Battle of Gonzales

Last updated
Battle of Gonzales
Part of the Texas Revolution
Texas Flag Come and Take It.svg
Come and Take It flag flown by Texians before the battle
DateOctober 2, 1835
Location
Result

Texian victory

  • Mexican withdrawal
  • Beginning of Texian rebellion against the Mexican government
Belligerents
Flag of Mexico (1823-1864, 1867-1893).svg Mexico Texian Army
Commanders and leaders
Francisco de Castañeda John Henry Moore
Strength
100 cavalry 150 militia
Casualties and losses
2 killed 0

The Battle of Gonzales was the first military engagement of the Texas Revolution. It was fought near Gonzales, Texas, on October 2, 1835, between rebellious Texian settlers and a detachment of Mexican army soldiers.

Texas Revolution military conflict

The Texas Revolution was a rebellion of colonists from the United States and Tejanos in putting up armed resistance to the centralist government of Mexico. While the uprising was part of a larger one that included other provinces opposed to the regime of President Antonio López de Santa Anna, the Mexican government believed the United States had instigated the Texas insurrection with the goal of annexation. The Mexican Congress passed the Tornel Decree, declaring that any foreigners fighting against Mexican troops "will be deemed pirates and dealt with as such, being citizens of no nation presently at war with the Republic and fighting under no recognized flag." Only the province of Texas succeeded in breaking with Mexico, establishing the Republic of Texas, and eventually being annexed by the United States.

Gonzales, Texas City in Texas, United States

Gonzales is a city in Gonzales County, Texas, United States. The population was 7,237 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat.

Mexican Texas

Mexican Texas is the historiographical name used to refer to the era of Texan history between 1821 and 1836, when it was part of Mexico. Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821 after winning its war. Initially, Mexican Texas operated similarly to Spanish Texas. Ratification of the 1824 Constitution of Mexico created a federal structure, and the province of Tejas was joined with the province of Coahuila to form the state of Coahuila y Tejas.

Contents

In 1831, Mexican authorities lent the settlers of Gonzales a small cannon to help protect them from frequent Comanche raids. Over the next four years, the political situation in Mexico deteriorated, and in 1835 several states revolted. As the unrest spread, Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea, the commander of all Mexican troops in Texas, felt it unwise to leave the residents of Gonzales with a weapon and requested the return of the cannon.

Comanche Plains native North American tribe whose historic territory consisted of eastern New Mexico, southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, western Oklahoma, and northwest Texas

The Comanche are a Native American nation from the Great Plains whose historic territory consisted of most of present-day northwestern Texas and adjacent areas in eastern New Mexico, southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, western Oklahoma, and northern Chihuahua. The Comanche people are federally recognized as the Comanche Nation, headquartered in Lawton, Oklahoma.

When the initial request was refused, Ugartechea sent 100  dragoons to retrieve the cannon. The soldiers neared Gonzales on September 29, but the colonists used a variety of excuses to keep them from the town, while secretly sending messengers to request assistance from nearby communities. Within two days, up to 140 Texians gathered in Gonzales, all determined not to give up the cannon. On October 1, settlers voted to initiate a fight. Mexican soldiers opened fire as Texians approached their camp in the early hours of October 2. After several hours of desultory firing, the Mexican soldiers withdrew. [1]

Dragoon mounted infantry soldiers

Dragoons originally were a class of mounted infantry, who used horses for mobility, but dismounted to fight on foot. From the early 18th century onward, dragoons were increasingly also employed as conventional cavalry, trained for combat with swords from horseback.

Although the skirmish had little military significance, it marked a clear break between the colonists and the Mexican government and is considered to have been the start of the Texas Revolution. News of the skirmish spread throughout the United States, where it was often referred to as the "Lexington of Texas". The cannon's fate is disputed. It may have been buried and rediscovered in 1936, or it may have been seized by Mexican troops after the Battle of the Alamo.

Battles of Lexington and Concord first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War

The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War. The battles were fought on April 19, 1775 in Middlesex County, Province of Massachusetts Bay, within the towns of Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Menotomy, and Cambridge. They marked the outbreak of armed conflict between the Kingdom of Great Britain and its thirteen colonies in America.

