The years after victory at San Jacinto were precarious for the young Republic of Texas. Countless skirmishes and disputes over territory continued until the final decision in 1848. The Mexican War finalized a decade long border disagreement between Texas and Mexico. In 1842 one raid by Brigadier General Rafael Vasquez on San Antonio set things in motion for an legendary battle in Texas history. After Vasquez’s raid Texan volunteers met in the ‘City of the Missions’. Their plan was to conduct a punitive raid into northern Mexico. An unexpected release of prisoners from the Texan Santa Fe expedition initiated a pause by President Sam Houston. The plans to raid Mexico were now on hold.
A few weeks later the peace was dissolved with another incursion by the Mexican Army. A French soldier of fortune by the name of Adrian Woll made San Antonio his target. With over 1,500 men they marched on the city.
About 200 militia under the command of Captain Mathew Caldwell marched to meet Captain John Coffee Hays’ band of 14 Texas Rangers. Hays was sent into reconnoiter the area around San Antonio by Caldwell. They hoped to also draw Woll’s men out of city where they planned an ambush near Salado Creek.
Thirty eight men rode to fester the Mexicans into an attack. Mid morning the detatchment of Texans arrived at a spot they found suitable for an ambush. From there six men including Captain Hays and Ranger Henry McCulloch advanced into town within a short distance of the Alamo. The bait worked but the number of Mexican cavalry was much larger than they anticipated. Up to 500 Mexicans pursued the Texans past the ambush point on towards the rest of the Texans waiting on Salado Creek. Unbeknownst to the Texans the Mexicans had already been preparing to move against the Texans. When the six man squad arrived in San Antonio they were already for a fight.
As the small band reconnected with the other men waiting in ambush Hays ordered retreat. They had to move quickly to rejoin the larger Texan force a few miles away in their camp. The Mexicans were over a mile behind but began to quickly gain ground on the Texans. Hays and his men had their sights on a timber line that they knew would provide them cover and a good defensive position. McCulloch and Creed Taylor were the last two providing a rearguard action against the approaching cavalry. Although within a couple hundred yards the Mexican rifle fire was inadequate and no man was injured in the retreat.
Around ten in the morning the Mexican Army had found their position for attack. Fortunate for the Texans the distance was too great to create worry. The Texans held the better defensive ground and manned their posts ready for the fight. Caldwell sent his men out and around the Mexican postion to persuade them that the Texans were a much larger force. No major movement was made by either side throughout the day. Then as if they had enough skirmishing the Mexican left and right moved to attack. As the attack unfolded the Texans slaughtered the oncoming force. Woll tried to rally his men but the attack faltered. At nightfall the fighting faded. Over sixty Mexicans lay dead with scores wounded. The Texans lost one man with no more than 12 wounded.
Many Texans wanted to counter attack to reclaim prisoners in the Mexican lines. In the early hours of the next morning several Texans had slipped into the Mexican camp planning to reign terror on the resting army. They found the camp empty with burning fires. The next morning Caldwell and Hays followed in pursuit but were delayed by heavy rains that swelled the Medina river south of San Antonio. Hays moved forward of the main group with his Ranger company. He reached the Mexican rear guard and charged. Hays luck carried the moment because the position being attacked stationed an artillery piece. The attack happened so quick the cannon could not be put into action and the Mexicans retreated to the main body of the retreating army. Two Texans were wounded and Hays’ horse was shot from beneath him. Hays, satisfied, moved back to a creek bed and waited for the advancing Caldwell.
A council of war was called on the second night of the engagement. Woll in the meantime continued to flee for the Rio Grande. The heavy rains became the barrier that would prevent the continued harassment of the Mexican army. Some believe that if the weather had been less severe the army could have been wiped out by the Texans before it escaped into Mexico.
Bryan Dolch is the owner and editor of Iron Mike Magazine. He also owns Texas Landscape Magaine, It’s The Texan, and Red Oak Marketing. He is a book cover designer for Tactical16 and a contributor to several small publications. He lives with his family in Central Texas.