Key To The Alamo
-- As Explained by the Artist, Eric von Schmidt
Enlarge photo for number key locations
The view portrayed in my 10 x 23 feet painting would be that of a
person standing on the very front of the raised gun-platform in the
center of the palisade connecting the southwest corner of the church
with the southeast end of the Low Barracks. The work is best viewed,
first, from a distance, then "entered into" at a middle ground,
finally, close-up. Bear in mind it is an "expanded view" involving a
panoramic perspective. To actually see as much as I've shown,
the head would have to swivel about 45 degrees.
1 NORTHEAST "L" OF LOW BARRACKS
As with much concerning the sad stones of the Alamo, controversy
surrounds this structure. I show only the partially ruined rear wall
of the northern end of the building. Some researchers think this may
have been all that remained of the original structure; that by this
time the rooms facing the Main Plaza would have been rebuilt in
jacale style: a rough, wood framework, adobe bricks, with a
slanting, thatched roof.
The best map we have, done in the field (it is dated Marzo de
1836) by Colonel Ygnacio de Labastida, has become the touchstone
for most serious students of the battle. Drawn by General Santa
Anna's Commander of Engineers for use during the siege, it is rather
elegant and remarkably small. Its delicate hues of pink, ochre, and
blue, its graceful calligraphy suggest a quaint pre-Monopoly board
game, to be played by well-mannered children with pastel colored
markers. Not so.
While some proportions are skewed, a few inconsistencies remain,
this handy little guide to splattered guts and burning corpses has
stood the ultimate test: archaeology. While the mythology of
the Alamo is indeed potent, it doesn’t mean a thing when you dig a
Another very important map is that of Colonel Jose Juan Sanchez
Navarro, who was General Cos' adjutant, both at the surrender of
Bexar (he signed the document) in December of 1835, and at the
recapture of the Alamo in March of 1836. It was drawn for his book,
La Guerra de Tejas, published a year after the battle. It has
some startling architectural peculiarities, but it is nonetheless
Both maps have "legends," but unlike Labastida's, Navarro's gives us
a brief account of the actual battle. His rendering is nearly as
crude as Labastida's is exquisite, but it identifies several
features in more detail.
So, to return to the "key" while Labastida shows this
northeast "L" as a solid rectangle and labels it, "Officers Quaters,"
Navarro indicates three interconnected rooms. The northern-most two
share what could be interpreted as a chimney, and both are labeled:
"kitchens." Although not shown in my painting, this "L" is connected
to a row of one-story buildings (facing south) and is referred to as
the Low Barracks. The main gate to the Alamo was located near the
center of this structure; the room to the west of the entrance
Navarro indicates as the "Guard House" (jail); the ones to the east
"Hospital." He goes on to say that it was in the hospital room
nearest the gate that "the braggart Santiago VVuy (James Bowie) died
without putting up resistance."
Poor Jim Bowie,
burnt out with disease, fever, and booze, became the principle
object of official Mexican scorn. Perhaps it was a back handed
compliment, for unlike Travis or Crockett, Bowie was an enemy from
within. By marrying Maria Ursula de Veramendi, the daughter of the
Vice Governor of Texas-Coahuila, he became part of the Bejareno
infrastructure that had been a thorn in the side to centralist
Mexico for decades. It was the death of his wife, their two
children, and her parents during a cholera epidemic in 1833, that
began Bowie's gradual decline. As messed-up as he was, it is
extremely doubtful that he engaged in the use of his famous cutlery
during the battle. If he did, the Mexicans neglect to mention it.
2 CANNON POSITION WEST WALL
Most representations of the Alamo defenses show the middle cannon
(or cannons) along the west wall mounted on tops of buildings or on
high platforms. This is improbable considering the amount of dirt
and rubble needed to support both the weapon and its crew. This
laborious method was employed by General Cos’ engineers to mount
cannon at both ends of the west wall, as well as the north wall, and
inside the Alamo church. Yet another position to the northeast was
built this way.
All of these required long ramps to place the cannon; no
alternatives existed. This was not true of the west wall. Although
it was by far the strongest, many of the dwellings along it had
fallen into ruin over the years preceding the battle. As there had
been westward facing windows through the wall, it would have been an
easy matter to convert the existing openings into cannon ports. Of
primary importance is that both Mexican mapmakers indicate cannon
through the west wall not over it.
Faithful to Labastida's indicated position, here I show a group of
soldiers attempting to wheel a cannon back from the gun-port and
turn it on the buildings along the Main Plaza.
3 TREVINO HOUSE
It is well to
remember that what was spoken of as "El Alamo" at the time of the
battle had already gone through three overlapping and interconnected
stages: the "Mission"; the "Military Outpost"; the "Fortress." Each
of these fed into the others.
The mission had been built very solidly in order to protect the
friars and their Indian converts from hostile tribes, especially the
Comanche who steadfastly remained unconvinced in the matter of
eternal salvation. So, it was these same stout walls (and their
strategic location) that made it ideal for a military outpost at a
time when Spain was shifting its emphasis from saving souls to
salvaging its empire.
Interestingly, during this period, the sacristy was still used by
the soldiers for holy services. But by the time of the battle, it
had finally become a true fortress. A godless, semi-ruin, controlled
by anyone strong enough to hold it; its main cannon position
mounted directly above the wall where the figure of Christ on the
Cross would have hung. It is fitting too, that the name “Alamo"
(Spanish for "cottonwood") does not derive from the graceful trees
growing along the San Antonio River (no imagery of peaceful
ascension need apply) but instead, from a "Flying Company" of wild,
tough cavalry men who splattered across the muddy Rio Grande in
Originally from San Carlos de Parras, their most recent post had
been Pueblo de San Jose y Santiago del Alamo. Officers took up
residence in the buildings along the Main Plaza, some obtained
title; Alejandro Trevino was one of these. As these dwellings were
originally part of the mission complex some basic assumptions can be
formed from early records substantiated by later maps.
The foundations of the houses along the west wall (shown in my
painting) all appear on the 1846 plan made by Lieutenant Edward
Everett, and evidence indicates that originally they formed a
continuous structure the entire length of the wall. They were built
of stone, consisting of three rooms to a house, had rear windows
through the thick wall, and windows and doors facing the Main Plaza.
Also, at an early time, a stone arcade stood in front of the
buildings. Here I show soldiers attempting to dislodge men holed up
in the two remaining rooms, the third (southernmost room) being
used as a cannon port. The defenders are firing through loopholes
drilled through the walls. The attackers are pinned down
momentarily, some hiding behind the bases of the crumbled arches,
others seeking refuge in the dried acequia.
4 SOUTH CASTENADA HOUSE
The intensity of
the fighting along these buildings was remarked on by all the
combatants. Each island of resistance was fiercely contested.
Confusion was compounded by the lack of visibility, the suddenness
of direct confrontation, no common language. Mexicans said that a
few of the Texans attempted to surrender by thrusting a sock or
handkerchief on a gun-barrel through a loop hole, then fire a volley
point-blank into the soldiers as they entered the smoke-choked room.
Such surrender attempts, feigned or otherwise, were doomed from the
moment Generalissimo Santa Anna had spilled his blood-red banner
down the wall of the bell tower of San Fernando Cathedral, twelve
Here I show a squad of soldiers battering the door of the
southernmost house, while a comrade (with raised musket) attempts to
rally others to the assault. The Labastida map indicates an
interesting architectural detail here. Apparently the western
portion of this house extended beyond the main wall by several feet.
