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Siege of Bexar-Impatience of the Colonists—Mexican Deserter
-Resolution of Milam and others—Entrance of a Storming
The “ Federal Volunteer Army of Texas” had marched to the siege of Bexar at the close of the finest month of the Texan year. Their spirits were animated by occasional successes, and the hope of reducing the strongest post in the country, and thereby terminating the campaign, and ridding themselves of the detested military, sustained them under many hardships and privations. But, unaccustomed to the restraints of a camp-impatient of a protracted siege—their term of volunteer service exceeded, and their families anxious for their return- December, with its fitful northers and drenching rains, was about to find them unprovided with winter clothing, suffering from insufficient food, and with no immediate prospect of accomplishing their vaunted enterprise.
As an inducement to prosecute the siege, the Provisional Government had promised twenty dollars to each man who would remain with the
army until its close. To many, however, this must have
appeared a poor equivalent for absence from their homes. Numbers departed daily, and but few arrived; and it was necessary to devise some extraordinary plan for keeping a sufficient force together. At a general parade an appeal was made to the patriotism of the volunteers, and such as were willing to testify their devotion to the cause by serving for thirty days longer, or until Bexar was taken, were requested to signify their disposition by advancing in front of the line. The expected demonstration was nearly universal; but the men, wearied with idly gazing at the walls of the beleaguered town, importuned the general to order an immediate assault. One day, and then another, were successively named for indulging their ardour, but nothing was done ; and, on the evening of the 4th of December, the order was given to break up the camp and retire into winter quarters.
It happened on the eve of their intended dispersion that the Texans were informed by a Mexican deserter that a number of the soldiers in Bexar were disaffected to Santa Anna and the Centralists, and that it would not be difficult to capture the place. But this doubtful intelligence was a slight counterpoise to the obvious perils of the undertaking. Almost every house in San Antonio de Bexar was in itself a little fort, being built of stone, with walls about three feet and a half in thickness. The approaches to the public square had been strongly fortified with breast-works, trenches, and palisadoes, protected by artillery; cannon were also planted on the roof of the old church in the square, which commanded the town and its environs. Both the town and the enclosure called the Alamo were defended by artillery, and there was a formidable number of regular troops in the garrison ; while the whole Volunteer Army only amounted to about 500 men, and these, with very few exceptions, strangers to discipline.
With these heavy odds against them, Benjamin R. Milam and some officers held a meeting, and resolved to beat up for volunteers to attack San Antonio. They succeeded in mustering a party of about 300, who chose the war-worn Milam for their leader. The plan he adopted was a judicious combination of the veteran's skill and the volunteer's daring, and showed his thorough knowledge of the materials with which he had to work.
The town was in the form of an oblong square, and lay on the south-western bank of the San Antonio River. Communicating with it by two small bridges, and nearly opposite, on the north-eastern side of the river, was the fort or, rather, walled enclosure, of the Alamo. Westward of the town was the camp of the volunteers. Directing Colonel Neil to divert the attention of the Mexicans by making a feint upon the Alamo, Milam prepared to effect a lodgment in the town. At three o'clock in the morning of the 5th of December, Neil, taking a sweeping course by the sources of the San Antonio, commenced, with a piece of artillery, a fire upon the Alamo; while Milam, having provided his followers with crow-bars and other forcing implements, made an entrance into the suburbs, beyond the range of the Mexican fortifications. Apprised of Milam's advance by the firing which followed it,
Neil retraced his steps and returned with his party to the camp at 9 A. M.
On the 6th, a despatch dated from the “ Camp before Bexar,” and signed by B. R. Milam and Edward Burleson, was forwarded to the President of the Provisional Government at San Felipe, with the following information and demand :
“Yesterday morning, at day-light, or rather some twenty minutes before, Colonel Milam, with a party of about 300 Volunteers, made an assault upon the town of Bexar. His party he distributed in two divisions, which, on entering the town, took possession of two buildings near each other -near the place where they have been ever since battling with the enemy. They have so far had a fierce contest, the enemy offering a strong and obstinate resistance. The houses occupied by us command some of the cannon in the place, or have silenced them entirely, as it is reported to
The issue is doubtful, of course. Ugartechea is on the way, with considerable reinforcements; how near has not yet been exactly ascertained; but, certainly, he is not more than from fifty to sixty miles off. This express has been despatched for an immediate supply of ammunition, as much powder and lead as can possibly be sent instantly. Of the first-mentioned article, there is none beyond the cannon cartridges already made up. I hope that good mules, or horses, will be procured to send on these articles with the greatest possible speed, travelling night and day, for there is not a moment to be lost. Reinforcements of men are, perhaps, indispensable to our salvation. I hope every exertion will be made to force them to our relief immediately."
In an address to the people of Texas, by a Special Committee of the General Council, dated San Felipe, December 10th, urging them to speed to the relief of the army before Bexar, it is stated that contractors had been despatched in different directions, and supplies and ammunition were on their way to the camp. J. W. Fannin and T. J. Rusk were appointed by the Council to proceed respectively east and west of the Trinity, for the purpose of collecting reinforcements and enrolling them for service thirty days, to aid in the reduction of Bexar. Before, however, the Council had time even to convey a reply to Colonel Milam's hurried communication, the bravery of the Volunteers had enabled them to dispense with further assistance.
When the Volunteers advanced against the town, the Commander-in-Chief, General Burleson, formed all the reserve, with the exception of the guard requisite to protect the camp, and held himself in readiness to assist, should occasion arise. He also sent out parties to scour the country, and endeavour to intercept Ugartechea, who ultimately effected an entry into the Alamo with 300 men. During the period of the attack on the town, he despatched Captains Cheshire, Sutherland and Lewis, with their companies, to reinforce Colonel Johnson—who commanded the second division of the storming party-and retained another reserve in readiness to co-operate, if required.
On entering the suburbs of Bexar, the first division, under the immediate command of Milam, and supported by two pieces of cannon and fifteen artillerymen, took possession of the house of Don Antonio de la Garza. The second division, under Johnson, forced its way into the dwelling of a Mexican, named Berimendi, amidst a heavy discharge of grape-shot and musquetry.