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The Battle of Gonzales

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The Battle of Gonzales

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

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The Battle of Gonzales:

On October 2, 1835, rebellious Texans and Mexican soldiers clashed in the small town of Gonzales. This small skirmish would have much larger consequences, as it is considered to be the first battle of Texas' War of Independence from Mexico. For this reason, the fight at Gonzales is sometimes called "the Lexington of Texas," referring to the place which saw the first fighting of the American Revolutionary War. The battle resulted in one dead Mexican soldier but no other casualties.

Prelude to Battle:

By late 1835 tensions between Anglo Texans - called "Texians" - and Mexican officials in Texas. The Texians were becoming more and more rebellious, defying rules, smuggling goods into and out of the region and generally disrespecting Mexican authority every chance they could. Thus, Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had given the order that the Texians be disarmed. Santa Anna's brother-in-law, General Martín Perfecto de Cos, was in Texas seeing that the order be carried out.

The Cannon of Gonzales:

Some years previously, the people of the small town of Gonzales had requested a cannon for use in defense against Indian raids, and one had been provided for them. In September 1835, following orders from Cos, Colonel Domingo Ugartechea sent a handful of soldiers to Gonzales to retrieve the cannon. Tensions were high in the town, as a Mexican soldier had recently beaten up a citizen of Gonzales. The people of Gonzales angrily refused to return the cannon and even arrested the soldiers sent to retrieve it.

Mexican Reinforcements:

Ugartechea then sent a force of some 100 dragoons (light cavalry) under the command of Lieutenant Francisco de Castañeda to retrieve the cannon. A small Texian militia met them at the river near Gonzales, and told them that the mayor (with whom Castañeda wished to speak) was unavailable. The Mexicans were not allowed to pass into Gonzales. Castañeda decided to wait and set up camp. A couple days later, when told that armed Texian volunteers were flooding into Gonzales, Castañeda moved his camp and continued to wait.

The Battle of Gonzales:

The Texians were spoiling for a fight. By the end of September, there were some 140 armed rebels ready for action in Gonzales. They elected John Moore to lead them, awarding him the rank of Colonel. The Texians crossed the river and attacked the Mexican camp on the misty morning of October 2, 1835. The Texians even used the cannon in question during their attack, and flew a makeshift flag reading “Come and Take it.” Castañeda hastily called for a cease-fire and asked Moore why they had attacked him. Moore replied that they were fighting for the cannon and the Mexican constitution of 1824, which had guaranteed rights for Texas but had since been replaced.

Aftermath of the Battle of Gonzales:

Castañeda did not want a fight: he was under orders to avoid one if possible and may have sympathized with the Texans in terms of states' rights. He retreated to San Antonio, having lost one man killed in action. The Texan rebels did not lose anyone, the worst injury being a broken nose suffered when a man fell off a horse.

It was a short, insignificant battle, but it soon bloomed into something much more important. The blood spilled that October morning marked a point of no return for the rebellious Texians. Their "victory" in Gonzales meant that disgruntled frontiersmen and settlers all over Texas formed into active militias and took up arms against Mexico. Within a couple of weeks all of Texas was up in arms and Stephen F. Austin had been named commander of all Texan forces. For the Mexicans, it was an insult to their national honor, a brazen challenge by rebellious citizens which needed to be put down immediately and decisively.

As for the cannon, its fate is uncertain. Some say it was buried along a road not long after the battle: a cannon discovered in 1936 may be it and is currently on display in Gonzales. It also may have gone to the Alamo, where it would have seen action in the legendary battle there: the Mexicans melted down some of the cannons they captured after the battle.

The Battle of Gonzales is considered the first true battle of the Texas Revolution, which would continue through the legendary Battle of the Alamo and not be decided until the Battle of San Jacinto.

Today, the battle is celebrated in the town of Gonzales, where there is an annual re-enactment and historical markers to show the various important locations of the battle.

Sources:

Brands, H.W. Lone Star Nation: the Epic Story of the Battle for Texas Independence. New York: Anchor Books, 2004.

Henderson, Timothy J. A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and its War with the United States.New York: Hill and Wang, 2007.

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