The dwelling was further enlarged (eastward) by connecting it to
the stone arcade with adobe and placing doors in the arches. This is
indicated in a sketch made in 1848 by Captain Seth Eastman which
shows both the Trevino and South Castenada houses in a semi-ruined
5 CANNON POSITION WEST WALL
The cannon I show here has been positioned to fire through the
window of the collapsed north room. Beside it are three wounded
Texans battling for their lives, as musket fire from within the
building momentarily slows the attackers fighting their way down
6 PECAN TREE
One of the very few things regarding the Alamo that everyone agrees
on is the huge pecan tree standing outside the northwest corner of
the compound. It's on everybody's map.
7 GUN BATTERY NORTHWEST CORNER
While the Texans, spurred on by Major Green B. Jameson, a
29-year-old lawyer-turned-engineer (they were called "ensigns") did
what they could to improve the defenses of the Alamo (they hauled
the big 18-pounder down from the top of the church and placed it in
the southwest cannon position), they lacked the manpower, time,
expertise, and discipline to make any major improvements.
Indeed, how exactly was old Green B. (and green he was) going to
convince a bunch of ragged, truculent, and (as yet) unpaid,
volunteers, to dig ditches? It is safe to say that the main
fortifications, at the time of the final assault, had been built by
the Mexicans themselves during the fall of '35.
These were not slapdash efforts and were presumably built as closely
as possible to the standard specifications of the period. For the
raised cannon position shown here (10-12' high, 25' square), the
entire northernmost room of the north Castenada House would have
been filled with earth and rubble right up to the front of the
arcaded area. Two cannon were mounted on the platform, one faced
west, the other, north. This was designated by the Mexican's as a
Bateria atronedrada, meaning that it had embrasures that gave
some protection to the gun crews but limited maneuverability of the
cannons. Long, dirt-filled ramps were necessary to bring these heavy
guns and carriages up into position; the Labastida map shows them
In my painting I
portray a high-ranking Mexican officer directing soldiers to wheel
the northern cannon into position to fire into the upper story of
the Long Barracks.
8 TRUMPETER, FOURTH COLUMN
(Now that I've
walked you from 1 to 7, nearly halfway across the canvas, I beg your
indulgence to return again to the left margin, and once more proceed
from left to right, at a slightly lower level.)
dealing with digits, let's talk numbers. Mythology sure can play
hell with numbers. Of course all commanders tend to minimize their
losses, maximize those of their enemies. But as mythology has to
start somewhere, there's no better place to get the hairball rolling
than with somebody who was actually there.
I believe that with the Battle of the Alamo, it is Antonio Lopez de
Santa Anna, himself, who takes first prize in the category of
self-serving misinformation. In his report (right after the battle),
he indicated Mexican casualties at 70 killed, 300 wounded. He gave
the number of Texans killed as 600, over three times the number of
people who were there. Then, in his memoirs, (38 years later), he
recollects that over 1,000 of his troops were killed or wounded.
For sheer quantity however, nobody has topped citizen Pablo Diaz,
who recalled that 6,000 Mexicans out of a force of 10,000 were
A special prize
should go to the notoriously unreliable Sergeant Francisco Becerra,
who tallies in with 2,000 killed, 300 wounded. And these were all
eyewitnesses. As General Santa Anna didn't have much over 2,500
troops in Bexar at the time, and the assault group was composed of
about 1,400 men (with around 500 in reserve), it is easy for us to
see the absurdity of the previous numbers. Perhaps not so easy for
historians of an earlier age; they based their figures on primary
sources, did they not? We must all beware the self-serving primary
source informant that supports our own prejudices, and
preconceptions, yet, flies in the face of common sense.
Eyewitnesses lie too. And, of course, zeros can be tacked on
as well. Zealots love zeros. Statisticians are seldom obliged to
deal with the reality of torn flesh, rotting corpses.
In recent years a
consensus has emerged, and it is now generally agreed that the
Mexicans had around 400-600 killed and wounded. It might have been a
little lower, but due to the lack of medical personnel in Santa
Anna's Army, if you were wounded you were nearly as good as dead.
figure for the Texans (called Texians back then) is 183,
perhaps, a few more. The attackers' losses were severe, the
defenders' total. True to the period it all began and ended with a
series of staccato notes, torn from the lungs, blared across the
bitter cold field. The bugler, Pied Piper of Destruction, spewing
out spittle and rage: an invitation to madness.
Shown here, in my
painting, amidst the confused rush of soldiers moving up the Main
Plaza is a trumpeter (in a Cavalry helmet). He carries the short
bugle issued to light infantry units. The necessity for trumpet
calls to coordinate a night attack is obvious. 57 calls were common
to both infantry and cavalry; 4 special calls were used only by
Shortly before the
attack, Lieut. Col. Jose Enrique de la Pena recalled vividly: "Worn
out by fatigue and lack of sleep, I had just closed my eyes to nap
when my ears were pierced by this fatal note. A trumpeter of the
sappers (Jose Maria Gonzales) was the one who inspired us to scorn
life and welcome death.”
The "fatal note"
was that of an archaic cavalry call, a brutal remnant of the
Moorish wars in Spain: the Deguello. It comes from the verb
degollar: “to slit the throat." Thus the battle began.
9 LIEUTENANT COLONEL JUAN MORALES
When the assault began, the Alamo was charged from four directions
at once. To atone for his humiliating surrender to the Texas Army
in December, Gen. Cos (Santa Anna's brother-in-law) was awarded the
"position of most danger" and attacked with the 1st Column from the
northwest. Col. Duque, with the 2nd Column, charged the northeast
corner. These two columns were formed with elements from the
Battalions of Aldama, San Luis, Toluca, and numbered some 700 men.
Simultaneously, from the east, the 3rd Column led by Col. Romero,
charged with 300 men of the Battalions of Matamoros and Jimenez. The
4th Column, numbering slightly more than 100 men, the smallest by
far, attacked the south side of the Alamo.
The initial charge of these combined forces was met head on with
artillery, rifle, and musket fire and failed to penetrate the
defenses at any point. Of the 30 scaling ladders carried by the
attackers, not a single one was successfully placed. When Col. Duque was wounded (then nearly trampled to death by his own
soldiers), command of the 2nd Column fell to Gen. Manuel Fernandez
There is mention in most of the Alamo texts of a second and even
third charge, but under the circumstances what probably happened may
well be likened to the movement of waves against a promontory: the
first crest hitting solidly, then sluicing back, swirling and
tumbling again toward the rock that was the Alamo. The 1st and 2nd
columns joining in a surge against the northwestern corner, the 3rd
scudding violently to the north and west, mixing with the turbulent
mass of the other two columns, all pounding along the length of the
north wall. As water seeks blindly for the weakest point the
soldiers in the front ranks were dashed forward against the wall
carried by the motion of those behind.
Santa Anna had now committed the reserves, another 400 or more
souls adding to the press of bodies, until, amidst the roiling mass
the weak spot was finally found: an uncompleted revetment, logs
placed horizontally to strengthen a section near the northeast gun
platform. It served as a crude ladder, and though the first who
gained the top were surely killed by the defenders, more and more
followed and then the Mexicans flowed inside.
There are no known accounts of the 4th Column south of the fort
during the attack. In retrospect, Navarro (on his map), considered
the palisade area connecting the church and the Low Barracks as the
weakest part of the fortification. There is, however, no evidence
that any Mexican troops entered through this position.
the initial charge, well directed fire from the 12-pounder and
riflemen behind the stockade caused Morales to think otherwise. The
other main obstacle to entry was the ground level battery (called a
tambour), the enclosed defensive position outside the Main Gate. Two
cannon (probably 4-pounders) were in place here, one facing south,
one facing east, connected by a trench.
