Copyright
James Jeffrey Roche.

By-Ways of War online

. (page 3 of 17)
Online LibraryJames Jeffrey RocheBy-Ways of War → online text (page 3 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and five others had stoutly resisted, until his clubbed rifle broken
in his sinewy hands, the dauntless backwoodsman listened to the
promise of quarter. Santa Ana paused a moment before his unmoved
captives. It was but for a moment. The next his hand sought the hilt
of his sword. Crockett, divining his purpose, sprang at the traitor,
but he was too late; a dozen blades had flashed at the sign and the
hapless prisoners fell dead, the last of all the garrison.

These men of the Alamo were volunteers, simple citizens, bound by no
tie save that of fealty to cause and comrades. Unsung of poet, all but
unnamed in history, the brave men of the Alamo went to their certain
death, with a sublime fortitude, beside which the obedient immolation
of Balaklava's Six Hundred is but the triumph of disciplined machines.
A monument raised to their memory bears the magnificent inscription: -

"Thermopylæ had its messenger of defeat; the Alamo had none."

It needs more than judicial impartiality to question the right of the
Texan revolution while telling the story of the Alamo. Right and wrong
are barred from consideration in recalling the tragedy of Goliad.
Colonel Fannin and 330 of his men, who had surrendered to Santa Ana as
prisoners of war, under a solemn promise that they should be returned
to the United States, were marched out of the fort, on the morning of
Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, and, without a moment's warning, fired
upon and murdered in cold blood. The outlaws to whom this fearful
penalty was dealt out, without even the mockery of a Spanish trial,
were all young men or lads, "the oldest not over thirty years of age."
The world, freely as its soil is saturated with human blood, stood
aghast at this horrible slaughter. Texas trembled at the Mexican's
vengeance. Houston alone, husbanding his scanty means, animating his
raw levies, working, planning, providing for all, laid his trap with
such shrewd forethought, that in less than two months he had sprung it
upon Santa Ana and all his army, and on the banks of the San Jacinto,
dictated terms of peace to his captive, the butcher of the Alamo and
Goliad. The victory was unstained by a single act of revenge.
Thenceforth the world knew that Texas was free. The men who could use
success with such forbearance were men worthy of self-government.

Texas striving for independence was to the nations of the world an
object of keener interest than Texas sending her heroic filibusters to
nameless graves. Lord Palmerston, anticipating with literal exactness
the policy of a later administration dealing with Central America,
threatened to send a ship of war to Texas "to demand payment of certain
claims against the republic." The United States, with a similar
foreshadowing of its future policy, at once took measures to insure the
independence of Texas against all European meddlers. As usual, the
people were in advance of their government, and Texas became a state of
the American union, Mexico's attempt to hold it costing her the fairest
part of her domain.

Before this happy end was reached, more than one bloody tragedy had
been added to the gloomy history of Texas. In June, 1841, General
McLeod led from Austin a party of 320 men, bound for Santa Fe, New
Mexico, upon the ostensibly peaceful mission of opening up trade with
that place. His real aim was to foment insurrection against the Mexican
Government and annex the territory to Texas. After a long and painful
journey through woods and desert, being attacked by Indians, and lost
on the then mysterious waste of the "Llanos Estacados," the expedition
reached the frontier in scattered parties which were promptly captured
by Governor Armijo. It was not, however, until after they had given up
their arms, under the false representations of a traitorous comrade and
the promise of friendly treatment from Armijo, that they found out how
grievous had been their error in trusting to the word of the Mexican.
The whole party, with the exception of three or four who had been put
to death in pure wantonness, were sent under a strong guard to the city
of Mexico, making the long and painful journey on foot, exposed to the
grossest outrages from their brutal guard. Many died on the way, and
the survivors were thrown into prison, where they lingered for months,
until the miserable remnant were at last set free at the motion of the
British and American ministers.

