James Fannin

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For the Louisiana politician, see James R. Fannin.
James Walker Fannin, Jr.
James Fannin
Nickname(s) Jim
Born (1804-01-01)January 1, 1804
Georgia, U.S.
Died March 27, 1836(1836-03-27) (aged 32)
Fort Defiance, Texas, U.S.
Allegiance  United States of America
 Republic of Texas
Service/branch  United States Army
Republic of Texas Texian Army
Years of service 1834-1836
Rank Colonel
Commands held

Battle of Gonzales
Battle of Coleto Creek

Alamo Campaign

James Walker Fannin, Jr. (January 1, 1804[1] – March 27, 1836) was a 19th-century U.S. military figure on the Texas Army and leader during the Texas Revolution of 1835–36. After being outnumbered and surrendering to Mexican forces at the Battle of Coleto Creek, Colonel Fannin and nearly all his 344 men were executed soon afterward at Goliad, Texas, under Santa Anna's orders for all rebels to be executed.

He was memorialized in several place names, including a military training camp.

Early life and family[edit]

James Walker Fannin joined the United States Military Academy at West Point on July 1, 1819 under the name "James F. Walker". He resigned from West Point due to his poor grades, absences and tardiness at school.

In 1821 James Fannin moved to Columbus, Georgia to become a merchant. He married Minerva Fort on July 17, 1829. They had two daughters together.

In 1834, Fannin settled at Velasco in the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas (now Texas), where he owned a plantation and was a managing partner in a slave-trading syndicate. By 1835, Fannin was part of the growing Anglo-American resistance to the Mexican government in Texas. He wrote letters seeking financial assistance and volunteers to help Texas.

Texas Revolution[edit]

Main article: Texas Revolution

By September, Fannin was an active volunteer in the Texas Army. He took part in the Battle of Gonzales on October 2 and urged Stephen F. Austin to send aid to Gonzales. Fannin later worked with James Bowie, First Battalion, First Division, under Austin's orders to secure supplies and determine the conditions in and around Gonzales and San Antonio de Bexar. Under the command of Bowie, Fannin fought in the Battle of Concepción on October 28, 1835.

In November 1835, Austin ordered Fannin and William B. Travis and about 150 men to cut off any Mexican supply party. On November 13, Houston offered Fannin the post of Inspector General to the regular army. Fannin wrote back requesting a field appointment of Brigadier General and a "post of danger". On November 22, 1835, Fannin was honorably discharged from the volunteer army by Austin and began campaigning for a larger regular army for Texas. He also went home to spend time with his family.

Sam Houston, supported by Governor Henry Smith, commissioned Fannin as a Colonel in the regular army on December 7, 1835. By January 7, 1836, the provisional government had appointed Fannin 'military agent', to answer only to the council and not Houston. He began recruiting forces and supplies for the forthcoming and confusing Matamoros campaign against the Mexican city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas. Fannin had difficulty leading the volunteers in his charge. He tried to institute regular army discipline, but his irregular volunteers would not accept it. Many of his men thought he was aloof, and several historians believe that he was an ineffective commander because of it. The majority of the men serving under Fannin had only been in Texas a short time; he was frustrated by this, writing to Lt. Governor James W. Robinson "..among the rise of 400 men at, and near this post, I doubt if 25 citizens of Texas can be mustered in the ranks...".[2]

In early February, Fannin sailed from Velasco and landed at Copano with four companies of the Georgia Battalion, moving to join a small band of Texians at Refugio. Mexican reinforcements under General Jose Urrea, arrived at Matamoros, complicating the Texian plans to attack that city. Fannin withdrew 25 miles north to Goliad and quartered his troops at Presidio La Bahia. Made Lt. Colonel of the First Artillery, Fannin began strengthening defenses at Goliad, and sent out his captains to recruit more men for the army. "Enlist all you can.." ..." fill up your companies, and be ready for the field soon".[3]

Failed expedition to support the Alamo and aftermath[edit]

Main article: Goliad Campaign

Appeals from Travis at the Alamo (via James Bonham) prompted Fannin to launch a relief march of over 300 men and four pieces of artillery on 25 February 1836. After some delay, Fannin and his men moved out on the 28th for the journey to San Antonio, a distance of over 90 miles. The relief mission was a failure. The troops barely had crossed the San Antonio River when wagons broke down, prompting the men to camp within sight of Goliad. They had little or no food, some men were barefooted, and the oxen teams wandered off during the night. On March 6, 1836, the Battle of the Alamo was fought, with all of the Alamo's defenders (about 187 men) being killed by Mexican forces.

The Mexican forces under General José de Urrea were now rapidly approaching the Texian stronghold in Goliad. They defeated Texian forces at the Battle of San Patricio on February 27, where 20 were killed and prisoners were taken. Frank W. Johnson and four other Texians were captured but later managed to escape and rejoin James Fannin's command at Goliad.

The Battle of Agua Dulce was fought on March 2. Dr. James Grant, Robert C. Morris and twelve others were killed, with prisoners taken. Plácido Benavides and six others escaped to notify Fannin of the situation.

