must have been a festive time at Courtland, Alabama, in November of
1835, as the community prepared to send some of their citizens off
to fight in the Texas Revolution. Approximately a third of the town's
male population had decided to join the unit.
However, I doubt there were any festivities when the commander and
organizer of the group, Capt. John Shackelford, returned to Courtland,
alone, seven months later with the terrible news that the town's beloved
"Red Rovers" were no more. But before the Red Rovers disembarked for
Texas, the town was full of excitement and had great anticipation
for the success of their brave sons.
The volunteers got their name because of the red pants they wore.
According to the Handbook of Texas, the ladies and children
of Courtland turned out to make uniforms for the men.
Two uniforms were made, one for dress and the other to wear in the
field. The field uniform consisted of caped hunting frocks and jeans,
both dyed red. This uniform included large hunting knives and coonskin
The dress uniforms were made up of red velveteen jackets and caps
with white pants and a blue sash. What a colorful sight they must
of been! The ladies also made a simple red banner as a guidon for
the volunteers to carry.
History tells us the Red Rovers were made up of some 60 to 70 men.
The trip to Texas included traveling by mule-drawn rail cars, steamboats,
With many of them being seasick, the Red Rovers finally arrived in
Texas via the schooner Brutus at Dimmitt's Landing on January
The Handbook of Texas reports that Dimmitt's Landing was "...
a transshipment point between seagoing vessels and wagon trains to
the interior." It was located on the west bank of the Lavaca River
near its mouth in Lavaca Bay.
The Alabama men would stay at Dimmitt's for up to two weeks before
they were finally assigned to the garrison at Goliad
- this would turn out to be their death warrant.
Along the way to their new post the men passed through Victoria
where they were celebrated and entertained by the residents of that
The Red Rovers got the first look at their new home in Goliad
and marched into Fort Defiance on February 12, 1836. They were the
last company sent to the fort and were assigned to the Lafayette Battalion.
During their stay at Goliad
the unit would participate in several expeditions including one where
they rescued Albert C. Horton's men from Mexican forces at Aranama
The fate of the Alabamians was eventually sealed after the post commander
at Fort Defiance made several costly mistakes. Colonel James W. Fannin
was begged by the Alamo commander, Col. William Travis to bring his
men to the aid of that beleaguered fortress. At the time, Fannin had
as many as 400 men under his command. That was the largest Texas army
force in field.
Col. Fannin started towards the Alamo, but after some equipment breakdowns
and damaged wagons, Fannin decided to return to Fort Defiance. So
as a result, the Alamo didn't get those much needed reinforcements.
Thirty two men from Gonzales
and the Lavaca River valley area were the only ones to answer Travis'
plea for help.
Meanwhile, ignoring the orders of Gen.
Sam Houston to retreat immediately, Col. Fannin hesitated and
was eventually caught by Mexican cavalry at Coleto Creek.
The Red Rovers were leading the Texans in the retreat and although
it was reported that they fought like veterans, Fannin surrendered
his command to Mexican Gen. Jose de Urrea. The men were marched back
to Fort Defiance (Presidio
On Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, all of the Texans who were well enough
to travel were marched out, under false pretenses, and shot down.
The wounded men still within the walls were dragged out and executed.
The Red Rover commander, Capt. Shackelford, was spared because he
was a doctor but two of his nephews and his eldest son were murdered.
It has been estimated that up to 15 of the Red Rovers got away but
the rest were slaughtered - a sad ending for the men who, without
hesitation, volunteered to come to the aid of those fighting for Texas