James Walker Fannin Jr. (1804-1836)
Colonel James Walker Fannin Jr. distinguished himself in a number of skirmishes during the Texas Revolution.
Born January 1, 1804, Fannin was the illegitimate son of a Morgan County plantation owner, Dr. Isham Fannin. He was adopted by his maternal grandfather, James W. Walker, and reared on a plantation near Marion. One of his cousins was Samuel F. B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph.
At the age of fourteen Fannin briefly attended the University of Georgia, but in 1819, as James F. Walker, he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York. At that time a female cousin described him as "gallant, handsome, and sensitive." He was not very studious; academically he stood sixtieth in a class of eighty-six. He resigned in November 1821 after dueling with a fellow cadet. Fannin returned to Georgia, where he became a merchant and married Minerva Fort, with whom he had two daughters.
Fannin resided in Twiggs and Troup counties successively, and in 1828 he moved to Columbus. There he was a master of the local Masonic lodge and pursued a judgeship but was disqualified for dueling. While in Columbus he also served as secretary of a temperance society and was division inspector for the Georgia militia. In the autumn of 1834 Fannin and his family moved to Velasco, Texas, where he became a planter and managing partner in a slave-trading syndicate.
In August 1835 Fannin was appointed by the Committee of Public Safety and Correspondence, an assembly of prominent Texans seeking independence from Mexico, to solicit funds and supplies from sympathizers in Georgia, as well as to influence former colleagues at West Point to join him in Texas and lead volunteer and regular armies. As a member of the Texas volunteer army, Captain Fannin fought alongside the Brazos Guards in the first battle of the revolution against Mexico, held at Gonzales on October 2, 1835. On October 28, he led Texas forces in the Battle of Concepción. On December 7 he was commissioned a colonel in the Texas regular army.
Fannin's appeal for aid drew strong attention. In Macon about thirty men stepped forward to assist "our fellow countrymen of Texas," and more than $3,000 was raised to defray the cost of the trip to Texas.
On March 14, 1836, Fannin was ordered by Texas president Sam Houston to withdraw to Victoria, but he delayed until the 19th. As Fannin's regiment withdrew, it was surrounded by a Mexican force under General José de Urrea. Fannin unsuccessfully engaged the Mexican army at the Battle of Coleto Creek and was forced to surrender his entire command. Wounded, Fannin capitulated on the condition that his men be well treated because they had given up their arms peacefully. The agreement was countermanded by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, and on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, more than 330 Georgians, Texans, and others imprisoned at Goliad were marched out into the woods and shot. While some prisoners escaped the massacre, Fannin was kept inside the fort. He was taken to the courtyard, where he was blindfolded, seated, and shot through the head. His body was burned. During the Battle of San Jacinto, on April 21, 1836, Fannin's watch was discovered in the possession of a Mexican officer. The officials who found it assumed the Mexican was responsible for Fannin's murder; he thus met death in a like manner as Fannin.
In 1854 Fannin County in north Georgia was named in his honor.
Gary Brown, Hesitant Martyr in the Texas Revolution: James Walker Fannin (Plano: Republic of Texas Press, 2000).
Robert S. Davis Jr., "Goliad and the Georgia Battalion: Georgia Participation in the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836," Journal of Southwest Georgia History 4 (fall 1986): 25-55.
Kate H. Fort, ed. and comp., Memoirs of the Fort and Fannin Families (Chattanooga, Tenn.: McGowan and Cook, 1903).
Joe Griffith, "Fighting for Texas: Georgians and the Battle for Texas Independence," Journal of the Historical Society of the Georgia National Guard 5 (winter 1996): 7-21.
Beryl I. Diamond, Georgia State University
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