Battle of Coleto Creek and Massacre at Goliad by Herman Ehrenberg
Herman Ehrenberg, born in 1818 in Marienwerder, Germany, was the son of a royal officer in Prussia and came to the United States entering New York and working his way to New Orleans. On 11 Oct 1835, he attended a meeting on behalf of Texas and responded to a call for volunteers. He was the youngest member of the first company of New Orleans Greys. His unit arrived in San Antonio at Gen. Burleson's camp in November after having passed through Natchitoches, San Augustine, Nacogdoches, Washington and Bastrop. After the Battle of Bexar described below, he participated in the Matamoros Expedition and was with Col. Fannin at the Battle of Coleto where he escaped the massacre and was taken prisoner. He moved to California after 1840 until his death at the hand of Indians in Oct 1866. His memoirs were published first in Germany in 1843 as Texas und Seine Revolution and later under other titles. (Some headings added by current editor, WLM)
Indecision at Goliad
We arrived at Goliad at the beginning of February. The new month brought us many important events. A new government with Burnet as president and Lorenzo de Zavala, a Mexican, as vice-president was installed. General Houston issued orders to destroy Fort Goliad and the Alamo and for the troops immediately to withdraw behind the Guadalupe as Santa Anna was said to be on the march to Texas with 12,000 men.
Houston's orders probably reached Goliad in time but not the Alamo as a messenger from there advised us that the garrison there, composed of 150 men, was already surrounded by several thousand Mexicans and had been summoned to surrender by Santa Anna, which, however, they indignantly rejected. Meanwhile the blood red flag waved from the enemy's quarters. They urgently solicited aid from Fannin and Houston. Houston lay at Gonzales higher up on the Guadalupe with 500 militia. Another order from General Houston gave us the alternative of either retreating behind the Guadalupe or, if it were the wish of the army, to march on to San Antonio. In the latter case his troops and ours were to unite forty miles on this side of the Alamo at Seguin's ranch. At the same time he observed that it was the wish of the militia to rush, united with Fannin's division, to the relief of the garrison at the Alamo.
But Fannin was inclined neither for the retreat nor for the march to San Antonio. On the contrary, he would rather face the enemy in the fort of Goliad as fortified by him. In Goliad he held undisputedly the first position, which rank, however, he would have had to resign if he combined with the Main Army. Our efforts to induce him to march to San Antonio were in vain. In vain we pictured to him the fate of our brothers. Nothing could change his ambitious determination, he remained at Goliad. Often one could plainly see ambitious and better feelings battling within him, and during one of those moments he gave orders to march to the Alamo. We camped on the other side of the stream and expected to break camp for San Antonio the next morning. Suddenly we heard the words "Back to Goliad! The larger part of the troops prefer to defend the fort! "
From where Fannin derived his conclusion that the volunteers were not inclined to rescue the lives of their brothers in the Alamo was not told to us, and without taking the vote of the army, everything went back to Goliad. The Grays moaned and complained about the fate of the besieged ones to whose reinforcement they had been on the march but were then detained by Fannin. Soon it was too late as Santa Anna in person closed in around the Alamo with 7,000 men, and with every day the enemy works moved closer and closer around the decaying walls of the Alamo. The garrison had already gallantly repulsed several attacks. Even if they could hold out to fight their way out during the night, but they did not wish to leave the walls that we had so honorably taken away from the enemy during the previous campaign.
At the risk of their lives one or two came daily through the enemy lines and brought us the pleadings of the garrison and especially the private letters of Travis, the commander, and from Bowie and Crockett. These two renowned backwoodsmen of North America begged the volunteers at Goliad to help in saving the Alamo. As said before, Fannin could not be moved to evacuate Goliad, and he still believed that the besieged forces, if they so desired, could surely withdraw. This is the only thing that I can say in his justification. I cannot believe that he feared to face the miserable and partly conscripted hordes of Santa Anna in conjunction with General Houston. Another message of horror came to us from the southwest. The last three men of Grant's little detachment sprang into the fort and brought us the details of the destruction of that gallant Scotchman and his men.
A considerable consignment of meal arrived in the Lavaca Bay, and the following days about 800 beeves were slaughtered, from which the meat was cut in long strips and dried. Great quantities of supplies were to be accumulated to avoid any suffering in case of a long siege. Under the leadership of Colonel Fannin we began on Mar. 19, 1836, our retreat from the demolished and partly still burning Goliad, on whose fortification we had all worked with great zeal. A stack of dried meat from near onto 700 steers and the remainder of our meal and corn was set on fire, the columns of smoke from which ascended to the beclouded heavens.
All the artillery with the exception of two long four-pounders, a regular mortar and a small mortar were spiked and left behind as we left the ruins a eight o'clock. Nowhere was there a trace of the enemy whose spies for several days had revealed themselves westward toward San Antonio. The number and size of the provisions and ammunition wagons that we took with us were too large and the power to move them was too small so that before we had gone half the way was strewn with objects of all kinds and here and there a wagon that was left standing or knocked to pieces. The rest of the baggage remained standing a mile from Goliad on the romantic banks of the San Antonio, or was dropped in haste into the clear water to the river. Chests filled with musket provisions or the belongings of the soldiers disappeared in the waves. All the horses and oxen were used to transport the above named artillery, two wagons and the powder magazine. In this way we went slowly forward without even getting to see an enemy.
The Battle and Capitulation at Coleto Creek
Our route led us through one of those charming landscapes where little prairies alternate with thin forests of oak without any undergrowth. Frequently we saw herds of cattle grazing on the luxuriant grass; and immense herds of deer looked with amazement at the little army wending its way through the stillness of the west. And the noble Andalusian horses, that had their beginning here with the horrible conquest of Mexico by Cortez, stamped away in close formation over the undulating prairie, and long after they had disappeared one could still hear the rumble of their fleeing hoofs. Eight miles from Goliad begins a considerable treeless prairie, known as the nine-mile prairie. It was in this prairie that the army had warily advanced from four to five miles by three o'clock in the afternoon.
