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Texas Navy & the French Ironclads
by Jim Mathews

The First Texas Navy had been dissolved as an active service by President Houston prior to 1839.  This pioneer service was, however, reestablished by the incoming President of Texas, Mirabeau B. Lamar for the purpose of defending the tidewater areas of the new republic of Texas. A sum of $800,000 was spent to put together this new fleet which contained the following ships:

            --The War-Brig "Austin"(20);

            --Brigs "Wharton" and "Archer";

            --Schooners "San Barnard", “San Antonio", and "San Jacinto";

            --Steamer "Zavala" (8).

The crews were recruited in the area of New Orleans. La and placed under the command of Commodore Edwin W. Moore, Texas Navy.

Commodore Edwin Ward Moore (1810 - 1865), naval officer, was born in Alexandria, Virginia, on July 15, 1810.  He attended Alexandria Academy, and entered the United States Navy as a Midshipman on January 1, 1825. Moore served as Midshipman on the sloops "Hornet"(of the West Indian Squadron) and "Boston."  Later he served on the "Fairfield" in the Mediterranean Squadron and in 1835 was promoted to lieutenant.  In July 1839, he resigned his U.S. Navy Commission on "Boston" to accept the offer of Commodore of the Texas Navy for a salary of $200 per month. During the winter of 1839-40 he spent his time in the New York area enlisting seamen and in 1840-41 he was off the Mexican Coast in an attempt to hasten peace negotiations between Texas and Mexico.  With the collapse of negotiations, Moore's small squadron of wooden ships swept the seas in the Gulf of Mexico of all ships of Mexican registration.  He made an alliance with the Yucatan authorities who were in rebellion against the government of Mexico and capture the city of Tabasco. Moore then undertook to survey the Texas Coast and produced a chart that was later published by the British Admiralty.  This chart also significantly reduced the cost of shipping insurance for vessels sailing for commercial purposes in the area and resulted in a significant increase in sea-borne trade.  On September 18, 1841, Moore received orders to guard the Yucatan Coast in conformity with the Texas-Yucatan Treaty and on December 13, 1841, left Galveston with three ships to join the Yucatan feet at Sisal.  He captured several Mexican Vessels and then returned to Galveston for refit of his ships and re-supply.

In 1842, the first iron-clad ships came into American waters in the form of two Mexican ironclad frigates; the "Montezuma" and the "Guadalupe." These ships were built by the British to a French design and sold to the Mexican Navy in retaliation (in probability) for the U.S. vs. British "Oregon" dispute.  These ironclads were paddle-driven steamships mounting heavy ordnance.  The "Montezuma" (1,164 tons) carried a 68pdr. pivot gun and six 32pdrs.  The "Guadalupe" (775 tons) carried two 68pdrs.  Both ships were manned by English crews and commanded by British Officers "on leave" from the British Royal Navy.  Although these ironclads had the attention of the naval authorities in Washington D.C. and caused a great deal of worry at that place, Commodore Moore did not seem overly concerned with their presence.

By 1842 the Mexican Revolution had led to a great scarcity of Mexican shipping in the Gulf.  The Texas Navy crews began causing trouble with the disappearance of all that lucrative prize-money.  The "San Barnard" was wrecked off Galveston by mishandling attributed to the crew, and the "San Antonio" slipped away i the night, later to be reported in the Caribbean as flying the "Jolly Roger" as a pirate vessel.  Commodore Moore himself was required to personally quell a mutinous riot close-by the Isle of Mergeres.  Finally in the early months of 1843, the ragged Texas Navy made port in New Orleans, with no on-board provisions, no pay for the crews, and with two vessels of the fleet missing.  Commodore Moore was next commissioned by the President to blockade the Mexican Coast.

Enter at this juncture "The Raven" the new President Sam Houston who withheld the distribution of the funds for the blockade.  Houston, wanting nothing further to do with the rebellious sailors, ordered the Texas Navy Fleet home to Galveston to be sold at auction.  Commodore Moore stung by this obviously insulting order rejected it, and entered into negotiations with the Yucatan authorities on his own.  In effect, Commodore Moore undertook to "rent" the Texas Navy to Yucatan in return for funding to pay the fleet and resupply and refit the ships. Thus Moore financed by Yucatan, joined the Yucatan fleet once again to break the Mexican blockade of Yucatan, thereby saving the Federalist Yucatecans from hasty piece with Centralist Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana. President Houston immediately took action to denounce the action of Moore and labeled him and his crews as renegade.  According to Commodore Moore they were still the Texas Navy when on April 30, 1843 they attacked the Mexican Fleet then lying off Campeche, ucatan.  This Mexican Fleet was commanded by Don Thomas Marin and featured two schooners, two brigs, the armed steamer "Regenerator" and the two previously described ironclads under the command of Captains Cleaveland, and Charlewood (RN).  This first attack was a draw and the fleets separated.