Battle of the Alamo Major battle of the Texas Revolution

The Battle of the Alamo was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution. Following a 13-day siege, Mexican troops under President General Antonio López de Santa Anna reclaimed the Alamo Mission near San Antonio de Béxar, killing the Texian and immigrant occupiers. Santa Anna's cruelty during the battle inspired many Texians, both legal Texas settlers and illegal immigrants from the United States, to join the Texian Army. Buoyed by a desire for revenge, the Texians defeated the Mexican Army at the Battle of San Jacinto, on April 21, 1836, ending the rebellion.

Background

Highlighted on this map of modern-day Texas is the area that was part of the DeWitt Colony. Map of Texas highlighting Gonzales County.svg
Highlighted on this map of modern-day Texas is the area that was part of the DeWitt Colony.

The Mexican Constitution of 1824 liberalized the country's immigration policies, allowing foreigners to settle in border regions such as Mexican Texas. In 1825, American Green DeWitt received permission to settle 400 families in Texas near the confluence of the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers. [3] The DeWitt Colony quickly became a favorite raiding target of local Karankawa, Tonkawa, and Comanche tribes, and in July 1826 they destroyed the capital city, Gonzales. The town was rebuilt the following year, after DeWitt negotiated peace treaties with the Karankawa and Tonkawa. The Comanche continued to stage periodic raids of the settlement over the next few years. [4] Unable to spare military troops to protect the town, in 1831 the region's political chief instead sent the settlers of Gonzales a six-pounder cannon, [5] described by historian Timothy Todish as "a small bored gun, good for little more than starting horse races". [6]

Green DeWitt was an empresario in Mexican Texas. He founded the DeWitt Colony.

San Marcos River river in the United States of America

The San Marcos River rises from the San Marcos Springs, the location of Aquarena Springs, in San Marcos, Texas. The springs are home to several threatened or endangered species, including the Texas Blind Salamander, Fountain Darter, and Texas Wild Rice. The river is a popular recreational area, and is frequented for tubing, canoeing, swimming, and fishing.

Guadalupe River (Texas) watercourse in the United States of America

The Guadalupe River runs from Kerr County, Texas, to San Antonio Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. It is a popular destination for rafting, fly fishing, and canoeing. Larger cities along it include Kerrville, New Braunfels, Seguin, Gonzales, Cuero, and Victoria. It has several dams along its length, the most notable of which, Canyon Dam, forms Canyon Lake northwest of New Braunfels.

During the 1830s, the Mexican government wavered between federalist and centralist policies. As the pendulum swung sharply towards centralism in 1835, several Mexican states revolted. [7] In June, a small group of settlers in Texas used the political unrest as an excuse to rebel against customs duties, in an incident known as the Anahuac Disturbances. [8] The federal government responded by sending more troops to Texas. [9] Public opinion was sharply divided. Some communities supported the rebellion for a variety of reasons. Others, including Gonzales, declared their loyalty to Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna's centralist government. [10] Local leaders began calling for a Consultation to determine whether a majority of settlers favored independence, a return to federalism, or the status quo. Although some leaders worried that Mexican officials would see this type of gathering as a step toward revolution, by the end of August most communities had agreed to send delegates to the Consultation, scheduled for October 15. [11] In the interim, many communities formed militias to protect themselves from a potential attack by military forces. [9] [12]

Federalism political concept

Federalism is the mixed or compound mode of government, combining a general government with regional governments in a single political system. Its distinctive feature, exemplified in the founding example of modern federalism by the United States under the Constitution of 1787, is a relationship of parity between the two levels of government established. It can thus be defined as a form of government in which there is a division of powers between two levels of government of equal status.

A centralized government is one in which power or legal authority is exerted or coordinated by a de facto political executive to which federal states, local authorities, and smaller units are considered subject. In a national context, centralization occurs in the transfer of power to a typically sovereign nation state. Menes, an ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the early dynastic period, is credited by classical tradition with having united Upper and Lower Egypt, and as the founder of the first dynasty, became the first ruler to institute a centralized government.

Anahuac Disturbances

The Anahuac Disturbances were uprisings of settlers in and around Anahuac, Texas in 1832 and 1835 which helped to precipitate the Texas Revolution. This eventually led to the territory's secession from Mexico and the founding of the Republic of Texas. Anahuac was located on the east side of the Trinity River near the north shore of Galveston Bay, which placed it astride the trade route between Texas and Louisiana, and from there to the rest of the United States. In new attempts to curtail smuggling and enforce customs tariffs from the coastal settlements, Mexico placed a garrison there after 1830. American settlers came into conflict with Mexican military officers, and rose up against them. They increased political activity and residents of numerous communities declared support for the federalists, who were revolting against the Mexican Government.

