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Walter Lord

A TIME TO STAND

CHAPTER ELEVEN Take Care of My Little Boy IN THE DIM MOONLIGHT that bathed the Alamo plaza, John W. Smith saddled up once again. It was nearly midnight, Thursday, March 3, and Smith was about to leave on another attempt to rally help for the garrison. Word soon spread that he was going. Private Willis A. Moore of Raymond, Mississippi, scribbled a few private lines to his family, folded and handed the note to Smith. Others did the same. In the headquarters room by the west wall, William Barret Travis was also writing messages. First, he put the finishing touches on his latest official reportthis time a ringing appeal to the President of the Convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos. He stressed the garrisons resilience, praised its spirit, spelled out its needs: at least 500 pounds of cannon powder, 200 rounds of six, nine, twelve, and eighteen-pound balls, ten kegs of rifle powder And once again he urged all possible help, for this could be the great and decisive ground. He closed with a few bitter words about the local Mexicanshe charged nearly all had deserted the fortbut on the whole he was game and optimistic. Now he turned to his own personal messages. First came a little note so secret no outsider ever saw it. Just the cryptic request in the covering letter: Do me the favor to send the enclosed to its proper destination instantly. It was hard for anyone then, or more than a hundred years later, not to think of Rebecca Cummings.

Walter Lord

A TIME TO STAND

Next, a warm, intimate letter to his friend Jesse Grimes. In it he again stressed his good spirits, his determination to die rather than give up the Alamo. But this timemuch more eloquently than in his official correspondenceTravis explained why he was making this stand. His reason went far beyond any views on strategy beyond the bond that now welded the garrison together even beyond his fierce desire to defend the new homes that dotted the land. More than all these (and they were a lot), he felt the spirit of the timesthe conviction that liberty, freedom and independence were in themselves worth fighting for; the belief that a man should be willing to make any sacrifice to hold these prizes. With them, he had everything. Without them, nothing. Explaining his views, Travis minced no words: Let the Convention go on and make a declaration of independence, and we will then understand, and the world will understand, what we are fighting for. If independence is not declared, I shall lay down my arms, and so will the men under my command. But under the flag of independence, we are ready to peril our lives a hundred times a day . It was late in the evening nowSmith must be leaving soon but Travis had one last message on his mind. It would be for David Ayers, who was boarding little Charles at the Ayers home near Washington-on-the-Brazos. No one in the world-even Rebeccameant as much to Travis as Charles. A river of memories must have flowed through his mind: persuading Rosanna to leave the boy in Texas saying good-by on his way

Walter Lord

A TIME TO STAND

to the Alamo the way Charles wangled fifty cents from him to buy a bottle of molasses. Enough. Maybe he would see him again someday, but there was always the other possibility. He jotted a quick, simple note on a sheet of torn yellow wrapping paper: Take care of my little boy. If the country should be saved, I may make him a splendid fortune; but if the country should be lost and I should perish, he will have nothing but the proud recollection that he is the son of a man who died for his country. Walking out into the plaza, Travis handed his packet of messages to Smith, then remembered something he forgot to say in the official dispatch: tell the reinforcements to bring ten days rations with them. Next, another afterthought: he would fire the 18-pounder three times a daymorning, noon and nightas long as the Alamo stood. When they heard that, they would know he was still fighting. The northern postern once again swung open. A party of Texans slipped outside, worked their way north toward the sugar mill, and began firing at random. The Mexican guns erupted in reply, and Santa Annas patrols rushed to the scene of the trouble. The way cleared, Smith whipped through the Alamo gate, turned east, and vanished into the dark. It was just about midnightthe end of a long, hard day. But legend to the contrary, it was not a day of giving up hope. Theres a great deal of hope in any commander who orders two hundred cannon balls. The best clue to Travis real feelings lay at

Walter Lord

A TIME TO STAND

the start of his letter to Jesse Grimes: I am still here in fine spirits and well to do. Dawn, March 4. The new Mexican battery north of the Alamo crashed into action, searing the early morning quiet. The guns were within rifle rangeperhaps 250 yards awayand every shot smashed the forts north wall, showering the plaza with earth and stones. Jameson frantically worked to shore up the defensespiling up still more dirt against the wall, hammering extra bracing into place. The sound of the shovels and mallets drifted to the Mexican lines, and the rumor spread that the Texans were mining the walls, planning to blow everyone up together. Certainly it was clear that the Alamo couldnt take this kind of punishment much longer. Yesterday Travis had been optimistic: The walls are generally proof against cannon balls. Today his defenses seemed like a sieve. The men never felt more trapped. Besides the new battery to the north, the Mexican ring seemed tighter than ever. The two long 9-pounders just across the river continued to pound the west wall, while Sesmas howitzers made life especially miserable by lobbing bombs into the innermost areas. Enemy entrenchments were now on all sides; to use Travis own estimates, in Bexar, four hundred yards west; in La Villita, three hundred yards south; at the powder house, one thousand yards east of south; on the ditch, eight hundred yards northeast, and at the old mill, eight hundred yards north. Even Crockett now felt the strain. Echoing the sentiments of Henry Warnell in an earlier moment of discouragement, the

