You’ve probably never heard of Herman Ehrenberg, the namesake of Ehrenberg, Arizona.
He was one of the few who lived to tell of the bloody massacre of 303 Texian patriots at Goliad 176 years ago on Psalm Sunday. That year, Easter came early. Psalm Sunday was March 27.
The gory butchery gave birth to one of the fierce cries that sprang from the lips of Houston’s army some three weeks later at San Jacinto, ‘remember Goliad’!
A native of Germany, Ehrenberg arrived in New York in 1834. The next year, he moved to New Orleans where he joined the military volunteer unit, the New Orleans Greys. The unit headed for Texas, and the Texas Revolution.
Ehrenberg was assigned to the company led by Captain Thomas Breece. The unit took a steamboat up river to Natchitoches, there to enter Mexican Texas.
Officially neutral, the U.S. forbade armed men to cross the border, but the Greys managed to enter without incident.
They joined the Texian Army at San Antonio de Bexar where the army planned to lay siege upon the city and Mexican General Cos.
The Texians attacked in early December.
According to the Handbook of Texas, Ehrenbgerg’s company followed the San Antonio River into town and fought to the central square where they fell under increasing artillery fire from the Mexican army.
The battle continued. Three days later, Cos surrendered and led his men back to Mexico.
Meanwhile in Goliad, James Grant and Frank Johnson were trying to persuade the provisional government of Texas to permit an invasion of the Mexico, specifically Matamorous. On December 30, the Greys joined the Matamoros Expedition to invade the Mexican port.
According to the ‘Sons of Dewitt County’ website, the expedition was soon the subject of much political turmoil. The governing council and the interim governor disagreed on who should lead the troops and the governor soon dismissed the council, which then impeached the governor. It was unclear who was in charge of the expedition - Grant, Johnson, or Colonel James W. Fannin.
Between the three existed a great deal of both political and career jealousy.
Houston joined them in Goliad and by an impassioned speech, asked the soldiers to remain in Texas to defend against the Mexican army that was bound to come.
Many of the troops including Ehrenberg did as Houston asked and returned to Goliad under Fannin. Grant and Johnson their preparations to invade Mexico. The two men’s decision to take their troops from Goliad to Refugio was one of the many reasons for the eventual fall of the fort.
Ehrenberg, with several others, scouted for Fannin. Upon seeing the Mexican forces pouring into Texas, all the scouts except Ehrenberg fled. He returned to Fannin with the news. Fannin ordered a retreat from Goliad.
That night on the plains of Coleto, General Urrea confronted Fannin and his troops. The next day, March 20, Fannin surrendered, almost inciting a mutiny among his men for the troops knew of the Alamo massacre and expected the same punished to be laid upon them.
No Mexican officers spoke English, nor Texians Spanish. One Mexican captain spoke German, so Ehrenberg acted as an interpreter.
For their safe release and a promise not to raise arms against Mexico, Fannin surrendered his troops and all their weapons. As a German citizen, Ehrenberg was given a chance to join the Mexican army, but he refused.
The troops were held in the church at Goliad. Urrea left orders to treat the prisoners well, but Santa Anna countermanded them, ordering the prisoners executed.
On Psalm Sunday, the prisoners were divided into two groups. Ehrenberg’s marched toward the San Antonio River. Upon command, the Mexican soldiers opened up at pointblank range. Ehrenberg was not hit in the first volley. He fell to the ground, and in the confusion crawled to the river where, despite a sword wound, he leaped from a forty-foot bluff into the slow-moving water below.
According to his memoirs, when he reached the far shore, he “looked back at the place where my friends lay bleeding to death. The enemy was still shooting and yelling, and it was with a sorrowful heart that I listened to those shouts of triumph, which in my fancy were mingled with the groans of pain of my dying friends.”
Of the 303 prisoners, he was one of only a handful to survive.
Some of the dead were burned; some left where they fell.
Failing to reach Houston before San Jacinto, Ehrenberg was discharged from the Texian Army June 2, 1836.
When General Rusk and his troops arrived at the grisly scene at Goliad on June 3, some sixty-odd days later, they were horrified at the carnage of scattered bones, bleached skeletons, and ample evidence of wild animals feeding on the dead.he dead.
Ehrenberg went on to a successful career in mining. He was the individual who drew the first map of the Gadsen Purchase, a 29,670 square mile region of present day southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.
He was killed by Apaches in Arizona in 1866.