Monday, February 20, 2012

A little more about the canon

There was a link on my last post to this. The post was so long I don't know if you went here so I thought I would post this piece about the canon. In my old age I love reading about Texas History.

Old Come and Take It Flag
Battle of Gonzales
October 1835
The "Lexington-Concord" of Texas
Centralista Dictatorship. Through the summer of 1835, DeWitt Colonists, the majority who were loyal Federalist Mexican citizens, followed closely with increasing alarm the assumption of dictatorial powers by Santa Anna, the annulment of the liberal Constitution of 1824, dissolution of the legislature of Coahuila y Texas and, particularly, reports of his brutal tyranny, rape and pillaging of any one who opposed. The news of how the dictator rewarded troops with two days of rape and looting of the citizenry of Zacatecas for their resistance was particularly frightening to those with developed homesteads and families. On a visit to Gonzales after returning from Mexico City, Edward Gritten, reputedly a friend of Santa Anna himself, found the DeWitt Colonists still loyal to the Mexican government, desirous of peace, but ready to resist any centralista troops that entered the area other than those in support of the Constitution of 1824. Gritten managed to convince Colonel Ugartechea, commander of Mexican forces in San Antonio, to send letters of assurance that troops were not coming to the colony. At this time, the majority of DeWitt Colonists still opposed overt and armed resistance to the Mexican authorities and disapproved of the more aggressive talks about war and independence going on in San Felipe throughout 1835. In fact, Dewitt Colonists distributed the letters of assurance from Ugartechea to other settlements to show justification for their loyalty to the government and disapproval of insurrection.
Skepticism and mistrust increased rapidly when the brutality of the Centralista troops became reality within DeWitt Colony territory rather than distal theory and propaganda of firebrand Texas "hawks" and War Party members. Without provocation a Mexican soldier attacked Jesse McCoy in Adam Zumwalt’s store with the butt of his rifle and news of the altercation spread rapidly among the outlying farms and ranches of the colony.
Recall of the Gonzales Cannon. As part of the disarmament of Texians or the consolidation of armaments for suppression of Federalist sentiments by the Centralista (Santanista) dictatorship, the military authorities in San Antonio requested the return of a cannon which had been "loaned" to the DeWitt Colonists in 1831 for protection against Indians.   The cannon was likely among a variety of cannons captured from the Republican Army of the North at the Battle of Alazan, some of which were spiked by the Spanish crown forces, which had been stored in the arsenal at San Antonio. In response to a formal request in Jan 1831 by Empresario Greene DeWitt for armaments to buttress defense against Indian raiders, Jefe-Politico Ramon Musquiz approved delivery of a cannon on Mar 1831.  Musquiz advised the military commander at Bexar, Antonio Elozua, that a bronze four or six pounder could be given to the colony upon his approval.  Elozua approved provided that an appropriate receipt was obtained.  On 10 Mar 1831, James Tumlinson signed for the weapon, a bronze gun, and transported it to Gonzales. Musquiz informed DeWitt in writing the specific terms of the receipt that he expected:
"On March __, 1831, I the Empresario of this colony, I Green DeWitt admit that I received from ___ a reinforced bronze cannon for the defense of this settlement against the savage Indians which are making hostilities against it.  I offer to maintain the said cannon in the same state in which I received it and am obligated to return it as soon as it is asked for by the principle commander of the army in this department." 
It was a relatively useless cannon for real defense since it probably had been "spiked" after capture from the Republican Army, presumably to prevent use of it against the Spanish authorities if recaptured. A spiked cannon is one in which the hole towards the rear where the powder is that is used for ignition and firing has been blocked with a metal spike. This reduced the cannon to largely a noisemaker, which must be fired by laying a wick along the length of the muzzle from the powder packed behind whatever one wanted to try to pack into the cannon and fire inefficiently from it. The cannon was mostly displayed and occasionally fired from the log fort overlooking the ferry crossing at Gonzales to signal nearby Indians that their presence was noted and to think seriously before attempting some thievery or vandalism. Colonel Domingo Ugartechea, military commander at San Antonio under General Martin Perfecto Cos (Santa Anna’s brother-in-law), sent a Corporal DeLeon and several men to obtain the cannon from alcalde Andrew Ponton under the pretense that it was needed for defense of San Antonio. DeWitt Colonists knew well that the cannon was essentially useless for full military defense without extensive overhaul and that there were many more of these type unmounted tubes in the arsenal at San Antonio. When Corporal DeLeon arrived on 25 Sep 1835, a poll taken by alcalde Ponton indicated that all but three citizens contacted were against giving up the cannon. Gonzales and surrounding DeWitt Colonists prepared for trouble, moving families together to safety, consolidating weapons and supplies and dispatching messengers through the countryside and surrounding settlements. The cannon was buried in G.W. Davis’ peach orchard in the west outer Gonzales town.
