Siege of San Antonio

 

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San Antonio Battle Map

We provide this Map to help the reader follow the battle description.  This Map is the one used by Colonel Milam in his Attack on San Antonio.  Click on the map to be taken to an enlarged version.

The Texans Lay Siege to San Antonio and the Alamo

[Happened After: Formation of Texas Provisional Government]

The entire Texas army was camped at Concepcion. This force was at least a thousand men. After remaining at Concepcion until the 2nd of November, 1835, the army marched, by way of the powder-house, on the slope of a gentle ridge, east of the San Antonio river, near to its head, and camped on the east bank. Here they remained for four or five days, keeping up a constant patrol around the town. From intelligence received, it was supposed that Mexican General Cos would surrender upon demand. Although the information was not very reliable, yet, as he had been greatly straitened by the recent siege by the Texans, and his supplies were cut off, it was deemed of sufficient importance to make the attempt. Accordingly, the Texan army was marched to the west side and down the San Antonio river, and the entire force displayed on an eminence, some fifteen hundred yards from the public square. The demand for a surrender was then made, and promptly refused.

The Texans thereupon took position at the "Old Mill," a half-mile or more north of the public square, on the west bank of the San Antonio river. The city of San Antonio is situated on the San Antonio river and San Pedro creek. These streams at the city are about six hundred and fifty yards apart ; but, on the east side of the place, there is a remarkable bend in the river, enclosing about twenty-five acres, into which the town also extends. Opposite this bend, on the east bank of the river, is the ancient mission of the Alamo. The country around San Antonio is generally a level prairie, more undulating, however, on the west than on the east side of the river. There is an eminence west of the town, toward the Alazan ; and another above the old mill, but not sufficiently near or elevated to command the town, except with twelve or eighteen pounders. The river, about sixty feet wide, is in most places fordable. It seldom rises or falls, but sends forth a constant stream of the purest water. The lowness of its banks and the levelness of the grounds offer great facilities for irrigation ; hence the ditches, running down on both sides of the river, and between the two streams, not only answer the purpose of fertilizing the land, but also for defense. As no advantage could be gained by either party in location, the chief benefit must result to the besieged from the buildings and ditches. The houses, of thick stone walls, were very strong. The public square of San Antonio is divided by the church and some other buildings into two ; or, rather, the original square, or military plaza, was first laid off and improved in 1716, having on its east side the church, and the offices of priests and officers. In 1731, was laid off the main square, or Plaza of the Constitution. Along the north side of these squares, runs through the centre of the city the main street, which is prolonged east of the river to the Garita, or Lookout, used also as a powderhouse, about one and a quarter miles from the town. At the crossing of the river by this street was a bridge, the only one then on the river.

General CosWhile the Texan army was hanging about the town, General Cos was not idle. Ugartachea was dispatched to Matamoras for reinforcements ; breastworks were thrown up at the entrance of every street into the square ; and, on an open lot, on the north side of the military plaza, was erected a redoubt. The venerable church was also brought into the service, and artillery mounted behind the parapet on its roof. The Mexican force in the place was at this time about eight hundred men, with sufficient artillery to defend the different points fortified. The Texans had but five pieces, of small caliber. Previous to the departure of the Texan army from Concepcion, a council of war had been called by Austin, to consider the propriety of an immediate assault upon the town. It was concluded that it could be made, and the place taken, but at a greater sacrifice of men than the Texans could afford to bear ; hence a regular siege was ordered.

" I am afraid," says Austin, writing to Captain Dimit, on the 2d of November, " that our future operations will be tedious and prolonged, owing to the strength of the fortifications at this place, of which we have certain information. Whether the army can be kept together long enough to await the arrival of reinforcements, and the necessary supply of heavy battering-cannon and ammunition, I am sorry to say, is somewhat uncertain."

The Grass Fight

Various attempts were made to entice the enemy beyond hColonel Thomas Ruskis walls. On one occasion, a detachment of one hundred and ninety Texans marched up within the range of the Mexican six-pounders ; on another, Colonel Thomas J. Rusk, at the head of forty cavalry, took a position within three hundred yards of their walls, and remained there twenty minutes : still they could not be drawn from their works. It was the opinion of Austin, on the 14th of November, that the enemy could not long hold out. To lessen their consumption of provisions, the Mexicans sent off three hundred of their horses to Laredo ; but they were overtaken and captured, about forty miles from San Antonio, by a detachment under Travis. The poor condition of these horses indicated the wants of the besieged. But Cos, awaiting his reinforcements, still held out. Occasional conflicts between the outposts and scouts of the two armies constituted the only subjects of interest in camp for several days. Volunteers, always impatient while inactive, had manifested this feeling in the camp before Bexar. They found amusement and interest in catching the exhausted cannon-balls of the enemy, and throwing them back ; they also derived some pleasure from scouting-excursions of two or three days' continuance. But, in spite of all this, the besieging force was continually decreasing ; so that, by the 14th of November, they did not number six hundred men.

