"The Fall of the Alamo."
We publish the following account of the "Fall of the Alamo" from the Texas Almanac for 1860. It is beyond a doubt the most authentic account extant.
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Account By: Francisco Antonio Ruiz.
The writer was within almost stone-throw of the Alamo during the final assault, was in the fort immediately after, and as Alcalde of the town attended to burying the Mexican dead; was eye-witness to the burning of the bodies of the Texan heroes, and hunted out the bodies of Travis, Crockett and Bowie.
Mr. Ruiz certainly ought to know the truth, and he is an honest truthful gentleman, the son of one of the signers of the declaration of Texas Independence. Capt. Potter, is entirely at variance with this account in some very essential particulars%u2014in regard to the numbers, the assault, the resistance and the loss of life. According to Mr. Potter's statement he was in Matamoras when the event happened and gathered his information from many incorrect sources, which consequently do not deserve the same credence as the statement of a Mexican gentleman of truth and intelligence, who was present and partook in some of the ceremonies of that heroic tragedy. Mr. Potter does not mention this account given by Mr. Ruiz, and will no doubt for the sake of history, make some very important corrections in his interesting reminiscence, when it is brought to his notice.
We wish to state that when we noticed Capt. Potter's account we had merely glanced at it, and concluded, very naturally, that, coming from the gifted pen of Capt. Potter, it must be all its publishers claim for it; and besides we had not seen Mr. Ruiz' account, which we repeat comes up with a better show of authority, than any we have yet seen.
The Fall of the Alamo, and
Massacre of Travis and His
By Francisco Antonio Ruiz.
In the evening they began to exchange fire with guns, and from the 23d of February to the 6th of March (in which the storming was made by Santa Anna,) the roar of artillery and volleys of musketry were constantly heard.
On the 9th of March, at 3 o'clock P.M. [sic], Gen. Santa Anna at the head of 4,000 men, advanced against the Alamo. The infantry, artillery and cavalry had formed about 1000 vrs. from the walls of said fortress. The Mexican army charged and were twice repulsed by the deadly fire of Travis' artillery, which resembled a constant thunder. At the third charge the Toluca battalion commenced to scale the walls and suffered severely. Out of 800 men, only 130 were left alive.
When the Mexican army had succeeded in entering the walls, I, with the Political Chief (Gefe Politico) Don Ramon Murquiz, and other members of the Corporation, accompanied the Curate, Don Refugio de la Garza, by Santa Anna's orders, had assembled [illegible] temporary fortification erected in Potrero street, with the object of attending the wounded, etc.%u2014As soon as the storming commenced, we crossed the bridge on Commerce street with this object in view, and about 100 yards from the same a party of Mexican dragoons fired upon us and compelled us to fall back on the river and place we occupied before. Half an hour had elapsed when Santa Anna sent one of his aid-de-camps with an order for us to come before him. He directed me to call on some of the neighbors to come up with carts to carry the dead to the Cemetery, and also to accompany him, as he was desirous to have Col. Travis, Bowie, and Crockett shown to him.
On the north batter of the fortress lay the lifeless body of Col. Travis on the gun-carriage, shot only in the forehead. Toward the west, and in the small fort opposite the city, we found the body of Col. Crockett. Col. Bowie was found dead in his bed, in one of the rooms of the south side.
Santa Anna, after all the Mexicans were taken out, ordered wood to be brought to burn the bodies of the Texians. He sent a company of dragoons with me to bring wood and dry branches from the neighboring forest. About 3 o'clock in the afternoon, they commenced laying the wood and dry branches, upon which a file of dead bodies were laid; more wood was piled on them and another file brought, and in this manner they were all arranged in layers. Kindling wood was distributed through the pile, and about 5 o'clock in the evening it was lighted.
The dead Mexicans of Santa Anna were taken to the grave-yard, but not having sufficient room for them, I ordered some of them to be thrown into the river, which was done the same day.
Santa Anna's loss was estimated at 1600 men. These were the flower of his army.
The gallantry of the few Texians who defended the Alamo was really wondered at by the Mexican army. Even the Generals were astonished at their vigorous resistance, and how dearly victory had been bought.
The Generals, who under Santa Anna participated in the storming of the Alamo, were Juan Amador, Castrillon, Ramirez, Sesma, and Andrade.
The men burnt numbered 182. I was an eye witness, for as Alcalde of San Antonio, I was with some of the neighbors collecting the dead bodies and placing them on the funeral pyre.
[Signed] Francisco Antonio Ruiz.
P.S. My father was Don Francisco Ruiz, a member of the Texas Convention. He signed the Declaratio of Independence on the 2d of March, 1836.
F. A. R.
P.S. My father was Don Francisco Ruiz, a member of the Texas Convention. He signed the Declaratio of Independence on the 2d of March, 1836.
F. A. R.
The 1878 Account of Reuben Marmaduke Potter
1. I had for several years in Texas as a servant, one of the Mexican soldiers captured at San Jacinto, Sergeant Becero, of the Battalion of Matamoros. He was in the assault, and witnessed Dickenson's leap He also saw the body of Bowie on his bed, where he had been killed, and witnessed the execution of the few men who were found in concealment after the action was over. He did not know the names of Bowie or Dickenson, and related the circumstances, not in reply to inquiries, but in a natural way as recollections in narrating his experience. Many absurd stories about the admissions made by Mexicans touching the force of the assailants and the amount of their loss at the Alamo are based on sycophantic statements, drawn by leading questions from prisoners of the lower class.
2. In 1841 the husband of one of the Mexican women who were with the garrison during the siege and assaults pointed out to me the vaulted room referred to, and observed: "During the fight and massacre five or six women stood in that room all in a huddle." He was an intelligent man, but so given to embellishing whatever he related that I did not then rely much on his information; but I have since called it to mind in connection with what is above said. This man did not refer to Evans' attempt, nor did he say that the cell referred to was used for storing, powder, but, according to my recollection, it was the most fitting place for a magazine which I saw about the Alamo.
3. A brief account of the fall of the Alamo, related in legendary style by Francisco Ruiz, who lived at San Antonio when the event occurred, was published in the Texas Almanac of 1860. The narrator shows total ignorance of the details of the assault, which he blends with a cannonade between batteries that went before it, and, if the printer has not blundered for him, imagines that the storming of the fort began at 3 P.M. on the 6th. This is so contrary to the recollection of old residents, that it began at dawn, and was soon over, that I think "P.M." must have been printed in place of A.M. He asserts that after a long attack and repeated repulses, it ended with the scaling of the outer wall, which formed the final success. He has no knowledge of the speedy loss of the outward barriers, or of the main conflict inside. He rates the besieging forces at 4,000, which would be correct if the eight corps, including two of cavalry, numbered 500 each. He sets down Santa Ana's loss at 1,600, and in way to imply that this was the number of killed. Now, estimating the force at 4,000, and leaving out 1,000 cavalry for outside service, the storming masses would consist of 3,000 infantry. If 1,600 were killed, the wounded would cover the remainder, and the total of assailants as well as of defenders must have come down. If he means that the loss was 1,600 killed and wounded, it was heavy enough to render success impossible, and to cripple the army too much for the prompt and active campaigning on which it immediately entered. The battalion of Toloca he says numbered 800, of whom only 130 men were left alive. If 670 were killed, the small remainder must have been disabled. The whole corps went to the graveyard and hospital, yet eight weeks after a part of it was killed and taken at San Jacinto, and a small remnant retreated to Matamoros. So absurd a narrative would not be worth referring to had it not, been quoted in San Antonio newspaper of 1860 as testimony of an eye-witness conflicting with my former publication.
4. General Bradburn was a Virginian, who had been in the service of Mexico since the time of Mina's expedition, in which he held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and took distinguished part. In 1836, when he was on the retired list of the Mexican army, he was ordered, much against his wishes, to join Santa Ana in his campaign against Texas. He reported to Santa Ana soon after the fall of the Alamo, and at his own request was assigned to an unimportant post (Copano landing) where he would not be likely to come into contact with the forces of Texas. Bradburn had a few years before commanded in Texas, and had come unpleasantly into contact with a revolutionary element which did not then culminate in revolution.
5. Colonel Seguin served gallantly as a Captain under General Houston at San Jacinto, and subsequently commanded a regiment. His zealous adherence to the cause of Texas throughout the campaign of 1836, and for some years after, is undoubted; and his subsequent defection from that cause may be palliated by the popular harshness, endangering life, to which he became subject, and which in a manner drove him to a step of which he evidently repented. I have no reason to doubt the candor and correctness of anything which he related in matters whereon I have cited his authority. He had no motive to misrepresent anything which was not personal to himself, nor did he seem to color unduly what was. A man may be a correct narrator in spite of political errors.
In Friday's Daily Herald, Captain Potter attempts to defend his account of "the fall of the Alamo" against the stubborn facts presented in the simple and straight-forward narrative given by Don Francisco Ruis. We thought to let this matter go until answered by an impartial compilation of the existing facts and knowledge relating to this event, which we shall place before the public as soon as possible, but as Mr. Potter has presented to the public an account which he attempts to defend as infallible against all others, we propose to take a brief review of the two accounts as they now stand.
In the outset of his narrative, Mr. Potter says that so far as the final assault was concerned, the details have never been correctly given by any of the current Histories of Texas; that the official reports of the enemy cannot be relied on; and that a trust-worthy account can only be compiled by comparing the verbal accounts of assailants with military documents.
Mr. Potter either was not aware of, or ignores the fact that an account had been given by an eye-witness%u2014Don F. Ruis; declares the accounts of the enemy to be unreliable, and then gives as his authority the narrative of assailants, and the second-hand statements of Mexican officers; to wit: Gen. Bradburn, who had been driven out of Anahuac by Travis, and whose evidence to Capt. Potter was only hearsay derived from Mexican officers.%u2014The reliability of such authority we must be allowed to doubt when it faces the statements of Mr. Ruis.
Again, in his estimate of Santa Anna's army he attempts to establish on probability, the actual force. He says that there were thirteen battalions of foot, and two regiments of cavalry, which, if full, would amount to 22,500 men. Mr. Potter reduces this number down to 7,500 men. His reason:
"The nominal compliment of a Regiment or Battalion is 1500 men; but I have never known one to be full, or to much exceed a third of that number."
It is quite probable, for we have the Captain's word for it, that these battalions were not full when he saw them, but this does not controvert the probability that they were full or half full when they appeared before the Alamo.
He makes a few minutes' work for the Mexicans to take the Alamo; and declares that the account given by Yoakum "is evidently one which popular tradition has based on conjecture." In his defence, in relation to Mr. Ruis' account, he says: "It is in substance, the very account I refer to as adopted by Yoakum and others." And Mr. Potter calls this account of Mr. Ruis' a tradition. The narrative of an eye-witness a tradition?
In regard to the Mexican loss, Mr. Potter says:
"The estimate made by intelligent men in the action, and whose candor I think could be relied on, rated their loss at from one hundred and fifty to two hundred killed, and from three to four hundred wounded."
What is Mr. Ruis' testimony on this point? He says:
"The dead Mexicans of Santa Anna were taken to the grave-yard, but not having sufficient room for them I ordered some of them to be thrown into the river, which was done the same day.
"Santa Anna's loss was estimated at 1600 men. These were the flower of his army."
He disposed of the dead; had them carted off, and knew how many a cart would contain, and how many cartloads there were. We therefore contend he is the best possible authority on this point; and it is absurd for any man to call this statement a "tradition based on conjecture," and to attempt to impeach Mr. Ruis' authority as Mr. Potter has in saying in his defence that "the credulity which can swallow this, cannot be relied on for historical data." Let us turn the table son the Captain: The credulity that can swallow the account of such men as Gen. Bradburn and other Mexican [illegible] cannot be relied on for historical data. We think [illegible]
Now let us in conclusion [illegible] up the points of difference, briefly:
The first is as to the time of day.%u2014Mr. Ruis says, "on the 6th of March, at 3 o'clock P.M." Mr. Potter says just at the peep of day.
Mr. Ruis says the attacking forces amounted to 4000 men. Mr. Potter says 2500.
Mr. Ruis says the Mexicans were twice repulsed. Mr. Potter says they walked right in.
Mr. Ruis says the Mexican loss was 1600. Mr. Potter says only 500.
Now let us review their capabilities as witnesses: Mr. Potter was, according to his own admission, several hundred miles away when the storming of the Alamo took place; therefore is of himself no authority, and surely cannot have the face to claim before the people of Texas the same credence for his sources of information as the direct testimony of Mr. Ruis deserves.
Mr. Ruis is one of our most respected and intelligent Mexican citizens; was Alcalde or Mayor of the City at the time of the fall of the Alamo; was present and as close as a reporter could have been, during the action; disposed of the dead;; know, and was in company with the most prominent actors of that occasion; has been a resident here from that time to this, and would therefore be more likely than any other man to come in possession of all the existing traditions, narratives and incidents in relation to this event, and would hardly make a statement contrary to his knowledge and all the evidence of the case.
We suppose he gave this account at the solicitation of the compilers of the Texas Almanac, in as condensed and simple a style as possible, without any idea of literary display, or as a correction of any former accounts. It is simply his straight-forward narrative.
Mr. Potter was hundreds of miles away from the scene of battle; gathers his statements from indirect sources; and takes the probabilities in the case as truth; therefore we must set him down as probable, not positive authority, however much he may object to the contrary. If Mr. Potter is desirous of acquiring, or adding to this literary fame as a writer and historian, we have no objections; in fact we wish him success, provided he does not jump to conclusions upon assumed facts, or such as are not entitled to belief; and does not introduce so many probabilities to contradict existing authority
There are wide variations among reports regarding the number of Mexican casualties at the Alamo. However, some historians and military analysts accept those reports which place the number of Mexican casualties at approximately 600. (See below "Mexican Casualties")
183 to 250 Texian and Tejano bodies were found at the Alamo after the battle, though Santa Anna's official report back to Mexico City, dictated to his personal secretary Ramón Martínez Caro, stated 600 rebel bodies were found. Historians believe this to be a false claim. All but one of the bodies were burned by the Mexicans; the sole exception being Gregorio Esparza, who was buried rather than burned because his brother Francisco had served as an activo and had fought under General Cos in the Siege of Béxar.
Alamo Survivor~ Susannah Wilkerson Dickinson
Susannah Wilkerson Dickinson
(1814– October 7,1883) was among the survivors of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo during the Texas Revolution, where her husband and 182 other defenders were killed by the Mexican Army.
Susannah Wilkerson was born c. 1814 in Tennessee, but little is known of her early life. On May 24, 1829, at the age of 15, she married Almeron Dickinson. He was a DeWitt Colonist and a member of the Old Gonzales 18. Justice of the Peace Joseph W. McKean officiated the ceremony.
She was present in the Alamo compound during the 13-day siege and subsequent Battle of the Alamo, in which her husband Almeron was a casualty on March 6, 1836, in San Antonio Texas. Dickinson's life was spared by General and President Antonio López de Santa Anna and she would later become the most extensively quoted eyewitness source to the final and subsequent events of the Alamo defeat.
During the battle, Susannah was injured in the leg or ankle by a bullet, either stray or intentional. She was found by English-speaking General Juan Almonte who said to her, "If you wish to save your life, follow me." She was escorted from her hiding place in the chapel. Almeron and Susannah Dickinson's 15-month-old daughter Angelina Elizabeth (1834-1871) was also a survivor. According to Susannah, when she was escorted into Santa Anna's quarters, she found Angelina sitting on the lap of the dictator.
Susannah was released and sent to Gonzales, Texas, by Santa Anna. She was escorted by one or more servants with a letter dated March 7, 1836. After her arrival in Gonzales, General Sam Houston burned the town and retreated toward East Texas, beginning what became known as the Runaway Scrape.
Susannah died in 1883 and was buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Austin, Texas, with the following inscription:
"Sacred to the Memory of Susan A. Wife of J. W. Hannig Died Oct. 7, 1883 Aged 68 Years."
The marble marker was placed there by Hannig. The marble slab was later added by the state on March 2, 1949. Her second husband Hannig was buried beside her after he died in 1890.
A cenotaph honoring Susanna Wilkerson Dickinson was placed in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, Texas.
Survivor~ Juana Navarro Alsbury
Juana Navarro Alsbury (1812-1888) is noted for being the one who was a nurse for Jim Bowie at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836, and also as one of the few survivors of that battle.
