Fort Mason was established and vacated before the Civil War. It was set up by Brevet Lt. Col. W. H. Harvey in the summer of 1851 and housed the Second Dragoons. It was named for Second Lt. George T. Mason of the Second Dragoons, killed during the early days of the Mexican-American War in South Texas in 1846. It has also been suggested that the fort could have been named for General Richard Barnes Mason who had died more recently, but most sources favor George T. Mason, a West Point graduate and native of Virginia.
Mason had been killed in the so-called “Thornton Affair” in the Brownsville area in 1846. Texas had won independence from Mexico in 1836 but border disputes continued. After Texas joined the United States in 1845, the United States Army deployed troops there under General Zachary Taylor. One of the purposes was to establish the Rio Grande River (as opposed to the Nueces River) as the boundary between the United States and Mexico. Zachary began building a fort to be known as Fort Texas just across from Matamoros, Mexico. Captain Seth Thornton was in command of troops that were scouting for Mexican Army activity in the area when they were unexpectedly engaged at a plantation by a larger force of Mexican troops. Some accounts fault Capt. Thornton, but possibly nothing could have prevented the loss of 11 dead, including Mason, another 6 troops wounded and around four dozen of his troops captured. The hostilities continued with Mexican troops attacking the new fort, though they were rebuffed. This incident is said to have added to the conflict which quickly escalated into the Mexican-American War under President James J. Polk.
Fort Mason’s original purpose was to protect Anglo settlers from Indian attacks from the Kiowa, Lipan Apache and Comanche tribe. As this activity decreased, the fort was briefly abandoned in January 1854 only to be reoccupied in 1855 when activity increased. This time it was occupied by six companies of the Second Cavalry under Col. Albert Sidney Johnston.
In addition to Col. Johnston, around 1860, the Fort was commanded for a time by Robert E. Lee. Fort Mason was Lee’s last command in the United States Army. He remained in command until it became apparent that the Civil War was about to break out. Texas had already seceeded from the Union. Lee had been called to San Antonio by the War Department and Union forts including Fort Mason were turned over to the State of Texas by Gen. David E. Twiggs. Shortly thereafter, Lee resigned his commission to return to his home state of Virginia.
During the Civil War, Fort Mason was occupied at various times by the Confederate Army and local militia. Following the end of the Civil War, it was briefly occupied again by the United States Army’s Fourth Cavalry under the command of General John Porter Hatch, but was finally abandoned in early 1969. All the original structures were dismantled.
Today all that exists is a reconstructed stone and mortar building in Mason, Texas. This structure was built in the 1970s and was constructed to represent a typical officers’ quarters of the period. At last report, it is free and open to the public daily. It is located at 204 W. Spruce Street, Mason, Texas.
© 2019, all rights reserved.