Dr. Joseph Field's Account of the Events at Goliad
Events Leading to the Battle and Capitulation at Coleto Creek and the Massacre
In the meantime, Col. Fannin was ordered by the Council, himself not entirely approving the measure, as he often told me, and without the concurrence of the Governor and Commander in chief, to collect a force to be organized at Copano, on his way to San Putritia [San Patricio], the place of rendezvous for Matamoras. While these movements were in progress, F. Johnson, who had loitered behind after the taking of San Antonio, beat up for volunteers for the contemplated expedition. The soldiers, ever anxious to be on the move, volunteered to the number of one or two hundred. Johnson having put his men under the command of Grant and Morris, with instructions to repair to La Bahia, himself proceeded to the seat of government to obtain authority for his undertaking. The Governor, it being antecedent to his arrest, refused him a commission.
Gen. Houston, at this juncture, believing that his presence might have some effect to stay the hand that was raised for the destruction of his country, took leave of San Felippe for La Bahia, which place he reached in time to take command of the troops of Grant and Morris, on their way to the place of rendezvous. At Refugio they made a halt to await the arrival of Col. Fannin. Here, in a day too, arrived Johnson with authority from the Council, superseding the General in the command of the volunteers.
Finding he could render no further service here, he issued necessary orders and returned to San Felippe, and thence to Nacogdoches to make a treaty with the Indians. The volunteers becoming dissatisfied with the plans of Johnson, Grant & Co., refused to follow them in their wild goose chase, with the exception of sixty, who were led on by them to eventual destruction. Thinking themselves secure when danger was near, they suffered themselves to be surprised by the advance of the Southern Mexican army, and were cut to pieces, none surviving except Johnson and one or two of his men.
Col. Fannin, when he arrived at Copano, obeyed the orders of the General, organized his corps, and at the approach of the Mexican army, retreated to the post at Goliad, and in an express to those he had left at the head of affairs, suggested the propriety of retreating toward the Colorado and Brazos rivers. But there was no competent authority then in being, to respond to his communications, nor was there afterward, until the Convention met in March, who, upon the resignation of Gen. H. re-elected him with the authority of commander over all the military forces of Texas.
As the election of members to a second Convention approached, the Texians, seeing how little reliance was to be placed on Mexicans to aid them in their struggle, made it an electioneering question whether they should declare themselves absolutely and permanently independent of Mexico. Appearances were very much against it until about two weeks before the final issue; at which time letters were received from Gen. Austin, and our other agents in the United States, giving it as their opinion, predicated in part upon the sentiments of the people with whom they conversed, that they ought to become an independent people. There was great weight also given to the consideration that volunteers from abroad, then in the field, were not willing any longer to fight for Mexican liberty, upon which they themselves set so little value.-Then it was that a sudden change took place in the public mind, favorable to independence.
For the purpose of showing that the declaration of the second of March did not in any way provoke the late hostilities in Texas, I will here remark that the Mexican army entered the town of San Antonio on the 23d of February, seven days prior to the assembling of the Convention, and that the Alamo was stormed on the sixth of' March, five days only after the above declaration. As soon as his power was made plenary and indisputable, the General took the field, and collected all the forces at Gonzales, which had been previously draughted into the service, amounting to one-third of the whole effective force of Texas. In addition to these were some volunteers just arrived from the United States. In obedience to orders from the General, thirty-eight men had already been sent from Gonzales to the aid of Col. Travis in the Alamo. But before another reinforcement could be sent, the fort was stormed, every man fighting until shot down, except two or three, who met death in another form.
