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Massacre at Goliad--Mexican Centralista Descriptions

 

Gen. Vicente Filisola
From Memorias para la historia de la guerra de Tejas, vol.  II

Gen. Vicente Filisola.......will shine with glory upon the name of those worthy Mexicans who shed their blood defending the integrity of the national territory, and the infamy of the colonists will stand forth, of those who repaid the benefits of the Mexican nation with naught but ingratitude.......

......a circular letter from the government decreed these provisions against infamous bandits who were taken under arms and who were profaning the territory by shedding Mexican blood. He [Urrea] had no powers to set aside these orders under the circumstances that made necessary the shooting of some men who were fighting without a banner, murdering Mexican detachments, burning houses, attacking the property of legitimate owners and peaceful citizens, and were trying in addition to steal a great part of the national territory. The war in Texas was exceptional; it was not a civil war; nor was it a war of one nation against another. In it the thief was fighting against the owner, the murderer against his benefactor, and nothing was more natural than that these hordes of assassins and thieves should be done away with.....

The few events that we have indicated in the two previous chapters and the ones that we are going to relate in this one are perhaps the only things favorable to our troops during the prosecution of the campaign. However, they demonstrate the possibility that our troops had to come out successful in all the others in which they have taken part, and which despite the adverse fate that followed them constantly, will shine with glory upon the name of those worthy Mexicans who shed their blood defending the integrity of the national territory, and the infamy of the colonists will stand forth, of those who repaid the benefits of the Mexican nation with naught but ingratitude.  After the action at Refugio, General Urrea left the wounded and the baggage in the care of Colonel Vara, whom he stationed to observe in the port of Cópano, giving him the necessary orders and the forces to carry out his mission. Immediately the general himself started out for Goliad at the head of two hundred men of the two branches - cavalry and infantry - sending scouts along the road to that town.

The groups sent out in pursuit of the scattered men brought in fourteen of them and intercepted a communication from Colonel Fannin, by means of which it was learned definitely that he was trying to evacuate the port of Goliad and head for Victoria. To be carried out this plan only awaited the joining up with the two hundred men that were under the command of Colonel Ward, and who had suffered the consequences of the action at Refugio. In view of this, the general ordered that Captain Don José Irracta press forward with sixty men to locate himself between Victoria and the fort, thus cutting off the enemy's retreat. The men spent the night in Las Matas de San Nicolás.  The weariness of the troops during so prolonged a march, the number of prisoners that had increased considerably, the small resources that they had for guarding them and for supporting them, and finally the orders of the supreme government and the latest commands of the commander in chief obliged General Urrea bowing before circumstances that were as different as they were contrary to his purposes - to order that they shoot thirty adventurers who had been apprehended bearing arms in the latest action. At the same time he set free some colonists and Mexicans whom he had found with the others.

This action has been hurled in the face of General Urrea, as well as some others that we are going to relate, without keeping in mind that a circular letter from the government decreed these provisions against infamous bandits who were taken under arms and who were profaning the territory by shedding Mexican blood. He had no powers to set aside these orders under the circumstances that made necessary the shooting of some men who were fighting without a banner, murdering Mexican detachments, burning houses, attacking the property of legitimate owners and peaceful citizens, and were trying in addition to steal a great part of the national territory. The war in Texas was exceptional; it was not a civil war; nor was it a war of one nation against another. In it the thief was fighting against the owner, the murderer against his benefactor, and nothing was more natural than that these hordes of assassins and thieves should be done away with. There is no reason then to place blame upon General Urrea, as there is none to blame the government which had issued just such provisions. Let us continue with our story.

On the morning of the seventeenth General Urrea's section found itself on the other side of the San Antonio River, calling a halt at the ranch of San José, from where it was possible to observe the rebels who were located in Goliad. Nevertheless, the general sent out scouts in the direction of Guadalupe Victoria which was nine leagues distant from San José. That night Don Pedro Pablo Perino appeared with two of the scouts, informing them that Colonel Don Juan Morales was on his way with three artillery pieces and five hundred men from theJim6nez and San Luis battalions. He had left Béxar to join the general and had had no trouble at all on the way there. At that time a new order was issued for that leader to station himself at a league from Goliad upon the Arroyo de la Manahuilla to the north of the fort.  The next day General Urrea set out on the march with the intention of joining the section of Colonel Morales and passed in the vicinity of Goliad which he observed as closely as possible. In the afternoon he learned from the advance guards that the enemy was approaching, and in a little while a group of cavalry appeared near a wood that is located on the left hand side. Immediately he ordered Colonel Morales to attack them with the best companies of his battalion, which he did, making them move back and obliging them to go inside the fortress. As they observed the approach of our troops they opened fire and this lasted until dark.

