For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 32
IN WHICH THE TEXAN ARMY FALLS BACK.
As the excitement in Gonzales continued, and there was no telling what would happen next, Amos Radbury resolved to remain in the town for at least several days.
"If I am needed I shall reënter the army," he said.
"Then I shall go with you," said Dan.
"But your side, my son—"
"My side is all right again. It was a mere scratch."
"I wish I could call my wound a scratch," put in Poke Stover. "But instead of getting better my shoulder seems to get wuss, hang the luck."
"I think it would be a good plan for you to go up to the ranch, and take it easy," said Amos Radbury. "Pompey can wait on you, and at the same time you can keep an eye on Ralph and the place. I do not like to leave my boy and the negro all alone."
"Then I'll go up to once," answered the frontiersman. "I'm no good at fighting in the saddle, but perhaps I can mind things about the ranch, as you say." And he departed up the Guadalupe before night. His going was a great relief to the planter, for he was afraid Ralph might get into trouble if left to his own devices. And in this he was not far wrong, for when Stover reached the ranch he found that the youngest Radbury had just heard of the fall of the Alamo, and was going to ride off in the direction of San Antonio, thinking to find his father and brother there.
In the meantime, General Houston, having heard of the fall of the Alamo, at once sent word to Colonel Fannin to blow up the powder-magazine at Goliad, and abandon the place. "You must hurry all you can," added the commander-in-chief, "for the enemy is reported to be advancing upon you." Fannin was to intrench at Victoria, on the Guadalupe, and await further orders.
Colonel Fannin was in command of between four hundred and five hundred men, the majority of whom were volunteers from the United States, including the New Orleans Grays, the Georgias, the Alabama Red Rovers, and the Kentucky Mustangs. On receiving Houston's order he sent out one of his captains to bring in the settlers and their families at Refugio. Before the settlers could be assisted, the Texans were attacked by an advance guard of Mexican cavalry, and then Fannin sent out another body of men to help the first. There were several fierce skirmishes, and the Texans tried to get away, but in the end they were either shot down or taken prisoners.
Having tried in vain to give succour to those sent to Refugio, Colonel Fannin started, several days later, for Victoria, after dismantling his fort and burying his cannon. Not a Mexican was in sight as the troop, numbering about three hundred, crossed the San Antonio River and marched across the prairie, and coming to a fine bit of grazing ground the colonel halted to give his horses a chance to feed and to rest.
"We ought not to halt here,—we ought to push on to the timber," said one under-officer, and several others agreed with him, but the halt was made, and time lost that proved fatal to the entire expedition.
The soldiers had just resumed their march when some Mexican cavalry were seen at a distance, in front. Hardly had they spread out before the Texans when a large force of Mexican infantry appeared to the rear. This was at two o'clock in the afternoon, and a little later the Texans were entirely surrounded, and the Mexicans began a furious attack.
The Texans formed into something of a square, with the wagons in the centre, and the artillery at the corners, and so withering was their fire that the Mexicans were repulsed again and again, and retreated, leaving the prairie crimson with the blood of the dead and wounded. With the Mexicans were a number of Indians, but they quickly retreated when their leaders were shot down by the Texan sharpshooters.
As night came on, Colonel Fannin called his men together, and asked them if they wished to remain and fight it out, or try to escape to the timber. "You can escape if you wish," he said, "for the Mexicans are demoralised by the large numbers that they have lost."
"We can't leave the wounded to be butchered," was the reply. "We will stand by them to the end," and so they remained.
In the morning it was seen that the enemy had been reinforced, and once again the battle was renewed, the Mexicans opening with their howitzers loaded with grape and canister, and doing fearful damage. At last the Texans could stand it no longer, and sent out a flag of truce, although against Colonel Fannin's desire.
The flag was received, and it was arranged that the Texans should surrender as prisoners of war, to be treated according to the usages of civilised nations. Their arms were then taken from them, and they were marched back to Goliad, and placed in an old church in that town. The wounded were also brought in, but only a few received medical aid.
It had been stipulated that the prisoners' lives be spared, yet when the capture of the Goliad garrison was reported to General Santa Anna he instantly sent word that all of the prisoners should be taken out and shot! The command was an infamous one, yet it was obeyed almost to the letter, only a handful of the Texans escaping out of about three hundred. Small wonder was it that Santa Anna was often termed the Mexican butcher.
