The Matamoros Campaign


James Walker Fannin

James Walker Fannin Jr. (d. March 27, 1836) is not one of my favorite characters in Texas history.  In fairness to Fannin, however, he was a 32-year old colonel with comparatively no experience as a senior field officer.  What happened to him and his men at Goliad, Texas on 27 March 1836 might have been avoided had Fannin demonstrated even a modicum of level-headedness in the crisis, had he been able to make a timely decision, had he not placed himself (and his men) in a very bad situation.

Fannin was born in either 1804-05 in Georgia.  His father, a veteran of the War of 1812, never married Fannin’s mother.  Her name was Walker, and Jim Fannin was raised by his mother’s family.  Beyond this, we have little knowledge of his early years.

Jim Fannin enrolled in the U. S. Military Academy as James W. Walker in July 1819; he resigned in 1821.  There are two stories surrounding his failure to graduate.  In the first, Walker-Fannin was asked to resign due to academic deficiency, tardiness, and protracted absences from class.  In the second, Fannin was called back to Georgia due to an illness in the family.  Both of these possibilities could be true.

In 1829, Fannin married a woman named Minerva Fort.  A daughter was born on 17 July of that year.  A second child came along in 1832.  While working as a merchant in Columbus, Georgia, Fannin joined the local militia.  He appears to have been quite active in his youth: store clerk, member of the temperance league, a local judge, and the illegal transportation of slaves.

In 1834, Fannin settled his family at Velasco, where some sources say he purchased a plantation.  Today, there is no record of this purchase.  Nevertheless, Fannin did work as a managing partner in a slave-trading syndicate.  Within a year, Fannin managed to embroil himself in the growing Texian resistance to Mexican centralism.  On 20 August 1835, he was appointed by the Committee of Safety and Correspondence of Columbia, Texas to use his influence to encourage a territory-wide consultation. On 27 August, Fannin wrote to a US Army officer in Georgia requesting financial aid for Texas and even solicited for officers suitable for command billets in the Texian Army.  In the next month, Fannin himself became a volunteer and gave money to help fund an expedition to capture the Mexican ship Veracruzana, which was docked at Copano.  When the expedition failed to materialize, he traveled to Gonzalez where, as a captain of the Brazos Guards, he participated in the Battle of Gonzalez on 2 October 1835.

Four days later, Fannin was one of a committee that urged Stephen F. Austin to bring all possible aid to Gonzalez.  Austin responded by bringing the entire Texian army (around 500 men), which then moved on to Béxar.  Austin dispatched Jim Bowie and Fannin as scouts to determine the situation between Gonzalez and Béxar, additionally tasking them to secure additional supplies.

On 27 October, Bowie and Fannin established an encampment in a wooded bend adjacent to the San Antonio River near the Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña.  With them were four companies of men serving under Andrew Briscoe [1], Robert Coleman [2], Valentine Bennet [3], and Michael Goheen [4].  Bowie posted pickets for security around the camp.  General Martin Perfecto de Cos [5], commanding around 750 men, fortified the plazas around the town and earlier in the day, the Bowie-Fannin expedition had a short engagement with Mexican scouts.  A few salvos from Cos’ cannon failed to inflict any casualties on the Texians.

General Cos decided to attack the Texians on the next day, sending Colonel Domingo de Ugartecheaout with 275 men and two cannons before dawn. The Mexican cavalry assaulted the Texian pickets in the early morning fog and then formed a skirmish line on the west bank of the river.  Lieutenant Colonel Jose Maria Mendoza led a smaller infantry force across a stream to attack the Texians from the east. Mexican volleys crashed through the trees above the Texians.  Bowie moved Coleman’s company to meet Mendoza’s advance.  One man fell mortally wounded.  Accurate Texian fires repelled three separate Mexican attacks and one of their cannons was captured.  Ugartechea’s cavalry formed a protective screen of the infantry’s withdrawal. When Austin heard the firefight, he quickly dispatched troops to reinforce Bowie-Fannin.  His arrival did little more than hurry the Mexican withdrawal. Mexican losses were fourteen killed and thirty-nine wounded.  The Texians lost one man killed and another wounded.

