The Runaway Scrape

 

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[Happened After: Goliad Massacre]

The period roughly between the fall of the Alamo, and the Victory at San Jacinto is known as "The Runaway Scrape." During this time, there was mass confusion and panic across Texas.  The citizenry was in complete chaos, and the Texas Army was discontent, and disagreement existed between Sam Houston and the governing body.  Below, we will describe this fascinating period of Texas History in some detail.

The Runaway Scrape:

SANTA ANNA, having received intelligence of the capture of Fannin and his command, was still more confirmed in the idea that the war in Texas was ended, and in his determination to depart for the capital. With this view, he ordered General Urrea to scour all the country between Victoria and Galveston, his left wing to be sustained by the command under General Sesma. On the 24th of March, General Gaona set out for Nacogdoches with the two battalions, two four-pounders, twenty frontier dragoons, and fifty convicts, set apart for his command, the whole amounting to seven hundred and twenty-five men. These several commanders had strict orders to shoot all the prisoners taken!

As the dictator considered his army unnecessarily large to complete what remained to be done in Texas, he ordered that the brigade of cavalry commanded by Colonel Juan Jose Andrade—the property belonging to the battalions of Guerrero, Matamoras, and Ximines, to the regular militia of Queretaro, and to the first battalion of Mexico—also the artillery which existed in the general quarters and that had been brought from Mexico, and likewise the thirty-two hired wagons—should be got ready to leave on the first of April for San Luis Potosi. As for himself, he proposed to set out immediately—going by sea from Copano or Matagorda to Tampico, and thence by land to San Luis Potosi.

General Filisola, on whom the chief command would now devolve, looking around at his approaching responsibility, discovered that no impression had as yet been made upon the colonists; and that those already conquered, at so great a cost, were mostly volunteers only, but lately arrived in the country, while the main body of Texans was still intact. As the measures of Santa Anna did not accord with the views of Filisola, the latter took frequent occasion to intimate his opinions as to future operations. His suggestions, however, had no effect; but knowing that Santa Anna paid great respect to any representation of Colonel Almonte, he went in search of that officer; and, with the map of Texas before them, he observed to Almonte that, after leaving garrisons at Bexar, Goliad, and Copano, the remaining forces should keep together until they had beaten the main body of the Texans. This advice, accompanied by a timely letter from General Sesma, dated from the right bank of the Colorado, on the 15th of March, induced Santa Anna to suspend the return of the cavalry to Mexico, and to direct General Sesma, by an order, dated the 25th of March, to change his course, after crossing the Colorado at Bastrop, to San Felipe. He also commanded General Urrea to pass the Colorado at Matagorda, and march to Brasoria - thus concluding to concentrate his forces, and to finish in person the few remaining military operations necessary to the reduction of Texas. On the 29th of March, two battalions, with five pieces of artillery, and a month's rations, under the command of Colonel Amat, set out from Bexar for Gonzales; and, on the 31st, Santa Anna and his staff, with General Filisola, departed on the same road.

Houston at Gonzales

To return to the Texans. General Houston arrived at Gonzales, at four o'clock in the afternoon, on the 11th of March, 1836. Previous thereto, Colonels Burleson and Neill had been using the most earnest and patriotic efforts to raise a force for the relief of Travis.

It is proper to state that Captain John W. Smith, after conducting the thirty-two Texans from Gonzales to the Alamo, returned on the 4th of March, and started again on the 7th with fifty more from the same point; but it was too late. — Smith to the President of the Convention., March 7, 1836.

It was Houston's intention to combine the forces of Fannin and Neill, and march to the aid of Travis; and he so ordered on the 9th, in advance of his arrival at Gonzales.

In the handwriting of Colonel G. W. Hockley, is found a memorandum dated "Burnham's, Colorado, March 9, 1836," as follows: " This day a letter was forwarded by return express from this place to Colonel J. C. Neill, commanding at Gonzales, ordering the original to be forwarded to Colonel Fannin, commanding at Goliad, and a copy to be kept, as follows: 'Colonel Fannin to march immediately with all his effective force (except one hundred and twenty men, to be left for the protection of his post), to cooperate with the command of Colonel Neill, at some point to be designated by him, to the relief of Colonel Travis, now in the Alamo. Colonel N. to recommend a route to Colonel F. from Goliad to the point of cooperation. Colonel F. to bring two light pieces of artillery, and no more ; fifty muskets, with thirty to forty rounds ball-cartridge for each. Both to use immediate dispatch — Colonel F. with ten days' provisions.'

"A letter to General Burleson, requesting him to unite with Colonel Neill in recommending the route—forming battalion, or regiment, according to the number of troops at Gonzales."

Colonel Neill, in a letter to Houston, dated Gonzales, March 10, 1836, says : "I have received with great satisfaction your communication of the 9th inst. .. . . I shall forward your communication to Colonel Fannin by express, agreeably to your instructions, giving him due time to concentrate his forces with mine at the time and place I shall designate." Of course, this movement would have been too late.

The news received there of the fall of the Alamo, changed his purpose, and he therefore dispatched the order to Colonel Fannin to retreat to Victoria, sending one third of his troops to Gonzales.

