The First Attack
by Jim Mathews
Captain G.B. Elliot of the HMS Spartan, acting as a Naval Military
Observer to the Mexican Military, reported to the British Admiralty on 25 April,
1843, "...Campeche will very shortly have to surrender and leave the
squadron free to engage in operations against Texas."1
Van Zandt on 21 April wrote that
Daniel Webster had frequently told him "...the favorable or unfavorable
termination of that (Yucatan) campaign would determine the ability or inability
of Mexico to reinvade Texas."
This above message was sent to the Texas Secretary of
State.2 Therefore, the Mexicans were warned that Commodore Moore and
the Texas Navy were on their way. Arrangois
of the Mexican Government had warned Commodore Lopez, Commander of the Mexican
Commodore Lopez in turn took the schooner Fanny (American
Registry) under charter and sent her off to instruct the "Eagle"
and the "Montezuma" to immediately rejoin the Mexican squadron.4
Meanwhile the "Austin"
and Moore arrived at Telchac and found the enemy had gone 24 hours before.5
They were joined there by the "Wharton" and sailing in company
immediately set off in pursuit of the elusive "Montezuma" and
her consort "Eagle."
Hoping to overtake the Mexican
Steamer, Moore kept close by the Yucatan Coast, and in the early afternoon
learned from the Port of Sisal that the Mexican Squadron was off Campeche.
Even though the Texas ships had
missed their quarry, the warmth with which they were received by Governor
Barbachano of Yucatan and the rapidity with which armistice negotiations were
broken off with Santa Anna's besieging forces at Campeche was most gratifying to
the tiny Texas squadron. Both ships
immediately filled away and running at 10.5 knots set their course for Campeche. Commodore Moore on the evening of the
29th of April determined his position to be just off Campeche. Here the "Austin" and
"Wharton" stayed at anchor until the morning's first light. Moore expected to meet some or all of
the Mexican Squadron, and wanted to meet them while the early morning breeze
still allowed his ships to operate effectively.
Moore ordered both Texas ships to make preparations for their own
destruction by magazine explosion if capture seemed likely.6
Two small warships were moving
to engage a larger force--for a contest between sail and steam; solid shot
against shell guns. One Texas Sloop
of War, and one Texas Armed Brig against the entire Mexican Navy; whose seven
ships included three fast steamers which carried heavier guns.
Dawn broke of the 30th of April
with the Texas Navy underway fifteen miles northwest of Lerma, and the breeze
from ESE. The Mexican ships; "Montezuma"
(8 guns-Paixhans), "Yucateco" (17 guns), "Eagle"
(7 guns-Paixhans). "Iman" (9 guns), "Campecheano"
(3 guns) were sighted about ten miles to the South. The "Guadelupe" (flagship of Lopez) was
coaling ship close inshore to Lerma.7
Moore faced the above force with
the "Austin's" 20 guns (2 long 18s, 16 medium 24s and 2 medium
18s) supplemented by the "Wharton's" 16 guns (1 long nine, 15
medium 18s). Moore also expected
some assistance from the Yucatan Squadron under Captain James Boylan (formerly
of the Lone Star Navy). However,
these two schooners "Siselano" and "Independencia"
were small, slow and poorly armed (8 guns-two long 12s, 5 long 9s and 1 long 6)
and each of the five accompanying Yucatan gunboats only mounted one 6 pounder
It cannot be said of Commodore
Moore that he faltered in the presence of the enemy. Making some allowance for the fact that Texan figures have
been followed as to the armament of the sail ships in the Centralist (Mexican)
fleet, Moore with his ships manned by almost exactly half of their full war
strength, would have been justified in approaching the blockaders with extreme
caution and trepidation, if not waiting for another night when a union with the
Yucatan schooners at Campeche might have been made under cover of darkness.
However, apparently, this did not occur to the Texas Commodore, and he felt that he had already waited far too long for this move against the enemy. The first attack was begun.
(1)--Elliot to Adam, 25
April,1843--(Public Record Office, London ADM 1/5529);
(2)--George P. Garrison (ed.) Diplomatic Correspondence of the Republic of Texas II (1), Part II, 168;
(3)--Pena y Barragan Minister of War, 16 May 1843 (Archivo Historico,
Secretaria de la Defensa Nacional, Mexico, D.F., XI/481.3/1928);
(4)--Lopez to Secretary o State, 29 April, 1843 (Archvo Historico,
Secretaria de la Defensa, Mexico D.F., XI/481.3/1986);
(5)--Edwin Ward Moore, To the People of Texas, P.172;
(6)--Telegraph and Texas Register, 28 August, 1844, p. 2, col.1;
(7)--Lopez to Secretary of State, 1 May, 1843 (Archivo de Cancelados, Mexico D.F.,Caja 546);
Hill, "The Texas Navy";
Douglas, "Thunder On the Gulf";Wells, "Commodore Moore and the Texas Navy."
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