On hearing the news of this disaster, Gen. Houston made a precipitate retreat to the Colorado, at the same time ordering Col. Fannin, by express, to retreat also, and join the main army. Unfortunately for the Colonel, and the men under his command, he had a few days before sent Capt. King with his company of infantry to the Mission Refugio with some carts, to bring away a family and their goods, who had not escaped at the time their neighbors fled for safety from the foe. When the Captain reached the Mission, not expecting to meet an enemy, he divided his company, and leaving one division there, with the other descended the Mission river ten miles to a house, from which to convey some goods. At his approach he was furiously met by two hundred Mexican Ranchers and Indians, and after a severe contest he was compelled to make his retreat to the Mission. From this place he sent an express to Col. Fannin for assistance. A part of his men, being separated from the rest in the skirmish by swimming the river, made their escape to Goliad. The Colonel immediately dispatched Lieut. Col. Ward, with the Georgia battalion, to his relief. The evening of his junction with King, a part of his men crossed the river, made a sally upon the foe and killed several. During the night, the whole Mexican army came up. In the morning, Capt. King, ignorant of their augmented force, took a position down the river for the purpose of drawing out his antagonist. But they rushed out in such numbers, that his retreat to the Mission was cut off; and after fighting desperately, he and his men were at length compelled to surrender as prisoners of war, twenty-eight of whom were barbarously put to death. Colonel Ward fled to the church and defended himself throughout the day, at the expense of about three hundred of the yellow-skins, as named by the Texians, with some of their copper colored brethren, who fell victims to the bravery and skill of the assailed. In the night the little besieged band withdrew from the church, leaving the horns of the altar for the open country, and after passing the San Antonio river, entered an extensive prairie on their way toward the Guadaloupe. After four days of fasting and excessive fatigue, they were compelled to surrender to the same who had already given terms of capitulation to Fannin, which were now shown to Ward, with assurance that he and his soldiers should come within the terms of those stipulations. They were marched back to Goliad to share with their comrades the miserable fate which there awaited them, except twenty whom the Mexicans detained for the building of boats, to enable them to cross the rivers in their march. These few found little difficulty in breaking away from their captors after the shock they had received by the defeat of Santa Anna at Jacinto.
Battle of Coleto Creek and Capitulation
We will now revert to the operations of Col. Fannin's greatly diminished force at the fort. A first, second and third messenger was sent to the Mission, without bringing any information from our friends, except the last, who brought the news of their disaster, having obtained it at a rancho, (a Mexican farm). Upon receiving this account, a Council of War was immediately held, at which it was determined to execute the General's order as speedily as possible. The Council was hardly dissolved before our spies, who had been sent out on the road to San Antonio, returned in great haste, saying, that the Mexican army was within six miles of us. The order was instantly changed, and active preparations were made for the defence of the fort. Our precautions for defence were not hindered until the next day, when there was some skirmishing on the other side of the river between our cavalry and theirs, without loss to either.
Believing their numbers not to exceed five hundred, and feeling ourselves able to cope with that number, though we were not then more than about three hundred, Col. Fannin made arrangements to decamp at evening of the same day. When it was dark,-and it was very dark--Capt. Horton, with his company of cavalry, being sent to occupy the ford of the river, one mile from the fort, returned with information, that a body of troops were on the opposite bank, and that they attempted to charge upon him. His opinion that the retreat should be delayed until morning, was adopted.
At an early hour the next day we were under marching orders. Our cannon, baggage and sick, were drawn by Mexican oxen, in Mexican carts. Not being well broke, nor understanding the language and manners of English drivers, many of them as they issued from the fort, ran furiously into the prairie, and were unmanageable. Others would go no way but backwards; but we were in the midst of a wide prairie, when suddenly they were seen displaying their columns two or three miles in our rear. Our commander ordered a halt, unlimbered the cannon, and forming a line fronting the enemy, commenced cannonading them. We had not made many shots before the order was to fasten the oxen, all of which had been turned loose, to the carts. The line of battle was ordered to file to the rear from the extreme right and left wings, marching in double columns, our baggage in the centre, and cannon in the rear. In this manner we continued retreating, until being surrounded, we were compelled to stop and fight.
Having in another place (see Note 1, of the Appendix) detailed many of the circumstances which render this encounter memorable and painful in review, I would only add to the foregoing, that, after the capitulation, all our wounded were lodged in open carts, where they remained three days. When they were led out to be shot, six of them escaped; one of whom, as he afterward stated to me, got away in the following manner: when they were fired upon, he, though not wounded, fell with the rest and pretended to be dead; but a soldier, in pulling off his clothes, suspected him not dead, and then thrust his bayonet into his shoulder, and struck him on the back of his head. He then turned him over, cut his throat, and again knocked him on the head with the breech of his gun. All this he bore without betraying signs of life. He remained on the spot until the soldiers having done the work assigned them, returned to the fort. He afterward crawled off and made his escape. He stated that he left others alive, one of whom raised himself up and asked for assistance. How long they remained in this condition I do not know. Their bodies were not burned until the next day.
