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In the year of 1843, tensions were running high between the newly formed Republic of Texas and the country of Mexico. Mexico, having had its army defeated at the hands of the Texan rebels, was awash in internal rebellions and succession movements taking advantage of the government’s perceived weakness. Unhappy about the humiliation, Mexico and Texas were in a state of military readiness: Mexico needing to squash the internal revolts and Texas preparing for Mexico’s inevitable return.

Map of the Region, 1843
In this environment there were frequent military encounters between the two countries and one of these incidents led to one of history’s most interesting battles. Out story begins with a man by the name of Edwin Ward Moore.

Commodore Moore
Moore was Commodore of the small Texan Navy. In this tense environment, Moore waged a campaign in the Gulf of Mexico against Mexican shipping and patrolled the Gulf in prevention of any attempt to invade Texas by sea. While his attempts put a dent into commerce in Mexico, Moore could not sustain enough funding to continue operations, even after expending his own funds. By 1843, Moore was in dire straits with his fleet; with no more funding, Sam Houston recalled the fleet to Galveston so that it could be auctioned off. Moore, not one to give up easily, defied Houston’s order and instead sailed south to the Yucatan, were a new opportunity opened up.
In the Yucatan Peninsula the local native population, having long been under the oppression of first the Spanish and now the Mexicans, revolted against their oppressors while the Mexican Army was sent to deal with the Texans. With support from the British in Belize, the natives fought doggedly against the Mexican land forces with much success and established the Republic of the Yucatan. But while victories was being made on land, at sea was another matter. The Mexican navy had blockaded the biggest port in the Yucatan, Campeche, depriving the rebels of much needed supplies. In dire straits, the government heard of Moore’s predicament and offered to pay him $8,000 a month for the services of the Texas Navy. Moore happily took up the offer, but the task ahead of him would not be an easy one.
The Mexican fleet blockading Campeche had at its disposal some of the newest naval technology of the navy. The government had gone out of its way to buy three new British built ships, a small steamer called the Regenerator, and two 1200 ton ironclad steamships; the 7 gun Guadalupe and the 4 gun Montezuma, each armed with Paixhans guns able to fire exploding shells, commanded by British officers and manned by British and Mexican seamen. These new ships were supported by two brigs; the 12 gun Yucateco and the 7 gun Iman; and two schooners; the 7 gun Aguila and the 3 gun Campechano. At the time this was one of the most powerful fleets in the Gulf, that could even rival that of the US Navy.

Ironclad, Guadalupe
Moore only had at his disposal his flagship, the Austin, a 20 gun, 600 ton sloop-of-war, and the 16 gun brig the Wharton. Upon arriving offshore of Campeche, he was given extra support by the Yucatan navy; two schooners, called the Independencia and the Sisaleno, and five gunboats.

Sloop-of-War, Austin
Moore knew how big of a challenge the task before him was, but despite the large disadvantage in numbers and armament, Commodore Moore decided to launch a surprise attack at once, the morning after his arrival.
On April 30, Moore’s fleet sailed towards the Mexican flotilla, catching the Mexicans by surprise. Moore decided that the best strategy was to get his ships as close as he could to the fleet; getting under the Paixhans guns and their explosive shells and being able to deal damaging broadsides with his numerous guns. The Mexicans tried to keep their distance, but both Texas vessels managed to connect with some broadsides. Unbeknownst to Moore he had caught the Mexican fleet at a bad time; the British captain of the steamer Montezuma, Captain Richard Cleveland, had died of yellow fever the night before the battle, and many of the experienced British crew were also sick, having not been used to the tropical climate of the Yucatan. There was also many communication problems between the Mexican and British crews, making gunnery difficult as well as conflicts between the Mexican officers and British ones. The new Paixhans shells also, more often than not, failed to explode as intended. One such case was when a Paixhans shell hit the Austin, passed within inches of Commodore Moore, tore away some rigging, crashed through the aft cabin, and then flew overboard without exploding. Moore’s superior seamanship and enthusiastic support by his crew gave him a huge advantage over the Mexicans.

City of Campeche
By mid-morning a running battle ensued, and the forces exchanged mostly ineffective salvos before drawing apart. By noon the squadrons had separated out of firing range, and Yucatán-Texas fleet headed for port in Campeche. Upon entering the city, the fleet was greeted by cheering crowds as they broke the blockade; but this was not the last engagement. The Mexican fleet had not been defeated and had anchored offshore five miles to the south-west, and were still a threat to the city. So Moore prepared; he received more armament from Campeche’s ramparts, adding two long-range 18-pounders to Austin and a single, long-range 12-pounder to Wharton. For two weeks he repaired his ships, tended the wounded, made a few tentative feints, and waited for his chance.
On May 16, a breeze came up and the Texan-Yucatan fleet headed out to face the Mexican fleet once more. By this time some of the Mexican fleet had departed to deal with evacuation of the defeated troops from Telchac Puerto, leaving the two ironclads Guadalupe & Moctezuma, and the schooner Águila at the Campeche front, still substantially the superior force. The Mexicans, under a new commander, Tomás Marín, sailed out to sea toward the southwest, with the Texas vessels in hot pursuit. After chasing the fleet for fifteen miles the wind died down and the Austin and Wharton were left sitting ducks for the Mexican steamers, who began to bombard them. The Yucatan allies failed to support the two Texan as the ironclads fell on the Moore’s ships. The wind picked up however and Moore’s flagship was able to deal some serious damage to the Mexican ships as well. The Austin took seventeen hits, some from the big 68-pounders, causing much damage throughout the ship but not before disabling one paddlewheel on the Guadalupe and shot away her flagstaff. Taking on water, the magazine flooded, in danger of losing masts, and the crew exhausted, the Austin limped back to anchorage at Campeche while the Mexican fleet abandon the field and sailed towards a base at Isla del Carmen. Both sides declared victory.

Battle of Campeche
The Texans had sustained 7 killed and 24 wounded, with no ships lost, while the Mexicans sustained over 30 killed and 55 wounded, also with no ships lost. The battle, however, was a strategic victory for the Texans and the Yucatan: the siege of Campeche was lifted, and Yucatán was able to maintain its fundamental independence for another five years. The reason for this was the British mercenaries all departed on June 14 when their enlistments expired, leaving Mexico with no one capable of maintaining the steamships or manning the Paixhans guns; Mexico never again attempted to invade Texas or blockade the coast.
After the battle the government of Yucatán paid for repairs on Moore’s fleet and provided resupply of provisions and gunpowder. With the Mexican threat dealt with, Moore returned to Galveston, where Sam Houston waited to charge with disobedience, treason, and piracy. But news of his victory had reached Texas and Moore was instead greeted by cheering crowds and was exonerated and paid in full for his service. Houston had all vessels of the Texas Navy placed in ordinary and allowed to rot. The two Mexican steamers fled to Havana during the war with the United States and transferred to British ownership. The battle is memorialized by Samuel Colt in an engraving on the cylinder of the famed 1851 and 1861 Colt Navy Revolvers to thank the Texas Navy and Commodore Moore for purchasing his revolvers and carbines and saving him from bankruptcy.

Colt 1851 Naval Revolver, with Battle of Campeche engraving
History records the Battle of Campeche, on May 16, 1843, as the only time that sailing vessels ever defeated steam-driven warships in combat.

5878750 This one of many reasons I am proud to be a Texan.

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