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The Siege of Fort Texas

The Siege of Fort Texas was fought from May 3-9, 1846 near Brownsville, Texas

Commanded by: Major Jacob Brown
Strength: unknown
Killed / Wounded: 2k / 10w
Missing / Captured: unknown
Commanded by: Gen Mariano Arista
Strength: abt 5,700
Killed / Wounded: 2k / 2w
Missing / Captured: unknown
American Victory

The site unofficially referred to as Fort Texas was a fieldwork, taking the rough shape of a six-sided star. Each packed-earth face of the fort extended from 125 to 150 yards. The walls were 9 feet in height, and 15 feet wide, with a moat, 20 feet wide and 8 feet deep circling the exterior. Inside, U.S. troops constructed a number of bomb-proofs and powder magazines to provide shelter from any incoming fire.

Mexican General Arista began positioning artillery and troops around the fort shortly after General Taylor departed on May 1, 1846. And, at 5 a.m. on May 3, 1846, Mexican forces opened fire on the fort from guns placed directly across the Rio Grande. Troops of the U.S. 7th Infantry quickly responded with their own artillery. When additional cannon fire erupted from Mexican positions up and down the river's bank, fort commander Jacob Brown pointed his guns into the city of Matamoros. Fire continued on both sides until well into the night.

In time, however, this artillery exchange gave way to a prolonged standoff. Despite the steady Mexican fire of May 3, the earthen walls of the fort withstood the impacts well. Mexican leaders apparently acknowledged the lack of success and, in the ensuing days, firing on the fort diminished considerably. Apparently believing that a charge on the fort would produce heavy casualties in his own ranks, Mexican General Pedro de Ampudia instead settled in for a more traditional siege in the hope that General Arista's army could prevent assistance from reaching the fort.

The cannonade from within the fort declined as well. Realizing that the shots directed on Matamoros were having minimal effect, Major Brown called for a halt to firing. Over the next several days, the U.S. troops conserved their limited ammunition, offered only brief flurries of return fire, and concentrated on shoring up the defenses of their post. Otherwise, the soldiers could do little but wait for General Taylor to march to the rescue.

When that advance finally came, Mexican troops received orders to assist in efforts to halt the U.S. Army. Although artillery continued a sporadic fire upon the fort, much of the Mexican infantry and cavalry surrounding the post moved forward to join the fighting at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma.

The U.S. soldiers in Fort Texas first learned of the advance from the distant rumble of cannon fire at Palo Alto on May 8. Additional sounds of battle revealed that fighting had reached Resaca de la Palma on May 9. And that afternoon, the sight of hundreds of Mexican soldiers rushing to crossing points on the Rio Grande indicated that Taylor's troops had been victorious.

The U.S. victory at Resaca de la Palma brought an end to the six-day bombardment of Fort Texas. Apparently concerned that the fire might strike their own retreating forces, Mexican gunners immediately halted their cannonade of the fort. U.S. soldiers briefly fired upon the retreating Mexican troops, but they soon halted this activity when it appeared that they might strike their own compatriots, who followed in close pursuit.

Though the confrontation at Fort Texas lasted six days, with periods of heavy cannon fire, casualties were remarkably low. Only two U.S. soldiers died in the bombardment, but that toll included the fort commander Jacob Brown. Major Brown was struck in the leg by a cannon ball on May 6. He survived for several days only to die on May 9, just hours before the siege ended. Despite his wound, Brown had helped maintain troop morale throughout the siege and his men named the liberated post--Fort Brown--in his honor.

Mexican leaders reported two killed and two wounded from U.S. artillery fire during the siege. The effect of artillery fire on the civilian population of Matamoros is unknown.


Captain Edgar S. Hawkins, at Fort Taylor (a.k.a. Fort Texas), to W. W. S. Bliss, Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of Occupation, Texas. Dispatch communicating Hawkins' official report of the siege of the fortifications opposite Matamoros.

Headquarters, Fort Taylor,
Texas, May 10, 1846.

