Lone Star LifeToday in Texas History: Massacre at Goliad

On March 27, 1836, over 350 Texian soldiers were murdered by Mexican firing squads near Goliad after having surrendered days earlier. This galvanized Texians and led to victory in their war for independence.
March 27, 2020
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Wounded in the leg and stranded in no man’s land between Goliad’s Fort Defiance and Coleto Creek, Colonel James Fannin looked out across the prairie, his numbers dwindling as the enemy engulfed his army, and made a decision — something he had struggled to do in the days leading up to this point.

Col. James Fannin

The decision — his last, as fate would have it — was to accept Mexican General Urrea’s terms of surrender.

Fourteen days after the fall of the Alamo, over 400 Texian soldiers were captured after a day’s bout with the Mexicans in the prairie a stone’s throw away from Coleto Creek. Fannin’s indecision — paired with some bad luck — had prevented his men from a likely death at the Alamo, but had also marooned them out in the open rather than the relative cover of timber the creek bed offered.

Among the terms of surrender accepted was the promise that the soldier’s lives would be spared and safe passage to the United States would be permitted. Sincere in his promises, General Urrea pleaded with Mexican president Santa Anna to spare the lives of the Texians — and especially Fannin, whom he respected.

Those pleas, however, fell on “El Presidente’s” deaf ears as the Mexican commander-in-chief had one thing on his mind since his army’s embarrassment at Gonzales: complete and utter decimation of the Texian uprising.

The Texan Mug

Weeks earlier, Colonel Fannin was determined to fulfill William Barrett Travis’ aid request from the Alamo. But numerous complications, and indecision, compounded the time lost. Eventually, on February 25, 1836, Col. Fannin and his 400 troops set out for San Antonio, but stalled quickly as wagons broke down.

Fannin and his officers decided to return to Goliad, unaware of the massacre that would fall upon Travis and company — which included a sickly James Bowie, with whom Fannin had successfully taken Mission de Concepción a few months earlier.

After hearing of the defeat at the Alamo, General of the Texian army, Sam Houston, sent news of the massacre and orders of evacuation to Fannin. Due to, once again, his indecision but also other factors out of his control, Fannin and his men finally evacuated Fort Defiance on March 19 — torching the city, and incidentally, their food supplies, on their way out of town.

The departure from Goliad once again stalled as crossing the San Antonio River proved difficult for the wagons and oxen pulling them. But the Texian mass made it past the troublesome riverbank and embarked out onto the open prairie. 

Six miles into the retreat, Fannin halted to rest the oxen pulling their cannons and wagons — in sight of Coleto Creek’s tree line.

Mexican General José de Urrea

Soon, Urrea’s forces of cavalry and infantry surrounded the Texian force and a skirmish ensued. Initially, the Texians held off the Mexicans until nightfall, when the latter retreated to the cover of Coleto Creek — the woodlands Fannin should have jumped to in the first place.

But after a sleepless night caused by Mexican battle songs and intermittent sniper fire, Fannin awoke to a parley request — signaled by a waving white flag. Fannin, still stricken by his wound, limped to a midway point on the battlefield wherein Urrea offered his terms.

Facing no other option but a similar to-the-last-man final stand Travis and his men made at the Alamo — but with far fewer supplies and less cover, Fannin took Urrea at his word and secured what he believed to be the safety of his men.

Immediately after the surrender, the Texians were led back to Goliad where they were interned for a few days. The Texians were given little to no food or water, but still believed their release would be honored.

On the eighth day of their surrender — March 27, 1836 — the non-wounded Texians were separated into three groups and led out of town by Mexican regulars in three different directions. Some of the Texians, it is said, sang “Home Sweet Home” as they marched toward what they believed to be freedom.

About a half-mile out, still in spitting distance from the town they had previously occupied, the Texians were ordered to halt. In similar fashion to WWII’s Stalag Laft III murders (loosely depicted in The Great Escape) — although with about seven times the prisoner count — the Texians were then executed by firing squad, while any survivors were chased down and bayoneted.

Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna

Forever etched in stone as the Goliad Massacre, 350 men lost their lives in cold blood — blood which would forever stain the hands of the man who ordered it, Santa Anna.

Executions of prisoners occurred after the Mexican president took the Alamo, but the executions at Goliad far outnumbered those at the Alamo as most of the defenders died in battle. These men were shot like cattle.

Fannin himself was also unceremoniously shot, but not as part of the larger groups. Just before his execution, Fannin paid a soldier everything he had to secure his burial. The soldier agreed, but the promise was broken as Fannin’s body was thrown onto a pyre along with his fellow Texians. 

Some were spared as the wife of a Mexican cavalry captain, Francita Alavez — aided by the quiet disapproval of some of the Mexican soldiers — secured some of the Texians’ release the night before.

Alavez, for her heroism, is memorialized as “The Angel of Goliad.” Dr. J.H. Barnard, a doctor with the Texian army, wrote, “Her name deserves to be recorded in letters of gold.”

In three weeks, the Texian rebels lost two strategic outposts; over 500 men; and galvanizing leaders such as James Bowie, David Crockett, Travis, and Fannin. For the fledgling country with no regular army, one would think this to be a knockout blow.

Texian General Sam Houston

But regroup and fight on, the Texians did. Led by Sam Houston — a former governor of Tennessee — the Texians would run a Fabian strategy, similar to that of George Washington 60 years earlier in the American Revolution.

A month later, moments before the decisive Battle of San Jacinto which would secure Texas’ independence, General Sam Houston concluded his galvanizing speech with “Remember the Alamo!”

To which, his men thunderously replied: “Remember Goliad!”

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.