Thursday, March 5, 2015

Throw Back Thursday - Alamo Version

I started a Texas history version of TBT last week. This week's topic is the fall of the Alamo.

Technically, the Alamo didn't fall until March 6. However, the final assault began during the early morning hours of that day (around 4:00 a.m. or so). Since preparations for the attack began during the night of March 5, I am exercising editorial discretion and taking advantage of today's proximity to the 6th to kill two birds with one stone.

We tend to focus on the Alamo's defenders; the heroic Texians. There were, however, two armies involved in the battle. And like all battles - heck, like life in general - it is the common folks who suffer the most. Here's an overview of the Alamo's fall, along with eyewitness accounts from both sides.

Overview
At 4 o’clock on the morning of March 6, 1836, Santa Anna advanced his men to within 200 yards of the Alamo’s walls. Just as dawn was breaking, the Mexican bloodcurdling bugle call of the Deguello echoed the meaning of the scarlet flag above San Fernando: no quarter. It was Captain Juan Seguin’s Tejanos, the native-born Mexicans fighting in the Texan army, who interpreted the chilling music for the other defenders.

Santa Anna’s first charge was repulsed, as was the second, by the deadly fire of Travis’ artillery. At the third charge, one Mexican column attacked near a breach in the north wall, another in the area of the chapel, and a third, the Toluca Battalion, commenced to scale the walls. All suffered severely. Out of 800 men in the Toluca Battalion, only 130 were left alive. Fighting was hand to hand with knives, pistols, clubbed rifles, lances, pikes, knees and fists. The dead lay everywhere. Blood spilled in the convent, the barracks, the entrance to the church, and finally in the rubble-strewn church interior itself. Ninety minutes after it began, it was over.

Mexican Perspective
The following account is provided by a member of Santa Anna's army that besieged the Alamo.

On the morning of March 6, the Mexican troops were stationed at 4 o'clock, A.M., in accord with Santa Anna's instructions. The artillery, as appears from these same instructions, was to remain inactive, as it received no order; and furthermore, darkness and the disposition made of the troops which were to attack the four fronts at the same time, prevented its firing without mowing down our own ranks. Thus the enemy was not to suffer from our artillery during the attack. Their own artillery was in readiness. At the sound of the bugle they could no longer doubt that the time had come for them to conquer or to die. Had they still doubted, the imprudent shouts for Santa Anna given by our columns of attack must have opened their eyes.

As soon as our troops were in sight, a shower of grape and musket balls was poured upon them from the fort, the garrison of which at the sound of the bugle, had rushed to arms and to their posts. The three columns that attacked the west, the north, and the east fronts, fell back, or rather, wavered at the first discharge from the enemy, but the example and the efforts of the officers soon caused them to return to the attack. The columns of the western and eastern attacks, meeting with some difficulties in reaching the tops of the small houses which formed the walls of the fort, did, by a simultaneous movement to the right and to left, swing northward till the three columns formed one dense mass, which under the guidance of their officers, endeavored to climb the parapet on that side.

This obstacle was at length overcome, the gallant General Juan V Amador being among the foremost. Meantime the column attacking the southern front under Colonels Jose Vicente Minon and Jose Morales, availing themselves of a shelter, formed by some stone houses near the western salient of that front, boldly took the guns defending it, and penetrated through the embrasures into the square formed by the barracks. There they assisted General Amador, who having captured the enemy's pieces turned them against the doors of the interior houses where the rebels had sought shelter, and from which they fired upon our men in the act of jumping down onto the square or court of the fort. At last they were all destroyed by grape, musket shot and the bayonet.

Texian Accounts
Miraculously, at least fourteen people lived through the battle, and a few would later provide chilling eyewitness accounts of what happened.

Enrique Esparza

Enrique Esparza was the son of Alamo defender Gregorio Esparza and Ana Salazar Esparza. He, his mother, and two siblings survived the attack. In 1902 he told the story of his experiences to a reporter for the San Antonio Express:

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 corner 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.

Esparza grew up to become a farmer and the father of seven children.

Susanna Dickinson

Susanna Dickinson, the young wife of Alamo defender Lieutenant Almeron Dickinson, hid with their infant daughter Angelina in a small dark room inside the mission. The Dickinsons were relative newcomers, having arrived in Texas from Tennessee in 1831.

She remembered the siege and battle in an 1874 interview:

Under the cover of darkness (the Mexicans) approached the fortifications, and planting their scaling ladders against our walls just as light was approaching, they climbed to the tops of our walls and jumped down within, many of them to immediate death.

