For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 28
WITHIN THE WALLS OF THE MISSION.
The Alamo church, the principal building of the mission, was built in the form of a cross, of rough stone, with walls several feet thick. At the time of the battle which was to witness its downfall the centre of the structure was roofless, but the ends were well covered. The sides of the church were over twenty feet high, and the windows were ex ceedingly narrow, for the building had been built to resist attacks by the Indians. It faced both the river and San Antonio proper.
Attached to the left wing of the church was a large square called the convent yard, with walls of heavy stone sixteen feet high. Spread out in front of this yard, and beyond it, was the convent, two stories high, and nearly two hundred feet long. In front of the convent was a long and broad plaza, covering over two acres, and surrounded by walls at either end and by the convent in the rear, and a house and wall in the front. On the right of the plaza was a small prison and a gateway, and from the corner of the prison there was a stockade of cedar logs extending to the nearest corner of the church.
For this extensive fortress, if such we may call it, Lieutenant Travis had less than twenty cannon, and the construction of the place was such that but few of the pieces could be placed to advan tage, and even then hardly any of the soldiers knew how to do any effective firing.
Next in command to Travis was Colonel James Bowie, already mentioned in these pages, and among the best of the fighters was Davy Crockett, celebrated as a hunter and trapper, who had come down to Texas, with twelve other Tennesseans, about three weeks before the arrival of Santa Anna. Crockett carried with him his favourite rifle, "Betsy," and as a fighter on this memorable occasion proved a whole host in himself.
"We'll whip em," said Crockett, confidently. "They can't stand up against real Americans."
"You're right, Davy," answered Bowie. "An American who isn't equal to a dozen greasers isn't fit to live." And so the talk ran on from one to another of the garrison. Once Crockett came to Dan, and eyed him curiously.
"You're rather a young soldier boy," he observed.
"Yes, sir, but I can shoot."
"Can you bring down a bird on the wing?"
"Yes, he can, and he has done it lots of times," put in Poke Stover.
"If that's so, he's all right," said Crockett.
Santa Anna did not make an immediate attack on the Alamo, for the reason that all of his troops had not yet arrived, and because he wished to give his soldiers a little rest after the long journey northward. He ordered General Castrillon to knock down some of the old houses near the river, and construct a bridge with the timbers.
"They are going to build a bridge!" was the cry that went through the Alamo.
"A bridge? Where?" asked Crockett, and, when told, he smiled, and patted his rifle. "Let 'em try it!"
The Mexicans did try, and soon a detachment of at least a hundred were at work. About forty of the garrison, led by Bowie and Crockett, opened fire upon the workers, and at least a dozen were killed.
"Down they go!" was the cry. "Give 'em another round!" And again the rifles cracked at a lively rate. With thirty killed outright, and a number badly wounded, the Mexicans left the river in a great hurry, and hid in the neighbouring houses.
On February 24th, Travis sent out a strong appeal for assistance. "I am besieged by a thousand or more of Mexicans, under Santa Anna," he wrote. "I have sustained a continual bombardment for twenty-four hours, and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion; otherwise the garrison is to be put to the sword if the place is taken. I have answered the summons with a cannon-shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender, or retreat!" Could any thing be more unflinchingly patriotic than that?
This appeal was followed by another, and a despatch was sent to Colonel Fannin, at Goliad, asking him to bring reinforcements without delay.
"They are drawing in closer to us," said Poke to Dan, on the morning of the 25th, as the two mounted one of the walls for a survey of the situation. Far off, a portion of the Mexican army could be distinctly seen.
"A division of the soldiers is approaching with some cannon," answered the youth. He was right, and presently Santa Anna attempted to plant a battery three hundred yards south of the gateway to the plaza of the mission.
"Shall we allow that?" asked the Texan commander, while the Mexican soldiers were coming up.
"No! No!" came back the cry. "Down with the Mexicans!" And in less than five minutes the garrison was pouring through the gateway and out on the plain beyond. The sharpshooters were in front, and so deadly were their aims that the enemy was speedily forced to retreat, dragging their cannon with them.
"Hurrah! They are running!" shouted the Texans, joyfully. This second repulse made them more determined to resist than ever.