On the night of the sixth of March 1 arrived at La Bahia de Goliad, having travelled seventy miles alone, through a country so beset with Indians as to make it necessary to ride by night. Here I found Col. Fannin, to whom I reported myself, he having, at the approach of the enemy, fallen back to the fort at the above place. On the morning of the 19th, in pursuance of an order from Gen. Houston, we commenced a precipitate retreat, in the direction of Guadaloupe Victoria, for the purpose, if possible, of reaching the camp; the general army. But after having marched nine miles, we were overtaken and surrounded by a Mexican force of eighteen hundred, most of whom were mounted. Our situation was very unfortunate, being in the midst of that large prairie, in a place where the ground was much lower than that around us. We were also without water, which is the greatest of necessaries, especially for the wounded. The enemy having closed around us, upon every side, made a general charge but were repulsed with great slaughter. They rallied and charged again and again; but at every succeeding charge with less vigor, until night came and put an end to the carnage.
The enemy retired to the woods in the direction of our march. When they had taken their position for the night, Col. Fannin ordered his men to prepare for resuming their march and cutting their way through the enemy's lines. But it was soon discovered, that so many of our horses were killed or wounded, and our oxen strayed away, that it was impossible to transport our wounded who were more than sixty in number. Our Commander said he would not leave them, but was resolved to share with them a common fate. I will not attempt to describe the horrors of that night, which was spent amid the groans of the dying and the incessant cry for water of the wounded, in digging ditches and erecting breastworks for an extended engagement on the following day.
Morning at length came, and with it came our enemy, marshaling themselves in battle array, with apparent intention of renewing the scenes of the previous day, when a cannon ball was fired over us from near the woods. It was twice repeated, when, almost simultaneously, a white flag was raised upon both sides. When the two commanders met at a proper distance from their respective armies, the Mexican General Urrea embraced Col. Fannin and said, 'Yesterday we fought; but today we are friends.' Articles of capitulation were soon agreed upon by the two commanders, and committed to writing with the necessary signatures and formalities. The articles were, that in consideration of our surrendering, our lives should be ensured, our personal property restored, and we were to be treated, in all respects, as prisoners of war are treated among enlightened nations. We also received a verbal promise to be sent, in eight days, to the nearest port, to be transported to the United States. The main body of the prisoners were marched back to the fort at Goliad in the afternoon of the same day; but the Colonel, Dr. Barnard and myself, encamped upon the ground.
In the morning, Colonel Halsinger [Juan Josť Holzinger], who was left in command of the guard, inquired of the Colonel which was his best surgeon. As I was standing near, he pointed towards me, and said he believed I was as good as any. I was then ordered to follow a carriage, in which were placed two wounded Mexican officers, whom I followed on foot. When I entered the fort, I was taken to the church, where our prisoners were confined, and thrust in among them; though there was not room for more than two-thirds to sit at the same time. Here our only resting place was the bare ground, offensive with filth; Mexican churches being without floors, or any marks of cleanliness. I was soon called for by Col. Halsinger, and put in a house outside the walls of the fort, with the wounded Mexican officers, in whose company I left the battlefield. By apparent sympathy and good attention to their wounds, I obtained from them expressions of friendship and confidence.
They often spoke to me of going with them to Mexico, and living with them, not as a prisoner, but as a friend. Relying a little on these testimonies of friendship, I requested that my friend, Capt. John S. Brooks, who had broken his thigh in the engagement, might be brought into the same room, that I might pay more attention to his wound. The request was granted, and he, when he arrived, after having lain in an open cart in the prairie without food or other refreshment for three days, was permitted to be placed by the door, upon the hard ground. I also ventured to ask that a servant might be sent into the prairie to collect some grass to make a bed for him; and though I offered all my money, which amounted to more than one hundred dollars, which I happened not to have about me when I was robbed, it was not granted. They know a much easier way of getting my money, which they afterward obtained. Our whole time (the surgeons) was taken up in dressing the Mexican wounded. All our medicines, surgical instruments and bandages were taken from us; and none of our soldiers had their wounds dressed, except a few by Major Miller. Our treatment during the week was like that of which I have given a specimen.
In the night of the 27th the express returned, who had been sent to Bexar to know the will of the President, Santa Anna, with an order for all prisoners to be shot. About sunrise the next morning, the sanguinary mandate was executed. Being outside of the fort I was an eye-witness to but a small part, but was informed of what was going on. At length, an officer and two soldiers came in, one of whom seized the blanket, which covered Capt. B. which I indignantly pulled from him and replaced. Seeing it, my friend, the wounded Mexican Captain called me and made me take a seat by him upon the bedside and hold my tongue. When they rudely bore away Capt. B. he extended his arms towards me, imploring my assistance, until his voice was silenced forever. In a short time afterward, I was taken by a subaltern to a house where I found Mr. Spohn, and where I received some food. When we left this house, we were taken to the hospital.