I and a few of my friends who were bringing up the rear-guard, were about two miles behind with the instructions to keep a watchful eye on the forest, which was several miles away to the left of us. Since not the least trace of an enemy had shown itself so far we rode carelessly along until we accidentally turned around noticed at a distance of about four miles a figure in the part of the forest through which we had just come that looked like a rider on horse back. Since, however, it did not move, we came to the conclusion that it was a tree or some other lifeless object. Without taking further notice of it we rode on. A quarter of an hour might have passed; and as our army at a distance of one to one and one-half miles was moving at snail's pace ahead of us and as we did not wish to catch up with it, we decided to halt a little while to graze and rest our horses. Now, first as we, let our gaze wander over the immense prairie to enjoy the beauty of the scene, we saw behind us near the edge of the forest a long black streak on the plain. It was impossible for us to tell what it was. A few though possibly that they were large herds of cattle that the settlers were driving eastward out of reach of the Mexicans. But this seemed improbable as all of those that stood on the side of the Texans had cleared the region west of the Guadalupe, since they would rather lose everything than to further bear the yoke of Santa Anna. As we looked more intently and observed the disturbing object more closely, we noticed a moving and twisting in the dark mass that grew larger and larger and in proportion to the distance ever plainer. We could no longer doubt that it was the Mexican cavalry that was following us in full gallop. Hastily we mounted our horses and dashed off at full speed to our comrades to prepare them for the reception of the enemy. The news was received with a hurrah. Everything was at once prepared for battle. A hollow square was formed, and in this way, of course very slowly we continued our march. Fannin, our commander, was a gallant and spirited warrior, but for the commanding officer, where he should act with independence, understanding, and decision, he was totally unfit. Instead of trying to reach the forest one mile away for the sake of our safety, where the Americans and the Texans are invincible, he decided to offer battle on an unfavorable, open terrain.
The Mexicans sped up at a distance of from 500 to 600 yards gave us a volley from their carbines, to which, however, we paid no attention as the balls flew in respectable distance over our heads. Only occasionally one would whiz up entirely exhausted as if it were breathing its last breath and strike the ground in front of us without even knocking up any dust. Only one, an innocent thing-the sender probably never suspicioned that he was near taking a human life whistled through between me and the next man to me and tore off a part of the cap of my friend, Thomas Camp, who, after me, was the youngest man in the army. We remained completely passive and let the enemy approach who fired volley after volley at us as he came nearer our artillery officers mainly Poles and fine, tall men, patiently waited for the time when they could reply to the unholy greetings to advantage. The moment arrived, our ranks opened, and the artillery hurled death and destruction among the enemy. Their horses, to which the confusion of battle was a terror, reared up wildly.
The effect of our fire was frightful. Herds of horses were running without rider, while others were wallowing in blood and kicking furiously. The resulting confusion to some extent retarded the attack of the enemy, and consequently we began to move forward again. But we could do this undisturbed only for a short time as we were soon threatened with a new attack. Fannin ordered a halt in spite of the fact that his attention was called to an enemy corps that was pushing through the forest to our left which probably intended to cut us off from the woods ahead while the detachment in the rear of us only aimed to detain us. Either Fannin did not grasp the danger of the situation or his ambitious nature held him back because some one else had discovered the maneuver of the enemy before he did. Finally, after we had repeatedly protested to him in vain that it was imperatively necessary for us to gain the woods, the Grays saw themselves obliged to indicate to him that they would march off alone. But it was now too late. The enemy had already appeared on the elevation ahead of us, and there was nothing for us to do except either to fight our way through or to offer battle in the unfavorable position in which we then were. Fannin was for the latter, and before the captains, who had assembled for consultation could reach a definite conclusion, the countless bugles of the Mexicans from all directions sounded for the attack. The cavalry itself rapidly advanced from all sides at once, not in closed ranks but in broken formation and with yelling and constant firing.
Their wild cries, with which they sought to intimidate us-because they could not do it with their guns-stood in clear contrast with the composure of our people, who waited for only the best opportunities to use their guns. The thunder of our artillery soon rolled peal upon peal and the balls flew devastatingly among the enemy. As the attack of the cavalry had so far been fruitless, all of his forces, since the infantry had just arrived, were now put into motion by the enemy, and we were attacked from all sides at once. Besides this, cooperating with the Mexicans, there were 300 Indians of the tribes of the Caranchuas and Lipans lying in the tall grass on the left of us toward the San Antonio River. We did not become aware of this contemptible enemy until a number of our people had been wounded by their bullets. Whereupon we sent a few loads of grape shot into the tall grass that freed us from them in a moment as they hastily fled in every direction.
Meanwhile the enemy infantry, that had combined with the cavalry, advanced step by step with constant but irregular firing. We now also made use of our guns and sent well aimed shots into the advancing hosts. We were soon enveloped in such dense smoke that we were occasionally obliged to cease firing and to advance slightly on the enemy in order to see our sights. The whole prairie as far as one could see was covered with powder smoke, and thousands of lightening flashes quivered through the dark masses accompanied with the incessant thunder of the artillery and the clear crack of our rifles. Among them sounded the scattered bugle calls of the Mexicans, encouraging the men to battle. From time to time our grape shot hailed death into the ranks of the enemy under the majestic roll of thunder. I do not believe that a coward was to be seen on the battlefield at this moment. Who has time and disposition then to think of himself and his life in such tumult? Who is not inspired by the lusty blowing of the bugles and the thunder of the cannon? All his senses are dulled. One sees nothing, one hears nothing except his enemy, and only partially does one hear the commands of the officers. That is the way it was with us. As the dense smoke only occasionally permitted us to see the advancing enemy, we stepped forward to meet them. Foolhardily several of us stood in his midst and fired.
