In a disastrous setback for the Texans resisting Santa Anna’s regime, the Mexican army defeats and executes 417 Texas revolutionaries at Goliad.
Long accustomed to enjoying considerable autonomy from their Mexican rulers, many Anglo Texan settlers reacted with alarm when Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna proclaimed himself dictator of Mexico in 1835. Santa Anna immediately imposed martial law and attempted to disarm the Texans. Yet, this move merely fed the flames of Texan resistance.
In November 1835, Texan leaders proclaimed their resistance to Santa Anna’s dictatorship, though they stopped short of calling for independence. The next month, the Texans managed to defeat 800 Mexican soldiers stationed in San Antonio. However, the rebel leaders remained deeply divided over what to do next, making them vulnerable to Santa Anna’s ruthless determination to suppress dissension.
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While the Texas rebels dallied, Santa Anna moved decisively. In mid-February he led a massive Mexican army across the Rio Grande, and after a 13-day siege of the Alamo, crushed the rebels in San Antonio. Meanwhile, to the south, Santa Anna’s chief lieutenant, General Urrea, moved to destroy another faction of the rebel army attempting to defend the town of Goliad.
Disagreements among the Texans had led to a division of the rebel forces. James W. Fannin was left with only slightly more than 300 Texans to protect Goliad, a position the rebels needed in order to maintain their supply routes to the Gulf Coast. As Urrea’s much larger 1400-man army approached, Fannin acted with indecision, wondering if he should go to the aid of the besieged men at the Alamo.
Belatedly, Fannin attempted to fall back from the approaching Mexican army, but his retreat order came too late. On March 19, Urrea surrounded the small column of rebel soldiers on an open prairie, where they were trapped without food, water, or cover. After repulsing one Mexican assault, Fannin realized there was no chance of escape. Rather than see his force annihilated, Fannin surrendered.
Apparently, some among the Texans who surrendered believed they would be treated as prisoners of war. Santa Anna, however, had clearly stated several months before that he considered the rebels to be traitors who would be given no quarter. In obedience to Santa Anna’s orders, on this day in 1836 Urrea ordered his men to open fire on Fannin and his soldiers, along with about 100 other captured Texans. More than 400 men were executed that day at Goliad.
Ironically, rather than serving to crush the Texas rebellion, the Goliad Massacre helped inspire and unify the Texans. Now determined to break completely from Mexico, the Texas revolutionaries began to yell “Remember Goliad!” along with the more famous battle cry, “Remember the Alamo!” Less than a month later, Texan forces under General Sam Houston dealt a stunning blow to Santa Anna’s army in the Battle of San Jacinto, and Texas won its independence.