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The Battle of San Patricio, Texas

In the Fall of 1835, Texas was enjoying an uneasy peace. All of the Mexican army troops had returned to Mexico, and it was beginning to look like Texas would be able to become their own country without interference. This was not true.

As the Texan army began to dwindle, Frank W. Johnson decided to gather a volunteer Texas army to merge forces with Mexicans opposed to Santa Anna. Volunteer troops from all over the region planned to rendezvous at Matamoras. Sam Houston strongly opposed Johnson’s plans, and called for the dissolution of his troops. Within a few days, the renegade army diminished to about 70 men bent on destroying Santa Anna.

In February 1836, Johnson led his ragged crew to the town of San Patricio, just outside of present day Corpus Christie. On the cold and blustery night of February 26th, they slept in the homes of what they thought were sympathetic residents. However, they did not realize that most of the residents were committed to Santa Anna. Unknown to the volunteers, word was sent to Mexican General Jose de Urrea that they were hiding in town.

General Urrea warned the residents that he was coming with almost 600 troops. He told them if they were loyal to his army, they were to place a lighted lantern in their window all night, and his troops of death would not bother them. This story is so similar to the Passover in Exodus 12, that some have thought that was in the mind of the General Urrea. The battle started on February 27, 1836, at 3:00 AM, and lasted about fifteen minutes. Many of the volunteer army were killed, and others were taken prisoner. Johnson and a few others were overlooked because they were up late and had accidently left a candle burning in their window. They escaped to fight another day.

The town of San Patricio had been settled by Irish Catholic immigrants. The name of the town was given to their patron saint St. Patrick. They had established their faith in the new world, and were committed to Christ. Their strong commitment was clearly seen in the loving community they had created. Their priest, Father John Thomas Malloy, was an outstanding minister who served without pay. He kept the holy days, and the regular masses, and introduced ministry projects to strengthen their witness.

The battle of San Patricio devastated the town. Because fear overcame the residents, they abandoned San Patricio for Goliad and other nearby villages. They were afraid that the Texan forces would come to challenge the Mexican Army, and that they would be caught in the middle. In an amazing act of heroism, Father Malloy confronted General Urrea as a mediator for the lives of the men who had been taken prisoner. Father Malloy knew that the Mexican Congress had passed the Tornel Decree in December 1835 which stated that any foreigners fighting against Mexican troops "will be deemed pirates and dealt with as such, being citizens of no nation presently at war with the Republic and fighting under no recognized flag.” In the early nineteenth century, captured pirates were executed immediately. This bold decree gave the Mexican Army permission to take no prisoners as they fought against the Texan revolutionaries.

Risking his own life, Father Malloy begged for the lives of the surviving soldiers. He and Señora Panchita Alavez, joined forces to persuade General Urrea to not treat the captives as pirates, and to let them survive. Finally, the General agreed to send them to prisons in Matamoras instead of killing them. It is interesting to note, that Father Malloy and Señora Alavez later went to Goliad to plead for the lives of surviving soldiers of that battle. Señora Alavez became known in Texas history as the “Angel of Goliad.”

The tragic story of the Battle of San Patricio contains several Christian truths to tell. The stories of the lantern in the window and the mediating actions of Father Malloy and Señora Alavez, are truly inspiring. Each of these powerful accounts remind us of the mercy of God and His care for us. Sin is our enemy, and it causes division between us and God. The only Hope that we have of finding forgiveness from God is through the Work of Christ on the Cross. Galatians 2:16 ESV. “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” We cannot reach God except through the mediation of Christ. 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Father Malloy and Señora Alavez exhibited an amazing Christ-like spirit as they mediated for the lives of those soldiers. May we all care for others as we have opportunity.

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