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was too poor to support a Navy and that offensive
operations would only antagonize Mexico at a
time when he was negotiating with the United
States and Great Britain for their help in securing
a permanent peace.
Moore was undaunted. Receiving financial help
from Yucatan and local businessmen, he got Austin
and Wharton underway on 19 April 1843 during,
as one of the midshipmen described it, "a
moonless night black as a crow's wing." As the
Texans passed the American sloop-of-war Ontario,
the U.S. crew manned her yardarms and gave
three cheers for the Texas Navy! Moore wrote
that "the officers and men are all eager for the
contest. We go to make one desperate struggle to
turn the tide of ill luck that has so long been
running against Texas."
The odds were indeed high. Austin carried sixteen
24-pounders and two 18-pounders, while
Wharton mounted fifteen 18-pounders. Allied with
them, and primarily commanded by Texas officers,
was a small Yucatan squadron including the 5-gun
Independencia and five gunboats carrying one gun
each. Opposing them was a formidable Mexican
fleet led by the Paixhans-armed steamers Moctezuma,
which also had six 42-pounders, and Guadalupe,
which carried two 32-pounders. Mexicano
(ex-Yucateco) was rated 16 guns; Aguila mounted
seven Paixhans; Iman had nine guns, and Campecheano
carried three guns. In addition, there were
several other vessels of varying size, including the
The Mexican squadron had a decided advantage,
not only in the number and size of guns, but in
range as well. There would be a distance of approximately
one-half mile in which Mexican shells
could strike Texas vessels while Texas guns could
not reach their opponents. Moreover, the fact that
three Mexican ships were steamers would allow
them to open or close the range at will in calm
weather or avoid action entirely.
Nevertheless, Moore would not concede the initiative
to his foe. As he completed his preparations for
sailing from the Mississippi River, an American merchant
ship arrived and reported that Moctezuma
was embarking troops alone at Telchac, 150 miles
north of Campeche. Seeking to take advantage of
the opportunity of engaging the steamer with the
numerical odds in his favor, the Texas commodore
swiftly set sail with Austin and Wharton for Tel
But he was just 24 hours too late. On 16 April
the Mexican consul at New Orleans warned Commodore
Lopez of Moore's imminent departure, and
Lopez recalled Moctezuma before the Texans could
Austin and Wharton proceeded toward Campeche,
hoping to overtake Moctezuma enroute. On
the evening of 29 April, they anchored off that port
and Commodore Moore ordered an attack on the
gathered Mexican forces at first daylight when the
breezes would be most favorable. As a precaution, he
ordered his two ships to prepare for their own destruction
by detonating their magazines if capture
Dawn of 30 April disclosed five Mexican shipsMoctezuma,
Aguila, Mexicano, Iman, and Campecheano-about
ten miles to the south, and Commodore
Lopez's flagship Guadalupe coaling at
Lerma, several miles to their east. Moore sailed
toward Guadalupe to take advantage of an eastsoutheast
wind in an effort to get between the flagship
and the rest of the squadron. The squadron
darted out quickly, but Guadalupe was slow getting
underway. Unknown to the Texans, Captain Cleveland
of Moctezuma had died of yellow fever during
the night and about 40 crew members were incapaciated
by the disease.
The two forces maneuvered from 4 a.m. until
7:35 without firing as the Texans attempted to
close range and the Mexican steamers, now operating
together, paddled up wind of Austin and Wharton.
The Mexican sailing vessels were four to five
miles to windward.
At last the Mexicans opened fire with their Paixhans,
but with little effect. At first the shells fell
short, and then carried over the two Texas warships.
About 9 a.m. a calm set in and Austin and
Wharton ceased firing. With his sails limp, Moore
anchored, served grog to his tired men, and rigged
springs to his anchors so that he could shift the
ships' heading if the steamers attempted to press
their advantage and attack the immobile ships.
It was two hours, however, before the Mexican
steamers reopened the engagement. Moore's flagship
replied at once. As a breeze came up, both
Texas ships got underway and again sought to
divide the Mexican forces. During the battle, Austin
took a direct hit from a 68-pound shell, which
cut a shroud, smashed through Moore's cabin, and
passed out the stern. Fortunately for the Texans, it
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U.S. Navy Department. Naval History Division. Texas Navy, book, January 1, 1968; Washington D.C.. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth2419/m1/20/: accessed May 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; .