Liberty was granted at the same time to the survivors of the Mier
Expedition - an ill-starred band who, in December, 1842, had crossed the
Rio Grande in pursuit of Mexican raiders. Colonel William Fisher headed
the party, numbering about five hundred, their general, Somerville,
having declined to lead them over the border. At the town of Mier they
met and repulsed over two thousand Mexicans under General Ampudia, but
their leader was wounded in the fight, and, against the protests of his
chief officers, agreed to a conditional surrender. The terms, of
course, were broken by the victor, and the unfortunate prisoners were
hurried into the interior and buried in dungeons with the lowest
convicts. Captain Ewin Cameron, one of the boldest in the band,
foreseeing the fate before them, organized an attack on the guard
before reaching their prison. They overpowered their armed escort, and
made their way to the mountains, whence a few managed to reach Texas,
but the greater part were recaptured, including their courageous
leader. Santa Ana ordered them to be decimated. Cameron was lucky
enough to draw a white bean in the fatal lottery, but it did not avail
him. He was shot the next day. Few men would be found willing to
increase the risks against them in such a terrible game of hazard; but
there was one, a youth named George Bibb Crittenden, who, drawing a
white bean, gave it to a comrade, with the self-sacrificing words, "You
have a wife and children; I haven't, and I can afford to risk another
chance." He did so, and fortunately again drew a safe lot. Crittenden
survived to participate gallantly in the Mexican War, and attained the
rank of brigadier-general on the Southern side in the Civil War. He was
a son of the Kentucky statesman, John J. Crittenden.

The prisoners were scattered amongst various strongholds, where many
sank under disease, starvation, and cruelty. The survivors when freed
were turned adrift, penniless, to make the best of their way home to
the United States. General Thomas J. Green was one of those who escaped
by tunnelling the walls of the castle of Perote; the story of which
exploit, with his subsequent adventures, he has told in a book little
known but of vast interest.

It needs a Scott to tell to the world the story of our border romance,
though no fiction ever surpassed the thrilling facts which were then of
almost daily occurrence. Fame is a curious gift of the gods. Colonel
Crockett, the daring soldier, is all but forgotten, while the
whimsical, semi-fabulous "Davy" Crockett, hero of a hundred wild
stories, seems likely to live for ever. Few remember how heroically he
"went ahead," to the last extremity, after first making sure of what
was "right" and fit in a patriot. Knightly scutcheon never bore a
nobler device than that of the simple backwoodsman, nor lived there
ever a _preux chevalier_ who set a higher value upon his plighted word.

There were brave men, too, before Agamemnon. Mexier and Perry and
Nolan, names well known on the border, lived and fought, and died, alas
in vain, before the adopted son of an Indian, sturdy Sam Houston,
crowned the long struggle with victory. Filibusters all, if you will,
but every one a man, in an age when manliness is none too highly
prized, and a country which is belied as the chosen home of dollar
worshippers merely.




CHAPTER III

The Lopez Expedition - Landing at Cardenas - Pickett's Fight - An Exciting
Chase - Last Expedition - Execution of Lopez and Crittenden.


Filibusterism under that name, however, was unknown to the people of
the United States, until the famous descents of Lopez upon Cuba in 1850
and 1851. Narciso Lopez was a countryman of Miranda, and, like him, an
officer in the Spanish service. Born at Caracas in 1799, he entered the
royal army at an early age, attained the rank of colonel in his
twenty-first year, and distinguished himself so well in the first
Carlist war that he was promoted to the rank of major-general, and made
Governor of Valencia. He went to Cuba in 1843 with Governor-General
Valdes, who took him into high favour, and loaded him with honours. But
O'Donnell, the successor of Valdes, did not continue the vice-regal
favours, and Lopez consequently retired to private life, and ere long
was discovered to be conspiring against the Government. He fled to the
United States, where he found hundreds of adventurous spirits ready and
eager for any undertaking that bade fair to be spiced with danger.

His first attempt at invasion, in August, 1849, was checked at the
outset by President Taylor, whose marshals captured the whole
expedition as it was on the point of departure from New York. Nothing
daunted by this mishap, Lopez travelled throughout the Southern and
South-Western States, secretly enlisting men and making provision for
their transportation to Cuba. At New Orleans he chartered a steamer and
two barks and assembled his forces. From the valleys of the Ohio and
Mississippi and the Gulf States they came, a hardy band of adventurers,
three-fourths of whom had served in the Mexican War, the officers being
men of known courage and ability. Colonel Theodore O'Hara commanded the
first detachment, numbering 250, which sailed on the bark _Georgiana_,
on the 25th of April, 1850, under orders to rendezvous at the island of
Mujeres. Their colonel had won an honourable fame in the Mexican War
and was not without greater distinction in the world of letters. He
wrote the "Bivouac of the Dead," a lyric which will live at least as
long as the memory of those whom it celebrated. Three weeks after their
departure they were joined at the island of Contoy (for the _Georgiana_
had not been able to make the rendezvous) by the steamer _Creole_,
carrying Lopez and his fortunes and 450 followers. The whole command
was then transferred to the _Creole_ and sailed away for the shores of
Cuba.

