Last year, when I attended a writer’s conference in the little village of Blue Ridge up the North Georgia mountains, I got quite a surprise.
“You write Texas stores,” a local writer said, “So you’ll appreciate this – you’re in Fannin County, named for James W. Fannin, hero of Goliad.” I didn’t believe it – thought she was pulling my leg. It turned out to be true. A North Georgia County is, indeed, named for James W. Fannin.
True, except for the “hero” part. Fannin was no hero, not in my book.
That wasn’t even his name. He was born in Georgia, the sprout of a Dr. Isham Fannin and one Miss Walker. Her father, James W. Walker, adopted his daughter’s bastard and named him James Fannin Walker.
Young James managed to be admitted to West Point but was dismissed for poor grades. In faraway Texas, James took his grandfather’s name. He began calling himself James W. Fannin Jr. And took the title “Colonel,” based on his West Point experience.
As the Texas Revolution got under way, Fannin found himself in charge of the largest revolutionary army in Texas, stationed at the old Spanish mission site of Goliad. His army was a mixture of adventurers, most them wanting to invade Mexico. Fannin was an inept, indecisive leader.
Ordered by Sam Houston to the defense of the Alamo, Fannin set out but marched only a few miles before an oxcart broke down. The army camped for the night, virtually in the shadow of the Goliad mission. The next day they went back. Never made it to San Antonio.
Pressed by the Mexican General Urrea, Fannin made the mistake of splitting his command. Twice. At last, he started his army on the road to Victoria. Over his officer’s objections he called a rest stop in a small depression, away from any cover or sources of water. There, General Urrea's army surrounded him.
The Texans knew how to use firearms and theyt slaughtered the Mexican troops, but Fannin’s position was hopeless. He surrendered his command.
And, as all Texans can tell you, Santa Anna ordered them all killed. Murdered. As in the Alamo. Only a few escaped to tell the world what happened. The Goliad slaughter remains a stain on the honor of the Mexican Army. It should never have happened. And as I see it, Fannin was culpable as well.
Well, at least James W. Fannin got a county in Georgia named for himself.
I’ve been reading an excellent book of Texas history: Slaughter at Goliad. The Mexican Massacre of 400 Texas Volunteers, by Jay A. Stout. This is one of the best accounts of the Texas Revolution that you’ll find today.
July 18, 2014.
“Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” – Sam Houston’s charge to the Republic of Texas Army at the battle of San Jacinto.