The new republic may not have made it to annexation without the contribution of the Texas Navy — a stretch of maritime history as quick, furious, disorganized, and trailblazing as the better-known battles of the land.
The makeshift government of the fledgling Texas revolutionaries passed a bill on November 25, 1835 to organize the first Texas Navy. Like many of the new nation’s first minor heroes, the pioneers of the Texas Navy didn’t start out as official government agents. Before the government paid for its own ships the next year, it issued letters of marque to privateers that cruised the coast, capturing and harassing Mexican ships.
All were lost by the middle of 1837. After successfully capturing a Mexican merchant ship, the Liberty guarded Sam Houston to New Orleans, still suffering from a shin wound he took at the Battle of San Jacinto just weeks before. The ship languished there after the Texas government failed to muster enough funds to pay for repairs. The Independence surrendered to a pair of Mexican ships after a four-hour battle in April 1837.
The Brutus and the Invincible continued to raid the Mexican coastline until a battle off the coast of Galveston sent both aground, destroying the Invincible. The Brutus survived until a storm in October 1837.
Texas went without a working warship until March 1839 when the government commissioned the second Texas Navy. Yucatán citizens had been rebelling against Mexico, and President Mirabeau Lamar ordered the new navy to aid the revolt in late 1841. Sam Houston was inaugurated on the same day the ships left, December 13, and quickly ordered them to return.
When the fleet’s young commodore Edwin Moore revived agreements with Yucatán, Houston sent naval officials to bring him back. Moore, who had won recent success in his captures of Mexican vessels, convinced them to allow the cruise and set sail for Yucatán in 1843, engaging the entire Mexican fleet with two ships. Contemporary recorders called the battles the first clash of “steam and sail” along with the first use of the Paixhan gun in naval combat.
Houston, long wary of the Texas Navy, condemned the fleet as pirates and asked friendly nations to return the ships to Galveston. Moore returned voluntarily, hailed as a hero by Galvestonians, but was dishonorably discharged. He had defended himself in a letter sent by sea to be published in Texas newspapers.
“In the event of my being declared by Proclamation of the President as a pirate or outlaw: you will please state over my signature that I go down to attack the Mexican Squadron,” Moore wrote.
“This ship, and the brig have excellent men on board, and the officers and men are all eager for the contest. We go to make one desperate struggle to turn the tide of ill luck that has so long been running against Texas.”
The United States Navy took over the ships of the Texas Navy in June 1846 after the state had been annexed.
During its tenure, the Texas Navy contributed substantially to the new republic’s formation. The first four ships crippled Santa Anna’s supply lines and even captured materials like gunpowder from Mexican ships that would later be used to defeat the Mexican army at San Jacinto.
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