Friday, May 25, 2012

Gaona's Mexican Brigade from Bastrop to San Felipe

According to Wikipedia's Timeline of the Texas Revolution...

April 15 (1836): General Antonio Gaona is ordered to abandon his occupation of Mina and reinforce Santa Anna. 

That cannot be.

Some notes:
  • March 25, 1836 : The orders from Santa Anna for Gaona to head to San Felipe (instead of Nacogdoches) were issued from San Antonio de Bexar, and before Santa Anna had left Bexar, but several days after Gaona had traveled up the SAR toward Bastrop. 
  • March 28 :  Approximate date Gaona crossed the Colorado into Bastrop/Mina (from Noah Smithwick's account).  This is a likely date for the new orders to have reached Gaona.
  • April 5 : Approximate date Gaona and his Brigade departed Mina, since we read that Gaona was "delayed eight days" in Mina/Bastrop (Urrea's diary).  This is also the same day that Santa Anna crossed the Colorado far below-- and coordinated crossings of the three columns (Gaona, Ramirez y Sesma, and Urrea) seems to have been intended.
  • Between (about) April 5 and April 17, we have Santa Anna's comments that Gaona was "lost in the desert" between Bastrop/Mina and San Felipe. 
  • April 17 : We know that Gaona and his Brigade arrived in San Felipe de Austin (Filisola's diary). 

A Brigade carrying cannon and 40 days supply, as the First Infantry was, is expected to march 12 miles each day-- not including becoming lost -- and requires suitable military roads to accomplish that (which Gaona did not have once he left the SAR).

Assuming Gaona followed the San Antonio Road from Mina/Bastrop to the Brazos and then picked his route down river to San Felipe and losing at least two scouts to the Rangers in the effort (Rusk and Houston to Major Williamson dispatch), the twelve day journey (April 5 to 17) is reasonable-- even probable.

Another possible route was Gotier's Trace from Bastrop to San Felipe.  Two reasons this is not likely:

1) Given the wet weather that Spring, Cummins Creek would have forced the army to detour considerably north, perhaps to Giddings, before finding suitable crossing; and thus to the La Bahia Road which then headed northeast to Washington on the Brazos.

2) That two of Gaona's scouts were captured by the Ranger unit based out of Washington on the Brazos, on April 6th, and given that the Rangers would have stayed between Houston's Army encamped below and the Mexican Army, then Gaona must have been north of Washington on the Brazos-- giving credence to the assumption that Gaona's Brigade remained on the SAR until reaching the Brazos and them followed the river to San Felipe.

It is to speculate that Gaona may not have been so much lost as he was hesitant. If two or more of his forward scouts never returned, Gaona may well have assumed that was due to contact with the enemy.  It was-- a detachment of Tumlinson's Rangers (under Major Williamson at the time), but for all Gaona knew, that enemy contact may have been the main Texas forces.  Furthermore, the ranger's capture of the Mexican scouts indicates that the ranger company knew exactly where Gaona's army was.

There is more drama in the troop movements of Gaona's Brigade then most realize.  Of the three Mexican columns pursing Houston's Army, Gaona's was, unknowingly, the only column to march straight for the Texans hidden on the banks of the Brazos.  Had the steamboat Yellowstone not been available to Houston to cross, the two armies may have met there on the Brazos, as Gaona passed the Texan camp only about two days after it had been abandoned.

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