Battle of Refugio
Backstory and Context
Under President Antonio López de Santa Anna, the Mexican government began to shift away from a federalist model to a more centralized government. His increasingly dictatorial policies, including the revocation of the Constitution of 1824 in early 1835, incited federalists throughout the nation to revolt.The Mexican army quickly put down revolts in the Mexican interior, including a brutal suppression of militias in Oaxaca and Zacatecas. Unrest continued in the Mexican state Coahuila y Tejas. The area that bordered the United States, known as Texas, was populated primarily by English-speaking settlers, known as Texians. In October, the Texians took up arms in what became known as the Texas Revolution.The following month, Texians declared themselves part of a state independent from Coahuila and created a provisional state government based on the principles of the Constitution of 1824.By the end of the year, all Mexican troops had been expelled from Texas.
Determined to quash the rebellion, Santa Anna began assembling a large force to restore order; by the end of 1835 his army numbered 6,019 soldiers. In late December, at his behest, 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". In the early nineteenth century, captured pirates were executed immediately. The resolution thus gave the Mexican Army permission to take no prisoners in the war against the Texians. Santa Anna personally led the bulk of his troops inland to San Antonio de Béxar and ordered General José de Urrea to lead 550 troops along the Atascocita Road toward Goliad. Urrea's efforts to quell the rebellion along the Texas Gulf Coast have become known as the Goliad Campaign.
Colonel James Fannin and his men had improved the fortifications at the old Presidio La Bahía and renamed it "Fort Defiance." News of the fate of Texians under Frank W. Johnson at the Battle of San Patricio and James Grant at the Battle of Agua Dulce (both captured in earlier fights) created confusion rather than stirring the volunteers gathered at Goliad into action.
On March 7, Lewis Ayers brought Fannin news from Refugio, a town 25 miles (40 km) south of Goliad. The week before, the Victoriana Guardes, a group of Tejano (native Mexican residents) who supported centralism, had ransacked the town. After destroying much property, the Guardes, under the command of Carlos de la Garza, made camp just outside the town. Several pro-independence Anglo families, including Ayers' wife and children, remained in Refugio, afraid that if they stayed they would be captured by the Mexican army, but that if they left they would be harmed by de la Garza's men.
Fannin dispatched William Ward, commanding a group from Peyton S. Wyatt and the Georgia Battalion to assist King. Ward made his stand at the mission and a furious battle ensued. Although successful in breaking up the siege on the 13th, the arrival of Ward at Refugio led to a conflict over command between the two officers. This dispute caused the insurgents to break into several smaller detachments. King left and ventured to attack a nearby ranch, believed to be occupied by Centralistas, killing 8.
As more of Urrea's troops arrived, the fighting with Ward's men continued. The groups held their own on the 14th, repelling four assaults, killing 80 – 100 Mexican troops and wounding 50. The Texians suffered light losses, (about 15), but were now short on ammunition and supplies. King returned from his raid in the evening but could not get to the mission for safety. They had to fight from a tree-line across from it, near the Mission River, where they also inflicted heavy losses upon the Mexican army. Ward sent courier James Humphries to Fannin for orders. Edward Perry returned word from Fannin to fall back to Victoria, where Texian forces were to later regroup.
At night, the groups attempted the escape. The wounded and a few others would remain behind. Their flight seemed successful at first, but there were overwhelming numbers of Mexican troops in wait. Each group was subsequently defeated and its survivors captured by Urrea's troops. After battling for twelve hours and inflicting heavy casualties on their enemies, the last group of fleeing Texians only suffered one killed and four wounded.
The majority of Texian deaths (either in the series of skirmishes or by execution, some in the Goliad Massacre), occurred following the rift between King and Ward. Fannin had received orders from General Sam Houston while King and Ward were away that directed him to evacuate Goliad and retire to Victoria as soon as possible. Reluctant to leave before various detachments returned, Fannin failed to leave Goliad ahead of Urrea's advance, leading to the Battle of Coleto.
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