For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 14
THE BATTLE OF CONCEPCION.
At the time of the war between Texas and the government of Mexico, San Antonio de Bexar could truthfully be said to be a city of importance gone to decay. Many of the churches, convents, and missions were deserted and fast going to ruin. The friars had returned to Mexico, and with them had gone many of the best of the old Spanish families, although here and there some Castilians remained, to keep up the style of the times as best they could.
All told, the city numbered about twenty-five hundred inhabitants, the majority of whom were Mexicans, with a fair sprinkling of American trappers and traders. It was situated mostly on the west bank of the river, at a point where both banks of the stream were lined with pecan and other trees. There were two large public squares, once the scene of much gaiety, but now overrun with grass and weeds, and between the two squares stood the grand old buildings of the San Fernando Church. On the east side of the river, about half a mile from the city proper, stood the mission, with its church, convent, and walled courtyard, commonly called the Alamo.
General Cos had now arrived at San Antonio with six hundred Mexican militia, and as soon as he learned that the Texans were gathering for another contest, he sent down to the Rio Grande for additional troops and extra pieces of artillery. In the meantime, the troops under Austin moved up to Salado Creek, four miles from San Antonio.
The time was a momentous one, and, arriving at the creek, the Texans sent forth a flag with a mes sage to General Cos, demanding the surrender of the place.
"I refuse to surrender," was the Mexican commander's answer. "And if you send another such flag it will be fired upon." This, of course, brought negotiations to a complete standstill. Austin waited for reinforcements, and the Mexicans spent the time in barricading the highways leading out of the city and in strengthening their several fortifications.
"We are not getting along very fast," remarked Mr. Radbury, to one of his brother officers, while in the camp at Salado Creek.
"I believe Sam Houston is coming on to take charge," was the answer. "He's an old war-horse and will be certain to lead us to victory."
Everybody felt that under Houston the Texan cause could not fail. But, although Houston came up, he did not take command, declaring that the expedition was in the hands of Austin, and that he was needed elsewhere.
Several days passed, with much anxiety on both sides, and then Colonel Bowie and Colonel James W. Fannin were ordered to take a band of scouts with them and reconnoitre the enemy's position, with a view to moving the Texan army still closer to San Antonio.
"We'll do it," said both officers, without hesitation, and hurried off, taking about ninety men with them. In this body was a detachment under Mr. Radbury, and Poke Stover was also along.
The party moved along slowly and cautiously through the clumps of trees and mesquite-bushes, until some time during the afternoon, when they came to a bend in the river known as the Horseshoe, where was located the Mission Concepcion.
"This is a strong position," said Colonel Bowie. "The river and timber will shelter us from behind, and in front is the bluff. It's an ideal place."
"You are right," said Colonel Fannin. "General Austin cannot do better than bring the army here."
The orders had been to return, if possible, before nightfall, but at this time in the year it grew dark rapidly, and it was decided to go into camp for the night; and outposts were accordingly stationed in all directions, that they might not be surprised.
Although the Texans were not aware of it, the Mexican scouts had been watching them closely, and no sooner did the party go into camp than the enemy resolved to surround them in the darkness, and either shoot them all down, or take them prisoners. For this purpose General Cos sent out four hundred of his best troops, determined to teach the Texans a lesson that they should never forget.
Lieutenant Radbury, as we must now call him, had charge of the outposts along the river, and, anxious to see that his men did their duty, he remained out with them, travelling slowly from one sentinel to another. On duty at one point was Stover, as alert as though after some big game.
"Any alarm, Poke?" asked the lieutenant, in a whisper, for it was not known but that the Mexicans might be close at hand.
"Yes, and no," answered the old frontiersman, slowly. "Perhaps my hearsight is deceivin' me, but I 'most reckoned as how I heard the creakin' o' wheels about—thar they go ag'in!"
He broke off short, and held up his hand for silence. Both men listened intently, and from the river bank they heard the steady, lumbering creak as of heavy wagon wheels.
"Am I right, leftenant?" demanded the frontiersman, when the sounds had come to an end.
"You are, Poke; do you know what it was?"
"Can't say exactly."
"It was the creaking of artillery wheels."
"Whoopee! Then they must be comin' over fer fair!"
"Yes. I will report at once."
Lieutenant Radbury lost no time in making his way to the tent in which Colonel Fannin was poring over an old map of San Antonio.
"I have to report the coming of some artillery," he said, as he saluted.
"Artillery?" repeated the commander. "Mexican artillery?"
"I think so, colonel." And Lieutenant Radbury related as much as he knew. He had scarcely finished, when Colonel Bowie came in on the run.
"They are starting to surround us!" he cried. "They are bringing over men and cannon!"
The whole camp was soon in alarm, and, after a short talk among the officers, it was decided to bring up the men in a semicircle, close to the bluff s edge. While this was going on, a shot rang out, and then another, showing that one of the outposts had been fired upon.
As the night wore away, a heavy mist swept up the river, and even when dawn came but little could be seen. Yet, anxious to avenge the loss at Gonzales, the Mexicans opened fire at once, which, however, did no harm. As the mists cleared away, the Mexican cavalry surrounded the whole front of the Texans position.
"Give it to 'em!" shouted the Texan officers. "Give it to 'em hot!"
The cry was drowned out by a solid fire from the Mexicans, who continued to pour in volley after volley just as fast as they could reload.
The Texans did not fire by volleys. The orders were: "Fire at will, and make every shot bring down a greaser!" And there was a constant crack! crack! and the Mexicans were seen to fall in all directions.
Lieutenant Radbury now found himself under actual fire, and instantly his mind took him back to his service in the war of 1812. He carried a rifle as well as a pistol, and did as good work as any man on the field.
"They are preparing for a charge! They are bringing up a cannon!" was the cry that soon rang along the line, and then the Mexican bugler sounded out the command, and the cavalry came on with a rush calculated to sweep everything before it. But the Texans stood firm.
"Drop em!" roared Colonel Bowie. "The first line, boys!" And a score of shots rang out, and the first row of saddles was emptied almost completely. Some of the horses were killed or wounded, and these, falling, caused some confusion. In the meantime, other Mexicans continued to drop, and soon the cavalry retreated to reform.
"Now they are going to use the cannon!" was the cry which went up directly afterward, and then a four-pounder, stationed on a bluff, was discharged. The cannon was aimed much too high, and it is said that every shot from the piece went over the Texans' heads.
The cavalry now came on again, and it was seen that the Mexicans intended to shift the position of the cannon so that they might enfilade the line,—that is, shoot from one end to the other.
"Not much ye don't!" sang out Poke Stover, and, leaping to a slight knoll, he took careful aim at one of the mules attached to the piece and fired. Then he discharged his pistol at a second mule. Both beasts were badly wounded, and, breaking away, they tore first through the cavalry and then through the infantry, throwing the latter into much confusion.
"We have em on the run!" Like magic the cry arose from nearly every Texan's throat. The cavalry had charged again, and again the leading line had gone down. Now they were retreating, with the infantry beside them. Seeing it was of no use to remain longer, the cannoneer attempted to spike the four-pounder, but a Texan sharp shooter cut him down in the act.
"Come on, boys, let us follow 'em into San Antonio!" cried several, but this the leaders would not allow, for they were only ninety strong, and all were enhausted from the battle, which had been sharp if not of long duration. So the Mexicans were allowed to form in the plain half a mile away, and from there they marched rapidly back to the city. Their loss was sixty-seven killed and forty wounded, which showed how deadly had been the Texans' aim. The Texans lost but one killed and several slightly wounded.