Juana Navarro Alsbury was born in San Antonio de Bexar in 1822, she was one of three daughters of Jose Angel Navarro and his wife Concepcion Cervantes. Her father Jose was a government official of San Antonio de Bexar and he was also a Mexican loyalist during the Texas Revolution. Her uncle was Jose Antonio Navarro, a loyal Tejano, who was one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence. After the death of her mother, Juana was raised by her aunt, Josefa Navarro Veramendi, and her husband Juan Martin de Veramendi , who lived in the Veramendi Palace which was near present day Main Plaza in San Antonio Texas. In 1832, Juana married Alejo Perez Ramigio and the couple had a son named Alejo and a daughter who died in infantcy. Her first Husband Alejo died in 1834 during a cholera epidemic. In January of 1836, Juana remarried to Horace Arlington Alsbury, brother of Young Perry Alsbury, who fought at the Battle of San Jacinto. Her cousin Ursula Veramendi married James Bowie, who brought Juana, her baby son Alejo Perez, and her younger sister Gertrudis to the Alamo when Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna arrived at San Antonio de Bexar on February 23,1836. Juana's husband, Horace Alexander Alsbury, left the Alamo that same day with John Sutherland, carrying dispatches. During Jim Bowie’s illness at the Alamo, Juana helped to nurse him. Susanna Dickinson later accused Juana Alsbury of being the legendary Mexican woman who had carried William B. Travis's message to Santa Anna on March 4 from the Alamo. She also stated that Juana had left the Alamo with her father Jose before the siege began on March 6, 1836. But several other sources refute these statements. Juana Alsbury herself stated that she remained at the Alamo throughout the siege. She said that on the final day during the last moments of the siege, she was protected by two men who were killed by the Mexican soldiers, who then broke open a trunk containing valuable items owned by of Juana and her family. Juana stated that after the battle, she and her son, and sister, stayed at her father's home in San Antonio de Bexar. Juana’s second husband Horace Alsbury was marched to Mexico with other San Antonio captives of Adrian Woll’s invasion in September of 1842. Juana traveled to Coahuila to wait for him until he was released from Perote Prison. Horace was later killed in the Mexican-American War in 1847. After Horace Alsbury's death, Juana married Juan Perez, her first husband's cousin. In 1857, she petitioned for and received a pension for the belongings she lost at the Alamo and for the services she had rendered there. Juana died in San Antonio, Texas on July 23, 1888. Alejo Perez, Juana's son, became a prominent San Antonio city official, with descendants still living in San Antonio, Texas.
Survivor~Alijo Perez Jr.
Alijo Pérez, Jr. was the son of Juana Alsbury and her first husband Alejo Pérez, Sr. His mother Juana Navarro Alsbury and stepfather Horace Arlington Alsbury brought him into the Alamo when he was only seventeen days short of his first birthday. He survived the Alamo battle and lived in San Antonio, Texas where he was employed as a policeman. He married Antonia Rodríguez On December 27, 1853, and they had four children. He died on October 19, 1918, making him the last known survivor of the Battle of the Alamo.
Joe the slave of William B. Travis
Sam the slave of Jim Bowie
Maria de Jesus castro
Before the war ended, Santa Anna ordered that a red flag be raised from San Fernando cathedral indicating to the defenders that no quarter would be given. According to the controversial José Enrique de la Peña diary, several of those not killed in the final assault were captured by Colonel Manuel Fernández Castrillón and presented to Santa Anna, who personally ordered their executions. It is speculated that Davy Crockett was one of the six prisoners. De la Peña also states that Crockett attempted to negotiate a surrender with Santa Anna but was turned down on the grounds of 'no guarantees for traitors'. However, there is little evidence to support this.
Still, some people believe that Davy Crockett was killed by Santa Anna's men after the 12 day struggle. A contemporary history summarizes the battle thus: "They fought all one bloody night, until he [Travis] fell with all the garrison but seven;--and they were slain, while crying for quarter!" This history, while not providing proof that Crockett was among those who survived the assault, does corroborate de la Peña's diary entry. However, two eyewitness survivors attested that Crockett did die in the battle. Susanna Dickinson, the wife of an officer, said that Crockett was killed in the assault and that she saw his body between the long barracks and the chapel, and Travis' slave Joe said that he also saw Crockett lying dead with the bodies of slain Mexican soldiers around him.
Most sources indicate Crockett and all the Alamo defenders were cremated en masse. There were unconfirmed reports that some of the Mexicans who were hired to burn and bury the dead removed Crockett to a secret, unmarked location and buried him there before his body was burned. Some say that he was secretly transported back to Tennessee to prevent Santa Anna from using his body as a trophy. These reports are all unconfirmed. Conspiracy theories aside, Crockett's body was most likely cremated with the other Alamo defenders on a mass funeral pyre after the fall of the Alamo.
On his tombstone, it says: "Davy Crockett, Pioneer, Patriot, Soldier, Trapper, Explorer, State Legislator, Congressman, Martyred at The Alamo. 1786 - 1836".
Birth: Aug. 17, 1786
Death: Mar. 6, 1836
US Congressman, Frontiersman, American Legendary Figure.
Defender of the Alamo.
He was born at the confluence of Limestone Creek and Nolichuckey River in the State of Franklin, which a few years later became Greene County, Tennessee, August 17, 1786. He commanded a battalion of mounted riflemen under General Andrew Jackson in the Creek Campaign in 1813 and 1814. His popularity won him a seat in the Tennessee State House of Representatives, in which he served from 1821 to 1823. He then was an unsuccessful candidate for election in 1825 to the Nineteenth Congress but later was elected to the Twentieth and Twenty-first Congresses, serving from March 4, 1827 tp March 3, 1831. He lost reelection in 1830 to the Twenty-second Congress. Later on he was elected as an Anti-Jacksonian to the Twenty-third Congress, and served that term from March 4, 1833 to March 3,1835. He lost his finally reelection in 1834 to the Twenty-fourth Congress. From there he went to Texas to aid the Texans in their struggle for independence in 1836; joined a band of 186 men in the defense of the Alamo.
Defenders of the Alamo Memorial
Following the Siege of the Alamo, Generalissimo Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna ordered that, with one exception, the bodies of the Alamo defenders be burned. Two funeral pyres were set. One at what is now the location of the Alamo Cenotaph and the other at the location of East Commerce and Rusk Streets. According to legend, some of the ashes were recovered and are now kept within the San Fernando Cathedral.
Defender of the Alamo~William B. Travis
William Barret Travis
(August 1, 1809 – March 6, 1836 ) was a 19th Century lawyer and soldier. He commanded the Republic of Texas forces at the Battle of the Alamo during the Texas Revolution from the Republic of Mexico.
In May 1831, upon his arrival in Mexican Texas, a part of Northern Mexico at the time, Travis purchased land from Stephen F. Austin and started a law practice in Anahuac. He played a role in the growing friction between American settlers and the Mexican government and was one of the leaders of the "War Party," a group of militants opposed to Mexican rule. He was a pivotal figure in the Anahuac Disturbances, which helped to precipitate the war.
The Texas Revolution started in October 1835 at the Battle of Gonzales. Travis took a small part in the Siege of Bexar in November. On 19 December , Travis was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel of the Legion of Cavalry and became the chief recruiting officer for the Texan army. This force was to consist of 384 men and officers, divided into six companies. Despite his rank, Travis now had to actively recruit the men who were to serve under his command, and he had a hard time finding willing colonists to enlist. "Volunteers can no longer be had or relied upon ...," he wrote to acting governor Henry Smith.
On January 21, 1836, he was ordered by the provisional government to go to the Alamo with volunteers to reinforce the 120-130 men already there. Initially Travis did not want to go to San Antonio: "I must beg your excellency will recall the order for me to go on to Bexar in command of so few men," he wrote to Smith.
On February 3, Travis arrived in San Antonio with eighteen men as reinforcements. On 12 February, as the next highest ranking officer, Travis become the official commander of the Alamo garrison. He took command of the regular soldiers from Col. James C. Neill, of the Texian army. Neill had to leave to care for his ill family, but he promised to be back in twenty days. James Bowie, (1795-1836) would command the volunteers and Travis would command the regulars.
Alamo Defender~Jim Bowie
Col. James Bowie
(probably April 10, 1796 - March 6, 1836), aka Jim Bowie, was a nineteenth century pioneer and soldier who took a prominent part in the Texas Revolution and was killed at the Battle of the Alamo. He was born in Kentucky and spent most of his life in Louisiana before moving to Texas and joining the revolution.
Bowie is also known for the style of knife he carried, which came to be known as the "Bowie knife". Stories of his frontier spirit have made him one of the most colorful folk heroes of Texas history.
During the War of 1812 Bowie and his brother Rezin Jr. joined the Louisiana militia company of Colonel Colman Martin to fight the British at New Orleans. By the time the pair arrived in New Orleans in January 1815, the war had ended. They returned home, and, despite the fact that the United States had outlawed the importation of slaves over seven years previously, entered the slave trade, purchasing illegally-acquired slaves from pirate Jean Lafitte and selling them in St. Landry Parish. Once they had collected $65,000, the brothers opted out of the slave trade and began speculating in land.
Apart from his sudden wealth, Bowie became known for his fiery temper. In 1826 Bowie challenged Norris Wright, the Rapides Parish sheriff and local banker, to a fight for refusing to make Bowie a loan. Bowie survived the fight by luck, as a bullet that Wright fired at him at point-blank range was deflected. To help ensure his safety, his older brother Rezin gave him a large knife to carry.
In January 1836, Bowie arrived in Bexar with a detachment of thirty men. Although his orders were to demolish the fortifications there, Bowie wrote to the Governor urging that the Alamo be held as it was a strategic spot. Bowie and his men joined the seventy-nine men already at the Alamo, and were joined in the next few weeks by William Travis, with thirty men, and Davy Crockett, with twelve additional men. After the Alamo's commander, Colonel James C. Neill, left the mission, the men elected Bowie as their commander. He celebrated by getting drunk. After that spectacle, Bowie agreed to share responsibility with Travis.
The Mexican army, with 1,500 cavalrymen, arrived in Bexar in late February and demanded that the Texans surrender. Bowie refused, but collapsed on February 24, most likely from advanced tuberculosis, and was confined to a cot in his quarters. He perished with the rest of the Alamo defenders on March 6th, when the Mexicans attacked. Bexar mayor Francisco Ruiz identified his body, and Santa Anna chose to personally observe his corpse to verify that he was dead.
Crockett Letter, 1827
Colonel William Barret Travis Letter
Colonel William Barret Travis
The People of Texas,
and all Americans in the world
The Travis Letter of February 24, 1836
Among the original ink on paper war documents that have survived to our time, the Travis Letter from the Battle of the Alamo has no comparable equal in textural content and value to future generations of Texans and Americans. The Letter not only records Lt. Colonel William Barret Travis' appeal to "The People of Texas and all Americans in the world", but also carries two additional signed postscripts.
The first is from Captain Albert Martin and is located on the right hand side of the second page of Travis's Letter and appears in a darker color ink that has not transformed to the brown color on the rest of the Letter caused by water evaporating from the ink. The martin postscript could also have been written in pencil. Captain Martin was selected by Travis to carry this to Gonzales his hometown. He arrived in Gonzales on February 25th with the postscript already added as follows:
"Since the above was written I heard a very heavy
Cannonade during the whole day think there must
have been an attack made upon the alamo We were
short of Ammunition when I left Hurry on
all the men you can in haste
When I left there was
but 150 determined to Albert Martin
do or die tomorrow I leave
for Bejar with what men I can
raise and will be there Monday
at an events
Col Almonte is there the troops are
under the Command of Gen Seisma
True to his word Albert Martin returned to the Alamo with a small relief force on or about March I, 1836 and died in at the Alamo on March 6, 1836. There are few accounts in military history of personal dedication that surpasses Captain Martin's brave ride through the Mexican Armies lines and a return to almost certain death with his fellow patriots at the Shrine of Texas Liberty.
The second is from Lancelot Smither. He had been sent by Travis the day before Martin left with an estimate of the growing strength of the Mexican troops. Martin gave the February 24th Letter to Smither to carry out the order of the Letter shown on the extreme left hand side of the first page to take to San Felipe "by express day and night." Smither added a note to the back of the Letter located running at a ninety degree angle below Martin's postscript as follows:
"Nb...I hope Every
one will Rendevu at
gonzales as soon as possible
as the Brave Solders are
suffering do not deglect the
powder. is very scarce
and should not be delad
Smither carried the Letter to San Felipe after forty hours of hard riding and delivered the appeal to a citizens' committee. Printed copies of the Travis Letter were made which were not faithful to the original Letter. At some point after the war the Travis Letter was returned to his family. Smither lived until 1842 having served as a city treasurer of San Antonio and as mayor pro pro-tem for a short period. He was killed by invading Mexican troops at Sutherland Springs in September of 1842. The final courier would also die at the hands of Mexican troops.
The Travis Letter is shown as follows
Commandancy of the Alamo------
Bejar Fby. 24th 1836
To the People of Texas &
all Americans in the world------
Fellow citizens & compatriots------
I am besieged, by a thousand
or more of the Mexicans under
Santa Anna ----- I have sustained
a continual Bombardment &
cannonade for 24 hours & have
not lost a man ----- The enemy
has demanded a Surrender at
discretion, otherwise, the garrison
are to be put to the sword, if
the fort is taken ----- I have answered
the demand with a cannon
shot, & our flag still waves
proudly from the wall ----- I
shall never Surrender or retreat
Then, I can on you in the
name of Liberty, of patriotism &
every thing dear to the American
character, to come to our aid,
with an dispatch ----- The enemy is
receiving reinforcements daily &
will no doubt increase to three or
four thousand in four or five days.
If this can is neglected, I am deter
mined to sustain myself as long as
possible & die like a soldier
who never forgets what is due to
his own honor & that of his
country ----- Victory or Death
William Barret Travis
Lt. Col. Comdt
P. S. The lord is on our side-
When the enemy appeared in sight
we had not three bushels of corn---
We have since found in deserted
houses 80 or 90 bushels & got into
the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves---
There were other letters sent out of the Alamo by Lt. Colonel Travis. However, the originals of these documents have vanished and most likely have not survived. The sources for these letters come from John H. Jenkins set of books entitled "Papers of the Texas Revolution". Mr. Jenkins cites his sources for these letters as having been taken from newspapers and books. The fact remains that the only original document written from the Alamo is the February 24th Letter and it must remain as the only authentic source on the thoughts and actions of the Commander of the Alamo.
The Travis Letter and the Alamo are forever linked together and they continue to provide Texans and all Americans with a sense of pride and respect for sacrifice, honor and dedication to country. In this regard, the Travis Letter continues to be a treasure for our time and a beacon from a distant past, which inspires all those who fight against tyranny, and oppression in the world.
Santa Anna Letter
Letter Explaining Why the Alamo Defenders Had to Be Killed
SANTA ANNA PHOTO
D. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
Santa Anna's forces killed 187-250 Texian defenders at the Battle of the Alamo (February 23- March 6, 1836) and executed 342 Texian prisoners at the Goliad Massacre (March 27, 1836)
Santa Anna was soon defeated by Sam Houston's soldiers at the Battle of San Jacinto, (April 21, 1836), with the Texian army shouting "Remember Goliad, Remember the Alamo!" A small band of Texas forces captured Santa Anna the day after the battle on 22 April.
After the battle, Santa Anna reported that he had suffered 70 dead and 300 wounded, while many Texian accounts claim that as many as 1,500 Mexican lives were lost. While many quickly dismiss Santa Anna's account as being unrealistic (since Santa Anna had plenty of reasons to lie about the number of men he lost), the Texian account of 1,500 dead also lacks logic. Most Alamo historians agree that the Mexican attack force consisted of between 1,400 and 1,600 men, so a count of 1,500 sounds improbable, although 1,500 killed during the entire time of the siege could well have been achieved. The accounts most commonly accepted by historians are the ones that place the number of Mexican dead around 200 and the number of initial Mexican wounded around 400. These losses (at about 43% casualties) would have been considered catastrophic by the Mexican Army, while still being realistic to today's historians.
Andrew Kent, Alamo defender, son of Isaac and Lucy (Hopkins) Kent, was born in Kentucky in the late 1790s. In 1816 he married Elizabeth Zumwalt of Kentucky in Montgomery County, Missouri. Later, he and his family immigrated to Texas and settled in Gonzales, where Kent farmed and may have also done carpentry. On February 23, 1836, he and his son, David, were mustered into the Gonzales Ranging Company of Mounted Volunteers. Kent rode to the relief of the Alamo with this group and arrived on March 1, 1836. His son stayed behind in Gonzales. Kent died in the battle of the Alamoqv on March 6, 1836. Kent County, established in 1876, was named for him.
The Story of Enrique Esparza
Saturday November 22,1902 Since the death of Senora Candelaria Villanueva, several years ago at the age of 112 there is but one person alive who claims to have been in the siege of the Alamo. That person is Enrique Esparza, now 74 years old, who, firm-stepped, clear-minded and clear-eyed, bids fair to live to the age of the woman who for so long shared honors with him.
Enrique Esparza, who tells one of the most interesting stories ever narrated, works a truck garden on Nogalitos street between the southern Pacific Railroad track and the San Pedro creek. Here he lives with the family of his son, Victor Esparza. Every morning he is up before daybreak and helps load the wagons with garden stuff that is to be taken up town to market.
He is a farmer of experience and contributes very materially to the success of the beautiful five acres garden, of which he is the joint proprietor.
While claims of Enrique Esparza have been known among those familiar with the historical work done by the Daughters of the Republic, an organization which has taken great interest in getting first-hand information of the period of Texas Independence, the old man was not available up to about five years ago, for the reason that he resided on his farm in Atascosa county. This accounts for the fact that he is not well enough known to be included in the itinerary when San Antonians are proudly doing the town with their friends.
Esparza tells a straight story. Although he is a Mexican, his gentleness and unassuming frankness are like the typical odd Texan. Every syllable he speaks to uttered with confidence and in his tale, he frequently makes digressions, going into details of relationship of early families of San Antonio and showing a tenacious memory. At the time of the fight of the Alamo he was 8 years old. His father was a defender, and his father's own brother an assailant of the Alamo. He was a witness of his mother's grief, and had his own grief, at the slaughter in which his father was included. As he narrated to a reporter the events in which he was so deeply concerned, his voice several times choked and he could not proceed for emotion. While he has a fair idea of English, he preferred to talk in Spanish.