The general observed the fort a second time to see what were the advantages of the enemy's situation and the weakest points for the attack, and withdrew at once towards the camp with all his forces. During the night advanced guards were posted, and they took all precautions that the nature of things seemed to require in order that the enemy would not flee, for as we have indicated there were sufficient reasons to believe that they might try to do so. The troops bivouacked during the night, with a constant rain falling and a strong norther blowing, which made the cold unbearable so that no one could rest for a single moment.  The nineteenth dawned with a thick cloud cover that made things invisible, and General Urrea ordered the cavalry to be so positioned that they might reconnoiter the fort. However, at the same time he was advised of the departure of the enemy along the road to Guadalupe Victoria. This news caused him order that three hundred sixty foot soldiers and eighty horses should immediately join those that had left at noon, leaving the rest of the section, as well as the baggage, under the immediate command of Colonel Don Francisco Garay. The latter ordered that the fort be reconnoitered and be occupied in case it had been abandoned.

After marching about two leagues it was learned that the enemy was located a short distance away, and that they were not marching with all their forces. In view of this the command was given for one hundred foot soldiers to return for the purpose of guarding the artillery that was following them while the rest went to catch up with Colonel Fannin. At about one thirty in the afternoon the latter was sighted, and General Urrea gave orders for the cavalry to go after him at full gallop to cut off his retreat at the same time when he was trying to occupy a wood, from which it would have been difficult if not impossible to remove him.  The men went in columns carrying with them nine artillery pieces. However, as soon as he saw that their retreat had been cut off and that it was necessary to fight, they spread out in battle formation and firmly awaited the arrival of our troops. These, in spite of the fatigue of the road, the moment that they discovered the enemy, filled the air with loud shouts; their enthusiasm seemed to General Urrea to augur good, and from then on he believed that victory was certain. Although our troops were fewer in number, nevertheless those that were following according to the general's orders would overcome this difference. Consequently, he ordered an attack on the march, and this was done. The enemy answered with rifle and artillery fire. The method of preparing the charge was to divide the troop into four columns, one on the left under the command of Colonel Morales composed of the chasseur companies, another on the right under the command of General Urrea himself with companies of grenadiers and the first of San Luis, and the rest of the Jiménez battalion with Colonel Salas at the head in the center, placing Lieutenant Colonel Nuñez with the rearguard cavalry to charge when necessary.

With these orders issued, action began positively on the right and the left. To secure quick victory the general ordered them to charge with fixed bayonets by columns, with brave Colonel Morales doing likewise with his forces, with both of them maintaining heavy fire to attract the attention to the flanks. But the enemy, recognizing their critical position, did not falter, rather they defended themselves with bravery and desperation. Observing our movements, they maneuvered to avoid their forming a hammer on the right and placing three artillery pieces in front which opened heavy fire and caused great losses in the small column of General Urrea, who was making at the same time a similar operation with a column on the left against those who were loosing a horrendous rain of lead. Meanwhile he was maintaining our battle in the forefront which he had to maneuver in small bands in order to avoid thus the strafing of enemy fire insofar as was possible. This was very heavy since each one of the soldiers had at his disposal four or five guns or rifles in the most critical moments.

In spite of this our soldiers did not retreat one step and died enthusiastically discharging their last shot against the Texans. The latter used every means at their command to make themselves formidable, as from behind their parapets made up of baggage and carts they formed a square behind these fortifications. Thus it required all the valor of the soldiers and determination of the officers who were disputing the honor of being the first in order to maintain the posts within half a rifle shot of the enemy, with no other protection than their own breasts [breastworks], in the midst of an immense plain. In order to give less of a target to the enemy our soldiers stretched out on the ground and raised themselves up only to fire. This they were doing as all the while they were narrowing more and more the distance between the two groups.  But when they saw the enemy continuing with their trenches, in order to stop them, which was dangerous enough, General Urrea tried to charge with the cavalry, placing himself at the head in order to urge the soldiers on. However, when the enemy realized the movement, they prevented it by taking battle formation and sending against the cavalry a rain of fire that caused them to draw back in spite of the general's efforts. Consequently he took up a position at a distance out of range of the enemy fire. His ammunition was exhausted, and the munitions and aid that were following did not arrive in spite of the orders that went out continually for them to hasten their movement. However, those that were sent did not appear either as the rearguard forces had gotten lost.