Sir: - I have the honor to report that on the morning of the 6th instant, during the third day of the bombardment of this fort, its gallant commander, Major Brown, received a severe wound, which caused his death at 2 o'clock on the 9th instant. I immediately assumed command, and have the honor to report the result of the bombardment since 7 o'clock, p.m., on the fourth, at which time Captain Walker left with a report of the result up to that time. At 9 o'clock, p.m., on the fourth, firing of musketry was heard in our rear, about three or four hundred yards distance, and apparently extending a mile up the river, the firing very irregular; this continued until half-past 11 o'clock, p.m. The garrison was under arms, batteries and defences all manned and continued so during the night. On the fifth instant, at 5 o'clock, a.m., the fire was recommenced from the enemy's batteries, which was immediately returned from the 18-pounder batter, and 6-pounder howitzer placed in embrasure on the southeast bastion; the firing was kept up one hour, receiving during that time about fifty round shot and shells from the enemy. The batteries on both sides ceased firing at the same time; our expenditure of ammunition was thirty rounds of both caliber. At 8 o'clock, a.m., Valdez, a Mexican, came in and reported that a party of dragoons had been driven back from the prairie to the point, and also a party to the fort; that he had seen thirty deserters from Arista's army, who stated that the Mexicans were without subsistence stores; that they were tired and left for their homes; that it was stated in the Mexican camp that Arista had received an express from Mexico, informing him that another revolution had broken out in Mexico, and that he could receive no support from the government. At 9 o'clock, a.m., it was reported that a reconnoissance of officers, escorted by mounted men of the enemy, was going on in rear within eight hundred yards of the fort, and that other parties, mounted and infantry, were at the same distance, extending from the bend of the lagoon to the river. Lieutenant Hanson, 7th infantry, asked permission to take the dragoons and go and look at them; this was granted, and in an hour he returned, reporting that the enemy was establishing a battery at the cross roads; his appearance among them created great alarm, and they were soon concentrated at a distance under cover of their work. Every man at work to-day strengthening their defences. Several parties of cavalry and infantry seen to-day occupying our old encampment. At 11 o'clock, p.m., musketry was heard in our rear from bend of lagoon to the river. The troops all at their places in the bastions during the night.

At 5 o'clock, a.m., the cannonade commenced from the lower fort and mortar battery; many round shot and shells thrown until 6 o'clock, when there was a cessation of firing; during the last hour the shot and shells were well directed, bursting in all directions in the interior of the fort, tearing our tents to pieces and injuring several horses. At half past 6 o'clock the signal 18 pounders were fired, at which the enemy opened their batteries in our front and rear, and the cannonade continued from two mortars and a howitzer in front, and a mortar established at or near the cross roads in rear until 10 o'clock, a.m., when our gallant commander received a mortal wound from a falling shell. Large mounted parties and infantry were seen at this time in rear. At 7 o'clock one mortar was playing upon us from town, and two from the rear. At 10 o'clock, a small party of infantry crept up in ravine and fired musketry, but being out of range the fire was not returned. At half-past 10 o'clock, a.m., several parties of infantry and mounted men were seen surrounding us in rear. Several rounds of canister were fired from Lieutenant Bragg's battery, which soon dispersed them. Several afterwards heard to have been killed. Immediately afterwards, and until half-past 12 o'clock, p.m., we received a continual shower of shells from the enemy's batteries. At 2 o'clock, five shells were thrown. At half-past 4 o'clock, p.m., a white flag was shown at the old buildings in rear, and a parley sounded by the enemy. Two officers advanced and were met by two officers of my command, who brought me the document marked A, signed by General Arista, allowing me one hour to reply. This document being considered one of great importance, I deemed it necessary to convoke a council consisting of all the company commanders in my command, and laid it before them: they unanimously concurred with me in the reply, a copy of which is the accompanying document, marked B. This document was despatched in the allotted time, and shortly after its reception the enemy's batteries opened on us with continual shower of shot and shells until sunset. The night was passed very quietly, but constant vigilance was exercised in the command; every man kept at his post, as an attack was confidently expected in the morning.

At half-past 5 o'clock, a.m., the enemy's batteries opened with shells, and continued for about an hour and a half, then ceased. At half-past 7, a.m., several rounds of canister and grape were fired into the enemy's picket-guards, at the houses in rear. and at the old guard-house of the second brigade, which caused them to abandon their positions; this was replied to by a discharge of some ten or twelve shells. At 9 o'clock, a.m., we received a shower of some four or five shells, and then stopped. About this time the enemy commenced firing iron shells, having previously thrown composition shells, and it was discovered that one of the mortars had been removed from our rear and returned to the city. At quarter-past 10, a.m., we received three shells; at 11, a.m., eight shells; at 12, m., six shells, by which four of Lieutenant Bragg's horses were killed, and the wheel of one his caissons disabled. At half-past 12 the batteries were opened with round shot and shells, and continued for an hour and a half; by this time our bomb-proofs were so far advanced that our troops were comparatively protected. At 2 o'clock small parties of infantry commenced on us with random musketry on the bank of the river and from the ravine. At half-past 2, p.m., a regular bombardment with shot and shells from a howitzer and the mortars was kept-up with little intermission until sunset. At 5 o'clock, during this bombardment, a shell struck in a tent, almost entirely destroying the instruments of the seventh infantry band, to the value of three hundred dollars. The accuracy of their firing now evidently increased, as at least one-half of the shells thrown fell in the fort. A sentinel to-day lost his arm by a round shot from the enemy. As soon as it was dark enough, a party headed by our indefatigable engineer, Captain Mansfield, was sent out to level the traverse thrown up by General Worth, and cutting down the chapparal which served as a cover to the sharp shooters of the enemy. At 12 o'clock at night, a random fire of musketry commenced around us, followed by two bugles; this continued for about one hour, and from 3, a.m., was continued until near daylight.