The next event was orchestrated by the Moore and his "Texians" who lured the Mexican Forces into a narrow roadstead, and used his forces to pound the Mexican Ironclads to junk.  The battle toll came out as; "Austin" (three dead), "Wharton" (two dead), "Montezuma" (forty dead), and "Guadalupe" (forty-seven dead). The Mexican Fleet was effectively destroyed.

By June 1842, the Texas Navy controlled the Gulf.  On June 1, 1843, Moore ha received Houston's proclamation accusing him of disobedience and suspending him from the Texas Navy; so Moore returned to Galveston on July 14 and demanded a trial.  Commodore Moore was toasted by the City Of Galveston for his victory and arrested by Houston authorities as a mutineer.  A joint report of naval committees in the Texas Congress recommended a court-martial to try him for disobedience, contumacy, mutiny, piracy and murder.  In response Moore published “To the People of Texas” (1843) a personal vindication and account of the navy.  The court found Moore not guilty except on four minor charges and gave him the right to continue in the navy.  The Texas Navy, however, remained in port at anchor until adopted into the U.S. Navy in 1845 with the annexation of Texas.  Moore spent many years in prosecuting financial claims against Texas.  In 1857 Congress awarded him five years pay.  His quarrel with Sam Houston over the justness of his suspension from the Navy continued during Houston's senatorship.  In 1860 Moore returned to Galveston where he built the Galveston Custom House.  He dies in New York City, October 5, 1865.  Moore County in the Panhandle is named for him.

Rafael Semmes said of him that he was the "Star" of Texas Naval History. In spite of that and his signal achievements in the Gulf of Mexico he was not afforded the privilege of the "Austin" when she was adopted into the U.S. Navy.  It was thus that the Texas Fleet, disavowed and labeled mutineers sank the Mexican power on the seas, and made possible a sea-borne invasion of the Mexican Republic.

The Civil War in Mexico and the Texas Question--1842

The new Centralist Government of Mexico under President Santa Anna was at war with rebels in the Yucatan Peninsula known as Yucatecans or "peninsulares."  The Texas Navy had been of assistance to these rebels in April 1841, in an effort to keep the Mexican Navy too busy to attack the Texas seaport of Galveston, but within six weeks of his Texas Navy Squadron leaving the area the fortunes of politics and war had turned against them. A Mexico Navy armed steamship with two other war vessels took the offensive and captured the "peninsulares" finest war-brig the "Yucateco" and paved the way for joint army / navy offensive directed at the Island of Carmen, not far from Laguna, which served as the Yucatecan Naval Base. In August of that year the Naval Base and the three remaining Yucatecan ships were captured and became part of President Santa Anna's fleet.   In addition to the above activity, a few months later two large warships were begun a-building in English shipyards, which were supposedly destined for the Royal Navy.  While President Houston's naval policies had left a good part of the Texas Navy rotting in the mud of Galveston Harbor two vessels boasting the latest known art of naval architecture were being produced at two of the best known shipyards in the world.

The Ironclads

The first ship of this dual threat, by name the "Guadeloupe", was being constructed from French Naval Plans in the British shipyard of Jonathan Laird in Birkenhead, England and was specifically designed to operate in the shallow waters of the Gulf.  She drew only 10 feet of water and was further designed to be fully dependent upon steam power for movement, and her weapons battery was as modern as her propulsion.  She was of 788 tons displacement, 183 feet in length, and had the means within her propulsion system to develop a full 180 HP.1 She had two 32 pdr. long guns and two 68 pdr swivel Paixhan's pivots--"the guns with the explosive shells as large as good-size pumpkins."2 Ultimately this was armament that would render all other weapons of the period obsolete. "Guadeloupe" was the first iron steam warship in the world to be launched and when she was launched, the largest iron vessel ever built.3 A further feature that was unusual for the period was her construction in the use of watertight compartmentation throughout.4 Although not accepted into the Royal Navy, the British Admiralty maintained a careful surveillance of this vessel and her performance throughout her seafaring career and added many of her particular features to later vessels built for seaborne warfare.