On 10 November, Fannin was ordered to cut a Mexican supply route between Laredo and San Antonio.  It was a mission he could not complete because no one was interested in joining an expedition under his leadership.  Three days later, Sam Houston offered Fannin the position of Inspector-General of the Texian Army.  He instead began working for the Provisional Government’s General Council as a recruiter for the regular army.  On 5 December, the General Council of Texas acted on Fannin’s advice by establishing an auxiliary corps of volunteers.

Houston commissioned Fannin as a colonel in the regular army on 7 December and he was authorized to enlist reinforcements on 10 December.  Fannin was also authorized to contract for war supplies during the siege of Béxar, but since Béxar surrendered on 9 December, all the supplies he might have collected were held over for future operations.

On 9 January 1836, Fannin initiated a recruiting effort for volunteers to serve in an expedition being planned against the Mexican city of Matamoros.  According to some (me included), this was a hare-brained scheme that was doomed to fail at the outset of planning.  Others argue that the expedition was a reflection of the greed and avarice of Texian land speculators.  Sam Houston referred to it as Matamoros fever.

In the spring of 1835 at Monclova, the federalist governor and legislature of Coahuila y Tejas illegally sold 1,600 leagues of public land in Texas to help raise money to finance opposition to Antonio López de Santa Anna’s centralist forces.  Among the buyers were more than a few Texas empresarios seeking to enrich themselves through land speculation.  These men included Ben Smith, Green DeWitt, Ben Milam, Tom Chambers, Haden Edwards, James Grant [6], Frank Johnson, Samuel M. Williams [7], and John Mason.  News that Santa Anna was en route to Monclova with an army hastily sent these men back to Texas.

When the General Council was formed in October 1835, Sam Houston proposed that the Consultation should investigate and declare void all suspicious grants made by the state of Coahuila y Tejas since 1833.  Sam Houston believed that such a move would demonstrate to both Texians and General Santa Anna that his northward march was more than a march against piratas. Houston’s proposal drew loud protests from the interested parties, and they countered by trying to organize a Mexican federalist revolution to be fought largely by American volunteers. The suggestion was typical of the “freebooter” mentality of the time.  To this end, Valentin Gomez Faríasand José Antonio Mexiawent to New Orleans and John Mason organized a group calling themselves the “Friends of Texas.”

Thomas McKinney stood opposed to both Governor Henry Smith [8] and General Houston; it was he that shaped the policy of the General Council of the provisional government.  He expected compensation for his contributions through the Monclova land sales scheme.

The General Council was the split over the issue of whether to remain loyal to the Constitution of 1824 and support Mexican liberals, or whether to seek complete independence for Texas.  At the core of this argument was whether to validate or annul the Monclova land sales scheme, and whether to form an expedition to Matamoros and, in doing so, inducing Tampico to join the revolution.  These issues brought quarrel to crisis because the debate permeated the General Council, the entire Texian army, including all of its senior field commanders.  At that moment when Texas needed cohesion, the provisional council ended up with two opposing governors and an army leadership that didn’t quite know whose orders to follow.  The Matamoros Expedition was part of this mishmash and it eventually led to the fall of the Texas Provisional Government and nearly destroyed the Texas army in 1836.

The port of Matamoros, at the mouth of the Rio Grande, was an important source of revenue and, if seized, could be used to help pay for the cost of the war [9].  More than this, the city also commanded a strategic position for blocking Santa Anna’s movement and, potentially, for launching an expedition into Mexico’s interior. The idea of a Matamoros expedition probably originated with Mexican federalists in Tamaulipas y Coahuila, who were hoping to form an opposition government under General Mexia.  Mexia had led a successful operation against the centralists at Matamoros in 1832, although there is a reason to believe that Santa Anna himself devised this scheme, hoping to divide Coahuila and Texas, and transforming a regional conflict into a national one.  Nevertheless, it was Philip Dimmitt who first publicized the notion.