"My father, Gregorio Esparza, belonged to Benavides' company, in the American army," said Esparza, "and I think it was in February, 1836, that the company was ordered to Goliad when my father was ordered back alone to San Antonio, for what I don't know. When he got here there were rumors that Santa Ana was on the way here, and many residents sent their families away. One of my father's friends told him that he could have a wagon and team and all necessary provisions for a trip, if he wanted to take his family away. There were six of us besides my father; my mother, whose name was Anita, my eldest sister, myself and three younger brothers, one a baby in arms. I was 8 years old.
"My father decided to take the offer and move the family to San Felipe. Everything was ready, when one morning, Mr. W. Smith, who was godfather to my youngest brother, came to our house on North Flores street, just above where the Presbyterian church now is, and told my mother to tell my father when he came in that Santa Ana had come. (Northeast corner of Houston and N. Flores Streets.)
"When my father came my mother asked him what he would do. You know the Americans had the Alamo, which had been fortified a few months before by General Cos.
"Well, I'm going to the fort" my father said.
"Well, if pop goes, I am going along, and the whole family too.
"It took the whole day to move and an hour before sundown we were inside the fort. Where was a bridge over the river about where Commerce street crosses it, and just as we got to it we could her Santa Anna's drums beating on Milam Square, and just as we were crossing the ditch going into the fort Santa Anna fired his salute on Milam Square.
"There were a few other families who had gone in. A Mrs. Cabury[?] and her sister, a Mrs. Victoriana, and a family of several girls, two of whom I knew afterwards, Mrs. Dickson, Mrs. Juana Melton, a Mexican woman who had married an American, also a woman named Concepcion Losoya and her son, Juan, who was a little older than I.
"The first thing I remember after getting inside the fort was seeing Mrs. Melton making circles on the ground with an umbrella. I had seen very few umbrellas. While I was walking around about dark I went near a man named Fuentes who was talking at a distance with a soldier. When the latter got near me he said to Fuentes:
"Did you know they had cut the water off?"
"The fort was built around a square. The present Hugo-Schmeltzer building is part of it. I remember the main entrance was on the south side of the large enclosure. The quarters were not in the church, but on the south side of the fort, on either side of the entrance, and were part of the convent. There was a ditch of running water back of the church and another along the west side of Alamo Plaza. We couldn't got to the latter ditch as it was under fire and it was the other one that Santa Anna cut off. The next morning after we had gotten in the fort I saw the men drawing water from a well that was in the convent yard. The well was located a little south of the center of the square. I don't know whether it is there now or not.
"On the first night a company of which my father was one went out and captured some prisoners. One of them was a Mexican soldier, and all through the siege, he interpreted the bugle calls on the Mexican side, and in this way the Americans know about the movements of the enemy.
"After the first day there was fighting. The Mexicans had a cannon somewhere near where Dwyer avenue now is, and every fifteen minutes they dropped a shot into the fort.
"The roof of the Alamo had been taken off and the south side filled up with dirt almost to the roof on that side so that there was a slanting embankment up which the Americans could run and take positions. During the fight I saw numbers who were shot in the head as soon as they exposed themselves from the roof. There were holes made in the walls of the fort and the Americans continually shot from these also. We also had two cannon, one at the main entrance and one at the northwest corner of the fort near the post office. The cannon were seldom fired.
"I remember Crockett. He was a tall, slim man, with black whiskers. He was always at the head. The Mexicans called him Don Benito. The Americans said he was Crockett. He would often come to the fire and warm his hands and say a few words to us in the Spanish language. I also remember hearing the names of Travis and Bowie mentioned, but I never saw either of them that I know of.
"After the first few days I remember that a messenger came from somewhere with word that help was coming. The Americans celebrated it by beating the drums and playing on the flute. But after about seven days fighting there was an armistice of three days and during this time Don Benito had conferences every day with Santa Anna. Badio, the interpreter, was a close friend of my father, and I heard him tell my father in the quarters that Santa Anna had offered to let the Americans go with their lives if they would surrender, but the Mexicans would be treated as rebels.
"During the armistice my father told my mother she had better take the children and go, while she could do so safely. But my mother said:
"No!, if you're going to stay, so am I. If they kill one they can kill us all.
"Only one person went out during the armistice, a woman named Trinidad Saucedo.
"Don Benito, or Crockett, as the Americans called him, assembled the men on the last day and told them Santa Anna's terms, but none of them believed that any one who surrendered would get out alive, so they all said as they would have to die any how they would fight it out.
"The fighting began again and continued every day, and nearly every night,. One night there was music in the Mexican camp and the Mexican prisoner said it meant that reinforcements had arrived.
"We then had another messenger who got through the lines, saying that communication had been cut off and the promised reinforcements could not be sent.
"On the last night my father was not out, but he and my mother were sleeping together in headquarters. About 2 o'clock in the morning there was a great shooting and firing at the northwest corner of the fort, and I heard my mother say:
"Gregorio, the soldiers have jumped the wall. The fight's begun.
"He got up and picked up his arms and went into the fight. I never saw him again. My uncle told me afterwards that Santa Anna gave him permission to get my father's body, and that he found it where the thick of the fight had been.
"We could hear the Mexican officers shouting to the men to jump over, and the men were fighting so close that we could hear them strike each other. It was so dark that we couldn't see anything, and the families that were in the quarters just huddled up in the corners. My mother's children were near her. Finally they began shooting through the dark into the room where we were. A boy who was wrapped in a blanket in one corer was hit and killed. The Mexicans fired into the room for at least fifteen minutes. It was a miracle, but none of us children were touched.
"By daybreak the firing had almost stopped, and through the window we could see shadows of men moving around inside the fort. The Mexicans went from room to room looking for an American to kill. While it was still dark a man stepped into the room and pointed his bayonet at my mother's breast, demanding:
"Where's the money the Americans had?"
"If they had any,' said my mother, "you may look for it.'
"Then an officer stepped in and said:
"What are you doing? The women and children are not to be hurt.
"The officer then told my mother to pick out her own family and get her belongings and the other women were given the same instructions. When it was broad day the Mexicans began to remove the dead. There were so many killed that it took several days to carry them away.
"The families, with their baggage, were then sent under guard to the house of Don Ramon Musquiz, which was located where Frank Brothers store now is, on Main Plaza.(Southeast corner of Soledad and Commerce Streets, now a parking lot, 1991). Here we were given coffee and some food, and were told that we would go before the president at 2 o'clock. On our way to the Musquiz house we passed up Commerce street, and it was crowded as far as Presa street with soldiers who did not fire a shot during the battle. Santa Anna had many times more troops than he could use.
"At 3 o'clock we went before Santa Anna. His quarters were in a house which stood where L. Wolfson's store now is.(Middle of Commerce Street, north side, between Main Avenue and Soledad Street). He had a great stack of silver money on a table before him, and a pile of blankets. One by one the women were sent into a side room to make their declaration, and on coming out were given $2 and a blanket. While my mother was waiting her turn Mrs. Melton, who had never recognized my mother as an acquaintance, and who was considered an aristocrat, sent her brother, Juan Losoya, across the room to my mother to ask the favor that nothing be said to the president about her marriage with an American.
"My mother told Juan to tell her not to be afraid.
"Mrs. Dickson was there, also several other woman. After the president had given my mother her $2 and blanket, he told her she was free to go where she liked. We gathered what belongings we could together and went to our cousin's place on North Flores street, where we remained several months."
Battle of the Alamo from Survivor's Lips
Charles Bledsoe, aged Texan, reaches the city from Arizona and relates history of famous fight - tells of his escape.
Stooping and gray, weatherbeaten from the suns of divers countries, torn by Mexican bullets, minnie balls of the Civil war, and by lances of hostile Indians, and above all, upsetting with his claims the history of the Alamo fight, Charles Bledsoe, an old time Texan, and companion of Big Foot Wallace, and a survivor, he claims, of the battle at the Alamo, is now at Fest's wagonyard on North Flores street.
Bledsoe, who says he is 82 years of age, came into the city Friday, traveling in his battered wagon, drawn by half-starved ponies, having come across the country from Arizona. He came he says, "because he wanted to see if all his old friends were dead." He has been away from Texas for fifty years he says, and wanted to see some of them before he died.
From here he purposes going to Austin, where he had a cousin years ago. It has been suggested by those who have heard this veteran's story that a movement be started for his relief.
According to the old man's story, his entire life has been one of adventure, beginning with skirmishes with the Mexicans while a boy of 12 years, in company with two uncles from Missouri, immediately followed by the battle of the Alamo, and with adventures following in quick succession up to a tamer life at mining in later years, and a life at present of scant pleasure, and practically penniless old age, in which a bare living is eked out by peddling from his old canvas covered wagon. It includes wealth secured by mining in Colorado, poverty and hardship in filibustering expeditions to Nicaragua, hard service in the Civil war and labor as a hostler in the war with Mexico, beside.
Eighty-two years ago he was born near Lexington, Ky., his people moving while he was a child to Missouri. Here while he was a boy of 10 or 12 years, well grown for his age, he ran away with his two uncles Jim and John Bledsoe who had joined a party of adventurers bound for Texas under the leadership of a man named Blair. These thirty men came from Missouri and Arkansas. They had heard of the adventures of Crockett and Bowie and other pioneers in Texas history, and determined to cast in their lot with them.
Their journey was not without adventure. They met while in Texas small bands of Mexican soldiers, and several skirmishes took place, until one morning at a place called Little Creek near San Antonio, they encountered another band of soldiers, and while engaged with them heard the firing of the pioneers who were hotly pursued by an overwhelming force of Mexicans.
Battle at the Alamo.
The two bands came together during a running fight of several hours and were pursued by the Mexican forces to the Alamo. With the Mexicans on their heels, the panting men rushed into the Alamo and barricaded the doors. Several were shot down while they were crushing in.
At once the building was surrounded by troops. Mexicans climbed on the old earthern (sic) roof and began to tear holes in it and the Texans fired through the roof into them until blood dripped in and the red stains ran down the walls in streams.
Texans, shot through the head as they tried to fire through the windows, fell back upon their comrades and the building reeked with powder smoke. There was no water, and the men fought with powder-blackened faces and parching tongues from early in the afternoon until dusk.
Outside, through the windows in lulls of the firing, could be seen rows upon rows of dead Mexican soldiers, the wounded crawling off to shelter. Little by little the firing of the Americans ceased, for their powder was giving out, until only an occasional shot was fired through the blood spattered windows. The floor was slippery with blood, and the dead and wounded were so thick on the floor that movement was impossible.
"Open the door for God's sake." some one shouted, and the Texans, throwing down their useless flintlocks, drew their long knives and made for the heavy door on which the Mexicans had already begun an assault with timbers. Other soldiers climbed in the windows and shot down the men inside.
The door was forced open little and the long knives and Spanish bayonets clashed in the opening, red with blood. The firing had almost ceased, and the heavy breathing of the men could be heard.
Escapes Beneath Weapons.
As the door opened, Bledsoe dodged under the clashing weapons, ran around the building and made for the river. Several soldiers saw him and followed shouting, but he gained the river in safety, and notwithstanding a jagged wound across the soldier made by a bullet earlier in the day, managed to swim or crawl for several miles below where he crawled out on the shore, almost dead from fear and exhaustion. Before him loomed the gray walls of a Spanish mission. He thought it a Spanish castle or house, and climbed a mesquite tree to see if there were Mexicans about. Then he followed the river, coming out several miles lower down.
From a tree he saw another body of men, who proved to be Cherokee Indians. They surrounded him, and through one who spoke a little English, he learned that they had been fighting Mexicans also, and that they regarded him as a friend, and would take care of him.
With this band of Indians he went across the Arkansas river. They had plenty of horses. He did not hear of his companions in the Alamo until long afterward, when their fate was told him in New Orleans.
With these Indians he made his home until war was declared with Old Mexico. He then joined a party of traders bound for New Orleans, and while there was engaged by Gen. Taylor to care for his horse. Troops were pouring into New Orleans to take part in the war. He acted as servant to Gen. Taylor throughout the war, but took no part in the fighting.
Meeting With Wallace.
After the war he came to San Antonio, where he met Big Foot Wallace, who was then acting as a sort of ranger, making up parties to go out within a radius of forty miles of San Antonio wherever hostile Indians were reported. The little commands of from two to eight or ten men under Wallace had innumerable fights with the Indians, in one of which Bledsoe received a lance thrust under his ribs on the left side, and still bears a long white scar.
After peace was declared, he joined Wallace, who was known as "Cap," and who was acting as guard or escort to the stage line carrying the mail between San Antonio, through old Fort Franklin, now El Paso, and Albuquerque, N.M. The guards of the stage rode on horseback with it, and drove before them a bunch of mules in order to change with those drawing the stage. On the second trip a fight took place with Indians at Devil's river, in which two men with the stage were killed. This was six miles up the river from what is known as Painted Cave.
Some time after this a man named French organized in San Antonio a company of filibusters to go to Nicaragua. They intended to join Gen. Walker, a filibuster. The company formed in this city, and the men were enrolled in front of the Alamo. Bledsoe became a member of the company. This party marched to Port Lavaca and took passage to Graytown on a steamer. At Greytown (sic) they met a man named Kinney, said to have been a Texan, who claimed the whole country.
After eighteen months in Nicaragua, Bledsoe returned through Texas and entered the Union army, joining the Fiftieth infantry under Major White at Rio Grande del Norte. This command went to Fort Leavenworth, and was afterward ordered to Salt Lake. This was about 1855 or 1856.
In the Civil War.
Bledsoe served in the Union army with the Western division under Generals Rosecrans and Blunt, taking part in a number of battles. Near Fayetteville, Ark., he received a ball in the hip, and his hand was shattered by a minnie ball near Little Rock. Bledsoe believes the troops were opposed to Generals Cooper and Kirby Smith in this fight, but is not sure.
Even now, he says, when he thinks of that fight at the Alamo he sometimes finds himself cursing the Mexicans. He says he can still see the blood dripping down, and can hear the awful hell of noise inside the walls, but he remembers little of the outside view, for he was "in too big a hurry" when he got out. He saw the bodies of several Mexicans, though, as he ran.
"And they murdered them." he said. "They murdered them next day. There was not one left. Of course now we are at peace, but if ever this country is at war with Mexico and I am alive I will not be too old to remember that fight. Oh I will remember it, and I won't be too old to fight either. That was murder; cold-blooded murder."
He says he can almost hear the cheering, and the bullets whizzing through the windows and flattening against the walls.
"When they told me," he said, "away over there in New Orleans that both my uncles had been murdered, I can't tell you how I felt. Maybe I will be able to show it some day."
The old man says he never married, and that his whole family consists of his two ponies and his dog. His wagon, which is standing in the wagon yard, is one of the old-fashioned canvas covered sort in very bad repair, though it has served its owner for a house for many years while traveling.
Bledsoe says that years ago he acquired considerable money in mining in Colorado, and had a good bank account in Denver, but that it has been wiped out long ago. He is now too old, he says, to look for gold and beside is almost paralyzed from his wounds.
He will be at the wagon yard for some days, and would like those who may have known of him or his friends to talk with him.
The Forgotten Alamo Commander ~Page 1~
The men of the Alamo claim seats of honor in the hall of Texas heroes. If Texans respect the memory of Dickinson and Bonham, they revere those of Travis, Crockett, and Bowie. Indeed, the Alamo and its defenders have passed into American folklore, assuming the role of a cultural archetype. All who even remotely connected with the epic battle have basked in its glory.
All, it seems, except Lieutenant Colonel James Clinton Neill. When remembered at all, historians have tended to judge him harshly. A picture emerges of a commander overwhelmed by circumstance and events, a nobody dominated by giants, a nonentity more to be pitied than condemned. Jack Patton and John Rosenfield Jr.'s Texas History Movies has Neill asking to be relieved and shows his caricature proclaiming in disgust: "I'm leaving. We can't hold off the Mexicans with this outfit."
With smug condescension, popular writer Walter Lord labeled Neill, "conscientious but unimaginative" and a "good second-rater." Professor Ben Procter supported that view by simply parroting Lord. Travis biographer Martha Anne Turner, also citing Lord as her source, wrote "for all of his limitations" the Alamo defenders were sorry to see Neill leave the command to Travis. She fails to indicate, however, just what those limitations were. Historian Tom W. Gläser intoned that Neill felt "overshadowed," inferring that once Travis Crockett, and Bowie arrived on the scene, the weak and indifferent Neill invented an excuse to leave his command to "strong characters." Neill is thus depicted as an amateur of trifling importance and modest ability, who at the first opportunity surrendered his post to "abler, more imaginative leaders."
Contemporaries had a vastly different opinion of the man. D. C. Barrett, a neighbor, considered Neill "very suitable, and [in] every way qualified" for field rank in the Texian army. "He is a gentleman," he continued, "high in the esteem of his fellow citizens—brave and patriotic—He responded to the first call of his country, when danger & invasion threatened us." John Holland Jenkins, a young soldier who served under him, testified that Neill's "bravery and experience won him a hearty welcome in our midst." Praising Neill's diversionary attack during the storming of Béxar, General Edward Burleson reported it had been "effected to my entire satisfaction." One of Neill's officers clearly valued his commander's praise. "Colo[.] Neill," he boasted to his family, "thinks a great deal of my judgment and consults me about a number of the proceedings before he issues an order." Obviously, if he had not admired Neill he would not have considered his approval noteworthy. Early Texas historians were also kinder. Henry Stuart Foote wrote of the "gallant Colonel Neill." When the views of modern historians and those who actually knew the man are at such variance, one is forced to reappraise his career.
