This Day in History: Mexican General Santa Anna orders Texans at Goliad executed
On this day in 1836, the Goliad Massacre takes place. Most of you have heard “Remember the Alamo!” Did you know that “Remember Goliad!” was another battle cry used by Texans?
The events at Goliad occurred just two short weeks after Texans were defeated at the Alamo.
Colonel James Fannin was then at Goliad, building reinforcements around the presidio there. When the Alamo fell, Fannin received orders from Sam Houston to withdraw. But Fannin was in a bit of a bind. Against orders, he had sent some of his soldiers to help with other expeditions. He awaited their return, and he seemed oblivious to the danger that was so quickly approaching him: Mexican General Jose de Urrea was marching toward his position with 1,000 men.
Fannin did eventually attempt a retreat, but he procrastinated too long—with fatal results.
As Fannin’s men attempted a go, they were met by Urrea and his men. A two-day battle ensued. The Texans took losses, but held their own on the first day. And to their credit, they did not attempt to escape in the middle of the night, when they could have, because they did not want to leave their wounded behind. But the next day, Mexican reinforcements arrived and the Texans were overwhelmed. Fannin surrendered on March 20, on the condition that his men be treated as prisoners of war.
Now Urrea was the one with a problem. He was not authorized to agree to such terms. The Mexican Congress had passed a law requiring that captured Texans be treated like pirates—i.e. they were to be shot. Fannin and his men were marched back to Goliad. Accounts vary, but apparently many of them thought that they would be treated honorably like prisoners of war.
Urrea wrote Mexican General Santa Anna, asking for clemency, but he apparently failed to mention that he’d agreed to Fannin’s terms. Santa Anna wrote back with an order that the Texans be executed. Not trusting Urrea to comply, he then ordered Col. José Nicolás de la Portilla to perform the execution.
Finally, on Palm Sunday, March 27, those Texans who could walk were marched out of Goliad. They were told various stories about where they were going. Less than a mile out, the guards stopped the captives and began firing at close range. Those who were too wounded to march were executed, separately, behind the presidio. Roughly 340 men were massacred that day. A little less than 30 men escaped. A few, such as doctors, were spared because of the services that they could provide.
Fannin was among the last to be shot. He had just a few requests: He did not want to be shot in the face, he wanted his personal belongings to be sent to his family, and he wanted a Christian burial. He was denied every one of these requests.
The Alamo and Goliad were dark days for the Texan effort. But the Battle of San Jacinto was just around the corner! Texans were mere weeks away from earning their independence.
Gary Brown, Hesitant Martyr of the Texas Revolution: James Walker Fannin (2000)
Goliad Campaign of 1836 (Texas State Historical Association website)
Goliad Massacre (Texas State Historical Association website)
James Walker Fannin, Jr.: biography (Texas State Historical Association website)
Randy Roberts & James S. Olson, A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in Blood and Memory (2001)
The Republic of Texas—The Texas Revolution: The Goliad Massacre (Texas State Library and Archives Commission)
Wallace O. Chariton, Exploring Alamo Legends (1992)
William Corner, John Crittenden Duval: The Last Survivor of the Goliad Massacre (Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association; July 1897)