On the 12th of March, in pursuance of orders, Colonel Neill made a report of the number of troops at Gonzales, and they were found to amount in all to three hundred and seventy-four effective men. They had not two days' provisions; many were without arms, and others destitute of ammunition. To remedy these defects as far as possible, and place the troops in a state of organization, orders were issued for an election of field-officers of the volunteers on the 13th, and requiring all volunteers who should come into camp to attach themselves to some company. A camp was formed on the east bank of the Guadalupe, and the organization extended to the lowest division of the company. At the same time, Captain Larrison was dispatched to Victoria for fifty kegs of lead and one thousand pounds of powder, for the use of the army.

Houston Receives News of the Fall of the Alamo

It was on the night General Houston reached Gonzales, that two Mexicans brought the first news of the fall of the Alamo, and the death of all its defenders. The scene produced in the town by these sad tidings can not be described. At least a dozen women with their children, in that place alone, had thus been left widows and orphans. In fact, there was scarcely a family in the town but had to mourn the loss of one or more of its members. " For four-and-twenty hours," says Captain Handy, " after the news reached us, not a sound was heard, save the wild shrieks of women, and the heart-rending screams of their fatherless children. Little groups of men might be seen in various corners of the town, brooding over the past, and speculating of the future ; but they scarcely spoke above a whisper. The public and private grief were alike heavy. It sank deep into the heart of the rudest soldier." To soften, as much as possible the unhappy effect of the intelligence, Houston caused the two Mexicans to be arrested and kept under guard, as spies. The fact that Travis had agreed to fire signal-guns, and that none had been heard since the Sunday previous, confirmed the statement made by the Mexicans ; yet, in order to ascertain the truth of the matter, Deaf Smith, Henry Karnes, and R. E. Handy, were dispatched to Bexar, or as near to that place as they could safely go, to learn the facts, and return in three days. After proceeding about twenty miles, they met Mrs. Dickinson, with her child, accompanied by Sam, the servant of Travis, and Ben, a free negro, the servant of Almonte. Mrs. Dickinson brought with her a boasting proclamation of Santa Anna, which she had received from the hands of General Sesma, then at the Cibola, on his route, with the advance of the enemy, to Gonzales. Mrs. Dickinson having fully confirmed the intelligence brought by the two Mexicans, Karnes, who was mounted on the best horse, returned in haste to Gonzales with the information and the proclamation of Santa Anna, while Smith and Handy remained to escort her to the Texan army.

Captain Karnes reached Gonzales between eight and nine o'clock on the night of the 13th. The intelligence brought by him produced a general panic. Since Santa Anna first approached San Antonio, the American settlers had been removing eastward ; and, as he advanced into the country, and developed his bloodthirsty disposition, the emigration became more hasty and universal. At length, with the departure of Sesma from Bexar with his advance of seven hundred and twenty-five men, the emigration became a flight, not of a part, but all —men, women, children, and servants—some carrying with them their goods and stock, others leaving everything. The volunteers in the Texan army, seeing their wives and relatives exposed to the vandalism of the Mexican soldiery, were constantly leaving—some with and some without permission — to look after and conduct to a place of safety those who were so near and dear to them. This was a natural result of their exposed situation. The Texan commander, not having a sufficient force to repel the enemy before he reached the settlements, and being without artillery and munitions, was compelled to fall back. The information brought by Mrs. Dickinson had, moreover, magnified the force under Sesma.

Houston Retreats from Gonzales

Having determined on a retreat, General Houston and his forces set out before midnight on the 13th, leaving behind his spies, who were reinforced by some volunteers from Peach creek. It may be stated, as a proof of the poverty of the materiel in the Texan army, that, when they set out on their retreat, they had in camp two public wagons, two yoke of oxen, and a few poor horses! The flying citizens had carried with them every species of conveyance. The Texan army reached the Navidad on the 14th, where they rested one day, while a guard was sent back for a widow woman and her children, whose residence, being off the road, was passed without knowledge of her. Some of the party who had remained behind at Gonzales conducted the family on to the army, while the three spies before named, and Reese, remained to burn the town. It was set on fire in many places at once, so that the flying inhabitants, looking back, saw the light of their burning dwellings. By early dawn the place was reduced to ashes, and its only inhabitants were the four faithful Texan spies previously mentioned.

Houston, having decided to make the Colorado the line of defense, dispatched his aide-de-camp, Colonel William T. Austin, to the Brazos for artillery, and marched to Burnham's, on the right bank of the Colorado. He reached this point on the evening of the 17th. His force had by this time increased to six hundred men, including a rear-guard, who were bringing with them some families.

Panic Across Texas

There had, up to this time, been some twenty who had left the Texan army without permission, and, as they traveled east-ward, spread over the country such exaggerated accounts of the large force of the enemy, their unheard-of cruelties, and the small numbers of the Texans, that the panic became universal and overwhelming. The voice of sorrow and despondency that came from the flying inhabitants touched the hearts of the small band who had ventured everything in this last effort for life and liberty. It did more—it prevented volunteers from coming from the east. The panic, as it traveled in that direction, had greatly increased. Citizens east of the Neches believed their danger more imminent than those west of the Trinity. Hence, able-bodied men were retained to defend families and neighborhoods. To add to the terror and distress, particularly in eastern Texas, there were some bad men who spread false alarms for the sake of plunder. It was understood, and perhaps with some truth, that all Americans, whether combatants or not, were to be driven from the country, and that the women brought by Santa Anna with his army were to join his soldiers in forming the advance of a Mexican population that was to occupy the province.

