Back to Yucatán
Near the mouth of the Mississippi, Moore encountered the American schooner Rosario, which had just left Yucatán and was full of news. The war between Mexico and Yucatán had taken a turn in favor of the Yucatecans, and Mexico was about to agree to a peaceful withdrawal. That meant that Mexican warships were now free to launch an assault on Galveston. Moore faced a choice: go to Yucatán and fight Mexico's ships there, with the help of Yucatán gunboats or return to Galveston with Morgan and wait to be attacked.
The United States revenue cutter Woodbury, sketched by Texas midshipman Alfred Walke.
Texas Navy Papers, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
With Morgan's complete agreement, Moore changed course and head directly for Yucatán. Along the way, a grisly spectacle took place that served as a warning for any men contemplating mutiny. Before leaving New Orleans, Moore had brought on board eight of the mutineers of the San Antonio, in jail since the uprising a year before. A court-martial took place. One man was acquitted and one pardoned. Two men received one hundred lashes with the "cat o' nine tails." And the four found responsible for the death of Lieutenant Fuller were sentenced to death. Moore had the men hung on board the Austin. Their bodies remained on display for an hour before they were buried at sea.
On the morning of April 30, the Austin and the Wharton engaged six Mexican vessels—the Moctezuma, Guadaloupe, Yucateco, Eagle, Iman, and Campecheano—off the coast of Lerma. Two Yucatecan ships plus five small gunboats joined the Texans. "Damn them, give it to them," Moore ordered. Broadside after broadside was exchanged over the course of the morning, but the battle was inconclusive, with the Mexican fleet withdrawing and the Austin running aground during pursuit. (With the assistance of the Yucatecan gunboats, it was floated free at high tide.) James Morgan recalled:
But the way we knocked H-ll into them was a caution...I could not imagine more coolness & determination than was displayed by the Officers & crew in the fight—all appeared delighted & and the young middys [midshipmen] & powder boys made a perfect Jubilee of the affair!...For d--- me if I saw any fun in it!
Later in the day, with Moore now nearing Campêche, the battle resumed between two Mexican steamers and the Texans and Yucatecans. Two men were killed and three wounded aboard the Wharton. The Mexicans lost twenty-one killed and thirty wounded. In spite of their losses, Moore and the Texans were exhilarated by their performance. They spent the next two weeks stalking the wounded Mexican ships in hopes of finishing them off, though Moore wrote, "I expect 'Old Sam' will 'hang me.'" He also noted, "If I had a steamer here, I would give ten years of my life, as with it I could get close action at once and decide the Fate of Texas."
On May 16, Moore engaged again with three Mexican vessels, the Guadaloupe, Eagle, and Moctezuma. At one point in the battle, Moore took the Austin directly between the Moctezuma and the Guadaloupe, attempting to close with them. The Austin was badly damaged in the battle, with three men killed and twenty-one wounded. The Wharton escaped damage but lost two men in a gun explosion. But the Mexicans had gotten the worst of it. The Moctezuma and Guadaloupe both suffered serious damage, and 183 men were killed. History would record the battle as the only victory of sail over steam.
Colonel Morgan had landed at Campêche, where he received a letter from President Houston telling him to "by all means have the Commodore 'yoked' and manacled, if possible." On May 6, Houston issued a public proclamation in Texas denouncing Moore for mutiny, treason, and piracy. In the proclamation, Moore was charged with disobedience and violation of Texas law. Houston told Morgan that the Commodore was suspended from duty and should return to Texas immediately for court-martial.
Morgan reached Moore with the news on June 1, and the two men decided to make for home and hold Houston to his word. Moore would insist on a trial in which he could explain his actions and clear his good name.