On March 12, Fannin sent Captain Amon Butler King and about twenty-eight men to take wagons to Refugio to help evacuate the remaining families. King and his men confronted an advance party of General Urrea's cavalry in the Battle of Refugio; his defense failed and he withdrew to the old mission. A local boy managed to get away and alerted Fannin to the skirmish. Fannin sent Lieutenant Colonel William Ward and about 120 men to King's aid. Ward managed to drive the small Mexican force away and decided to stay the night to rest his men. On March 14, 1836, Ward and King were attacked by Urrea and over 200 Mexican soldiers as they were about to leave. This detachment was part of Urrea's larger force of nearly 1200 men. The same day, General Houston ordered Fannin to retreat to Victoria. Fannin then sent word to the men at Refugio to rendezvous with his command at Victoria. Other dispatches were intercepted by the Centralista forces, informing them of Fannin's plans.[4]

Fannin needed means of transport and had sent Albert C. Horton and his men to Victoria, to bring carts and twenty yokes of oxen from army quartermaster John J. Linn, who did return around March 16. Horton's men would later form Fannin's advance guard when the retreating to Victoria.[5]

Fannin finally received the news of King and Ward's defeat from Hugh McDonald Frazer on March 17.[4]

Battle of Coleto Creek[edit]

Main article: Battle of Coleto

On March 19, 1836, Fannin led the Texians on a retreat from Presidio La Bahia (which Fannin had renamed Fort Defiance)[6] and destroyed everything which they could not take with them. Transporting nine cannon and over 500 spare muskets, Fannin's forces were also heavily laden with supplies and baggage. The column had traveled about six miles when Fannin ordered a halt to rest his animals. At about 3:00pm, Mexican cavalry appeared. The Texians immediately formed a hollow square with their wagons and cannon placed in each corner for defense as Gen. Urrea's forces attacked. After a fierce battle, the Mexicans lost about 100-200 killed and wounded; Texian losses were 7-9 killed and 60 wounded. But facing overwhelming odds, Fannin and his troops surrendered the next day, at the Battle of Coleto.[7]

The Goliad massacre[edit]

Main article: Goliad massacre

The Mexicans took the Texians back to Goliad, where they were held as prisoners at Fort Defiance. The Texians thought they would likely be set free in a few weeks. General Urrea departed Goliad, leaving command to Colonel Jose Nicolas de la Portilla. Urrea wrote to Santa Anna to ask for clemency for the Texians. Urrea wrote in his diary that he "...wished to elude these orders as far as possible without compromising my personal responsibility." On March 26, 1836, 19:00, Santa Anna ordered Portilla to execute the prisoners.[7]

The next day, Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, Colonel Portilla had 302 Texians marched out of Fort Defiance into three columns on the Bexar Road, San Patricio Road, and the Victoria Road. They were shot pointblank, between two rows of Mexican soldiers, and any survivors were clubbed or knifed to death.[7]

The 40 wounded men who could not walk were executed inside the fort compound. Colonel Fannin was the last to be executed, after seeing his men killed. He was taken by Mexican soldiers to the courtyard in front of the chapel, blindfolded and seated in a chair (due to his leg wound from the battle). He made three requests: he asked for his personal possessions to be sent to his family, to be shot in his heart and not his face, and to be given a Christian burial. The soldiers took his belongings, shot him in the face, and burned Fannin's body along with the other Texians who died that day.[8][9]

Twenty-eight Texians escaped by feigning death and other means. Three known survivors escaped to Houston's army, where they fought in the Battle of San Jacinto. In numerous accounts of the Goliad Massacre, a Mexican woman, Francisca (Francita, Panchita or Pancheta) Alavez, sometimes referred to by other surnames (Alvarez or Alavesco), rescued about 20 Texan soldiers; she became known as "The Angel of Goliad."[10] Other people were known to have rescued prisoners. At Victoria, the German-Mexican officer Juan José Holzinger saved two German Texians captured among King's men and twenty-six of Ward's troops by claiming to need them to build boats and transport cannon across the San Antonio River.[11] In addition, Colonel Garay, Father Maloney (also referred as Molloy), Urrea's wife and an unnamed girl were credited with rescuing prisoners during the Goliad Campaign.

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • Fannin County, Texas is named in his honor; the county seat (Bonham) is named for James Bonham, who sought his aid at the Alamo.
  • Fannin County, Georgia is named in his honor.[12]
  • Camp Fannin, a large military training camp near Tyler, TX, was named in his honor. It was used for POWs from Europe during World War II
  • A major street in downtown Houston is named after him.
  • A major street in downtown Shreveport, LA is named after him.
  • A Middle School in Amarillo, TX is named after him.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "FANNIN, JAMES WALKER, JR.". tshaonline.org. Retrieved 31 January 2013.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ Bradle (2007), pg. 135
  3. ^ Davis (2006), p. 205.
  4. ^ a b Harbert Davenport and Craig H. Roell, "GOLIAD CAMPAIGN OF 1836," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qdg02), accessed March 30, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
  5. ^ Craig H. Roell, "COLETO, BATTLE OF," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qec01), accessed March 31, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ a b c Hardin (1994), pg. 173
  8. ^ Hardin (1994), pg. 174
  9. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions", Presidio La Bahia
  10. ^ Sons of Dewitt Colony Texas, The Angel of Goliad, Texas A& M University 
  11. ^ "Juan José HOLZINGER", The Handbook of Texas 
  12. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 123. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Brown, Gary; James Walker Fannin-Hesitant Martyr in the Texas Revolution;Republic of Texas Press;ISBN 1-55622-778-7
  • Davis, William C.; Lone Star Rising-The Revolutionary Birth of the Texas Republic;Free Press; ISBN 0-684-86510-6
  • Hopewell, Clifford; Remember Goliad-Their Silent Tents; Eakin Press; ISBN 1-57168-195-7