Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Day 13: Deguello.

Bowie Knife.

Our plan is simple. Two men up, two reloading and one extra where needed. Me, Milsap, King, Teague and Young Kellogg. Between us we have sixteen rifles, a pistol each and two shotguns. Knives and clubs. Ax. The shotguns will be held for a tight spot. Our post is a room built into the wall, catwalk on top. Wall is about nine feet in our section and in good shape more or less. Two bricked up windows. Trees close. Irrigation ditch and river are as close as fifty feet from the wall. We've burned some of it and cut firewood. Couple of the trees are big enough to be cover.

Saturday night King was over the wall on picket. We have an open room and an alcove with our fire banked up. It's not much fire because firewood is so dear but neither have has it gone out since we came in. Anyone on picket comes back with an armful. All sleeping on bedrolls and saddles. We were rolled up. The last thing I remember was Milsap pushing the ends of the fire in. I noticed that the Mexican artillery was quiet.

I woke up to a start in the moonlight. The fire was down to coals. Someone was yelling in the plaza and I could hear men beyond the wall on the North. Rifle shots began to crackle, then volley. We were all on our feet and Milsap and Teague were up the log looking over the wall. Milsap turned and looked down at me and said, "shotguns."

Kellogg and I started passing up rifles. Milsap and Teague fired in turns. I took a mouthful of rifle balls and started reloading. Powderhorn, ramrod, patch. I could hear Mexicans crying out below the wall and men running. Our cannons went on the North wall and then the big 18-pounder on the corner. Mexican rockets lit up the sky. One fell in front of the chapel into a haze of gunsmoke from the Tennesseans and you could see them firing over the parapet. Their cannons lit up the cloud in a big flash.

We fell behind on the loading. A ladder rattled against the top of the wall. Teague ran down the catwalk, pulled his pistol and shot. Another ladder rattled up and fell off sideways. I could hear chopping at the bricked windows.

Teague waited at the top of the next ladder, pushed a bayoneted musket aside and threw the man by a jacket lapel down on us. It was the first Mexican I had seen. His throat was cut and he staggered to his feet, both hands at his wet neck. He smelled like a hard-ridden horse of blood and sweat and salt. Kellogg's eyes were big but I ignored the Mexican and he fell by the fire. There was cursing in Spanish and yelling outside and a volley that showered us all in rock chips and dust. Teague fell on the roof and got back up, slowly, hat gone.

The bricks in the window began to kick in. I tossed the last rifle up to Milsap and picked up the ax. Half the window was clear and a hand appeared on the sill. I ruined it with a hack. Musket fire began to flash and pop but Kellogg and I were against the wall. A man came crawling through. I was surprised he had his tall hat on. I gave him the ax with both hands and he fell on our side. Another man. Kellogg shot him in the ear with his pistol, so close that I though he shot me. A bayonet, searching. A volley. A thrown ax. More bricks fell. Kellog threw a brick back out. Beyond the window, men growled like dogs.

Two Mexicans jumped from the top of the wall muskets in hand. I shot one with my pistol before he got to his feet. Two men came through the window squeezed together. I cleaved the closest with the ax and hung up the other long enough to smash his head with a second stroke. Someone pushed them in but the window stayed empty. It was suddenly quiet. The soldato pointed his musket at me, then Kellogg, then me, backed away. There was a barfight on the roof with logs creaking and dust sifting down but I didn't have time to look. More of our cannons down near the chapel went and riflery crackled and popped. I suddenly thought about King out past the wall.

The moonlight and dawn light were just about even.

Milsap yelled from above, "They're over the North wall!" We turned and saw our boys falling back, the North end filling up with massed men. Not us. A shot came through the window and young Kellogg dropped. Milsap and I caught him up. The Chapel. His head hung and I think he was gone but we went for it anyway dragging him by his deerskin shirt for the sake of his young wife. I snatched up a rifle and tucked the ax under my arm. We ran right past the Parson's hat rolling in the dust.

