Short Memoirs & Sketches from Old Texians
Memoirs of Major George Bernard Erath by Lucy Erath. From Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXVI, 1923. II. 5. At San Jacinto, 1838. [This account of the San Jacinto campaign being a rationalized one should be compared with such studies of the campaign as appear in THE QUARTERLY, IV, 237-260, and in Bancroft, North Mexican States and Texas, 11, 243-265]
.......asked if he had ....military training. "No," said he, "I knows but vone vord of command, und dot ish, 'Sharge, poys, sharge.'--Noah Smithwick
[Photo from J.T. DeShields Border Wars of Texas] General Houston had retreated from Gonzales to the Colorado River to a place near where Columbus now stands. On the 20th of March about fourteen hundred men were at that place under his command. I had joined Captain Billingsly's company from Bastrop, Burleson's regiment. There was great eagerness among us to fight, but in a few days General Houston ordered the retreat to the Brazos River. This caused over four hundred men to leave us. Although we were constantly receiving volunteers the army did not number but about one thousand at San Jacinto. Seven hundred and eighty fought the battle; the rest were fifteen miles away scouting the baggage at Harrisburg. About the first of April heavy rains set in, impeding our progress, and for nearly two weeks we were encamped in the Brazos bottom near where Hempstead now stands, while Santa Anna occupied San Felipe, and moved down the river to cross at Fort Bend. The delay had a good effect in disciplining us, and giving us information about military tactics.
We crossed the Brazos about the fourteenth, and traveled on to Harrisburg as rapidly as the state of the roads would permit. Santa Anna with a small portion of his men had really got ahead of us, and was going down the bay in the direction of Galveston. After burning Harrisburg, he met at New Washington two vessels carrying supplies for his army. Putting part of these supplies on flatboats, and part on several hundred pack mules, he again advanced up the country to meet with us at San Jacinto. I have based my views of what took place at this time on reflections deduced afterward from that of which I was an eye witness and participant, and on positive information obtained from Mexican officers. Santa Anna had reached Fort Bend with four thousand men, and captured the ferry boat. without opposition. Although a company of Texans was stationed there under Captain Wyly Martin to watch his movements, and Captain Mosely Baker with a company from our regiment had followed him from San Felipe, they found it useless to oppose the superior numbers.
Santa Anna had made arrangements to be met, as he was met, by those vessels at New Washington without protection of any naval or land force. Of this arrangement and of Santa Anna's special maneuver, our army seemed to have known nothing. Nor, so far as I know, has any Texas writer on the subject mentioned Santa Anna's design, or that Houston knew of such design. With an actual force of hardly six hundred men Santa Anna left his army. In all he had perhaps a thousand with him, but the rest were only cargadores or muleteers with some four or five hundred pack mules to be loaded. His inclination for good living must have been a personal inducement for him to detach himself from his army with so small a force and go in search of it. That we captured those articles of high living is a matter of history, as also that Santa Anna knew nothing of us to be dealt with, but thought our army broken up and dispersed and that he bad only to meet a few bands covering the retreat of flying Texans. He expected, too, that the Cherokees would rise further east to annihilate us. From my own observations, I am satisfied that he did not expect to meet an organized force, and was apprised of our formidable opposition only when our cannon made it known. Decidedly much of our success at that time was due to Santa Anna's voluptuousness and to his stubbornness and despotism.
He accomplished his design of getting the cargoes of the vessels. From the writings of a Mexican officer, one of his aid-de-camps whose name I have forgotten, I have the information that he told the men he took with him and those he left on the Brazos that he expected to be back in a few days. [Perhaps, Pedro Delgado, whose Diary was translated and published in a pamphlet entitled: The Battle of San Jacinto: Viewed from both an American and Mexican standpoint. Its details and incidents as officially reported by Major General Sam Houston of the Texan Army. Also an account of the action written by Col. Pedro Delgado, of General Santa Anna's staff. V. O. King, editor. Austin, 1878. Delgado's account also appears in Linn's Reminiscences of Fifty Years in Texas. New York, 1883, pages 225-246]
He moved forward rapidly, traveling out of the bottom and swimming a bayou, and was stopped in the night by his cannon getting bogged. He was through unloading his vessels at New Washington late on the evening of the 19th, burned that town, and returning camped half way between it and the battle ground. We had traveled the whole night, leaving our baggage under guard of three hundred men at Harrisburg. We reached Vince's Bayou, where there was a bridge much spoken of, two miles from the battle ground, at daylight. I had been employed for a few days in guarding and handling quarter-master stores, but joined my company on leaving Harrisburg. From my employment in the quarter-master's department I had some privileges: I was allowed to pass about and be away from the company at times which gave me opportunity to see and note, and I know that on the morning before the day of the battle the whole staff and most all the officers were at a loss as to where to look for Santa Anna. He had gone the same route as ourselves on the road to Lynchburg, but after crossing the bridge at Vince's Bayou turned south, and while the talk went on as to his whereabouts being unknown we were halted and arranged along the timber of Buffalo Bayou.
