On this day in 1835, Mexican General Martin Perfecto de Cos raises a flag of truce. He was ready to surrender San Antonio to the Texian Army. The capture concluded the long Siege of Béxar.
Texians were feeling pretty optimistic at this point in the Texas Revolution. Could it really be as easy as that?! They’d just won victories at Gonzales and Goliad, too.
The first victory at Gonzales had spurred many men to join the ragtag Texian Army. The men soon elected Stephen F. Austin as commander and began marching toward San Antonio de Béxar.
General Cos, Santa Anna’s brother-in-law, was there with about 650 defenders. Texians would take the city from him, if they could.
The Texians arrived outside the city in mid-October and demanded that Cos surrender. Cos refused, instead asserting that he “would defend the place until he died, if he had only had ten men left with him.”
A long siege began. There were smaller attacks and skirmishes, but a major attack on San Antonio was delayed over and over again. The officers couldn’t agree on what to do. In the meantime, Cos began receiving reinforcements. Then Austin left on a diplomatic trip to the United States. Many of the Texian officers who remained behind were not inclined to attack with winter approaching and supplies dwindling. One participant later described the Texian officers who “decided that it was impracticable and impossible to carry the fort by storm.” In the face of this declining will to fight, the new commander, Edward Burleson, issued orders to return to Goliad.
Just then, fate intervened in the form of Benjamin Rush Milam. He was furious to find the Texian army packing up. Milam went to work recruiting volunteers to attack Cos. “Who will go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?” he reportedly yelled. “Who will follow old Ben Milam?”
He drew a line in the sand. About 300 men crossed over, indicating their willingness to join Milam’s attack. One Texian described the furor:
“[F]rom the noise in the camp it was apparent that a mutiny was on hand. At the time appointed to move, 300 men marched out and declared their intention of storming the fort that night. Many of the officers made speeches against the project, friends begged and entreated others not to throw away their lives foolishly, &c &c.—All was in vain; no persuasion had any weight; a great many mounted their horses and left the Camp, expecting a total defeat.”
Milam’s newly formed force planned an attack for the next morning. Burleson agreed to remain behind with a reserves, protecting the Texian camp and providing a distraction that would divide Cos’s attention.
The plan went into motion early on December 5. The Texians systematically began to capture houses. They dug trenches and established a line. The battle continued for four days, as Texians effectively fought house-to-house. They continued their advance even when Milam was shot and killed by a sniper on December 7. The Mexican forces were losing ground and many began to desert. Cos pulled back into the Alamo, but he was losing. He finally raised a white flag of surrender on December 9.
The Texians had won, at least for now. But little did they know that Santa Anna was on his way. Another battle would be lost at the Alamo mere months later.
The Texas Revolution was off to a good start, but it wasn’t over yet.
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Almanac of American Military History (Spencer C. Tucker, ed. 2012) (Vol. I)
Stephen L. Hardin, Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836 (1994)
The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association (Vol. X; 1906-07)
Thom Hatch, Encyclopedia of the Alamo and the Texas Revolution (2007)
A Texas Scrap-book: Made Up of the History, Biography, and Miscellany of Texas and Its People (D.W.C. Baker ed. 1875)