We didn't make it. Milsap caught a ball in the leg and we went down in a tangle. When I rolled out of it I was in a crowd of soldiers. I axed a man, clubbed another, stuck a knife in a third and had to chase him for it, was clubbed, maybe shot. I felt burned from behind. Probably a bayonet. I tripped over a body and fell with my blade under me and thought I'll just rest a second, catch my breath. Over me men staggered and fought. A soldier fell, close. If he moved I was going to stick him. I reached out and got a handful of his hair. Somehow, I could see myself from above in the light of a rocket and started thinking about walking under that white tree up off the North Wall. The cannons went and men cursed and wept but I really didn't care. The tree was so white and shining, shining in the moonlight and dawn and I just went up there walked toward it in the morning light.

  In the end, they started throwing the dead in the river.  Burning the Texicans wasn't easy but it was a small job compared to the Mexican casualties.  The General Staff had declared that the townspeople should be commandeered to bury them in the camposanto but that effort quickly broke down.  There simply were too many.

  The river clogged with bodies, but it was downstream and the Army was packing up to campaign west, concerned with finishing the war and going home.

  Mexican units were up and moving after midnight, with noise discipline enforced.  Most soldiers were already stationed in their general assault area so there weren't any long distance moves.  The plan was to attack in columns, with reserves waiting and cavalry behind.  The assault force, in place, lay on the chilly ground and tried to get some sleep.  

  Inside the fort the garrison was sleeping, protected by pickets outside the wall and the officer on watch.  There was no particular reason to anticipate a Mexican attack.

  A 5:00 the units got on their feet and got in line.  At 5:30 rockets from the river battery signaled the start of the assault.  One of the Northern columns began cheering when they passed the battery where El Presidente was observing and the defenders were alerted.  The Texican pickets simply vanished.

  Inside the fort the alarm was sounded and men struggled to their posts to find ladders rising from the enemy below the walls.  The cannons were touched off and shotguns and rifles began to bark.  The weak point- Crockett's low palisade next to the Chapel, stopped the South attack cold.   That attack shifts to the west and uses a stone house near the 18-pounder on the corner for cover.  The other columns scattered and began to stall in the face of grapeshot and small arms fire.  Each defender has several rifles at hand loaded.  Townfolks say the firing sounds like firecrackers.  Santa Anna sends in the reserves.  The reserves seemed to have fired into assault waves in front of them.  One of those things.

  The Mexican officers kept at it and began to make some headway.  Travis falls at his post on the North wall.  Enough defenders fell that cannons couldn't be reloaded and gaps appeared in the thin lines.  Cazadors with crowbars and axes chopped through shuttered windows and crumbling adobe.  Massed troops finally pushed through the shattered North wall.  

  There was no rebel reserve to be committed or contain intrusions.  The Texicans fought from the walls and then fell back into the convent, chapel and Long Barracks or held out in rooms along the walls.  As Santa Anna's men flooded in some defenders tried to escape in the pre-dawn and were killed by cavalry in the open.  Mexican gunners turned unspiked cannons on the Long Barracks.  Bowie was killed in his room.  The last place to fall was the chapel where Bonham and Dickenson held out with the women and children.  Cannon breached the door and the chapel fell.

  Santa Anna tried to enter the fortress at 9:00 but was driven out by riflefire.  He later gave a speech to the victorious troops from an elevated battery in one end of the plaza.

At least one cat was shot by Mexican troops.
  Susanna Dickenson and her child survived with other women and Travis' slave Joe.  The captured Mexican soldier Brigido Guerro lived.  Some captured Texicans seem to have been executed.  At least one man was credited with escaping.

Update:  Mexican army counts 180 defenders dead.

Update II:  Bowie's nurse Madame Candaleria is among the survivors.

Update III: As the most famous National figure at the battle, Crockett is reported dead in front of the Chapel, at a post on the West Wall, captured and executed, escaped, fallen in the Chapel with the last of the defenders.
Update IV: A last defender is found hiding under the river bridge by a woman washing clothes.  He is shot.

Update V:  Survivors are questioned by Santa Anna at the Musquiz house in town.  The women are given blankets and two Mexican silver dollars and set free.

Update VI:  Esparza falls in the Chapel during the last fighting.  His brother-in-law, a Mexican officer, brings out his wife and children and recovers his body for burial in the family plot.


Old NFO said...

A sad end, but provided a great legacy of perseverance and heroism for the State of Texas...

That Guy said...

It is amazing, the courage needed to stay and fight. Especially when you know you will fall.

Thank you for this post.