Even before the shooting began, his associates considered Neill a community stalwart. In 1831 he had traveled from Alabama with his wife and three children, to sink his roots in the fertile soil of present Milam County. By 1833 his neighbors held him in sufficient esteem to elect him to the convention meeting in San Felipe called to discuss grievances against the Mexican government. By 1834 he had taken up residence in Mina (modern Bastrop), a rough-hewn frontier settlement on the banks of the Colorado River. He had seen extensive service against the Redstick faction of the Creek tribe during the War of 1812. He enlisted on September 20, 1814, and service records indicate he mustered out on April 10, 1815. During that period he commanded a company in Major William Woodfolk's Battalion of Tennessee Militia Infantry. John Henry Brown, Texas historian and fellow ranger, identified Neill as "a tired old soldier of the Indian wars of the United States." Jenkins asserted Neill "already bore the scars of wounds received in service under General [Andrew] Jackson in 1812—he was wounded in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend." Although he commanded a company of militia infantry, he apparently gained some understanding of cannon, for on September 28, 1835, Neill entered the Texian militia as an artillery captain.
When the centralist troops of Antonio López de Santa Anna entered the province in summer of 1835, Neill stood ready to oppose them. Conflict escalated to combat when a detachment of centralist dragoons attempted to retrieve an old Spanish six-pound cannon from the Anglo-Celtic settlers of Gonzales. Texians determined not to hand over the field piece and summoned help from the surrounding settlements. Local militiamen flocked to the aid of their beleaguered neighbors. Predictably, J. C. Neill was among them. On October 2, 1835, John H. Moore led a force of some 160 Texians in an attack on the dragoons. Lieutenant Francisco de Castañeda, the commander of the centralist contingent, withdrew to a nearby rise and requested a parley. Moore and Castañeda met between the lines, but it soon became apparent that the time for talk had passed. A make-shift rebel banner succinctly expressed prevailing sentiment: the contested cannon perched above a defiant challenge to "COME AND TAKE IT." As Moore returned to his lines, he shouted the command to fire.
Neill discharged the same cannon the dragoons had hoped to acquire. That shot ignited the Texas Revolution. At least two sources confirm that Neill personally touched off the "Come and Take It" cannon. "It is not recorded," stated John Holland Jenkins, "but it is nevertheless a fact the Colonel Neill fired the first gun for Texas at the beginning of the revolution—the famous little brass cannon at Gonzales." Extolling Neill's performance at Gonzales, D. C. Barrett wrote Sam Houston: "He was the first in camp whose experience was sufficient to mount & point a cannon at the enemies of Texas, and of liberty in our land."
Neill and the cannon joined General Stephen F. Austin's "Army of the People" on its march from Gonzales to San Antonio de Béxar. To position himself between the centralist garrison of General Mart’n Perfecto de Cos and reinforcements from the Mexican interior, Austin ordered a sweep south of the town. He then drove up the San Antonio River from his headquarters at Mission Espada. On October 28, 1835, a Texian reconnaissance led by James Bowie and James W. Fannin, Jr. defeated a superior enemy force near the Mission Concepci—n. After methodically picking off its gunners, Texians captured an isolated centralist field piece. Neill could now oversee a battery of two rebel cannon. Soon afterward, a detachment of New Orleans Grays arrived with two pieces of ordnance, which were placed in battery west of the old Alamo mission, which the centralists used for a cavalry post. Lack of ammunition was a constant frustration for Neill's gunners, but they retrieved the round shot the enemy fired at them, loaded it in their own artillery, and returned it with their compliments. Despite their efforts, the artillery fire accomplished "little more than the trouble and expense of making a great noise." Cannon alone could not root Cos's troops out of Béxar. That would require an infantry assault.
Neill realized that the Texians needed carefully planned artillery support to storm Béxar. But planning—careful or otherwise—was not a Texian trait. Confusion was. Edward Burleson had replaced General Austin, who had been recalled to serve as an agent to the United States. Burleson, a veteran frontiersman and Indian fighter, wished to assault the town, but was overruled by the unanimous vote of his officers. Nothing remained but to order a withdrawal. Colonel Ben Milam, disgusted with the decision to abandon the siege, appealed directly to the soldiers. "Who will go with old Ben Milam in to San Antonio?" he challenged. Some three hundred rebels responded. Milam understood that if his infantrymen were to achieve the necessary surprise, they would have to distract the centralists.
He called on Neill and his artillerymen. In the early morning darkness of December 5, 1835, Captain Neill took one gun and its crew across the San Antonio River. Just before dawn, the artillerymen opened fire on the Alamo. Columns under Milam and Colonel Frank Johnson huddled in the cold awaiting the sound of Neill's cannon—the signal to attack. One of those waiting was German-born Hermann Ehrenberg, who recalled that the noise of the cannon "encouraged us," since the "din and confusion" provided a "better chance of slipping into the city unnoticed." Ehrenberg continued:The hollow roar of our cannon was followed by the brisk rattling of [the enemy's] drums and the shrill blast of the bugles. Summons, cries, the sudden trampling of feet, the metallic click of weapons mingled in the distance with the heavy rumbling of artillery. Our friends had done the trick.
Indeed they had. While the centralists focused their attention on the Alamo, rebel infantrymen stealthily slipped into Béxar. By taking a position west of the San Antonio River, however, Neill had dangerously exposed himself and his team. Had Cos hurled a squadron of cavalrymen against the lone artillery piece, they could have easily captured it and slaughtered its crew. No person was more aware of that than Neill. Consequently, once he knew that the assault force had successfully breached the town's defenses, he quickly led his men back to camp across the river. All agreed that casualties would have been far heavier but for Neill's initial diversion. In Burleson's official post-battle report he affirmed that Neill had executed his ruse to the general's "entire satisfaction."
Once inside Béxar, the Texian assault troops engaged in bitter house-to-house fighting. They pushed back Cos's stubborn defenders yard by painful yard. On the third day Milam fell, shot through the head. Running out of places to retreat, Cos implemented a daring plan to reduce the pressure on his crumbling defenses. With so many rebels committed to the assault, the Texian camp must be vulnerable. If a sortie could capture the Texian logistical base, Johnson's men would have no alternative but to abandon the town. The plan was a gamble, but the centralists had few alternatives left.
On the afternoon of December 8, day four of the assault, the centralists sallied out of Béxar with one column of cavalry and another of infantry. Burleson stood ready for such an attempt. The enemy horsemen approached from the west side of the river, the infantry from the east; apparently they planned to engulf the Texian camp in a pincer movement. With bugles blaring and pennants flying, the cavalrymen provided Burleson's men with a rare spectacle. Rebel Henry B. Dance was impressed:It appeared we were to be swept of[f] by a general charge by the Cavilry [sic], infantry, and lancers, playing more music than I ever heard. They were in a great stir, Sallying and charging.
Neill and his gun crews, their ordnance packed with canister, watched the enemy's advance. When the combined force approached "within good cannon shot distance," the insurgent artillery unleashed a hailstorm of flying metal. "The enimy [sic]being surprised to find our encampment strong and protected by a park of artillery," reported William T. Austin, "declined making the intended attack & suddenly drew off & retired within his walls." Ehrenberg told much the same story:About three o'clock in the afternoon we saw and heard for the first time the fanfare of a Mexican assault. A unit of the blue coats numbering about five hundred or six hundred came streaming forth from inside the walls of the Alamo.... After the enemy had paraded around a while in all his splendor, but at a respectable distance from us, and after he had taken a few loads from our cannons, he marched very quietly and without fanfare back into the Alamo. He saw that his ruse had not worked. [English translation courtesy of Louis E. Brister.]
Had the centralists been able to overwhelm the federalist camp, those storm troops inside Béxar would have had no choice but to abandon the assault. The steady behavior of Neill and his gunners was decisive. Quite simply, they saved the Texian army.
The fall of Béxar brought recognition for Neill and a windfall of centralist artillery. As chief of Texian ordnance, he found himself with an arsenal of more than twenty field pieces. With Cos and his army on the march to the Rio Grande, the thoughts of most Texians turned to hearth and home. General Burleson left Frank Johnson in command of a skeleton garrison, then departed himself. On December 17, 1835, Johnson sent the General Council a list of officers whom he considered deserving of commissions in the Texas regular army. The politicos in San Felipe accepted his recommendations. Commensurate with his new responsibilities, they commissioned Neill lieutenant colonel of artillery. At the same time the Council appointed Neill's staff: artillery captains Almeron Dickinson and T. K. Pearson, with W. R. Carey as first lieutenant. Béxar was the proper duty station for the fledgling ordnance service; it possessed the greatest concentration of cannon north of the Rio Grande and west of the Mississippi River.
With all centralist forces removed from Texas soil, the focus of the war effort shifted away from Béxar. Even before Cos surrendered, Scotsman James W. Grant had been agitating for an expedition against Matamoros. Following the fall of San Antonio most old settlers were content to let the centralistas leave in peace. The newly arrived volunteers from the United States, however, had come to Texas for high adventure and quick wealth. Having found little of either around Béxar, they fell easy prey to extravagant tales of plentiful pesos and brown-eyed beauties in Matamoros.
There were a few Texas leaders, however, that considered a thrust on the Mexican interior sheer madness. Over the objection of wiser heads, Johnson wrote the Council that he had "ordered an expedition against Matamoros of Five hundred and thirty men, Volunteers of Texas and from the United States—by whom I have been appointed to the command." In the same letter of January 3, 1836, he explained the arrangements he had made for the defense of Béxar:I have left in garrison at Bexar 100 men under Command of Lieut Col Neill. This force I consider to be barely sufficient to hold the post and it will require at least Fifty additional troops to place it in a strong defensive position. I have ordered all the guns from the town into the alamo [sic] and the fortification in the town to be destroyed.
Johnson had placed Neill in an almost impossible position. What Cos had been unable to achieve with twelve hundred men, Johnson now expected him to accomplish with one hundred. The two Texian commanders were aware that such a meager compliment could not maintain both the fort and the town. Cos's attempt to hold both had in large measure been his undoing. The rebels, perforce, chose to concentrate the garrison behind the thick adobe walls of the Alamo.
The captured ordnance proved a mixed blessing. Cos had abandoned more than twenty cannon, but some were not mounted on carriages. Neill brought about twenty-one of the best guns into the fort, an impressive array by frontier standards. The actual number was irrelevant as long as the tight-fisted Council in San Felipe was unable to raise funds for gunpowder and ammunition. Neill, nevertheless, was the chief of artillery; he considered it his duty to remain with his guns.
Neill resolutely set about the task assigned to him, but labored under no illusions. On January 6 he wrote the Council praising his soldiers "who acted so gallantly in the ten week open-field campaign, and then won an unparalleled victory in the five days siege of this place." He complained that such men deserved better treatment from comrades-in-arms:We have 104 men and two distinct fortresses to garrison, and about twenty-four pieces of artillery. You, doubtless have learned that we have no provisions or clothing since Johnson and Grant left. If there has ever been a dollar here, I have no knowledge of it. The clothing sent here by the aid and patriotic exertion of the honorable council was taken from us by the arbitrary measures of Johnson and Grant, taken from men who endured all the hardships of winter and who were not even sufficiently clad for summer, many of them having but one blanket and one shirt, and what was intended for them given away to men, some of whom had not been in the army more than four days, and many not exceeding two weeks. If a divide had been made of them, the most needy of my men could have been made comfortable by the stock of clothing and provisions taken from here.
Neill further explained that he needed at least three hundred men to repair and improve the Alamo's dilapidated defenses. Following that, the vast compound would require two hundred men just to man the perimeter.
In addition to these official responsibilities, Neill also acted as unofficial liaison between the Comanches and the ad hoc Texian government in San Felipe. On January 8 an "Embassdor [sic] from the Comache [sic] nation" informed Neill that his tribe was "in an attitude of hostilities" toward the Texians. The envoy suggested, however, the two peoples could avoid war if they drafted a "Treaty of Amity, Commerce & Limits." Neill deferred to the experience of bexareños Francisco Ruiz and Gaspar Flores, who were "familiar with the Camancha [sic] character, and have acted in the capacity of negociators [sic] to that nation." Extant records do not reveal the terms they offered, but the Comanches must have found them satisfactory, for there were no raids near Béxar that year. By their foresight and diplomacy, Neill, Ruiz, and Flores had averted what could have proved a nightmare scenario for Texas—a two front war against the centralistas and the Comanches.
That diplomatic achievement was but one of the fruits of a warm working relationship Neill enjoyed with the San Antonio community. He well understood that the garrison must rely upon the bexareños for sustenance and was careful to nurture their good will. A number of federalist tejanos had seen action during the siege and storming of Béxar; now they once again joined their Anglo-Celtic comrades in a common cause. "We can rely on great aid from the citizens of this town in case of an attack," Neill assured. "They have no money here, but Don Gasper [sic] Flores and Louisiano [sic] Navaro [sic] have offered us all their goods, Groceries, and Beeves, for the use and support of the army." Despite Neill's assertion that the local civilians had no cash, some evidence exists that the ayuntamiento approved a loan of five hundred pesos "to Col. Neill to pay for Texas troops."
The Alamo commander fired off constant letters requesting reinforcements, supplies, and pay for his men. For all of his impassioned pleas, no aid came from the disunited Council, because it had none to send and took no action to acquire any. Perhaps the commanding general would be more responsive. In a desperate but determined dispatch to Sam Houston, Neill explained his plight:The men under my command have been in the field for the last four months. They are almost naked, and this day they were to have received pay for the first month of their last enlistment, and almost every one of them speaks of going home, and not less than twenty will leave tomorrow, and leave here only about eighty efficient men under my command.... We are in a torpid, defenseless condition, and have not and cannot get from the citizens here horses enough to send out a patrol or spy company.... I hope we will be reinforced in eight days, or we will be overrun by the enemy, but, if I have only 100 men, I will fight 1,000 as long as I can and then not surrender.
Moved by Neill's heartfelt appeal—and in an attempt to consolidate his own power base—General Houston made plans to evacuate the Alamo garrison, at which point it would fall under his direct command. On January 17 he informed Governor Henry Smith that he had dispatched James Bowie to blow up the Alamo and assist Neill's withdrawal. With that letter, Houston wrote the first page of what has become the most consistently misunderstood (and misrepresented) chapters of the Alamo story. Since this traditionally misconstrued incident bears directly on Neill's character, leadership, and the question of his (alleged) insubordination, it becomes necessary to examine it in some detail.
The canard has gained acceptance through sheer repetition: Houston wisely ordered the Alamo blown up; if the defenders had only obeyed his directive, they might have averted needless tragedy; through their obstinate insubordination, the Alamo commanders were the agents of their own destruction. This assessment made its way into several Texas history survey texts. In Texas: A History, for example, Professor Seymour V. Connor made this pronouncement: "[Houston] sent orders by Bowie to Colonel Neill in San Antonio to destroy the fortifications there and draw back to Gonzales with all the military supplies he could move." As Dr. Connor explained it:Neill disobeyed the order to withdraw, and when he took a leave to visit his family, Bowie also refused to instigate the retreat. Governor Smith ordered William Barret Travis to San Antonio to take command, apparently intending the city's evacuation, but Travis too became enamored of the idea of defending the ancient capital "so dearly won," by the fighting in December.
One must admire Dr. Connor's consistency. Everything he has to say regarding Houston alleged orders to abandon the Alamo is wrong. As we shall see, Houston did not send "orders by Bowie to Colonel Neill to destroy the fortifications." Consequently, Neill could not have disobeyed the "order to withdraw." Finally, Smith did not order Travis to San Antonio "to take command."
Still, it would be unfair to single out Dr. Connor. Nearly everyone who has ever written on the Alamo has misrepresented this incident. Each authority provides his own reason for this willful disobedience. Lon Tinkle, for example, concluded: "It was Jim Bowie's extensive holdings in Texas land that caused him to disobey Sam Houston's order to blow up the Alamo—that and his essential independence." Writer Walter Lord took up the cant. In trying to answer the question why Bowie "couldn't bring himself to carry out Houston's wishes," he sounds more like a Freudian psychoanalyst than a historian:Somehow he couldn't bring himself to carry out Houston's wishes. Was it the place—this dramatic outpost, standing alone between the colonists and the Mexicans? Was it the Alamo's twenty fine guns, probably the strongest collection between Mexico City and New Orleans? Was it the "frontier" in him—the pioneer's refusal to be shoved around? Bowie had plenty of that.
Professor Ben H. Procter seeks metaphysical explanations. "[T]he Alamo had an intangible, almost mystical effect upon the men, a definite transformation taking place once they were inside its walls." Colorado writer Jeff Long, also employs "psycho babble" to explain the insubordination of the "War Dogs" inside the Alamo:[R]ather than ready the Alamo for demolition, Bowie added his voice to Neill's in calling for reinforcements, money, and food. One thing Bowie was not candid about was how a remote command, like the Alamo, meant both prestige and autonomy. Above all, the Alamo command meant limelight, for it was positioned upon the bowhead of the Anglo-American warship. It stood clean and separate from the hurly-burly.