FRIDAY, May 8.
At a quarter past five o'clock, a.m., the enemy's batteries again opened with shells from the lower fort, from the sand-bag battery, and from our rear; the fire this morning was kept up until 8 a.m., without cessation. A party was sent out this morning and burned the old houses near the traverse, on the river bank. This drew from them several round shot and shells. From twelve to half-past two, p.m., a heavy bombardment of shells was kept up; at least fifty thrown at us during that time. At half-past three they again opened their shells upon us, accompanied by round shot. At this time the enemy had established a mortar in the ridge of chaparral across the river, and immediately west of us. Mortars were now playing upon us from the north, south, and west - four in number. The firing of round shot was kept up for two hours, and that of shells until half-past four, when it became very distinct; it lasted until nearly seven, p.m.; this we supposed to be an action between our forces and the enemy. A little before sunset a Mexican came running in with a white flag from the direction of the second brigade guard-house, claiming protection; he stated that our forces had come in contact with those of the enemy, had driven them back; that he was a prisoner in charge of the picket guards, fired on by our batteries; and that while they were burying the dead, and carrying off the wounded, he effected his escape. During the cannonade this afternoon a small column of infantry from above, and one of cavalry from below, were seen advancing, supposed to be reinforcements to the enemy. The excitement in our command during this distant cannonading was intense. During the day we received from one hundred and fifty to two hundred shells, and from seventy-five to one hundred round shot, and not a man disabled. During the previous night the halyards of the flag on the outside had become unrigged, and, as the firing had become too intense to re-establish them, a temporary staff was erected on the inside, and the national flag of the 7th infantry raised as a substitute. We passed a very quiet night - the troops on the alert at their guns.

An officer of the seventh succeeded in lowering the topmast of the flag-staff and rigging the halyards, but found he could not raise it again without great labor and exposure; he therefore lashed it in position, and raised the national flag, after having stood a succession of round shot, canister, and shells from the enemy's batteries for fifteen or twenty minutes. At ten o'clock a sergeant and ten men fired the houses on the road which had been successively occupied by our own and the enemy's pickets. It brought a heavy discharge of shells, canister, and round shot, from the enemy's batteries. Shells, with slight intervals, continued until half-past two, p.m.; the mortar on our west silent, and one firing from a position between us and the fort at the upper ferry; it was much further off, but fired accurately. Two, p.m., Major Brown died, and in a short time we heard the re-engagement between the armies. Quarter to six, quite a number of Mexican cavalry and a few infantry were seen in the retreat. At this time we received a heavy fire of round shot and shells from the time the battle commenced, and continued to increase. An eighteen-pounder and six pounder were fired in the direction of the upper ferry, when, finding it difficult to distinguish between friend and foe, the firing was discontinued. I cannot close this report and pass in silence the gallant and laborious efforts of the officers and men of this command to fulfil the high trust imposed in them by the commanding general. Under the most disadvantageous circumstances, labor was performed by the men with the greatest alacrity, and always in good cheer. Our indefatigable engineer, Captain Mansfield, is entitled to the highest praise. We have only to lament the loss of a gallant and faithful officer, who, proud of the trust reposed in him, would have gloried in the accomplishment of the task which he so gallantly commenced.

I have the honor to report, as follows, a list of the killed and wounded during the seven day's bombardment of Fort Taylor, Texas:

May 3, 1846. Sergeant Weigart, B company, 7th infantry.

May 6, 1846. Major J. Brown, commanding post.
3, Private Lefear, E company, 3d artillery, slight wound.
6, Private Thompson, E company, 3d artillery, slight wound.
6, Private Thompson, D company, 5th infantry, slight wound.
6, Citizen J. Paugh, sutler's clerk, slight wound.
7, Mexican prisoner, slight wound.
7, Private Smith, C company, 7th infantry, slight wound.
7, Private Moody, H company, 7th infantry, fracture of arm.
8, Citizen Russell, discharged soldier, fracture of leg.
8, Private Stewart, H company, 7th infantry, slight wound.
8, Private Ratcliff, H company, 7th infantry, slight wound.
8, Mexican prisoner, slight wound.
8, Mexican prisoner, slight wound.
8, Recruit Cowan, 7th infantry, slight wound.

May 9, 1846. Major J. Brown, commanding post.

I am, sir, respectfully, your obedient servant,

Captain 7th Infantry, commanding post

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