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.