Recent ('88) excavations indicate that this "U" shaped position
extended much farther from the fort than previously thought. A
shako plate found in the dig is from a unit (Morelos) not present at
the battle, but stationed in Bexar in the fall of '35, implies that
this fortification, too, was built by the Mexicans. The fact that
the trenches were dug in such a way as to provide a near-perfect
field of enfilading fire (to the area in front of the palisade)
The new dig raises many interesting questions. Now that we know the
battery extended that far from the Main Gate (over 50 feet) the
cannon crews would have been acting as "listening posts." Yet, no
warning was given prior to the first charge. My guess is that
there were not only no cannoneers out there on the morning of March
6th, there weren't any cannons either. What seems likely, is
that the cannons would have been in place during the day but
withdrawn inside the Main Gate at night. If the men of the 4th
Column had captured this lethal ordinance they could have easily
blown the South Gate to bits. They didn't. They didn't because there
weren't any cannon there.
The new dig fails
to indicate signs of fighting at the position. But what Morales (and
Jose Minon, his second-in-command) did do that morning prefigured
wars to come. As light infantry they probably did not charge in
ranks, thus frustrating riflemen along the roof of the Low barracks
(and elsewhere) whose superior accuracy was already greatly
hampered by darkness. Even if they had, when the 4th column angled
off towards the west, a scattering of black figures racing through
the moonlight, they would soon have been out of range of fire from
the palisade position, and extremely hard to hit from anywhere along
the lightly manned south wall. It is also possible that they then
"embraced the enemy" (a tactic used successfully by the VC and NVA
in Viet Nam), got close enough to the wall to render the south
cannon, high up in the church, useless (in that it would kill more
defenders than attackers), as useless as the 18-pounder at the
southwest corner had already become. Maybe.
Virtually all we have to go by is Ramon Martinez Caro's (Santa
Anna's secretary) terse statement: "On the opposite side (to the
south), where there was another entrance to the enemy's stronghold,
the resistance was equally stubborn, but Colonels Juan Morales and
Jose Minon, commanding the attacking column, succeeded in overcoming
it." It remains a mystery just how, and where, they entered the
fort, but it was after the breakthrough on the north wall, at
which time the tide of the battle shifted disastrously against the
The riddle of the south wall doesn't affect my painting, and by
great good fortune the uniform coat worn by Morales during the
battle is one of the very few personal artifacts to have survived.
Ironically, it is on display at the San Jacinto Battlefield Museum,
a battle in which he did not fight.
10 DRUMMER BOY 4th COLUMN
I admit to including this figure with out much other reason than to
highlight the insanity of war. Drummer boys were depicted copiously
in paintings of the period, almost always much smaller than the
others, in their bright red coatees with black collars and cuffs.
They often seem to be kneeling and listening to someone's last
words. Come to think of it, I've never seen a painting with a
dead drummer boy in it. Perhaps it was against the rules to kill
Anyway, I've been fascinated by the sound of drums since a child and
played wretched bass-drum (very briefly) in the Bedford Junior High
School Marching Band. Indeed battles then, and occasionally even
now, include something vaguely resembling music. Then, of course,
there are those other sounds.
That early morning at the Alamo, De la Pena
remembered them well: "The sharp report of rifles, the whistling of
bullets, the groans of the wounded, the cursing of the men, the
sighs and anguished cries of the dying, the arrogant harangues of
the officers, the noise of the instruments of war, and the
inordinate shouts of the attackers...the shouting (of the Texans)
was no less loud and from the beginning had pierced our ears with
desperate cries of alarm in a language we did not understand." John
Phillip Sousa's sprightly martial ditties seem to skip right over
11 LIGHT INFANTRY
One of the binds historical painters find themselves in is that
reality seldom goes by the rules. Before I discuss this fallen
soldier, a little background is in order.
Morales' 4th Column was formed from the Scouting
Companies of the Permanent Battalions, Matamoros, and Jimenez, and
the Active Battalion San Luis. These were casadores. The French
called them chasseurs; the British called them light infantry.
In 1775 when the British troops reeled back towards Boston, smarting
from their humiliating defeat at the North Bridge in Concord, it was
their light infantry, ranging out on the flanks in advance of the
main force, beating the bush, sometimes razing houses, taking the
occasional prisoner, shooting the occasional prisoner, that
got them back to the barracks.
During the Civil War these troops were often called "skirmishers."
They were picked men, used for reconnaissance operations when speed
and mobility were at a premium. In the year prior to the battle of
the Alamo, the Mexican high command was sufficiently aware of the
need for such an energetic corps that they had a new uniform
designed. It dispensed with the scarlet collar, cuffs, and coat
tails of the regular infantry uniform, retaining only the red trim,
against an otherwise blue uniform. Just how many of these new
outfits were worn by the men in the 4th Column is open to question.
As there was always a lag between regulations and field usage, the
new uniform may well have been the exception.
This particular private did not live long enough to receive the new
issue. He is also barefoot, in itself a direct disobedience of Gen.
Santa Anna's General Orders: "The troops will wear shoes or
12 BAKER RIFLE
Until recently there was no positive proof that the weapon shown
here was used in the battle of the Alamo. The development of the
light infantry uniform suggested that it may well have been.
That it was listed in the field equipment of Gen. Nicolas Bravo,
(who became commander of the "Second Army" after Santa Anna's defeat
and capture at San Jacinto in April) reinforced a strong
Then, just a year before the sesquicentennial, the final evidence
was, literally, unearthed. Excavations for a building project in
downtown San Antonio revealed one of the Mexican’s south artillery
positions. Among the treasure trove of artifacts was Baker
paraphernalia. One of the first rifles produced for use by the
military, it was designed by the English inventor/gunsmith, Ezekiel
Baker, and used by British troops both at Waterloo, and the Battle
of New Orleans.
Shorter and lighter than most smoothbore weapons of the period, its
50" barrel was rifled to give it an effective range up to 200 yards.
Although retired from use by the British army in 1837, it was used
by the Mexicans during the war with the United States, (1846-48).
Its most distinctive feature was its splendid sword-style bayonet
with a 22 1/2" blade. It was issued to preferred companies of granaderos (grenadiers) as well as light infantry.
While an improvement over the musket, the Baker did have some
peculiarities. Its muzzle blast sometimes blew the bayonet right
off the barrel.
13 "THE VETERANS"
Working on a single painting for two years or more, it is hard not
to become personally involved with the inhabitants of the world you
are creating. These three cazadores became "the veterans" to me.
While all hell has broken loose they manage to hold concentration,
maintain communication, function as a team.
The soldier on the left is a one-time cavalryman, who by decree (May
1835) was among those reformed into light infantry. These men were
allowed to retain the impressive (and expensive) headgear of their
former branch of service. Probably a matter of unit pride in tandem
with sound economics.
Standing next to this Indio (Indian), a grizzled Mestizo (mixed
blood) points out a likely target (shoot the officers!) while beside
him a Black soldier loads his musket for his own next shot. They all
wear the new uniform.
14 LOW WALL
One of the most intriguing architectural mysteries I was forced to
deal with in the painting was the low wall that separated the area
directly in front of the church from the Main Plaza. It surely
existed, but I have not found a single Mexican account of the battle
that mentions it. As it is shown on all the maps one can only assume
that it was of little military significance. It was probably less
than four feet in height and was made of limestone.