The little army was reviewed by their general, who made them a stirring
harangue in Spanish (for he did not speak the tongue of his motley
followers) promising them the co-operation of the Cubans the moment
they should unfurl the Lone Star flag on the island, and the undying
gratitude of a liberated people. More substantial rewards were also
held out, in a bounty of four thousand dollars to every private soldier
at the end of the first year's service, or sooner if the revolution
should succeed within that time. In the meanwhile they were to receive
the same pay, according to rank, as that of the army of the United
States. It is not extravagant to say that hardly a man in the
expedition gave a second thought to the money advantages contingent on
success. The reckless dare-devils were content to enjoy a vagabond
campaign seasoned with danger and hard fighting, while those of higher
aims thirsted for the fame of Liberators. Among the men of education
and lofty sentiments were Colonels O'Hara and John T. Pickett; the
latter a bold and fertile organizer, who enjoyed the distinction of
having a reward of 25,000 dollars offered for his head by the
Captain-General of Cuba. The Adjutant-General, Gonzales, was a native
Cuban, who had forsaken a promising career in the university to join
the revolutionists. Many there were, too, of whom we shall hear again
in Central America - Wheat, Titus, Kewen, Allen, and others.

Matanzas had been chosen as the first point of attack, but as they
rightly judged that the Spaniards had been advised of their movements,
it was decided to land at Cardenas, whither the _Creole's_ bow was
pointed, every eye turning to catch the first sight of the promised
land. They entered the harbour about midnight, unchallenged by the
over-confident enemy. So little were they expected by the good people
of Cardenas, that not a boatman nor wharf watchman could be seen to
take a line ashore, and the steamer lay a few yards from the pier until
the first officer, Fayssoux, leaped overboard with a rope between his
teeth and made her fast.

Pickett, upon landing, marched rapidly with fifty men of the Kentucky
battalion through the city and seized the station of the railroad which
connected Cardenas and Matanzas. The main body, consisting of four
companies, formed upon the pier and marched towards the plaza,
intending to surprise the garrison. Before reaching the plaza they were
challenged and fired upon by a patrol. Instantly the alarm was sounded
in the garrison, and volleys of musketry began to play about the ears
of the invaders. Colonel O'Hara was wounded at the first discharge, but
his men fought with cool bravery under the leadership of Lopez, who was
constantly in the foremost rank, seeking to make himself known to the
defenders. He was sure that upon recognizing him they would at once
fraternize with the invaders. But the garrison made a stubborn
resistance until their quarters were carried by assault, when they
threw down their arms and shouted "Vivas!" for Lopez and Liberty. The
governor, whose house was opposite the barracks, held out until it was
in flames, when he surrendered, and the filibusters, after a three
hours' battle, had won Cardenas.

Now was the time for the legions of revolutionists to fall in beside
their liberators, and Lopez issued a strong appeal for volunteers. Not
one native responded! Whether from apathy or cowardice, they showed no
desire to risk their lives in the cause of liberty. The situation was
becoming grave. Already the alarm had gone forth and the lancers of the
enemy were beginning to appear in formidable numbers in the streets.
Lopez saw that the capture of Cardenas was a barren victory. To carry
out his intention of proceeding by rail to Matanzas in the face of the
whole Spanish army, and without a single native adherent to welcome his
appearance, would have been madness. Reluctantly he gave orders to
embark, and recalled the detachment which had been guarding the
railroad. The enemy seeing them retreat grew bolder, and made several
determined efforts to prevent the embarkation, but the filibusters
threw up a barricade of empty hogsheads and easily repelled the attack.
After a final attempt to cut off the detachment from the railroad, in
which Pickett drove them back with heavy loss, they offered no further
opposition to the retreat. Cardenas had been won and lost within twelve
hours. The _Creole_ steamed out of the harbour at nine o'clock in the
evening, but stuck fast on a sand-bank and lay there for five hours,
until sufficiently lightened of her cargo to float again.

