For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 33

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"I reckon we are in for it now, father."

"Yes, Dan, we shall soon see some heavy fighting, I am afraid. I trust you come out of it unharmed."

"And I hope you come out unharmed, too, father," added Dan, earnestly.

The two sat under a live-oak, overlooking a wide expanse of prairie, dotted here and there with patches of timber. Behind them flowed the broad and muddy stream, with a stretch of treacherous marsh-land separating them from the water. The soldiers had been formed into something resembling companies, and Mr. Radbury had been assigned to his old position of lieutenant, with Dan as one of the privates under him.

The Texans had gathered around in little knots to discuss the situation in low tones. Under one of the trees stood General Houston, clad in nothing more striking than an old slouch hat, a shiny black coat, and a light-coloured pair of trousers which had long since seen their best days. His sword, also an old affair, was tied to his belt with bits of a lariat. Altogether he looked anything but a general bent upon leading a raw and un disciplined army to victory.

"We will win!" he was saying. "We cannot afford to lose. The whole fate of Texas hangs upon our courage!"

Amos Radbury looked at Dan, and something of a smile crossed his face. "Did you hear that, lad?" he asked. "I believe our general speaks the truth. He is not a man to fail."

The day wore along until two in the afternoon, when several cannon-shots were heard in the distance, and incoming scouts announced that Santa Anna was coming, but not with his entire army. The Mexican general had divided his forces again, much to his disadvantage, as we shall see.

A light skirmish occurred late in the afternoon, but Houston could not draw on a general engagement, and while Santa Anna pitched his camp and fortified it, the Texans remained on strict guard all night, fearing a surprise.

In the morning General Cos arrived with five hundred men, to reinforce Santa Anna, but the soldiers were so tired out by a forced march they could scarcely stand, and so for the time being the Mexican general did nothing. In the meantime, the Texans called a council of war. Some were for attacking the Mexicans, and others wanted to wait to be attacked. Houston said but little, yet by his face he showed that some plan of action was forming in his brain.

The council over, the commander called two trusty scouts to him, and sent them off with axes on a secret mission, which was to cut away the bridge by which both armies had reached their present encampments. This done, neither could retreat, so the fight would have to be "to a finish."

"To arms!" came the call in the middle of the afternoon, and the solitary drum the Texans possessed began to roll. Then, as the men formed to march, the single fifer struck up the popular tune of the day, "Will You Come to the Bower?"

"Dan, be careful of yourself!" cried Amos Radbury, as he pressed his son's hand. "Be careful for my sake!" And then he rushed off to lead his men forward. Dan's face was pale, but his clear eyes shone with a determination that could not be mistaken. He would do his duty, come what might.

"Vance's bridge has been cut down!" came the cry. "You must fight now to a finish! Remember the Alamo!"

"Remember the Alamo!" came back wildly. "Remember the Alamo! Down with Santa Anna!" And then the long lines rushed on, straight for the barricades which the Mexicans had erected.

The Mexicans were taken completely by surprise, for it had grown so late that they had come to the conclusion that hostilities would be put off until the next day. Santa Anna was taking a nap in his tent, while his officers lay around smoking and playing cards. The soldiers were partaking of such food as their scanty means afforded.

"Forward!" came from the Texan officers. "Forward! Don't give them time to form!" And on swept the line, and crack! crack! went the rifles and pistols. Some of the Mexicans tried to return the fire, while others fell flat to avoid the bullets.

"The cannon!" shouted the Mexican general, Castrillon, when a bullet killed him instantly. Some of the cannoneers were already at the field-pieces, but they could do little, for the Texans were already upon them. The smoke was thick, and the yelling upon both sides incessant. In the midst of all was General Houston, firing his pistol and using his sword to every possible advantage, and calling to his men to remember the Alamo and not let one Mexican get away.

Side by side Amos Radbury and Dan gained the barricade. A Mexican loomed up before them and the lieutenant despatched him with a pistol-shot. Then over the barricade went father and son, Dan using his empty gun as a club, and the lieutenant drawing his bowie-knife, a weapon with which nearly every Texan was provided. The Texans came over at leaps and bounds, and charged straight into the heart of the enemy's camp, striking down every Mexican that opposed them.

Coming out of his tent, Santa Anna yelled to his men to arm themselves and form into battleline. But the confusion was so great that none of his followers paid attention to him. The Texans were aroused as never before, and struck at the Mexicans with such lightning-like rapidity that the enemy was dazed, and scores of them fell upon their knees begging for mercy. The shooting still continued, and now Dan was horrified to see his father go down, stabbed in the leg by a Mexican bayonet.

"Father!" he yelled, hoarsely, and then turned to the Mexican who had done the deed. The fellow tried to pierce Dan with his steel, but more by instinct than reason the youth leaped to one side. Then Dan's gun came crashing down, and the Mexican with it, his skull cracked by the force of the blow.

