Fort Brown, Harper's Weekly, 1861
Fort Brown (1846-1944) -
Established in 1846 as the first U.S. military post in
General Zachary Taylor arrived at the site in March, 1846 to occupy the
territory that was claimed by both the United States and Mexico. The
initial fort was an earthen fortification constructed by
and called "Fort Texas."
Taylor marched a large portion of his troops to Point
Isabel (now Port Isabel), he left a garrison, under the command of Major
Jacob Brown, to guard the fort. Taking advantage of the situation, the
Mexican Army attacked the fort, sending part of their force to engage the
main portion of
Taylor's force as it returned from Point Isabel.
defeated the Mexicans at the Battle of Palo Alto on May 8, 1856 and at
Resaca de la Palma the next day. These engagements were the first battles
Mexican-American War, and the most important battles of the war fought on
U.S. soil. Following these defeats, the Mexican Army fled back across the
Rio Grande River. The fort was renamed Fort Brown in honor of Major Brown,
who was killed in its defense.
Federal troops left the fort with
Texas' secession from the
Union during the
Civil War. It was then occupied by Confederate Colonel
John "Rip" Ford and his troops until 1863 when they were finally driven
out by Union forces under General Nathaniel P. Banks, who then camped in
tents erected at the fort site. However, in 1864, Confederate forces under
General J. S. Slaughter and Colonel Ford reoccupied the area and held the
. post until the end of the war.
In 1867, a permanent fort was constructed under the supervision of
Capt. William A. Wainwright. The post remained active into the 21st
century, often manned by regiments of
On August 13 and 14, 1906 the Brownsville Raid occurred, in
which several unknown individuals raided the city, indiscriminately shooting
up the town, killing one man and wounding another.
The townspeople quickly
blamed the black soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Brown and, when the
Army investigated the matter, they came to the same conclusion. The
Secretary of War, William H. Taft, then discharged all 168
black soldiers "without honor." It would be another sixty years
before a second investigation
was held and the black soldiers had their honor restored. However, by
then, only two of the original 168 men were still alive. Historians today
believe that the real culprits who shot up the town, used the same
caliber ammunition as the soldiers, in order to frame them.
On April 20, 1915, the first U.S. military airplane to
be attacked by hostile fire came from Fort Brown. The plane, manned by Officers Byron Q. Jones and Thomas
Millings, were looking to spot movements of
Mexican Revolutionary leader Francisco "Pancho" Villa. Though,
it did not cross the
border into Mexico, it was fired upon by machine guns and small arms.