Before the ammunition was completely gone General Urrea decided to charge against all fronts, placing himself a second time at the head of the cavalry. As the fanfare sounded, which was the agreed signal, the forces advanced with great determination and bravery until they were within forty or fifty paces of the enemy ranks. Their efforts were beyond description, the soldiers took the fire of the bullets from the rifles with breasts bared, and consequently the fire began to lessen notably, and their ammunition was being used up.   Under such circumstances the general ordered the infantry to fix bayonets and maintain a slow fire. For little better than half an hour both forces remained in this position until the general saw the impossibility of involving the enemy at that time and that the fight was unequal, and he gave the order to retreat. This was executed in the best of order with protection from the cavalry which seemed to wish to throw itself against the fortifications. After a little while they also retreated, and the general addressed the troops who needed no words since they were very enthusiastic about making a charge with their bayonets. Every one took his post promising victory for the next day.

During the night the infantry was stationed at two hundred paces from the enemy, covering themselves from their fire in a small washout. The wounded were taken into the woods the enemy had tried to occupy the day before at the beginning of the battle. The advance guards parceled themselves out along the two flanks to observe the enemy movements since during the night they had busied themselves making a small trench around the perimeter of their group. The general spent the night inspecting the advance posts that were harassing the enemy with continual drumbeats which kept them in a state of alarm. Their cavalry had escaped at the beginning of the action, but some of the men had dismounted and joined their companions leaving their horses abandoned, and these served to replenish ours where they were badly needed. At dawn on the twentieth the general inspected the position of Fannin, who had not moved during the previous night, but who had rather reinforced his fortifications considerably with dead oxen and horses and had dug the trench that we have mentioned. The general ordered the Jiménez battalion into battle formation, and that the chasseur companies advance across the level ground and that the cavalry should move forward along the sides divided into two groups. The troops in formation received a ration of biscuit and roasted meat from the oxen that had been taken from the enemy the day before, at the same time rendering useless others that had remained in their hands. This was done by means of sharpshooters prepared for this action. Their arms were in good shape since during the night they had unpacked some that had been made ready by the use of ammunition from the cavalry for lack of any other.

At six-thirty the equipment which had gone astray the day before arrived, as well as one hundred foot soldiers and two four-caliber artillery pieces which were placed as a battery one hundred sixty paces from the enemy and supported by the chasseur companies. The remaining infantry was ordered to form into a column and march to the left of the battery at the moment they opened fire, but when the time came to initiate these movements and with them hardly begun, the enemy raised the white flag. Firing ceased, and General Urrea ordered Lieutenant Colonel Don Juan José Holzinger to go with Don José de la Luz González to find out what they had in mind. They returned shortly saying that the enemy wished to surrender. General Urrea's answer was for them to surrender unconditionally, which was refused by Colonel Fannin by means of Colonels Salas and Morales. They exchanged communications until the general himself went over to the enemy camp, indicating to their leader that he could only agree to an unconditional surrender. At the same time he refused to sign a surrender order which Fannin proposed to him with these terms.  There was consultation among the enemy leaders with the result of the conference being the surrender of their forces on the terms proposed by General Urrea. As a consequence they ordered their soldiers to come out from behind the fortifications, and they stacked their arms. In this manner there fell into the possession of the army three flags, more than a thousand muskets, rifles, pistols, daggers, a great deal of equipment, and some four hundred prisoners, among whom there were ninety-seven wounded, among this number being Fannin and some officers. The baggage was disposed of, and they started on the march to Goliad, with two hundred foot soldiers escorting the prisoners. The rest of the troops, who were weary, made the journey in the carts that they found in the enemy camp. The latter had suffered the loss of twenty-seven killed, with our casualties being some seventy including dead and wounded.

News of the results of the action of Colonel Garay was noted, and instructions were given for this to be sent on to the commander in chief, or if that were impossible to Señor Urrea, who at that moment was on his way to Guadalupe Victoria Señor Garay was in Goliad where he had taken possession of the fort, finding there eight artillery pieces that had been spiked by the enemy who in their retreat had burned the houses, managing to savejust a few of them from the fire. General Urrea conducted himself bravely, as valiantly as has been said, and a bullet had gone through his hat. He was exposed to many other dangers because of the efforts that he had made to urge the cavalry on to charge, as we have already told.


NOTES

Surrender of the forces in Goliad under the command of Mr. James W. Fannin.

Art. 1. Since the Mexican troops had placed their battery at a distance of one hundred paces and were beginning to open fire, we raised a white flag, and momentarily there arrived Colonels Don Juan Morales and Don Mariano Salas accompanied by Lieutenant Colonel Don Juan José Holzinger of the engineers, and we offered to surrender to them unconditionally, to which they agreed.
2. The wounded and Commander Fannin are to be treated with every consideration, it being proposed that they hand over their arms.
3. That the entire contingent be treated as prisoners of war and placed at the disposal of the supreme government. Camp on Coleto Creek, between Guadalupe and La Bahia, March 20, 1836. - B. C. Waller, temporary colonel. - J. M. Chadevek, adjutant. - Approved, Joseph W. Fannin, commander.