Dimmitt commanded the Texian garrison at La Bahia (Goliad) beginning in October 1835.  A member of De Leon’s colony, Dimmitt had many contacts among Anglo and Hispanic citizens in the area of Victoria, Refugio, and San Patricio —including John Linn, Fernando De Leon, James Power, and Placido Benavides, and it was Dimmitt who provided the bulk of intelligence to the General Council concerning Mexican military movements.  Dimmitt was initially convinced that a Texian maneuver against the centralists at Matamoros would receive popular support within the De Leon colony.  Dimmitt was seeking to garner support from Mexican liberals willing to stand up in support the Constitution of 1824, including General Mexia, General Jose de Urrea, Antonio Canales, and Antonio Zapata, Dimmitt suggested that General Lorenzo de Zavala lead the expedition and communicated his plan to Stephen F. Austin (then Commander-in-Chief of the Texian army).  Austin, with no military background at all, considered the plan feasible.  He agreed with Dimmitt that such an expedition had to be led by a Mexican federalist.  Austin’s immediate concern, however, was the increasingly hostile centralist forces under General Cos at Béxar.

General Mexía, meanwhile, was planning an attack on Tampico and General Zavala, who declined Dimmitt’s invitation because of ill-health, emphasized that success at Matamoros would depend on General Mexía’s successes at Tampico.

Dimmitt continued his planning against Matamoros, which by November, gained the full support of the provisional government’s General Council.  On 31 October, Dimmitt’s plan for an expedition against Fort Lipantitlán, a Mexican fort three miles from San Patricio, was well-executed by Ira Westover and produced a victory for the Texians. The operation removed the only remaining fortified centralist position between Béxar and Matamoros.  By mid-November, however, Dimmitt began to doubt the ability of federalists in Mexico to sustain a joint venture with Texians. He wrote to Austin stating that an assault on Matamoros would just as likely be opposed as supported by the citizens of northern Mexico.  It was a concern that stemmed from his understanding of centralist plans and movements, and from his interaction with Dr. James Grant and José María Viesca.  Additionally, General Mexía’s defeat in Tampico convinced Dimmitt, Austin, and Houston that a similar fate might await the planned Matamoros expedition.

Eventually, Dimmitt gave up the idea of a war in support of the Constitution of 1824.  The only real solution for Texas was independence.  He no longer trusted Mexican liberals who vowed their full support of the Texian cause but were indisposed to offering tangible assistance.  Dimmitt also realized that Texas independence would antagonize those Texians who claimed constitutional loyalty —who were actually heavily invested northern Mexico land speculation, and who, on this basis alone, supported liberal federation. These were the men who wanted the Matamoros operation to proceed.

Despite his misgivings, Dimmitt continued to emphasize the advantages of occupying Matamoros; it was, after all, a viable plan.  He also continued paying lip service to Mexican federalists, who gave him every assurance that they would rally behind their liberal leaders: General Mexia, José María Gonzalez, and Juan Pedro Miracle.  Dimmitt communicated his ideas and concerns to the General Council on 2 December. On 17 December, without any further consultation, an inspired Governor Smith ordered Houston to undertake the project. Then, without any additional coordination with Smith or Houston, Lieutenant Governor James W. Robinson, and military council chairman Wyatt Hanks directed Brigadier General Edward Burleson to organize an expedition to Matamoros.  Two issues stand out: first, there were enclaves within the General Council, each with its own agenda, and second, someone was cleverly playing one side (of the Council) against the other.

The expedition wouldn’t have been an easy undertaking under the most favorable of conditions because following the siege of Béxar, most Texian volunteers packed up and went home. They believed the war was over —and anyway, it was time to think about the next spring’s crops.  Added to this, both Austin and Burleson departed Texas as commissioners to the United States.  Francis (Frank) Johnson was named to command the remaining volunteers at Béxar, mostly men from the United States who without activity were becoming troublesome: a campaign against Matamoros would give them something to do.

Sam Houston implemented Smith’s orders on the same day he received them.  By written dispatch, he directed Jim Bowie, who he then believed was at Goliad, to recruit a force of sufficient numbers and proceed to Matamoros, seize it, and hold it.  In addition, Bowie was instructed to secure the port at Cópano, from which the expedition would proceed [10].  On the following day, Houston ordered David Macomb, Almanzon Huston, and John Wharton to proceed to New Orleans as agents to purchase supplies and send them to Cópano. He also ordered James C. Neill to assume command at Béxar, and he ordered William “Buck” Travis and James Fannin to begin recruiting more volunteers.