Ponton Letter to Musquiz. On 26 Sep alcalde Andrew Ponton sent the following letter to Jefe-Politico Ramon Musquiz (unedited):
Gonzales Sept 26th 1835.  Excellent Sir.  I received an order purporting to have come from you for a certain piece of Ordnance which is in this place. It happened that I was absent an so was the remainder part of the Ayuntamto when your dispatch arrived in consequence the men who bore sd dispatch were necessarily detained untill to day for an answer. This is a matter of delicasy to me nor do I know without further information how to act this cannon was as I have always been informed given in perpetuity to this Town for its defense against the Indians. The dangers which existed at the time we received this cannon still exist and for the same purposes it is still needed here---our common enemy is still be dreaded or prepared against. How or in what manner such arms are appropriated throughout the country I am as yet ignorant but am led to believe that dippositions of this nature should be permanent at least as long as the procuring cause exists. I must therefore I hope be excused from delivering up the sd cannon untill I have obtained more information on the subject matter. At least untill I have an opportunity of consulting the chief of this department on the subject---as well to act without precipitation---as to perform strictly and clearly my duty, and I assure you, that if, after a mature deliberation on the subject, I find it be my duty & in justice to your self---I obligate my self to comply with your demands---and will without delay send the cannon to you.  God & Liberty---ANDREW PONTON, Alcalde.
Confrontation on the Guadalupe River. Upon receipt of the above letter, Col. Ugartechea sent Lt. Francisco Castaneda from San Antonio with over a hundred men to demand the cannon, but to avoid confrontation if at all possible. Castaneda was authorized to arrest the alcalde and others who resisted and to bring them to Bexar as prisoners. On 29 Sep, Castaneda’s forward messengers met Pvt. Isabel de la Garza who reported that he with Corporal DeLeon and his men had been detained and disarmed by the colonists, but he had escaped the afternoon of the day before. Later in the day Castaneda met another member of the DeLeon party who had been released who confirmed the report and further reported that men were assembling over the last two days in Gonzales and now was near 200. In the afternoon of 29 Sep, Lt. Castaneda’s force arrived within several miles of the west bank of the Guadalupe. Castaneda had sent advance messengers to the river bank prior to his arrival requesting a meeting with alcalde Ponton, but had been informed that the alcalde was not available and only he could make an official decision regarding the cannon. The next morning the Mexican troops arrived on the west bank of the Guadalupe where all rafts, boats or barges for fording the river which was swollen at the time from rain in the area had been removed to the east bank by the colonists. Casteneda again requested a meeting with the alcalde, but was greeted from across the river by regidor Joseph Clements who again informed Casteneda that alcalde Ponton was unavailable, but at 4 PM he should arrive or otherwise as regidor, Clements would speak for him. Spread among the bushes and trees on the east bank were a group of armed colonists who became known as the "Original Old Gonzales 18."
Regidor Clement Refuses Demand for Cannon. Being unable to cross the river easily and with the colonists spread across the east bank, Lt. Castaneda communicated in the afternoon with regidor Clements and associates under elected Capt. Albert Martin by shouting across the river. The colonists allowed one Mexican messenger to swim across and deliver messages. The words of regidor Joseph Clements reflected the position of the colonists which had been arrived at previously in downtown Gonzales on the municipal plaza:
Gonzales Sept 30th 1835.  Sir.  Owing to the absence of the alcalde the duty has devolved upon me of answering the communication directed to the Alcalde of this Town demanding agin the cannon which is in this Town as well as in answer to your note wishing to open negociation on the subject.  In answer to the first demand made for the sd cannon  The Alcalde espressed his coubts of what was strictly his duty in the matter, and wished to consult the Political chief of this Department before he decided possitively in the case and fanally---This rigor Priveledg of consulting our chief seems is denied us the only answer I can therefore give youis that I cannot now will not deliver to you the cannon agreeable to my notions of peopriety---And these are also the sentiments of all the members of this Ayuntamiento who are now present. The sd cannon is now in this Town and if force it from us we must submit---We are weak and few in numbers but will nevertheless contend for what we believe to be just principles.  God and Liberty Joseph D. Clements Regigor.  Addressed:  Franco Castenada, En el llano en frente de Gonzales.
Parleys Fail--Colonists take the Offensive. Lt. Castaneda retired from the river bank and on the night of 29 Sep camped on high ground about 300 yards from the river on a spot subsequently known as DeWitt’s or Santa Anna’s Mound. Meanwhile, Dr. Launcelot Smithers who was in San Antonio at the time of the confrontation interceded with Col. Ugartechea and offered to act as peacemaker and negotiator between the colonists and Mexican forces if he would order his soldiers to refrain from hostile action. Also in the meantime, Capt. Martin was replaced by election as commander of the Texans as contingents from the current Fayette county area under Col. John Henry Moore, Columbus under Burleson, Coleman and Wallace and other DeWitt Colony settlements arrived including Andrew Kent and son David Boyd Kent and "Black" Adam Zumwalt and son Andrew Zumwalt from the Lavaca River settlements. Adam Zumwalt in his applications for pension refers to serving under a Capt. Gohene in the action. Smithers had arrived at the Castaneda camp and delivered further communications from Castaneda to colonist scouts among which was Capt. Mathew Caldwell. Caldwell assured that the Centralista force would not be attacked that evening and proposed a meeting of Lt. Castaneda and Col. Moore early in the morning.
