Remember Goliad: The Texas War of Independence and the Battle of Coleto Creek (1836)

Nearly everyone has heard of the heroic stand of Texans against overwhelming odds at the Battle of the Alamo. Some might even know the climactic battle of San Jacinto, which won Texas its independence. No doubt fewer have heard of the darker Texan defeat at Goliad, also known as the Battle of Coleto Creek.

As 1836 dawned, Colonel James Fannin commanded several hundred Texan troops at Fort Defiance. When the famous Alamo came under siege, Fannin initially led a failed march to relieve the Alamo garrison. Nevertheless, due to Fannin’s poor logistical preparation and receipt of intelligence that a large Mexican force under General Urrea was heading his way, Fannin began his withdrawal back to the fort.

Fannin had not brought a sufficient supply of food or water and his retreat was further slowed by exhausted oxen dragging his nine heavy artillery pieces. Before reaching the cover of the Coleto Creek timber, Fannin – against the protestations of his subordinates – ordered a halt to graze the oxen. General Urrea and the Mexican army, conversely, maintained an aggressive tempo, temporarily left their heavy artillery in the town of Goliad, and conducted a forced march to find and fix the Texans on 19 March. Once his advance cavalry found the Texan force, Urrea sent for his artillery to be brought forward.

Fannin’s Texans were overtaken by the Mexican cavalry due to poor counter-reconnaissance and trapped on unfavorable prairie terrain. The Texans formed a hasty square defense three ranks deep with artillery pieces stationed at each corner. Despite their poor position, the accurate combined arms volleys of the Texan square held off three consecutive Mexican assaults. Nonetheless, problems of sustainment continued to plague the Texans who were very low on water supplies.

After dusk, General Urrea ordered his sharpshooters into the concealment of tall prairie grass and their fire caused several more Texan casualties, crippling the morale of some Texan soldiers. Without water to cool the cannons for the next day’s fighting and unable to treat their wounded in the dark, the Texan position became untenable. Worse still, the Mexicans received reinforcements in the night including heavy artillery.

At dawn, the Mexican artillery opened fire from their positions on the slopes overlooking the Texan square. At that point, Fannin sought terms for surrender. Despite the assurances of General Urrea, the Texans were treated as rebels, rather than POWs and ordered executed by the senior Mexican General Santa Anna. Altogether some 340 Texans were shot on March 27. This became known as the Goliad massacre, and along with the Alamo came to be a rallying cry for Texan forces in their later victory at San Jacinto: “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” they cried as they charged the Mexican army.

The humiliating defeat of Colonel Fannin at Goliad was entirely preventable. Though his forces proved capable fighters and integrated combined arms effectively, they were undone by the poor logistics plan, ineffective use of terrain, and lackadaisical tempo of the Texan operations.

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