"It pains my heart," says the commander-in-chief, writing to the chairman of the military committee—" it pains my heart that such consternation should have been spread by the few deserters from camp. . . . Our own people, if they would act, are enough to expel every Mexican from Texas. Do let it be known that, on close examination, and upon reflection, the force of Santa Anna has been greatly overrated. . . . If you can, by any means, soothe the people, and get them to remain, they shall have notice, if I deem it necessary. Let them entertain no fears for the present. We can raise three thousand men in Texas, and fifteen hundred can defeat all that Santa Anna can send to the Colorado."

The Texan army remained two days at Burnham's, waiting for the families to pass safely over, when it also crossed to the left bank, and, marching down the river, took position opposite Beason's. Here they remained until the 26th, awaiting the arrival of artillery and reinforcements. It is true that most of the reports made of the advancing force of the enemy over-rated their numbers. The first body, under Sesma and Woll, was seven hundred and twenty-five ; the second, under General Tolsa, which probably reached the Colorado about the time the Texans took position opposite Beason's, numbered some six hundred—making an aggregate of thirteen hundred and twenty-five, of which ninety were cavalry, with two six-pounders. Yet it was understood in the Texan camp that they had at least twice that number on the right bank of the river, with heavy reinforcements coming up. At all events, without artillery and ammunition, it would not have been prudent to hazard a battle when there was so much at stake. Such was the view taken of the matter by the commander-in-chief, and he was fully supported by the convention. " It is deemed useless," says the president of that body, in his letter of the 16th of March, " to suggest to you the importance of giving all possible information, in various directions around you through the country, of the movements of the enemy, and to retard his progress as far as practicable without hazarding a battle, without a tolerable certainty of victory. But annoy him in situations which will admit of it, so as to save your men until a force can collect to enable you to make a successful attack upon him."

The troops that were expected from eastern Texas did not come. As early as the 5th of March, General Houston had dispatched Major John Forbes, of his staff, to Velasco, to act with Colonel John A. Wharton, the adjutant-general, in forwarding troops and munitions-of-war to the army, directing that supplies and munitions should be sent no farther south than Dimitt's landing.

Colonel William T. Austin, in pursuance of orders, proceeded directly to Brasoria, and applied to Colonel Wharton for the required artillery and grape and canister. That officer was then on his way to the army with one hundred and fifty troops from Velasco, and informed Colonel Austin that he had already sent all the guns suitable for field-service, consisting of two six-pounders and one mortar, with shot and shells, to Bell's landing, and would take them to the army. At the same time the adjutant-general sent Colonel Austin to Velasco, to forward munitions and stores to Bell's landing. Previous to leaving Burnham's, orders were dispatched to all points west of the Colorado, directing that families should be in readiness to move east of that stream, and that stock of all kinds should be driven over it.

The government ad interim, on entering upon the discharge of its functions on the 17th of March, exerted itself to increase the force under the Texan flag. President Burnett issued a strong appeal to the people east of the Brazos, expressing grief and surprise that, under the influence of idle rumors, they were leaving their homes, and, by the circulation of false news, preventing others from repairing to the standard of their country, where alone their homes and families were to be defended. At the same time a resolution was taken to remove the seat of government to Harrisburg. Agents were likewise sent eastward to quiet the public mind, and two thirds of the militia were called into service. Colonel Rusk, the secretary of war, was untiring in his efforts to forward supplies of all kinds. At the ferry at Washington he stationed an officer, with orders to let no man pass eastward who had a rifle, and to take by impressments and forward to the army all the powder, lead, and horses, he could. These were strong measures, but such as the times required.

On the 20th of March, Captain Karnes, with five men, met with and defeated a party of twelve Mexicans at Rocky creek, twelve miles west of Beason's, killing one, taking another prisoner, and capturing three horses. In addition to the protection of the crossing at Beason's, forces were stationed above at Mosely's, and at the Atasco sito crossing below. The force at Mosely's captured and sent to headquarters, on the 23d, three more of the enemy. From a separate examination of these prisoners, it was ascertained that the main body of the troops under Sesma were near the west bank of the river. The Texan force was at this time over seven hundred strong, in high spirits, under strict discipline, and anxious to meet the foe. The enemy had taken his position on the west bank of the river, on an elevation near the Robertson crossing, about two miles above Beason's. At that crossing the river was fordable; and the Texan commander placed there a detachment of about one hundred and fifty men under Lieutenant-Colonel Sherman and Captain Patton, aide-de-camp. This force was intended as a guard to the ford, and also as an ambuscade, should the Mexicans endeavor to pass the river. They did make an attempt to send over fifty of their cavalry, but one of the guard having indiscreetly fired at them as they were going into the water, they retreated, and made no further attempt at that point.

