“Not Many People realize that Texas once had a Navy of her own,” Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz—himself a son of the Lone Star State—once remarked, “. . . many of the pioneers were seafaring people . . . victories won at sea helped in shaping Texas destiny.”
One such victory at sea came less than ten years after Texas had wrested its independence from Mexico in 1836—an independence that an embittered Mexico was loath to acknowledge.
But Mexico found itself entangled in a two-front struggle: The Republic of Yucatan also was fighting for independence from Mexico. Pooling their resources against the common foe, Texas and Yucatan supported one another in the strategically vital waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Yucatan’s port of Campeche was under blockade by the Mexican Navy—a navy that boasted a formidable flagship: the English-built steam paddle frigate Guadalupe, the largest iron warship on earth at the time, buttressed by another fearsome English-built ironclad steam frigate, the Montezuma. Here were the apex fighting ships of their day.
Accompanied by the brig Wharton, Texas Navy Commodore Edwin Ward Moore sailed for Campeche in his flagship, the sloop-of-war Austin, in April 1843. Joining forces with several schooners and gunboats of the Yucatan Navy, they set forth to break the blockade. They managed to do so in a running battle on 30 April, enabling them to reach Campeche for repair and rearming. Then, on 16 May, came the big showdown.
The superior strength of the Mexican force was not enough to seal the deal; the Mexicans got far the worse of it in terms of casualties, thanks to the Texans’ well-placed broadsides. In the end, it was perhaps a tactical draw, but it was a strategic victory for the Republics of Texas and Yucatan, as the blockade was lifted.
If you ever have the opportunity to take a close look at a Colt 1851 Navy revolver (or the 1860 Colt Army or 1861 Colt Navy, for that matter), you will see a depiction of the Battle of Campeche beautifully engraved on the cylinder. It was a fight worth commemorating—for it was the only naval battle in history in which sail was victorious against steam.