As fast as the front ranks were slain, they were filled up again by fresh troops.

The Mexicans numbered several thousands while there were only one hundred and eighty-two Texans.

The struggle lasted more than two hours when my husband rushed into the church where I was with my child, and exclaimed: "Great God, Sue, the Mexicans are inside our walls! All is lost! If they spare you, save my child."

Then, with a parting kiss, he drew his sword and plunged into the strife, then raging in different portions of the fortifications.

Soon after he left me, three unarmed gunners who abandoned their then useless guns came into the church where I was, and were shot down by my side. One of them was from Nacogdoches and named Walker. He spoke to me several times during the siege about his wife and four children with anxious tenderness. I saw four Mexicans toss him up in the sir (as you would a bundle of fodder) with their bayonets, and then shoot him. At this moment a Mexican officer came into the room, and, addressing me in English, asked: "Are you Mrs. Dickinson?" I answered "Yes." Then said he, "If you wish to save your life, follow me." I followed him, and although shot at and wounded, was spared.

As we passed through the enclosed ground in front of the church, I saw heaps of dead and dying...

I recognized Col. Crockett lying dead and mutilated between the church and the two story barrack building, and even remember seeing his peculiar cap lying by his side.

Juana Navarro Alsbury

Mrs. Juana Navarro Alsbury, sister-in-law of Colonel James Bowie and niece of José Antonio Navarro, hid in the Alamo, accompanied by her son and sister Gertrudis, for protection and to nurse Bowie, who was ill. Juana's husband, Dr. Horace Alsbury, had left the Alamo on February 23, the day the Mexicans arrived, probably seeking a safe place for his family. The couple reunited after the fall of the Alamo, though Horace would be killed during the Mexican-American War a little over a decade later.

Juana Navarro Alsbury shared her memories with Texas history enthusiast John S. Ford in the 1880s, and he subsequently recorded them in his memoirs:

Mrs. Alsbury and her sister were in a building not far from where the residence of Colonel Sam Maverick was afterwards erected. It was considered quite a safe locality. They saw very little of the fighting. While the final struggle was progressing she peeped out and saw the surging columns of Santa Anna assaulting the Alamo on every side, as she believed. She could hear the noise of the conflict -- the roar of the artillery, the rattle of the small arms, the shouts of the combatants, the groans of the dying, and the moans of the wounded.

The firing approximated where she was and she realized the fact that the brave Texians had been overwhelmed by numbers. She asked her sister to go to the door and request the Mexican soldiers not to fire into the room, as it contained women only. Senorita Gertrudis opened the door, she was greeted in offensive language by the soldiers. Her shawl was torn from her shoulders and she rushed back into the room. During this period Mrs. Alsbury was standing with her one-year-old son strained to her bosom, supposing he would be motherless soon. The soldiers then demanded of Senorita Gertrudis: "Your money or your husband." She replied: "I have neither money nor husband." About this time a sick man ran up to Mrs. Alsbury and attempted to protect her. The soldiers bayoneted him at her side.

After this tragic event a young Mexican, hotly pursued by soldiers, seized her by the arm and endeavored to keep her between himself and his assailants. His grasp was broken and four or five bayonets plunged into his body and nearly as many balls went through his lifeless corpse. The soldiers broke open her trunk and took her money and clothes, also the watch of Colonel Travis and other officers.

Afterword
All the Texans died. Santa Anna’s loss was 1,544 men. More than 500 Mexicans lay wounded, their groans mingling with the haunting strains of the distant bugle calls. Santa Anna airily dismissed the Alamo conquest as a small affair, but one of his officers commented, "Another such victory will ruin us".

Six weeks after the Alamo, while the Mexican wounded still languished in San Antonio, Santa Anna met his Waterloo at San Jacinto. The men who died inside the walls of the Alamo had bought with their lives the time needed for General Sam Houston to weld a force that won Texas its independence. The great sacrifice would not be forgotten by history...
The cry "Remember the Alamo" resonates to this day.

4 comments:

Bag Blog said...

This story always hurts my heart and makes me mad at the same time.

Randy H said...

Nice post

Old NFO said...

They were MEN! They went to their deaths with honor, and deserve every accolade they received! And yes, Remember the Alamo!

CenTexTim said...

BB - I understand. It illustrates the best and the worst of men.

Randy - Thanks. Glad you liked it.

NFO - Yes they were! Much like those who serve today. And very unlike many others today who seek personal and political gain while abandoning the values that made this country exceptional.