March 6th, 1836, The Alamo had fallen. To the last man, its defenders perished against the onslaught of the Mexican army that had besieged the old fortress. General Sam Houston sent orders to Colonel Fannin and his 400-strong Texian force in nearby Goliad to abandon their position there before the Mexican troops arrived… He did not. Instead, Fannin tarried for days before beginning his withdrawal, allowing forces led by General Urrea to overtake and encompass them.
The Texians fought bravely, holding their ground, but it soon became clear there would be no victory for them that day as reinforcements arrived to buttress the enemy advance. The Texians surrendered, then marched back to Goliad. Fannin, a West Point man, expected that he and his men would be given treatment proper for prisoners of war. He was sorely mistaken.
Santa Anna had the year previous declared the Texian forces as “pirates,” and as such they were not to be accorded the status of legitimate surrendering troops. The order for the Texian’s extermination was issued. Though Urrea pressed Santa Anna for clemency, even at one point issuing his own contradictory orders that the Texians be spared, ultimately, it was Santa Anna’s orders that were obeyed.
The Texians were told different things as they were marched out on that Palm Sunday, March 27th, 1836. Some believed they were going to gather fire wood, others that they would be even leaving Texas. They were soon disabused of such notions when, suddenly, they were halted, and Mexican soldiers systematically dispatched dispatched the Texian prisoners with musket and bayonet. Fannin, the last to be executed, requested to be “shot in the chest, given a Christian burial and have his watch sent to his family.” The Mexican commander instead opened fire in his face and kept the watch for himself. Fannin would find rest with his men on the massive funeral pyre.
The massacre of the troops at Goliad seldom gets the attention afforded the Alamo. Brave men contending with the enemy to the last is a much more romantic image than that of a commander and his soldiers who delayed, was surrounded and engaged, formally yielded, and finally butchered as lambs at the slaughter. However, the example of Goliad taught the Texians an important lesson: the government that had suspended their rights could not be placated. Either they would fight and win, or they would die. Victory or death. And although, less than a month later, Texian forces would wreak a terrible vengeance on Santa Anna at San Jacinto, it is worth noting that, though they had every emotional inclination to do so, they never flew the flag of no-quarter and spared hundreds of surrendering Mexican troops. Additionally, though many (no doubt) wanted to see the dictator swinging from a live oak tree, Santa Anna was also spared.
There remains no official day-off to commemorate many of the important days of the Texas revolution, much less for the brave fallen soldiers of Goliad. The banks will be open, the government will function, children will attend their classes. However, some time today, please take a moment to honor these heroes of Texas and their sacrifice. As the Texians shouted on the field of San Jacinto, “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!”