With a view to meet the enemy, Captain Karnes was sent over the river with one hundred and fifty troops, fifty of whom were mounted, with orders to station the foot in a ravine parallel to the route to the Mexican camp ; then to proceed with the mounted force, to draw out the enemy, and retreat. The orders were obeyed : the Mexicans fired a discharge of grape at the Texan cavalry, but did not advance. Karnes, not deeming it prudent to march nearer against so large a force, recrossed the river without effecting anything. It was the intention of the Texan commander to cross over at Beason's on the night of the 27th of March with all his force except a camp-guard, and attack the enemy on the south and east of his camp. But, on the evening of the 25th, Peter Kerr brought the disastrous though not altogether unexpected news of the defeat and surrender of Fannin and his command at the Coleta, and the capitulation of Ward and his forces near Dimitt's landing. This intelligence was most unfortunate, and produced a chilling effect upon the army. To allay in some degree its effects, Kerr was arrested and placed under guard, as a publisher of false news, and a spy. This, together with the fact that the artillery expected had not arrived ; that the check already given to Sesma had doubtless induced him to send for reinforcements ; that the defeat of Fannin would leave Urrea at liberty to come to the relief of Sesma ; that the defeat of the advance under the latter would serve only to concentrate the Mexican army, which, with its various corps thus united, could overrun Texas in spite of the force then in the field to resist it—these considerations induced the Texan commander to retreat, hoping for a more favorable occasion to decide the fortunes of the infant republic in a battle. It was his policy to keep the enemy divided, and, when the blow was given, to strike at a vital part. The small army under his command was the last hope of Texas, and the prize too important to be hazarded without a certainty of success.

Houston Continues his Retreat

In announcing this retreat to the government, General Houston says : " I held no councils of war. If I err, the blame is mine." That reinforcements would arrive, he had every reason to expect. The government, having reached Harrisburg on the 22d, informed him the next day that " orders were in execution for the mustering into service of two thirds of the militia of the country. "These," said the secretary of war, with the aid from the United States, will, if you can hold the enemy in check long enough for their concentration, present an insurmountable barrier to the progress of the enemy into the country. "One great object should be," observes the secretary of war, in a letter of the same date, " to hold him in check until reinforcements and supplies can reach you. Every means has been put into requisition for the purpose of forwarding on both."

On the evening of the 26th, the army commenced the retreat in good order. It was, however, a subject of regret that the houses of Messrs. Burnham and Dewees, on the left bank of the Colorado, were burnt by the Texan picket-guard, on the approach of the enemy. The Texan forces, after a march of five miles, halted for the night at a lake in the prairie. As they left the woods skirting the Colorado, they were reinforced by the three companies of Captains Amasa Turner, William S. Fisher, and Richard Roman, under the command of Major John Forbes of the staff, who, after untiring exertions, and the cheerful aid of the people on the route, had succeeded in conducting them safely from the mouth of the Brazos. Never was a reinforcement more welcome. The companies, however, were small, the aggregate being only one hundred and thirty men. On the 27th, the army resumed its march, and reached the timbers of the Brazos; and, on the 28th, it arrived at San Felipe, on the west bank of that river.

To provide for the protection of the new line of defense, Colonel Edward Harcourt was ordered to proceed to Velasco, or some eligible position on the coast or below Columbia, and fortify it, having placed at his disposal such resources as he could find there. Captain Mosely Baker was directed to take post with his command on the east bank of the Brazos, opposite San Felipe, and obstruct the passage of the enemy. All troops coming from below were ordered to fall back to the Brazos ; at the same time, Colonel A. Huston was directed to remove the public stores from Coxe's point to Galveston bay, and Colonel J. Morgan to defend the island.

At San Felipe some discontent arose as to the future movements of the army, some wishing to march below and others up the river. The commander-in-chief proceeded up the Brazos, and, crossing Mill creek, encamped. The rains had set in, and the roads became exceedingly bad, and marching toilsome to the troops. It rained all night. The soldiers, having but few tents or coverings, suffered severely. The commander-in-chief spent the night sitting on his saddle, with a blanket over him, and his feet on a piece of wood.

With few exceptions, neither officers nor men had any tents during that severe campaign. Houston's baggage consisted of a pair of saddle-wallets, carried by his servant, and containing his official papers and a change of linen. As to a military chest, the army had none at all. The only moneys used by the general during the campaign were two hundred dollars of his own private funds. As an incident of those times, while the army was crossing the Colorado, a woman was found sitting with another female on a log near the river. Her husband had fallen in the Alamo ; she had no resources, no protector, or means of conveyance. Houston, learning her condition, furnished her out of his slender means fifty dollars. He saw no more of her. In after-years, when Texas had become a state of the American Union, she wrote to him, stating that she had laid out his donation in the purchase of cattle, the increase of which had made her family independent.

On the evening of the 31st of March, after a most fatiguing march, the Texans reached the Brazos timber opposite Groce's. Here they encamped in a secure position, having excellent water in a lake immediately in advance of them, and within three fourths of a mile of the timber. The steamboat " Yellowstone," Captain Ross, then at Groce's ferry, and nearly loaded with cotton, was pressed into the public service, and was afterward found to be almost indispensable. On the 31st, the soldiers buried the only one of their comrades who died a natural death during the campaign. After remaining a day at this point, the army marched into the Brazos bottom, nearer the river, where it remained until the 13th of April. The river having overflowed its banks, the water surrounded them, and left them on an island.

On the 2nd of April, Colonel Zavala joined the camp, bringing information that a visit might soon be expected from Colonel Rusk, the secretary of war. About the same time, eighty volunteers from the Red-river lands arrived. Houston was occupied for some days in reorganizing his army, and restoring it to that discipline and round of camp-duty which had been somewhat neglected during the retreat from the Colorado. At San Felipe, on the 29th of March, on the supposed approach of the Mexicans, the citizens fired the town, and burnt it to ashes. This, though without orders, was only anticipating the enemy.

