Remember the Alamo by Amelia E. Barr
Chapter XIV. The Fall of the Alamo.
"The combat deepens. On, ye brave! Who rush to glory or the grave." "To all the sensual world proclaim: One crowded hour of glorious life Is worth an age without a name." "Gashed with honorable scars, Low in Glory's lap they lie; Though they fell, they fell like stars, Streaming splendor through the sky."
The passing-by of Santa Anna and the Mexican army, though it had been hourly expected for nearly three days, was an event which threw the Senora and her daughters into various conditions of mental excitement. They descended from the roof to the Senora's room, where they could move about and converse with more freedom. For the poor lady was quite unable to control her speech and actions, and was also much irritated by Antonia's more composed manner. She thought it was want of sympathy.
"How can you take things with such a blessed calmness," she asked, angrily. "But it is the way of the Americans, no doubt, who must have everything for prudence. Sensible! Sensible! Sensible! that is the tune they are forever playing, and you dance to it like a miracle."
"My dear mother, can we do any good by exclaiming and weeping?"
"Holy Virgin! Perhaps not; but to have a little human nature is more agreeable to those who are yet on the earth side of purgatory."
"Mi madre," said Isabel, "Antonia is our good angel. She thinks for us, and plans for us, and even now has everything ready for us to move at a moment's notice. Our good angels have to be sensible and prudent, madre."
"To move at a moment's notice! Virgin of Guadalupe! where shall we go to? Could my blessed father and mother see me in this prison, this very vault, I assure you they would be unhappy even among the angels."
"Mother, there are hundreds of women today in Texas who would think this house a palace of comfort and safety."
"Saints and angels! Is that my fault? Does it make my condition more endurable? Ah, my children, I have seen great armies come into San Antonio, and always before I have been able to make a little pleasure to myself out of the event. For the Mexicans are not blood-thirsty, though they are very warlike. When Bravo was here, what balls, what bull-fights, what visiting among the ladies! Indeed there was so much to tell, the tertulia was as necessary as the dinner. To be sure, the Mexicans are not barbarians; they made a war that had some refinement. But the Americans! They are savages. With them it is fight, fight, fight, and if we try to be agreeable, as we were to that outrageous Sam Houston, they say thank you, madam, and go on thinking their own cruel thoughts. I wonder the gentle God permits that such men live."
"Dear mother, refinement in war is not possible. Nothing can make it otherwise than brutal and bloody."
"Antonia, allow that I, who am your mother, should know what I have simply seen with my eyes. Salcedo, Bravo, Martinez, Urrea--are they not great soldiers? Very well, then, I say they brought some pleasure with their armies; and you will see that Santa Anna will do the same. If we were only in our own home! It must have been the devil who made us leave it."
"How truly splendid the officers looked, mi madre. I dare say Senora Valdez will entertain them."
"That is certain. And as for Dorette Valdez--the coquette--it will certainly be a great happiness to her."
Isabel sighed, and the Senora felt a kind of satisfaction in the sigh. It was unendurable to be alone in her regrets and her longings.
"Yes," she continued, "every night Senora Trespalacios will give a tertulia, and the officers will have military balls-- the brave young men; they will be so gay, so charming, so devoted, and in a few hours, perhaps, they will go into the other world by the road of the battlefield. Ah, how pitiful! How interesting! Cannot you imagine it?"
Isabel sighed again, but the sigh was for the gay, the charming Luis Alveda. And when she thought of him, she forgot in a moment to envy Dorette Valdez, or the senoritas of the noble house of Trespalacios. And some sudden, swift touch of sympathy, strong as it was occult, made the Senora at the same moment remember her husband and her sons. A real sorrow and a real anxiety drove out all smaller annoyances. Then both her daughters wept together, until their community of grief had brought to each heart the solemn strength of a divine hope and reliance.
