Boys' Book of Border Battles - Edwin Sabin
General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, dictator of Mexico, thought that when he had slaughtered the one hundred and eighty Texans at the Alamo he had killed the Texas cause. Now he would extend his fingers, close them, and crush all Texas.
He was a small, rather thick-set man, with sallow heavy face, glowing black eyes, coarse nose and mouth, and ambitions that stopped at nothing. He permitted nobody to oppose him. He styled himself the "Napoleon of the West." He knew the Mexicans, but he did not know the Americans. Texas rose upon the ruins of the Alamo. Santa Anna's victory there was really his defeat.
Now he prepared to march across Texas, with fire and lead and steel. At Gonzales General Sam Houston had four hundred men. They were armed with rifles, old muskets, pistols and knives. One company wore uniforms. That was the Newport Volunteers from Kentucky, commanded by Captain Sidney Sherman. The other companies were Texas militia and parties of other settlers, wearing homespun and buckskin, and drilled scarcely at all except as frontier fighters.
It was no use trying here to throw back the Santa Anna infantry, cavalry and artillery. In the night of March 13 General Houston abandoned little Gonzales. The people loaded what household goods they might, upon wagons; the three cannon were dumped into the river, for there were no animals to drag them; one wagon drawn by two yoke of thin oxen was the column's baggage train; the small army and the women and children left at eleven o'clock, Gonzales burst into flames behind them.
The retreat hurt. Instead of giving up their lands and homes to the red-handed Santa Anna, the majority of the Texans would rather have stood fast and fought it out, and have died like the Travis and Bowie men. But General Houston, planning a victory of a different kind, forced them back, back, back, through the rain and mud, to the Colorado River, fifty miles.
He expected to toll Santa Anna on; at the Colorado River he would get reinforcements, Colonel Fannin might be able to join with him, from the south; all together they would whip Santa Anna. But at the Colorado he learned that the whole of Colonel Fannin's army had been captured by the strong column of the Mexican General Urrea, marching up from the southern border.
The only American army in Texas was the few companies under General Houston and the recruits whom he would pick up. He still retreated. Santa Anna pursued, with three columns: one through the north, one through the center, one through the south. He himself led the center column, upon the trail of the Texas "beggars"—the hope of the Texas Republic.
General Houston failed to receive cannon upon which he had counted. He had gathered twelve or fourteen hundred armed men—Regulars, militia and volunteers. They were hard to manage; they wished to make a stand and fight. Squads dropped out, to help their families move from the path of the oncoming Mexicans, or to protect their homes.
Santa Anna had sent word ahead that he would shoot every American found opposing him. The Texas government fled from Washington clear to the east coast. This spread fresh alarm. Rumors traveled fast. No one seemed to know just where the Mexican columns were. With seven hundred and fifty men, then with only five hundred men, Sam Houston continued to fall back.
His march attracted frightened settler families to it—a long line of refugees, old men, women and children. The rains were constant, raising the rivers and turning the roads into deep mud. Huge, gaunt and soaked through and through, clad in a thin black frock coat, snuff-colored baggy trousers, cowhide boots, and flap-ping big white hat, with an old sword in a plated scabbard tied about his waist by a leather thong, Sam Houston gave out of his own purse to the destitute, parted with all his extra clothes, put his shoulders to the wagon wheels, and promised that he would fight when he got ready.
Santa Anna hastened. When he heard that the Texas government had fled to Harrisburg, near Galveston Bay of the Gulf coast of East Texas, he took seven hundred and fifty soldiers and a cannon, and dashed to seize Harrisburg—perhaps to capture the Texas president. He entered Harrisburg in the night of April 15, and burned it. The Texas government was reported to be at New Washington, east on the shore of the bay. He followed eagerly, but President Burnet and his officials had escaped to Galveston Island.
General Santa Anna felt triumphant. He had marched clear across Texas from farthest west to the coast of the east, and no one had opposed him. He believed that by his massacres he had struck terror to the hearts of the Texas "rebels." They feared his very name.