The second vessel of discussion was the "Montezuma."  She was a wooden hulled iron-clad and even larger than the "Guadeloupe."  She displaced 1164 tons, extended in length to 203 feet, and possessed a surprising 280 HP in her engines.  Her extensive armament consisted of two 68 pdr swivel and six 42 pdr long Paixhans guns.5 She was built in London in the shipyards of Greens and Wigrams.  She was a heavy-timbered wooden vessel constructed along what were then ultra-modern lines.6 With such heavy guns, and under able management, these two steamers alone were (on paper) far more than a match for the Texan Fleet which did not mount a gun heavier than several long 24 pdrs.

The Sale and Delivery of Ships

The building of these ships came to the attention of the Texas Chargé d'Affaires in London (Mr. Asbell Smith) who came to came to realize the danger of the vessels a-building.  He began his official investigation in January of 1842, and by April of that year the ships were well along in construction. It was in that month that Mr. Smith found out the truth about these ships, that they were intended for the Mexican Navy.  At this time he made every effort to stop the ships from sailing and many years before the problem of the Confederate Rams went through the whole gambit of protests.  His actions delayed the sailing to some small extent, but in the end both ships sailed, with Royal Navy Officers in command, British Navy crews, and if the guns were not mounted in England they were mounted soon after.  Before Christmas of that year both ships were duly armed and had become a part of Santa Anna's Centralist Fleet. The "Montezuma" was captained by Commander Cleaveland R. N. and the "Guadeloupe" by Commander Charlewood R.N.  Thus reinforced the Centralist Fleet now consisted of the two new ironclads, two gun-brigs, two war-schooners, and a well armed merchant steamer together with several supply and troop ships. This fleet was busy being very effective in supporting two Mexican Armies on the Yucatan Peninsula, the first being at Telchac and moving toward Merida, and the second was in the act of laying siege to Campeche.  The idea here of the Centralist Government was to conquer the Yucatan and use the resources thus gained to supply and support an attack on Texas and her closest seaport Galveston, so that a support of the Yucatan Rebels was a major step in the long term defense of Texas. At this point Commodore E.W. Moore is having financial difficulties in maintaining the Texas Fleet with no funding from the Texas President, who is politically active in trying to hurry the annexation of Texas along by playing a double game in appeasing the British Government and trying to "scare" the U.S. Governmnt into speeding up the annexation process.  The Commodore takes the extraordinary step of "renting" the Texas Navy to the Yucatecans to defend against the Mexican Naval Forces and in spite of specific objections from President Houston sails with the approval and person of the Naval Commissioner of the Texas Navy to the relief of the Yucatan Rebels.  Both the Rebels and the Mexican Naval Forces are aware that he is on his way and the stage is now set for one of the most interesting and little detailed naval battles of the 19th century---wooden vessels against ironclads, solid shot against Paixhans explosive shells, and sails against steam, 18 years BEFORE the famous battle of the Ironclads at Hampton Roads: Monitor and the Virginia!  

1 Sir Allen Moore, BT, "Sailing Ships Of War", P. 55; (Mr J.D. Hill in his "Texas Navy indicates 775 tons).

2 George P. Garrison (Ed.) Diplomatic Correspondence of the Republic Of Texas. II (1). Part III, 986.

3 James Phinney Baxter, "Introduction of the Ironclad Warship", P. 34.

4 George P. Garrison, "op cit", II(1), Part II, 983.

5 Asbell Smith to Sam Houston, 1 Sept, 1842, Unpublished letters of Sam Houston (Archives Collection, University of Texas, Austin)---(J.D. Hill indicates that she displaced 1111 tons, mounted one 68 pdr, 2 long 32 pdrs, 4 32 pdr carronades and a small 9 pdr.)

6 Jim Dan Hill, "The Texas Navy", P. 172.



The Handbook of Texas;

Douglas, Claude L., "Thunder on The Gulf" or "The Story of The Texas Navy," Turner Company, 1936, reprint Old Army Press, 1973, 128 p.

Hill, Jim Dan, "The Texas Navy, In Forgotten Battles and Shirtsleeve Diplomacy," University of Chicago Press, 1937; reprint State House Press, Austin Texas, 1987, 224 p.

Moore, Commodore Edwin W. T.N. To The People of Texas, An Appeal; In Vindication of His Conduct of the Navy, 1843, Eugene Barker Library, The University Of Texas, Austin, Texas, 204 p.

Wells, Commander Tom Henderson, USN (Ret.), "Commodore Moore and the Texas Navy," University of Texas Press, Austin Texas, 1960, second printing, 1988, 218 p.

Website -- Texas Navy Association Inc.

Roscoe, Theodore and Freeman, Fred, "Picture History of the U.S. Navy, From Old Navy to New, 1776 to 1897", Bonanza Books, New York. 1956.

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