As Long views it, the decision to hold the Alamo all came down to Bowie's hunger for attention. As in other questions regarding the Alamo, Mr. Long's understanding is imperfect. Bowie did not assume command upon his arrival in Béxar. The Alamo already had a commander and his name was J. C. Neill.
How curious this is. Most of the "authorities" based their conclusions upon their reading of character and personality, always an inexact methodology. In addition, most view Bowie as the key player and relegate Neill's role to that of a minor figure. Others, relying on inaccurate interpretations, fall into lock step and simply repeat earlier errors. Although it obviously is at times, history at its best is not determined by preconceived assumption nor "gut feelings." It is time to reexamine the source materials.
Forgotten Alamo Commander ~page 2
When one studies the primary documents (and grasps what they have to say), a far different picture emerges than the one offered by conventional wisdom. For example, in Houston's January 17 letter to Henry Smith, the general's tone is as important as his message:
Colonel Bowie will leave here in a few hours for Bexar with a detachment of from thirty to fifty men. Capt. Patton's Company, it is believed, are now there. I have ordered the fortifications in the town of Bexar to be demolished, and, if you should think well of it, I will remove all the cannon and other munitions of war to Gonzales and Copano, blow up the Alamo and abandon the place, as it will be impossible to keep up the Station with volunteers, the sooner I can be authorized the better it will be for the country. [Emphasis added.]
What does that passage reveal? There is no doubt that General Houston thought it best to blow up the Alamo and withdraw the garrison to Gonzales and Copano Bay.What is apparently less obvious to earlier writers is that he was requesting permission from Governor Smith to do so. Note the operative phrase, "if you think well of it" and the key word "authorized." That is the point: Houston is writing to seek authorization from the Council. He made that apparent in the letter's closing sentence: "Please send me frequent expresses and advise me of your pleasure." [Emphasis added.]
The letter divulges another inconsistency. Following the fall of the Alamo, Houston disingenuously maintained that he had urged the fort's abandonment because it was too far from the American settlements to be supplied. Note there is nothing of that in his letter of January 17. The only reason he cited then was that he thought it would "be impossible to keep up the Station with volunteers"—in other words, men who were not under his direct command.
On January 18 Bowie arrived in Béxar, where Neill received him "with great cordiality." Bowie made it clear that Houston wanted the Alamo evacuated and the garrison transferred to Gonzales or Copano Bay, but he also must have told Neill that the general was awaiting authorization from the council. Also Houston's formal instructions had allowed Bowie tremendous latitude: "Much is referred to your discretion." Houston trusted Bowie's judgment; it was his call. It was not, however, a call he wanted to make without consulting the commander on the ground. Neill made it clear he had no special attachment to Béxar. He stated as much in a January 23 letter to Governor Smith and the Council. He reported that a local priest, a "staunch Republican," had informed Bowie that Santa Anna intended to "attack Copano and Labahía [La Bahía] first." If the centralists really were driving up the coast, he wanted to be where he could fight them: If teams could be obtained here by any means to remove the Cannon and Public Property I would immediately destroy the fortifications and abandon the place, taking the men I have under my command here, to join the Commander in chief at Copanoe [sic], of which I informed him last night …"That there were no draft animals in San Antonio de Béxar, indicated the degree to which Johnson and Grant had ransacked the place in preparation for their ill-conceived Matamoros Expedition.
There were other considerations as well. Bowie admired what Neill had done to fortify the crumbling mission; it had actually begun to take on the appearance of a military installation. Although conditions were as bad as Neill had said they were, the garrison's esprit de corps was remarkably high. On the same day Bowie arrived, Green B. Jameson, the chief engineer, wrote Houston crowing that the Béxar garrison could "whip 10 to 1 with our artillery." He further asserted that the men desired to serve out their full term of enlistment. "If the men here can get a reasonable supply of clothing, provisions and money they will remain the balance of 4 months," he assured, "and do duty and fight better than fresh men, [for] they have all been tried and have confidence in themselves." That Jameson could say that of troops who had gone unpaid for months and were practically naked was a testament to the high quality of Neill's leadership. Bowie began to reconsider his instructions to dismantle the Alamo.
Although Bowie worked closely with the garrison commander, Neill was clearly in command. On January 26 he called a meeting to consider the events in San Felipe and determine a course of action. Even with the redoubtable Bowie present, both "citizens and soldiers" elected Neill chairman. He had won the confidence not only of the garrison but of the local tejanos as well, quite an accomplishment considering that Bowie was by marriage a well-known member of San Antonio's influential Verimendi family.
The men of the Alamo had far more reason to place faith in their commandant than in the functionaries at San Felipe de Austin. Those responsible for the fate of Texas had disbanded in a childish fit of pique. Although the Council members had approved the ill-conceived Matamoros Expedition, they could not agree on a commander. Both James W. Fannin, Jr. and Frank Johnson claimed the honor, and the Council endorsed both. To complicate matters further, Governor Smith ordered Major General Houston to take charge of the expedition, even though the men had already rejected his leadership. Houston was, nevertheless, in command of all Texian forces, regulars and volunteers—on paper at least. Finally the Council dismissed Smith, which it had no authority to do, and he retaliated by dissolving the Council, also an act of dubious legality. As Smith's replacement, the Council named James W. Robinson "acting governor." While a great schism separated the make-shift Texas government, Neill and his men awaited succor.
No one knew for certain who constituted the legal civil authority. Hedging his bets, Neill began writing to Smith and the Council. On January 27 an incensed Alamo commander chided the Council that he was "truly astonished to find your body in such a disorganized situation." That same day he wrote Smith: "We can not be fed and clothed on paper pledges. My men cannot, nor will not, stand this state of things much longer." Given the lack of critical support, perhaps it would be best to abandon Béxar and join Houston in his defense of the coast.
Problem was, the commander-in-chief had abandoned the army or, more accurately, it had abandoned him. He had toyed with the idea of fleeing to Béxar where the "Matamoros rage" was not so pervasive. At length, however, he rode to Refugio set on taking command of the Matamoros Expedition. On the night of January 20, however, Houston clashed with Frank Johnson, his rival for command. Johnson had an ace up his sleeve, new orders from the General Council (dated January 14) awarding Grant and himself command of the Matamoros volunteers. According to the Council's directive, Houston still retained command of the regular army, but that force existed only in the general's vivid imagination. Moreover, Johnson gleefully informed the general that since the Council had ousted his mentor, Governor Smith, Houston's opinion no longer mattered and the volunteers no longer required his attention. That was certainly true in Refugio, where independent volunteers were unwilling to accept the authority of any officer they had not elected—much less a regular. It was a humiliating personal rejection for Sam Houston. His political enemies had undermined his support and now enjoyed control of the provisional government.
Since the volunteers at Refugio wanted no part of Houston, there was no reason for him to remain. He correctly believed that the Matamoros Expedition was a calamity waiting to happen. He also knew that if he lingered behind the "council would have had the pleasure of ascribing to me the evils which their own conduct and acts will, in all probability, produce." The actions of the Council and the utter contempt of the Matamoros volunteers had rendered Houston superfluous. He could think of only one place to go: back to Smith. Writing to the displaced governor, he explained:So soon as I was made acquainted with the nature of [Johnson's] mission, and the powers granted to J. W. Fannin, jr., I could not remain mistaken as to the object of the council, or the wishes of individuals. I had but one course left for me to pursue (the report of your being deposed had also reached me), which was, to return, and report myself to you in person.Back in San Felipe, Smith doggedly clung to the title of "Governor, &c." and insisted on playing the role, although few but Houston really listened anymore. On January 28, he granted the "commander-in-chief" a furlough until March 1 to adjust his "private business" and "treat with the Indians." The furlough was a face-saving device. In reality, few Texians cared what the pair did.
What of Neill and his troops in Béxar? With sardonic understatement, Walter Lord notes Houston was "strangely inactive during most of the siege." Following his rejection in Refugio, Houston appears to have given Neill's men little thought. In his letter to Smith on January 30, Houston lamented that the road from Refugio to San Felipe was the "one course left for me," but another road had continually been open to him. It lead to Béxar. Neill held a regular commission and certainly would have accorded Houston more respect than the rowdy Matamoros mob. True, Bowie's men were volunteers and seemingly had no more use for regulars than most Texian militiamen. Even so, Bowie was a close friend and political supporter and one of the dwindling few who still followed Houston's orders. Had he exerted his considerable personality, the famed adventurer probably could have influenced his men to obey the general. Only certifiable idiots or those with suicidal tendencies dared to cross Jim Bowie.
The fact is, Houston did not even try to make it to Béxar. He could have been at the head of his troops, instead he opted for a self-imposed exile. After his rebuff at Refugio, Houston returned to form. As he had before when life turned sour, he flung himself into a pit of self-indulgence. Brooding and melancholy marked the miles to San Felipe. Sounding more like a scorned adolescent suffering the first pangs of puppy-love than a commanding general, he confessed that he had considered leaving public life and devoting himself to "the solitude of nature." In short, Neill, Bowie, and the men of the Alamo would have to shift for themselves. After all, he was no longer officially accountable.
On February 2, Bowie wrote Smith that he and Neill had resolved to "die in these ditches" before they would surrender the post. The letter confirmed Smith's take on conditions. He had concluded that Béxar must not go undefended. Rejecting Houston's advice, Smith prepared to funnel additional troops and provisions to San Antonio. Indeed, it was shortly following the receipt of Bowie's February 2 letter that Smith dispatched William Barret Travis to the Alamo at the head of his "legion" of cavalry.
In the same letter Bowie praised Neill. "I cannot eulogize the conduct & character of Col Neill too highly," he wrote Smith; "no other man in the army could have kept men at this post, under the neglect they have experienced." A second-rater? Not in Jim Bowie's eyes.
So let students of Texas history finally dispense with the fiction that Houston sent "orders" to abandon the Alamo and that Neill ignored them. In brief, Houston had asked for permission to evacuate the post. Smith considered his request. The answer was no. Although Governor Smith and the Council could agree on little else, both directed Neill to hold Béxar. Neill did not disobey Houston's instructions to evacuate the fort because the general never received permission from the civilian authorities to issue such an order.
On January 28, Neill dispatched still another letter to the Council. More than any other, this message demonstrated his command of the written word. It read in part:Texas ought and must again rouse to action, another victory will secure us forever from the attack of Tyranny and our existence will no longer be doubtful but prosperous and glorious to attain so desirable an end. I am ready to sacrifice my all, and if, as I expect, every citizen in the country and our collaborators from the United States are animated by the same spirit, Destiny will be compelled to acknowledge us as her favorites. From the time of my taking the field in defense of Texas liberties up to the present moment, my labors and watchfulness have been unremitting and they shall continue to be so until I see the land of my adoption free.With good reason historians have lauded the Travis correspondence of February 24 addressed to "the People of Texas & all Americans in the World" as one of the nation's truly remarkable letters. Even so, as an expression of defiance and courage, as well as for the sheer power of its prose, it in no way surpasses Neill's message written nearly a month earlier.
The events of February 5 revealed that Neill remained firmly in command. That day he presided over a meeting to elect delegates to the Convention scheduled for early in March. He drafted the resolution that proclaimed: "Soldiers in the actual service of the country, are…declared to be citizens, and raised to the right of suffrage." Accordingly, the Alamo garrison elected Dr. Samuel Maverick and Jesse B. Badgett as their representatives. Neill not only drew up the document but, as commandant of Béxar, was the first of its thirteen signatories. William B. Travis and James Bowie were the last. Not the slightest shred of evidence exists to support the allegation that either Travis or Bowie ever "overshadowed" Neill. Both they and the Alamo defenders had full confidence in their commander.
On or about February 8, confidence rose even higher with the arrival of Congressman David Crockett and the Tennessee Mounted Volunteers. In a speech to the garrison, the "Lion of the West" made his lack of military ambition known in no uncertain terms; he would serve only as a "high private."
It is odd, therefore, that in A Time To Stand Walter Lord has Crockett involved in a scheme to diminish Neill's influence. According to his scenario, based on Antonio Menchaca's Memoirs, on the night of February 10 a courier interrupted a fandango with word of the Mexican advance. Then, according to Lord, Bowie, Travis, and Crockett "huddled over the message together" before deciding there was no immediate danger. "But the huddle itself was significant," Lord surmised, "for Colonel Neill was not included. It was no particular mystery. He had simply suffered the fate of many a good second-rater when abler, more imaginative leaders appears on the scene of a crisis. He had been gently nudged aside."
The evidence simply does not support Lord's version. On or about February 8, Neill had received a gloomy letter informing him that illness had stricken his entire family; they desperately needed him back home in Bastrop. Although the dilemma between duty to country and duty to family must have been agonizing, there could be but one response. Another could command the Alamo, but no one else could care for his ailing family. Besides, conditions had never seemed more propitious for his temporary absence. At last reinforcements had begun to trickle in, and with Maverick and Badgett on the road to San Felipe, more would surely arrive. Engineer Green B. Jameson had improved the defenses substantially and the men were confident that they could hold out against a force many times their number. And with Bowie, Travis, and Crockett on hand, there was no shortage of available leadership. On February 10 he announced his decision to leave the following morning.
Of course, Neill was not at the fandango but (to borrow a phrase) it was "no particular mystery." Knowing he had a hard ride ahead of him the following day, the forty-six-year-old Neill understandably did not spend the night carousing with the garrison. He had already discussed his plans to go on furlough with Bowie and Travis. Realizing all that, they probably did not wish to disturb Neill with marginal information. Furthermore, there is nothing in Menchaca's account to support Lord's contention that Bowie and Travis "nudged" Neill aside. Indeed, there is no evidence that anyone ever sought to undermine Neill's authority.
It is all the more baffling, therefore, that Lord continued to draw an unflattering portrait of Neill as a nonentity overshadowed by "abler, more imaginative leaders." With more innuendo than evidence, Lord tells how:Next morning [February 11] Neill left on "twenty day's leave." The explanations were various—sickness in the family, a special mission to raise defense funds. Colonel Travis, at least, sensed he wouldn't be back.In truth, extant documents reveal that Travis believed Neill would be back. In a dispatch written the day after Neill's departure, Travis explained: "In consequence of the sickness of his family, Lt. Col. Neill has left this post, to visit for a short time, and has requested me to take Command of the Post." [Emphasis added.]Then again on February 14, Bowie and Travis pledged to co-sign all orders "until Col. Neill's return."
Certainly the rank-and-file had no doubts why their commander had gone on leave, nor did they think he had left for good. On February 11, Green Jameson wrote Governor Smith that "Col. Neill left today for home on account of an express from his family informing him of their ill health. There was great regret at his departure by all the men though he promised to be with us in 20 days at the furthest." [Emphasis added.]
Since 1961, when Lord published A Time To Stand, most historians have tended to accept his negative portrayal of Neill without bothering to examine the primary materials. Thus do the careless and the lazy first foster and then perpetuate myths.
How could Mr. Lord's conclusions regarding Neill differ so radically from those supported by documentary evidence? Simple, he never looked at the documentary evidence or else ignored it if he did. Why did Lord paint such an unflattering picture of Neill? Readers may uncover the answer in the pages of Paul I. Wellman's 1951 novel, The Iron Mistress, his fictional take on the life of James Bowie. Wellman described Neill in the following terms:Colonel Joseph [sic] C. Neill wore an untrimmed dark mustache which drooped heavily, hiding his mouth, and had a habit of standing with his feet apart, hands clasped behind his back. He was a Regular Army man, one of Houston's own choosing, unimaginative but conscientious. [Emphasis added.]The last three words of the above quotation are instructive. Recall Lord's characterization of Neill as "conscientious but unimaginative." It snaps credulity and scorns intelligence to assume that the similarity was mere coincidence.
What of Lord's argument that Travis "sensed [Neill] wouldn't be back." Here again, a passage from The Iron Mistress is illuminating.It now appeared that though [Bowie] had given Colonel Neill full credit for sharing his decision to hold the Alamo at all costs, Neill was in reality none too enthusiastic about " dying in these trenches [sic]." His relief when Travis arrived was visible, and the following day, pleading there was a sickness in his family requiring his presence, he left Bexar. Going, he suggested, as it were over his shoulder, that Travis take command of the post.How remarkable this is. While in other respects his is a fine book, throughout A Time To Stand Lord misrepresents the character and motives of J. C. Neill. How could he have done otherwise? Wellman (who could not even bother to get Neill's name right), in his attempt to aggrandize his hero, thought it necessary to diminish Neill's role. One might forgive the practice of creative license in a novelist, but not in one who lays claim to the title of historian. The evidence is lamentable, but manifest. Lord, looking "as it were, over his shoulder," simply constructed his depiction of Neill around a tissue of invention and innuendo that Wellman proposed in a work of popular fiction.
Santa Anna arrived in Béxar before Neill could return. The fate of the Alamo defenders needs no retelling here. In the early morning gloom of March 6 the Mexicans assaulted the fort as the culmination of a thirteen-day siege; to a man the garrison perished amid frightful carnage. Travis, Bowie, and Crockett passed into glory. By being absent, J. C. Neill passed into undeserved obscurity.
Although Neill was unable to return to the Alamo, he never stopped working on behalf of his command. By March 6—the day of the final assault—Neill had arrived in Gonzales where he organized relief efforts and signed a voucher for ninety dollars-worth of medical supplies for the Alamo garrison. Neill's relief column never marched to the Alamo, but it did become the nucleus of Sam Houston's San Jacinto army.