Independently, meanwhile, Frank Johnson had begun organizing volunteers at Béxar and with Grant [11], his partner in the Monclova land deals, was able to convince the remaining Béxar volunteers to support an expedition to Matamoros.  Johnson then traveled to San Felipe to obtain formal approval from the General Council for his scheme —as well as funds, munitions, and the authority to commission field officers.  Johnson, completely bamboozled by Mexican liberals, was convinced that they would support the Matamoros campaign.  He told James Robinson, “You may rely on all going well if we are not interfered with by the officers of the regular army.”  Johnson did not want any interference from Sam Houston, who commanded the regular army, and he was well-aware that Dimmitt had voiced reservations about an expedition to Matamoros.  Knowing also that Dimmitt was loyal to Houston, Johnson and Grant sought to convince Robinson to remove Dimmitt from command at Goliad.

Disagreements between Governor Smith and the General Council heated up as Smith, who began to have doubts about Johnson’s and Grant’s motives, objected to their assignment to positions of military leadership [12].  Smith also voiced doubts about the “glowing” reports from the Mexican interior, which gave too much in the way of reassurance that Mexican liberals were ready to support the Texians in Matamoros.  Neither Zavala or Viesca had committed to either plan of action: confronting the centralists, or Texas independence.

With Johnson in San Filipe, Grant began an enlistment campaign at San Patricio.  He successfully recruited most of the San Antonio Grays (mustered from New Orleans), commanded by William Cooke, the Mobile (Alabama) Grays, under David Burke, the Kentucky Mustangs (consisting of the US Independent Cavalry and Louisville volunteers), under Ben Lawrence and James Tarlton, infantry companies under H. R. A. Wigginton and Thomas Lewellen, and an artillery company under Thomas K. Pearson [13].  Having moved to Goliad, Grant claimed superior rank over Dimmitt [14] and with that authority, commandeered additional stores of arms and horses.  Initially, Dimmitt was not inclined to hand them over and for a few long minutes, it looked as if these two groups would open fire.  When the anger finally receded, Dimmitt discharged all his men, resigned his commission and proceeded to Gonzalez.

Houston, meanwhile, was fully aware that General Santa Anna was moving a substantial army into the area.  He was also aware of the ill-feelings within the General Council.  In an effort to avoid what he feared would be a military disaster in Matamoros, Houston urged Governor Smith to convince the Council to cancel their authorization for the expedition.  Houston cited Dr. Grant’s stripping of men and material at the Alamo at Béxar, which left Neill with no supplies and only 104 men, many of whom were sick or wounded from the Siege of Béxar.

On 7 January, Fannin requested that Lieutenant Governor Robinson suspend his military commission until April so that he could concentrate on his duties as an agent of the General Council for the Matamoros expedition.  Then, on 10 January, having received Houston’s advice and misgivings about the Matamoros operation, and realizing finally that the Council had usurped his authority, Governor Smith made an attempt to dissolve the Council.  The council responded by impeaching Smith and appointing Robinson to replace him [15].  On 14 January, Robinson and the General Council overrode Smith’s opposition and authorized Johnson to proceed to Matamoros.

In fact, by commissioning Fannin as their agent, the Council had already committed to the Matamoros expedition.  Whether they realized it or not, the council had created two independent military commands, which thoroughly muddied the chain of command.  Technically, the Matamoros adventure now had two military leaders: Houston and Johnson.  In San Patricio, in Johnson’s absence, Grant proclaimed himself as Acting Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Volunteer Army.

James Fannin was thereafter drawn into the battle between two governors and the general council; he, in turn, involved William Ward [16], who commanded the Georgia Battalion and served as Fannin’s executive officer.  Thereafter, Fannin and Ward were barely on speaking terms.  With Governor Smith defying the General Council’s authority to impeach him, Texas was left without an effective executive at the worst possible moment in time: January and February 1836.

During his northward movement, General Santa Anna received regular updates from his spies about the movement of Texian volunteers and the inner-workings of the General Council. He knew that a party of Texians were en route to Matamoros, and it wasn’t difficult to deduce the direction of their advance.  On 15 January, Santa Anna ordered General Urrea to proceed to Matamoros, take possession of the port, and purge Texas of all foreign piratas [17].  Urrea immediately moved north with a force of 1,500 well-trained soldiers.