General Houston and some of his staff were directly in front of our company, when General Rusk came galloping up. Rusk's first words I can repeat verbatim:
We resumed our march, crossed the bridge to a somewhat elevated point of timber on the bank of Buffalo Bayou some mile and a half above Lynchburg, and were aligned in regular military order with the artillery in the middle and the cavalry on the right. We were hidden from Santa Anna's view by a small rise in the ground and by brush in the edge of which our position was taken. We made preparations for the attack and, somehow and in spite of some former boastings of times when Texans had whipped Mexicans five to one, we began to be a little cautious. Santa Anna, it was said, had with him the elite and veterans of Mexico, who had never been conquered. But from the trace where he left the Bayou and where he crossed another bayou, extremely boggy, we could see that his force was not stronger than ours. His boats from New Washington, badly guarded, got ahead of him in the strong wind, and coming up close to the shore, some of our scouts, fifteen or twenty in number, surprised and captured them. We feasted from them several days in camp after the battle.
He advanced. He attempted to scatter us by a shot from his cannon, but when that was answered by our artillery, he found out the real situation, encamped his men at once on the bayou, and sent a dispatch to General Cos. General Cos for safety had been ordered to cross the Brazos River and advance slowly to protect Santa Anna on his return, and had made some little distance from the Brazos when he received Santa Anna's express. He came on immediately. Both armies apparently went into camp on the battle field, firing cannon at each other occasionally. There was much talk among us as to the strength and disposition of the enemy. Most of the men wanted a voice in whatever was to be done, some urging an immediate attack, but the greater number were now grown a little careful, and passed remarks to the effect that they preferred to wait some time for orders. The firing of cannon went on at intervals, and Colonel Neill of the artillery was wounded by a grape shot during the morning. Our dinner was rather superb, gained by the capture of the boats with the supplies for the Mexicans. We were unused to flour but had it in bread that day. The coffee we couldn't parch for want of cooking utensils left. at Harrisburg. We peeled off cypress bark in flakes for trays, and made the flour into a stiff dough, wound it around a stick with a piece of tallow or fat beef on top, and roasted the whole on top of the fire. It was a change from our rough living on half-cooked beef and corn ground by ourselves. Perhaps, it was that meal that made us more eager for operations to begin.
Apprehensions were expressed that General Houston did not intend to fight there, and might retreat further. To such a course general resistance was announced. By his long retreat, Houston had made himself extremely unpopular, especially with the western men who in consequence of it had had their property destroyed, houses burned, and land devastated. But about 3 o'clock the cavalry was thrown forward for a reconnaissance; our regiment with one cannon followed a short distance to cover the reaction, and took position in a small grove at the head of a shallow ravine on a plane inclined toward the Mexican camp, and in full view of it. Our cavalry came into action, moving from right to left, then turned and passed back on our left, carrying with them one of our men severely wounded. The Mexicans made a deploy as if to advance on us, but, after the firing of several cannon on each side without any effect on us, retreated to their position. We, too, returned to camp. This maneuvre disclosed the Mexican strength as considerably inferior to ours, and their position as very badly chosen for their defense. The cry for attacking them became more unanimous, with the determination to retreat no further; and it was only by the advice and example of a sprinkle of old men among us, some of whom had been in the Revolutionary war and that of 1812, that we kept order and discipline to await the developments of next day. The night passed off comparatively quiet, with occasional cannon shots on either side, the enemy's going far over us, as perhaps ours did over them, for their position was now in a bayou slightly protected by a low rise of the ground three hundred yards in front.
At daylight General Cos arrived, which doubled the strength of our enemies. This arrival was looked for by our principal officers and might have been easily prevented, but was permitted and an effort was made to keep the knowledge from us for fear it might intimidate us. But we knew very well of the reinforcement and were all the more goaded to fight on account of it. It had the effect, however, of making us calm and determined and of reinstating order. By noon a general decision was known among us that we would not retreat further, and that we would fight in the next twenty-four hours. As far as the junction of Cos with Santa Anna is concerned my opinion, like that of many others, was then and always has been, that it was the best thing for Texas that could have taken place. Had we attacked them before, as we did on the evening of the 21st, they would have scattered pell-mell and Santa Anna would have taken an early opportunity to escape without making a stand at all. In our excitement, we would have occupied ourselves in slaughtering the few Mexicans.