When the white flag was raised by the enemy, I ordered that their commander should be informed that there would be no other terms but that they should surrender unconditionally, without any reservations, and this was agreed to by the gentlemen as they expressed. The other requests made by those who may subscribe to this surrender are of no effect. This I have made clear to them, and they agreed. I must not, nor can I, grant anything else.  José Urrea.  sdct


In his treatise, Representation, of 1836 in defense of his honor regarding operations in the Texas campaign, Filisola says:

Por cada una de estas escaramuzas, merecia el Sr. Urrea un consejo de guerra, y el castigo condigno, por haber asesinado en ellas porcion de soldados valientes, debiendo sin este sacrificio haber obtenido iguales resultados.

For everyone of those skirmishes, Urrea deserved a court martial and condign punishment, for having assassinated in them a number of brave soldiers, as he might have obtained the same results without this sacrifice.

Kennedy in his book on Texas points out that Filisola's use of the term "capitulado" ["En donde habian capitulado"] to refer to the surrender of Fannin's men at Mission Refugio and at Encinal del Perdido (Coleto) "indicated his [Filisola's] belief that stipulations had preceded their surrender."


A True Account of the First Texas Campaign by Ramon Martinez Caro, secretary to Gen. Santa Anna during the Texas Campaign (pgs104-106)
Translated from Carlos Casteñeda's The Mexican Side of the Texan Revolution

......His Excellency strongly reprimanded him [Gen. Urrea], expressing his displeasure and commanding him at the same time not to soil his triumphs with a mistaken display of generosity. He ordered him to execute all the prisoners.....

The official reports of General Urrea, who was operating in the Bahía and Cópano region, were received about this time [Mar 1836]. The first gave an account of the engagement at San Patricio in which he took several prisoners whom he sent to Matamoros. His Excellency reproved him for this act, reminding him of his duty in fulfilling the orders given regarding prisoners, which were that they should be executed on the spot. His second report gave an account of the engagement on the Nueces in which Doctor Grant, twenty adventurers, and three Mexicans that were with him were killed. The last of his reports refers to the action that took place at Encinal del Perdido. This episode, which after the minutest investigations still remains covered by a mysterious veil, was the chief cause of the infinite hardships and sufferings we endured as prisoners [at San Jacinto] and of the dangers to which we were exposed.

General Urrea says in his report that, having received information that Fannin was abandoning the fort of Goliad with all his force in an attempt to reach Victoria, he immediately set out in pursuit and succeeded in overtaking him at the Encinal del Perdido where he began an attack on him between four and five in the afternoon, the engagement lasting until dark; that on the following morning he renewed the attack after he had received two pieces of artillery and reenforcements; that the enemy then sent him a short note, written in pencil, proposing several articles of capitulation; and that he replied to this note by saying that he had no authority to enter into any terms, being able to grant only an unconditional surrender.

[Caro's Footnote: In speaking of official documents which I do not have at hand, I may fall into some slight error as to the literal contents of such documents, but not as to the sense. The short note cited above was transmitted by General Urrea with his report of the action].

Lieutenant-Colonel José Holzinger, whom the Texans took as a prisoner to Velasco, gave a very different account of the incident; and the cabinet granted him his liberty, issuing to him a satisfactory release, expressing their thanks for the services he rendered to several of the prisoners. This is evidenced by the letter which he addressed to the Texan Colonel, J. A. Wharton, in which, complying with his request, he gives a detailed account of the incident.

But let us return to General Urrea. In his private letter to His Excellency regarding this action, after giving him a long detailed account of the circumstances, he concludes by recommending the unfortunate prisoners, who numbered more than 200, to the clemency of His Excellency. He further states that he has sent all the prisoners to Bahia in charge of Lieutenant Colonel José Nicolas de la Portilla, whom he appointed commandant of that place, where the prisoners are to remain and await the pleasure of His Excellency, while he [Urrea] continued on his march towards Victoria.

[Caro's Footnote: I cannot state the exact number, because, as I have said before, I have not the documents which I am citing. I am certain, however, that there were more than 200. These documents will be found in the private papers of His Excellency which were in his baggage, sent to Veracruz together with mine. By this time, His Excellency must have disposed of those documents as he saw fit].