Its purpose may
well have been to keep stray livestock from wandering into the
church yard (and the church itself), and might have served briefly
as a defensive position for both sides. Its gate was not in the
middle as is usually shown, but at the northern end (as indicated by
Labastida, and very clearly by Mary Maverick in her 1839
Among the most startling aspects of the battle is that when the
attack finally came, the troops inside the Alamo, were, almost to a
man as1eep. At 11:00 pm the preceding night, Gen. Santa Anna ordered
a cessation of fire from all the batteries. During the siege the
Mexican cannon and howitzers had done minimal damage but the
shelling never let up for very long. It had gone on for eleven days
and nights, and when it wasn't artillery, bugles blared, soldiers
hooted and hollered, and bands played. All of this had taken its
toll on the defenders.
discouraged, exhausted, it is not hard to imagine their reaction
when the lull finally came; sleep, however fitful, could not but
creep up on them during the long night. Ironically it was not the
bugles that first roused some of them, but the shouting of Mexican
soldiers just prior to the charge. The lookouts posted outside the
fort gave no warning. Whether they were killed silently before the
attack or overrun while they slept is not known. The bedding and
effects I show along the low wall is that of Tennessee Mounted
Volunteers near their gun position along the palisade, but out of
the cold north wind.
In contrast to my three "veterans" the vast majority of the troops
who assaulted the Alamo were woefully lacking in experience with
firearms of any kind. This was due to a variety of factors including
their backgrounds, lack of training, and the financial woes that
plagued the army from start to finish. You might say that the group
of soldiers shown here are engaged in "on the job training."
As inexperienced troops in combat usually fire high, this group is
doing rather well. Afterwards, some of the officers complained that
the men were issued too much ammunition, and the following
description of the fighting (De la Pena) gives a good indication
why: "The tumult was great, the disorder was frightful...different
groups of soldiers were firing in all directions on their comrades
and on officers, so that one was as likely to die by a friendly hand
as by an enemy's."
17 ASSAULT ON THE LONG BARRACKS
Massed troops of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd columns are shown here
directing their fire into Texan positions along the west side of the
Long Barracks. The building was well fortified and consisted of a
number of rooms, each of which was bitterly contended. Behind this
sprawl of soldiers is the extreme western end of the north wall, the
section where the initial breakthrough occurred. Parts of the wall
were apparently as low as seven feet, and almost all of it was in
The Mexican engineers had worked on it the previous fall, the
defenders before and even during the siege. As late as March 4th,
Navarro speaks of "...the sound of hammers and great vulgarities."
Out of view (behind the Long Barracks, in my painting) was the
north gun battery commanded by Col. William Barrett Travis. Called
the "Fortin de Teran,” Labastida indicates three cannon in this
position, Navarro shows two. It was probably very similar to the
raised battery I show on the northwest corner. Travis was killed
directing fire from the northern position during the first charge.
18 SOUTH END OF THE LONG BARRACKS
If you have visited the Alamo you have seen the lower portion of
this building. The southern section was the only two-story
structure at the time of the battle. Segments of it are probably the
oldest surviving parts of the original mission. It had been the
friar’s quarters, with a granary at its northern end. It may have
continued in a long series of rooms, all the way to the north wall.
The maps disagree on this. Navarro draws it this way; Labastida
indicates a break. Neither, the '39 Maverick watercolor or the '45
drawing by Lieut. J. Edmund Blake shows its entire length. The main
entrance to the compound east of the Long Barracks (referred to as a
"corral") was through an arch in the adjoining one-story building
to the north of the one I show here. There was at least one, and
possibly two, cannon mounted on a raised platform along the fence
toward the east. These, as well as those mounted high up in the
church, would have been encountered by Romero's 3rd column in the
initial charge, but none of this can be seen from the viewpoint
shown in my painting.
Besides the three boarded up windows, the end of the Long Barracks
also had a door which is hidden behind the Mexican soldier in the
foreground. The angle of pockmarked bullet damage to the lower
section of the entrance to the church indicate fire from the upper
story of the barracks and suggest that it may have been one of the
last defenses to fall.
19 SUB-LIEUTENANT JOSE MARIA TORRES
On the top of the
barracks, kneeling behind a low parapet, a young Mexican officer
enacts one of the deadliest rituals of war. Flags were then, and
continue to be, powerful symbols. The flag raising on Iwo Jima
remains an icon for a whole generation; the taunting presence of the
Vietcong banner over the Citadel during the battle for Hue summed up
the frustration of an entire nation. Imagine then, the potency of
flags actually carried into battle, bitterly contested, captured and
Lieut. Torres of the zapadores ("sappers" or engineers) in the
Permanent Battalion Jimenez with the 2nd Column, succeeded in
reaching a flag mounted on the roof, tearing it down, and replacing
it with his own unit's battle flag. I show him lashing it to the
pole (under the circumstances this would have been the quickest and
Two other soldiers were said to have been killed in the attempt; he
was immediately wounded. Legend has it that it was the blue banner
brought to the Alamo by the New Orleans Greys, the only known flag
surviving to this day. To me this seems unlikely. Two knowledgeable
friends examined the actual flag in Mexico, and while faded and
crumbling, it is untouched by a single bullet hole. The flag that
was pulled down may well have been the one that Travis had bought on
his way to the Alamo for $5. As for young Torres, he died of his
wounds soon after the battle was over.
20 "WALL OF SORROWS"
The wall connecting the south end of the Long Barracks to the
northernmost room in the church may have been the interior northern
wall of the original church begun on the site in 1728. Designed by
the Franciscan Padre, Jose Gonzales and built with more faith than
expertise, the church collapsed within ten years.
Some of the
architectural details suggest this possibility. Pencil drawings made
by the painter Theodore Gentilz, around 1848, clearly show the
broken-off plaques along the top. Since there was no reason to
invent them, they must have been there on a wall that was once much
higher. These scroll-like dedications are common to early Spanish
churches but are found on the inside, not the out.
Another clue is the extremely low height of the arched passage
through the wall. This little gate was sketched in '48 by Capt. Seth
Eastman, but from the opposite side of the wall. If the "first
church" theory is correct this low passage could well have led to
the baptistry. Another intriguing oddity (even today, in its
rebuilt form) is that the wall is not quite at a 45-degree angle
from the alcove that joins it to the church. Both Gentilz's sketches
and early U.S. Army photographs reveal a long diagonal crack in the
wall (to the right of the gate) as if a portion of it had been
Whatever, the mission begun over a century earlier had been plagued
by disasters from first to last.
It was somewhere
along this wall between the church and the west corner of the Long
Barracks, that the Texans taken prisoner at the end of the battle
were executed on the direct order of Santa Anna. The blood of these
men, slain on this small area in front of the church, mixing with
that of the Mexican soldiers, Texans, Tejanos, killed or wounded in
the fighting, soaked into what once had been consecrated ground:
this was the Alamo cemetery.
21 BATTLE LENGTH, TIME, WEATHER
The equation I made earlier regarding "number killed-equals-heroism
displayed" has its direct corollary in the length of the battle. A
good example is the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Custer's
partisans (and apologists) maintained the fight went on for hours;
therefore, Custer and his men fought on bravely until the ammunition
ran out; the Indians weren't all that impressive; and, most
important, Reno and Benteen had plenty of time to go to Custer's
aid, but didn't, out of cowardice. We now know that the battle
lasted about 45 minutes.
Amazingly, with the Alamo, Santa Anna wanted it both ways. In his
official report he states: "Victory accompanies the Mexican Army at
this very moment, 8 o'clock in the morning, it has just gained the
most complete and glorious one in history." Here, the battle is two
and a half to three hours long (370 Mexicans killed and wounded, 600
"foreigners" killed). Then in his memoirs, almost 40 years later,
the battle has become four hours long, and there are now over a
thousand Mexicans killed and wounded.
I should add that this method of creative calculation is not unique
to Generalissimos. One of the first books I read when I began my
research for the painting was T.R. Fehrenbach's Lone Star, which
provides the following information: “At nine o’clock, March 6, 1836,
five hours after it began, the assault was over.” Then, in the very
next paragraph: “In all, there were nearly 1,600 Mexican dead.”