I myself had gotten so far ahead in the general tumult and fired so incessantly that I did not notice how I stood right among the Mexicans. Everything was confusion and it seemed as if we were shooting each other down for pleasure. When I discovered my error, I hastily went back to my position as my ignition tube was stopped up besides. On my return to my comrades I stopped at each fallen enemy and fired the often loaded musket at the living ones. But how did it look in our camp? Many of our people were either severely wounded or killed. All of our artillerymen with the exception of one Pole had fallen and built a wall around silent cannon, whose power was now passed as the range was now too close to do effective service.
The whole battle ground was covered with dead men, horses, guns and all kinds of objects. I did not spend much time looking at the battlefield, but ran about to try out the guns of the fallen ones as quite a while would probably have been necessary to put mine in order again. I searched a long time before I found a usable one, as the damp, almost wet air, had made practically all unfit for use. Fannin himself was wounded three times. The third bullet had penetrated through a waterproof coat, the trousers, a pocket in the overcoat in which he had a silk handkerchief and into the flesh. But strangely enough it did not tear through the handkerchief and as he pulled it out, the bullet fell on the ground. Now first he felt the pain of the wound.
It was now between five and six o'clock. So far the enemy cavalry had tried in vain to drive its horses against us, because the terrible effect of our artillery and gun fire brought all its effect to nought. And it was obliged to withdraw. The infantry was also compelled to follow without waiting for the signal to withdraw, and our cannon, now operated by the Greys, sent its parting greetings after them. Seven hundred and twenty-odd enemy soldiers lay on the prairie; but we had lost about the fifth part of our men. With the exception of the massacre at the Alamo, this was more than had ever before fallen in any one battle. Meanwhile the enemy remained in possession of the little elevation and seemed disposed to renew the attack on the following day. The so anxiously looked for night broke in soon after the close of the battle, but it was to be no period of recovery for us. A fine rain was falling and spoiled the remaining good guns that we still possessed.
Every moment we expected to be attacked by the enemy, who had posted himself in three detachments around us. The first was placed toward Goliad; the second, on our way to Victoria; and the third, to our left and equally far from the other two so that they formed a triangle. Their signals indicated to us their exact positions. Under these circumstances it was impossible for us to retreat without being noticed. No other way lay open to us than to spike the cannon, abandon the wounded and all the baggage, set our guns in order, provide ourselves with sufficient ammunition and fight our way through the enemy, that is, through that detachment that blocked our way to Victoria. If we could only reach the forest, we would he safe, and no power that Mexico might be able to send over could battle successfully with the Texans. The Greys would rather sacrifice a part of the force for the young Republic than to have the consciousness of having turned the whole force over to the gruesomeness of the enemy upon whose honor and humanity no one could rely. Fannin, however, was of another opinion. Was it possible the three not very dangerous wounds had exhausted his spirit, his well-known gallantry, or was it the groans and wails of the dying-as practically all of the wounded would have to die because the enemy here also used mainly copper bullets, or was it the hope that our advance guard, which had reached the woods before we noticed the Mexicans, would return with help? Only from the reports of our artillery could they infer that we had been attacked, and then as the echo hummed through the forest, it was too late for them to reunite with us, since as stated before, the Mexicans had surrounded us. They were thus also cut off from us. Consequently they could not do anything except to ride hastily to Victoria, which was ten miles away, and to lead the militia there, that was erroneously reported to run up to six hundred men, to our rescue.
Fannin constructed his plan on this hope, and in vain we besought him to use the darkness of the night to cover his retreat. He decided to remain and wait until eight o'clock in the morning. If no help should appear by that time, we could also beat our way through the ranks of our contemptible enemies by day; and if we could not be victorious, we could, at least die fighting.
We felt the seriousness of the moment and the heavy responsibility of our plan and hesitatingly remained. Sadly and without consolation we stared into the night. What awful choice; to leave our friends and brothers to certain death, or to sacrifice ourselves for them! Only weak was our hope for reinforcements from Victoria as we were not convinced of the correctness of the report that militia were there. But we resigned ourselves to our fate, to wait for the next day. Meanwhile our few vehicles, dead horses and any other solid materials were laid up around our camp as breastwork in case of another attack. The groans of the dying friends and enemies far and near was heartbreaking. With shudders we heard their moaning and the hollow noises of the construction of the breastworks as they sounded through the black night across the dark prairie.
At regular intervals the signals of the enemy sounded over us. Otherwise everything was quiet, not even a breath of air moved. Only the cold misty rain helped to stiffen the half-dead bodies of our comrades; while others, who were burning with fever caused by poisoned copper bullets, were pleading in despair for water-only a swallow-only a drop. But there was not a drop with which to quench them; we had nothing to give except our heart's blood. God alone could help. He heard, He saw everything, and helped. A fresh rain cooled the bodies from without; and with the gradual disappearance of the outward heat, the terrible inward fever subsided also. To combat the stiffening of my own joints, I walked up and down in the camp while I cast useless glances into the impenetrable darkness. No rescuing sound could be heard from the east, no star was to be seen on the horizon, no hope flickered in the heart. A broken German speech startled me out of my musings.
Black figures not very far away passed by me from time to time. They were the Indians, who were carrying off the fallen enemies to conceal from us their real loss with the coming of day. Moodily I wandered about, and first at the break of day did I return to the camp. Everybody was already awake in our little fort. Quietly and expectantly our looks wandered over the forest wall from where our rescuers were to burst forth. But with the advance of day our hopes on whose fulfillment Fannin had yesterday believed so faithfully, began to disappear. Doubt after doubt rose up like thunder clouds if not the whole report that a large number of militia were at Victoria was not false since it was difficult to get quick and accurate news in thinly settled country. The artillery of the enemy, that had not arrived on the battlefield yesterday, was planted in position this morning with the detachment that blocked our way to the timber. Our labors during the night were now in vain. The enemy commanded the elevation and our breastworks were useless as his artillery could now reach every nook and corner of our camp, a circumstance that was not noticed yesterday in the heat of battle.