In replying to the recommendation of Urrea, His Excellency strongly reprimanded him, expressing his displeasure and commanding him at the same time not to soil his triumphs with a mistaken display of generosity. He ordered him to execute all the prisoners, and a copy of the order was sent also to the commandant of Bahia. The order not having been carried out, it was repeated directly to the commandant a few days later. The prisoners were finally executed as it is well known, that is to say, they were taken out from the fort in groups, led out of the city a certain distance, and shot down at random. Sixteen or seventeen who escaped miraculously owe their lives to this refined cruelty. Later, when we were prisoners in their camp, each one of these became a tiger in his persecution of us, particularly of His Excellency and me.

[Caro's Footnote: My conduct as a prisoner will be seen later on. I pride myself in having acted nobly, only to be repaid with calumny and evil].

The commandant of Bahia notified His Excellency at about the same time that 83 men had been taken prisoners by Colonel D. N. Bara. He sent him the original report of Colonel Bara in which it appeared that five men who were making their way to the fort, ignorant of the surrender of Fannin, declared that they had just landed at Copano and that their companions were still on board the vessel that had brought them. The colonel informed them of Fannin's surrender and told them to ask their companions to land and surrender, promising them that they would be treated with all consideration if they surrendered without offering resistance. They acceded to his request and were all taken to the fort to await the disposition of His Excellency. When he received this information, he ordered me to write to the commandant, giving him instructions to have all the prisoners executed as provided by the circular of the supreme government, for though they had not engaged in active fighting, the fact that they had introduced themselves into the country armed, confirmed their intention of taking an active part in the war.

[Caro's Footnote: This is a terrible interpretation of the circular in which it is expressly stated that those prisoners who are not taken fighting are not to be executed].

Fortunately, when Captain D. N. Savariego, bearer of the order, learned that it extended to the eighty-three men, he asked to be allowed to speak to His Excellency, and I myself led him to the room where he was. Captain Savariego told him that the colonel who had taken these men had asked him to ask the clemency of His Excellency for the unfortunate prisoners who had surrendered without making use of their arms. Hardly had he spoken, when for his reply he received such bitter reproof that he left the room disgusted. At the same time, His Excellency called me and ordered me to alter the order which had already been written in final form, instructing the commandant of Bahia to hold the eighty-three prisoners until a thorough investigation was concluded concerning the circumstances of the surrender, allowing them only one ration of meat a day. The investigation was immediately instituted by General Cos, who used Lieutenant Colonel Pedro Francisco Delgado, a member of the secretarial staff of His Excellency, as his secretary. He took the declaration of Captain Savariego and sent it to Bahia from where it was to be returned as soon as possible with the additional information necessary for a final decision of the case. Those unfortunate wretches escaped a tragic end by this coincidence, for they would have been executed in spite of the fact that such an act was contrary to the spirit of the circular of the supreme government.

[Caro Footnote: If after I obtained my liberty, His Excellency had remained a prisoner, and if I had made the above disclosures to the Texans, after hearing the calumnies which he has promulgated concerning me, would His Excellency be free and in perfect security at Manga de Clavo to-day? I fear not. He might not even be alive today. But such an act would have placed me on a par with him. The best way to defend oneself is not to descend to the level of the offender. I speak today, only because I am addressing my native country to whom I owe a justification of my acts].  sdct


Lt. José Enrique De La Peña's Account of the Massacre at Goliad
From With Santa Anna in Texas:  A Personal Narrative of the Revolution

.....share with me the sorrow that always seizes me whenever I must recall this bloody scene....Captain Don Pedro Balderas, in charge of the executions, spoke to them to inform them of the savage decree that condemned them......not a single one forfeited his word. They trusted our generosity too much.......The soldiers from Tres Villas and Yucatán and some...from the regiments of Cuautla, Tampico, and.....Durango.....say that they were greatly moved upon being required to perform a duty so alien to their rules......should not be blamed for having obeyed......Fannin....was informed of the order for his execution....received it calmly.....asked...to write a farewell letter to his wife and another to General Santa Anna, in which he declared that he was not for the independence of Texas and that had died a victim of his love for the Constitution of 1824, under the auspices of which he had come to the country and for which he went to the sacrifice gladly.......he requested that they call Lieutenant Colonel Nicola's de la Portilla.....give him his watch....the letter he had written....to his wife.........Don Carolino Huerta......cruelly denied him this favor.......our wounded soldiers gave worthy lessons in humanity.....resolving to place in their beds and cover with their own bodies three or four of the enemy who happened to be in the hospital.......What a pity that such commendable actions were so few in number......The ladies at Matamoros also rendered homage.