While the Texan army was lying in the Brazos bottom, Houston, through the spies, learned the movements of the enemy. A more efficient corps of spies was never attached to any army. They hung about the enemy's camp, and watched all his movements.

Deaf Smith went out one day, early in April, in search of the enemy. His sight had become dim, and, for better observation, he took with him young Chenowith. The Mexicans had collected a large number of cattle, and sent them on in advance of their army, in the direction of San Felipe. The spies came in sight of them, and Smith, relying upon Chenowith's eyes, returned and reported a large number of the enemy as an advanced guard. This produced quite an excitement in the Texan camp, until the arrival of "Jim Wells," who, having better eyes and less fancy, reported them truly. Deaf Smith was much hurt, and declared that Chenowith should go with him no more. As a spy, Smith was inimitable. He rode a good horse, and had the faith to believe that no other steed could keep up with him. But, if overtaken, he would turn and fight, and with a coolness, courage, and judgment, that were irresistible.

Yet it is somewhat remarkable that the Texans did not certainly ascertain, until the night of the 19th of April, that Santa Anna was with the invading army.

Colonel Rusk Joins Houston on the Brazos

Colonel Rusk, the secretary of war, left Harrisburg on the 1st of April, to join the army. Previous to his departure, he issued a last strong appeal to the people of Texas to march to the defense of the country. His arrival in camp was most welcome, for he was a safe adviser, and a firm and able friend of Texas in her struggle.

We now return to the operations of the enemy. It will be remembered that Santa Anna had directed a general movement of his forces in the direction of San Felipe. Had he persevered in this combination, it would have been well for him ; but past victories, a flying enemy, and an impatience to hear any opinion contrary to his own, inspired him with a false confidence, which ended only in his ruin. General Sesma succeeded, four days after the retreat of Houston from the Colorado, in transporting a portion of his army across that river. Of this fact he advised Santa Anna, at the same time giving him notice that the river was greatly swollen, and the means of crossing it very scarce. On the 2nd of April, Santa Anna arrived at the Guadalupe, which he found likewise very high. He immediately crossed, with his staff and a picket of cavalry, on a raft; and, leaving General Filisola to attend to the passage of the remainder of the army, he hurried on to join General Sesma, at the Colorado. On the 5th of April, he reached the Atasco sito crossing of that river. Here he directed General Woll to remain and construct rafts for transporting across the stream the artillery, wagons, and forces, under Filisola, and, with the division under Sesma and Tolsa, proceeded to San Felipe, where he arrived on the 7th of April. On the 2nd of April, Houston sent out Major Patton with a detachment to reconnoiter the enemy. On the 3rd, he reinforced Captain Mosely Baker with Captain Kimbrough's command, and directed Captain Baker to require all persons at his camp to enroll themselves as volunteers, and none to leave it without express permission. These were strong measures, but the emergency was pressing.

About this time, the idea began to prevail, not only in the Texan camp, but with the government at Harrisburg, that the enemy would not cross the Brazos, but would attempt to fall down and get possession of the coast and seaports. To meet this state of things, orders were given through Colonel A. Huston, quartermaster-general, and Colonel W. D. C. Hall, to remove all the stores and munitions from Coxe's point, Matagorda, Velasco, Bell's landing, and Columbia, to the east end of Galveston island. The means of doing this were quite limited, for all the vessels had been engaged by merchants and emigrants who were retiring with their effects.

Panic Continues Across Texas

The extent of alarm and confusion arising from the flight of the citizens was at this time most distressing. Samuel P. Carson, the secretary of the navy, writing to President Burnett from Liberty, says: " I have issued orders to two different persons—one for Trinity and one for the Neches—to press boats, &c., to aid the people in crossing. The panic has reached this place, and the people are all leaving Trinity from the opposite (west) side, and preparations making by many on this. The river is rising rapidly, and I fear by tonight it will be impassable for any kind of carriage. The 'slues' on this side are belly-deep. There must be three hundred families— I know not the number of wagons, carts, carriages, &c. Destruction pervades the whole country. I must speak plainly—the relations existing between us, and the responsibility which rests on us, make it my duty. Never till I reached Trinity have I desponded—I will not say, despaired. If Houston has retreated, or been whipped, nothing can save the people from themselves: their own conduct has brought this calamity on them ! If Houston retreats, the flying people may be covered in their escape. He must be advised of the state of the waters, and the impossibility of the people crossing."

At the same time, Captain Morehouse, with a detachment of volunteers and regulars, was conducting a number of families from Matagorda to Columbia. In fact, on every road leading eastward in Texas, were found men, women, and children, moving through the country over swollen streams and muddy roads, strewing the way with their property, crying for aid, and exposed to the fierce northers and rains of spring. The scene was distressing indeed ; and, being witnessed by the small but faithful army of Texans, whose wives and families they were, thus exposed and suffering, nerved their arms and hearts for the contest then not distant.

It was on the 7th of April that Major Wylie Martin received, through his spies, indirect information that Santa Anna was with the advancing army of the enemy. This intelligence was immediately sent from Martin's camp (on the east bank of the Brazos, opposite Fort Bend) to Houston. From all the discoveries that could be made through the spies, Houston believed that the enemy had crossed the Brazos below his position, and so expressed himself to Secretary Rusk, suggesting the propriety of crossing likewise.*

* The following order shows that the enemy's arrival at San Felipe was immediately known in the Texan camp
" HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, CAMP WEST OF BRAZOS, April 7, 1836.
"ARMY ORDERS. — The advance of the enemy is at San Felipe. The moment, for which we have waited with anxiety and interest, is fast approaching. The victims of the Alamo, and the manes of those who were murdered at Goliad, call for cool, deliberate vengeance. Strict discipline, order, and subordination, will insure us the victory.