Is "nearly" meant
to mean, "give or take a thousand?" Well, he got the date right
anyway. Nobody's perfect. Walter Lord comes the closest in A Time to
Stand: "It started a little after 5am, was over by 6:30."
One of the few things (beside the pecan tree) about the battle
people seem to agree on is the weather. It was cold. Gen. Santa
Anna's interpreter, Col. Juan Nepomuceno Almonte's diary records
temperatures (usually for both daybreak and noon) and mentions
weather conditions everyday from February 26 right up to the battle.
The pattern that emerges is very chilly at night (middle thirties),
up to as high as sixty degrees by noon, with wind mostly out of the
I was quite surprised on my first visit to San Antonio, March 6,
1983, that on a day that made it into the seventies, at 7:00 am, I
could see little puffs of exhale. A few days later the night was
spent in Bracketville, at the "Wayneamo." Keeping in mind that the
movie set faces east not west, I wandered around making notes on
visibility, etc. At 5:00 am I wrote: "thin bright moon...shadows
surprisingly defined, stars bright."
Since then I've learned that according to the U.S. Naval
Laboratories "...moonrise occurred on March 5, 1836, at 9:09 P.M.
Central Standard Time...The date was four days after full moon...
During the period between 3:00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M. the phase of the
moon was 88% full.” Unfortunately for the Mexicans there was cloud
cover during the time it took to assemble the troops and move across
the river for the deployment of the four columns. De la Pena writes:
"The moon was up, but the density of the clouds that covered it
allowed only opaque light in our direction."
Santa Anna's General Orders had forbidden the men to carry overcoats
or blankets. They were in position by 3:30 am, and if the attack had
been called at 4:00 as specified the cold would not have been too
bad. But it was postponed. Nobody knows exactly why. Perhaps the
best guess is that the clouds started to break-up creating increased
If so, this unforeseen factor would have been almost entirely to the
advantage of the Texan artillery. During the long wait the Alamo
must have been a dreadful sight to the Mexicans lying in the
freezing fields: still as a beckoning tomb; bright deathly pale
where it caught the moon: ink-black where it was swallowed by
Many of the officers had opposed the assault,
preferring to wait for the two heavy cannon that were expected to
arrive on the 7th. Among these were Castrillon (who assumed command
of the 2nd Column after Duque was hit), Romero (who led the 3rd) and
even Cos (1st Column "Position of Greatest Danger”), was
perfectly willing to wait. Now, they were scattered over the frozen
ground, huddled in the cold as time dragged on.
4:15. Santa Anna, back at the command
post, drinking cup after cup of black coffee; was he still in the
same foul mood as earlier?
4:30. Well, they had wanted to wait.
5:00. Nothing... until some of the
soldiers could take nothing any longer and the boldest began to
shout "Viva Santa Anna!” Until enough joined in "VIVA SANTA ANNA!"
and the trumpeters were forced to signal the attack.
And, Capt. Jose Juan Sanchez Navarro, who had
closed his diary the day before with "General Cos commands the first
column, he has commanded me to be at its head. God help us all!!"
would open it again on the day of the battle and comment dryly, "By
6:30 there was no more enemy."
How much longer the assault would have been
delayed had not the freezing soldiers begun their bellowing we'll
never know, but on two of the three mornings I made sketches -- it
was bitterly cold. Once it seemed almost as if the water was
beginning to freeze under my brush. On all three mornings, even the
one at the "Wayneamo" when it was only slightly chilly, I observed
clouds similar to the ones I show, always drifting slowly to the
In my painting, directly above the low arched
gate, is where the North Star would have appeared. I had placed far
fewer stars in the sky until I drove from Victoria back up to
San Antonio (at the appropriate time) and was amazed at what I saw.
On those mornings while I was sketching out in the open, I
tried to put myself into the shoes (boots, sandals) of the men who
were in the field before the assault, but it was simply not
possible. The intense cold was the only thing we had in
common...that, and the ghostly little puffs of breath, those
fleeting insignias of life.
22 JOHN / ALAMO FACADE
It is no longer a surprise to anyone who has done a little current
reading on the Alamo to find that the famous "headboard" silhouette
did not exist until more than a decade after the battle. Indeed, it
was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that "Taco-Belled" the church
in 1850. The building itself was a roofless semi-ruin long before
the battle occurred.
What did prove a revelation to me, as I got deeper into the
research, was the existence of a black slave known only as "John,"
who was killed in the defense of the Alamo. John is not listed on
the marble monument in the Alamo Plaza.
He belonged to
Capt. John Desauque who came to Texas from Louisiana. A merchant
living in Bexar, Desauque, was the second messenger (Bonham was the
first) sent out from the fort on the 23rd of February, the day the
Mexicans entered the town. Travis' slave (he was 23), Joe, is
quite well known, having been spared by Santa Anna after the battle
and later giving testimony regarding it.
The whole issue of slavery was a source of friction between the
Mexican government and the Anglo settlers, and it is interesting to
note that in the John Wayne film this is not so much side-stepped as
sugar coated. Joe, Travis' slave, is played by a child; Bowie's
slave, a fictional character called "Jethro" is awarded his
"freedom" before the battle and elects to stay. It is unlikely that
John was awarded this precious gift when his master rode out of the
Alamo on the 23rd. But he did stay; and he was killed.
I show him loading a musket among the defenders firing from
positions along the ruined choir loft.
It was not until after my painting had appeared in the March, '86
issue of Smithsonian that I became convinced that statues of
saints were still in place in the upper niches of the facade during
the battle. For me, the clincher is a watercolor drawing of the
front of the church made in 1841 by an English born "scientific
observer," Thomas Falconer. It is the only early sketch made from a
view slightly to the left-center of the building. It clearly shows
two statues above, none in the lower spaces.
In my judgment there would have been no cause to have replaced
statuary (after the battle) in what was essentially a crumbling
ruin. Even less so at a time when the local citizenry was removing
pieces of fallen masonry for their personal use. I now believe there
is a distinct possibility that the headless statue on display in the
Long Barracks Museum was one of the saints shown in Falconer’s
drawing. The proportion (if it had a head) matches exactly, and its
forward pitch indicates that it was carved to compensate for viewing
from below. The reproduction in Smithsonian has no saints; the
painting (and print) does.
Misfortune was the handmaiden of the Alamo from the very beginning.
The first baptism (in the original adobe church on the other side of
the river), May 1st, 1717, was that of a dying child. This chapel
was eventually destroyed by a hurricane, followed by an epidemic in
which the number of mission Indians were reduced, in the secular
sense, ("reduction" was also the official church term indicating
conversion to the Faith), from 300 to 184. Their flock diminished,
the tough old friars began again in 1728, on the present site; with
stone this time.
Built with more faith than expertise, it collapsed soon after its
completion, ten years later. It was begun again in 1744, and more or
less, is the church we know today. The date on the keystone over the
chapel entrance, 1758, probably refers to the year the facade was
completed. However, Padre Mariano Viana reported in 1762, that the
newly built church had collapsed once again. Surely he must have
meant just the roof. I hope so.
