The Battle of Medina

 

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The History of Texas: Battle of Medina

(Previous Section: Battle of Rosalis)

Before this occurrence, Bernardo had been a mere cipher; now he had assumed authority, and in a manner so barbarous, that the American officers had become disgusted with the service. Colonel Kemper, Major Ross, and others, left the army and returned home; but their places were supplied with new recruits, the fame of preceding victories having drawn many adventurers to San Antonio.

After the departure of the above-named officers, the troops, intoxicated with success, and being without the restraint of any lawful authority, abandoned themselves to great excesses. But, while thus reveling in almost every species of dissipation, they were surprised by a new army sent against them by the viceroy. It was commanded by Don Y. Elisondo, the same renegade who had betrayed Hidalgo to the royalists. The army which he led consisted of about fifteen hundred regulars, and a like number of irregulars picked up in the internal provinces. They first surprised, killed, and dispersed the guard who were out grazing the American caballada. They also took the horses. The republicans, on receiving this intelligence, were in confusion, and without any controlling head. The Mexican influence was too strong to neglect Bernardo, and yet the Americans could not safely trust him. Manchaca was a man of great vigor, and had extensive influence among his people, but was ignorant of all the high qualities necessary for the command of an army. Of the American officers who remained, Captain Perry was highest in rank, and perhaps the most worthy. At all events, he had the chief command in fact, and Bernardo was nominally reinstated for the occasion.

Elisondo did not march directly into San Antonio, as he might have done, but pitched his camp about half a mile from the graveyard of the town. The Americans having decided on their plan of attack, double sentinels were placed on guard, no one was permitted to pass in or out of the place, and all the artillery except four field-pieces was spiked.

The Spaniards had meanwhile thrown up two bastions, with a curtain of four hundred yards between them. This work crowned the summit of a ridge of gentle ascent, near the river Alazan, a branch of the San Pedro, behind which the enemy were encamped.

At ten o'clock at night, June 4, the Americans marched out of the town. They moved by file, and in the most profound silence, until they approached sufficiently near to hear the enemy's advanced guard. Here they sat down, with their arms in their hands, until they heard the Spaniards at matins. Orders were given that, on notice, the Americans should charge. This notice was to be given by a check from the right of each company, and in silence. The signal was given, and they all marched forward with a firmness and regularity becoming veteran soldiers. The enemy's pickets were surprised and taken prisoners. The Americans advanced to the works, mounted them, hauled down the Spanish flag, and ran up their own tricolor, before they were discovered by the Spanish camp. This was just at the dawn of day. The Spaniards, thus aroused, fought gallantly, and drove the Americans back from the works. The latter rallied, retook them, and charged into the Spanish camp, using only the bayonet and spear. The slaughter was terrible. At length, after some hours of hard fighting, the Spaniards, fairly pushed off the field, turned and fled, leaving a thousand dead, wounded, and prisoners. The Americans lost forty-seven killed, and as many more wounded, who afterward died of their wounds.

The Spaniards who escaped, fled with their commander to the Rio Grande, and the Americans returned to San Antonio, where, having no further use for General Bernardo Gutierres, they dismissed him from the service. This act was doubtless done at the instance of the American officers, who feared further dishonor and treachery. The family of Bernardo had come on to San Antonio after the battle of the Salado (or Rosales), and remained there with him. On being dismissed the second time, he retired to Natchitoches.

Don Jose Alvarez Toledo was by birth a Cuban, of a distinguished Spanish family. He had formerly been a member of the Spanish cortes in Mexico, but was banished on account of his republican sympathies. He had been for some time in Louisiana, aiding in forwarding recruits to San Antonio, and was duly advised of the progress of the war in that quarter. In July, 1813, he set out in person for the scene of hostilities.

He arrived shortly after the final departure of Bernardo. His fame as a distinguished republican Spaniard had preceded him, and the troops and people of San Antonio went to meet and escort him in. He was welcomed with much pomp, and immediately elected commander-in-chief of the republican army of the north.

General Toledo at once organized a governing junta, and went to work to restore order to the civil government of Texas. Suitable alcaldes and other officers were appointed, and for a few days law and order seemed to reign in San Antonio.