General Santa Anna gave the order in triplicate that the prisoners at Goliad be executed. Not satisfied with this, he sent by stagecoach one of his aides, Colonel Miñón, to witness the execution, for he had reached the point of doubting that his bloodthirsty order would be obeyed. But unfortunately it was not so, for in the person of Lieutenant Colonel Nicolás de la Portilla he found a blind and willing servant, as he desired. The latter should have answered as that illustrious commander of Bayonne answered an order of Charles IX, regarding the barbarous St. Bartholomew executions:

"My Lord, I have transmitted your Majesty's order to the faithful inhabitants and soldiers of this garrison; among all of them I have found only good citizens and brave soldiers but not a single executioner. They and I humbly beg of your Majesty that you deign to employ our arms and our lives in positive things, no matter how dangerous, and we will sacrifice our last drop of blood."

If a reply like this given to an absolute monarch merited universal applause, as Vattel relates, with much more reason should such a reply have been made to a commander in chief in a republic where everyone, from the chief magistrate to the least of citizens, is subject to law.

"Obedience should never be absolutely blind," says the same author, "for no superior officer can require or authorize a hundred men to violate natural law, and no one should obey orders obviously in violation of this sacred law."

The order was limited only to those who had surrendered in the action at Perdido and was couched in clear and definite terms; but de la Portilla, wishing to have his zeal recognized and being a man cut out for the duties of an executioner, extended the decree to include the eighty that had arrived with Ward on the very day that he had received the first order. He exempted from the massacre those captured at Cópano, who were invaders and to whom the government's circular really applied, because be believed it his duty to inquire what fate should befall them, but he did not have the same consideration for those prisoners who had just arrived from Victoria, among whom were colonists and the circumstances surrounding whose capture he ignored. What ignorance can be capable of!  How true it is that in order to follow the honorable profession of arms men should know more than how to obey blindly. Truth is the most desirable demand of history, but I have been unable to ascertain until now the exact number of men with whose sacrifice the Passion of Christ was commemorated on Palm Sunday, the 27th of March 1836. In spite of all the investigations that I have carried out, I have not obtained a satisfactory result, so I am obliged to present facts only in order for the reader to decide for himself.

According to General Urrea's communiqué those surrendering on the 20th were about 400 men, and according to my investigations there were 365, but the commander in chief in the report mentioned above mentions barely 234 men. However, it may be that all the prisoners had not arrived when Colonel Garay reported in advance, according to instructions he had received from General Urrea at the battlefield, since it was impossible for Urrea to dispatch it at that moment. Lieutenant Colonel de la Portilla, in that part of his diary which is included in the documents and which one should consult says that at dawn on the 26th he resolved to comply with the order issued by the commander in chief, considering it to take precedence over everything (doubtless also over humanity and the laws), that he ordered all the garrison into formation and the prisoners, who numbered 445 and were still asleep, to be awakened and the 80 apprehended at Cópano to be separated, for the reason already mentioned. I am inclined to believe that this number 80 is not included in the 445, because, allowing that only 234 had been sent from Perdido, with 80 sent from Victoria and a like number from Cópano, the total reaches 394, a number less than that Portilla refers to. Now adding the 375 that surrendered at Perdido with the 80 from Victoria, the total comes to 445, the number here referred to; if we add those from Cópano, it yields a total of 525, a figure over the one mentioned. Let the reader thus judge from what has been said; and since I have already referred to the immorality of this action, let him permit me to relate the cruel way in which it was carried out and share with me the sorrow that always seizes me whenever I must recall this bloody scene. I described it at the very scene, after interviewing many eyewitnesses, and for that reason I consider sufficient what is found in my diary, which is as follows.