A council of war was held, and it was declared that no further attempts
at a landing on the island were practicable, owing to the indecision of
the native population. Lopez strove in vain to gainsay this
determination, and even begged to be put ashore alone, or with the
thirty Spanish soldiers who had just joined his cause. His mad request
being refused he resigned command, and the steamer was headed for Key
West, coming to anchor at nightfall within forty miles of that port.

In the meantime, the authorities of Cuba had despatched a war steamer
in search of the filibusters, and offered a reward of 50,000 dollars
for the capture of Lopez. The _Pizarro_ sped into Key West while the
_Creole_ was lying at anchor, and set out again in quest of her at
daybreak. The people of the town were apprised of her mission and
thronged the piers and hills to behold the issue. Soon they descried
on the horizon the smoke of a steamer, which, as it drew near, was
recognized as the _Creole_. Not far in her wake they also saw the huge
_Pizarro_ throwing out volumes of smoke and rapidly closing with her
prey. As the pursued steamer approached the coast it was seen that her
fuel was giving out, while the _Pizarro_ was crowding on every pound of
steam that her boilers could carry. A few minutes more and the guns of
the Spaniard would have opened upon the devoted vessel, but at the
critical moment the funnel of the _Creole_ began to belch forth clouds
of smoke and her wheels to revolve as the wheels of a steamboat can
when her Mississippi river captain begins to levy contributions on his
cargo. The filibusters rolled barrels of bacon into the furnace-room,
tore up the dry wood-work of the boat, and pulled the red shirts off
their backs to feed the flames. Better a magnificent explosion and
sudden death than capture and torture by the merciless Spaniard. The
device succeeded. The _Creole_ gallantly rounded the point, a few
hundred yards ahead of her pursuer, and dropped anchor under the guns
of Key West as the _Pizarro_, without even saluting the fort, came
ploughing behind her and halted a few rods away, with port-holes open
and broadsides grinning like the fangs of a bloodhound baulked of his
prey. Her gunners stood by their pieces, match in hand, and ready at a
word to blow the _Creole_ to destruction. For a time it looked as
though the word would be spoken; but, if such was the Spaniard's
desire, he prudently forbore its gratification when he saw the United
States officers take possession of the steamer, and a grim-looking
array of filibusters swarm in the embrasures of the fort and sight the
huge guns which were trained upon his deck.

Lopez and his followers made the best of their way from Key West; they
to their homes and he to the custody of a United States marshal. The
expedition had suffered a loss of fourteen killed and thirty wounded.
Among the killed was their chaplain! The list of the enemy's loss was
not officially published, but is supposed to have reached a hundred
killed and as many wounded. Lopez was tried for his violation of the
neutrality laws, but escaped conviction, and immediately set about
preparing another expedition. His faith in the devotion of his American
friends was better founded than the reliance which he placed on the
promises of his native adherents.

In the following year, Aug. 12, 1851, he landed a force of 450 men at
Bahia Honda, with the greater part of which he marched into the
country, where he had been led to expect a general uprising the moment
he should appear among the Creoles. Colonel W. S. Crittenden, a brave
young soldier of the Mexican War, remained with the smaller body,
awaiting reinforcements. But Lopez, as usual, had misjudged the spirit
of his countrymen, who were not yet ripe for revolt. With his little
band of 323 men he repulsed 1,300 of the enemy, killing their general,
Enna; but being forced to retreat into the interior, his forces
dwindled away and the leader was at last captured and carried in chains
to Havana. Fifty of his followers were shot at once. Lopez was
strangled by the garrote on Sept. 1st. It pleased his enemies to add
this pang of an ignominious death. The old hero met it without
flinching. Spain had honoured him for facing death upon many a bloody
field, and she could not dishonour him while dying for the adopted
country which was not worthy of his love.

Meanwhile Crittenden and his detachment had been captured at sea and
conveyed to Havana, where they were allowed the merest mockery of a
trial. But one verdict was possible, where sentence had been already
passed. Only a few hours elapsed between the trial and execution. The
crowds of Havanese who flocked to the show, as to a national
bull-baiting, saw them die with stoical fortitude. They saw Crittenden,
with but twenty-eight years of life behind him, stand and face death
with unflinching mien. They bade him kneel in the customary attitude,
with his back to the firing party. "An American kneels only to his
God," he answered, and so met his death.