The course of the Santa Anna soldiers had been almost straight eastward from San Antonio. But here at the lower Brazos River in south East Texas General Houston had turned north, up river. Santa Anna and his hurrying detachment had passed on; were fifty miles ahead. General Houston went into camp at Groce's Ferry, up the Brazos, to organize his little army and get news of the Mexican columns.
News, but terrible news, arrived. The surrendered Fannin command had been murdered—absolutely murdered by orders of General Santa Anna. They had surrendered to General Urrea upon written promise that they all would be sent home, on parole. The date was March 20. They had been marched to Goliad, or La Bahia—were to be released soon. "Ten days," General Urrea had said. They were chiefly gallant Volunteers from Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Alabama.
General Santa Anna had learned of the surrender, and of the terms. "You will destroy them at once," he directed. "I am surprised that you have not done it before." On the morning of Palm Sunday, March 27, the three hundred and twenty-five were marched out in three detachments, and shot, stabbed and clubbed. Only twenty-seven escaped in the brush.
That was the end of the Mobile Grays, the New Orleans Grays, the Alabama Red Rovers, the Kentucky Mustangs, and all who had offered themselves to aid in the Texas fight for liberty.
Did General Santa Anna really think that by killing men he could kill liberty? How foolish! It had been tried before and it has been tried since, and it never has worked out.
General Houston's muddy camp got the news on April 2. The men were crazed with wrath and sorrow; they were fighting mad indeed—they wished to find the Mexicans at once. They did not know where the Mexicans' columns were; General Santa Anna did not know where the Texan army was. That was the situation.
The spies of Deaf Smith, famous Texan scout, brought word of the onward march of the three Mexican columns, six thousand soldiers, sweeping through the length of the republic. The center column under Santa Anna was striking the Brazos, below the camp.
On April 7 General Houston issued an order:
The moment for which we have waited with anxiety and interest is fast approaching. The victims of the Alamo and the spirits of those who were murdered at Goliad call for cool, deliberate vengeance. Strict discipline, order, and subordination will ensure us the victory. The army will be in readiness for action at a moment's warning.
Firing was heard, from down river, where two of the Texas companies had been stationed. The Mexicans were trying to cross. General Houston kept his men in camp. He seemed to be letting the enemy cross and invade the southeast. There was talk of ousting him and making Sidney Sherman of the Newport Kentuckians commanding officer. General Houston posted notices, tacked with wooden pegs to the tree trunks.
"Any man who attempts to organize volunteers from this army will be court-martialed and shot."
Two cannon arrived at last. They were six-pounders, a gift from the people of Cincinnati, and were named the "Twin Sisters." The ammunition for them had been lost. Horseshoes, chains and other old iron were cut up and tied in bags, as canister.
April 12 camp was broken. The Mexicans of General Santa Anna had crossed the Brazos, to the south, and were getting ahead. With his Texans, General Houston also crossed. The men were glad to leave their camp of mud and sickness. They counted every moment spent there as wasted. Nevertheless they had been reorganized into two regiments, and drilled.
President David Burnet of the Texas republic sent General Houston a sharp note:
Sir: The enemy are laughing you to scorn. You must fight them. You must retreat no further. The country expects you to fight. The salvation of the country depends on your doing so.
General Houston issued a proclamation summoning the settlers of East Texas to join him.
You have suffered panic to seize you, and idle rumors to guide you. You will be told that the enemy have crossed the Brazos, and that Texas is conquered. Reflect, reason with yourselves, and you cannot believe a part of it. The enemy have crossed the Brazos, but they are treading the soil on which they are to be conquered.
General Santa Anna sent a message of his own, by an old negro.
"You tell Sam Houston I know he is up there in the bushes, and when I get done with these land-robbers down here I'm coming up to smoke him out."
This was galling. The impatient men murmured boldly.
"If General Houston will not take us to meet the enemy, we'll elect a commander who will."
They still suspected him. They feared that he was trying to take them to the United States border in northeast Texas, and there wait in safety until he had gained reinforcements from the United States.