But when the following morning came, it was seen that Santa Anna had taken advantage of the darkness and planted the battery, anyway, and so well was it protected that none of the guns from the Alamo could reach it. But the sharpshooters under Crockett watched the gunners, and one Mexican was shot dead while in the very act of discharging a shot at the plaza gate.
"It looks as if we might hold this place for an indefinite period," said Dan, on the day following. "That is, if we don't fall short of provisions."
"The meat we drove in will last us for some time, lad," answered Stover. "And they have found a lot of grain in one of the friar's houses. But about holding the place, that's a question. We are only about a hundred and fifty strong. What if Santa Anna storms the place some night, with several thousand men? We'll all be put to the bay'net afore sunrise."
"Do you really think he'll do such a barbarous thing, Poke?"
"Think it? I know it. He's one of the most bloodthirsty Mexicans a man ever met. To surrender to him would be foolish. We've got to do as Travis says, fight or die."
"Then I'll fight, and to the bitter end," answered the boy, earnestly. The enthusiasm of those around him had entered his soul, and he had forgotten the meaning of the word fear.
As one day and another passed, Santa Anna's army increased in size, and he succeeded in planting many other batteries around the Alamo. The bombarding was continual, yet but few of the Texans suffered from this, being well protected by the heavy stone walls of the mission.
On the first of March, when the garrison was much worn by constant guard duty, there was a commotion during the night. At first it was thought that the Mexicans had begun an attack, but soon it was discovered that the newcomers were Texans. They numbered thirty-two men from Gonzales, who had stolen through the Mexican lines with scarcely any difficulty.
"Henry Parker!" cried Dan, as he recognized his friend in the crowd. "I never dreamed of seeing you here."
"I couldn't stay behind, after I read Travis's appeal for help," answered Henry Parker. "I guess a lot more of our men are coming, too." But in this Parker was mistaken; none others arrived at the ill-fated place. Colonel Fannin started from Goliad with three hundred men and a few pieces of artillery, but his ammunition wagon broke down, he had no rations but a little rice and dried beef, and at the river his cannon got stuck and could not be gotten across. So the party returned whence it had come.
Henry Parker and the others had come in on Monday night, and by Tuesday the last of Santa Anna's troops arrived at San Antonio. Following this came three days in which but little was done upon either side.
"This looks as if the Mexicans were going to give up trying to take the place," remarked Dan to Stover, as both rested in one of the side rooms of the convent on a litter of straw.
"Don't worry, lad; it may be the calm afore the storm," was the answer. "Sumthin' is bound for to happen soon, hear me!"
"If it doesn't, I'll be for going home," went on Dan. "I believe I can get through the Mexican lines just as well as Henry Parker and those others."
"It would be risky, Dan, mighty risky." Poke Stover puffed away thoughtfully at the corncob pipe he was smoking. "We missed it altogether on the white mustang and on Carlos Martine, didn't we?"
"Yes. I would like to know if Martine is still in San Antonio."
"Like as not—and hobnobbing with some of them Mexican officers, too. Well, he sha'n't have your pap's land, and that's all there is about it."
So the talk ran on, man and boy hardly knowing how to put in their time when not on guard duty. At first the mission had proved of much interest, with its quaint carvings and curious decorations, but now even this was beginning to pall.
On Saturday Santa Anna called a counsel of war, and at this it was decided that a general assault should be made upon the Alamo at day-break on Sunday. The assaulting troops numbered twenty-five hundred against a pitiful one hundred and eighty-two Texans!—and were divided into four columns, the first of which was under the command of General Cos, the same Mexican who had surrendered to the Texans but a short time before.
Each column of the attacking party was furnished with ropes, scaling-ladders, crowbars, and axes, as well as with their ordinary military weapons. As the soldiers advanced, the cavalry were drawn up in a grand circle around the Alamo, so that no Texans might escape. In the mean time the blood-red flag of "no quarter" was still flying high from the Mexican camp, and now the band struck up the Spanish quickstep, "Deguelo," or "Cut-throat," as an inspiration to the soldiers to have no mercy on the rebels!