On September 10, a Mexican soldier bludgeoned a Gonzales resident, which led to widespread outrage and public protests. [13] Mexican authorities felt it unwise to leave the settlers with a weapon. [14] Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea, commander of all Mexican troops in Texas, sent a corporal and five enlisted men to retrieve the cannon that had been given to the colonists. [13] [14] Many of the settlers believed Mexican authorities were manufacturing an excuse to attack the town and eliminate the militia. In a town meeting, three citizens voted to hand over the gun to forestall an attack; the remainder, including alcalde Andrew Ponton, voted to stand their ground. [15] According to historian Stephen Hardin, "the cannon became a point of honor and an unlikely rallying symbol. Gonzales citizens had no intention of handing over the weapon at a time of growing tension." [13] The soldiers were escorted from town without the cannon. [13]

Museum mural of Texian soldiers fighting in the Battle of Gonzales, which was referred to as the "Lexington of Texas" because it was the first battle of the Texas Revolution Come And Take It Mural.jpg
Museum mural of Texian soldiers fighting in the Battle of Gonzales, which was referred to as the "Lexington of Texas" because it was the first battle of the Texas Revolution

Prelude

Ponton anticipated that Ugartechea would send more troops to force the handover of the cannon. As soon as the first group of soldiers left Gonzales, Ponton sent a messenger to the closest town, Mina, to request help. [16] Word quickly spread that up to 300 soldiers were expected to march on Gonzales. Stephen F. Austin, one of the most respected men in Texas and the de facto leader of the settlers, sent messengers to inform surrounding communities of the situation. Austin cautioned Texians to remain on the defensive, as any unprovoked attacks against Mexican forces could limit the support Texians might receive from the United States if war officially began. [16]

On September 27, 1835, a detachment of 100 dragoons, led by Francisco de Castañeda, left San Antonio de Béxar, carrying an official order for Ponton to surrender the cannon. [13] [16] Castañeda had been instructed to avoid using force if possible. [13] When the troops neared Gonzales on September 29, they found that the settlers had removed the ferry and all other boats from the Guadalupe River. On the other side of the swiftly moving river waited eighteen Texians. Albert Martin, captain of the Gonzales militia, informed the soldiers that Ponton was out of town, and until his return the army must remain on the west side of the river. [13] [17]

With no easy way to cross the river, Castañeda and his men made camp at the highest ground in the area, about 300 yards (300 meters) from the river. Three Texians hurried to bury the cannon, while others traveled to nearby communities to ask for assistance. [18] By the end of the day, more than 80 men had arrived from Fayette and Columbus. [19] Texian militias generally elected their own leaders, and the men now gathered in Gonzales invoked their right to choose their own captain rather than report to Martin. John Henry Moore of Fayette was elected leader, with Joseph Washington Elliot Wallace and Edward Burleson, both of Columbus, respectively elected second and third in command. [18]

On September 30, Castañeda reiterated his request for the cannon and was again rebuffed. Texians insisted on discussing the matter directly with Ugartechea. According to their spokesman, until this was possible "the only answer I can therefore give you is that I cannot now [and] will not deliver to you the cannon". [20] Castañeda reported to Ugartechea that the Texians were stalling, likely to give reinforcements time to gather. [21]

In San Antonio de Béxar, Ugartechea asked Dr. Launcelot Smither, a Gonzales resident in town on personal business, to help Castañeda convince the settlers to follow orders. [18] When Smither arrived on October 1, he met with militia captain Mathew Caldwell to explain that the soldiers meant no harm if the settlers would peacefully relinquish the cannon. Caldwell instructed Smither to bring Castañeda to the town the following morning to discuss the matter. At roughly the same time, Moore called a war council, which quickly voted to initiate a fight. It is unclear whether the war council was aware that Caldwell had promised Castañeda safe passage to Gonzales the next morning. [22]

Texians dug up the cannon and mounted it on cart wheels. In the absence of cannonballs, they gathered metal scraps to fill the cannon. [22] James C. Neill, who had served in an artillery company during the War of 1812, was given command of the cannon. He gathered several men, including Almaron Dickinson, also a former US Army field artilleryman, together to form the first artillery company of Texians. [23] A local Methodist minister, W. P. Smith, blessed their activities in a sermon which made frequent reference to the American Revolution. [22]