It was very evident that Santa Anna was down around Harrisburg and Galveston Bay. The size of his column they did not know; but that made no difference. Presently the road forked. One branch stretched eastward, for Nacogdoches of northeastern Texas, and the border; the other branch turned abruptly into the southeast, for Harrisburg and Galveston Bay.
No orders had been given. When the first company reached the fork General Houston was there. He had spurred up along the plodding files, and in his same old clothes he silently sat his bony horse. He had not shaved for a month.
"Which is the road to Harrisburg?" the officers of the advance demanded of Rancher Roberts, who lived here.
"This right hand road will carry you down to Harrisburg as straight as the compass."
"To the right, boys! To the right!" the officers shouted.
With a cheer the head of the column veered into the southeast. The single fife and drum played "Will you come to the bower?" which was the Texas battle hymn. General Houston uttered not a word. Watching the column forge by, he smiled happily. The men had done a great deal of talking; now their actions had spoken, and he knew that they were in earnest. He was sure of them.
He followed. Soon he overtook the artillery. The two cannon, dragged by ropes, were stuck in the mud. He dismounted, stripped off his coat, and shoved and tugged.
It was fifty miles of slow going to Harrisburg. On the second day, April 18, they arrived at the crooked Buffalo Bayou, which drained from the west into Galveston Bay. Harrisburg lay upon the other side; the south side. Harrisburg smouldered, but not a Mexican soldier was in sight.
Deaf Smith and the red-headed Henry Karnes, his comrade scout, crossed the bayou on a raft and captured two Mexican dispatch bearers. The two Mexicans were examined. They and the dispatches told the story.
The General Urrea column was far in the south. The General Gaona column was in the north. The main center column had halted at the Brazos, behind, but General Santa Anna was at Galveston Bay with seven hundred and fifty men, and General Filisola, in command at the Brazos, was to send him five hundred more men under General Cos.
Thomas J. Rusk, the Texas secretary of war who had joined as a volunteer, and General Houston had a talk together. But "We do not need to talk," Sam Houston said. "You think we ought to fight and so do I."
He called Colonel Burleson and Colonel Sherman, of the two regiments, to him.
"Have you beef on hand for three days?"
"Very well. You will see then that each man is supplied with cooked rations for three days, and hold the camp in readiness to march. We will see if we can find Santa Anna. Good evening, gentlemen."
Buffalo Bayou, flowing swift and deep, separated the Texan seven hundred from the Mexican seven hundred at Galveston Bay. In the morning, after the breakfast of beef strips roasted upon green sticks thrust into the camp fire blazes, General Houston made a short address from horseback.\
"The army will cross, and we will meet the enemy. Some of us may be killed, and must be killed. But, soldiers, remember the Alamo, the Alamo, the Alamo!"
The speech was long enough; he had said all. They were until evening ferrying the infantry, the two cannon and one baggage wagon across by means of a leaky scow. The cavalry horses swam.
Now to the eastward only a few miles Buffalo Bayou curved into the north arm of Galveston Bay, called San Jacinto Bay. Just beyond its mouth, down into San Jacinto Bay there flowed from the northward the rippling San Jacinto River. Following up along the coast Santa Anna might cross San Jacinto Bay at its head, by Lynch's Ferry below the mouths of the bayou and the river; put the bayou again, and the river also, between him and the Texan army, and have a clear field before him in which to join General Gaona's column and ravage northeast Texas. Yes, and he and General Gaona hoped to enlist the Comanche Indians.
General Houston was determined that Santa Anna should not escape. The crossing at Lynch's Ferry must be secured. He took to the road between Harrisburg and Galveston Bay. He marched his column all this night, except for two hours' rest; the men stumbled with weariness, but they could not complain. In the darkness they clumped over a wooden bridge; the bridge of Vince's Bayou which cut the road and flowed northward into Buffalo Bayou.
At sunrise they halted on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou once more, to roast their beef strips. Deaf Smith and his scouts came galloping back, up along the bayou. The enemy had been sighted—was on the move!
"Fall in! Fall in!"
