The Narrative of Herman Ehrenberg, Goliad Massacre Survivor
Herman Ehrenberg was one of the few survivors of the Goliad Massacre, the tragic event that occurred on March 27, 1836, following the Battle of Coleto; 425–445 prisoners of war from the Texian Army of the Republic of Texas were killed by the Mexican Army near the town of Goliad. 17 years later, Ehrenberg wrote a book about his experiences in Texas, including that of the massacre. The following excerpt appeared in The Gonzales Inquirer newspaper in December, 1853:
A Survivor's Account of the Goliad Massacre
The Gonzales Inquirer - December 3, 1853
By Hermann Ehrenberg
After the names had been called, the order to march was given, and we filed out through the gates of the fortress, the Greys [New Orleans Greys, a volunteer unit from Louisiana] taking the lead. Outside the gate we were received by two detachments of Mexican infantry, who marched along on either side of us, in the same order as ourselves. We were 400 in number, and the enemy about 700, not including the cavalry, of which numerous small groups were scattered about the prairie.
We marched in silence, not, however, in the direction we had anticipated, but along the road to Victoria. This surprised us but, upon reflection, we concluded that they were conducting us to some eastern port, thence to be shipped to New Orleans, which, upon the whole, was perhaps the best and shortest plan.
There was something, however, in the profound silence of the Mexican soldiers, who are usually unceasing chatters, that inspired me with a feeling of uneasiness and anxiety. It was like a funeral march, and truly might it be so called. Presently I turned my head to see if Miller's people had joined, and were marching with us. But to my extreme astonishment, neither they nor Fannin's men or the battalion, were to be seen.
They had separated from us without our observing it, and the detachment with which I was marching consisted only of the Greys and a few Texan colonists. Glancing at the escort, their full dress uniform, and the absence of all baggage, now for the first time struck me. I thought of the bloody scenes that had occurred at Tampico, San Patricio, and the Alamo, of the false and cruel character of those in whose power we were, and I was seized with a presentiment of evil.
A quarter of an hour had elapsed since our departure from the fort, when suddenly the command was given in Spanish to wheel to the left, leaving the road: and as we did not understand the order, the officer himself went in front to show the way, and my companions followed without taking any particular notice of the change of direction.
We were marched along the side of the hedge towards the stream, and suddenly the thought flashed across us, "Why are they taking us in this direction?" The appearance of a number of lancers, cantering about in the fields on our right, also startled us; and just as the foot soldiers who had been marching between us and the hedge, changed their places, and joined those of their comrades, who guarded us on the other hand.
Before we could divine the reason of this maneuver the word was soon given to halt. It came like a sentence of death; for at the same moment it was uttered, the sound of a volley of musketry echoed across the prairie. We then thought of our comrades and our probable fate.
"Kneel down!" Now burst in harsh accents from the lips of the Mexican commander. No one stirred. Few of us understood the order, and those who did would not obey. The Mexican soldiers, who stood at about three paces from us, leveled their muskets at our breasts. Even then we could hardly believe that they meant to shoot us; for if we had, we should assuredly have rushed forward in our desperation, and, weaponless though we were, some of our murders would have met their death at our hands.
The sound of a second volley, from a different direction then the first just then reached our ears, and was followed by a confused cry, as if those at whom it had been aimed, had not all been immediately killed. A thick cloud of smoke was wreathing and curling towards the San Antonio River.
The blood of our lieutenant was on my clothes, and around me lay my friends convulsed with their last agony. I saw nothing more. Unhurt myself, I sprang up and, concealed by the thick smoke, fled along the hedge in the direction of the river, the noise of the water for my guide.
On I went, the river rolled at my feet, the shouting and yelling behind. "Texas forever!" And without a moment's hesitation, I plunged into the water. The bullets whistled round me as I swam slowly and wearily to the other side, but none wounded me.
Whilst these horrible scenes were occurring on the prairies, Col. Fannin and his wounded companions were shot and bayoneted at Goliad, only Dr. Shackleford and a few hospital aids having their lives spared, in order that they might attend the wounded Mexicans."
Prussian-born Herman Ehrenberg was a surveyor, cartographer, writer, and engineer who survived the Goliad Massacre of 1836. Ehrenberg immigrated to the United States in 1834 and, after joining the New Orleans Greys in October 1835, fought in the Texas Revolution. Ehrenberg fought at the siege of Bexar in December 1835 and the battle of Coleto under James W. Fannin. Fannin and his men surrendered following the battle of Coleto, and a week later the Mexican army executed most of the prisoners, only twenty-eight men escaped. Ehrenberg fled under the cover of the gun smoke and managed to cross the San Antonio River. After surviving for several days in the wild, Ehrenberg surrendered to Mexican General José de Urrea. Urrea took Ehrenberg to Matagorda and released him following news of the battle of San Jacinto.
Ehrenberg returned to Germany to study mining at Freiburg University, and in the early 1840s taught English at Halle University. In 1844, Ehrenberg returned to the United States and spent the rest of his life as a surveyor, explorer, cartographer, and miner in the Southwest. He surveyed and mapped the Gadsden Purchase; portions of Arizona, New Mexico, and California; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Colorado City, Arizona. In addition, he was an agent for the Mojaves on the Colorado River Reservation, 1863-1866. As a writer, Ehrenberg published articles in Mining Magazine and Journal of Geology and Arizona Weekly. He also wrote an account of his actions during the Texas Revolution called Texas und seine Revolution, 1843.
In 1866, robbers murdered Ehrenberg at Dos Palmas in California near the present day site of Palm Springs. I sometimes think about him, dying in the desert like that, if in his last moments he thought of the events in Goliad 30 years earlier and thought "I survived all of that only to die here, like this?"
Beauty is only skin deep but Texas is to the bone.