As the Texians made plans for an attack, Castañeda learned from a Coushatta Indian that about 140 men were gathered in Gonzales, with more expected. The Mexican soldiers began searching for a safe place to cross the river. At nightfall on October 1 they stopped to make camp, 7 miles (11 km) upriver from their previous spot. [24]

Battle

Texians began crossing the river at about 7 pm. Less than half of the men were mounted, slowing their progress as they tracked the Mexican soldiers. A thick fog rolled in around midnight, further delaying them. At around 3 am, Texians reached the new Mexican camp. A dog barked at their approach, alerting the Mexican soldiers, who began to fire. The noise caused one of the Texian horses to panic and throw his rider, who suffered a bloody nose. [24] Moore and his men hid in the thick trees until dawn. As they waited, some of the Texians raided a nearby field and snacked on watermelon. [25]

With the darkness and fog, Mexican soldiers could not estimate how many men had surrounded them. They withdrew 300 yards (274.2 meters) to a nearby bluff. At about 6 am, Texians emerged from the trees and began firing at the Mexican soldiers. Lieutenant Gregorio Pérez counterattacked with 40 mounted soldiers. The Texians fell back to the trees and fired a volley, injuring a Mexican private. According to some accounts, the cannon fell out of the wagon upon the shot. Unable to safely maneuver among the trees, the Mexican horsemen returned to the bluff. [25]

As the fog lifted, Castañeda sent Smither to request a meeting between the two commanders. Smither was promptly arrested by the Texians, who were suspicious of his presence among the Mexican soldiers. [25] Nevertheless, Moore agreed to meet Castañeda. Moore explained that his followers no longer recognized the centralist government of Santa Anna and instead remained faithful to the Constitution of 1824, which Santa Anna had repudiated. Castañeda revealed that he shared their federalist leanings, but that he was honor-bound to follow orders. [1]

As Moore returned to camp, the Texians raised a homemade white banner with an image of the cannon painted in black in the center, over the words "Come and Take It". [1] The makeshift flag evoked the American Revolutionary-era slogan "Don't Tread on Me". [26] Texians then fired their cannon at the Mexican camp. Realizing that he was outnumbered and outgunned, Castañeda led his troops back to San Antonio de Béxar. The troops were gone before the Texians finished reloading. In his report to Ugartechea, Castañeda wrote "since the orders from your Lordship were for me to withdraw without compromising the honor of Mexican arms, I did so". [1]

Aftermath

One spirit and one purpose animates the people of this party of the country, and that is to take Bexar, and drive the military out of Texas. ... A combined effort of all Texas would soon free our soil of Military despots—we should then have peace, for the present Government of Mexico have too much to do at home ... to send another army to Texas.

Stephen F. Austin [27]

Two Mexican soldiers were killed in the attack. The only Texian casualty was the bloody nose suffered by the man bucked off his horse. Although the event was, as characterized by Davis, "an inconsequential skirmish in which one side did not try to fight", Texians soon declared it a victory over Mexican troops. [26] Despite its minimal military impact, Hardin asserts that the skirmish's "political significance was immeasurable". [28] A large number of Texians had taken an armed stand against the Mexican army, and they had no intention of returning to their neutral stance towards Santa Anna's government. [28] Two days after the battle, Austin wrote to the San Felipe de Austin Committee of Public Safety, "War is declared—public opinion has proclaimed it against a Military despotism—The campaign has commenced". [29] News of the skirmish, originally called "the fight at Williams' place", [1] spread throughout the United States, encouraging many adventurers to come to Texas and assist in the fight against Mexico. [28] Newspapers referred to the conflict as the "Lexington of Texas"; as the Battles of Lexington and Concord began the American Revolution, the Gonzales skirmish launched the Texas Revolution. [1]

Before fighting had officially erupted, Santa Anna had realized that stronger measures were needed to ensure calm in Texas. He ordered his brother-in-law, General Martín Perfecto de Cos to bring approximately 500 soldiers to Texas. [8] Cos and his men arrived in Goliad on October 2. Three days later, after learning of the events at Gonzales, the soldiers left for San Antonio de Béxar. [30]

Gonzales became a rallying point for Texians opposed to Santa Anna's policies. [6] On October 11, they unanimously elected Austin their commander, despite his lack of military training. The following day, Austin led the men on a march towards San Antonio de Béxar to lay siege to Cos's troops. [31] [32] By the end of the year, the Texians had driven all Mexican troops from Texas. [33]

This cannon, displayed at the Gonzales Memorial Museum, may have precipitated the battle. Gonzales cannon 2005.jpg
This cannon, displayed at the Gonzales Memorial Museum, may have precipitated the battle.