Houston's arrival at Gonzales did something toward allaying the excitement, and in a short time he gathered together some three hundred men. But as report after report came in of the advance of Santa Anna with a large force, he felt that it would be useless to give battle, and began to fall back toward the Colorado River, hoping there to be joined by Fannin and others. He took with him most of the inhabitants of Gonzales, and the town was left behind in flames.
With the army went Amos Radbury and Dan, both well mounted and well armed. The first stop was at Peach Creek, fifteen miles distant; and here, on the day following, over a hundred additional volunteers joined Houston's command. From Peach Creek the little army moved to Nevada Creek, and here Houston delayed his march in order that some of his men might bring in a blind widow, who had been left at her home some distance back with her six children. When the Colorado was gained, the army went into camp at Burnham's Crossing, and then across the river at Beason's Crossing.
Here the general received news of the surrender of Fannin's force, brought by a settler from Goliad. This was a great blow to Houston, and he felt that he must fall back still farther, and wait for reinforcements from other sources before risking a battle with the powerful Mexican general who was bent upon crushing him. He began to fall back to the Brazos River.
The retreat toward the Brazos caused much murmuring. "Houston is a coward,—he won't fight the greasers," said some, but others who understood their commander more thoroughly said nothing and did as ordered. Once an under-officer tried to start an open rebellion, but Houston threatened to "lick him out of his boots," if he didn't mind his own business. Then he made a little speech, and told the men that he would soon give them all the fighting they wanted, and "on the top side," as he expressed it. Many of the volunteers were of lawless character, and it needed just such a man as the dashing and daring, yet cautious, Houston to keep them in check and make them do their best when the proper moment arrived.
"What do you make of this, father?" asked Dan of his parent, when the retreat toward the Brazos was ordered.
"I don't know what to make of it," answered Amos Radbury. "I suppose General Houston knows what he is doing."
"But see how the settlers are leaving their homes. There is a regular panic among them."
"That is true, Dan. I wish I knew how Ralph and Stover are faring at home."
"Can we get back to them?"
"Hardly now, for we would most likely have to pass right through Santa Anna's lines. I do not believe it will be long before we have a big fight."
"Do you believe it is true that Colonel Fannin has been defeated?"
"It may be so, for, judging by what took place at the Alamo, Santa Anna must have a large army concentrating here."
It was raining at the time; indeed, it rained now nearly every day, and the march was anything but a pleasant one. Often the wagons and cannon got stuck, and the men had to put their shoulders to the wheels to help things along. Volunteers came and went, and so did the settlers, and sometimes the commander could not calculate how many men he had to rely upon in case of emergency. Yet on struggled the body until, on March 28th, the army reached San Felipe. From here they went up the Brazos and encamped near Groce's Ferry.
In the meantime, Santa Anna's army was pressing forward, but in several different ways. The Mexican general had thought that the slaughter at the Alamo and the massacre at Goliad would make the Texans submit without further difficulty. He had yet to learn that it was indeed liberty or death with these stern people, who were so soon to risk their all in one final contest.
One portion of the Mexican army, having gained the Colorado, crossed in rafts, while another portion moved upon San Felipe; and then a portion of the concentrated forces went to Fort Bend. From here Santa Anna pushed on, through the rain and mud, to Harrisburg, hoping to surprise the town; but, when he arrived, the place was practically abandoned.
He wished most of all to capture the heads of the government the Texans had set up, and, learning they were off for Galveston Island, he set out on the march for New Washington, which is located just north of Galveston Bay.
Houston, hearing that Santa Anna had at last crossed the Brazos, began to march south to meet him. The Texans encamped at Buffalo Bayou, opposite to what was left of the smoking ruins of Harrisburg. Every soldier was now more than eager to fight.
"Very well; fight you shall," said General Houston.
"We will! We will!" shouted the soldiers.
Then Houston continued: "Some of us may be killed, and some must be killed. But, boys, remember the Alamo!"
"Yes, we will remember the Alamo!" came back in a deep chorus. "Down with every Mexican in the State of Texas!"
Buffalo Bayou was crossed with great difficulty, on rafts and by swimming, and the soaked and weary army took its way to Lynch's Ferry, where the Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto River join. Here were found some rafts belonging to the Mexicans, piled high with army stores, and these were confiscated. Falling back to a shelter of live-oaks, General Houston planted his cannon, and then prepared to fight the enemy on sight.