On 17 January, in response to an urgent dispatch from Neill at the Alamo asking for reinforcement, Sam Houston dispatched Bowie, who was with him at the time, with about twenty men.  Bowie’s instructions were to consult with Neill and, if practicable, destroy the Alamo and retreat with all artillery to Gonzalez.  Houston also sent a courier to Dimmitt in Gonzalez with orders to raise a relief force that might be dispatched to Béxar —and/or should Dimmitt find the Alamo abandoned, to return to Gonzalez.

James Grant continued his march to Refugio with about 35 men where he intended to meet up with Frank Johnson, resupply his force from Cópano, and muster arriving reinforcements.  Sam Houston, believing that Fannin and Ward were en route to Cópano and Refugio with a substantial number of troops and supplies, proceeded to Refugio in the company of two-hundred of Grant’s volunteers. Historians believe that it was likely that Houston intended to confront Grant and stop the expedition.  From Houston’s own journal, we learn that Houston had no confidence in the assurances Mexican liberals —that he could not rely on them to render their promised support.  Houston arrived at Refugio on 21 January; neither Fannin nor Ward was there.  They weren’t at Copano, either.

At Cópano, Grant’s contingent was reinforced by the arrival of companies under John Chenoweth and Francis Thornton; he marched them straightaway to Refugio.  Upon their arrival, Houston ordered Thornton and 35 regulars to proceed to Goliad to relieve Wyatt.  He emphasized to Thornton that it was imperative that Goliad remain in the hands of the Texans to protect the port at Cópano, and maintain a supply route to Béxar.  Once relieved by Thornton, Wyatt led his few men to Refugio.

While waiting for the arrival of Fannin and Ward, Houston met with Johnson, recently arrived from San Felipe. Houston was shocked and angered by Johnson’s written authorization from the General Council to implement a Matamoros expedition.  He was shocked because he knew the operation would likely fail: a handful of men could not seize a city of 1,200 citizens, particularly in light of the fact that the march would take 22 days, and because the volunteers had insufficient supplies to sustain them.  He was angered because the Council had usurped his authority as Commanding General of the Texian Army.

After making an eloquent appeal to Johnson’s command, several hundred volunteers agreed to remain in Refugio to await further men and supplies.  Undaunted by Houston’s warnings, Johnson and Grant assembled sixty men and proceeded to San Patricio, convinced that they would be reinforced by Mexican liberals.  Houston then realized that the Council’s authorization of Johnson’s command rendered his own commission useless.  He returned to San Filipe and met with Smith.  On 28 January, Houston stepped down as Commanding General and returned to the United States.

With Houston gone, James Fannin became the ranking field officer.  He had been able to recruit a sizeable force for his own expedition to Matamoros.  On 24 January, he sailed from Velasco, arriving at Cópano on 2 February with around 200 men, which included Ward’s Georgia Battalion.  The much-needed supplies had yet to arrive, so Fannin confiscated stores from whatever was available at Cópano.  On 5 February, he marched to Refugio —the starting point for the Matamoros campaign.  He too was optimistic about receiving support from Mexican Federalists.  In a letter to Robinson, Fannin assured him that the liberals were arriving from all quarters in Mexico.  We don’t know where Fannin obtained his information, but it wasn’t true.

Two days earlier, Johnson informed Fannin that reinforcements from Tamaulipas and Nuevo León, which were massing under Gonzales, Canales, and Francisco Fernandez “will prove amply sufficient.”  He further stated that Grant with twenty Texians had taken Fort Lipantitlán—capturing twenty-six Mexican soldiers and fifty horses. He might have noted that Westover had previously taken the fort on 31 October; he might have deduced from this that taking a Mexican fort is one thing, holding on to it is another matter; and he might have reasoned that Santa Anna’s army appeared to be omnipresent in South Texas.

In any case, Johnson was inspired by Grant’s achievement and, he urged Fannin to move quickly against Matamoros.  Pending Fannin’s arrival at Matamoros, Johnson planned to “engage Santa Anna’s partisans from Rio Grande City to Reynosa, cut off any reinforcement he may wish to send, and leave you thus to take possession of Matamoros and even Tampico if necessary.”