On March 13 he joined the withdrawal of the Texian army to Groce's Retreat on the Brazos River. Unable to transport the heavy artillery pieces, Houston ordered them dumped into the Guadalupe River before abandoning Gonzales. Neill found himself a cannoneer without cannon. That changed on April 11, when the "Twin Sisters," two matched six-pounders, reached the Texian camp. Since Neill was the ranking artillery officer, Houston awarded him command of the revived artillery corps.
On April 20 Neill commanded the Twin Sisters during the skirmish that preceded the battle of San Jacinto. It was during this fight that his artillery corps repulsed an enemy probe of the woods in which the main Texian army lay concealed. Neill, however, paid a high price for its success. A Mexican canister shot caught him in the fleshy portion of his hip. So, here again, Neill missed the battle the following day and, along with it, another chance for lasting fame. The location of his injury became the butt of much ribald humor in the Texian camp. It was, however, no laughing matter. The surgeon's report listed Neill among the "seriously wounded."
Despite his painful wound, Neill continued to serve Texas. In 1838 the republic granted him a league of land for his service during the revolution. The following year he ran for the position of major general of militia, but lost to Felix Huston. In 1842 he led a ranger expedition against hostile Indians along the upper Trinity River. In 1844 republic officials appointed him an Indian agent, in which capacity he traveled extensively. Finally, in 1845 the republic's congress granted him a pension of $200 a year for life as compensation for injuries received at San Jacinto. The old warrior, however, did not long enjoy the rewards of faithful service. Later that year Neill died at his home on Spring Creek in Navarro County. By the time of his death, he appears to have sunk into almost complete obscurity. I have been unable to locate a single obituary in any period newspaper.
Poor Neill. He always hovered on the periphery of fame. Frequently engaged in the pivotal events of early Texas history, he never emerged as a lead player. He did not make it back to the Alamo, did not make the supreme sacrifice. If he had, Texas and the World would now be singing the praises of Neill, Bowie, and Crockett—and relegate Travis to the supporting role.
Posterity has been unkind to J. C. Neill. Yet despite the neglect of Houston and the Council, he held the Alamo garrison at that perilous outpost and maintained its morale, a remarkable feat. He worked tirelessly to transform the crumbling mission into a fort. By the time Travis arrived on the scene, Neill had already bolstered the fort's defenses and his soldiers' will to resist. This is not to denigrate Travis. Once in command, he performed with courage and skill. The point is rather, that had it not been for the equally courageous and skillful Neill there would have been no garrison for Travis to inherit, no fort to defend, no epic battle, and no entry into Texas legend. By any definition James Clinton Neill was an individual of distinguished valor. The fair-minded can no longer relate the story of the Alamo without acknowledging his contributions. We should allow him, at last, to take his rightful place among the pantheon of Texas heroes.
Stephen L. Hardin is the author of TEXIAN ILIAD: A MILITARY HISTORY OF THE TEXAS
REVOLUTION. He teaches at The Victoria College in Victoria, Texas.
A MEXICAN VIEW OF THE WAR IN TEXAS
Memoirs of a Veteran of the Two Battles of the Alamo
Transcribed for the Second Flying Company of Alamo de Parras by Robert Durham
Among the manuscripts recently acquired by the Archives Collection is a two-volume index to the records kept by José Juan Sánchez Navarro during his term of office as Adjutant Inspector of the Departments of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, entitled Ayudantía de Inspectión de Nuevo León y Tamaulipas. The file date for each volume is 1831 and 1836 respectively; the period covered extends from April 1831 to November 1839. The contents of the two volumes, in the order recorded, are appended to this article. (Appendix I.)
In the blank pages between the different divisions of the index, Sánchez wrote a detailed account of the two major encounters between the Mexican and the Texas forces in San Antonio de Béxar, in which he participated. The narrative is in the form of a diary and was written on the scene, as is indicated by the following entry:
"Today is December 12 . I was writing this when, by order of the Commandant General, I went to Béxar to compare the invoices for the ponchos, hats, and shoes that I brought from Leona Vicario." [Ayudantia de Inspección de Nuevo León y Tamaulipas, 1831-1839, 2 vol-418ff., I:145.]
The diary is prefaced by these words:
" 'All has been lost save honor!' I do not remember, nor am I in the mood to remember, what French king said this, perhaps under better circumstances than those in which we are today, the eleventh of December, 1835. Béxar, and perhaps Texas has been lost, although the majority of the faithful subjects the Supreme Government had here for its defense cannot be blamed for such a loss. This is my humble opinion; and to prove it, I shall relate the event in so far as it is within my power to do so. . ." Ibid. I:253.
His feeling towards the American colonists is bitterly expressed:
"We were surrounded by some gross, proud, and victorious men. Anyone who knows the character of the North Americans can judge what our situation must have been!" Ibid. I:245v.
Much as he despised the "norteamericanos," however, Sánchez could take little comfort in the quality of the Mexican leadership. He relates his encounter with Santa Anna in Leona Vicario, February 1836, as follows:
"The Most Excellent President, to whom I introduced myself and who recognized me--we were classmates in officers' training . . . has granted the request I made him [to permit me] to return to the Texas campaign. . . There is much activity by way of preparation for this purpose. There are many troops and [there is] much noise; but I see no indications of good political, military, and administrative systems.
"His Excellency himself attends to all matters whether important or most trivial. I am astonished to see that he has personally assumed the authority of major general . . . of quartermaster, of commissary, of brigadier generals, of colonels, of captains, and even of corporals, purveyors, arrieros, and carreteros.
"Would it not be better for His Excellency to rid himself of such troublesome work which will occupy his time, which is more needed for the execution of the high duties of his office, by keeping each individual member of the army in complete exercise of his authority according to the provisions of the general ordinances. . .?
"What will become of the army and of the nation if the Most Excellent President should die? Confusion and more confusion because only His Excellency knows the springs by means of which these masses of men called the army are moved. The members of the army in general have no idea of the significance of the Texas war, and all of them believe that they are merely on a military excursion. If, when questioned, one tells the truth about what one has seen there, one is considered a poor soul. As if the enemy could be conquered merely by despising him. . .
"Today the Most Excellent President left with his General Staff. He was accompanied by General Cos as far as Santa María. It is said that His Excellency is very economical, even miserly. Those close to him assert that whoever wants to, can make him uncomfortable by asking him for a peso; and they add that he would rather give a colonel's commission than ten pesos. Can all this be true? Even if it is, would it not be better not to mention it? I believe so. But the facts speak for themselves. When we took leave of each other, His Excellency shook my hand and expressed surprise that I was not wearing the insignia of lieutenant colonel, and he told me so." Ibid. II:3-3v.
In Monclova, as the Mexican re-enforcements are on their way to San Antonio, February 1836, Sánchez describes the wretched conditions of the soldiers:
"It is pitiful and despairing to go looking for provisions and beasts of burden, money in hand when there is plenty of everything in the commissaries, the almacenes, and depots, and to have everyone from the quartermaster general, who is General Woll, and the jefe político to the humblest clerk reply -- as if I were a Turk and the supplies I order and for which I offer to pay cash were for the Russians -- `We cannot sell that, we cannot let you have it because it is for the army.' Consequently, we are perishing from hunger and misery in the midst of plenty." Ibid. II:4
He is consistently critical of many of the superior officers, particularly of the President and Commander-in-chief of the army.
"When we arrived in this city [Monclova], His Excellency the President had left for Río Grande the day before. He is going to Béxar with inconceivable, rather, astonishing haste. Why is His Excellency going in such haste? Why is he leaving the entire army behind? Does he think that his name alone is sufficient to overthrow the colonists? Ibid. II:4-4v.
"On the 21st [of March 1836], Fannin and four hundred twenty one prisoners were shot at la Bahía between six and eight in the morning. Sad day! God grant that there may not be another like it! Would it not be well to save the prisoners for the purpose of using them if we should some day suffer reverses? Ibid. II:78v.
"The Most Excellent President and many of those close to him assert that the campaign is ended; but Generals Filisola, Arago -- who is dying -- Amador, Andrade, and Cos say that it has hardly started. I am of the opinion of the latter gentlemen. It is reported as a fact that we set fire to all the residences that are not burned by the colonists. I have made many efforts to see what there is by way of a plan for the campaign. I believe there is none; or that if there is one, it is in the mind of His Excellency the President. Ibid. II:79.
"If it is true, as is asserted, that an army of four thousand men is coming from Mexico to carry on the Texas campaign, why was the Texas army dissolved and withdrawn? Who or what circumstances can give to the generals, the jefes, the officers, and the troops that are coming now for the first time the experience and the practical knowledge of those who have been in Texas previously? Is it possible that we Mexicans must always learn by trial and error? It is indeed dangerous to expose the fate of a nation a second time." Ibid. II:93v.
With reference to the recapture of the Alamo by the Mexican forces, Sánchez makes extensive comments:
"Long live our country, the Alamo is ours!
"Today at five in the morning, the assault was made by four columns under the command of General Cos and Colonels Duque, Romero, and Morales. His Excellency the President commanded the reserves. The firing lasted half an hour. Our jefes, officers, and troops, at the same time as if by magic, reached the top of the wall, jumped within, and continued fighting with side arms. By six thirty there was not an enemy left. I saw actions of heroic valor I envied. I was horrified by some cruelties, among others, the death of an old man named Cochran and of a boy about fourteen. The women and children were saved. Travis, the commandant of the Alamo died like a hero; Buy [Bowie], the braggart son-in-law of Beramendi [died] like a coward. The troops were permitted to pillage. The enemy have suffered a heavy loss: twenty-one field pieces of different caliber, many arms and munitions. Two hundred fifty-seven of their men were killed: I have seen and counted their bodies. But I cannot be glad because we lost eleven officers with nineteen wounded, including the valiant Duque and González; and two hundred forty-seven of our troops were wounded and one hundred ten killed. It can truly be said that with another such victory as this we'll go to the devil. Ibid. II:6v.
"After the capture of the Alamo, I proposed to Commandant General, Don Martín Perfecto de Cos, that the valiant officers and soldiers who died in the assault be buried in the cemetery of the chapel of the said fort, that the names of each be inscribed on a copper tablet made from one of the cannons captured to be placed on a column at the base of which these eight lines might be written:"Los cuerpos que aqui yacen, se animaron
"The bodies that lie here at rest
Con almas que á los cielos se subieron,
Were those of men whose souls elate
A gozar de la gloria que ganaron
Are now in Heaven to be blest
Con altas procesas que el mundo hicieron:
For deeds that time cannot abate.
"El humano tributo, aqui pagaron;
"They put their manhood to the test,
Al paglaro la muerte no temieron,
And fearlessly, they met their fate;
Pues muerte por la Patria recibida
No fearful end, a patriot's fall
Mas que muerte, es un paso á mejor vida.
Leads to the highest life of all.
[Translation supplied anonymously.]
"My suggestion was not approved and I believe that it was not the fault of General Cos. Consequently, I wished to write down the said verses here not so much for the purpose of passing myself off as a poet as to render due tribute in the only manner within my power to those illustrious, valiant, and untimely victims." Ibid. II:78.
The dead, it appears, were not the only "untimely victims":
"There are no hospitals, medicines, or doctors; and the condition of the wounded is such as to cause pity. They have no mattresses on which to lie or blankets with which to cover themselves, in spite of the fact that on entering Béxar, we took from the enemy the remnants of three or four stores and that one has been set up and called the Government Store, where everything is sold at a high price and for cash." Ibid.
Of his own condition and of the cost of living Sánchez writes:
"I have been sick with rheumatism and misery for twenty-one days. What must be the condition of others? In Colonel Dromundo's commissary, piloncillo sells for one peso, flour for one peso the pound, a tablet of chocolate for two reales, and almud of corn for three pesos, and so on. I am told that only the table of Señor Sesma is sumptuous. Señor Cos and his adjutants have eaten only roast meat for three days. There is money but there might as well not be any because it is only at the disposal of the Most Excellent President, and His Excellency is annoyed when asked for a peso." Ibid. II:78v.
In the entry for April 26, 1836, in Matamoros, Sánchez writes:
"Two days ago news was received that His Excellency the President, after having joined his divisions, had left them again and, with very few forces, was pursuing Houston and was on his way to Harrisburg. May God bring His Excellency safely through so daring an undertaking."Ibid. II:79v.
In January 1837, the rejoicing which he observed in Leona Vicario over the adoption of the new constitution of 1836 caused Sánchez to pray that it might last longer than the one it was replacing, and to state:
"Upon leaving, I was assured that it [the new constitution] had the same deficiency as the previous one, that is to say there was no fiscal system. We must not deceive ourselves; as long as the nation does not know the actual amount of its total income and the actual amount of its total and necessary expenditures we shall be walking on precipices and erroneous pathways, we shall contend over false and dubious issues and we shall build without foundations and upon sands. Without removing the causes of evil, we shall never be rid of its pernicious consequences nor find the good way." Ibid. II:111.
The first part of the diary of José Sánchez through April 1, 1836, was published in Mexico City in 1938 by Carlos Sánchez-Navarro under the title La Guerra de Tejas: Memorias de un Soldado. From the introduction to this work, and from the internal evidence of the diary, the following facts about his life may be determined.
José Juan Sánchez Navarro was a native of Saltillo. His predecessors distinguished themselves in the field of battle in Spain as early as the thirteenth century. About 1550, Captain Juan Sánchez Navarro migrated to the New World and in 1575, with Alberto del Canto, he founded the villa Santiago del Saltillo.
José Juan Sánchez joined the army very young and was made captain after the consummation of independence. He became adjutant inspector of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas April 8, 1831, and was still holding this position during the Texas campaign. As his diary so eloquently testifies, he took an active part in the two major encounters between the Mexican and the Texas forces in San Antonio de Béxar in December 1835 and March 1836, respectively.
In May 1836, José Juan Sánchez was commissioned to protect the frontier presidios against the incursions of the Indians. He was very reluctant to assume this position not only because he wished to remain in the Texas campaign but also because the presidial companies were in such a deplorable state of disorganization and destitution that he considered them utterly incapable of performing the duties required of them. He repeatedly requested permission to remain in the Texas campaign, offering to donate fifty pesos a month from his pay to the national treasury to be spent "exclusively on the troops that shall march again to Texas until our national honor shall be we well avenged there." His gift was accepted but his petition was denied.
With the passing of time, Sánchez felt more and more frustrated by the absence of "good political, military, and administrative systems" which made it impossible for him to perform effectively the duties of his office. On May 23, 1836, soon after the safety of the frontier was entrusted to his care, Sánchez wrote that if at least three hundred men in Coahuila and Texas and five hundred men in Nuevo León and Tamaulipas were armed, mounted, and equipped according to the regulations for presidios; if the money for their pay, equipment and supplies was provided in advance; and if the men were strictly required to obey the general ordinances of the army and the regulations for presidios, he would vouch for the defense of the frontier, and he continues:
"I could even go so far as to assert that I could make it very uncomfortable for the perfidious colonists of Béxar and la Bahía; and I would prevent, to a great extent or possibly altogether, the disgraceful, perfidious, and opprobrious contraband trade in which some despicable vile Mexicans of the villas of the frontier will undoubtedly begin to engage. . .
"What can I do, unaided, with nothing but authority? I shall go where I have been ordered and I shall do everything possible to defend the lives and property of such honorable communities even at the risk of my life. If I cannot remedy the misfortunes they experience, I shall help them to bear and endure them.
"However, I am still disconsolate because [I know that] troops that are undisciplined, and what is worse without pay, will never protect the property of others and this [property] will remain irremediably insecure under the protection of hungry soldiers. If the companies are not to be paid, they should be done away with in order that they may not be a burden to the settlers. If these [settlers] are freed from [paying] tribute and provided with arms and munitions, we shall see how much better they will defend their property." Ibid. II:10-11.
In July 1836, Sánchez writes:
"I am tired of being Adjutant Inspector since, because of the prevalent destitution, this position does not yield enough to support myself and my numerous family; and what is worse, because I receive no benefits from it but only annoyances and worries for instead of the three thousand pesos I should receive as salary, I have three thousand enemies who oppose me because they covet the same [pesos] for their protegés or because, in the execution of the duties of my office, I make demands upon them with regard to their obligations, particularly in the field of accounts. I cannot exercise it [the duties of my office] with the liberty conceded to me by the regulations for presidios and by article 11 of the law of March 21, 1826 because the existence of Adjutant Inspectors is incompatible with that of the Commandantes Principales [colonels delegated with powers of commandant generals]." Ibid. II:85.
In September 1836, he laments:
"We have nothing but orders; some issued by the Most Excellent General-in-Chief, others by the Commandant General, others by the said Comandante Principal; but none through the conduct of the office of Adjutant Inspector, in which position I have been reduced to a ZERO." Ibid. II:95v.
In December 1836, Sánchez was notified of his promotion to lieutenant colonel retroactive to April 8, 1831. In 1844, he was promoted to the rank of colonel for his bravery in the pacification of the rebellious Indians. In 1846 and 1847, he participated in the encounters with the United States, taking part in the battle of La Angostura as a member of the staff of General Santa Anna and recording his impressions of this event. He was made brevet general at the close of the war. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed commandant general of Coahuila, in which capacity he was serving at the time of his death, June 2, 1849.