"My children, I will go now and pray," said the sorrowful wife and mother. "At the foot of the cross I will wait for the hour of deliverance; and casting herself on her knees, with her crucifix in her hand, she appeared in a moment to have forgotten everything but her anguish and her sins, and the Lamb of God upon whom, with childlike faith, she was endeavoring to cast them. Her tears dropped upon the ivory image of the Crucified, and sympathetic tears sprung into Antonia's and Isabel's eyes, as they listened to her imploration.
That night, when all was dark and still, Ortiz returned with the wagon. In the morning Antonia went to speak to him. He looked worn-out and sorrowful, and she feared to ask him for news. "There is food in the house, and I have made you chocolate," she said, as she pitifully scanned the man's exhausted condition.
"The Senorita is kind as the angels. I will eat and drink at her order. I am, indeed, faint and hungry."
She brought him to the table, and when he refused to sit in her presence, she said frankly, "Captain Ortiz, you are our friend and not our servant. Rest and refresh yourself."
He bent upon one knee and kissed the hand she offered, and without further remonstrance obeyed her desire. Isabel came in shortly, and with the tact of true kindness she made no remark, but simply took the chair beside Ortiz, and said, in her usual voice and manner: "Good morning, Captain. We are glad to see you. Did you meet my brother Thomas again?"
"Senorita, God be with you! I have not seen him. I was at Goliad."
"Then you would see our brother Juan?"
"Si. The Senor Juan is in good health and great happiness. He sent by my willing hands a letter."
"Perhaps also you saw his friend, Senor Grant?"
"From him, also, I received a letter. Into your gracious care, Senorita, I deliver them."
"I thank you for your kindness, Captain. Tell us now of the fortress. Are the troops in good spirits?"
"Allow me to fear that they are in too good assurance of success. The most of the men are very young. They have not yet met our Lady of Sorrows. They have promised to themselves the independence of Texas. They will also conquer Mexico. There are kingdoms in the moon for them. I envy such exaltations--and regret them. Grace of God, Senorita! My heart ached to see the crowds of bright young faces. With a Napoleon--with a Washington to lead them--they would do miracles."
"What say you to Houston?"
"I know him not. At Goliad they are all Houstons. They believe each man in himself. On the contrary, I wish that each man looked to the same leader."
"Do you know that Santa Anna is in San Antonio?"
"I felt it, though I had no certain news. I came far around, and hid myself from all passers-by, for the sake of the wagon and the horses. I have the happiness to say they are safe. The wagon is within the enclosure, the horses are on the prairie. They have been well trained, and will come to my call. As for me, I will now go into the city, for there will be much to see and to hear that may be important to us. Senoritas, for all your desires, I am at your service."
When Ortiz was gone, Isabel had a little fret of disappointment. Luis might have found some messenger to bring her a word of his love and life. What was love worth that did not annihilate impossibilities! However, it consoled her a little to carry Jack's letter to his mother. The Senora had taken her morning chocolate and fallen asleep. When Isabel awakened her, she opened her eyes with a sigh, and a look of hopeless misery. These pallid depressions attacked her most cruelly in the morning, when the room, shabby and unfamiliar, gave both her memory, and anticipation a shock.
But the sight of the letter flushed her face with expectation. She took it with smiles. She covered it with kisses. When she opened it, a curl from Jack's head fell on to her lap. She pressed it to her heart, and then rose and laid it at the feet of her Madonna. "She must share my joy," she said with a pathetic childishness; "she will understand it." Then, with her arm around Isabel, and the girl's head on his shoulder, they read together Jack's loving words:
"Mi madre, mi madre, you have Juan's heart in your heart. Believe me, that in all this trouble I sorrow only for you. When victory is won I shall fly to you. Other young men have other loves; I have only you, sweet mother. There is always the cry in my heart for the kiss I missed when I left you. If I could hold your hand to-night, if I could hear your voice, if I could lay my head on your breast, I would say that the Holy One had given me the best blessings He had in heaven. Send to me a letter, madre--a letter full of love and kisses. Forgive Juan! Think of this only: he is my boy! If I live, it is for you, who are the loveliest and dearest of mothers. If I die, I shall die with your name on my lips. I embrace you with my soul. I kiss your hands, and remember how often they have clasped mine. I kiss your eyes, your cheeks, your dear lips. Mi madre, remember me! In your prayers, remember Juan!"
