Letter confirming death of solider at Goliad
Army surgeon writes to family of executed soldier John Sowers Brooks
The events at Goliad on March 27, 1836 were gruesome — nearly 350 Texan soldiers executed by the Mexican Army at sunrise on Palm Sunday. This firsthand account of the massacre informs a soldier's brother of his death.
John Sowers Brooks, a solider from Staunton, Virginia, served as the chief engineer in charge of ammunition and artillery at Presidio La Bahía (Goliad). He was a prodigious writer, and his letters to friends and family are filled with details of camp life, troop movements, Texas politics, speculation, hope, despair, and philosophy. They provide an eyewitness account of the events leading to the Goliad executions. When his family stopped receiving his letters, they reached out to various officials in Texas seeking answers about his fate.
Jack Shackelford, a surgeon at Goliad, responded to a letter from N.C. Brooks, John's brother. Shackelford reports that Brooks was injured in battle on March 19. He was taken back to Goliad for treatment where he was attended to by Shackelford and Dr. Joseph Field. He was convalescing on March 27, the morning of the massacre. Shackelford writes, “Dr. Field … was at his bed side on [Sunday] morning when he was taken out by a file of soldiers and murdered within a short distance of the house. I have thus been particular in my detail, in order to remove everything like doubt or suspense on this painful subject.”
Surgeons like Shackelford and Fields were spared from the massacre to provide medical care for the Mexican troops.
Transcript of the letter from surgeon Jack Shackelford to N.C. Brooks, August 5, 1836:
Courttako, Ala 5th Aug., 1836
Mr. N.C. Brooks, Staunton, Va.
Dear Sir:—I have just received your letter, and hasten to give you the information you desire, in relation to the fate of your gallant though unfortunate brother. I knew him well, and as we were both natives of the same state, we soon became well acquainted, and our intercourse was of the most friendly character. Indeed, commanding "The Red Rovers" my-self, placed me in a situation to be with him almost daily.
He was in the battle of the Prairie on the 19th March, fought with a musket, in the most cool and chivalrous manner, and received a very severe wound in the centre of the left thigh which shattered the bone and caused great pain. He was taken back to Goliad and lodged in the same house with some wounded Mexican Officers,— This was done at Col. Fannin's instance who thought he would be better attended to, and who seemed to take a deep interest in his situation. He was daily attended by a young Surgeon (Dr. Field) and I visited him likewise. I saw him for the last time, late on Saturday evening, previous to the massacre. Dr. Field was with him that night and has since informed me, that he was at his bed-side on the following morning, when he was taken out by a file of soldiers, who murdered him within a short distance of the house. I have thus been particular in my details, in order to remove everything like doubt or suspense on this painful subject. I sincerely condole with his friends in their bereavement and if anything can mitigate their grief, it can be found in the estimate which was placed upon the young man by who knew him.
John Sowers Brooks, was alike conspicuous for his private virtues and noble daring during battle.
Courtesy Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin
Journals and Letters
Time Period: 1835 - 1844
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