Some time between three and four o'clock on the afternoon of the 21st, when everything seemed to be in a quiet of suspense, I was moving about in front of a thicket on the top of the rise above our company, watching the Mexican camp which could be overlooked from there. Colonel Burleson came galloping up alone. He had come along the line on the left of the regiment, riding somewhat away from the right, on a straight course to the camp (a little in advance of us) of what was called the Battalion of Regulars (about a hundred men armed with muskets and bayonets). Burleson knew me familiarly. He said: "George, you run down and tell your captain and the captains on the right to come up here instantly and meet me"; then he galloped on. I delivered the order, there being only two other captains on our right, and was back immediately to the place myself. Within a few minutes the captains and some of the lieutenants of the regiment were assembled there. If anyone besides myself, not a commissioned officer, was there it was Craft, the orderly sergeant of Billingsley's company.
Burleson was back by the time they all got there, and dismounting he addressed his officers in about these words:
After a pause Captain M. Baker spoke, saying it was late in the day, the fight might be protracted, and moved that we attack at daylight, giving some other reasons and ideas; but his speech was short. No objections were made; his proposition was at once agreed to, and Burleson remounted and rode off in the direction of the other regiment. The, officers dispersed, except Billingsly, my captain, and three or four who had sat down on the ground; and I continued to stand by, listening to what they had to say. In a few minutes Burleson came dashing back to the place, and said:
I have had occasion to tell this which I have here repeated many times before when talking of the battle of San Jacinto. I have never heard it disputed. But this consultation of officers has never been brought up to me in conversation by any one else, nor have I found any allusion to such consultation in my reading of accounts of the battle. It indicated that the fight was brought about by the voice of the army. General Houston has always been accredited with having absolute control without council or advice. I do not know whether he demanded the consultation, or sanctioned it; but it shows that he, too, was undecided as to the course of action at the time. At the Veteran's meeting in San Antonio some years ago I asked Billingsly and Calder, the only captains of Burleson's regiment still living, if they remembered the fact I have mentioned; they both replied that they remembered it well, but had hardly thought of it before. In publishing my views of San Jacinto in Street's Monthly some seven years ago I made these same statements, and I do so again because of their truth not to produce any effect against Houston with whose conduct and management I have become very well reconciled, though at that time my opinions were with those of the army generally. Whether accident, Providence, or General Houston's military talent gave us victory that day I am willing to allow General Houston the credit, especially as his statesmanship later proved him a hero, and certain it is that had we attacked on the 20th and had wiped out the number there then, it would not have been to the same advantage. The announcement of the decision to fight acted like electricity. Being ever ready, our lines were formed at once, but in the low ground out of sight of the Mexicans. Perhaps, a delay of half an hour occurred till the position was perfect as to rank and number. We deployed on the high ground; first in line ~ was the cavalry on the right, the artillery next, the small detachment of regulars next, the first regiment to which I belonged next, and the second regiment commanded by Colonel Sherman on the extreme left. Orders to wheel in detached companies and march in double file by heads of companies followed.
Descending into a sink of ground, then reaching a small eminence two or three hundred yards from the Mexicans, we were ordered to wheel by left into front, which was done, and brought us to the top of the hill. Coming from the front, General Houston came dashing through our lines. The Mexican bullets were flying. The second regiment on our left had already joined combat. General Houston cried: "Not a man reinforcement! Not a man reinforcement!" and galloping on was wounded soon after. I have said we knew of the reinforcement. I knew it; and the whole of the company to which I belonged knew it well. By going up the hill to the thicket where the council mentioned took place, we could almost count the Mexicans. They could also be seen by climbing trees. At about eleven o'clock that morning a man stationed in a tree was telling those below what he saw, when a load of grape shot went through the tree-tops, and he slipped down in a hurry. I had heard a confidential conversation between General Rusk and Colonel Burleson in which Rusk said the idea must be put out that Santa Anna had gone, and that the men coming into the camp at daylight were the escort returning which had guarded him out. The disposition we were in at the time---to fight and end the suspense---was not affected by that cry of not a man reinforcement! The idea flashed to me at the moment that, under the fire of the Mexican artillery and in the excitement of the opening battle, it was an insult to us to think we could care for that little reinforcement. We would have fought the whole world then. We had been marched from the Guadalupe in a roundabout, zigzag way through swamps and bogs; we had lived part of the time on half-spoiled beef; we had been delayed in going through the lower country, often standing knee-deep in water waiting on baggage wagons to be drawn out of bogs: we had the experience of having even a woman draw a gun on us--some of us---for confiscating her oxen under orders; and we had been subjected to all the military discipline and practices that were ever enforced on troops of any country, standing guard twenty-four hours out of forty-eight; and not allowed to go to sleep even at the guard fire. General Houston made us a speech at Harrisburg as we started on our march to attack the Mexicans; he promised us that we should have full satisfaction for all we had gone through; and he closed his address by saying let your war cry be "Remember the Alamo!"