Walter Lord

A TIME TO STAND

Colonel announced, I think we had better march out and die in the open air. I dont like to be hemmed up. Jim Bowie, failing badly, was brought out more than once to rally the men. He weakly begged them to carry on, to stand by Travis whatever happened. Loyal Bowie men like Captain William Baker of the Volunteers took heart, but it was hard to be hopeful when they could clearly see new Mexican reinforcements streaming into town; when there in plain sight were Mexican work details fitting together scaling ladders. The local Mexicans remaining in the Alamo were especially discouraged. All had good friends in the occupied town, some even relatives in Santa Annas militia. Others merely wanted to be on the winning side, and it began to look as if they might have guessed wrong. Still others had even deeper misgivings. They found themselves more and more uncomfortable in what had clearly turned into a collision between Mexicans and Anglo-Americans. After all, they were Mexicans. It was all very well when the struggle had been more of a family fightwhich Mexican leaders; which Mexican constitutionbut it was no longer that, and these Mexicans had a growing fear that they wouldnt do very well under any government dominated by Anglos. Names like Flores, Rodriguez, Ramirez, Silvero, and Garza faded from sight. On the evening of the 4th, still another Mexican disappearedthis time one of the women in the Alamo. Slipping through La Villita, then across the river, she made her way to His Excellencys headquarters. It turned out that she brought extremely interesting news: the defenses were crumbling the

Walter Lord

A TIME TO STAND

men were weak the ammunition low the place could easily be taken. A rumor swept the Mexican lines that the visitor had been sent by Travis himself, specifically to sound out the possibility of surrender. Conceivablethe Colonel had his moments of moody despairbut most unlikely. He was now committed, and he took a fierce pride in seeing things through. Take that day when he couldnt get through to Rebecca and angrily wrote, the first time I ever turned back. Chances are no second occasion arose at the Alamo. But the Mexican womans report remained just as valid. The Texan defenses were weak, on the verge of collapse. The clear, warm dawn of March 5 brought more bad news for the garrison. During the night the Mexican battery on the north had been pushed still closerit was now only 200 yards from the fort. Brisk fire again pounded the crumbling walls, and the defenders again huddled behind whatever protection they found. By now they were pretty good at dodging enemy cannon ballsmiraculously, not a man had yet been killed. The Mexican fire tapered off sharply in the late afternoon, and at 5 P.M. the Texans puzzled over the sight of several columns of troops filing out of town. As the heavy firing stopped, the defenders emerged from shelter, began cooking supper on open fires in front of the church. Mrs. Dickinson persuaded a grimy Jim Bonham to have a cup of tea. The lull meant more than tea to Colonel Travis. Shaking off what must have been an overwhelming desire to relax, he suddenly summoned the whole garrison to assemble in the open

Walter Lord

A TIME TO STAND

plaza. The men wearily ambled over, and Mrs. Dickinson hovered in the rear as the Colonel addressed his men. He was brief and to the point. He declared that there was no longer any real hope of help. Their choice was to surrender, to try and escape, or to stay and fight to the end. Because it might delay the Mexican advance, he was determined to fight it out. He urged the garrison to join him, but he left every man to his own choice. If anyone desired to escape, now was the time to let it be known and step out of ranks. It was later said that Travis gave his speech on March 3, but Mrs. Dickinson declared it was the 5th in the only account she ever gave without an enthusiastic assist from the press. It was also said that the Colonel drew a line with his sword to be crossed by all who chose to stand by him. Certainly in character, but in her unvarnished account Mrs. Dickinson never mentioned it. She did, however, remember well that one man stepped out of the ranksthe only member of the garrison who preferred to escape. His name to the best of my recollection was Ross. There was no man in the Alamo named Ross, but Louis Rose of Nacogdoches was very much thereand far from moved by Travis eloquence. War was an old story to this Napoleonic veteran: when things went wrong, you lived and fought again another day. He wasnt about to die now. His friend Bowie, lying pale on his cot, urged him to stick with the rest. Crockett pointed out that escape was impossible. Rose merely measured the defenses and thought to himself, I have often done worse than to climb that wall. He was gone by dark, edging his way downstream along the river till he came to the ford that led to town. He waded

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across, passed along a street, turned downstream again, and tramped out into the open country. No one saw himperhaps because the town was surprisingly empty. General Santa Anna could have explained. No troops lolled about the streets tonight, because he had methodically withdrawn them. They were off preparing for the grand undertaking that would finally redeem Mexican honor that would teach these perfidious foreigners a lasting lesson. This ambitious project, now racing to its climax, had been brewing for nearly twenty-four hours. It was early evening on the 4th when Colonel Almonte first knew that something was up. Ordered to report immediately to Santa Annas headquarters, Almonte was joined by practically every general and colonel in the army. Strange, for His Excellency hated conferences and practically never asked anyones opinion. But this time was different, and Santa Anna stated his problem right away. Had the time come to take the Alamo by storm?

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