Fort Texas / Fort Brown

Portrait of General Joseph K. F. Mansfield
A Civil War era image of Gen. Joseph K. F. Mansfield. When Taylor and his troops arrived at the banks of the Rio Grande, it was Captain Mansfield who was tasked with construction of an earthen fortress

Hlj (public domain)

Formidable Fort

The site unofficially referred to as Fort Texas was an earthwork, in the rough shape of a six-sided star. Each earthen face of the fort extended from 125 to 150 yards. The walls were 9 feet high and 15 feet wide. A moat 20 feet wide and 8 feet deep circled 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 the fort on May 1, 1846. On May 3rd at 5 a.m., Mexican artillery opened fire on the fort from positions 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 Major Jacob Brown pointed his guns into the city of Matamoros. Artillery fire from both side continued until well into the night. In time, this artillery exchange gave way to a prolonged standoff. The earthen walls of the fort withstood the impacts of the bombardment of May 3rd.

Mexican officers apparently recognized the lack of success. On the following days, firing on the fort lessened significantly. General Pedro de Ampudia instead settled in for a more traditional siege. The general believed a charge on the fort would produce heavy casualties in his own ranks. The Mexican Army veteran now was hoping General Arista's army could prevent assistance from reaching the U.S. fort.

Drawing of Major Jacob Brown mortally wounded
The death of Major Jacob Brown


The Wait

The artillery fire from within the fort decreased as well. Major Brown called for a halt to firing realizing the shots directed on Matamoros were having minimal effect. Over the next several days, U.S. troops conserved their limited ammunition and offered only brief flurries of return fire. Instead they 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.

Taylor Returns

When Taylor’s force began its return march, Mexican troops received orders to assist in efforts to halt their advance. Although sporadic artillery fire on the fort continued, much of the Mexican infantry and cavalry surrounding the post had 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 8th. Sounds of battle on May 9th revealed the fighting had reached Resaca de la Palma. That afternoon, the sight of hundreds of Mexican soldiers rushing to crossing points on the Rio Grande signaled Taylor's troops had been victorious.

Concerned friendly fire might hit their own retreating troops, Mexican gunners immediately halted their bombardment of the fort. U.S. soldiers briefly fired upon the retreating Mexican troops. With U.S. Dragoons in hot pursuit of retreating Mexican forces, U.S. guns ceased fire as well for fear of the same.

The U.S. victory at Resaca de la Palma brought an end to the six-day siege of Fort Texas.

Commander Brown

Though Fort Texas withstood a siege of 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 fort commander Jacob Brown. Major Brown was struck in the leg by a cannon ball on May 6th and died on May 9th, just hours before the siege ended. Despite being wounded, Brown helped maintain troop morale throughout the siege. His men renamed 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.

Metal historical marker for the Mexican War era Fort Brown
A plaque for the site of the original Fort Texas/Fort Brown


The Fort Today

The Fort Brown site has suffered the effects 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. Much of the structure was bulldozed to build a levee along the Rio Grande. Today a small section of the original walls has survived. In recent years, a growing effort has emerged to preserve the remnants of Fort Brown. Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park is currently involved in activities to stabilize the surviving earthworks, to protect the site, and interpret this fort as a unit of the park.

Last updated: May 18, 2023

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