Siege of Fort Texas / Fort Brown
The site unofficially referred to as Fort Texas was a fieldwork, taking the rough shape of a six-sided star. Each packed-earth face of the fort extended from 125 to 150 yards. The walls were 9 feet in height, and 15 feet wide, with a moat, 20 feet wide and 8 feet deep circling the exterior. Inside, U.S. troops constructed a number of bomb-proofs and powder magazines to provide shelter from any incoming fire.
The bombardment begins
General Arista began positioning his artillery and troops around the fort shortly after General Taylor departed on May 1, 1846. At 5 a.m. on May 3, 1846, Mexican forces opened fire on the fort from guns placed directly across the Rio Grande. Troops of the U.S. 7th Infantry quickly responded with their own artillery. When additional cannon fire erupted from Mexican positions up and down the river's bank, fort commander Jacob Brown pointed his guns into the city of Matamoros. Fire continued on both sides until well into the night.
In time, however, this artillery exchange gave way to a prolonged standoff. Despite the steady Mexican fire of May 3, the earthen walls of the fort withstood the impacts well. Mexican leaders apparently acknowledged the lack of success. In the ensuing days, firing on the fort diminished considerably. Apparently believing a charge on the fort would produce heavy casualties in his own ranks, General Pedro de Ampudia instead settled in for a more traditional siege, hoping General Arista's army could prevent assistance from reaching the fort.
The cannonade from within the fort declined as well. Realizing that the shots directed on Matamoros were having minimal effect, Major Brown called for a halt to firing. Over the next several days, the U.S. troops conserved their limited ammunition, offered only brief flurries of return fire, and concentrated on shoring up the defenses of their post. Otherwise, the soldiers could do little but wait for General Taylor to march to the rescue.
When that advance finally came, Mexican troops received orders to assist in efforts to halt the U.S. Army. Although artillery continued a sporadic fire upon the fort, much of the Mexican infantry and cavalry surrounding the post moved forward to join the fighting at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma.
U.S. soldiers at Fort Texas first learned of the advance from the distant rumble of cannon fire at Palo Alto on May 8. Additional sounds of battle revealed fighting had reached Resaca de la Palma on May 9. That afternoon, the sight of hundreds of Mexican soldiers rushing to crossing points on the Rio Grande indicated that Taylor's troops had been victorious.
The U.S. victory at Resaca de la Palma brought an end to the six-day bombardment of Fort Texas. Apparently concerned friendly fire might strike their own retreating forces, Mexican gunners immediately halted their cannonade of the fort. U.S. soldiers briefly fired upon the retreating Mexican troops, but they soon halted this activity when it appeared that they might strike their own compatriots, who followed in close pursuit.
Commander Brown lost
Though the confrontation at Fort Texas lasted six days, with periods of heavy cannon fire, casualties were remarkably low. Only two U.S. soldiers died in the bombardment, but that toll included the fort commander Jacob Brown. Major Brown was struck in the leg by a cannon ball on May 6. He survived for several days only to die on May 9, just hours before the siege ended. Despite his wound, Brown had helped maintain troop morale throughout the siege and his men named the liberated post—Fort Brown—in his honor.
Mexican leaders reported two killed and two wounded from U.S. artillery fire during the siege. The effect of artillery fire on the civilian population of Matamoros is unknown.
The fort today
Fort Brown has suffered the consequences of natural and man-made activity in the lower Rio Grande Valley. Although Fort Brown remained an active post until after World War II, the original earthworks were abandoned shortly after the war with Mexico. After a century of gradual erosion, the fort took a direct hit in the 1950s, when much of the structure was bulldozed to build a levee along the Rio Grande. Today a small section of the original ramparts has survived in the midst of the Fort Brown Golf Course.
In recent years, a growing preservation effort has emerged to preserve the remains of Fort Brown. Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park is currently involved in activities to stabilize the surviving earthworks, to protect the site, and to interpret this fort as a unit of the park.
Did You Know?
In 1870, residents of Brownsville placed a stone monument at Palo Alto in the first effort to commemorate the site.