CHAPTER IV

The Count Raoussett-Boulbon - A father "de la vieille roche" - Raoussett's
contract to garrison Sonora - Proclamations and pronunciamientos -
Battle of Hermosillo - Negotiations with Santa Ana - Expedition to
Guaymas - Engagement and defeat - Last words of a noble adventurer -
Death of the Count.


To Mexico the gift of liberty was as the boon of eternal life to the
wandering Jew. Freed from the exactions of a despotic master, absolved
by the bounty of nature from the stern, ceaseless struggle for physical
life, stirred no longer by the warlike spirit of the conquerors, the
Latin races in America seemed for a time to have fallen into a
condition of hopeless lethargy.

To redeem this fair land, with its boundless mineral and agricultural
wealth, from the hands of its slothful owners, was a dream which fired
the ambition and, it may be added, the cupidity of many daring minds.
With the decline and final overthrow of Spanish power the richest mines
of Northern Mexico were abandoned for lack of strength to repel the
never-subdued and ever-hostile Indian tribes. Mexico was weak, torn by
strife, and disorganized. In her feeble hands the mines of Sonora and
Arizona were literally "treasure hoarded in the ground."

There was in California, in 1852, a man of high birth and humble
calling, a day labourer, with the proudest French ancestral blood in
his veins - a soldier of Algiers, a count by birth and rank.
Raousset-Boulbon, or, to give him his full name and title, Count Gaston
Raoulx de Raousset-Boulbon, was a prodigal. He had squandered his
substance in the riotous living of Paris and come to the land of gold
to mend his fortunes. Unhappily for his peaceful aspirations,
California, in 1852, offered a poor field to the man whose only gifts
were education, the use of arms, nobility of soul, and a patrician
title. Such endowments were neither rare nor deemed precious in that
primitive community. The poet has sung, and the novelist painted, the
wild contrasts of that marvellous period, but no flight of fancy could
exaggerate the picture. San Francisco, the sea-port, was a truly
cosmopolitan city. There were two French newspapers published daily, so
great were the attractions of El Dorado to the rarely migrating Gaul.
Among the hundreds of his countrymen who, like himself, had failed to
find a fortune in the golden state, Gaston judged that he might easily
enroll a band of adventurers for any bold undertaking. He was not
mistaken when the occasion offered itself. In the indescribable human
medley of California the Count Raousset-Boulbon cannot be said to have
been out of place. Nobody, nothing was that. He was discontented with a
career hitherto fruitful only in misfortune.

He was the son of an _émigré_ of the old stamp, a self-willed fantastic
old man, who carried the sternest rules of obedience into the most
trifling domestic affairs, and might have adopted the motto, "L'état,
c'est moi." His scheme of government may be inferred from a brief
anecdote recounted by the biographer of Gaston. The latter, returning
from Paris, appeared at home with two things distasteful to his sire - a
beard and a cigar. "Madam," said the father to his wife, the stepmother
of Gaston, "it would give me pain to argue with my son, and I could not
brook opposition. The cigar I can overlook; but pray tell him that it
pleases me not to see one of his age wear a beard like a 'moujik,' and
that I shall be obliged to request its sacrifice." Gaston grudgingly
obeyed the royal edict, for which he was formally thanked. Some days
after the sire spoke again, "Madam, I authorize you to say to my son
that he may let his beard grow again. Upon second thoughts I do not
find it unbecoming." Compliance followed as before; but the tardy
efforts of nature did not satisfy the old count, who gravely decided
that "a beard does not become Gaston. Madam, I beg you to tell him once
more that he must shave." Gaston, instead of obeying, packed his
portmanteau and fled to Paris, and was forthwith disowned by his irate
parent.

His life in Paris was that of a Bohemian, until the death of his
father, in 1845, enabled him to carry out a dear ambition, that of
founding a colony in Algiers; but the revolution of 1848 recalled him
to France and to a political career. He conducted a newspaper, _La
Liberté_, and was twice elected to the Assembly. Beaten in a third
candidacy he forsook politics in disgust, and turned his eyes towards
California. Paris in 1850 counted as many as twenty Californian
societies for organized emigration. Gaston, restless, weary, and yet
fired with the longing for some great deed, was almost penniless when,
in his thirty-second year, he took a third-class passage for


1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryJames Jeffrey RocheBy-Ways of War → online text (page 3 of 17)