We could not remember ever having seen Fannin, usually so gallant and at times almost rash, so undecided as he was during the last eight days. Especially since yesterday it seemed that one plan after another passed through his head. The large number seemed to confuse him and to hinder him in his usually prompt manner of reaching a decision on a given matter and putting it into speedy execution. The groans of our wounded had now ceased. They had died either from their wounds or from the cold and wetness of the night; or the rain had somewhat alleviated their pains. Scattered far and near about our camp lay the dead Mexicans, that the Indians either had not found or could not carry away. A few of our men went over to view the dead bodies of the enemies, and not very far away from us they found the banner of the Mexican army under a pile of dead riders and horses and brought it into camp. But no rejoicing hurrah came over our lips. All knew that the deciding moment, that was to decide over life and death, was soon to strike. The flag was thrown without consideration on the debris of the camp.
It was approximately seven o'clock when we had given up all hope of reinforcements and had assembled to decide on which manner to attack the enemy and on how we could beat our way through, when suddenly the Mexican artillery bellowed out a good mormng to us and grape shot whistled through and over the assembly, which at once caused us to decide to attack the detachment on our road with our guns and Bowie knives in order to gain the timber. Everything was in readiness; even some of the severely wounded would rather die fighting than be helplessly murdered. See! Unexpectedly the white flag, the sign of peace, rose before us and halted us in our progress. Being suspicious we even then wanted to put our decision into execution, but Fannin's command fettered our movements.
New hopes had arisen within to save the men, who had been placed in his care and who were in this desperate situation because of him, even if it be through honorable capitulation. Three delegates of the enemy approached our camp, two Mexican cavalry officers and a German, who had worked himself up to colonel in the artillery and had won the favor of Santa Anna. He was, if I err not, from Mainz and originally a carpenter, He probably possessed mathematical and architectural talent and offered his services to the German-Mexican Mining company, which, however, was not accepted. Later he went to the English company and was employed by it and was sent to Mexico. Here Santa Anna noticed his talents and had him build a beautiful castle Mango de Clavo for him. Through the construction of this castle, that completely filled the expectations of the owner, Santa Anna got a very high opinion of the knowledge of the builder, which in reality was very meager, that he employed him as an engineer in the army from where he was later advanced to Colonel of Artillery.
This German, Holzinger, was the only officer of the three who could speak English. As it was, however, only in a broken manner, it was often necessary first to translate our transactions into German and from there carry them over to the Spanish. After long negotiations Fannin finally agreed that we should surrender all of our arms, that our private property should be respected, that we ourselves should be shipped through Copano or Matamoros to New Orleans and set free, and that, as long as we were prisoners of war, we should receive the same rations as the Mexican army received. Our obligation was to be our word of honor not to fight hereafter against the present Mexican government. Texans have generally believed that Fannin surrendered on approximately these terms, although Mexican officials have always insisted that the surrender was unconditional.
With misgivings we stood around our Colonel after the Mexicans had ridden back to Urrea, the commander of the Mexican army, to have the ratification of the agreements completed. The united volunteer Greys from New Orleans and Mobile protested loudly:
Thus we spoke, but our speech had missed its purpose. The prospect of soon being back in the States again and of reentering upon former conditions of life moved the other troops to give preference to capitulation. Certainly the life of a soldier in the wilderness is irksome, and the privations that he must endure are not few. But they did not know the charm of the life that the prairies, teeming with game, offered them that, like the red Comanches, hunts through them during all seasons of the year. No worry about house, nourishment, and dress weighs on the fantastically dressed ranger. Everywhere he finds nourishment in abundance, and the few remaining necessities that he is obliged to draw from the regions of civilization are earned with the gun. Happy because he freely roams through the splendid west, he seldom sees the settlements. But when the day of election approached, when the highest officer of the land is to be elected, then the ranger stands with his countrymen to cast his vote for the best interests of his country. It was, therefore, useless to talk against such inclinations. They decided, credulously, to sign the capitulation and the Greys and a part of the Red Rovers, who still held to their former position, were obliged to yield to the majority and like the others hand over their guns.
Inwardly deeply humiliated, which showed itself on our faces, we walked up and down in our camp, casting angry looks at Fannin and the others that had voted for the capitulation. Some sat lost in thought with eyes fixed stark on the ground and envied those who had died during the battle. Despair stood on the features of many of the men, who only too well foresaw our fate. Especially one American named Johnson made himself conspicuous because of his anger. Gnashing his teeth, he stamped on the ground. Thick clouds of smoke from his glowing Havana twirled about his head. Like the smoke from a steamboat cloud after cloud streamed from his mouth, and quicker and quicker they issued forth. Denser and denser did the cloud mass become until it seldom revealed the head, in which now, as it seemed, a terrible plan was being worked up.
Curiosity had brought many Mexicans into our camp, and in company with the Greys they wandered over the field covered with debris and corpses. Nervously they glanced at the stern gray cannon, which had always been frightful to them, as if they were still afraid of this, although now unarmed, enemy that had driven their dried up soldiers from house to house in San Antonio. Now of course they looked down with contempt on the spectacle, to have prisoners of the Texas army. Never before in their lives had they experienced a thing of this kind. Group after group of the Mexicans crowded over into our camp to see the pretty guns that we had surrendered. Everybody was in fervent emotion in that the ones possessed with malicious joy of victory and the other with shameful despondency, and I have said what the Greys felt. Suddenly a light flashed through the misty morning, a dull report followed, and a terrible jarring of the air was combined with it. And then deathly stillness fell over the prairie, which was again covered with wounded men.