The cannon's fate is disputed. According to the memoirs (written in the 1890s) of Gonzales blacksmith Noah Smithwick, the cannon was abandoned after the cart's axles began to smoke during a march to San Antonio de Béxar to assist in Austin's siege. Smithwick reported that the cannon was buried near a creek not far from Gonzales. A small iron cannon was exposed during a June 1936 flood near Gonzales. In 1979, this cannon was purchased by Dr. Patrick Wagner, who believed it matched Smithwick's descriptions of the cannon used in the battle. The Curator of Military History at the Smithsonian Institution verified that Wagner's cannon was a type of small swivel gun used in America through 1836. The Conservation Laboratory at the University of Texas confirmed that Wagner's cannon had been buried in moist ground for an extended time period. [34]

Writing in the Handbook of Texas , historian Thomas Ricks Lindley maintains that the Wagner cannon does not match the Smithwick account. The Wagner gun is made of iron and is smaller than a six-pounder. Historians such as Lindley think it more likely that the Gonzales cannon was taken to San Antonio de Béxar, where it was used during the Battle of the Alamo and captured by Mexican troops in March 1836. It was likely melted down with many of the other cannons when the Mexican army retreated. [35]

The battle is re-enacted during the Come and Take It celebration [36] in Gonzales every October. In and around Gonzales are nine Texas historical markers which commemorate various locations used in the prelude to the battle. [37]

See also

Footnotes

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Hardin (1994), p. 12.
  2. Baumgartner, Dorcas Huff; Vollentine, Genevieve B., "Gonzales County", Handbook of Texas, Texas State Historical Association
  3. Roell (1994), pp. 27–28.
  4. Roell (1994), pp. 29–31.
  5. Hardin (1994), p. 6.
  6. 1 2 Todish et al. (1998), p. 8.
  7. Todish et al. (1998), p. 6.
  8. 1 2 Roell (1994), p. 36.
  9. 1 2 Lack (1992), p. 31.
  10. Lack (1992), p. 26.
  11. Lack (1992), pp. 31–32.
  12. Davis (2006), p. 129.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Hardin (1994), p. 7.
  14. 1 2 Groneman (1998), p. 28.
  15. Davis (2006), p. 137.
  16. 1 2 3 Davis (2006), p. 138.
  17. William C. Davis attributes this action to Joseph D. Clements instead of Martin. Both Davis and Hardin agree that both men were part of this group, later known as the Old Eighteen. (Davis (2006), p 139.)
  18. 1 2 3 Hardin (1994), p. 8.
  19. Davis (2006), p. 139.
  20. quoted in Davis (2006), p. 140. Attributed to Joseph Clements
  21. Davis (2006), p. 140.
  22. 1 2 3 Hardin (1994), p. 9.
  23. Davis (2006), p. 141.
  24. 1 2 Hardin (1994), p. 10.
  25. 1 2 3 Hardin (1994), p. 11.
  26. 1 2 Davis (2006), p. 142.
  27. Barr (1990), pp. 6–7.
  28. 1 2 3 Hardin (1994), p. 13.
  29. Winders (2004), p. 54.
  30. Roell, Craig H., "Goliad Campaign of 1835", Handbook of Texas, Texas State Historical Association
  31. Hardin (1994), p. 26.
  32. Winders (2004), p. 55.
  33. Barr (1990), p. 56.
  34. "Southwestern Collection", Southwestern Historical Quarterly , 84 (4): 450–1, April 1981, retrieved 2008-12-02
  35. Lindley, Thomas Ricks, "Gonzales "Come and Take It" Cannon", Handbook of Texas, Texas State Historical Association
  36. Chamber of Commerce [ permanent dead link ], retrieved 19 April 2016.
  37. Groneman (1998), pp. 30–31.

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References

Coordinates: 29°30′32″N97°26′52″W / 29.5089°N 97.4478°W / 29.5089; -97.4478