"The army will. be in readiness for action at a moment's warning. The field-officers have the immediate execution of this order in charge for their respective commands.
" SAM HOUSTON, Commander-in-Chief. "

Colonel Rusk concurred in this view; and the passage accordingly commenced at ten o'clock on the morning of the 12th. The river being very high, the steamboat " Yellowstone" and the yawl were the only means of transporting the army, cattle, and baggage. By one o'clock in the afternoon of the 13th, all was safely landed on the eastern bank, and the troops took position at Groce's.

The conclusion that the enemy had crossed the Brazos was correct. Santa Anna, arriving at San Felipe on the 7th, endeavored to pass the river at that point ; but he was received with such determined resistance by Captain Mosely Baker and his command, that, after contending for two days, he abandoned the attempt, and set out with four companies of infantry and fifty cavalry in search of another crossing. It was on the evening of the 9th that they left San Felipe. After a march of sixteen miles, they reached the San Bernard a little after midnight, and sent out a scout to reconnoiter the ferry at Fort Bend. The scout having returned, Santa Anna again proceeded on his march, and arrived at nine o'clock, on the night of the 10th, in the neighborhood of Fort Bend. At two o'clock on the following morning, the Mexicans set out again, all on foot— leaving their cavalry and baggage behind—to surprise the guard at the river before daylight ; but, mistaking the distance, the early dawn found them a mile from the river. Thus frustrated, Santa Anna placed his men in ambush.

On the 12th, shortly after sunrise, the enemy appeared in force opposite the camp of Major Wylie Martin, at Thompson's ferry. They opened a heavy fire on the small force of forty-six men on the east bank, which continued until the afternoon. Very early on the 12th, Martin had sent three men to Morton's crossing, to sink a small boat which had been left for the use of five families there. Before they arrived, a negro had taken the boat and crossed over to the western bank. The negro, was captured by the enemy, and conducted them to the boat. A sufficient number of Mexicans having passed over to disperse the families there, did so after a short contest. Major Martin, hearing the firing, dispatched Lieutenant Jones with ten men to learn the cause. By the time they reached there, one hundred and fifty of the enemy had effected a crossing. Thus Major Martin, being overpowered, retreated toward the main army.*

* Report of Major Martin, April 13, 1836. The Mexican account of this affair is somewhat different. In fact, as the small boat was concealed above Morton's ferry, there is little doubt but, as Almonte states, some of the enemy crossed in it, and slept on the left bank of the river on the 11th, without being discovered. When the enemy reached San Felipe, Almonte rode up in advance, and called out to the Texans on the east side, "Bring over that boat—the Mexicans are coming!" This was said in good English; and the enemy cannonaded Baker's breastworks for some time, but still did not get the boat. — Memoranda of Rev. A. J. McGown. It was a successful ruse on the part of the Mexicans to keep up a firing at Thompson's ferry, while they were crossing at Morton's, three miles distant.

Having possession of the ferry, Santa Anna sent an express to Sesma to advance to that point.
Houston had given orders that all the means of crossing along the river should be secured or sunk, and that all the cattle should be driven to the east side ; believing that, by thus delaying the Mexicans, they would fall short of provisions. Such, in fact, was the case, as the advance had only half rations of bread. On the 11th of April, the effective force of the Texan army was five hundred and twenty-three men, exclusive of detachments at the different crossings. When it was ascertained that the enemy had passed the river, orders were immediately sent to all these detachments to concentrate at Donoho's, three miles from Groce's, on the 16th. It was at Donoho's that the road from Groce's to Harrisburg crossed that from San Felipe to eastern Texas.

Affairs had now reached a crisis, as was obvious to all. That a conflict would soon occur was devoutly desired, perhaps by the enemy as well as the Texans. Santa Anna, having crossed the Brazos at Fort Bend, proceeded, on the 14th of April, with a force amounting to a little over seven hundred men, and one twelve-pounder, on the road to Harrisburg, where he arrived on the 15th.

On the day that Santa Anna reached Harrisburg, his army was sufficiently scattered for its destruction in detail. Urrea was at Matagorda, with some twelve hundred men ; Gaona lost in the country between Bastrop and San Felipe, with seven hundred and twenty-five ; Sesma at Fort Bend, with about one thousand ; and Filisola between San Felipe and Fort Bend, with nearly eighteen hundred more. These, with the exception of the troops stationed in Bexar, Goliad, Copano, Matagorda, &c., constituted the force of the enemy in Texas—numbering originally about seven thousand five hundred men, but reduced by killed and disabled to some five thousand five hundred.

When information was received of the enemy having crossed the Brazos, it was not known but they would advance on the road from San Felipe to eastern Texas; hence the concentration of the Texan force at Donoho's.