As the Mexicans shot high, nearly all the harm done to us was done during the descent of the hill to the Mexican line. We reserved our fire. It seemed to me that the order to fire as premature, as we were one hundred and fifty yards, I thought, from the Mexicans. While reloading my gun after my first fire I choked the ball. A young man named Ed Blakey was mortally wounded higher up the hill; he ran along by my side until he fell; I picked up his gun and shot bag, and threw mine down. The whole Mexican line was in full flight by the time I got a second shot. Our men advanced rather in disorder, and drove the Mexicans across the boggy slew where many fell. Their cannon had been taken and passed. Ours had ceased firing because we were too closely mixed with the Mexicans. At a point of timber across the slew, which was by this time bridged with bogged horses on which we crossed, a Mexican officer of high rank, flourishing his sword, made a grand appeal to rally his men, but was shot down, and the men who had turned to face us again resumed their flight only to be overtaken and shot. I do not like to dwell on these scenes. No doubt our men were justifiable, as the Mexican nation deserved punishment for its perfidy, though the soldiers were not responsible for it. About half of them were killed; some drowned in the bay. General Almonte with commendable daring came forward among our men, called for officers, and demanded to be allowed to surrender. About five hundred men grouped up behind him on the principle of civilized warfare. I did not see this; I believe Colonel Burleson was the officer who accepted the surrender and gave the orders to cease firing. At the time I was with a large party of men all from different commands who were pursuing Mexicans toward the bay. Some attempted to swim across. I returned then. Our troops were scattered and as much in disorder as the Mexicans. It took me some time to find the regiment, or the nucleous with the colonel in it, about the center of the Mexicans. The drums were beating the assembly, and men were slowly coming in [It has been claimed the army was without a drum.-L. A. E].
Of the main proceedings during the night I know little, being detached from the main body to guard Santa Anna's baggage. I wish to make one further comment on that time, which is, that I believe the Mexican soldiers we encountered that day were much braver than they have ever been credited with being; no one has ever disputed the bravery of their officers. There were two causes for officers and men a like being dispirited. One was the miserable position taken. It would have been a formidable one three hundred yards farther back, with the boggy slew in front, and the timber to rally in. The Mexican officers describe Santa Anna as not open to counsel, stubborn, self-confident, tyrannical, and the men knew that he had acted contrary to the laws of nations in the slaughter of our men at the Alamo and at Goliad. They had had good experience of the American in battle; we came with the cry of "Alamo!" and they knew it meant vengeance. We were not hurt in our advance by their fire, and we reserved our own for close quarters. Their resistence did not last over ten minutes.
When Burleson's regiment had slowly assembled and formed, with face toward our old camp, the right of it was by a pile of baggage closely covering a square of about thirty feet with open spaces inside. It was near the center of what had been the Mexican camp, and about fifty yards away down hill on the bank of the slew was another such square of baggage. The officers had waited till after sundown for men to come in and now Burleson ordered them to take up the march back to camp. I and an elderly man, Simmons, from Bastrop, were at the time standing by this pile of baggage. Burleson came up to me and said,
I made some remark as to how long we were to stay, and he said the whole night if necessary, that we could sleep time about, and that he would try and have us relieved. He rode away; we went inside the baggage pile and found it was Santa Anna's, containing camp furniture of silver, nicely arranged, such as a European prince might take with him into the field. And there were besides all kinds of eatables---a considerable part already cooked. Simmons took a kind of mat off a pyramid about six feet high, and called me to look. It was several dozen baskets of champagne; and just beside it was found another such a pyramid. I was not interested in champagne, nor did Simmons make any immoderate use of it; but he gave the bottles liberally to the stragglers returning to camp, saying that it belonged to the eatables which we had permission to give away.