With what tears and sobs was this loving letter read by all the women; and the Senora finally laid it where she had laid the precious curl that had come with it. She wanted "the Woman blessed among women" to share the mother joy and the mother anguish in her heart. Besides, she was a little nervous about Jack's memento of himself. Her superstitious lore taught her that severed hair is a token of severed love. She wished he had not sent it, and yet she could not bear to have it out of her sight.
"Gracias a Dios!" she kept ejaculating. "I have one child that loves me, and me only. I shall forgive Juan everything. I shall not forgive Thomas many things. But Juan! oh! it is impossible not to love him entirely. There is no one like him in the world. If the good God will only give him back to me, I will say a prayer of thanks every day of my life long. Oh, Juan! Juan! my boy! my dear one!"
Thus she talked to herself and her daughters continually. She wrote a letter full of motherly affection and loving incoherencies; and if Jack had ever received it he would doubtless have understood and kissed every word, and worn the white messenger close to his heart. But between writing letters and sending them, there were in those days intervals full of impossibilities. Love then had to be taken on trust. Rarely, indeed, could it send assurances of fidelity and affection.
Jack's letter brightened the day, and formed a new topic of conversation, until Ortiz returned in the evening. His disguise had enabled him to linger about the Plaza and monte table, and to hear and observe all that was going on.
"The city is enjoying itself, and making money," he said, in reply to question from the Senora. "Certainly the San Antonians approve of liberty, but what would you do? In Rome one does not quarrel with the Pope; in San Antonio one must approve of despotism, when Santa Anna parades himself there."
"Has he made any preparations for attacking the Alamo? Will the Americans resist him?"
"Senorita Antonia, he is erecting a battery on the river bank, three hundred yards from the Alamo. This morning, ere the ground was touched, he reviewed his men in the Plaza. He stood on an elevation at the church door, surrounded by his officers and the priests, and unfurled the Mexican flag."
"That was about eleven o'clock, Captain?"
"Si, Senorita. You are precisely exact."
"I heard at that hour a dull roar of human voices--a roar like nothing on earth but the distant roar of the ocean."
"To be sure; it was the shouting of the people. When all was still, Fray Ignatius blessed the flag, and sprinkled over it holy water. Then Santa Anna raised it to his lips and kissed it. Holy Maria! another shout. Then he crossed his sword upon the flag, and cried out--"Soldados! you are here to defend this banner, which is the emblem of your holy faith and of your native land, against heretics, infidels and ungrateful traitors. Do you swear to do it? And the whole army answered `Si! si! juramos!' (yes, we swear.) Again he kissed the flag, and laid his sword across it, and, to be sure, then another shout. It was a very clever thing, I assure you, Senora, and it sent every soldier to the battery with a great heart."
The Senora's easily touched feelings were all on fire at the description. "I wish I could have seen the blessing of the banner," she said; "it is a ceremony to fill the soul. I have always wept at it. Mark, Antonia! This confirms what I assured you of--the Mexicans make war with a religious feeling and a true refinement. And pray, Captain Ortiz, how will the Americans oppose these magnificent soldiers, full of piety and patriotism?"
"They have the Alamo, and one hundred and eighty-three men in it."
"And four thousand men against them?"
"Si. May the Virgin de los Remedios be their help! An urgent appeal for assistance was sent to Fanning at Goliad. Senor Navarre, took it on a horse fleet as the wind. You will see that on the third day he will be smoking in his balcony, in the way which is usual to him."
 The Virgin appealed to in military straits.
"Will Fanning answer the appeal?"
"If the answer be permitted him. But Urrea may prevent. Also other things."