Impenetrable suffocating smoke, held down by the damp air, rolled heavily over the dark green prairie. Wildly the horses of several of the enemy officers reared up and frantic with fear rushed out with their stupefied riders in uninterrupted speed with ruffled up manes and flying tails into the safe distance. All had either done so themselves or were thrown to the ground by the concussion and after a while, we still half stunned, went toward the place where the explosion seemed to have broken loose. The powder magazine had disappeared; only a part of the lower frame-work remained. Around the place lay several men wounded, although not severely, and about fifteen yards away from the wagon lay a black body that barely looked like one of a human being. It was still alive but not able to speak. It was burnt black like the color of a negro, and it was impossible to tell who the unfortunate one was. Our glances wandered searching around; the roll was called and the missing man was Johnson.
No one had noticed him before. Was it an accident or was it really his plan to kill himself and as many Mexicans as possible at the same time? At what he considered the favorable moment, he must have ignited the magazine. But as the lid was locked, the main jar went upward, and in this way the terrible plan missed its purpose. The confusion was not yet over, the rage of the Mexicans had not yet subsided, when suddenly the clear signal of alarm sounded over to us and the enemy hastily assembled his troops. Soon this movement explained itself. Our true advance guard appeared in the forest together with all the militia that Colonel Horton could get together in the short time. The report on which we had built our hope was certainly untrue, that is, that there were from 600 to 800 militia at Victoria. Instead there were from thirty to forty men who were waiting for Fannin's arrival and who now appeared under Horton's leadership, forty-odd men altogether, with the positive determination to help us, 'But what fright,' said the brave Horton later on, 'took possession of us as we concluded the results of the fateful morning from the position of the Mexican troops! We stood in astonishment and were undecided (what) to do when suddenly the war-like bugle notes of the Mexicans sounded. No time was to be lost; quickly we had to counsel and just as quickly we were ready. If Fannin had so far forgotten his duty-as to surrender we were obliged to save ourselves for the Republic. Now was the time when Texas needed our arms and our guns. All of our volunteers were now either taken prisoners or were murdered. Consequently we turned our horses and speedily galloped back to Victoria to unite with Houston's troops at Gonzales."
As Horton and his men fled, the Mexicans hastily pursued, however, without results. Safely the former reached the dark and densely forested banks of the Guadalupe and disappeared into the well known forests, which savingly received them into their closely interwoven plant world and the from ten to fifteen feet high cane brakes, and the enemy dared not follow them. If our troops had arrived a half hour earlier, we would have frustrated the bloody catastrophe that soon followed, but it was written otherwise in the book of fate. The volunteers were to die that Texas might step forth from her really precarious position with greater splendor. A sacrificial offering had to be made for freedom in order to fire up anew that spirit that was for a while slumbering so carefree, especially in the hearts of the settlers. It was necessary to execute a bloody act to demonstrate the difference between the blessings of a free system of government and the injustice and presumption of a tyrannical absolute government such as Santa Anna had introduced by the overthrow of the liberal Constitution of 1824 and its conversion into a centralized governmental system.
At two o'clock we received orders to return to Goliad and await Santa Anna's answer that was to designate the port through which we were to be shipped to New Orleans. We, therefore, left the battlefield where we had the day before victoriously defended the rights of freedom, and in the evening by the clear light of the moon we entered the old church of the still smoking fort, our prison quarters. Fort Goliad and the town of La Bahia lie on the right bank of the San Antonio River, high here and bare, about thirty miles from its mouth in Espiritu Santo Bay and from fifty to sixty miles from the main waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The whole region on which the town stands is composed of white broken sandstone through the water has washed deep furrows. Toward the stream barely a twig or tree is to be seen to soften the dead view of this desolate place. A number of stone houses, that are always one story high and resemble chests turned up-side-down and painted white more than they do human habitations, project like high walls out of the surrounding huts, which are built of unhewn tree stems set up perpendicularly and finished with lime. As viewed from the opposite bank of the river this view has something of unusual interest. After one has traveled for months through the ever green and fruitful forests and prairies of the West and has searched in vain for sights of antiquity, with the exception of San Antonio and its missions, a town lies spread out before the stranger, whose location is unfruitful, but whose style of architecture at a distance makes a very favorable impression. The houses that rise in terrace formation one over the other on the slopes of the high banks are a counterpart of the ruins in the Arabian desert, especially when the scorching sun of the south sends its pale rays down upon them and the eye is not able to long endure the blinding glare. Higher up than the town and toward the east Fort Goliad lies on a little plain. It consists of a rectangle about 1,200 feet long and 1,000 feet wide enclosed by a wall, in part, seven feet high and provided, largely by Fannin's command, with bastions at each corner. On the south side is a large built over gate, which formerly contained on the one side the sentinel room and on the other the prison. On the north end opposite side of the fort stands the ruins of an old church with flat roof on which had been placed several small cannon. Westward from the church there is a row of one-story buildings of equal height and provided with flat roofs. From the left bank, as I have stated before, the town and the fort has such a desolate and yet such a highly interesting position that we were agreeably surprised as we for the first time turned around the point of the forest and saw the Place lie before us in all its beauty. On the opposite and left side of the San Antonio lay the ruins of the old Spanish mission of Espiritu Santo in a densely wooded region. At our feet lay the clear San Antonio. Toward the right and left were dark forests. Before us lay Goliad and La Bahia in their blinding sand. And, behind these toward the southeast, south and southwest lay an immense prolifically green prairie on which the great herds of cattle and horses of the inhabitants of the town quietly grazed before the outbreak of the Revolution. It is worthy of note that only the small spot on which the town stands has sandy soil, while all around the soil is rich and overgrown with a luxuriant growth of grass.