One of these scouting-parties, that had been down on the Medina, returned about ten o'clock on the morning of the 26th of November, leaving " Deaf Smith" behind. It was known that Ugartachea was expected in Bexar, and this scout had been on the lookout for him. It happened that on that morning, General Cos had sent out a party of over a hundred men on the old Presidio road, to cut grass for the horses. Having supplied themselves with forage, they were on their way back, and about five miles from town, when Deaf Smith discovered them. About two o'clock in the evening he reached the Texan camp, and reported what he supposed to be Ugartachea, with a guard, bringing funds to pay off the Mexican army—for it was understood in the Texan camp that such was his mission. Immediately the cry of " Ugartachea!" resounded along the lines ; and all who could, prepared to go in pursuit of him.

----It may be proper to state here that on the 25th (the day before), Austin, having received news of his appointment as commissioner to the United States, resigned his command of the army, and Colonel Edward Burleson had just been elected to succeed him.---

Colonel James Bowie, with about a hundred mounted men, set out in a gallop, in advance. Shortly after, the remainder of the army, with the exception of a suitable guard, followed. They met the enemy about a mile from the town, on their return. Bowie, with the advance, charged upon them, when they took a position in the bed of a dry branch. The movement of the Texans had been seen from the town, and the besieged marched out to defend the foraging-party, bringing with them two pieces of artillery. Just as Bowie charged the right of the foraging-party, the besieged came up on the left. Bowie now turned his attention to the latter, and for a short time the battle was well sustained. The enemy, however, retreated as they fought. The main body of the Texan force coming up meanwhile, charged on the foraging-party, drove them from the bed of the dry branch, and took position in it. After the last charge, the enemy retreated yet more rapidly—still, however, continuing the fight until they reached the town, when the Texans formed in a ravine, but shortly afterward returned to their camp. The Mexican loss in this confused, running fight, was about fifty killed and several wounded. The Texans had none killed, two wounded, and one missing. The enemy lost about seventy head of horses, taken by the victors.

The history of this affair, known as the "Grass-Fight", has been greatly confused. The official account is hardly intelligible. Kennedy has confounded it with another occurrence, of the 8th of the same month, which happened on this wise :

A party of thirty-two men, under the command of Captain William Austin (a cousin of Stephen F.), went out, on the day in question, in search of Ugartachea. When arrived at the place where the " Grass-Fight" afterward occurred, one of their number, House, was accidentally killed. The party went on, sending back Lynch for another party, to bring in House's body. Fifty men were accordingly dispatched for that purpose. As they were returning with the body, they were attacked by about two hundred and fifty mounted Mexicans. The Texans took post in a gulley, and continued the fight successfully, till they were reinforced from their main camp, when the enemy were driven in, with a loss of some fifteen or twenty killed and wounded. The Texans lost none.

 

Battle of Lipantitlan

After the capture of Goliad by Collingsworth, General Austin directed that it should be retained and defended. A detachment from Bay Prairie, and also another from the Nueces, were sent to reinforce the place, making the number of its defenders, under the command of Captain Philip Dimit, upward of eighty effective men. This reinforcement enabled Captain Dimit to dispatch thirty-six men, under Captain Westover, to the attack of the Mexican force at Lipantitlan, a small place above San Patricio, on the Nueces. The Mexican force, consisting of twenty-one men, with two pieces of artillery, surrendered without a contest on the 3d of November ; and, upon agreement that they would not bear arms against Texas during the war, the prisoners were set at liberty. The Texans remained at Lipantitlan until the next evening, when they set out on their return to Goliad. As they were crossing the Nueces, and when about half of them had passed the river, they were attacked by about seventy of the enemy. After a severe contest of half an hour, in which some twenty of the Mexicans were killed and wounded, they retreated, leaving the Texans masters of the field, the latter having only one man wounded.

The news of these successes spread over the country through the agency of the committees of safety, and cheered the Texans in their struggle. The same intelligence, reaching the United States, kindled a flame of sympathy everywhere. At New York, Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville, Macon, Huntsville, Natchitoches, Mobile, New Orleans, and other places, funds were raised, and emigrants fitted out in squads, companies, and battalions. True, there were, in all these places, icy spirits, who had no sympathy, and who condemned Texas for not submitting to Santa Anna. Such men, if they really knew the wrongs inflicted on Texas, and those greater wrongs with which she was threatened—had they lived in the time of the American Revolution, would have opposed it also. It ill became a country like the United States, still red with the blood of her rebellion against George III., to blame Texas for going into the contest with Mexican despotism. The former revolted because of taxation without representation. The wrongs of Texas were so much greater, that she did not even complain of the absence of that right ! Mexico complained to the United States that the revolted Texans " were daily obtaining from New Orleans assistance of all kinds, in men, munitions, and arms, in silver and soldiers, who publicly enlist in that city, and carry with them arms against a friendly nation." There was no law in the United States to prevent public meetings, or to prohibit the transmission of funds or arms to other countries ; nor was there any law to prevent persons from leaving the United States, provided they did not organize and array their forces within her limits. President Jackson was not the man to shrink from any official duty, however painful ; but, as an individual, he could not but feel an interest in a struggle like that in which Texas was engaged : and what he thought, he spoke. It can not be denied that in some instances the law was violated, and that organized bodies of men did leave the United States ; but the sympathy for the cause of the Texans was almost universal, and no one made it his business to advise prosecuting officers of these movements. They came—they aided Texas ; she gave them a home, and many of them remained within her limits. The Lafayettes, the Pulaskis, and the Kosciuskos of Texas, will be kindly remembered, not only throughout her borders, but wherever liberty has friends.

