The forgotten Alabamians who helped save Texas: Dr. Jack Shackelford’s Red Rovers

Below is a guest blog from Sweetums and some photos we took on a trip to historic Courtland several years ago.

By Wil Elrick

Downtown Courtland, Ala., plays host to an often-overlooked historical marker about a nearly forgotten event. The marker is dedicated to a group of soldiers known as the Red Rovers, and I am astounded by the number of people who have never heard of them.

Everyone has heard the rousing story of the Alamo, which featured a who’s-who of early American heroes. William Travis, Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, are forever tied to the San Antonio mission where they lost their lives in the most famous battle of the Texas Revolution. Another battle shortly after involved the Red Rovers, and it went on to be called the Goliad Massacre.

Red Rovers marker in downtown Courtland. (Wil Elrick)

The Red Rovers were a volunteer unit formed under the command of Dr. Jack Shackelford in December of 1835 in Courtland. Texas was in the midst of revolution while breaking away from Mexico and had requested assistance from the United States. Dr. Shackelford, a War of 1812 veteran, responded by forming The Red Rovers.

After forming in Courtland, the unit left for Texas and has the historical significance of being the first military unit to be deployed via train. After several months of travel and red tape, the unit arrived in the besieged battlefield of Texas. The unit was assigned to the defense of Fort Defiance and went on to be heavily involved in the Battle of Coleto, in which the Texian defenders would be forced to surrender. (The term “Texian” was used at the time; “Texan” is today’s preferred term.)

The captured soldiers, including the Red Rovers, were marched to the town of Goliad. On Psalm Sunday 1836, the Mexican Army executed 340 members of the Texian Army including more than 70 members of the Alabama Red Rovers. Several doctors, including Shackelford, were spared for their medical experience, but even though he was spared, Jack Shackelford had to watch the execution death of his son Fortunatus. The Goliad Massacre led the United States to become more involved in the war, however, and Texas would eventually become a state.

Dr. Shackelford was later able to escape his captivity of the Mexican Army and he was honorably discharged from the United States Army returning to North Alabama where he set up a medical practice and wrote about his experience in the war. Shackelford passed away in Courtland in 1857. In 1858 Shackelford County, Texas, was named in honor of Dr. Jack Shackelford and his Red Rovers.

If you ever happen to be near the small town of Courtland, make sure to swing through downtown and visit the historic marker honoring the brave men of Dr. Shackelford’s Red Rovers, who were killed much like those in the more famous Alamo.

Red Rovers marker in Courtland, Ala. (Wil Elrick)
This marker is on an obelisk on the grave of Capt. Jack Shackelford in Courtland Cemetery. (Wil Elrick)
Downtown Courtland, Ala. (Kelly Kazek)

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