Santa Anna entered San Antonio on Tuesday the twenty-third of February, 1836, and by the twenty-seventh the siege had become a very close one. Entrenched encampments encircled the doomed men in the Alamo, and from dawn to sunset the bombardment went on. The tumult of the fight--the hurrying in and out of the city--the clashing of church bells between the booming of cannon--these things the Senora and her daughters could hear and see; but all else was for twelve days mere surmise. But only one surmise was possible, when it was known that the little band of defiant heroes were fighting twenty, times their own number--that no help could come to them--that the Mexicans were cutting off their water, and that their provisions were getting very low. The face of Ortiz grew constantly more gloomy, and yet there was something of triumph in his tone as he told the miserably anxious women with what desperate valor the Americans were fighting; and how fatally every one of their shots told.
On Saturday night, the fifth of March, he called Antonia aside, and said, "My Senorita, you have a great heart, and so I speak to you. The end is close. To-day the Mexicans succeeded in getting a large cannon within gunshot of the Alamo, just where it is weakest. Senor Captain Crockett has stood on the roof all day, and as the gunners have advanced to fire it he has shot them down. A group of Americans were around him; they loaded rifles and passed them to him quickly as he could fire them. Santa Anna was in a fury past believing. He swore then `by every saint in heaven or hell' to enter the Alamo to-morrow. Senor Navarro says he is raging like a tiger, and that none of his officers dare approach him. The Senor bade me tell you that to-morrow night he will be here to escort you to Gonzales; for no American will his fury spare; he knows neither sex nor age in his passions. And when the Alamo falls, the soldiers will spread themselves around for plunder, or shelter, and this empty house is sure to attract them. The Senorita sees with her own intelligence how things must take place."
"I understand, Captain. Will you go with us?"
"I will have the Jersey wagon ready at midnight. I know the horses. Before sun-up we shall have made many miles."
That night as Antonia and her sister sat in the dark together, Antonia said: "Isabel, tomorrow the Alamo will fall. There is no hope for the poor, brave souls there. Then Santa Anna will kill every American."
"Oh, dear Antonia, what is to become of us? We shall have no home, nothing to eat, nowhere to sleep. I think we shall die. Also, there is mi madre. How I do pity her!"
"She is to be your care, Isabel. I shall rely on you to comfort and manage her. I will attend to all else. We are going to our father, and Thomas--and Luis."
Yes, and after all I am very tired of this dreadful life. It is a kind of convent. One is buried alive here, and still not safe. Do you really imagine that Luis is with my father and Thomas?"
"I feel sure of it."
"What a great enjoyment it will be for me to see him again!"
"And how delighted he will be! And as it is necessary that we go, Isabel, we must make the best of the necessity. Try and get mi madre to feel this."
"I can do that with a few words, and tears, and kisses. Mi madre is like one's good angel--very easy to persuade."
"And now we must try and sleep, queridita."
"Are you sure there is no danger to-night, Antonia?"
"Not to-night. Say your prayer, and sleep in God's presence. There is yet nothing to fear. Ortiz and Lopez Navarro are watching every movement."
But at three o'clock in the morning, the quiet of their rest was broken by sharp bugle calls. The stars were yet in the sky, and all was so still that they thrilled the air like something unearthly. Antonia started up, and ran to the roof. Bugle was answering bugle; and their tones were imperative and cruel, as if they were blown by evil spirits. It was impossible to avoid the feeling that the call was a predestined summons, full of the notes of calamity. She was weighed down by this sorrowful presentiment, because, as yet, neither experience nor years had taught her that predestined ills are never lost.
The unseen moving multitudes troubled the atmosphere between them. In wild, savage gusts, she heard the military bands playing the infamous Dequelo, whose notes of blood and fire commingled, shrieked in every ear--"No quarter! No quarter!" A prolonged shout, the booming of cannon, an awful murmurous tumult, a sense of horror, of crash and conflict, answered the merciless, frenzied notes, and drowned them in the shrieks and curses they called for.