Nobody had yet entered the fort when we returned from the battlefield after an absence of thirty-six hours. The Mexicans evidently feared a concealed mine or some other plan through which they might suffer injury. Consequently we were the first ones to enter the desolate ruins again, but as prisoners, and were stuffed into the old church for the night. Literally stuffed, as we stood so close man to man that it was possible at the highest for only one-fourth to even sit down. It was well that the inner room of the church had a height of thirty-five to forty feet. If it had been lower, we would have suffocated. As it was, the air remained fairly fresh. Thus the first terrible night passed away. A burning thirst had taken possession of us. Parching with thirst we called violently for water, but first toward eight o'clock six of our men were instructed to go to the river. The first load disappeared like a single drop on a red-hot stove. Only after the vessels had been filled and emptied three times was our thirst slaked, and we awaited the moment when we would be released from this dungeon and be given nourishment. But our hopes were in vain. We received nothing but water toward evening and the second frightful night broke in upon us. The heat was much greater and more suffocating than the night before. Many slept while standing as the bodies pressed so close against one another made it impossible to fall over. Some of the smaller ones, who were fortunate enough to cower on the floor, could rest at least for a short time. The awfulness of the damp atmosphere that prevailed here was suffocating and it was possible to stand it on the floor for only a short period. The next morning finally appeared, but with it still no liberation from this deathly dungeon. Our breakfast, as before, consisted of water. Strong guards stood in front of the side doors and before the main entrance several cannon; but neither the sharply loaded muskets nor the cannon could suppress our rage.
Loudly Fannin's men demanded the fulfillment of the terms of the capitulation. They clamored for food and demanded to see the commanding officer, or they would not consider their lives too dear to sacrifice them for their rights. The Colonel of the Battalion de Tres Villas appeared immediately after these utterances in company with Holzinger and assured us that he would do his utmost to drive up some steers and butcher them for us as they themselves were not supplied with the least of any other kind of provisions and had not issued any rations to their own army in two days. Although we knew that this was untrue, we promised to remain quiet until evening. Since the cannon at the door were heavily loaded and the men were standing by with burning torches to suppress the slightest movement among us, I am convinced that it was intended to exhaust our patience, to provoke us to the limit, and then, when we should venture to obtain justice with force, to fire on us with grape shot and then to kill the rest of us with bayonet. In this way Santa Anna and his henchmen could later have announced that they were compelled to shoot us down in order to save their lives. In fact they were the first to violate the terms of the capitulation, and a disturbance among us would have been perfectly excusable. If it really was Santa Anna's Plan to murder us in this way, the commander at Goliad did not have the courage to execute it. That evening at about six o'clock we received beef, at the highest, six ounces to the man and much larger promises for more as soon as more cattle could be driven up Now we had meat but it was raw, and we had neither fire nor room to cook it. With a few small pieces of wood that lay about in the church and a little paneling that we tore from the walls our resourceful comrades soon had two, although very small, fires going as the heat and thirst was almost unbearable without these.
On account of the smallness of the fires only a few at a time could roast their meat. And before they all could have gotten through, the whole night would have passed away. Consequently those farthest away from the fires renounced their claims and ate their meat raw, an example that was generally imitated as the fires only added new miseries to the other privations of the body. After we had spent another night in distress like the former two, the command to vacate the church was finally given, not to march away but to exchange the roof of the church for the open heaven and to take a position within the walls under heavy guard. Opposite us were a few companies of infantry that were ready every moment to shoot us down in case one of the many sentinels that stood around us should give the alarm. At the large built-over entrance stood four pieces of artillery, although they were not directed at us. It was raining lightly as we were leaving the church. In spite of that our condition was considerably improved since we, although we were still close together, could at least get fresh air. Today also we did not get anything to eat, and we began to give away our things and also our little money for something to eat. For this the soldiers charged enormous prices, so that a man, not a real hungry one, could eat about ten dollars worth of tortillas, a delicacy made of corn, salt and water and baked in the form of a little pan-cake of the thickness of the back of a knife on a hot tin or even on the open coals under constant turning over and over, after the corn had first been soaked in suitable lye, then pounded to pieces by the artful grip of the Señoras aided by two stones and finally freed from its mealy mass. According to my opinion this is a discovery of the Mexicans, and the aforesaid tortillas would probably let themselves be assembled into a very good grade of leather if passed through a better mulling-machine than the women of Mexico. But what does not taste good when one is hungry? Trousers, shirts and other articles of the wardrobe quickly disappeared among the greedy and half-civilized Mexican soldiers, whose only good trait of character is that they divide with the poor what they steal from the rich. To steal is natural with them, and they do it even when they are not in need. Consequently travelers who travel through the northern states of the Mexican confederation must be very watchful not to lose one or more of their horses every few weeks. First a hired-man, that one usually takes along for a servant or a guide, will disappear with one, or possibly a ranchero (a ranchman), who probably has thousands himself, may entertain himself by stealing one and driving it into his own herd.
It was about four o'clock when all the wounded from the battlefield were brought into the church and a few small buildings. The number ran to approximately two hundred men among whom were about thirty of our comrades. The enemy army was without physicians. Consequently Doctor Shackelford and another of our men had to serve as surgeons, an Englishman and George Voss of Hamburg, as assistants and Joseph Spohn, a young attractive creole from Louisiana, as interpreter. These alone had permission to go about freely, and also to see Fannin and Chutwick (Chadwick), a young cadet of West Point from the States, who had a room to themselves. On the fourth morning we each received three-fourths of a pound of beef that we roasted on little fires. Just as-we were busy with our meat, one hundred and twenty new companions in misfortune appeared to our surprise under heavy guard. They were the troops of Major Ward, who, after wandering about in the completely unknown prairie for eight days, surrendered on the same terms, after hearing of our capitulation.
Twenty-six men of them, all carpenters, were left at Victoria on Holzinger's direction, who indicated that he needed them in getting the artillery over the river as the Mexicans were of no value at heavy work. Although we barely knew each other, we sorrowfully shook hands as friends. Ward, who now saw how wrong it was not to have obeyed Fannin's order to return to Goliad at once, did not wish to leave his companions in this sad condition, into which his ambitiousness had brought them, and shared the privations of the imprisonment with us instead of living in the room with Fannin in which he was at first directed.