Urrea JoseJohnson had over-estimated the support actually available to him from Mexican liberals and under-estimated the strength and determination of General Santa Anna.  Johnson and Grant also discounted General Urrea’s ability to squelch their concerted efforts, which Urrea demonstrated during his pursuit of the rebels under José María  Gonzalez. Emphasizing that the colonists were seeking Texas independence from Mexico, Urrea urged Mexican townsmen to remain loyal to the Constitution of 1824 (even though Santa Anna had long superseded it).  Urrea employed the “carrot and stick” approach: execute some rebels, incorporate others into his division once they reaffirmed their loyalty to Mexico.

General Urrea (shown at right) arrived in Matamoros on 31 January 1836.

At Refugio on 7 February, Fannin finally realized that the facts did not support Johnson’s optimism.  In a dispatch from Robert Morris at San Patricio, which included a communiqué from Plácido Benavides [18], Fannin learned that José Gonzalez’s force was destroyed, that the Centralist garrison at Matamoros numbered well over a thousand Mexican soldiers under General Urrea, and that Santa Anna was en route to Goliad and Béxar to suppress the Texian rebellion.

Fannin sent William Cook to reinforce Robert Morris at San Patricio.  Not long after Cook’s arrival, he notified Fannin by courier that Morris has been misinformed; Grant had received reassurance from General Fernández that federalist forces would support him.  Morris was kind enough to add that he had resigned his Texian commission to accept another in command a regiment in the Mexican Federalist Army [19].  Santa Anna was (very cleverly) manipulating Johnson and Grant through Fernandez [20] and others who had joined the centralist regime.

Johnson and Grant departed San Patricio leaving Morris in charge of the artillery.  Since Morris no longer held a Texian commission, Fannin dispatched Captain Burr H. Duval with a squadron of men, wagons, and oxen to recover it.  Fannin then withdrew to Goliad on February 12, leaving King’s company at Refugio and Chenoweth’s company at Cópano.

On 16 February, Fannin demonstrated that he had finally come to terms with his circumstances.  He dispatched a message to Robinson informing him that, according to an informant by the name of J. H. Kuykendall, that the Mexican army had crossed into Texas with three divisions.  He informed Robinson that he planned to relocate to Béxar.  He closed saying, “No aid need be expected from Mexicans.”  Fannin afterward came to terms with his lack of leadership ability and experience.  He pressed the council to relieve him of the burden of command, urging them to name another to replace him.  With Houston’s departure, however, there was no one to name as a replacement.  Fannin, like it or not, at the age of 32-years, was the senior-most Texian officer. Psychologically, Fannin was paralyzed by his circumstances, by his lack of experience, and his lack of leadership ability.  He simply could not decide what next to do —and his time was running out.

San Antonio River Goliad 001

San Antonio River near Goliad

Appeals from Travis at the Alamo, delivered to him by Jim Bonham, prompted Fannin to organize a relief march of more than 300 men and four pieces of artillery on 25 February 1836.  Moving heavy cannon was no easy task, and after some delay, Fannin led his man from Goliad on 28 February.  The distance between Goliad and Béxar was about 90 miles.  Fannin and his men had barely crossed the San Antonio River, some four miles from Goliad when the relief expedition broke down.  Wagons transporting the cannon were too light for the weight.  As a consequence, the expedition camped that night within sight of Goliad.  Fannin’s men were poorly armed, had little food, some men were marching in bare feet [21], and to make matters worse, the oxen had wandered off sometime after dark.  Fannin and his men returned to Fort Defiance the next day.

Down south, Johnson and Grant were unaware that General Urrea’s scouts were monitoring their activities as they raided the countryside for needed supplies.  Johnson and his 34-man company collected over one-hundred horses —all of them belonging to local ranchers.  In fact, some of Urrea’s scouts were vaqueros employed by the same ranches Johnson and Grant were plundering.

Grant, operating further south with 26-men (including Morris and Benavides), had located some number of horses at the Camargo Ranch.  Grant was oblivious to the fact that elements of Urrea’s division were operating nearby.