There was a disagreeable scene near; a pile of dead Mexicans, and some wounded ones lay close up against the baggage and among it. Their cries of A Dios! and Agua! aroused my sympathy and I furnished them with water; but they all died before midnight. When Captain Roman of Company A of our regiment arrived with his men in about two hours, we thought he had come to relieve us, but he said he had been sent especially to take charge of the military chest the colonel had left in our possession. I told him it was not here but might be in the other pile of baggage which we had not examined; so he marched his company to the other baggage, found the chest, and came back to tell us, when we showed him the champagne. Then he called for his lieutenant, and the matter of champagne got out some way so that we had plenty of company of officers for the rest of the night. I don't think much of the wine was left. I took my carouse in eating sugar while others drank. Neither Simmons nor I got a wink of sleep the whole night. An officer brought an order in the morning for Captain Turner to take charge, and Burleson sent a message to me that it had been his intention to have Roman relieve us in the night.
The military chest contained eleven thousand dollars in specie. Santa Anna's fine saddle, which was in my possession that night, brought eight hundred dollars when sold at auction the next day. All the finery and silver with the military chest brought sixteen hundred dollars. After three thousand was voted to the navy, there was left for every man in the service, whether in the battle or not, eleven dollars apiece. I do not believe the rumors of embezzlement. It is my opinion that everything was handled fairly and squarely. About half the Mexican force was killed, some wounded, and seven hundred prisoners taken. About eight hundred pack mules and a number of horses fell into our hands. Our own loss, if I remember aright, was six killed and eighteen wounded; only one killed and six wounded in our company; there were twenty-four companies in all. As might have been expected Santa Anna made his escape while his officers and men were fighting for him. He was captured next day in a thicket up a tree about two miles from our camp. Statements vary as to the details of his capture. I saw him soon after he was brought in. On account of my occupation the night before, I was given liberty the next day. I slept during the forenoon. In the afternoon I heard a rumor of Santa Anna's capture, and went down to General Houston's camp near the bank of the bayou. Quite in contrast with Santa Anna's extravagant luxuries, Houston lay wounded on a blanket or two, with his head against a tree, and a rope was stretched around him breast high to keep him from being stepped on by passers-by. Santa Anna was already inside the rope, but few were aware that he was there. Lieutenant Bryan and Vice-President Zavala were interpreting. Almonte, who spoke English well, was also brought. Other officers came and received introductions to Santa Anna, but few remained by. I followed very closely his phrasing in his own language, and thought him a great diplomatist. Among his first propositions was an armistice, and when he understood it was not desired, unless for the purpose of negotiation for our independence, the substance of his reply, as I remember it, was that the fate of war had decided the matter, and he intimated that he would not be averse to granting it. I also remember that he laid stress on the fact that he still had four thousand men under arms on the Brazos, but offered for the sake of compromise to order them to retire. This is giving the particulars of my own remembrance, which does not differ in the main from other accounts.
Street's Monthly is unknown to the Editors. Perhaps, it was published at Waco. An undated and unidentified clipping accompanying the Erath Memoirs appears to be a reprint of Major Erath's account of the battle of San Jacinto. The editorial introduction in the clipping credits the account to Street's News. The account was written for a different purpose; and, after a few changes had been made, which appear on the clipping, it may presumably be regarded as bearing Major Erath's approval---E.W.W.
The battle of San Jacinto is believed, by the present generation, to have effected its result by actual hard fighting, but the merits of the officers and soldiers of that time are in their perseverance, their hardships and privations. After the fall of Bexar, in the month of December, 1835, the people became overconfident in their own ability and Mexican insignificance. A land speculating element of immigration who did not remain, induced them to lean too much to private interest, and when the Alamo was besieged, no entreaties could bring men in the field, believing the handful of men under Travis sufficient to repulse 7,000 Mexicans, who advanced from the Rio Grande. When Travis and his men fell and were put to the sword by Santa Anna's proclamation for the extermination of the American people from the soil of Texas, terror took the place of self-confidence and boasting. At first a great number started to the army, but on General Houston's retreat to the Colorado, the greater portion of the men had to move their families, and as the retreat commenced to the Brazos, the army reduced from 1,400 to about 1,000 at Harrisburg, and only 683 at San Jacinto.