Carrying their half-cooked meat, the men fell in. They hastened at best speed, down Buffalo Bayou, dragging the Twin Sisters. It was a race to Lynch's Ferry at the bayou's mouth. Thirty of the cavalry dashed on, to hold the ferry crossing.
The bayou was fringed with live oaks and magnolia trees, bordering a wet prairie. In mid-morning they rounded the last turn; the country before opened. They saw the marshes of San Jacinto Bay; they might see the bay itself, beyond, and Lynch's Ferry landing on this side, below the mouths of the Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto River in its north end. They saw the cavalry detachment waiting, but they saw not a sign of any Mexican soldiers. They had arrived in time.
There was good news. The cavalry had captured a flat boat loaded with supplies for the Mexican army and held in readiness to carry the Santa Anna column across the bay. The guard of twenty soldiers had fled.
General Houston at once posted his camp. He located it at the edge of the timber along Buffalo Bayou, upon high land of live oaks hung with Spanish moss. In front a little point ran out into a prairie two miles wide, of tall wild grass, with the salty marshes of the bay curving around its southeastern border. Six miles to the westward Vince's Bayou joined Buffalo Bayou; about at its middle was crossed by Vince's Bridge of the Harrisburg road, east and west.
So the Texas American army waited here, with Buffalo Bayou at its rear, San Jacinto Bay at its left, Vince's Bayou at its right. On its front the prairie was open, for Santa Anna to march in.
General Santa Anna had learned, at New Washington on the shore of Galveston Bay, in the south, that the Houston army had arrived. He did not know what to do. It was a surprise—it threw him into a panic. He remembered that Americans could fight, and that these Texans had a heavy score against him. But he was pocketed, with no escape.
He sent out his scouts; they failed to find the Texans. He decided to hasten and seize Lynch's Ferry; General Cos and five hundred troops were on their way to help him. He would then have the numbers.
At two o'clock this afternoon of April 20, 1836, he came within sight of the Texan pickets and the camp in the live-oak grove at Buffalo Bayou. His path was barred. The smoke of the camp fires curled lazily; a flag was floating—a new Texas flag, of white with a rich gold fringe.
This was the flag brought by Sidney Sherman's company of Newport (Kentucky) Volunteers. In the center of the white field there was the figure of Liberty. The presentation of the flag to the company had been made by Captain Sherman's bride. The top of the staff bore a glove, from another Kentucky girl, as a gage of battle.
Texas had adopted several flags, among them the famous Lone Star flag; but the white and gold flag, with the figure of Liberty, was the flag of San Jacinto.
The Texan position looked strong. Santa Anna formed line of battle; he advanced his cannon and his skirmishers to tempt the Americans into the open. His efforts were in vain. The Texans resisted, on the defensive, but stayed in shelter. General Houston declined to give battle except at his own choosing.
Santa Anna was disappointed. Although his army equaled the Texan army in numbers and surpassed it in equipment, he dared not force a fight. Therefore he withdrew a short distance to the eastward and encamped, himself, to wait for General Cos.
In his haste, and in the belief that General Houston was afraid of him, he selected a poor camp spot. He seemed to have lost his head, now that he no longer had the great advantage. At his rear there were a bog and a patch of timber, separated from the marshes of the bay by a muddy creek; his right rested upon the same creek and the scattered trees lining the marsh; his left was exposed, and covered by his cavalry; in his front he had only the prairie grass, with the Texan camp three quarters of a mile distant. If his army was doubled up it would be driven into the bog.
The Texans also were disappointed. They wished to attack at once, before General Cos appeared. General Houston shook his head under his big white hat.
"I could win a victory, by pursing the enemy, but it would be at a great loss," he said. "While tomorrow I will conquer, slaughter and put to flight the entire Mexican army, and it shall not cost me a dozen of my brave men."
This night the Texans stayed in camp, double guards out. General Houston slept without a tent, beneath a single blanket, his head pillowed upon a coil of cannon rope. When he awakened, the sun was shining brightly into his face. He sprang up the last of all, but as large as life.
"The sun of Austerlitz has risen again," he uttered.