Anyway, for me, the carved stone work of the facade, the twisting
columns, the twining flowers and leaves, meant to be light and
graceful, have an odd sense of weight that speaks not of salvation,
but of infinite sorrow. Go to the Alamo, in the middle of the night
sometime. It is then the sad, fierce dignity of this ravaged beauty
explodes in the consciousness. Perhaps God himself once tumbled the
stones, stripped off each successive roof, the better to see
directly into the heart of man. He has forsaken it now. The ghosts
25 NEW ORLEANS GREYS
It is interesting to note that none of the nineteen N.O. Greys who
died defending the Alamo was a native of Louisiana. Three were born
in England, two were from Germany, one came from Ireland. Nor were
they all young firebrands caught up in the first flush of patriotic
fervor. Robert B. Moore, born in Virginia, raised in Arkansas, was
the oldest man to die in the battle. He was 55 years old and he was
The uniform worn by Moore and his fellow
volunteers (so far as can be reconstructed) was a grey, snug
fitting, waist-length jacket with a high collar, quite likely
surplus military gear left over from the War of 1812. Head gear was
a long-visored, wide topped, floppy soft cap with threads emanating
from a central button on top. The type of weapons brought with them
to the Alamo remain unknown.
26 PRIVATE GREGORIO SPARZA (TEJANO)
One of the twenty Tejano (Mexican) defenders of the Alamo,
Esparza was among the eight who died in the battle. The rest,
including their commander Col. Juan Seguin, were dispatched as
messengers. I show Esparza priming a double-barreled shotgun, then
as now, a much favored weapon for close combat.
directed one of the artillery pieces up in the church, by the time
all the attacking columns had penetrated the compound, these cannons
would have been useless. He had good reason to be where I place him;
his wife and four children were behind him inside the church. They
were among those spared by Santa Anna after the battle.
One of the Tejanos,
Brigido Guerrero, 26, escaped execution by convincing his captors
that he had been a captive all along; he'd been in the Alamo jail
during the fighting. According to Esparza’s brother Francisco (a
soldier in the Mexican army), Gregorio was the only defender to be
allowed burial in the town cemetery. If so, the burial was not
recorded by the parrish priest. The rest were stacked like cordwood
and burned. It is entirely possible that most of the Mexican army
dead were burned as well. The stench was said to be close to
27 PRIVATE JOHN W. THOMSON
Although born in Virginia, Thomson (31) grew up in North Carolina
and did not arrive in Texas until January of 1836. As were most of
the men shown in the foreground of my painting, he was a member of
the Tennessee Mounted Volunteers. This diverse group is often
assumed to have come west under the leadership of the famous "Davy"
Crockett, when in fact, he joined them in Nacogdoches, on their way
to the Alamo.
Also, concerning Thomson's manner of dress,
it is my firm belief (backed up by contemporary sketches) that the
clothing of most of the defenders of the Alamo has been badly
misrepresented in practically all depictions of the battle. While
the use of buckskin was common in Texas during the period, it was
used mainly as a substitute for cloth and cut accordingly.
The "cowboy-cum-mountain man" look is
largely a fabrication of the mythmakers. Part of the reason for this
lies in the fact that the actuality of common dress is most
unappealing to the modern eye. The style of the 1830's has been
summed up as “rather effeminate and extremely unpicturesque.” The
slightly ludicrous towering-necked, tight-shouldered tailcoat,
combined with snug, high-waisted pants that ballooned out over the
hips only to be narrowed down at the ankles, was the norm.
Top hats were not
“Sunday-go-to-meeting” finery, they were used for everyday wear (as
the fedora would be a century later): indeed, the "cowboy" would not
be a reality for several decades, and the actual mountain men of the
period had a distinct inclination to take a right turn when they
reached the Missouri River. John Thomson was a doctor. While he'd
been in Texas only a little over a month, he'd come to stay. His
ashes would rise, then settle again, in Bexar.
28 CAPTAIN WILLIAM B. HARRISON
A native of Ohio, at 25, he was in command of the so-called
During the 1977 excavations in the palisade area, a trench several
feet inside the stockade line was discovered. It was about three
feet wide and deep. Its exact purpose is unknown but may have been
dug to provide fill for the central gun platform or to build a
raised "step" for the riflemen.
30 PRIVATE RICHARD L. STOCKTON
Born in Virginia, Stockton rode west with the Tennessee Mounted
Volunteers and at eighteen was probably the youngest of the 18 men
that came along.
31 CANNON PLATFORM
Located in the center of the stockaded wall, it was about three feet
high and would have been wide enough, and sufficiently deep to
maneuver a heavy cannon. One of the major errors found in most
portrayals of the battle is a quartette of 4-pounders spaced out
along this position. This assumption (which goes against the best
evidence, and common sense as well) probably originated with Reuben
Marmaduke Potter's seminal (1860) writings on the fall of the Alamo.
Although he visited the site as early as 1841, all the standing
walls had been destroyed by the Mexican army on their retreat after
San Jacinto. It is extremely unlikely that he ever saw either the
Labastida or Navarro maps both of which clearly show one large
cannon in the center of the palisade. The possibility of Texans
adding more cannons in that area is most unlikely, as they lacked
powder, ball, and manpower to sufficiently handle those already in
Another common mistake made by painters, illustrators, filmmakers,
etc., is to show hordes of Mexican soldiers pouring through this
section of the defenses late in the battle. Most likely none came
through at all. In fact Navarro indicates quite the opposite: "At
this point a few colonists attempted in vain to escape when they saw
all was lost."
Historical paintings tend to focus on the leader of the battle,
usually the highest ranking officer. In the old days this is quite
understandable as the work was often commissioned by the officer
himself, his government, or his heirs. Sometimes fellow officers
went so far as to offer the painter substantial sums of money to be
included in the canvas. Ah, those were the good old days! Benjamin
West's splendid The Death of Wolfe shows eight of them
standing about as the good General breathes his last, while only
three were actually present. Since my painting was neither
requested, commissioned, nor funded, I have not had this problem.
Therefore, for better or worse, I have chosen to honor the common
soldier and have left this private and his Mexican counterpart
In my song, The Alamo, I allow myself the line: "As the
bloody tide, it swept inside/ it was fighting hand-to-hand/ bayonet
with Bowie-knife met/ as each man took his stand." As befits the
nature of song I've taken several liberties with fact: this man's
knife would more likely have been the more practical Green River
"butcher" I show here. Jim Bowie's famous knife didn't become wide
spread until after the fall of the Alamo, when it was produced in
large quantities in England for the American trade.
33 PRIVATE MICAJAH AUTREY
In much the same way the trio of Mexicans along the Low Wall became
"the veterans," this figure entered my consciousness as "the
When I was first working on the painting in Provo, Utah, wrestling
with its immensity (in a crumbling building thick with old Mormon
ghosts), he just kind of appeared. He was not in any of the
preliminary sketches. He alone (of the foreground figures) confronts
the deadly chaos in the Plaza. Not long before, over a 14-month
period, I lost my brother, then my father, and finally, my mother.
In that time I had gone from youngest son to patriarch of the
family. It was a hard time. I was helped through the deaths by my
partner, Shari, my kids, relatives, friends, still a part of us is
always alone at such a time. And in the act of painting one is
always totally alone. Only now do I realize that in this figure I
was shifting the burden, transferring my pain. He became the Witness
to Death; he took the heat. Only later did I connect him with Micajah Autrey. For Micajah seemed a failure at everything except
the ability to believe; that and the gift to love.
He believed in Beauty (with a capital "B");
he played the violin; sketched; he wrote poetry. Born in 1794, of
wealthy parents in Samson County, North Carolina, the world seemed
his for the asking. But nothing seemed to work. He moved his beloved
family to Tennessee, but nothing worked there either. He tried
teaching, he tried business, but failure dogged him right down the
line. He had about run out of things to believe in when he heard
about Texas. In Nacogdoches, on his way to the Alamo he finished a
letter to his wife: "P.S. Colonel Crockett has just joined our
company." which makes it pretty clear who joined who.