The integrity and self-sacrifice of those who remained really commands admiration being subject to hardships not often paralleled. The men were mostly on foot, the country flooded with rain, many without shoes, wearing moccasins made of deer skins, stretching when wet, and when dry, contracting, to bring the foot into the dimensions of that of a Chinese lady; their clothing was scant, few had more than one thin blanket; their tents were open, and to avoid lying in the mud, brush or grass had to be obtained and laid down to sleep on. Their supplies were beef principally, scant of salt, an ear of corn for a man a day, which had to be ground on a steel mill. Generally every company had one, which, after marching the whole day, was fastened to a tree for each mess to grind on, and then to be cooked into what is called mush, as there were no facilities for baking bread, frying pans and tin cups being the only cooking utensils. Many were sick, the discipline exacted by General Houston severe, often half at a time on guard, those not permitted to leave the guard fire for twenty-four hours; their mess mates had to prepare and bring to them their rations; all this was to do when the men had spent the greater part of the day knee-deep in water, standing half the time to await the slow movements of the cannon and wagons dragged by oxen out of the mud.
Such inconveniences made men reckless, there was a general clamor to fight, but we were really separated from the enemy by the attempt of Santa Anna to get ahead of us and reach the coast. Numbers left us in despair, giving up the cause as lost. Finally we reached Harrisburg, just burned and evacuated by the Mexicans, and the capture of a courier disclosed, partially, Santa Anna's intentions, but about two thousand Mexicans had left the Brazos, and they were scattered. Santa Anna only having with him about seven or eight hundred men, had gone to a place called New Washington, on the bay, to receive supplies by water. Operations were determined on. Gen. Houston addressed us, and the baggage was to be left under guard, which consisted of the sick, the old men and the boys, and perhaps a few who thought the issue doubtful. The baggage could no longer be pulled by the worn-out teams, although all of it might now be [car]ried in one two-horse wagon [or o]n two mules. We were to cook two days' rations, which was no light job, as we had little or no pots to cook it in. At night we crossed the bayou, marched down it in fours and holding together trying to sleep as we were walking along. At or near day we filed to the left, and were ordered to rest. Our provisions were eaten up during the night and we kept from going to sleep; and when daylight was on the sky a bunch of cattle came near. We killed some of them, built fires and had meat roasting on sticks, when Rusk galloped along the lines, saying, "Moments are ages; Santa Anna has burned New Washington, and is advancing on us on the bayou." Our meat was left, we fell into line and marched across the memorable bridge on Simms' bayou, and two miles below, in sight of Lynchburg, were again posted under the high ground in the small, narrow bottom of the Buffalo bayou. Officers dashed about and said the Mexicans were in sight, but we could not see them-the regiment I was in could not. More beef cattle coming near we killed some of them and had again our meat on sticks at the fire, half-roasted, when we were ordered into line to change positions, but this time we saved our meat by picking up the sticks. Falling in, answering to our names with the gun in one hand and a stick with meat in the other. We did not go far, only changed places. Our regiment (the first) was near the right, the second on our left and the artillery between us, the party of regulars on our right and the cavalry was dashing about in our front. The Mexicans were in sight and were at a loss to know who we were. Evidently they did not believe us to be the army of the Republic of Texas, though we were as many in number as they. They were soon informed of the fact, for as they advanced slowly to see us we fired our cannon at them, and they returned the compliment and wounded Col. Neill, commanding the artillery.
About the same time some of our cavalry near Lynchburg discovered two flatboats loaded with provisions, considerable of it being coffee and flour. They captured the boats after firing a few shots, and brought the welcome supplies to us. I belonged to Company C, commanded by Capt. Billingsly (now living in Bastrop County), in the 1st Regiment of Volunteers, commanded by Col. Burleson. Col. Burleson favored me, and in this campaign had me taken, some time before the battle, from the line for extra duty to guard supplies. I was near the company always, and in action in the line. On this occasion I acted with my company from Harrisburg, witnessing all I have described. About 3 o'clock on the 21st of April I was on an elevation, fifty yards in front of my company, looking at the Mexican maneuvers, when Col. Burleson [came riding the line and called [the capta]ins of the regiment to a [consultat]ion right where I stood. [Dismou]nting himself, he made [in substance, the following ad[dress]:
After some few remarks, Lieut. Moseley Baker proposed to take a position before flay near the enemy and commence the battle at daylight, which was not objected to, and nearly unanimously agreed on. Col. Burleson galloped to the other regiment and immediately returned, saying loudly:
But a few minutes elapsed, when we were in line, the roll was called, we were ordered to the right by companies, then right face march. The whole army was in line, the artillery and regulars were on our right, the second regiment on our left. We passed over a depression of ground for half a mile, where a rise in front of the Mexican line hid us from them. As we reached the top of the line in full view of the Mexicans, about 300 yards distant, General Houston passed through our lines from front to rear, and was soon after wounded. We deployed into line, ---ied arms, and advanced in [dou]ble quick. The Mexicans fired on us [as] soon as in sight, . . . [we] fired when within a hun[dre]d yards of their lines. On the first fire their lines faltered. We fired a second time only at those running. We were not checked in our advance except to load. I jumped over their breastworks where a man lay with his head half shot off by our cannon. Dead and wounded were strewn everywhere. I thought I had made the distance to the rear of the Mexican camp by what was called fighting and driving the Mexicans before me, quicker than I could have done it in an ordinary way.
