The Battle of Gonzales began on October 2, 1835 after some preliminary events. Back in 1831, Mexican authorities had loaned a small cannon to settlers in and around Gonzales to assist them in defending against Comanche incursions. Relationships between settlers and the Mexican government improved and declined over time, though trending toward animosity between them. At some point, the commander of Mexican troops in Texas favored seeking a return of the cannon, possibly to prevent it being used against them.
A request for its return was refused and the Mexican commander, Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea dispatched a force of 100 troops led by Francisco de Castañeda out of Béxar to Gonzales to retrieve the cannon. Near the end of September, Mexican troops neared Gonzales. Learning of their advance, the Texans requested assistance and by about the first of October, their numbers exceeded that of the Mexican troops by about forty. The Texans elected to take the battle to the Mexican troops and engaged them on October 2, 1835.
Ugartechea (died 1839) had been an army officer for at least about twenty years by 1835 and was previously mentioned in accounts of the Anahuac Disturbances and the Battle of Velasco. At the time of the Battle of Gonzales he had been serving as commandant of Mexican forces in the states of Tejas and Coahuila, serving under General Martín Perfecto de Cos. Ugartechea seems to have endeavored to avoid armed conflicts between the two sides as the tensions escalated. Nevertheless, the events around Gonzales over these several days are considered the first shots fired in the Texas Revolution. Ugartechea is believed to have participated in most of the major battles of the Revolution. He may have been placed in position elsewhere at the time of the Battle of San Jacinto. Because of his military position, he was aligned with the centralist cause. He later died in a battle while defending Saltillo against federalist forces on May 24, 1839.
Less is known about Castañeda. He is mentioned in the Battle of Gonzales and is the officer who presided over the Mexican surrender of San Antonio on June 4, 1836.
Texas forces were led by John Henry Moore (1800-1880). Moore had come to Texas as a young adult from Smith County, Tennessee. His family had him return to Tennessee for a few years, but he was one of the “Old 300” to come to Texas with Moses Austin and later Stephen F. Austin. He became a farmer, married and began his family, settling in the La Grange area, being a founder of the town. By the time of the Gonzales event he and his wife Eliza Cummins Moore had two of their four children.
Accounts of this event sometimes include references to a group of people known as the “Old 16.” This refers to a group of individuals who were on site when the confrontation in Gonzales began. Their names are known and they are credited for delaying the conflict until reinforcements arrived. Once the core group was assembled, Moore was chosen to command the Texas forces, with Joseph Washington Elliot Wallace and Edward Burleson elected second and third in command. Other individuals in leadership included Matthew Caldwell.
Castañeda had difficulty finding a location to ford the river and enter into Gonzales and on the evening of October 1, 1835 withdrew his troops to a place about six miles or so up river from the town. Moore and the Texans pursued them and engaged the Mexican forces on the morning of October 2, 1835. At some point, they fashioned the simple black on white “Come and Take It” flag that most people should be familiar with.
Moore and Castañeda met at one as the latter tried to negotiate a return of the cannon. Though there were minimal casualties, the fighting continued until Castañeda, believed to be following orders, elected to withdraw his troops and return toward Béxar. Mexican casualties are reported to be two killed and an unknown number of wounded. Texas forces reportedly were zero. Although there were few killed or wounded and the actual fighting did not last long, this event is considered to be a turning point in the relations between the settlers and the government of Mexico. The individuals on the Texas side were likely the genesis of the group that took part in the siege of Béxar that began to take form later that month.
The actual battle flag is believed to exist and be held in a private collection. A replica of it (pictured above) hangs in the State Capitol in Austin. Though there is some disagreement over whether it is the actual artillery piece, a cannon is now displayed in the Gonzales Memorial Museum. Some contend that it is the actual cannon from the battle. Others disagree, contend that written accounts do not support this position and assert that the actual cannon may be lost to history.
These dates are usually key dates associated with the Texas Revolution:
- October 2, 1835 – Battle of Gonzales.
- December 5, 1835 – Siege of Béxar.
- Feb. 23, 1836 – Battle of the Alamo begins.
- March 2, 1836 – Convention of 1836.
- March 6, 1836 – Fall of the Alamo.
- March 27, 1836 – Goliad Massacre.
- April 21, 1836 – Battle of San Jacinto.
© 2022, all rights reserved.