Using poor weather to conceal his movements, General Urrea surrounded San Patricio. He launched a surprise attack against Johnson and his mean early in the morning of 27 February, thoroughly defeating them.  Johnson escaped to Refugio —his men not faring quite as well.  Those who weren’t killed were escorted to the prison at Matamoros.  Urrea then began to track down the remaining Texians.  On 2 March, elements of Urrea’s force defeated Grant at Agua Dulce Creek, 26-miles below San Patricio.  Only six of Grant’s men escaped to Goliad —Grant was not one of them.

Fannin continued to press for a replacement even as late as 1 March —a week after refusing Bonham’s final plea for reinforcement.  On 4 March, Sam Houston was reappointed to command all regular, volunteer, and militia forces in Texas.  The Alamo fell on 6 March.

On 15 March, General Urrea captured 33 men fighting under Captain Amon B. King at Refugio.  King and his men had infuriated local Mexicans by burning local ranches and indiscriminately shooting eight Mexicans while they were seated around a campfire.  Once Urrea had captured these men, local Mexicans demanded justice.  After a court-martial adjudging King and fourteen others guilty of depredations, General Urrea had them shot, while setting free others who were either colonists or Mexicans.  Following the Battle of Refugio, Urrea moved his force toward Goliad.

Continued next week


  1. Costeloe, M. P. The Central Republic in Mexico, 1835-1846. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993
  2. Green, S. C. The Mexican Republic: The First Decade 1823-1832.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburg Press, 1987
  3. Lord, W. A Time to Stand.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1961
  4. Roberts, R. and James S. Olson. A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in Blood and Memory, New York: Touchstone Publishing, 2002
  5. Bancroft, H. H. History of the North American States and Texas, San Francisco, 1886
  6. Davenport, H. “Men of Goliad,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, July 1939
  7. Jenkins, J. H. The Papers of the Texas revolution(1835-1836) Austin: Presidia Press, 1973
  8. Pruett, J. L. with E. B. Cole. Goliad Massacre: A Tragedy of the Texas Revolution.  Austin: Eakin Press, 1985
  9. Fehrenbach, T. R. Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans Open Road Media. Kindle Edition


[1] Originally from Mississippi, Briscoe commanded the Liberty Volunteers at Concepcion, participated in the siege of Béxar, and commanded Company A of the regular infantry. Briscoe joined the fight against Mexican tyranny after having been arrested for (a) complaining about the irregular collection of custom duties from his business in Anahuac, and for attempting to trade with the DeWitt colony untaxed goods.

[2] Coleman was an Indian fighter from Kentucky who moved to Texas in 1831, settling in present-day Bastrop County.  He served as one of the early Texas Rangers defending the Texian colonies from Indian depredation, and in 1835 commanded the Mina Volunteers.  Coleman, openly critical of Sam Houston’s leadership at the Battle of San Jacinto, was unceremoniously discharged from army service in 1837.  He drowned that year while bathing in the Brazos River near Velasco.

[3] Bennet was born in Massachusetts in 1780 and raised as a Puritan.  He fought in the War of 1812, lived for a time in New York, Louisiana, and Ohio.  Shortly after his marriage in 1817, his wife passed away and he set out for Texas. Settling in Velasco, he played a leading role in the battle there and was severely wounded in the face and hip. In 1834, he moved to Gonzalez and was one of the 18-men who defied Colonel Ugartechea at the Battle of Gonzalez.

[4] Captain Michael Roup Goheen (1807-50) was born in Pennsylvania to Edward Francis Goheen and Christiann Roup.  He married Dorinda Slade Moody, with whom he had ten children.  Goheen passed away, aged 42-years in Texas.  We do not know more about him than this.

[5] Brother-in-law to Antonio López de Santa Anna.

[6] James Grant was a Scottish-born physician, entrepreneur, and self-styled military leader during the Texas Revolution.  His family was involved with the East India Company and he eventually joined the company as a ship’s surgeon.  In 1825, Grant was assigned as a medical officer with the British diplomatic mission in Mexico, where he also acted as a British spy in Texas under the direction of Henry Ward.  When Ward was recalled because of the failed Fredonia Rebellion, Grant remained in Mexico where he believed he could make a fortune in land speculation.