The Mexicans crowded together some 300 yards in the rear of their camp on a slough in which a great number of Mexican cavalry horses were bogged down and struggling. They had to cross on them to keep from sticking fast, which fastened the horses so completely in the mud with only their backs and saddles out that we could cross on them without difficulty. No further resistance was made. A gallant Mexican officer attempted to rally his men at a point of timber, but was shot down. The Mexicans begged for life, and those who did not throw [down] their arms were so terrified they did not know what to do. The pursuit continued a mile or more along the bank of the bayou, or bay, now 600 yards wide, and many jumped into the water, swam over, and were recaptured next day. Further to my right Colonel Almonte, with presence of mind, called on the Texas officers for magnanimity, and offered to make formal surrender of some 400 men; about 500 or 600 were taken that night, and many brought in the next and succeeding day, but few if any, escaped. Santa Anna was caught next day, and at once proposed peace, which, although it did not formally take place, led to a course forced on Mexico for five years without being able to make any other formidable invasion or offensive action on their part. San Jacinto decided the fate of Texas, and her independency. Independence was declared, and so acknowledged by foreign nations. Had the battle been fought the day before when we were equal in numbers, Santa Anna might have escaped by leaving in the rear and letting the body of his men surrender in front, which, under the expectation of severe resistance, would have occupied our time. Or he might have been taken in a different condition and killed. Had he lost his life either in battle or by execution, the Mexican nation would have become united, and, if not in revenge for the dictator alone, [would have] been [disposed] to invade and cause us much more annoyance, blood shedding and loss of treasure, than the cheap and easy manner in which we gained our independence. Saving his life made his own disgrace and discomfiture, and the division and incompetency of the Mexican nation had established our honor and character.
The Camp Opposite Harrisburgh, on Buffalo Bayou. From My Eighty Years in Texas by William P. Zuber. When we arrived at our camp opposite Harrisburgh, in the afternoon of April 18, we found that the enemy had burned the town. General Houston dispatched Erastus Smith, known as Deaf Smith, in search of their trail. Smith found the trail easily and proceeded on it for some distance. While doing so, he met and captured two white Mexican couriers and conducted them, bound, into our encampment. I had strolled to our guard line, near the point at which they entered. When I first saw them, they were yet outside the line and had dismounted. They crossed the line near where I stood and proceeded to General Houston's tent. I saw the men hurrying from all parts of the encampment to see the prisoners and to learn the news. Before reaching the tent, I met a young man who told me the contents of a dispatch that one of the couriers carried, from Santa Anna to General Cos. It instructed Cos, on his arrival at Harrisburgh on the night of the twentieth, not to halt and await further orders as formerly instructed, but to proceed by force march to New Washington and join him there. This dispatch revealed two important items: Santa Anna's locality, and the anticipation of Cos's arrival at Harrisburgh. Unless Cos should receive a duplicate of the captured dispatch, he would probably remain and give battle to such of our men as he should find in the vicinity. The couriers were bearers also of extensive mail from some of Santa Anna's officers to their friends at home.
On reaching the tent, I saw the two prisoners with their elbows drawn slightly back and tied with cords. The sight shocked me, for I had never before seen white men thus bound. One of them was a fine-looking man, of genteel appearance, said to be an officer of high rank. I entered the General's tent in search of further information. No furniture had yet been deposited, but the tent contained a pair of small saddlebags and a wastebasket. The skirts of the saddlebags were made of what seemed to be hogskin leather, tanned with the hair on it. I have been told that the smooth underside of one of the skirts had plainly written on it the name W. Barret Travis, showing that they had been the property of Colonel Travis and had been captured at the Alamo. I found only one man in the tent. He was a Spanish scholar, and he was very busy taking the little scraps of mail, one by one, from the saddlebags, examining them, and dropping them into the basket. The air in the tent was very hot, and perspiration was dripping from his clothes. I also was unpleasantly warm and soon emerged into open air. Soon after the arrival of the captured couriers, we had the only authorized "false alarm" of which I was cognizant during that campaign. It was given to test the men's courage. We were ordered to parade, and word was passed from man to man that the enemy was within half a mile of our encampment and advancing. Nearly all our men promptly fell into line and waited in silence two or three minutes. Then we were order to "break." We knew that we had been fooled, but we had renewed confidence in each other.