Helen Hunnicut, Archives TranslatorAPPENDIX I: Contents of Sánchez Index. Volume I.
Detailed inventory of the legajos [bundles of papers] and papers pertaining to the Office of Adjutant Inspector of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas received by Captain and Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Don Antonio Crespo when he assumed the said office. [1788-1827]
Inventory of the archive of the Office of Adjutant Inspector of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas during the time it was managed by the third jefe of the 10th permanent battalion, Citizen Antonio Crespo, delivered by Lieutenant Colonel Citizen Nicolás del Moral to the Adjutant Inspector, Captain Citizen José Juan Sánchez. [1826-1829]
Inventory of the archive of the Office of Adjutant Inspector of the States of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas accumulated between June 1829 and the present date [September 17, 1831], when Lieutenant Colonel Citizen Nicolás del Moral delivered it to Captain Citizen José Juan Sánchez, the present adjutant inspector of the presidial companies and the reserve militia of the said states.
Note. This inventory should be filed in the archive which is now on deposit in Lampazos in care of Alférez Citizen Gregorio Cisneros.
Provisional inventory made by Captain Citizen José Juan Sánchez for his guidance during the time he shall hold the office of adjutant inspector of the States of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, beginning May 6, 1831. [1831-1835]
Report of the march of the division which withdrew from Béxar under the command of General Don Martín Perfecto de Cos from the villa of Laredo to Monclova. [January 7-30, 1836]
Report of the dead and wounded in the presidial cavalry during the siege of the Plaza de Béxar from October to December 1835.
Index of the correspondence sent by the Most Excellent Commandant General and Inspector of the Eastern Interior Provinces, Citizen Manuel de Mier y Terán to the Adjutant of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, Citizen José Juan Sánchez. [May 6, 1831-July 24, 1832]
Index of the correspondence sent by General Don Pedro Lemus, Commandant General and Inspector of the Eastern Interior Provinces, to the Adjutant of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas. [January 1834-January 3, 1836]
Index of the correspondence sent to the Most Excellent Commandant General and Inspector of the Eastern Interior States by the Adjutant of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, arranged by numbers and dates. [May 1, 1831-July 30, 1832]
Index of the correspondence sent by the Adjutant Inspector of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas to the Commandant General and Inspector of the Eastern Interior States, General Don Pedro Lemus. [January 16-April 22, 1834]
Index of the business which, by reason of starting my march toward Laredo to put under arms the first regular company of Tamaulipas, I am remitting under the heading of "pending" to the superior hands of the Commandant General and Inspector in order that His Lordship may be good enough to give the decisions regarding them which he deems advisable, for which purpose I respectfully state my opinion with regard to each [item]. [December 15, 1833-April 22, 1834]
Index of the sovereign decrees and the printed supreme orders which the Most Excellent Commandant General and Inspector of the Eastern Interior States sent to the Adjutant of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas to be circulated to the companies under his jurisdiction.
Index of the circulars sent by the Adjutant Inspector of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas to the companies under his jurisdiction, dates recorded. [June 22-November 27, 1831] Volume II. Inventory of the archive of the Office of Adjutant Inspector of the Department of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas. 
Arrival of General Cos at Leona Vicario; his march to Béxar, and some incidents which occurred prior to the capture of the fort of the Alamo.
Index of the correspondence sent by the Commandant General and Inspector of the Departments of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas to the Adjutant of the same. [February 1836-May 1837]
Diary of the most notable occurrences which befell the army of operations of the northern division under the supreme command of General Don Valentín Canalizo, beginning today June 29 , when I, José Juan Sánchez became a part of it.
Distribution of the amount of eighteen thousand six hundred eighty-six pesos and two granos which were spent for effects for the presidial companies and of the funds for additional effects granted by the Jefe Superior de Hacienda of the Department with the approval of the Most Excellent Commander in Chief of the Army of the North, the 26th and 27th of April .
Distribution of the amounts which the Adjutant Inspector received in the City of Santa Anna de Tamaulipas to the account of the Head of the Department for the needs of the Army of the North. 
Index of the correspondence sent by the Adjutant Inspector of the Departments of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas to the Commandant General of the same. [February 1836-May 1837]
Inventory of the archive of the Office of Adjutant Inspector of the Departments of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León. 
APPENDIX II: Plan of the Alamo
On the flyleaves of the second volume, Sánchez drew a plan of the Alamo showing the position of the Mexican forces which recaptured the fort on March 6, 1836.
The caption to this plan reads:
"The Fort of San Antonio de Valero, commonly called the Alamo. It was surrendered by the Mexican troops for lack of resources the 13th of December 1835 after fifty-five days of constant siege. It was taken by assault by the same [troops] the 6th of March of 1836 and was destroyed the 22nd of May of the same year."
Under the flag with the skull and crossed bones for a device the following lines were written:"El que bea este diceño no bea en bano
"Let him who sees this crude device
Que, aunque mál delineado, le recuerda
Remember every patriot must
(Si tiene en algo el nombre Mejicano
If name of Mexican suffice
Y quiere que tal nombre no se pierda),
To proudly bear its fame in trust)
Que á Tejas marche, y con robusta mano
Return to Texas, seal the price
Haga que el vil colono el polvo muerda,
Of vile rebellion low in dust,
Hasta que el honor Patrio, hoy ultrajado,
Until our honor, now outraged,
Quede con sangre y fuego vien bengado.
" In blood and fire shall be assuaged."
Translation supplied anonymously.
The description written immediately below the sketch and on the following page is as follows:
A. Parade Grounds.
B. Main gate. It was taken the day of the assault by Colonel Don Juan Morales assisted by the [officer] of the same rank, Don José Miñón, and his battalion, the reserve militia of San Luis Potosí.
C. Church in ruins, with a cemetery. On an esplanade formed in the chancel of the same, a high battery of three cannons was set up and named Fortín de Cos. [It was] not very practical because it could be used for firing down only toward the east [and because of] a slight and cumbersome declivity toward the north. The rooms or apartments which appear on the side of the same church were strong and usable and were used for raising the park.
D. This was the weakest part of the fort since it was protected only by a short palisade and a poor barricade of trees. At this point a few colonists tried in vain to escape when they saw all was lost.
E. Tall cuartel with a corridor and a corral. This edifice was usable because of its construction and because it was contiguous to the church. It formed the high fortification and the principal part of the fort. If the enemy had made it into a second line of defense, it would have been very difficult to have taken it from them or to have driven them out of it.
F. Barracks for the troops and corral for horses, through which, with the Matamoros and Ximénez Battalions, the colonel of the first [named], Don José María Romero, attacked and entered. This corral and cuartel, whose exterior wall was two feet thick and twelve feet high, were protected by the two cannons shown in their [respective] angles toward the north on esplanades one foot [high] and by embrasures.
G. Battery of two cannons called by the Mexicans Fortín de Terán located upon the wall at the height of eleven feet, Mexican vara. The wall was two feet thick; it was reenforced on the outside by a palisade with earth in between which made it five feet thick. Through the said point and through the line which runs toward the center of the other battery, Colonel Duque attacked with his Toluca Battalion; and because he was wounded, General Castrillón continued the attack and entered the fort with the Toluca and the Zapadores [Battalions]. In the esplanade of the said battery, the commander of the colonists, named Travis, died like a soldier.
H. Through this point, called Fortín de Condelle, having the same elevation as the foregoing, General Don Martín Perfecto de Cos attempted to attack with the first column of attack composed of the Aldama Cazadores and fusiliers and one hundred fusiliers of the reserve militia of San Luis. But having lost many men by the sustained firing by the battery and being annoyed by the firing of the Toluca Battalion, he ordered an oblique movement to the right; and since this was executed promptly and effectively, he flanked the enemy on all sides at the point which he believed the strongest; and he entered the plaza by the postern, over the wall, and by the other points marked by [asterisk].
Y. Rooms which were in the interior [side] of the wall which had loopholes for rifles toward the outside and the inside.
J. Circular saps with a moat and stockade defending the exterior of the enclosure.
K. Moat defending the main gate.
L. Hospital. In the inner room located in the fore part toward the main gate, the braggart James Wuy [Bowie] died without resisting.
N. Barrier or trench for the defense of the gate.
O. Well dug by the colonists for water.
P. Inner moat and poorly constructed banquette with which the colonists, thinking they were reenforcing part of the fort, weakened it.
Q. Place where the bodies of two hundred fifty-seven ungrateful colonists were burned.
R. Battery for demolition and repercussion set up against the fort at [a distance of] a fusil shot, with which a breach could have been opened in two hours; but it was not ordered to go into action. It was constructed by order of General Amador under the supervision of Lieutenant Colonel Ampudia on the night of the fourth and dawn of the fifth of March. It was manned by the reserve column composed of the Zapadores Battalion and of the companies of grenadiers of the other battalions. It was commanded by His Excellency the President.
S. Position held by the first column of attack under the command of General Cos from three in the morning of the sixth of March, where they remained flat on the ground until five, when they received the signal from the trench to attack. The march and movements made by them before beginning the actual assault are shown.
T. River of San Antonio de Béxar.
V. Battery set up in the City of Béxar since the first of March.
X. Board bridge to facilitate the passage of the people from Béxar to the Alamo.
Z. Ford for vehicles and horses going toward la Villita.
aa. Island which facilitates the crossing of the river by means of two boards.
bb. Three dismounted cannons which were found within the Alamo.
Reviewing the first-hand accounts
Many accounts that are relied on to flesh out accounts of the battle are third-hand narratives (an interview of someone who tells a story he heard from someone else) recorded decades after the battle. Joe was only interviewed briefly, and Mrs. Dickinson was not interviewed by a journalist until 1871. The last messenger out of the Alamo, James Allen, who was there for the bulk of the siege, became a Texas Ranger and lived until 1901 -- and was never interviewed at all. On the Mexican side, the accounts that do seem reliable appear to come from spectators. It may be that the intensity of the fighting was such that no Mexican in the front lines was able to write his memoirs, to put it delicately.
SUSANNAH DICKINSON (WILLIAMS, HERRING, BELLOWS, HANNIG)
The young, illiterate wife of Almeron Dickinson, the fort's artillery officer, Susanna may have lacked the emotional and intellectual resources to process the events that overtook her in 1836. She may not have wanted to talk about the topic. Initial interviews of her appear to have actually been interviews of Joe. Other interviews evidence a struggle to get something coherent.
She remarried in 1837 to someone she almost immediately divorced on the grounds of cruelty. She married again in 1838 to someone who died of drink, and in 1847 to someone who divorced her ten years later for leaving him and taking up residence in a "house of ill-fame." She seems to have put that behind her with the marriage in 1858 to a cabinet-maker named Hannig, moving with him to Austin, where she died in 1883. The gist of what she reported:
- There were minimal casualties before the final assault.
- On the morning of the assault her husband told her the Mexicans were over the walls and ran out. She never saw him again.
- She hid in a room of the chapel and did not see the battle. One defender ran into the room, followed by Mexicans who tossed him on their bayonets. (One interview mentioned the same fate for two small boys who also ran in.)
- A Mexican officer intervened, either an English mercenary named Black, or Almonte.
- Outside, there was a single survivor, who unsuccessfully begged for mercy.
- She saw the body of Crockett between the chapel and the barrack building.
- She saw the body of Bowie, and he had shot two Mexicans from his bed before dying.
- Travis died working a cannon on top of the church. (Crockett's body she could not have avoided, but she did not say how she saw that of Bowie and Travis.)
- She was taken to a house she had lived in prior to the siege, and saw the smoke of the pyres.
- The next day she was taken before Santa Anna, who was talked out of imprisoning her by Almonte.
- She was sent east on a pony, with a black man whose name she gave variously as Ben or Joe. (She may have been too shaken to notice they were two individuals.) A party led by Deaf Smith found her on the way to Gonzales.
- The Alamo housed a hospital for wounded from the siege of Bexar, with about 75 disabled men.
- At some point, she lost her mind and wept for days.
She also said doubtful things:
- Only three men entered the fort during the siege.
- Juana Alsbury defected to the Mexicans with her sister
- There was only one man in the fort named Rose
- She watched the line-in-the-sand incident from the door of the chapel -- but the chapel courtyard would have been too small for the gathering
- That the line-in-the-sand incident happened the evening before the assault, and the one hold-out was found missing the next morning. (What -- they held roll-call before the assault, in her presence?) Afterward Col. Almonte said the holdout had been killed while trying to escape and offered to show her the body. (Why would Almonte care?)
In another interview she implied that the line-in-the-sand incident happened on the first day of the siege.
JUANA NAVARRO ALSBURY:
The 28-year-old niece of Senor Veramendi and therefore an in-law of Bowie, she had married a Texan soldier, Dr. Horace Alsbury, two months earlier, and had a small child (Alejo Perez) from a previous marriage. (Her first husband was yet another cholera victim.) Her new husband was absent when the Mexican army arrived, and she entered the Alamo with her younger sister, Gertrudis Navarro, and was in a room on the west wall of the fort during the assault. High points:
- As the firing approached their room. Gertrudis called on the soldiers not to shoot into the room. They barged in, looking for loot.
- A sick Texan in the room tried to protect Juana Alsbury and was killed. A Tejano who ran into the room seeking cover was killed.
- Looting began in earnest. An officer took them outside. Another officer had them move out of the way of a cannon about to be fired. Then, her ex-brother-in-law found them and got them to safety. (One accounts says he was a sergeant in the Mexican army.)
- Behind her, firing continued until noon.
Enrique Esparza was eight years old at the time of the siege -- old enough to retain coherent memories. His father Gregorio Esparza, was in the Texan army and stationed at the Alamo. The rest of the family -- Enrique, his mother, older sister, and three younger brothers -- fled to the Alamo after the Mexican army arrived in town. But not before Enrique saw Santa Anna ride into Main Plaza, dismount -- and did not even trouble to hitch his own horse, but instead handed the reins to a lackey. No interview of Enrique Esparza was published until 1901, and then he was interviewed several times over the next decade. His accounts grew more colorful with time, or perhaps his later interviewers were after color more than specifics. High points from his original story:
- An Anglo they called "Don Benito" was everywhere in the fort, giving encouragement and leadership. The Anglos called this man "Crockett."
- He heard the names Travis and Bowie mentioned, but never happened to see them.
- The defenders only used two cannon. One was at the main entrance, the other at the northeast corner of the compound. They were seldom fired.
- The besiegers cut off the water supply in the water ditch, but the defenders had dug a well.
- At no time was food or water in short supply. Ammunition, however, grew shorter every day.
- After seven days of fighting there was a truce of three days.
- During the truce, Don Benito held talks with Santa Anna, and was told the Anglos could go free if they would surrender. The Tejanos, however, would be treated as rebels.
- On the third and final day of the truce Don Benito (not Travis) called the garrison together and told them the terms. No one believed that Santa Anna would let them get out alive, and they decided to fight on.
- The non-combatants were housed in rooms on either side of the gate in the south wall of the fort. At the time of the assault he was in a room in the chapel building where his parents slept, in sight of the cannon his father manned. When the assault came, it was over by daylight. Shots were fired into the room where the noncombatants were hiding for at least 15 minutes, and an Anglo boy was killed.
- Mexican solders then burst in, seeking loot. Brigidio Guerrero, a young Tejano defender of the Alamo, had taken refuge in the room, and convinced the solders that he was a prisoner of the Texans. But a genuine Mexican POW, who had translated the Mexican bugle calls they could hear from the fort, was killed.
- The surviving noncombatants were taken to a private house under guard, and that afternoon (or the afternoon of the next day, in one version) taken before Santa Anna. Each woman was questioned (Mrs. Dickinson first, and at length) and each was given a blanket and two silver dollars. Juana Navarro Alsbury and her sister did not go before him since their father had arranged for their release.
- The body of his father, Gregorio Esparza, was recovered by three uncles, one of whom was a Mexican army veteran, after getting special permission, apparently later that day. He was the only defender to receive Christian burial in a cemetery. The others were burned.
Later, he would add -- probably prompted by the interviewer -- the line-in-the-sand story and talk as if he had seen heard Bowie make proclamations and seen Travis in action, and that the fort's many cannon were in constant use. More credible points that emerge:
- A number of Tejano defenders (he named six) and their dependents left during the truce. Apparently, they were not harmed by the Mexicans.
- Boys barely older than himself died among the defenders. (Susanna Dickinson spoke of this.)
- The Alamo church building originally had bell towers on the northwest and southwest corners of the building, and therefore resembled (the still extant) Mission Concepcion to the south of San Antonio. The roof between the towers was flat, lacking the current arched facade. Its current appearance results from later repairs after a fire.
- After his family was captured, they were taken to a room in the southwest corner of the chapel building where the other non-combatants were, including Juana Alsbury, her sister, and others. Soldiers continued firing into the convent or barrack building for a quarter hour, even though darkness had fallen there. They then approached with lanterns.
- Crockett died immediately outside the doors of the chapel. (Susanna Dickinson puts him there, too.)
- Bowie died in a small room on the north side of the church, riddled with bullets. (Others put him in the room on the south wall.)
- Most of the defenders died in the convent or barrack building.
FRANSISCO ANTONIO RUIZ:
Ruiz was the alcalde (mayor) of San Antonio de Bexar at the time of the siege. An English translation of his report appeared in an almanac in 1860. The original has not been found. Finding it (assuming it is genuine) might clear up some puzzling references. High points:
- The Texans learned of the Mexican approach on 8 a.m. of February 23 and withdrew to the fort.
