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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

The Sad Story of Alabama's Red Rovers


by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery

It 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 caps.

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, and schooners.

With many of them being seasick, the Red Rovers finally arrived in Texas via the schooner Brutus at Dimmitt's Landing on January 19, 1836.

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 town.

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 Mission.

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 La Bahia).

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 independence.

Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary February 19, 2022 Column



See Related Articles:

  • Battle of the Alamo by Jeffery Robenalt
  • Battle of Gonzales by Jeffery Robenalt
  • Massacre at Goliad by Jeffery Robenalt
  • Presidio La Bahia
  • Goliad
  • Gonzales

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