Micajah was 43 years old when he died. I show
him wearing a linsey-woolsey hunting coat, and a "hickory shirt"
(Buck Travis had two of these), with a bota (Canteen made from a
gourd) at his side. It is fitting that as the deadline to finish the
painting bore down on me (it took three years), two of those who
helped me during the deaths in my family, Shari, and my daughter
Caitlin, picked up brushes and helped me finish the damn painting,
including the figure of Micajah; the man who loved and believed:
34 PRIVATE PETER JAMES BAILEY
Bailey came to Texas with three friends, all from Logan County,
Kentucky: "BAM" Thomas, William Furtleroy, and "Jo" Washington. He
was 24, married (with a son by his second wife), and a lawyer.
History tells us there were already too many lawyers in Texas by
1836, and history has a way of repeating itself, don't it now?
Anyway, Bailey, being an out-of-work lawyer, and not able to afford
his own weapons, is carrying one that directly confronts the myth
that the Battle of the Alamo was a "duel" between the Kentucky
(Pennsylvania) long rifle and the Mexican (British) musket.
Undoubtedly, during the 12-day siege the accuracy of the long rifle
was used to advantage, but nonetheless, it could not prevent the
Mexican troops from moving their artillery-pieces closer and closer
to the fort. When the assault finally came there is no doubt that
some of the 500 3rd Model Brown Bess muskets, surrendered by Cos in
December, were put to good use. One is not so much aiming as
pointing, when firing rapidly against massed troops charging through
De la Pena comes up with the clincher: "The first to climb (the
wall) were thrown down by bayonets already waiting for them behind
the parapet...” If anyone has ever seen a bayonet mounted on a long
rifle he has kept it a pretty good secret.
35 COLONEL DAVID CROCKETT
It's not the mythical "Davy" that concerned me in my quest for a
true painting of the battle. Not the easiest of undertakings as
Crockett had become a legend even before he reached the Alamo. He
truly had, in abundance, the abilities and strengths of that tough
breed that felt hemmed-in when the nearest cabin was 40 miles away.
He also had the intelligence, wit, and gift-of-gab that could
infuse such an existence with a kind of rugged grace. It's not
surprising that this, along with his tenacity, physical courage, and
cunning, led him from the “Wild Frontier” of Western Tennessee, to
the even wilder one of Washington, D.C.
To assume that his political career consisted of being used by
President Jackson and the Democrats, only to be betrayed by them,
subsequently to be canonized by the rival Whigs (then dumped when he
lost his power base) is being simplistic. Crockett was an ambitious
man; he was using them too. Politics is a dirty job, but somebody
has to do it. Still, Crockett proved ill-suited to the calling. He
actually had integrity, ideals, a true heart, qualities that
all but doomed him in the profession of his choice. But he was
hooked, and indeed, "Davy" had become bigger than life.
When the eastern vein was played out, Texas was the obvious choice.
Here was a new land, one where people were still making up the
rules. And if Sam Houston was in Jackson's back pocket, Sam wasn't
in the catbird's seat yet. David might be flat broke but he still
had the ability to cajole, enlist, and lead. Houston had a legend
too, but "Davy's" might well whip any legend on the block. It held
him in good stead on his trip west. At the Alamo, when Colonel
Crockett was offered command, he wisely turned it down. His own
term, that he just wanted to be a "high-private," is a minor
masterpiece of populist politics. But in the chill dawn, when the
notes of the Deguello sliced through the air, nothing
mattered except that he and the other "Tennessee Boys" were
responsible for the defense of the cannon position along the
And they apparently defended it well, forcing Morales' 4th Column to
shift further to the west. What a moment that must have been.
Shock would have been the primary reaction, that, and confusion.
Both within and without the fort, people stumbling about in the
darkness, assessing casualties, and trying to maintain
communication. This lull could not have lasted long. Any brief
euphoria the Texans may have had drained quickly as through the
clogged smoke to the north, they saw the enemy massing to surge
And when they finally gained the wall and poured over it "like
sheep" (as the slave, Joe, described it), pandemonium must have
exploded in the northern Plaza. And when it did, a double
responsibility fell to the men along the palisade position.
Still, alert to a renewed attack from the south, they now became the
left flank against a frontal assault on the church. After the
Mexicans were in the Main Plaza in force, the Texans took up
secondary positions within the building, elements of the 4th Column
swiftly gained the fort as well.
It is not long after this moment, when Morales and his men have
started to merge with the other columns, that I have chosen to
portray. The units are becoming hopelessly mixed by now. If the
fighting (after the Mexicans had entered the fort) lasted half an
hour (as stated by Navarro), this scene would have occurred about
mid-way in that time span.
As I interpret it, a few soldiers have come over the Low Wall, but
the majority are simply returning the fire from the defenders in
front of the chapel. No final assault has begun, but the situation
is desperate enough for Crockett to order a withdrawal (Harrison is
hit and is dying) from the cannon position. He is shouting to the
men still by the gun to fall back and take new positions.
With the Mexicans massing toward their front further defense of the
palisade became useless. I have painted Crockett dressed in a warm
coat with capes and a fur cap with a short brim. David Crockett
never mentioned wearing a coonskin cap in his entire life, and the
only verifiable contemporary quote (of his wearing one) is that of a
reporter in Memphis, as he left for Texas. It is interesting to note
that this bit of reportage appeared in a Whig newspaper that had
been pumping up the "Davy" legend ever since his break with the
democrats. As for buckskins, anyone who has actually worn them in
cold weather will tell you nobody would wear them if they had
We really don't know what he did wear, but a well-worn quote,
sometimes used misleadingly, tells us something about what he
didn't. It comes from Maj. Raphael Soldana, (a Captain) in the
Tampico Battalion during the battle: "A tall man, with flowing
hair...wore a buckskin suit and cap all of a pattern different from
those worn by his comrades...This man I later learned was called "Kwockey."
Well! When I first read that quote it had me reaching for by
buckskin-fringe brush, until, in the next paragraph, Soldana goes on
to credit Kwockey with the most Wagnerian death scene this side of
Bayreuth. It all starts to fall together (or apart) when we learn
that this tale was spun by Major Soldana for Major Creed Taylor (up
in Corpus Christi) shortly after the Mexican War, a decade after the
battle. It's not hard to imagine who was paying for the brandy and
cigars. Indeed, we've done pretty well with the Easter Bunny, the
Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus, isn't it time to give up the illusion
of Davy, standing on a pile of dead Mexicans, swinging “Old Betsy,"
just-a-lookin’-for another skull to pop?
The fact of Crockett’s capture after the battle (and subsequent
execution) was reported, accepted, and deplored in the press
immediately following the battle. There were numerous Mexican
witnesses who were appalled by the savage act. The only Anglo
survivor, Susannah Dickinson, recalled seeing his body right in the
area where the executions took place. As De la Pena describes it:
"Though tortured before they were killed, these unfortunates died
without complaining and without humiliating themselves before their
tortures." How can one read this and not be in awe of the courage
of these men? If Crockett is less of a hero for this, what of the
pilots who endured the Hanoi Hilton? What of the rest of all of
36 MEXICAN PRIVATE
"Cannon fodder" has long been a term used for the common soldier. It
is an apt phrase, one particularly fitting in the days when closed
ranks marched, flags waving, and drums beating, directly into heavy
artillery fire. If simply "feeding the cannon" was not bad enough,
the word "fodder" implies roughage fed to livestock, not even fit
for human consumption. Tough times.
The hardships endured by the Mexican Army on the long, brutal, march
from far below the Rio Grande were extreme, but the Texas army fared
little better except for the distance Santa Anna's men traveled. It
was the lot of the common soldier to be lied to, cheated, abused,
and starved. My initial thought was how amazing that such men could
be induced to charge cannons; the Texans in December; the Mexicans
in March, but the opposite might be closer to the truth. Their
wretched treatment and appalling conditions put them in the position
of having nowhere to go but up.