On the morning of the nineteenth, General Houston ordered that about a hundred men be detailed pro rata from the several companies, to remain at our present encampment and care for the sick and guard the baggage while the main army marched to New Washington in pursuit of Santa Anna. This order was a severe tax upon the men, since nearly everyone wished to fight. If Cos, with 600 or more men, should arrive at Harrisburgh the next night as we expected him to do, he would probably cross the bayou and treat our little detachment left behind to the enjoyment of as much fighting as they desired. But the prospect for the main army to engage Santa Anna was regarded as certain, and none doubted victory. Two small companies were added to the detachment, and the detailed men, together with a few teamsters, amounted to about 150 men capable of fighting. Their condition was critical if General Cos and his men should arrive. But we had about 50 men prostrate with measles, and they could not be left behind; nor could a larger force be spared from the proposed attack upon Santa Anna.
When I learned that ten of the men to be left would come from Captain Gillaspie's company, I approached the Captain and assured him that I was unalterably averse to being left there. He assured me that I was in no danger of being left contrary to my wish, for he had determined to detail only those who volunteered to stay. He thought that many men would be glad of the opportunity to avoid battle, but he was mistaken. All the other captains had likewise determined, but in no instance did the desired number volunteer. At this juncture, Col. Bennett interposed for my discomfiture. Privately he told several men that it would be extremely dangerous to the company for me to go into battle with my tricky gun and incited some of the men to clamor for my detailment. In respect to the clamor that Bennett raised, Captain Gillaspie yielded and detailed me. I remonstrated with Captain Gillaspie, and he promised that if I would get a well-armed man to exchange places and guns with me, I should yet go into battle. Though thankful for his promise, which was undoubtedly made in good faith, I did not make the effort, knowing all my comrades were as eager to fight as I. My mortification was so great that I involuntarily wept, and, since I regarded weeping as unmanly, my tears, far from relieving me, only aggravated my chagrin. After that I was generally known as "the boy who cried to go into battle."
While I was thus weeping, my friend Alphonso Steele approached and said, "Zuber, what are you taking on so about?" "I have enough to make me take on," I replied. "I came to the army to fight for the rights of my people, but now I am deprived of this last opportunity to do so." "What will you give me to exchange places with you?" he asked. I drew out my purse. "Here are ten dollars and a half, all the money I have in the world. If you will exchange places and guns with me, it is yours, and if I had a thousand dollars you should have it all." "I wouldn't exchange with you for two thousand dollars," he said. A bystander then remarked, "Steele, if you get wounded in the battle, you will wish that you had taken Zuber's offer." "I would," said Steele, "but I feel that I shall not receive a scratch." Next I was approached by Ben Johnson, who was said to have fought courageously in the Battle of Concepcion in 1835. He said to me, "Zuber, I want to exchange guns and places with you and let you go into battle." I again drew out my purse, but he refused the money. "Then why do you want to exchange?" I asked. "Because I'm afraid to go into battle." "But you fought bravely at Concepcion," said a bystander. "Why are you now afraid?" "Because," said Johnson, "I heard some Mexican bullets whiz by my ears, didn't like the noise, and I don't want to hear any more of them." Thus we agreed and fairly understood that Johnson was to occupy my place in the detachment and I was to go into the battle.
On learning of my bargaining with Johnson, Colonel Bennett went to him. "Johnson," he said, "you are a fool. If you want to be in the less dangerous place, go into battle. When Cos arrives at Harrisburgh tomorrow night he will come over and storm this camp. He, with no incumbrances, will outnumber you four to one. The danger here will be more than twice as great as in the general battle." Johnson then came to me. "Zuber," he said, "I'm sorry to break my promise to you, but I must back out." He went into the battle, was said to have acted bravely, and came out unhurt. Steele was severely wounded in the battle but recovered. My mortification at being prevented from being under fire in the approaching battle was truly great. My involuntary weeping at my disappointment humiliated me. But later, I was surprised to learn that I had thereby won applause. Even Colonel Bennett became, ostensibly, one of my best friends.