Thursday, 16 April 2015

Rumination about Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna - as we move towards San Jacinto

     Remember this name the next time you have to use the information operator when making a phone call: Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón .   That is the name of the individual who brought us this set of legends, myths, histories, horror, and inspiration.
     During the initial stages of the Battle of the Alamo, James Bowie and William Barrett Travis butted heads more than a few times.   Travis was itching for a fight, found one, and did not know what to do after that.   He played a bad hand the best he could, perhaps.
     Bowie was a very conflicted person.  Desperately ill with what was probably tuberculosis, subject to bouts of recurring depression due to life's losses which had been truly dreadful, sometimes sober if early enough in the morning, he also had contempt for Travis's contempt for the Latin element of the Texian population.   Bowie was much a home in the Mexican/Spanish environment and was a well-received member of that body of the population in San Antonio and elsewhere in Texas....of people of all social levels and conditions.
     This led to the last argument between Travis and Bowie.  When the main body of Centralist forces had taken up their first positions, upon arrival in San Antonio de Valero, three officers rode up to the main entrance of the Alamo's compound, and the lead officer, a Captain Batres,  read an order of surrender.   Travis responded by firing a round from the huge 18-pounder that had been installed....accounts vary whether its load had been anything beyond a charge and some wadding.
     Bowie was not impressed with that kind of braggadocio, and determined as co-commander of the fort to send an officer to the Mexican Colonel Almonte by the name of Engineer Captain Green Jameson who was accompanied by a representative from Travis by the name of Captain Albert Martin (Alberto Martinez?).   The men queried of Almonte about the terms of an honourable surrender and withdrawal.
     Captain Batres, responded thusly, and in writing:
"I reply to you, according to the order of His Excellency, that the Mexican army cannot come to terms under any conditions with rebellious foreigners to whom there is no recourse left, if they wish to save their lives, than to place themselves immediately at the disposal of the Supreme Government from whom alone they may expect clemency after some considerations."
    The emissaries returned to the Alamo and informed the commanding duo.   At that point, Travis and Bowie together ordered the firing of the 19-pounder once again as a sign of defiance. 
     All of this ploughing over ploughed ground is somewhat necessary as we approach Lynch's Ferry in the bayou country far removed to the east from the limestone Balcones Escarpment and its beautiful, wondrous land of 1,100 Springs, Lost Maple forests, cedar brakes and its occasional Indian raids.

     The urgency of any and all of this was brought forth by the fabled and horrid Sacking of Zacatecas during the past April - May of 1835.   It was at that time that Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna went forth with a Centralist army of 4,000 well-supplied, selected professional, solidly trained soldiers, heading for a place named Zacatecas.   Besides having the fame of being a tremendous silver and gold producing area, the capital also had the distinction of being the highest provincial capital in all the Americas (8,500 fasl)  and the holder of the honour of having the finest examples of Baroque and Rococo architecture in the New World.   It also had a troubling characteristic of supporting the Mexican Constitution of 1824 and the States' Rights, and other individual and common law recognitions held in that document.
     Oddly, the small in population but wealthy State had a well supplied and trained militia.  The Governor moved to the relative lowlands of Zacatecas State to encounter the Centralist army led by Lopez de Santa Anna.   It seemed like a reasonable encounter of two armies of essentially the same size.
      Governor Francisco Garcia was an honest man who spent his military budget on matters and things that pertained to the military.   Very fine Brown Bessie British muskets (.75 calibre) and the dependable Baker rifled musket (.60 calibre) were carried by his troops.  A capable cavalry, complete with the dreaded lancer companies, stood ready to do their famous sweeping flank attacks.

Catedral de Zacatecas
XVI - Century masterpiece
      Garcia had little training in terms of battle tactics, however. Lopez de Santa Anna had considerable successful experience, and little compunction about utterly destroying....totally destroying....any enemy.   Before two hours were done, over one thousand Zacatecas effectives were dead or dying.   Before twenty-four hours were passed, all four thousand of the militia would be dead save for those who could lose themselves in the crannies of the red cantera  "singing limestone" of the areas where the grasslands met with the sharply rising mountains.
      The City of Zacatecas had the teachable moment about why it was not nice to toy with Antonio Lopez.   He authorised, against the wishes and advice of his staff, a period of 48 hours of suspension of military order.   Rape, murder, theft, vandalism, wanton depravity of all kind was  practiced by a large minority of Lopez de Santa Anna's troops.   A detail was put into place, and the wealthy backers of the Zacatecas militia were put in charge of burning the bodies of their friends, relatives, servants, their dead horses, mules, donkeys, and oxen and to begin the general clean-up required so as to accommodate the occupying "Administrative Military Authority".
     This is not Texian propaganda.  This was purposeful institutional terrorism and it is what set the tone for what was good and bad in terms of the Texian resistance to the Centralist movement under Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.  When ecclesiastical authority found out that their Champion had permitted the rape and pillaging of nuns and convents, it iced over relations with the Church.  The good bishops and pious learned that the liberal republicans of the 1824 Constitution would have been a better bet than a pseudo-conservative who was actually a self-possessed dictator.

     Texians....all of Texas....knew about this within a week to ten days after its occurrence.  That is why they fought as hard as they did.

More we begin to finish preparations and move suddenly to the south at that Y - intersection not far from Buffalo Bayou and the swampy bottoms of an insignificant little watercourse named Rio San Jacinto.
El Gringo Viejo