- Firing was almost continuous until the time of the storming, at 3 a.m. March 6.
- Santa Anna had 4,000 men, formed 1,000 yards from the fort. They were repulsed twice, the Texan artillery resembling constant thunder.
- The Toluca battalion got over the wall on the third attempt, loosing 670 out of 800 men.
- Ordered to set up a medical station during the night with other municipal officials, Ruiz and the others tried to begin retrieving the wounded as soon as the fighting started, but were driven back into town by Mexican dragoons.
- Later, he found the body of Travis on a gun carriage "on the north battery of the fortress."
- Crockett was found "in the west, in a small fort opposite the city." (Did he mean La Villita? That would place Crockett on the west side of the mission building, where Susanna Dickinson saw him.)
- Bowie was found "in one of the rooms on the south side."
- Santa Anna wanted to see these bodies himself.
- Santa Anna had the alcalde remove all the bodies, the Mexicans for burial, the Texans to a pyre.
- The dragoons gathered wood for the pyre. They burned 182 bodies.
- He was unable to bury all the Mexican bodies, and threw some into the river.
Santa Anna's official report, dictated immediately after the battle (in fact, at 8 a.m. that morning) states the following:
- There were four columns and a reserve, totaling 1,400 soldiers.
- The attack began at 5 a.m.
- Resistance was stubborn, the reserve was committed, and fighting lasted an hour and a half.
- The spectacle was extraordinary. The Mexicans fought heroically, while the fire of the defenders lit up the interior of the fortress, its walls and ditches. (Odd that he should dwell on this.)
- More than 600 defenders were killed. The bodies of Crockett, Travis and Bowie were among them.
- Mexican losses were 70 killed and 300 wounded, including 25 officers.
In a pamphlet written the next year to justify his actions, he said that after the decision to attack was made, but before that assault, he made another offer to Travis, saying the defenders could leave it they agreed not to take up arms against Mexico. (In other words, parole them, which the Texans usually did with their prisoners. Santa Anna usually shot his.) They replied that if they did not accept the offer they would resume firing at a certain hour, which they did. (This implies there was a cease fire agreement.)
An account of the storming by an anonymous Mexican soldier appeared in El Mosquito Mexicano, a Mexico City newspaper, on April 5, 1836. The anonymity indicates the writer was a "gentleman" who would not have openly engaged in a trade -- such as writing for newspapers. He was in the attack column commanded by Gen. Cos. The main points:
- There were four columns. They sortied at 2 a.m., massing at 3 a.m. at a point 300 paces from the fort, on the north side. They lay on the ground. It was cold.
- They attacked at 5:30 a.m., rushing the wall, Cos leading.
- Canister (cannon fired as shotguns) brought down 40 men. They were under "horrible fire" for three-quarters of an hour, presumably pinned down outside the wall.
- Then, all four columns and the reserves got over the wall at the same time.
- There followed a "horrid battle at sword point," and a massacre of the defenders, some of who tried to surrender, flee or hide.
- Travis died bravely in back of a cannon.
- Bowie, the "pervert and braggart" died like a woman, almost hidden under a mattress.
- The attackers suffered heavy losses, including about 200 wounded.
- Afterwards, "His Excellency the President" made a "beautiful speech" to the assembled troops.
- The writer counted 257 bodies of defenders burned.
RAMON MARTINEZ CARO:
Caro was Santa Anna's civilian secretary. He also wrote a pamphlet after returning to Mexico, mostly to blast Santa Anna. His points:
- The Alamo was a mere corral, 550 paces for the town, many of its walls being only adobe.
- In small but painful actions the enemy had to be driven from ditches and small buildings outside the fort, from which they fired at the Mexicans.
- Intelligence reports placed the initial strength of the defenders at 156, which rose to 183 with later reinforcements.
- During the final assault the attackers captured the cannon on the north side of the fort. The defenders retired to internal rooms, which the captured cannon were used to demolish.
- The attack force was 1,400, and 400 were lost in the attack -- 300 dead and 100 wounded. (The ratio was more likely the other way around.) There were no medical facilities for the wounded.
- He wrote Santa Anna's report saying 600 defenders were killed, but knows that figure is false.
- Five surviving defenders (whom he does not identify) were brought before Santa Anna, who was annoyed, and turned his back as they were killed.
- Six women were captured and released.
COL. JUAN NEPOMUCENO ALMONTE:
Educated in New Orleans, Almonte is sometimes described as a nephew of Santa Anna, which would explain how this lowly staff officer got away with arguing with El Presidente as often as sources describe him doing. The Mexican government had sent him to tour Texas in 1834 to determine some way to quell the crisis there, but the Mexican political crisis made his mission moot. During the 1836 campaign he kept a personal journal that was captured in the Battle of San Jacinto and published in the New York Herald. The original is now lost. The journal (which should not be confused with an official headquarters journal) dwelled on things important to Almonte: the weather (cold), the mail (sporadic), his finances, and general army activities he witnessed. The main points that emerge:
- When the Mexican army arrived the defenders sought favorable surrender terms. Thereafter there was no mention of surrender.
- Both sides made night sorties.
- Spies reported on the conditions inside the fort, (inaccurately) counting causalities and the arrival of reinforcements.
- A council of war was called on March 4. Some generals wanted to wait for the have artillery to arrive. Almonte did not want to wait. (His reasoning is not given.) Others gave no opinion. No decision was reached.
- The next day, Santa Anna made the decision to assault, and preparations began.
- On March 6, the assault was made at 5:30 and continue until 6, when the enemy attempted to flee. They were overtaken and 250 killed. Five woman and a black slave survived, and one Mexican prisoner. Seventeen cannon were taken.
- Mexican losses were 60 enlisted men and five officers killed, and 198 enlisted men and 25 officers wounded, including two generals.
- The Toluca battalion lost 98 men, killed and wounded.
- Almonte was robbed by his soldiers.
There were more like 21 or 22 cannon barrels in the fort, not 17, so his other figures may be off as well.
JOSE ENRIQUE DE LA PENA:
That a document purportedly published in 1836 references another document published in 1838 has slowed the acceptance of the authenticity of this "diary" of the Texan campaign. (De la Pena was apparently a naval officer attached to the Sapper Battalion of the Mexican Army during the campaign.) The 1997 edition from Texas A&M University Press clears up many problems: the work was not published in 1836, they now say. In fact, de la Pena never published it at all, and it saw the light of day only after appearing in the hands of a Mexican manuscript collector in 1955. Actually, it's two manuscripts: a short travel journal and a longer exposition. The latter was unfinished and includes de la Pena's notes to himself to check background material.
The material was apparently written in prison (in 1838-41) after de la Pena was jailed for participating in Urrea's failed coup against Santa Anna's faction. Which leads to another problem: if you do accept the diary as a period document (which we'll henceforth do, since it gives us more to talk about), then what you have is not a memoir but an anti-Santa Anna pro-Urrea propaganda tract. Santa Anna is a monster who would not even contribute his personal linens for bandages like the other officers did after the Alamo battle. His compounded stupidities led directly to San Jacinto, where he disgraced himself. But the peerless, stainless, far-sighted Urrea advanced from victory to victory. Well, he did shoot Fannin's men, but only after that mean guy Santa Anna sent him written orders in triplicate to do it. Etc.
Accepting the writer's overt bias, it is possible to wade in and find interesting details:
- The garrison of the Mexican border town of Mier sided with the Texans and had to be quelled as the campaign started.
- It was agreed, during the final planning meeting before the attack, that no prisoners would be spared. There was some disagreement about this.
- There was no reconnaissance of the fort. They spoke instead to townspeople and wounded veterans of the Cos garrison who had been left behind after Cos' withdrawal in December. These gave a grim picture of the Alamo's defenses and supplies. (Of course, they had no knowledge of whatever work the defenders had done on the fortification since then.)
- It was believed in the Mexican Army that Santa Anna heard that Travis was about to be forced to surrender or attempt a night breakout because of his men's dissatisfaction, and that Santa Anna decided to attack first, so as not to be deprived of the glory of taking the place by storm.
- There were four attack columns: about 350 men each against the west and north walls; about three hundred against the east wall (although it was the strongest) and a hundred against the south wall. (Total = 1,150.) There was a reserve of 400 men, including the Sapper Battalion. (This means there was about another thousand men in his force that Santa Anna did not bother to call on.) Each man was given seven rounds of ammunition. (De la Pena thought that was a mistake, as they should have relied on their bayonets. And he may have meant 70 rounds, since he says the men were overloaded with ammunition and that 50,000 rounds were fired during the battle.)
- There was little light, the full moon being covered by clouds.
- The bugle calls, the shouts of the troops, and the fact that the columns were ordered to open fire while still out of range, alerted the fort.
- The initial fire from the fort was rapid and deadly. Travis had several loaded guns by each man, surmised de la Pena.
- The ladders, crowbars and hatches carried by the attackers proved inadequate for getting through or over the wall. Only one ladder made it to the wall.
- The east column recoiled from the fire of the cannons atop the mission building and ended up on the north corner. The west column, looking for a place to scale the wall, also ended up on the north side. They became one confused mass.
- Santa Anna thought the attack was being defeated and sent in the reserves and even his staff. Half the officers of the Sapper Battalion (four out of eight, apparently) were shot before they even reached the walls.
- The attackers finally got over the walls in numbers. The defenders withdrew to the rooms on either side of the enclosure.
- The south column took the trenches on the south side of the fort and then took cover in them because of the firing from the north side.
- Some defenders stayed out in the open, including Travis, whom de la Pena says he saw die bravely after trading his life dearly. (But in the gloom, how did de la Pena see him, and seeing him, how did de la Pena identify him?)
- Chaos broke out as the attackers entered the enclosure, storming rooms and firing in all directions and turning the defender's cannon against them. The cease-fire bugle call was blown but had no affect, and the firing only stopped when the defenders were all dead. Defenders tired to surrender amidst the fighting, but it did not work since beside them were men who were not surrendering and new skirmishes broke out constantly.
- This went on for an hour. The defenders who tried to escape were killed by the cavalry screen. A father was seen throwing himself from a height (the top of the mission building?) with a boy in his arms.
- As the Mexican units reformed at the end of the fight, shortly after 6 a.m., seven prisoners were brought before Santa Anna, who had them killed. Santa Anna then spoke to the troops, but their responding vivas were icy.
- One of the victims was "the naturalist David Crockett" who just happened to be in town when the siege started and took refuge in the Alamo since he did not think his status as a neutral foreigner would be respected. (Actually, Crockett had enlisted in the Texan army as soon as he crossed the border. De la Pena does not say how he identified Crockett as one of the seven victims.)
- Captured documents showed that the there were 182 defenders in the Alamo, although the Mexicans counted 253 bodies. (The extra victims may have been convalescents from the Siege of Bexar.)
- The Mexican losses were either 70 dead and 300 wounded (Santa Anna's report) or 260 dead and 51 wounded (Andrade's report.) (They may both be approximately correct since de la Pena says most of the wounded eventually died.)
- The opinion in the Mexican Army after the battle was that it had been a painful defeat and that the losses had been unnecessary. More artillery would have arrived in a day or two, making the assault unnecessary.
As the decades went on, there were Mexican willing to say anything an American interviewer wanted to hear, including descriptions of Crockett that matched his fictional persona, inflated counts of the Mexican dead, the last moments of Bowie, etc. They end up being quoted and requoted, however, and suppositions turn into facts. Anything you read that seems delightfully colorful is probably one of these confabulations.
At the end of the 19th Century, a "Madam Candalara" seems to have made a career by giving colorful interviews.
A "journal" purportedly by Jose Juan Sanchez-Navarro surfaced just in time for the Texas Centennial celebration, written in large, clumsy official ledger books that were in use until 1839. It's odd that barely transportable public ledgers would have been used for a private campaign journal. (And the end pages of such book are the popular source of old paper for forgers.) And this particular journal contains no information that could not be found in preexisting material. Sanchez-Navarro did exist, and served under Cos. He probably did use the ledger books -- for public business, in a government office, back in Nuevo Leon.
Cowboy's Story Deserves A Place In History
Star-Telegram Staff Writer --- Published Nov. 12, 2005
News flash for everyone now fascinated with the history of White Settlement:
You overlooked one early settler. He saw the Alamo after the fall and Virginia after the Confederate surrender. Until his death at 111, he carried a dime given to him by Sam Houston.
One more thing. He was a black American freed from slavery. Of all the stories that have turned up while White Settlement voters were reaffirming their city's name, the most interesting must be the tale of John Hickman, who loyally served a Confederate officer during the Civil War and came back to Texas to ride as a cowboy on the great cattle drives.
Hickman retold his stories in 1930 as a special guest at the State Fair of Texas. He had lived in the then-rural White Settlement community since 1895. In newspaper interviews across 20 years, he told of coming to Texas at 11 as a slave owned by a member of the Jim Bowie family and going into the Alamo after the 1836 battle to retrieve Bowie's body. Later, another family member won Hickman in a horse-race bet, and he wound up at the scene of the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, Va. At some point after the Civil War, according to sparse accounts in other local histories, he worked for the Farmer brothers, whose cabins west of Fort Worth amid American Indian tribes were part of what was then called "the white settlement."
I have not checked out Hickman's Alamo or Civil War stories in other sources.
But a city librarian found a 1941 interview with one old cowboy who called Hickman "the best rider I ever met."
When he died in 1931, the United Daughters of the Confederacy draped his casket with a Confederate flag and helped pay for his burial in a White Settlement cemetery. His body has since been moved to Oakwood Cemetery in Fort Worth. Some news clippings called Hickman the first slave brought to Texas. Since Hickman said he came in 1831, and Southerners already had been coming here for 10 years, that seems unlikely.
But whether fact or fiction -- or both -- Hickman's stories were convincing enough to win him a spotlight role at the 1930 State Fair as a guest in The Dallas Morning News' "Little Alamo" exhibit.
I found the 1930 News features on Hickman when I tried to look up early stories about White Settlement. If the Star-Telegram ever interviewed him, I haven't found the story. In fanciful language, The News described Hickman, then 110, as a local man who could relate "tales of early Texas" and said that he was "identified with all the stirring events of Texas history." "From the tumbledown shack that has been his home for more than 30 years on the White Settlement road 10 miles from Fort Worth, his undimmed eyes watch the heavens fill with argosies of the air, and not 10 miles from there he witnessed the effects of his last brush with Indians," The News reported.
"More than 90 years ago, he blazed a trail from Alabama to San Augustine [Texas]. ... The Alamo, Goliad and the conventions in which Texas planned for its freedom are all fresh in his memory. He boasts that he brought from Alabama the first bushel of corn brought to Texas and the first demijohn of real whiskey."
In an interview, Hickman claimed to have met Alamo survivor Susanna Dickinson when he was sent from Gonzales to recover Bowie's body in San Antonio. "I found him and I would have brung him out," The News quoted Hickman as saying, but the body had been burned. He said he took a gold star, a half-moon pin and a scarf back to Bowie family members. In a 1911 interview in the Fort Worth Record, Hickman called it "an awful sight in there."
Hickman also told the State Fair crowd that he shined Sam Houston's boots before the general led the Texas Revolution. He said Houston gave him a 10-cent piece for his 15th birthday. He said he thought he would lose it after the Civil War when a Union officer searched him on his way back to Texas from the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. The Union soldier "woulda kept it," Hickman said, "if I hadn't rustled up a silver dollar and bought it back."
Did I mention that he fought American Indians on the frontier and herded cattle for rancher John Chisum? According to The News, he also rode on cattle drives with Billy the Kid. When an old Fort Worth cowboy named Dave Burns was interviewed in 1941 for an unpublished city history, he said Hickman "could do anything on a hoss that any other man could do, and then some more. Also ride wild steers."
In the 1930 interviews, The News quoted Hickman saying that he lived to be 110 because "I have always worked lots and eat lots. I don't drink no more. ... I quit when I was about 75." When Hickman died the next year, The News featured him again in an obituary.
Now, I know what you're thinking. I have no idea how many of John Hickman's tales are true. And I have no idea whether his memory was still reliable at age 110.
But he sounds like a heckuva cowboy. With a heckuva story that should be kept alive today in the history of White Settlement.
Erastus "Deaf" Smith
Born April 19, 1787 in Dutchess County, New York, Smith moved with his parents to Mississippi Territory at the age of eleven. He first came to Texas in 1817 but stayed only a short time. He returned permanently in 1821, however, to help restore his health.
Smith adapted well to his new home. He soon learned the nature and customs of the Mexican settlers, and easily made friends among both his American and his Mexican neighbors. He attempted to remain neutral as tensions grew between Texas and Mexico, but was soon persuaded on the side of the Texans.
Already known as a superior scout, he was quickly recruited by the Texans. He was in the scouting party at the Battle of Concepcion and discovered the mule train that led to the Grass Fight. After the fall of the Alamo, Smith was sent by Sam Houston to gather particulars, and he returned with survivor Susannah Dickerson and her baby to the Houston camp.
At the Battle of San Jacinto, Smith among other duties, destroyed Vince's bridge, thus blocking any escape routes from the site of the battle. For a short time after the revolution, Smith commanded a company of rangers to protect Texas' frontier settlements from Mexican and Indian raids.
Deaf Smith retired briefly with his family to Richmond, Texas, before he died on November 30, 1837.