"The sun of Austerlitz has risen!" That had been the remark made by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1805, on a morning when he, too, had awakened to give battle against odds. The sun had burst through the storm clouds; he had greeted it as a sign of good fortune. This day he defeated the allied Austrians and Russians in the great battle of Austerlitz.
The Santa Anna Mexicans had fortified their camp with a breastworks of baggage and pack-saddles; the cannon muzzle pointed out through an embrasure in the middle. The day was April 21. As the sun mounted higher, and no orders were issued, the men in the American camp complained. There was talk that General Houston had planned a retreat, back across the bayou.
About nine o'clock Deaf Smith and party galloped in, bringing word that another body of Mexicans had been sighted. A long file of Mexican infantry and pack mules, coming from the west, disappeared behind a grassy hill of the prairie. They were the Cos reinforcements. General Houston called loudly:
"It is only a ruse, men. Santa Anna is simply marching his troops around yon hill, to deceive us."
But a great cheering and rolling of drums sounded from the Mexican camp, in welcome to the Cos five hundred. That did not frighten the Texans. Colonel William Wharton walked among the squads, clapping his hands and saying:
"Boys, there is no other word today but fight, fight. Now is the time."
This was cheered and heartily cheered.
Shortly before noon the camp had grown so impatient that the officers asked General Houston for a council of war. He put the question to vote: "Shall we attack the enemy in his postion, or await his attack in ours?"
Now strange to say, only two of the officers voted to attack! Secretary of War Thomas Rusk declared:
"To attack veteran troops with raw militia is a thing unheard of; to charge upon the enemy, without bayonets in the open prairie, has never been known. Our present position is undoubtedly strong; in it we can whip all Mexico."
So now in the crisis the officers were not very keen, after all. Sam Houston's policy of delay seemed to be supported. But he was not satisfied. If the battle was to be won, it should be won by the men. He wished to find out how they felt. That he did. In his shabby clothes, his rusted scabbard dragging on the ground, he strode among them.
"Do you want to fight, boys?" he asked, from group to group. "Shall we fight, or wait? I know the opinions of the officers, but what do you say?"
"Fight!" they cried. "We want to fight. Lead us out, general."
"Very well. Get your dinners, and I will lead you into the fight; and if you whip them, every one of you shall be a captain."
He called Deaf Smith aside; went with him and Moses Lapham to where two axes had been concealed in the brush.
"Now, my friends," said Sam Houston, "take these axes, mount, and make the best of your way to Vince's Bridge. Cut it down, burn it up, and come back like eagles or that beautiful prairie grass will be crimsoned before your return."
Deaf Smith, the leathery faced scout, grinned.
"This looks pretty much like a fight, general."
He and Moses Lapham tore away. Denmore Reeves, John Coker, Y. P. Aylsbury, John Garner and E. R. Rainwater rode with them, to help destroy Vince's Bridge of the road across Vince's Bayou.
With Vince's Bridge down, the road would be closed. No reinforcements could come in quickly, no troops could get out quickly.
The Santa Anna army and the Texan army were to fight to a finish, as though behind locked doors. There could be no escape for either.
Vince's Bridge was about eight miles westward, General Houston waited, to make sure. The men did not know why he waited. They fumed at the delay. The sun sank toward the west. The Mexican camp was quiet. General Santa Anna believed that there would be no attack this day, if ever. He instructed the Cos reinforcements, who were tired out by their hurry, to stack their arms and sleep.
At half past three General Houston gave the command: "Form double ranks, in order of battle." The time had come.
The Texas Americans numbered seven hundred and eighty-three. The Volunteers and militia were armed with rifles, the four companies of Texas Regulars with muskets. That made only two hundred bayonets. The seven hundred and eighty-three were to charge half a mile across the open prairie, upon breastworks defended by twelve hundred, perhaps thirteen hundred Mexican veterans—infantry, light musketeers, dragoons and a cannon.