When I think of that time, my hands involuntarily clinch together; and gnashing with fury I would like to strike out the time that has passed since that day and lead my comrades against the planted cannon and the bayonets of the Mexican devils that I might not die unavenged. On the sixth we received the third and last ration of one pound of beef in the fort. All of our things had passed over into the hands of the Mexicans, and we possessed possibly only a few precious objects, which, however, did not escape the greedy glances of the enemy soldiers, who tried by every means and tricks to entice these away from us also, to steal or to simply take away, as we were not permitted to follow them through the guards. Naturally compensation was out of the question as well as the consideration of our complaints.
From me they stole one of those large, pretty, woolen covers which are made only in the mountain lands of Mexico and are completely waterproof. But they also had an enormous price. Mine, that I had bought twelve to fourteen days ago from a Mexican spy that we had captured for ten dollars, was probably worth from forty to fifty dollars. In the center of these blankets are openings for the head to pass through, the sides of which are usually surrounded with either stitched or worked-in garlands. The four outer comers are ornamented in the same way. If the ends of these covers, especially the finer ones that are usually white, are gracefully folded back so that the right side falls over the left shoulder this ornament makes a very good impression on many a fantastically dressed ranchero or officer. Besides that they are light and warm. In vain I asked Holzinger to have mine sent back to me. In answer he told me that that would not do, as I as a prisoner would have to put up with many things. During the afternoon I had the pleasure of seeing the cover wrapped over the body of the same villain whom I had paid ten dollars for it when he was our prisoner.
We were momentarily expecting a courier from Santa Anna, who was just then making preparations to follow Houston. General Urrea had crossed the Guadalupe immediately after our capitulation. He accomplished this because the militia had evacuated Victoria without firing a shot. Probably from 600 to 800 men were now at Goliad, among them was the previously mentioned Battalion de Tres Villas. The name of its colonel, who was also the commander of the fort, has slipped my mind. On the seventh morning at about nine o'clock the Mexicans brought in another one hundred prisoners, volunteers from New York under Colonel Miller, who was captured immediately after their landing at Copano. Since they had not heard anything of the arrival of the Mexicans in Texas, they believed themselves perfectly safe and went in boats, on account of the shallow water, to the firm land one-half mile away without arms. Barely had they arrived at the shore before they scattered, glad to set their feet on solid earth again after a journey of several weeks. Suddenly hordes of the Mexican cavalry rushed out of the mesquite timber, through which the road to Refugio winds, and upon them; and before they could recover from their astonishment, they were prisoners. They received other quarters outside of the fort and they were also permitted to move about freely. In order that they could be recognized by the soldiers, they wore broad white bands around their arms. From Colonel Miller and especially from Joseph Spohn and George Voss we have the report of what transpired at Goliad after our departure.
Today also went to a close without any food passing over our lips except the refreshing drinks from the San Antonio. Terrible thirst must have been raging within the unfortunate ones, who, disregarding the same, were in good humor and so full of hopes that they were planning what they were going to do after their arrival at New Orleans. Others were picking the little flesh here and there from the bones that we had thrown on a pile to bum several days before our retreat. They were namely bones of eight hundred steers from which we had cut the meat that we had then dried and later burnt.
THE MURDER OF THE PRISONERS
The cloudy morning of the eighth day dawned. If the enemy had not changed our condition, we would have forcibly freed ourselves or ended the imprisonment in death. But it was to come otherwise. Grey clouds circled the horizon, while not the slightest motion occurred on the surface of the earth. A damp sultriness lay on the prairie, capable of inciting feelings of misgivings among those who had nothing to fear, whose own horizon was clear. How much more must not our imagination have depicted the impenetrable future with dark pictures that were soon to become reality! A courier with the disposition of our fate from Santa Anna probably arrived during the night.
Anxiously we looked forward to the news and keenly hoped, in conformity with orders, immediately to break camp for Matamoros and to greet the free, blue gulf from there, to pierce his waving billows, and, finally, to sail up the mighty Mississippi, the father of the rivers of North America, to the city that we had seven months before left in merry enthusiasm. Bright and dreary glimpses into the future alternated in rapid succession. The cannon that had formerly guarded the entrance were turned around during the night and directed at our quarters. Apparently they were heavily loaded. On the other side of them stood the artillerymen with burning torches ready to fire at the first wink.
In front of us stood several companies in dress uniforms, which, however, were very shabby and made of the coarsest material. They did not have the least camp equipment with them, which, however, we did not notice, as they as a rule had little or nothing to take with them. I believe that I can frankly assert that not one of the Texans noticed it. At last an officer stepped among us with Santa Anna's orders in his hands of which he did not let us know any more than that we were to march off at once. It was eight o'clock in the morning. Where to? To Copano or to Matamoros? was not revealed to us and we were left to surmise. Short time was necessary for us to make our preparations to leave this place of misery, and in a few minutes we stood in position two men deep, with the exception of Colonel Miller's detachment, which, as previously stated, lay outside the fort. Furthermore, Fannin, the physicians and assistants, the interpreter and the wounded were missing, who were later to be brought to New Orleans by a nearer way.
After the roll had been called for the last time and after the last echo of the oft repeated, 'Here,' that accompanied the calling of the different names had died away, the order to march was given; and the Greys marched ahead under the command of First Lieutenant McMannemy of the Greys of Mobile through the dark gate. Singularly enough both the captains had left for Houston's headquarters on company business a few days before the retreat began. Out side of the gate we were received on each side by a troop of Mexicans. Like us, they had been placed man behind man to form two rows. Thus enclosed we marched forward. We were close to 400 men and the enemy at least 700, not counting the cavalry that was swarming about on the prairie in little detachments.
