Battle of Refugio
|Battle of Refugio|
|Part of the Texas Revolution|
|Commanders and leaders|
|José de Urrea
Juan José Holzinger
|Amon B. King
|1,500 men||148 men|
|Casualties and losses|
|est.150 killed, 50 wounded||16 killed plus 15 executed, 107 captured, 10 escaped|
The Battle of Refugio was fought from March 12–15,1836, near Refugio, Texas. Mexican General José Urrea and 1,500 Centralista soldiers fought against Amon B. King and his 28 American volunteers and Lieutenant Colonel William Ward and his approximately 120 Americans. The battle, a part of the Goliad Campaign of the Texas Revolution, resulted in a Mexican victory and splintered Texan resistance.
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 agreed to send troops to evacuate the settlers as soon as wagons were available to assist with the transport. Three days later, the army's wagons returned from Port Lavaca with supplies for the garrison. As soon as they were unloaded, Fannin called for volunteers to go to Refugio. On March 11, Captain Amon B. King led 28 men and most of the wagons to evacuate the settlers. They arrived that evening and camped for the night at Mission Nuestra Senora del Refugio, where some of the Anglo families had taken refuge.
The following morning, King led his troops to the ranch of Esteban Lopez, where the family of Lewis Ayers was staying. King arrested six Tejanos he had heard were ransacking abandoned homes. After he learned that other Tejanos were plundering homes about 8 miles (13 km) south, King took half of his men on an unauthorized mission to pursue them. They rode into an ambush staged by a group of de la Garza's men and Karankawa Inidians. The Texians extricated themselves from the fight and returned to the Lopez ranch. All of the families gathered there were then escorted to the mission in Refugio.
Urrea's advance cavalry arrived in Refugio shortly after King's men. Mexican troops and de la Garza's Guardes surrounded the mission. King sent a messenger to Fannin, asking for reinforcements.
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. King and thirty-two men surrendered on the 15th because their remaining powder had become unusable after crossing the river. They were returned as prisoners of war to the Refugio Mission. On March 16, fifteen men were executed; King and the remnants of his company, and several of Ward's men. Juan José Holzinger, a German-Mexican officer, saw fit to save Lewis T. Ayers, Francis Dieterich, Benjamin Odlum and eight men from local families. The remaining fifteen men were spared to serve the Mexican army as artisans (blacksmiths, wheelwrights, mechanics).
Ward and the bulk of his men escaped toward Copano, then turned at Melon Creek and headed for Victoria, where he thought Fannin should be, hearing the gunfire on the Coleto Creek as they moved on. At Victoria, they found no time for rest; it was overrun with Urrea's troops. The group was forced to scatter after a short skirmish with Urrea's cavalry. Staying off the main roads, they moved toward Lavaca Bay, with ten of them eventually escaping. The remainder were captured on March 22 by Urrea, two miles from Dimmit's Landing. Informed of Fannin's surrender, Ward's group was marched back to Victoria, where Holzinger again saved twenty-six men, by conscripting them as laborers for Urrea. Urrea had left Colonel Telesforo Alavez, in charge of Victoria. Señora Francita Alavez intervened with her husband as well, to make sure the captive laborers' lives would be saved. The remainder were sent to Goliad by March 25.
Fannin learned of Ward and King's fate on the 17th and had finally left for Victoria on the 19th, which proved to be too late, as the right wing of the Mexican Army was now in place to capture Fort Defiance. Fannin and his command would never make it to Victoria.
Overview and outcome
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.
In the public square across the street from the county courthouse in Refugio, the King Monument stands as an honor to Captain King and his men. In the early 1900s, the square was owned by the State of Texas and was named King's State Park.
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