A crowd was now rushing that way, a score of Mexicans pursued by fully as many Texans, and Dan had his hands full to keep his parent from being trampled upon. There was a strange humming in the boy's ears, and he seemed to be lifted up as though walking on air, while he panted for breath.

"Keep off,—he is my father!" he screamed, and hurled one of the Mexicans to one side. Then another came to take his place, and man and boy rolled over on the prairie-grass close to the wounded lieutenant. The Mexican had Dan by the throat when a Texan, rushing forward, kicked the enemy in the head, rendering him partly unconscious.

Leaping up, Dan tried to collect his confused senses. Texans and Mexicans were running in every direction, but at a glance he saw that his own side had the best of the battle, and a prayer of thankfulness burst from his lips. Then he saw General Houston go down, struck in the ankle by a bullet. Yet the staunch commander kept to his post. His horse was also shot several times.

At last the Mexicans were in full retreat. Paralysed with fear, some of them sought the open prairie, where they were shot down by the Texan sharpshooters, while others ran frantically for where the Vance bridge had been located. Here the banks of the river were high and rocky, and but few escaped to the opposite side.

The battle had been fought and won, but the end was not yet. On the prairie, one of the Mexican commanders tried to make a stand, but the Texans shot down the line almost as quickly as it was formed. Then the Mexicans began to throw down their firearms, and the officers held up their swords, handles to the front, as a token of surrender.

"It's too late to surrender!" cried a number of Texans. "Remember the Alamo!" Meaning, "Remember how you butchered our soldiers!"

"Me no Alamo! Me no Alamo!" shrieked many of the Mexicans. "Good Americano! Me no Alamo!" They wished the Texans to understand that they were not responsible for the cold-blooded slaughter at the mission. At last Colonel Almonte gathered together nearly four hundred of the defeated and made a formal surrender, and to the everlasting honour of Texas be it said that these prisoners were not maltreated.

The night that followed was one never to be forgotten. Santa Anna had escaped, and while some ran around crying, "Santa Anna! Hunt down Santa Anna!" others procured from the Mexicans' store a number of candles, which they lit, and then formed a grand procession through the live-oak grove and across the prairie, dancing and yelling like a lot of Indians. The victory had been so long delayed that now, when it was really theirs, they were intoxicated with joy.

The contest had been a remarkable one in many ways. The Texan army numbered exactly 743, of whom eight were killed and thirty wounded. Santa Anna's force numbered over sixteen hundred, and of these, 630 were killed, two hundred wounded, and 730 made prisoners. The enemy had lost, in killed and wounded, more men than the Texan army contained, and at the end of the battle the Texans had more prisoners than they had men in the ranks! Besides prisoners, the Texans took over a thousand firearms, two hundred sabres, four hundred horses and mules, and about $12,000 in silver. Part of the money was divided among the soldiers, each man receiving $7.50, and that was his entire pay for the campaign.

The Texans were bound to find Santa Anna, and scouts went out in all directions in search of him. On the following day he was discovered in the long grass near the edge of a ravine, on the other side of the river. He tried to hide in the grass, but was compelled to crawl out and surrender. At first he claimed to be a private, but his jewels betrayed him, and then he said he was one of Santa Anna's aides-de-camp. But no one believed him, and he was taken into the Texan camp without delay. Here there was a most dramatic scene between General Houston and his noted prisoner. Houston, exhausted and covered with the dirt of battle, lay at the foot of a tree, where he had just taken a nap after having his ankle dressed.

"I am General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, President of the Mexican Republic," said that individual, as he bowed low and flashed his jewels and military decorations before Houston. "I claim to be a prisoner of war at your disposal."

General Houston regarded him in utter silence for several seconds, a silence in which each man measured the other thoroughly. Plainly Santa Anna was disconcerted, and he looked around nervously, as if expecting that at any moment he might be shot in the back. Then Houston waved him to a seat on a near-by box of ammunition.

An interpreter was called up, and Santa Anna asked for a piece of opium, saying he was suffering much pain. The opium was given him and this quieted his nerves.

"That man may consider himself born to no common destiny who has conquered the Napoleon of the West," went on the Mexican general, bombastically. "It now remains for him to be generous to the vanquished."

Again Houston looked at him, a look that made Santa Anna quail.

"You should have remembered that at the Alamo," said the Texan commander.

"I am not to blame—I acted under the orders of the government of Mexico," cried Santa Anna, hastily, and tried to explain that there was a law which held that prisoners taken with arms must be treated as pirates. But Houston cut the interpreter short when translating the words.

"Who is the government of Mexico?" he exclaimed. "You, and you alone, and you are responsible for the law that made the slaughter at the Alamo possible. And you are likewise responsible for the massacre at Goliad!" went on Houston, with great intensity of feeling.

"No, no, you are mistaken," answered Santa Anna, and then tried to excuse the massacre of Fannin and his men in various ways. He wanted to treat for peace and for his release, but Houston told him that only the government of Texas had jurisdiction in the matter. Then Santa Anna was placed in a tent, given his private baggage, and a strong guard was set, that some of the more headstrong of the Texans might not kill him.