Texans get "The Twin Sisters"

As the Texans were crossing the Brazos, they were reinforced by two six-pounders, known as the "Twin-Sisters." These notable pieces of artillery, for the good they did in the cause of Texan independence, deserve some further notice. A. meeting was held in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1835, for the purpose of aiding Texas in her struggle. On the suggestion of Robert F. Lyttle, it was concluded to furnish these two pieces of "hollow ware." A committee was chosen to carry out the resolution ; and through the instrumentality of William M. Corry, Willis Tatan, Pulaski Smith, David Bolles, and others, the cannon were manufactured, mounted, supplied with shot at the foundry of Messrs. Greenwood and Webb, and dispatched to New Orleans; thence, by the Texan agents, to Brasoria. To this point General Houston sent twice for them; but the want of means for transportation, the wretched condition of the roads, and ultimately the proximity of the enemy, made it hazardous to forward them by that route. They were then shipped by Colonel A. Huston, the quartermaster-general, on board the schooner "Pennsylvania" to Galveston island, and thence to Harrisburg. At this place, horses were pressed to haul them, and they were started on the 9th of April, under care of Captain Smith, to the army. They were placed in charge of Colonel Hockley, who kept them in efficient order. Texas will never cease to be grateful to Cincinnati for that valuable present.

The Texas Navy

It is proper here to state, in order to bring up the current of events in this busy period of Texan history, that the authorities had managed, through the kindness of good friends, to pick up a small navy of three vessels, viz.: the Invincible, Captain L. Brown ; the Brutus, Captain Hurd ; and the Independence, Captain Hawkins. These vessels were not idle, but were of infinite service to Texas in preventing the enemy from receiving supplies. In the first days of April the Invincible sailed on a cruise off Brazos Santiago, and fell in with the Montezuma, Captain Thompson. After a fight of two hours, the Mexican vessel was driven on shore, and left in a sinking condition. After repairing his rigging (the only injury he received), Captain Brown stood out from the harbor, and fell in with the brig Pocket, from New Orleans to Matamoras, freighted with flour, lard, rice, and biscuit, for the Mexican army, under contract with a house in the former city. The Pocket was brought into Galveston. From letters found on board, it was ascertained that Santa Anna's object was to secure the sea-ports, and place a thousand men on Galveston island. All this information was communicated to Houston about the time he crossed the Brazos river. This intelligence, and the near approach of the enemy, determined the government to fortify Galveston island. For this purpose, several pieces of artillery were brought from the seaports south ; and the Independence was detained in the bay to aid in commencing the work. The citizens there volunteered their assistance, and placed themselves under the command of Colonel Morgan.

Houston Urged to Fight

The acting secretary of war, in his letter to the commander-in-chief of the 12th of April, after referring to the fact that the enemy had crossed the Brazos at Fort Bend, says : " There is nothing to stop his march to this place [Harrisburg], or Galveston, in twenty-four hours. There are a number of families here and in the neighborhood, who came here under the belief that they would be safe, who are now exposed to the attack of the enemy. You have assured the government that the enemy should never cross the Brazos : they have relied on your assurance, but they find your pledges not verified, and numberless families exposed to the ravages of the enemy. The country expects something from you ; the government looks to you for action. The time has now arrived to determine whether we are to give up the country, and make the best of our way out of it, or to meet the enemy, and make at least one struggle for our boasted independence. The government does not intend to control your movements; but it is expected that, without delay, you will take measures to check those of the enemy."

This letter was received by the commander-in-chief on the 13th, at a moment when he was pressed by business, and making his arrangements for offensive operations. He, however, considered the taunts and suggestions in the secretary's letter as gratuitous, because he was harassed with difficulties which the government could not appreciate. His answer, under the circumstances, was mild, and went into a summary of past events. There was hardly a time during the campaign when the enemy's force was not ten times as great as his own — a well-appointed army, composed mostly of veteran troops, supplied with artillery, arms, and munitions, and commanded by a general who, up to that period, had never known defeat. The Texan army, on the contrary, was a hasty collection of farmers, paid and fed upon promises, poorly armed, and with every variety of weapon, and up to that time without a single piece of artillery. Add to this that their wives and children, objects dear to them, were homeless wanderers—flying, without food or shelter, unprotected by the stalwart arm of their natural defenders from the ravages of a barbarous foe—and we must admire the sagacity and address that kept so many of them together so long.

Indian Threat

Complaints have been made of the apathy of eastern Texas, as though the people of that section did not love their country as well as those of the west. We should first look at their condition, and have the same understanding of affairs that they did, before we condemn. It was known to them that General Gaona, with a well-appointed division of the Mexican army, was on his way to Nacogdoches, with orders from Santa Anna to shoot all who were taken with arms in their hands, and to drive the others out of the country. His route lay along the frontiers, passing the Trinity at the upper or Comanche crossing. The order directing him to change his course to San Felipe was unknown to the Texans. The country through which he marched was thronged with Indians, already stirred up by the emissaries of the Mexicans, and naturally disposed to join them; for it is to the credit of the latter that they had ever excelled the Americans in kindness toward the aboriginal tribes. Of their motive for this we need not stop to inquire. The people of eastern Texas, then, felt that their danger was imminent. This apparent danger was increased by the threats and movements of the Indians. To ascertain the facts, the committee of vigilance at Nacogdoches dispatched agents to the Indians. C. H. Sims and William Sims, who were sent to the Cherokees, reported them to be hostile, and making preparations for war ; that they were drying beef and preparing meal, and said they were about sending off their women and children; that they had murdered Brooks Williams, an American trader among them ; that they said a large body of Indians, composed of Caddoes, Keechies, Ionies, Twowokanies, Wacoes, and Comanches, were expected to attack the American settlements ; that the Cherokees gave every indication of joining them; that the number of warriors embodied on the Trinity was estimated at seventeen hundred; and that Bolles, the principal Cherokee chief, advised the agents to leave the country, as there was danger. M. B. Menard, who was sent to the Shawanee, Delaware, and Kickapoo tribes, reported that, while these tribes were friendly, they had been visited by Bolles, who urged them to take up arms against the Americans.