Possible March on Matamoras

After the departure of General Austin, the besieging army before San Antonio came very near being broken up. This threatened dissolution originated from a projected enterprise against Matamoras, with the hope of obtaining the cooperation of a large force of Mexican liberals. Dr. James Grant, an Englishman, some time before domiciliated about Monclova, and one of the legislators dispersed by General Cos, was the cause of this movement. He published an account of the supposed condition of the interior of Mexico—representing that Alvarez was active in the south, and had taken Acapulco; that Guzman and Montenegro had an army of twenty-one hundred liberals in the state of Guadalaxara ; that Puebla, with the governor at its head, had refused to publish the centralizing decree of the 3d of October, and the people were rising en masse to defend their liberties ; that Valladolid had protested in the strongest terms, and was raising her civic militia ; that Oajaca had made a like protest, and was also preparing for defense ; that Zacatecas was ready to take the first opportunity to avenge her wrongs ; so also was Durango ; and that Tamaulipas and New Leon would rise the moment an attack was made on Matamoras, and San Luis Potosi would instantly follow. These, with the further representations—made, no doubt, honestly by Grant—that Santa Anna was sadly distressed for want of funds to carry on his despotic plans, and that his army was scattered and could not be safely united, served to turn the heads of many of the leading men of Texas. It was supposed that they had only to show themselves on the right bank of the Rio Grande, when the whole of Mexico would rally around them ! They never reflected that, since 1832, the Texans had become a byword of reproach in Mexico, and that all parties there denounced them as "perfidious, ungrateful disturbers." As this first thought of a campaign against Matamoras was the cause of great confusion, and some bloody tragedies, its progress, maturity, and final catastrophe, will deserve a more especial notice ; but such notice will appear more properly in a subsequent page.

Mention has already been made of the New Orleans Grays, two notable companies, afterward so distinguished for their valor and sacrifices in the cause of Texas. The first news of the Texan Revolution was received in New Orleans on the 13th of October, 1835. The same evening a meeting was held at Bank's Arcade. William Christy, a noble and valuable friend to Texas, presided. Ample funds were raised. Just as the meeting adjourned, Adolphus Sterne, of Nacogdoches, stepped on the platform, and made known that Texas wanted men as well as money ; and that, as a Texan agent, he had that day purchased fifty muskets, which would be distributed to those who would go with him to Texas. On the suggestion, names were called for, and two companies immediately raised, the one commanded by Captain Robert C. Morris, and the other by Captain Breese. The Texan committee dressed them in gray uniforms, and they departed for the theatre of war—the first-named by way of the gulf, the other by way of Natchitoches. The appearance of Breese's company at Nacogdoches had a fine effect on the Cherokee Indians, a large number of whom were then in town. Their fine uniform caps and coats attracted the notice of the chief Bolles. He inquired if they were Jackson's men. " Certainly they are," said Sterne. " Are there more coming?"—" Yes," was the reply. " How many more ?" asked Bolles. Sterne told him to count the hairs on his head, and he would know. In twenty minutes the Indians had all left the town ! The " Grays" reached San Antonio in time to participate in its capture. Morris, of the first Grays, was promoted to the rank of major, and William G. Cooke appointed to his place as captain.

On the 29th of November, Major Morris informed General Houston that two hundred and twenty-five men, nearly all from the United States, had determined to set out the next morning from Bexar, for Matamoras, and thence into the interior ; that their accounts from Mexico were of the most encouraging character ; that they expected to be joined by a hundred or a hundred and fifty more, then on their way from the United States ; and that they expected in the end to be joined by from five to eight thousand men, who were awaiting them. He further stated that those who would leave Bexar with him, if disappointed in marching on Matamoras, would immediately return to the United States. Such was the hopeless state of things, on the last days of November, before Bexar. But, about that time, the idea of storming the place had got a hold in camp. The Texan force was then not more than eight hundred, including the Grays, Captain Peacock's company from Mississippi, and Captain English's company from eastern Texas—so much had the forces of the besiegers diminished by the impatience of the volunteers. The hope of active operations, however, detained the troops for some days. [See Next: The Texan Attack on San Antonio and the Alamo]

 

 

 

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