The Presidio La Bahia near Goliad, Texas, is the site of one of the most important battles in the Texas War of Independence against Mexico.
The Texans succeeded in taking the Presidio from the Mexican army in October, 1835. Their victory was fairly short-lived, however, and in March of 1836, the Mexicans came to take it back.
Colonel Fannin, who commanded the Presidio at the time, had only a small force there--fewer than 400 men--at his disposal. The rest of his men, as well as many carts and horses and all their cavalry, had been dispatched to Refugio to help evacuate settlers who were in the path of the Mexican army. This force was surrounded, surrendered, and executed. A small group managed to escape to Victoria, where they were supposed to join up with Fannin and his men; but instead they walked into the Mexican Army, and were immediately captured and returned to Goliad.
During this time, Sam Houston ordered Fannin to retreat to Victoria. However, due to the Refugio campaign, Fannin had few carts and horses, and no cavalry to help move the weapons and supplies out of the Presidio, or to ride guard. He waited several days for the return of his force from Refugio, not knowing that all his couriers were intercepted by the Mexican army, and that the Refugio force was already dead.
Fannin finally made the decision to retreat, but the company traveled only as far as Coleto Creek (about six miles) before being surrounded by the superior force of the Mexican army, which numbered about 1200 soldiers. The Mexicans suffered higher casualties than the Texans during the battle that afternoon, despite their superior force.
Fighting stopped at nightfall. Fannin could probably have escaped with his uninjured soldiers during the night, but he refused to leave the injured men behind.
The next morning, seeing that another 100 or so Mexicans had arrived at the camp, Fannin made the decision to surrender on terms; the Colonel accepting his surrender told him that no soldiers taken on such negotiated terms had been killed. Fannin did not know that Santa Ana had already decreed that all captured rebels were to be executed.
The next day, Fannin and his men were marched back to Goliad, where they were imprisoned. The men captured at Victoria were jailed with them on their arrival back at the Presidio. All believed that they would be freed within a matter of weeks, as agreed in the terms of the surrender. The Colonel who accepted the surrender left the Presidio, not wanting to be part of the execution, and in fact petitioned Santa Ana in writing to spare the Texans; but Santa Ana replied, in triplicate, that the Texans were to be executed.
And so, on Palm Sunday (March 20, 1836), a week after their capture, the 324 Texan survivors were marched out of the Presidio onto three nearby roads. The Mexican soldiers then lined up 2 deep and opened fire, from 3 paces, on the unarmed prisoners (some accounts state that the Mexicans fired over the heads of the prisoners, as they themselves were disgusted by the action). The wounded and dying were then clubbed and stabbed; those who escaped the initial shooting were run down and killed by Mexican cavalry. Men who had been wounded at the Battle of Coleto were bayoneted on their pallets. Fannin was the last to be executed, after being forced to witness the deaths of his men. The bodies were then stacked in piles, and burned.
Several Texans did escape the massacre, by feigning death, or by other means--there is a tale that a local woman, the Angel of Goliad, helped several of them to escape.
Following so closely on the heels of the massacre at the Alamo, Goliad helped to inflame the Texans' determination to win their independence. Several survivors of the Goliad Massacre were able to join Houston at the final battle of the war at San Jacinto in April 21, 1836, where they won a decisive victory against the Mexican army and accepted Santa Ana's surrender.
The Fannin Memorial marks the burial site of Fannin and his men, just outside the Presidio.
The Presidio La Bahia is the kind of place where you can feel history surrounding you. The feeling seems stronger here than it did at the Alamo, despite the Alamo's fame.
The Mission Espiritu Santo is its own compound inside the walls of the Presidio.
The Chapel inside the Mission is not as ornate as the Mission itself.
But it too has been beautifully restored.
And it provides a lovely view out onto the now-peaceful grounds of the Presidio La Bahia, long removed from the time of the Goliad Massacre.