Colonel Sidney Sherman, in his Kentucky uniform of light blue and silver lace, occupied left of line (next to the bay and the marshes) with the Second Regiment of riflemen. Colonel Edward Burleson's First Regiment of riflemen held the center; the Twin Sisters under Colonel George W. Hockley took position on their right, supported by the four Texas Infantry companies of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Millard, bearing the white and gold flag in front of the drummer and fifer. At the farthest right there was the cavalry, commanded by the dashing Colonel Mirabeau Lamar, the Georgia newspaper editor and poet.
The line had been formed under cover of a timbered knoll out a little way in the prairie. General Houston sent orders to Colonel Lamar; the cavalry swept on at a trot, circling wide to cut off Santa Anna's left and draw his dragoons.
The whole line forged around the timbered knoll, and down into the prairie again. The grass was waist high. General Houston, upon his horse, pressed close behind the center. The fife and drum struck up "Will you come to the bower?" The cannon horses tugged valiantly.
For some minutes not a sound arose from the Mexican camp. It was at ease. The dragoons were watering their horses, bareback; men were cutting boughs, in the trees at the rear, for huts; others were asleep—Santa Anna was asleep.
General Houston had chosen exactly the right hour. The Mexicans did not dream that anybody would be likely to attack them at the time of their siesta or afternoon rest.
The Texan line surged through the tall grass. The muskets of the Mexicans, stacked behind the breast-works, could be seen plainly. At two hundred yards the Twin Sisters were wheeled—from less than point-blank range they awakened the slumbering camp with a deluge of hissing slugs.
All was confusion there. The Twin Sisters limbered up; the Texan foot soldiers had broken into a run, out-stripping the guns. General Houston spurred back and forth behind the panting line, lashing with his old white hat.
"Hold your fire! Hold your fire, men! Wait for close quarters," he bellowed.
Everything depended upon one smashing blow.
One hundred yards, eighty yards—and here came Deaf Smith, from the west, his horse lathered, his seamed face streaked with grime and sweat. Right along the front he sped, flourishing his ax.
"Vince's Bridge has been cut down! You must fight for your lives. Remember the Alamo!"
The great shout answered him:
"Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad! Remember the Alamo!"
The breastworks were only sixty yards before. The Mexicans fired hastily with their muskets. The gunners were springing to the field piece. On the left, the Colonel Sherman riflemen already had entered the trees at the Mexican right and were fighting.
The breastworks delivered a volley; most of the balls passed over the line. It paused—"Crash!" All the rifles and muskets had spoken, together. The Mexican cannoneers were hurled from the field piece; the barricade was cleared of Mexican heads. The Texans charged, shouting. General Houston burst through, to the lead. The Mexican volley had shattered his right ankle and wounded his horse in the breast. The Twin Sisters were following at a gallop, unlimbered within seventy yards of the breastworks, but the infantry had piled over—were using their guns as clubs or else throwing them aside and wielding their knives.
"Remember the Alamo! Remember Travis! Remember Bowie! Remember Fannin and Goliad!"
General Santa Anna was crazed with fear. Those cries struck terror to his cowardly heart. He did little but run about, wringing his hands and shrieking foolish orders.
"Those Americans will shoot us all!" he cried. So he mounted a swift black horse and sped for escape by Vince's Bridge. But he, like others, found it cut down and partly burned.
General Castrillon, of Spain, his artillery officer, was braver. He tried to man the field piece; he faced the Texans; he gave way slowly, alone, until he fell pierced by bullets.
The Mexican right and left wings had been driven headlong; the center resisted only shortly. The dragoons scudded for the west and the bridge, pursued hotly by Lamar's cavalry. In the camp the soldiers fell upon their knees and lifted their hands and pleaded: "Me no Alamo! Me no Goliad!" But the Texans could not forget. General Houston and the other officers rode among them, begging them to cease killing.
The battle was ended at half past four. The actual fighting had lasted only eighteen minutes!
The Mexican general Almonte gathered four hundred of the soldiers in the salt marsh along the bay and surrendered them. Of the thirteen hundred and more Santa Anna men six hundred and thirty had been killed, two hundred and eight wounded, and over five hundred others taken prisoner. In fact, scarcely forty escaped! The Alamo and Goliad had been avenged.