It was yet scarcely dawn. Her soul, moved by influences so various and so awful, became almost rebellious. Why did God permit such cruelties? Did He know? Would He allow a handful of men to be overpowered by numbers? Being omnipotent, would He not in some way, at least, make the fight equal? The instinct of her anglo-American nature revolted at the unfairness of the struggle. Even her ejaculations to heaven were in this spirit. "It is so unjust," she murmured; "surely the Lord of Hosts will prevent a fight which must be a massacre."
As she went about the simple preparations for their breakfast, she wept continuously--tears of indignation and sorrow--tears coming from the strength of feeling, rather than its weakness. The Senora could eat nothing. Isabel was white with terror. They wandered from window to window in the last extremity of anxiety.
About seven o'clock they saw Ortiz pass the house. There were so many people on the road he could not find an opportunity to enter for some time. He had been in the city all night. He had watched the movement of the troops in the starlight. As he drank a cup of chocolate, he said:
"It was just three o'clock, Senorita, when the Matamoras battalion was moved forward. General Cos supported it with two thousand men.
"But General Cos was paroled by these same Americans who are now in the Alamo; and his life was spared on condition that he would not bear arms against them again."
"It is but one lie, one infamy more. When I left the city, about four thousand men were attacking the Alamo. The infantry, in columns, were driven up to the walls by the cavalry which surrounded them."
"The Americans! Is there any hope for them?"
"The mercy of God remains, Senorita. That is all. The Alamo is not as the everlasting hills. What men have made, men can also destroy. Senor Navarro is in the church, praying for the souls that are passing every moment."
"He ought to have been fighting. To help the living is better than to pray for the dead."
Permit me to assure you, Senorita Antonia, that no man has done more for the living. In time of war, there must be many kinds of soldiers. Senor Navarro has given nearly all, that he possesses for the hope of freedom. He has done secret service of incalculable value."
"Secret service! I prefer those who have the courage of their convictions, and who, stand by them publicly."
"This is to be considered, Senorita; the man who can be silent can also speak when the day for speaking arrives." No one opposed this statement. It did not seem worth while to discuss opinions, while the terrible facts of the position were appealing to every sense.
As the day went on, the conflict evidently became closer and fiercer. Ortiz went back to the city, and the three lonely women knelt upon the house-top, listening in terror to the tumult of the battle. About noon the firing ceased, and an awful silence--a silence that made the ears ache to be relieved of it--followed.
"All is over!" moaned Antonia, and she covered her face with her hands and sobbed bitterly. Isabel had already exhausted tears. The Senora, with her crucifix in her hand, was praying for the poor unfortunates dying without prayer.
During the afternoon, smoke and flame, and strange and sickening odors were blown northward of the city, and for some time it seemed probable that a great conflagration would follow the battle. How they longed for some one to come! The utmost of their calamity would be better than the intolerable suspense. But hour after hour went past, and not even Ortiz arrived. They began to fear that both he and Navarro had been discovered in some disloyalty and slain, and Antonia was heartsick when she considered the helplessness of their situation.
Still, in accordance with Navarro's instructions, they dressed for the contemplated journey, and sat in the dark, anxiously listening for footsteps. About eleven o'clock Navarro and Ortiz came together. Ortiz went for the horses, and Navarro sat down beside, the Senora. She asked him, in a low voice, what had taken place, and he answered:
"Everything dreadful, everything cruel, and monstrous, and inhuman! Among the angels in heaven there is sorrow and anger this night." His voice had in it all the pathos of tears, but tears mingled with a burning indignation.
"The Alamo has fallen!"
"Senorita Antonia, I would give my soul to undo this day's work. It is a disgrace to Mexico which centuries cannot wipe out."
"Are all with the Merciful One."
"Not one saved?"
"I will tell you. It is right to tell the whole world such an infamy. If I had little children I would take them on my knee and teach them the story. I heard it from the lips of one wet-shod with their blood, dripping crimson from the battle-- my own cousin, Xavier. He was with General Castrillon's division. They began their attack at four in the morning, and after two hours' desperate fighting succeeded in reaching a courtyard of the Alamo.