But these days of sunshine were destined to be few. The republican rangers brought intelligence that another Spanish army was approaching. The fugitives from the late disastrous affair under Elisondo had communicated to General Arredondo, commandant of the northeastern provinces, the news of the defeat. The latter united his own forces with such of the remnant of Elisondo's army as he could collect, and set out on his march for San Antonio. On the south of the Medina he threw up a breastwork; it was in the form of the letter <, with the apex in the road, and the open end in the direction of San Antonio. His entire force consisted of about four thousand men. Six hundred of these were thrown forward four hundred yards in advance of the breastwork, and intended as a decoy. The breastwork itself was concealed by an artificial chapparal, formed of bushes set up in front of it, and giving the appearance of a natural growth.

Toledo immediately marched out to meet the enemy. His force consisted of eight hundred and fifty Americans, under Perry and Taylor, and about twice that number of Mexicans, commanded by Manchaca. The latter was said to be envious of the distinction shown to Toledo, and was consequently insubordinate. This was perhaps the cause of a fatal mistake on the part of Toledo in separating the Americans, by placing them on the two wings, with the Mexicans in the centre.

When they met with the Spanish advance, the battle commenced. The Spaniards, after firing a round, abandoned their artillery, and made a feigned retreat, flying through the apex of the breastwork. The centre of the republicans advanced rapidly, and the wings followed. Toledo, seeing the ambush when it was too late, ordered a retreat. The left wing obeyed the order; but the right wing refused, crying out that they never retreated!" The centre, far in advance of the wings, was already exposed to a deadly fire from its front and flanks. Had the order to retreat not been given at all, or had it been given earlier, the day would not have been lost. The enemy's cannon mowed down the republicans with fearful havoc. The Americans on the right performed prodigies of valor; even after the few survivors of the centre had fled, they continued the fight. They could not, however, obtain possession of the breastwork, and in the effort were nearly all cut to pieces. Only those that obeyed the order to retreat were able to get away from the field of battle. The fugitives continued their retreat, the Spanish cavalry pursuing, and butchering without mercy all whom they could overtake. At Spanish Bluff, on the Trinity, the enemy took seventy or eighty prisoners. These they marched to an island of timber at the then forks of the San Antonio and La Bahia roads, where they dug a long and deep grave, laid a piece of timber across it, and, after tying the prisoners, set them by tens on the timber, and shot them. Only ninety-three Americans succeeded in reaching Natchitoches. Among them were Colonel Perry, Captain Joseph Taylor (badly wounded), and Captain Bullard, who had acted as aid to Toledo during the battle. Thus ended the disastrous war of 1812 and 1813.

The victorious party in Texas pursued with vengeance every friend of the republican party. The town of Trinidad, at Spanish Bluff, was utterly desolated. Those of the inhabitants who did not make their escape were cruelly butchered at a hill a few hundred yards west of Robbins's ferry, known as the Lanza del Toro, or Bull's hill. The republicans of Nacogdoches fled to Louisiana. The survivors of the neutral ground returned to their old haunts, and formed a nucleus around which subsequent revolutionists might rally.

General Toledo, as the head of the republican party in Texas, planted his standard on the left bank of the Sabine, at the old Saline near Gaines's ferry, and invited thither whosoever chose to engage in the war.

Two days after the battle of the Medina, which was fought on the 18th of August, 1813, General Arredondo, having his wagons loaded with wounded and dying, marched in triumph into San Antonio. Here commenced a scene of barbarity which that place had never before witnessed. Seven hundred of the peaceable citizens were seized and imprisoned. Three hundred of them were confined during the night of the 20th of August in one house, and during the night eighteen of them died of suffocation. From day to day the others were shot, without any form of trial! The cruelty of the Spanish commander went even further. He had a prison for females. It occupied the site of the  post office of San Antonio, and was tauntingly called the Quinta. Here were imprisoned five hundred of the wives, daughters, and other female relatives, of the patriots; and, for being such, they were compelled daily to convert twenty-four bushels of Indian corn into the Mexican cakes called tortillas, for Arredondo's army. After thus having satisfied his appetite for blood and revenge, the royalist commander found an opportunity, about the first of September, to collect and bury the bones of Salcedo and his staff. By this time, Elisondo, who had proceeded as far as the Trinity in pursuit of the fugitives, returned, driving before him on foot the widows and orphans of those he had there slain. The property of the patriots was all confiscated.

[Next Section of Texas History: Mexican Revolution]

 

 

 

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