On 30 Sep 1835 Captain Albert Martin sent the following message by couriers to San Felipe and the Lavaca and Navidad River valleys:
Fellow Citizens of St. Philipe & the Lavaca.   Gonzales Sept. 30th 1835.  A detachment of Mexican forces from Bejar, amounting to about one hundred and fifty men, are encamped opposite us; we expect an attack momently. Yesterday we were but 18 strong, to day 150 & and forces constantly arriving. We wish all the aid & despatch that is possible to give us that we may take up soon our line of march for Bejar and drive from our country all the Mexican forces. Give us all the aid & dispatch that is possible. respectfully yours Captain Albert Martin, R. M. Coleman Capt., J.H. Moore Capt.  [Addressed] Fellow Citizens of St. Philipe and the Lavaca
Castaneda was aware of the increasing size of the Texan force and the difficulty in fording the swollen Guadalupe. On the morning of 1 Oct he moved camp to 7 miles upstream still on the west bank in a more defensible position and near an easier ford on or near the farm of Ezekial Williams. The colonists prepared to take the offensive by making ready their assorted weapons of all shapes and sizes. On 1 Oct John Sowell, Jacob Darst and Richard Chisholm dug up the Gonzales cannon from the Davis peach orchard and mounted it on a pair of wooden wheels from a cotton wagon owned by Eli Mitchell. Darst unspiked the cannon touchhole while he and blacksmiths Chisholm, Sowell and others cut every piece of loose metal (horseshoes, chains, trace rings, etc.) they could find into shrapnel that would fit into the barrel of the cannon.
Officers of the Texan force decided that the Castaneda’s strategy either was to await reinforcements from San Antonio or to attempt a fording of the Guadalupe at an easy ford about 15 miles further north. In reality his orders were to demand the cannon, await further orders and to avoid any engagement with a superior force that would cause embarrassment to the government and its forces. The decision was made to take the offensive. On Thursday night 1 Oct at 7 PM, the Texan force began to move across the river at the Gonzales ferry crossing with 50 mounted men along with the cannon and those on foot. Before departure, the group had been joined by frontier Methodist preacher W.P. Smith on his white mule from Rutersville in the Moore Settlement on the Colorado River. With mounted men in the lead followed by the mounted cannon flanked by men on foot and a small rear guard on foot, the Texan force approached the Mexican position in a thick fog about 3 AM of 2 Oct. A dog signaled the arrival of the Texans and Mexican pickets fired wounding one Texan slightly. Neither force could determine the exact position of the other and both waited for the dawn. When the fog lifted somewhat, the Texans found themselves in the corn and watermelon fields of Ezekial Williams and commenced to move into an open area within 350 yards of the main Mexican force where they began firing on the Mexican position. A cavalry of 40 under Lt. Gregorio Perez attacked the Texan position, which fell back to the river bank under protection of woods lining the river. Out of the mist appeared Launcelot Smither who had earlier been arrested and stripped of his belongings upon commencement of the Texan attack on the Mexican position. Smithers relayed Castaneda’s desire for a meeting, but was in turn arrested by the Texans who suspected he was an agent of the Mexicans. Lt. Castaneda and Col. Moore met in full view of both forces in an open area where the views described above in the Macomb letter were expressed. With no compromise, each commander returned to their positions and Lt. Col. Wallace ordered cannoneer J.C. Neill to fire the cannon loaded with 16 inches of powder and scrap metal, a harmless shot known as the first shot of the Texas Revolution. The Texans fired a rifle volley and Col. Moore led a modest charge toward the Mexican position without actually closing with the Mexican force. Lt. Castaneda immediately retreated with one casualty and returned to San Antonio. It is believed by this time that Lt. Castaneda had received subsequent orders from Col. Ugartechea in San Antonio to retire at once if his interview with the alcalde were unsuccessful and in his judgement the Texan forces were superior to his. The Texan force sustained a minor gunshot wound and one bloody nose do to a spooked horse when the firing commenced. Thus ended the confrontation on William’s farm that became known over the years as the Battle of Gonzales or the "Lexington of Texas" commencing with the "Texas shot heard round the world."
The confrontation precipitated the muster of the first Texian Republican Army with Stephen F. Austin as Commander and the march in defense of San Antonio de Bexar and restoration of the Constitution of 1824 which was occupied by Centralista forces under command of recently proclaimed dictator of all of Mexico Antonio Lopez Santa Anna (see Muster at Gonzales and Battle of Bexar). 

Hope you are not getting bored with this little bit of Texas history. 

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