texas (2 vols., San Francisco: History Company, 1886,
1889). Joseph H. Barnard, Dr. J. H. Barnard's Journal: A Composite
of Known Versions, ed. Hobart Huson (Refugio?, Texas, 1949).
Harbert Davenport, "Men of Goliad," Southwestern Historical
Quarterly 43 (July 1939). John Crittenden Duval, Early Times
in Texas, or the Adventures of Jack Dobell (Austin: Gammel,
1892; new ed., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986).
Hermann Ehrenberg, Texas und Seine Revolution (Leipzig: Wigand,
1843; abridged trans. by Charlotte Churchill, With Milam and
Fannin, Austin: Pemberton Press, 1968). Joseph E. Field, Three
Years in Texas (Greenfield and Boston, Massachusetts, 1836;
rpt., Austin: Steck, 1935). Henry Stuart Foote, Texas and the
Texans (2 vols., Philadelphia: Cowperthwait, 1841; rpt., Austin:
Steck, 1935). Andrew Jackson Houston, Texas Independence (Houston:
Anson Jones Press, 1938). Hobart Huson, Refugio: A Comprehensive
History of Refugio County from Aboriginal Times to 1953 (2 vols.,
Woodsboro, Texas: Rooke Foundation, 1953, 1955). John H. Jenkins,
ed., The Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836 (10 vols.,
Austin: Presidial Press, 1973). William Kennedy, Texas: The
Rise, Progress, and Prospects of the Republic of Texas (London:
Hastings, 1841; rpt., Fort Worth: Molyneaux Craftsmen, 1925).
John J. Linn, Reminiscences of Fifty Years in Texas (New York:
Sadlier, 1883; 2d ed., Austin: Steck, 1935; rpt., Austin: State
House, 1986). Abel Morgan, An Account of the Battle of Goliad
and Fanning's Massacre (Paducah, Kentucky?, 1847?). Kathryn
Stoner O'Connor, The Presidio La Bahía del Espíritu Santo de
Zúñiga, 1721 to 1846 (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1966). José
Enrique de la Peña, With Santa Anna in Texas (College Station:
Texas A&M University Press, 1975). Jakie L. Pruett and Everett
B. Cole, Goliad Massacre: A Tragedy of the Texas Revolution
(Austin: Eakin Press, 1985). Antonio López de Santa Anna et
al., The Mexican Side of the Texan Revolution, trans. Carlos
E. Castañeda (Dallas: Turner, 1928; 2d ed., Austin: Graphic
Ideas, 1970). Ruby C. Smith, "James W. Fannin, Jr., in
the Texas Revolution," Southwestern Historical Quarterly
23 (October 1919, January, April 1920). David M. Vigness, The
Revolutionary Decades: The Saga of Texas, 1810-1836 (Austin:
Steck-Vaughn, 1965). Dudley Goodall Wooten, ed., A Comprehensive
History of Texas (2 vols., Dallas: Scarff, 1898; rpt., Austin:
Texas State Historical Association, 1986). Henderson K. Yoakum,
History of Texas from Its First Settlement in 1685 to Its Annexation
to the United States in 1846 (2 vols., New York: Redfield, 1855).
Craig H. Roell
The above from The
Handbook Of Texas Online.
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