When the confusion of the morning had a little subsided, a division of the wounded was made, and an equal number given to each surgeon to attend. We were then crowded into an apartment too small to allow all to lie down at once with convenience. Some of us were so fortunate as to save a blanket, which we spread over the filthy ground to sleep upon. Our food was chiefly stewed beef, which we ate from our fingers. In a week or two we had a small allowance of bread. During my captivity, I embraced every opportunity to make myself acceptable to the wounded Captain---listening, with seeming interest, to whatever he had to say of his own and my future happiness in the Mexican country, and manifesting impatience at the unavoidable delay caused by the obstinacy of his wounds. In the meantime all my thoughts were employed in contriving means of escape. As I could not so well go alone, I proposed to such of my fellow prisoners, as I thought worthy of confidence, consulting one at a time, to make a trial at elopement. Several weeks elapsed before I could find one, whose prudence justified a trial.
They all believed it impracticable and that a failure would be attended with immediate death. At length a German by the name of Vose, whose impatience under repeated insults had subjected him to many mortifying punishments, came to an understanding with me. The time, manner and place of meeting having been agreed upon, we by various pretexts, obtained permission to sleep outside of the walls. When it was dark I took a path leading to the river, where we commonly went for water, appearing to go for that purpose, and having descended to the brink, I shaped my course up the river under a steep bank and projecting rocks; and climbing precipices, which, under other circumstances would have been insurmountable, I at length gained the plain and place of meeting, where I found my companion waiting for me.
We then ascended the San Antonio river about one mile, where we found a place that was fordable. Having crossed, we descended an Indian trail leading to the North, the same that I came in upon a few weeks before. Our course led us in the direction of the Guadaloupe river, where we arrived the following day. Here for the first time, my companion informed me of his inability to swim. Setting my ingenuity to work, I soon constructed a raft of rails and other trash that I found upon the bank, sufficiently large to float him across, and making a line fast to it, I took one end between my teeth, plunged into the river, and swam to the other shore, towing him after me. In like manner we crossed the Colorado also. My knowledge of the country enabled me to avoid all public roads. Our journey led us through extensive prairies, and sometimes almost impenetrable forests. On the eleventh day, having traveled about one hundred and fifty miles, we accidently fell in with a soldier who had just returned from the battle of Jacinto. Here I was informed of the joyful news of the capture of General Santa Anna. Our means of subsistence, during the time of our flight, consisted of a few rations of bread that I had saved, and two small pigs found at deserted houses on our way. Continuing our journey, we found ourselves at Velasco, the present seat of government, about the middle of May. My health being much impaired, I obtained a furlough, with permission to visit my friends in the United States.
From The New Handbook of Texas. Joseph Fields reached Texas in 1833 and lived near Brazoria and Matagorda for two years. Late in 1835, when the Texas Revolution broke out, he was at Gonzales, on his way to Mexico, and he and the four other doctors in the area volunteered their services. Field marched with the army to San Antonio and during and after the siege of Bexar served as both doctor and soldier. On his way from San Antonio he met Sam Houston, with whom he traveled as far as Nacogdoches. At the Mexican armed incursion in the spring of 1836, Field joined the command of James Walker Fannin, Jr........After the revolution he made a visit to Massachusetts, where, in September 1836, he published Three Years in Texas. On his return to Texas late that year he joined the army. After a year of service he practiced medicine, first at Brazoria, and then, as late as 1874, at Corpus Christi. He experienced extreme poverty in his later life. A small pension granted him in 1858 was subsequently withdrawn, and efforts were being made for its reinstatement when Field, then blind and forgotten, died in Clear Water Harbor, Florida, in 1882.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: William Campbell Binkley, ed., Official Correspondence of the Texan Revolution, 1835-1836 (2 vols., New York: Appleton-Century, 1936). Pat Ireland Nixon, The Medical Story of Early Texas, 1528-1853 (Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Lupe Memorial Fund, 1946). Noah Smithwick, The Evolution of a State, or Recollections of Old Texas Days (Austin: Gammel, 1900; rpt., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983). Pat Ireland Nixon