From now on it is possible for me to give an account of my own experiences and to tell that of the others according to other, already named, sources, which, however, are no less reliable than mine, I can assure you, as three and sometimes more eye witnesses told identically the same account. And the Mexicans did not deny the thing maintained by them. Quietly the column marched forward on the road toward Victoria, contrary to our expectations. Where they were going to take us in this direction was an object of general consideration for us. Most of us seemed to think that they were taking us to an eastern harbor in order to ship us to New Orleans from there, which finally would be the same, and it would even be nearer and better for us this way. The intolerable silence of the usually talkative Mexicans and the sultry heat increased the nervous expectations that were now lying on the breasts of all of us. This death march, as one can with justice call it, often recalls to my memory the bloody scenes that I was to witness at that time. Anxiously I looked back to the rear part of the column to see if Miller's people were marched off at the same time with us. But imagine my astonishment when neither Fannin's men nor the last captured Georgia Battalion was to be seen! They had separated us without our noticing it, and only the Greys and a few of the colonists were marching in the detachment with which I was. I glanced over at the escort and now first I noticed their festal uniforms and the absence of camping equipment. Bloody pictures rose up in my mind, among others those of Tampico, San Patricio and the Alamo. Then I thought of the character of our enemies, their duplicity, their banditry and their exultation in bloody deeds. All of these together prepared me for the worst, and there were moments when I was on the point of acquainting my companions with my apprehensions. But the never-dying hope detained me. It showed me the future even now in brilliant colors, and absorbed in thought I continued to step forward. The pictures on our probable fate became ever livelier in my imagination, and soon the happy ones of the future exchanged places for the painful ones of reality. The next moment my few remaining articles rolled through the lines of the Mexicans out on the fresh green prairie so that I would not be hindered in my movements in case of need.
Probably a quarter of an hour had passed since we had left the fort, and not a word had passed over our lips nor over those of the enemy. Every one seemed to have dropped into deep reflections. Suddenly the command of the Mexican sounded to march off to the left from the main road; and as we did not understand, the officer led the way himself. My companions in misfortune still carelessly followed the leader. To our left a little five or six feet high mesquite hedge extended straight to the roaring San Antonio River about a thousand yards away, whose clear waves here at right angles with the hedge pushed their way through bluffs between thirty to forty feet high, which rise practically perpendicularly from the water level on the side. Our feet were directed down the hedge and towards the river. Suddenly the thought seized everyone: 'Where with us in this direction?" This and several mounted lancers to our right, to whom we had previously given no attention, confused us. And now we noticed that the line of the enemy between us and the hedge had remained behind and was now lining up on the other side so that they formed a double file here. Unable to comprehend this movement, we were still in a maze when a 'Halt!' was commanded in Spanish, which ran through us like a death sentence. At that moment we heard the muffled rolling of the musket volley in the distance. Involuntarily we thought of our companions, who had been separated from us and evidently led off in that direction.
Astonished and confounded we looked at each other, and cast questioning glances at ourselves and then at the Mexican officers. Only a few of us understood Spanish and could not or would not obey the order. Meanwhile the Mexican soldiers, who were barely three steps away, leveled their muskets at our chests and we found ourselves in terrible surprise. Only one among us spoke Spanish fluently, whose words seemed incomprehensible to him. In doubt he stared at the commanding officer as if he wanted to read a contradiction on his features of what he had heard. The remainder of us fixed our eyes on him to thrust ourselves on the threatening enemy at the first sound from his lips. But he seemed, as we were, possessed of the unfortunate hope that this order was naked threat to force us into Mexican service. With threatening gestures and drawn sword the chief of the murderers for the second time commanded in a brusque tone: 'Kneel down!'
A second volley thundered over to us from another direction, and a confused cry, probably from those who were not immediately killed, accompanied it. This startled our comrades out of their stark astonishment which had lasted from five or six seconds. New life animated them, their eyes flashed and they cried out:
A terrible cracking interrupted him and then everything was quiet. A thick smoke slowly rolled toward the San Antonio. The blood of my lieutenant was on my clothing and around me quivered my friends. Beside me Mattern and Curtman were fighting death. I did not see more. I jumped up quickly, and concealed by the black smoke of the powder, and rushed down the hedge to the river. I heard nothing more and saw nothing. Only the rushing of the water was my guide. Then suddenly a powerful sabre smashed me over the head. Before me the figure of a little Mexican lieutenant appeared out of the dense smoke, and a second blow from him fell on my left arm with which I parried it. I had nothing to risk, but only to win. Either life or death! Behind were the bayonets of the murderers, and before me was the sword of a coward that crossed my way to the saving stream. Determinedly I rushed upon him. Forward I must go, and-the coward took flight in characteristic Mexican gallantry. Now the path was open, near was the point of my escape. Another few moments had passed. The smoke rolled like a black thundercloud over to the other side, and I stood with rapidly beating heart on the rocks and back of me the hangmen were pursuing.
Like a corps from hell they set in after me, but with a 'The Republic of Texas Forever!' I threw myself into the rescuing floods. Swimming slowly toward the opposite bank and prodded from time to time with the poorly aimed bullets that the enemy sent after me, I swam through the current of my savior. But another victim was to fall through the Mexican barbarity, namely, our faithful dog that had accompanied the company from the beginning to the end and that now sprang into the water after me to share my pleasures and sufferings with me in my flight through the unknown prairie. He had already reached the center of the stream when the Mexicans made a target of him; and although they seldom hit, the faithful friend, wounded, disappeared under the waves.
Arriving at the other bank of the river, I looked around once more to where my comrades were dying, while the bullets of the still firing enemies whistled about me. The hellish exaltations of the enemy mixed with the cries of pain of my dying brothers sounded over to me. What feelings took possession of me here! I cast another look and a farewell greeting to my dead companions and turned to flee. I had to hasten if I did not wish to fall into the hands of the lancers who were now on this side of the river less than a half a mile below me. I threw away everything that I could spare as the water had made my clothing considerably heavier, and, unfortunately, in the haste my diary also, that I had kept to this time. Provided with only the most necessary clothing, even without coat and cap, having lost the latter in the stream, I set out across the heavenly forests and prairies of the West.