[7] Williams and Thomas F. McKinney formed McKinney, Williams, and Company, which was then the largest commission-merchant enterprise in Texas.  They helped finance the Texas Revolution and provided vessels to transport men and material to Texas to aid in the revolution.

[8] Henry Smith, Provisional Governor of Texas (b. 1788-d. 1851) was a Kentuckian, businessman, and politician who moved to Texas in 1827 where he worked his land, taught school, and surveyed lands.  Elected as a delegate in 1835, Smith favored Texas Independence (as opposed to statehood within the Mexican Republic).

[9] This only made sense if Texians supported the Centralist regime of Antonio López de Santa Anna and supported the federalists of Mexico, who advocated autonomous states within the Republic of Mexico.  Not everyone did.

[10] Bowie never received this order because he had already left Goliad en route to Béxar.

[11] Grant also had large landholdings in Coahuila, which at this time, had fallen under Santa Anna’s control.  He had a financial interest in promoting an expedition to the Rio Grande.

[12] Smith believed that Johnson and Grant were conspiring to join Mexican liberals to establish a Republic of Northern Mexico independent of both Mexico and Texas.  They were doing exactly that, and well-known to Austin, Houston, and Dimmitt.

[13] These companies probably numbered no more than 35 to 40 men each.  Today’s infantry companies range anywhere from 150-250 well-trained, highly disciplined warriors.

[14] Grant throwing his weight around didn’t sit well with Dimmitt.  The garrison at Goliad belonged neither to the regular army or to Austin’s volunteers; they were a group of independent volunteers who had not only seized Goliad from the Mexicans but also garrisoned it.  The supplies stored there had been obtained by this independent group.  The antics of Johnson and Grant created cohesion problems in the Texian military.

[15] At this point, with Smith’s refusal to step-down, Texas had two provisional governors —and essentially, no central leadership.

[16] “Peg Leg Ward” (1807-1872) was born in Dublin, Ireland and immigrated to the USA in 1828. In 1835, he joined the New Orleans Grays in time to participate in the Siege of Béxar. In the assault, Ward lost his leg and eventually returned to New Orleans for a prosthetic.  He then served as a recruiter for General Thomas Green’s brigade, and upon returning to Texas he served as a commander of the Georgia Battalion, Green’s Brigade.  Ward survived the massacre at Goliad.

[17] Referring to Anglo-Texans as pirates wasn’t simply a matter of offering up an epithet to white people; there are legitimate reasons for referring to them as such.  In history, there are clear and understandable reasons why some Mexican might refer to Anglo-settlers as such.  The Spanish word Piratas evolves from “freebooter,” also “filibuster.”  It refers to an irregular military adventurer, particularly one who engages in unauthorized military expeditions into a foreign country to foment or support a revolution.  In English, the word filibuster translates to Buccaneer in French.  Buccaneer translates to pirate.  There have been a number of American filibusters who went to Spanish Mexico to cause trouble: Philip Nolan was the first.  You may remember him from the fictional story, “Man without a Country.” It was not difficult for Antonio López de Santa Annato to regard those involved with the Matamoros expedition as pirates—particularly since most of them were not Anglo-settlers at all.  They were adventurers who went to Texas to make their fortune…

[18] Benavides was a native of Reynosa who served as secretary to Fernando De León at the De León colony.  He married into the De León family and received a league of land through this familial relationship.  He served as the mayor of Victoria on two occasions and served as a captain of the local militia.  After the battle of Gonzalez, Benavides joined the Texian rebellion against the Centralist regime in Mexico.  He warned Fannin through Robert Morris that General Santa Anna planned to lure Texians to Matamoros where he could ambush them.  It was this message that caused Fannin to withdraw from Refugio.

[19] In effect, he accepted a commission in an organization that didn’t exist.

[20] General Urrea would not have been able to “press on” were it not for the supplies provided by Fernández.

[21] The Texas winter of 1836 was particularly cold.


About Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.
This entry was posted in HISTORY. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Matamoros Campaign

  1. Wow. That took me a while to read.
    Must have taken more to write!
    Good stuff and informative.

    Liked by 1 person

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