Goliad, May 22nd. Until today (a month ago, according, to the date, we received news of the disaster at San Jacinto) I have not been able to assemble the data that would allow me to speak with truth about the enemy prisoners who were executed at this place. According to all opinions, there were 425 or 427 in all, of whom 80 or 90 were wounded. These, among whom was their commander, were executed within the fort. Lamenting their sufferings, most of them dragging themselves along, they were taken out of the hospital one by one and thrown into the clutches of death. There were some, unable to stand upright, to kneel, or to sit, who were killed in their own beds, which is quite credible, since most of the wounded could keep themselves in no other position than lying in bed. The rest, divided into three parties, were led in different directions, having been told at the moment they were led out of their beds, for some were still asleep, that they were going to be taken to Matamoros. They were requested to take their knapsacks to make them believe this unworthy falsehood, which they so trusted that they started singing as they began their march; these poor unfortunates little suspected that they were marching to their execution. Upon arriving at a certain place, they were lined up in rows with their backs to the troops, but since these were in equal number, or perhaps fewer than the prisoners, there was hardly one man for each victim, so the scene was most horrible. One of the officials in charge of the execution acted in advance of the agreed hour, and since he was close to those who were to be made victims, they heard the firing clearly enough to know its cause; the rest, growing suspicious, were overcome with terror, suffering the anguish and cruel torments inspired by their situation. It is rather strange that they did not decide to fall upon the troops and to die fighting, as other men would have done in similar unfortunate circumstances. Some chose to run away at the first shots, but the infantry and dragoons pursued them on the plain, hunting them as wild beasts, so that some died at a distance from the assigned place. One hundred and twenty-five of these unfortunates were being tied up when the others fled, and during this operation they witnessed the flight of their companions who were trying to escape the infamous death so closely threatening them. Cavalry Captain Don Pedro Balderas, in charge of the executions, spoke to them to inform them of the savage decree that condemned them, but ignorant of the language, they died unaware of its contents, which added further injury to their misfortune.

Their gesticulations and signs were the only language they could employ to arouse the sympathy of their executioners and to implore the mercy of the Mexicans. They trusted that their lives would be spared, and for that reason they did not attempt flight, which they could have accomplished on earlier days, for some were free to enter and to leave the fort and not a single one forfeited his word. They trusted our generosity too much, but they were misled.  The soldiers from Tres Villas and Yucatán and some pickets from the regiments of Cuautla, Tampico, and the active from Durango, whose unlucky lot it was to be the executioners, say that they were greatly moved upon being required to perform a duty so alien to their rules, so degrading to brave soldiers, but in my opinion they should not be blamed for having obeyed. Doubtless none of this group had to do with the execution of Fannin. When he was informed of the order for his execution, he received it calmly and merely asked for enough time to write a farewell letter to his wife and another to General Santa Anna, in which he declared that he was not for the independence of Texas and that had died a victim of his love for the Constitution of 1824, under the auspices of which he had come to the country and for which he went to the sacrifice gladly.

Fannin marched to the place of execution, a few paces from the room where he was lodged, with great courage and firmness, which brought on the admiration of those who led him to the sacrifice and who witnessed it. There he requested that they call Lieutenant Colonel Nicola's de la Portilla, commander of the post, so that he could give him his watch and request that it, together with the letter he had written, be sent to his wife as his last manifestation of tenderness; but the captain of Tres Villas, Don Carolino Huerta, who was to order the execution, cruelly denied him this favor, though he knew that all requests should be granted to those agonizing in their last moments. Adding to his baseness, not to call it crime, he kept for himself the watch and also the ten pesos Fannin gave him to comply with the request that they aim at his head and his heart. [La Peña footnote:  There is no doubt that this took place, although I have found it impossible to locate copies of these documents and I do not know that they reached the persons to whom they were addressed. Write to Portilla concerning them].  Some have increased this amount to seventy, and I have been assured of this by a captain belonging to the same corps as Huerta, but depositions taken from several persons reaffirm the first statement. Fannin was one of those who had trusted our supposed humanitarianism; one had often heard him say, "Oh, I have great faith in the honor and character of all Mexicans."

William Ward, Fannin's second in command, and seventy-nine of the men under his orders, including those with officer's rank, who had been captured on the 22nd of March at Las Juntas Creek without firing a shot, were included in the sacrifice made to the Divinity on the same Palm Sunday of the same month.

Among all these men so inhumanly sacrificed there were colonists, but the majority were volunteers, among whom there were some in fair economic position. In general, they were men of good stature, robust and well built, but in the description given by those who knew them, special attention is given to two very young men who appeared to be as dainty as two damsels because of their fine-textured skin and delicate features. There were also many craftsmen who could have been most useful had they been placed in public shops for the education of our craftsmen and for the production of uniforms, supplies, and armaments for the army; keeping these men as prisoners would have been an advantageous victory for the commander in chief. One had to possess the heart of a tiger to be able to sign three times an order to immolate so many victims, and that of a wild beast in order to execute it. Among those who perished were some Irishmen, whom the enemy had held in their ranks by force.  Among the few who were saved from the catastrophe were two surgeons who took care of our wounded, one of whom experienced the grief of seeing two of his sons perish; when the same man who had given the order of execution conveyed his good wishes to that surgeon for having been spared, the latter, his eyes clouded with tears and moved by paternal love, answered that he wished be had been executed with them or in their stead. Other surgeons were shot at a time when general headquarters and the whole army were in need of their services, a topic about which so much could be said that it is better to pass over it now and do so another time. Some of the colonists were accidentally saved: those whom General Urrea took with him, who were very useful during the march, acting as sappers, a few others hidden by Colonel Garay, and those who were able to flee at the moment of sacrifice; to speak the truth, it would have been better had they not escaped so they would not have been able to paint such a horrible picture for their comrades. 