The Texas loss was eight killed and twenty-three wounded. Now after the battle there was a great scene. General Houston's horse had dropped, but he had climbed aboard another, to ride back to camp. His boot was filled with blood from his wounded ankle. Throughout all the battle field the Texans were cheering and dancing and shaking hands with one another. The general had issued orders in vain.
"Men, I can gain victories with you, but confound your manners," he growled.
They ran after him—they whooped, they jostled him and slapped him on his sound leg and his wounded leg, it didn't matter to them which, in their glee.
"Say! How do you like our work today, general?"
"Boys, you have covered yourselves with glory, and I decree to you the spoils of victory. I only claim to share the honors of our triumph."
This night the grove on the bank of Buffalo Bayou also was a wild scene. Huge camp fires were built. The men had pillaged the Mexican baggage—they put on fancy Mexican uniforms, decorated the horses and mules with gold epaulets and officers' sashes, and carrying lighted candles pranced in torchlight processions amidst the trees, singing and capering. They thrust the candles into the face of every Mexican officer—"Santa Anna? Hey! You Santa Anna?"
What with animals and provisions and guns and other supplies, and $12,000 in silver from Santa Anna's military chest, the Texan army felt rich.
But still they lacked Santa Anna himself.
"You will find General Santa Anna dressed like a common soldier and beating a retreat on all fours," General Houston prophesied.
About two o'clock the next afternoon another prisoner was brought in, behind a Texan's saddle and guarded by two out-riders. He wore a blue striped cot-ton blouse, soiled white cotton trousers, and a private's leather cap. He had been captured while creeping on hands and knees through the grass near Vince's Bayou.
The Mexican prisoners herded between picket ropes clapped their hands and saluted.
So Santa Anna it was.
General Houston was lying upon a cot, his ankle bandaged. Santa Anna was taken to him.
"That man may consider himself born to no common destiny, who has conquered the Napoleon of the West," Santa Anna said grandly. "It now remains to him to be generous to the vanquished."
"You should have remembered that at the Alamo, sir," answered Sam Houston.
"I was justified in my course by the usages of war," said Santa Anna. "I had summoned a surrender and they had refused. The place was then taken by storm, and by the custom of war I was justified in destroying them."
"That is no longer the custom among civilized nations," answered Sam Houston.
"I was acting under the orders of my Government," said Santa Anna.
"Why," Sam Houston replied, "you are the government of Mexico! You have no superiors."
Santa Anna tried to explain away the massacre at Goliad, also. The Fannin men, there, had been killed after surrender. It was a different matter from that of the Alamo, and he needs must find another excuse. He said that he did not know that the Fannin men had surrendered; he pretended to be angry at Urrea; but this was all bosh. Nobody believed him.
"Why did you not attack us on the first day, before we were reinforced, general?" another Mexican officer queried, of General Houston. "We were ready for you, then."
"I knew that you were, sir," Sam Houston answered, "and that was just the reason I did not fight. Besides, there was no use in making two bites at one cherry. You talk about reinforcements?" And General Houston half sat up. "It matters not how many reinforcements you have, sir; you never can conquer freemen." He drew from his pocket a gnawed dry ear of corn. "Would you expect to conquer men who fight for freedom, when their general can march four days with one ear of corn as his rations?"
All the Americans cheered.
"Give us that ear, general! We'll divide those kernels and plant them, and call it Houston corn."
"All right. Take it and divide it as far as it will go. See if you cannot make as good farmers as you have proved yourselves soldiers. But don't call it Houston corn—call it San Jacinto corn, and then it will remind you of your own bravery."
"I see now," said Santa Anna later, "that Americans never can be conquered."
That was one reason why his life was spared: so that he should be convinced and should tell the Mexican officials under him. Furthermore, Texas had other use for Santa Anna. As president of Mexico he was obliged, by the terms offered him, to order General Filisola to retire from interior Texas, and he signed a treaty acknowledging the independence of the Republic of Texas. He was more valuable alive than dead.