With these facts before them, the committee of vigilance and the people of Nacogdoches were ready to credit the rumor that the combined Mexicans and Indians were already within a few miles of the town. On the 9th of April, the alcalde, Hoffman, ordered every able-bodied Mexican, within the municipality of Nacogdoches, to take up the line of march to the army within ten days, or to cross the Sabine. The companies of Captains Ratliff, Smith, and Chesher, on their way to the army, were detained, to aid in protecting the place. Such was the supposed emergency, that horses were pressed into the public service for the use of the civic forces. Judge Quitman, with a few companions, corning into the town, was called upon to give his aid in protecting the families on their way to the Sabine, which he cheerfully agreed to do.

In answer to Houston's strong appeal to the people of eastern Texas to turn out and hasten to his assistance, three companies, commanded by Captains Ratliff, Smith, and Chesher, with an aggregate of two hundred and twenty men, were ready to set out on the march for headquarters as early as the 9th of April; but on account of the supposed pressing danger at Nacogdoches, as previously mentioned, they were detained till the 16th before they marched. In a few days more, a like number were ready to leave. But all this aid was too late. "The citizens of Nacogdoches," says Henry Raguet, chairman of the committee of vigilance, under date of the 17th of April, "were induced to believe, only a few days since, that the enemy in large force was within a few miles of this place. Under this belief, the volunteer companies, commanded by Captains Chesher, Ratliff, and Smith, were detained until yesterday. In addition to the cause above stated, Rumor, with her thousand tongues, had created the belief that the Mexicans of this municipality were embodying themselves for the purpose of attacking the Americans. This committee have taken every means in their power to allay the panic, and, if possible, to bring men to their sober senses. When the committee found themselves in possession of the facts in relation to the disaffection of the Mexicans, they took prompt measures to prevent a rupture, which threatened serious consequences to the welfare and safety of our citizens ; and they are happy to state that the difficulty has been most happily terminated."

Thus the affairs in eastern Texas had disappointed the government as well as the commander-in-chief: for, if the latter had made pledges that were not verified, the government had done the same. The levy of two thirds of the militia never came. The supply of arms, provisions, &c., only reached the Texan army after it had crossed the Brazos. While neither possessed the power of ubiquity and omnipotence, neither could be responsible for matters beyond their control. It is perhaps enough to say—and truth will justify so much—that, under all the circumstances, both parties did what they could for their adopted country. She was poor; her people were poor —and not only so, but deeply distressed. Their affairs were such, and so dark was the cloud hanging over them, that they could not afford merely to check the enemy; it was essential that he should be whipped. Texas could not survive two battles; the work had to be done in one, and well done.

"After the army had crossed the Brazos, the companies below, in pursuance of orders, joined the main body at Donoho's. Houston rode along their lines, and, in a short address, said that ' he had been blamed by some because the Texans were not permitted to meet the enemy; but that, so soon as circumstances would permit it to be done to advantage, we should have it to our satisfaction.' I remember it well, from the fact that there was in the ranks a large man, by the name of Harman, celebrated for his good nature and good humor, who, in answer to this speech, said, ' General, let it be an easy-going fight ! - Memoranda of Rev. A. J. McGown

Among other difficulties with which Texas had to contend was the presence of a considerable number of persons of no country or sympathy—treacherous to all—who were busily engaged in spreading alarm, and increasing the public confusion. To this list should be added a class of a still worse character, who fattened upon the stolen plunder of the flying inhabitants. Then there were others, in the Mexican interest, who were spies in the Texan ranks. Of these several classes, many arrests were made, and their persons secured until the danger was over. It is not unlikely that some were thus confined who ought not to have been. Among those arrested was Colonel Ellis P. Bean. He had been appointed a member of the committee of vigilance of Nacogdoches, but, as it appears, took no part in their affairs. At the beginning of the war, in the fall of 1835, he had applied to Colonel John Forbes to place him in arrest, the better to enable him to draw his pay as colonel in the Mexican army ; but Colonel Forbes declined to do so, unless for some offence. It appears that in April, 1836, some report had come into circulation relative to an alleged correspondence of Bean with the enemy, which induced the secretary of war to order his arrest. As the truth of the report was very questionable, he was ordered into custody, and detained only as a Mexican officer and alien of the republic. But when the enemy retreated, nothing further was heard on the subject. [See Next: The Battle of San Jacinto]

There is little doubt but Bean's real feelings were in favor of the Texans. In 1833, while he was commandant at Nacogdoches, he addressed the following letter to Houston : —
" February 4, 1833.
" From the Commander of Nacogdoches :
"As it appears that it is the wish of the citizens of this country that you should be a member of the committee [the convention of 1833 he refers to], to form this eastern part into a state—formerly governed by Coahuila—I feel myself willing to support you so far as my military orders will permit me to do.
"Your obedient servant, E. P. BEAN,
" General HOUSTON."

 

 

 

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