Captain Mosley Baker Rallies His Men at San Jacinto
Remember . . . Texans cannot be conquered . . . they can and will be free.
Almost from the beginning of human conflict military commanders have attempted to pour steel into the spins of men going into battle—from God’s “be strong and courageous” speech before the invasion of the Promised Land, to David’s “let us show ourselves courageous” speech before his war with the Ammonites, to Hannibal’s “conquer or die” speech before crossing the Pyrenees, to Queen Elizabeth I’s “my honor and my blood” speech before attacking the Spanish armada, to Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Great Crusade” speech before the invasion of Europe.
But not every commander though such speeches effective. Roman general and senator Lucius Sergius Catilina (Catiline) was one such commander—and said so in a speech to his men before a Roman army overran them at Pistoria in January 62 BC.
I am well aware, soldiers, that words cannot inspire courage and that a spiritless army cannot be rendered active, or a timid army valiant, by the speech of its commander. Whatever courage is in the heart of a man, whether from nature or from habit, so much will be shown by him in the field; and on him whom neither glory nor danger can move, exhortation is bestowed in vain, for the terror in his breast stops his ears.
Such gloomy sentiments, however, didn’t prevent Catiline from attempting to do the very thing he said was vain; he tried to bolster his army’s lagging courage, concluding, “In battle, those who are most afraid are always in most danger; but courage is equivalent to a rampart.”
Not all of us can stick to our convictions when a sword is at our throat. Sometime a word or two of encouragement is needed.
So common was the battlefield speech in history it has been used with varying effectiveness and eloquence in works of literature and film. Shakespeare perhaps put the most famous words in the mouth of King Henry V with his “Saint Crispin’s Day” speech. Then there was William Wallace’s “Men of Scotland” speech in Braveheart and Aragon’s “Men of the West” speech before the Black Gate in Return of the King.
Whether in fiction or in non-fiction, the battlefield speech is a mainstay, including the battlefields for Texas Independence. William B. Travis wrote his famous “Liberty or Death” letter during the siege of the Alamo, and, according to legend, drew a line in the sand to see who would stand and fight and who would slink over the walls and escape. And just days before the crucial battle at San Jacinto, which secured Texas’s independence, both General Sam Houston and Secretary of War Thomas Rusk addressed men who were weary of retreating eastward from a pursuing Mexican army. Houston’s horseback speech of April 19, 1836, called on his men to “Remember the Alamo, the Alamo! the Alamo!” And Rusk’s declaration of “may I not survive if we don’t win this battle,” concluded with an encouragement not only to remember the Alamo but to also remember Goliad.
As far as we know neither men offered a speech to the troops on the decisive day of April 21. That was left for the various captains of companies. One was recorded—or at least reconstructed years later.
Before stepping from the trees and onto the open field at San Jacinto, Captain Mosley Baker stood before his company of fifty-nine men—Company D of the First Regiment of Texas Volunteers. In the words of San Jacinto veteran Creed Tylor, “Mosley Baker ... harangued his men in loud, unmistakable terms. The speech attracted the attention of General Houston as he rode up and down the lines, and he halted and sat quietly on his horse, listening approvingly. Captain Baker told his men neither to ask nor give quarter.... This met with approval1 and a large red handkerchief was hoisted on a pole and carried into battle.”
Standing at attention behind Baker’s company stood the men of Company K, under the command of Captain Robert J. Calder. He recalled years later, “Baker made a stirring appeal to the patriotism of his men. Not being an orator myself, I told my company to avail themselves to Captain Baker’s sentiments.”
The words that have come down to us are those of Private John Manefree, who served in Baker’s company and reconstructed the speech for Asa C. Hill, another San Jacinto veteran. Hill in turn gave the speech to the editor of the Beeville Picayune, who published it in the early 1900s.2 This is not to say that the following speech is accurate word-for-word as it was uttered by Captain Baker on the afternoon of April 21, 1836. Nevertheless, like Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech it represents enough of the words spoken that day to convey the meaning completely—including the battle cries coined by Houston and Rusk: “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!”
You are now paraded to go in battle. For the past few weeks our greatest desire has been to meet our foes in mortal combat, and that desire is about to be gratified. I have confidence to believe that you will do your duty and act like men worthy of freedom, but if there be one who is not fully satisfied that he can face death unfalteringly he is at liberty to remain at camp, for I do not wish my company disgraced by a single act of cowardice.
Yonder, within less than a mile is the tyrant, Santa Anna, with his myrmidons [a subordinate of a tyrant who follows orders without question], who have overrun our country, destroyed our property, put to flight our families and butchered in cold blood many of our brave men.
Remember, comrades, that we this day fight for all that is dear to us on earth, our homes, our families and our liberty. He who would not fight for these is not worthy of the name of man.
Remember that this little army of less than 800 men3‡ is the last hope of Texas, and with its defeat or dispersion, dies the cause of freedom here and we will be regarded by the world as rash adventurers, but should victory crown our efforts, of which I have but little doubt, we can anticipate a riddance to the country of the oppressors, followed by peace and prosperity, and in the further years when this broad, beautiful and fertile land shall be occupied by millions of intelligent and thrifty people who can appreciate the value of liberty, we will be honored as the founders of a republic.
Remember that Travis, Crockett, Bowie and their companions, numbering one hundred and eighty-three of the bravest of brave men, stood a siege of ten days against twenty times their number and fought till the last man was killed, not one being left to tell the news or tell the tale.
Remember that Fannin and four hundred volunteers were basely murdered after they had capitulated as prisoners of war and sent to the United States.
Remember you fight an enemy who gives no quarter, and regards neither age nor sex. Recollect that your homes are destroyed; imagine your wives and daughters trudging mud and water, and your children crying for bread, and then remember that the author of all this woe is within a short distance of us; that the arch fiend is now within our grasp; and that the time has come at last for us to avenge the blood of our fallen heroes and to teach the haughty dictator that Texans cannot be conquered and that they can and will be free. Then nerve yourselves for the battle, knowing that our cause is just and we are in the hands of an All-wise Creator and as you strike the murderous blow let your watchwords be “Remember Goliad! Remember the Alamo!”
All of the men in Captain Baker’s company approved the no quarter order except one, Private John Money.
Some speculate that this speech must have been edited, either by Manefree or Hill. They reason it is too eloquent for an extemporaneous address. However, Baker must have been a gifted orator, if Calder is to be believed. These same skeptics also argue Baker couldn’t have known the exact number of those who fell at the Alamo. But let’s not forget Susannah Dickinson, who lived through the Alamo siege and battle, and was released by Santa Anna, reported what had happened at the Alamo to Houston. It’s reasonable to assume that scuttlebutt—even precise scuttlebutt—trickled down among the troops. Besides, if Manefree and/or Hill altered Baker’s words from what he actually said they would have corrected the length of the siege from ten to thirteen days—a figure they would have certainly known years later.
The actual number was 930 men. See Stephen L. Moore, Eighteen Minutes: The Battle of San Jacinto and the Texas Independence Campaign (Dallas: Republic of Texas Press, 2004), 295.