The same general who had vanquished and made prisoners of these men tried to save them because, as his bravery in combat is outstanding, so also is his humanity away from it praiseworthy, and because he foresaw both the infamy that would mar his countries history with so many cold-blooded murders and the consequences of war to the death. With this in mind, he wrote the commander in chief, presenting his respects and referring to the services he had just rendered; he was interested in all, and particularly in Fannin, but he was ignored and in reply he received nothing but reproach. Nevertheless, the enemy will respect his memory and posterity will do him justice. Seventy-eight or eighty men taken prisoners at Cópano under the same terms as Ward and his companions had the good fortune to escape and remained during this incident under cover of some peach trees facing the fort and in the very center of the places of execution. 

The friendship that I bear Señor de la Portilla. has not released me from the obligation of denouncing him before the whole world for having committed a crime against humanity, for it has been shown that he exceeded himself in carrying out the order he received. He could have won honorable renown had he refused to serve as an executioner, but since he felt it his duty to carry out such a painful office, he could have and should have done it in a less cruel fashion. Moments afterward he apparently repented, for he confessed later in a personal communication addressed to General Urrea to have been horror-stricken and lamented the fact that such an odious role should have been his lot.   I am glad to say that there were few who gave approval to the carnage at Goliad and other similar instances. The army in general was stirred up and raised its voice to condemn it, for it wished to distinguish itself, to make its wrath and power known at the moment of combat, but to exercise clemency and moderation with the vanquished. It recognized that the nation it defended should make itself respected and obeyed because of illustrious worth, for its gestures of compassion and humanity and not for its cruelty and terror. The cry of horror that the Republic raised and the indignation of the civilized world made us tremble and look upon each other with disdain. So many and such cold-blooded murders tarnished our glory, took away the fruits of victory, and would prolong the war and make its success doubtful, because it provoked the enemy and placed him in the difficult dilemma of vanquishing or dying. What opprobium, it was said, to appear in the nineteenth century as barbarous as the Middle Ages!  Much like a horde of Hottentots and assassins. In the communication of the 21st that General Urrea transmitted from Victoria regarding this encounter, he concluded thus:

"For the present there is only one thing left for me to do: to emphasize, in general, the fearlessness and valor of the brave leaders, officers, and soldiers who with such great honor and determination were able to bring to the action of the 19th that courage which characterizes the Mexican Army, following this courage with the most admirable indulgence toward a vanquished enemy. This gesture of generosity after such a hard-fought battle is most worthy of the most singular commendation, and I can do no less than commend it especially to your Excellency, begging you at the same time to have due consideration for the families of the brave men who gave up their lives in defense of their country's rights, an account of which I will dispatch to your Excellency in due time."

Some of our wounded soldiers gave worthy lessons in humanity to our leader and his obedient agent, laudably resolving to place in their beds and cover with their own bodies three or four of the enemy who happened to be in the hospital with them. What a pity that such commendable actions were so few in number, and what a pity likewise not to know the names of those charitable souls who did this. The ladies at Matamoros also rendered homage to humanity by signing a petition in behalf of the captives that General Urrea had imprisoned, by this means not only postponing the execution but in the end saving them.  It is very painful to me to acknowledge that this general tarnished his laurels by giving in to the excitement of some of the officers regarding the fulfillment of the government decree and the orders of the commander in chief affecting some thirty of those taken prisoner at the mission at Refugio. It is true that this took place under difficult circumstances, since he was being threatened by the enemy from several points and could not muster more than a small force, of which he could not possibly relinquish even a small portion for the custody of these prisoners; and also that only those who fell under the government decree were executed; the colonists and Mexicans were set free.   sdct


Statement of a Firing Squad Commander

This day, Palm Sunday, March 27th, has been to me a day of most heartfelt sorrow. At six in the morning, the execution of four hundred and twelve American prisoners was commenced, and continued till eight, when the last of the number was shot. At eleven commenced the operation of burning the bodies. But what an awful scene did the field present, when the prisoners were executed, and fell in heaps! And what spectator could view it without horror! They were all young, the oldest not more than thirty, and of fine florid complexions. When the unfortunate youths were brought to the place of death, their lamentations and the appeals which they uttered to Heaven, in their own language, with extended arms, kneeling or prostrate on the earth, were such as might have caused the very stones to have cried out in compassion.  sdct


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