"They found the windows and doors barricaded with bags of earth. Behind these the Americans fought hand to hand with despairing valor. Ramires, Siesma and Batres led the columns, and Santa Anna gave the signal of battle from a battery near the bridge. When the second charge was driven back, he became furious. He put himself in front of the men, and with shouts and oaths led them to the third charge. Xavier said that he inspired them with his own frenzy. They reached the foot of the wall, and the ladders were placed in position. The officers fell to the rear and forced the men to ascend them. As they reached the top they were stabbed, and the ladders overturned. Over and over, and over again these attempts were made, until the garrison in the Alamo were exhausted with the struggle."
Navarro paused a few minutes, overpowered by his emotions. No one spoke. He could see Antonia's face, white as a spirit's, in the dim light, and he knew that Isabel was weeping and that the Senora had taken his hand.
"At last, at the hour of ten, the outer wall was gained. Then, room by room was taken with slaughter incredible. There were fourteen Americans in the hospital. They fired their rifles and pistols from their pallets with such deadly aim that Milagros turned a cannon shotted with grape and canister upon them. They were blown to pieces, but at the entrance of the door they left forty dead Mexicans."
"Ah Senor, Senor! tell me no more. My heart can not endure it."
"Mi madre," answered Isabel, "we must hear it all. Without it, one cannot learn to hate Santa Anna sufficiently"; and her small, white teeth snapped savagely, as she touched the hand of Lopez with an imperative "Proceed."
"Colonel Bowie was helpless in bed. Two Mexican officers fired at him, and one ran forward to stab him ere he died. The dying man caught his murderer by the hair of his head, and plunged his knife into his heart. They went to judgment at the same moment."
"I am glad of it! Glad of it! The American would say to the Almighty: `Thou gavest me life, and thou gavest me freedom; freedom, that is the nobler gift of the two. This man robbed me of both.' And God is just. The Judge of the whole earth will do right."
"At noon, only six of the one hundred and eighty-three were left alive. They were surrounded by Castrillon and his soldiers. Xavier says his general was penetrated with admiration for these heroes. He spoke sympathizingly to Crockett, who stood in an angle of the fort, with his shattered rifle in his right hand, and his massive knife, dripping with blood, in his left. His face was gashed, his white hair crimson with blood; but a score of Mexicans, dead and dying, were around him. At his side was Travis, but so exhausted that he was scarcely alive.
"Castrillon could not kill these heroes. He asked their lives of Santa Anna, who stood with a scowling, savage face in this last citadel of his foes. For answer, he turned to the men around him, and said, with a malignant emphasis: `Fire!' It was the last volley. Of the defenders of the Alamo, not one is left."
A solemn silence followed. For a few minutes it was painful in its intensity. Isabel broke it. She spoke in a whisper, but her voice was full of intense feeling. "I wish indeed the whole city had been burnt up. There was a fire this afternoon; I would be glad if it were burning yet."
"May God pardon us all, Senorita! That was a fire which does not go out. It will burn for ages. I will explain myself. Santa Anna had the dead Americans put into ox-wagons and carried to an open field outside the city. There they were burnt to ashes. The glorious pile was still casting lurid flashes and shadows as I passed it."
"I will hear no more! I will hear no more!" cried the Senora. "And I will go away from here. Ah, Senor, why do you not make haste? In a few hours we shall have daylight again. I am in a terror. Where is Ortiz?"
"The horses are not caught in a five minutes, Senora. But listen, there is the roll of the wagon on the flagged court. All, then, is ready. Senora, show now that you are of a noble house, and in this hour of adversity be brave, as the Flores have always been."
She was pleased by the entreaty, and took his arm with a composure which, though assumed, was a sort of strength. She entered the wagon with her daughters, and uttered no word of complaint. Then Navarro locked the gate, and took his seat beside Ortiz. The prairie turf deadened the beat of their horses' hoofs; they went at a flying pace, and when the first pallid light of morning touched the east, they had left San Antonio far behind and were nearing the beautiful banks of the Cibolo.