Texas Navy Page: 4 of 43
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THE TEXAS NAVY
I. The Critical Role of the Sea
In the 1830's, events of fundamental importance
to the United States began to take place in the vast,
sparsely populated southwest area that in those years
became an independent nation-the Lone Star Republic.
The United States, after purchasing the
Louisiana Territory, grew steadily toward a true
insularity, spreading from sea to sea.
Naval power had decided her destiny so far.
Within generations, the fleets of the United States
would decide that of the world. Texas was destined
to play a large part in that drama, but first she would
write her own stirring story-in which the sea was
Small nations, as well as large, may find their
existence dependent upon a clear understanding and
timely applcation of seapower. The Republic of
Texas owed its precarious life in the decade between
1835 and 1845 to a combination of its own temporary
strength at sea and the fortunate action of
larger naval powers.
The accompanying chart, part of which is based
upon surveys made by the Texas Navy, illustrates
the essentially maritime character of affairs both
during and after the Texas revolt against Mexico in
1835. The Western Gulf of Mexico is shaped like a
giant "C" with New Orleans at one end and the
Yucatan Peninsula at the other. In between, from
the Tropic of Cancer to the present site of Corpus
Christi, sprawled a virtually impenetrable desert,
relieved only along the coast by an occasional seaport,
such as Matamoros at the mouth of the Rio
Men could march across the arid region, but
neither Texas nor Mexico was ever able to solve the
logistic problems inherent in such an operation. In
the Mexican War, General Zachary Taylor would
encounter the same difficulty of supplying his troops
and he, too, would be unable to master these arid
reaches. It proved impractical for either Texas or
Mexico to sustain an assault on the other by land.
The Texans, who were concentrated in the area
between the United States border and the Colorado
River along the navigable streams fairly near the
coast, turned naturally enough to the sea. New
Orleans and Mobile, at the tip of the "C", represented
a ready source of men, munitions, and money;
and communications with these ports were almost
exclusively carried on by sea.
In 1835 about 40 merchant ships, almost all flying
the American flag (those emigrating to Texas apparently
still felt entitled to the United States
citizenship they renounced when they went to the
Mexican Territory), plied between Texas and U.S.
ports. For the most part they were small vessels between
80 and 90 tons, but they held the only real
hope for supply and reinforcement in the prolonged
conflict with Mexico. The large steamship Columbia,
for example, carried more than 700 volunteers into
Texas on two voyages, a force more than three times
the size of that lost at the Alamo and almost as large
as the victorious Texas Army at the battle of San
Further south along the coastal "C" were the
principal seaports for Mexico's populous highlandsTampico,
Tuxpan, and Vera Cruz, the gateway to
Mexico City. The bottom of the "C" was a quagmire
of swamps and marshes which prevented effective
overland communications with the Province of
Yucatan was the New England of Mexico, the
shipbuilding and sailor-producing section of the
country. It was here that canoas, 50- to 60-ton vessels
which formed the coastal trading and fishing
fleet, were built, manned, and operated. The province
was so isolated from the rest of the country
that it was frequently neglected. Accordingly, it was
often in or near a state of rebellion against the
Inside the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula were the
Alacaranes and Arcas Islands, and outside it the
larger islands of Mujeres and Cozumel. All were
utilized at some time by the Texas Navy for operations
against Mexican vessels.
Once Texas proclaimed its independence, the
strategies of the two adversaries at once became
clear. Repeatedly, the Texans not only had to prevent
a seaborne or sea-supported invasion from the
south, but also had to protect their sealanes to New
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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/m1/4/: accessed June 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; .