By Steve Hathcock
Special to the Parade
May 4, 1846. Across the river from Matamoros, Mexico.
Star shaped, the completed fort (named Texas in honor of the new State) consisted of nine and a half foot earthen walls surrounded by an eight and a half foot deep ditch and could hold more than 200 men. Right now, it was under an almost constant bombardment by Mexican artillery.
Major Brown, the forts commander, ordered the firing of a prearranged sequence of cannon signaling the little forts dilemma. The bombardment lasted over 160 hours.
General Taylor called for the Texas Rangers to make contact (if possible) with the men of the beleaguered fort. No one was surprised by the man who was quickest to step forward.
Born in Prince George County Maryland in 1815, Samuel Walker saw his first action during the Florida War. (The idea of Manifest Destiny was already beginning to rear its ugly head in the early days of the Republic but it was American writer John L. O’Sullivan who coined the phrase in 1845 to show his support for James Polk’s expansionist agenda).
The southern states comprised mostly of Anglo Saxon, Scottish and English immigrants, felt it was the moral duty of the white race to expand the borders of the United States and to make the best use of the new countries vast natural resources. Consequently the 1830s saw the forced removal of the original Americans, the natives called “Indians” to reservations west of the Mississippi River. “There”, they were told, “the tribes could maintain their sovereignty”. One tribe, the Seminole, refused to give up the lands of their ancestors and retreated into the Everglades. From there, the Seminole, who could only field 3000 warriors, waged war against four U.S. generals and more than 30,000 troops. Runaway slaves, bandits and other desperados joined them in their struggle. The so called “savages” were experts at guerilla warfare, laying traps for the Americans then quickly fading into the swamps before the dragoons could rally. The one time the Indians engaged in a pitched contest, the battle of Okeechobee, they suffered a major defeat losing over 1000 warriors. They continued the fight though, and were never defeated by the troopers.
Walker left the military after things cooled down in Florida. Texas was the place for him. In 1844, Walker and fourteen other men engaged and defeated eighty Comanche warriors, killing thirty three in the process. Walker himself was pinned to the ground by a “Dog Soldiers” spear. Fortunately no vital organs were pierced and the tough, battle hardened veteran soon recovered.
Walker’s adventuring spirit led him astray again when he joined the ill-fated Mier Expedition later that year. A group of Texans acting under a vague plan of conquest of northern Mexico were captured near Mier along the Rio Grande River. After an escape plan that went awry, Walker and the others, including Big Foot Wallace, were forced to draw beans to see if they would survive or be executed. Walker drew a white bean and lived. Later, he and eight other men did escape and Walker returned to Texas where he joined the revenue service.
Though the shelling died down during the evening hours, the Mexican artillerists fired a
couple of rounds every hour or so just to keep the Americans awake. About two am on the night of May 4th 1846, Ranger Walker made his way through the Mexican lines surrounding the fort on the river. After reading Taylor’s urgings to maintain their position, Major Brown replied; “Tell the General we shall hold the fort at all costs!
We are constantly on the alert, and I cannot speak to highly of the efficiency of the officers and men of my command. Our defenses are continued daily and when necessity requires, at night.”
Encouraged by Browns optimism, General Taylor marched from the fort at Point Isabel, (Fort Polk) leading a 2300 man relief column. On the way the Americans met the Mexican Army on the plains of Palo Alto where a five hour battle was fought. Smoke from the burning prairie obscured the sun and cast a pall over the battle field. Wounded of both sides were heard to cry out as they were consumed in the blazing grass. After dusk, the Mexican forces retreated to a site known as Resaca de Palma while the Americans camped upon the prairie.
In his tent, Gen. Taylor drafted his report: “Sir: I have the honor to report that I was met near this place on my march from Point Isabel by the Mexican forces; and after an action of about five hours dislodged them from their position, and encamped upon the field. Our artillery, consisting of two 18 pounders and two light batteries, was the arm chiefly engaged, and to the excellent manner in which it was maneuvered and served is our success mainly due.
“The enemy has fallen back, and it is believed has re-passed the river (to the Matamoros side). I have advance parties now thrown forward in his direction, and shall move the main body immediately. In the haste of this first report I can only say that the officers and men behaved in a most admirable manner throughout the action.
“I shall have the pleasure of making a more detailed report when those of the different commanders are received.
“I am sir, very respectively, your obedient servant, Z. Taylor Brevet Brig. Gen. USA, commanding”.
Next week, The Battle of Resaca De Las Palmas.