The grass must have always seemed greener on the other side of the
parapet. And so they charged. (De la Pena) "...a single
cannon volley did away with half of the company of chasseurs from
Toluca,... Another volley left many gaps among the ranks at the
head..."And they charged...and they charged again.
Truly, if the cannon fodder of the period was highly expendable at
least it was splendidly dressed. The uniforms of the Mexican Army,
indeed, all armies throughout the "civilized" world, between
1800-1850, were patterned on the Napoleanonic mode. Pomp was in,
circumstance was out, practicality was beneath consideration; it was
snare drum and illusion time. And, as the high top hat was the
common civilian headgear of the period, the "shako" (a military
version of the same), was worn by practically all armies. Slap a
towering plume on this sucker and you have made your 5' 5"
infantryman into John Wayne.
Mexican shakos were made even more cumbersome in that they were made
of cowhide rather than felt. Santa Anna specified in his General
Orders that "all chin-straps will be correctly worn" leading to the
speculation that he was more concerned with the expensive headgear
than the men who wore it. He also mentions that "armaments will be
in good shape - especially the bayonets."
Psychologically, the bayonet is a particularly terrifying weapon.
Mounted on a British 3rd Model Brown Bess (as shown in my painting)
the entire length was just slightly less than six feet long, and
weighed over ten pounds. It was a most unpleasant piece of work, and
the work it was designed for, even less so. Then, of course, there
are the things not included in the General Orders but made clear to
the men verbally. In his diary Col. Navarro puts it quite simply:
"The troops were allowed to sack."
37 GONZALES VOLUNTEERS
The arrival of the 32 men from Gonzales early in the morning on
March 1st proved to the men penned-up in the Alamo that the outside
world existed. It rekindled the hope that Col. James Fannin would
soon be marching from Goliad with 200-300 troops.
The people in Gonzales had gotten Travis' plea of the 23rd
(carried by John Sutherland and John Smith) and were already forming
a relief party when Albert Martin, one of their own, galloped in
with the spellbinding "To the People of Texas & all Americans in the
world" message. Seventy miles east of the Alamo, 26 men rode toward
it on the afternoon of February 27th and were joined by six others
on the way.
On hearing of the Gonzales men, Governor Robinson wrote Fannin,
"...information has been given that about 30 men has thrown
themselves into Bears..." While the orsine imagery is all but
irresistible, he was probably referring (phonetically) to Bexar
(Persons who spend any time in present day San Antonio soon find
they are residing in "Bear" County).
Fannin also set
out for the besieged fort with reinforcements, but when a wagon
broke down, he cancelled the operation. In doing so, he sealed the
fate of the defenders of the Alamo.
The two Gonzales men I show are wounded and caught out in the open.
They will soon die with all the rest.
Napoleon, (himself an artilleryman), proclaimed that "artillery is
the final argument of kings." At the Alamo, while casualties and
damage inflicted were relatively light (considering the 12 day siege
and final direct assault), the role of cannon played a perversely
Prior to the capture of Bexar the Texas army had little to field in
the way of artillery, but in mid-December they suddenly found
themselves with an abundance; Gen. Cos surrendered 20 pieces,
including the massive 18-pounder.
It should be pointed out that while this victory was a cause for
jubilation, any cohesion quickly dissipated. Indeed, the Texas
Revolution seemed on the verge of disintegration. There were two
serate governments; the army had four nominal leaders; the garrison
at the Alamo was quickly evaporating. Hardly a month had passed when
the notion of abandoning Bexar and withdrawing eastward was
circulating in high places. This may well have happened had it not
been for all those damned cannons.
Gen. Sam Houston (the commander of the
moment) sent his old friend Col. James Bowie to the Alamo with
instructions to blow it up, withdraw from the town, move the guns
to Copano and Gonzales. But there weren't enough oxen to haul all of
them. Also, Bowie, once back in his old stomping ground, changed the
game plan. Having become aware of the northward movement of Santa
Anna's army, he wrote Governor Smith on February 2nd, "...we will
rather die in these ditches than give it up to the enemy." So, if
fate had it that the surplus of cannon committed the Texans to the
defense of the Alamo, conversely, it was the cannons Santa Anna
didn't have that prolonged the siege.
In almost two weeks of frequent bombardment,
his howitzers and 9-pounders had not collapsed a wall or inflicted
a single casualty within the fort. The long-awaited, heavy field
artillery, the two 12-pounders were due to arrive on March 7th. But
by the evening of the 4th, the Generalissimo (he was President of
Mexico as well as Commander-in-Chief, you can't get anymore "-issimo"
than that), had made up his mind. Perhaps it seemed fitting that his
crusade to rid Tejas of these godless ingrates, greedy pirates,
perfidious foreigners, should begin on a Sunday. Lacking
heavy artillery, God would suffice.
39 LINSTOCK & HANDSPIKE
Not only did the Alamo garrison have too many cannon, there were too
few men with too little experience, to man them. As the standard
cannon crew was four or five men, and there were only 180-90
defenders, the hopelessness of the arithmetic is self-evident. And
if there had been enough men, there were not enough serviceable gun
carriages (the heavy, wooden, wheeled supporting structure) without
which the "barrel" is all but useless.
Navarro shows three dismounted cannon near the main gate. It is
possible that they were loaded with rocks, broken crockery, nails,
and split horse shoes for one last, desperate salvo, but it is
unlikely. In fact some of the mounted cannon probably carried the
same charge, as cannon ball was also scarce.
A 12-pounder, such as the one I show, is so named because it fires a
ball weighing 12 pounds. As the diameter and weight of the
ammunition varied from cannon to cannon, the gunners were forced to
improvise. The two implements I include here are: the long, thick
"handspike" (two are needed) used to muscle the gun-carriage into
the proper firing position; and the "linstock" which was a
smoldering cord (soaked in salt-peter) wound around a wooden handle,
used to ignite the charge. The powder boxes and prepared charges
were kept well to the rear of the guns, and one did not want to be
standing behind the gun-carriage when the linstock was
brought in contact with the vent.
40 BUCKET, RAMMER-SPONGE
The overturned water bucket shown here allowed the gunners to wet
the sponge used to cool and clean the bore of the cannon between
firings. The rammer end was used to set both the charge and the
ball. Just how many rounds the palisade gun-crew got off during the
initial attack (and what damage it may have had on the 4th Column)
will never be known, but it was sufficient to halt the charge and
shift Morales' further movements to the west.
It is ironic that
during the assault the Texans used their captured weaponry to good
effect, while Santa Anna, the self-styled "Napoleon of the West" was
unable to fire a single ball lest he kill more of his own troops
than those of the enemy. Certainly the persistent bombardment,
during the siege had a psychological effect on the defenders, but
perhaps the greatest effect of all, achieved by his artillery during
the 13-day engagement was when he stopped using it, late on
41 PRIVATE B. ARCHER M. THOMAS
One of the "Tennessee Boys", "BAM" hailed from Kentucky. Lest I be
accused of claiming nobody in the Alamo wore fringed
buckskins or leather clothing I put Thomas right up front. At 19, he
would have been young enough, and tough enough not to be overly
concerned by the cold. The Indian hatchet he is wielding is of the
period. It belongs to a friend of mine and was originally picked up
on a battlefield during the Sioux/Sac and Fox War in 1831. No
ceremonial pipe-hatchet this. With its brass-studded oak handle and
solid hammerhead, it is a profoundly lethal instrument.
42 MEXICAN OFFICER
It is purely conjectural to portray a handful of attackers having
penetrated the area directly in front of the church at this stage of
the battle. At the same time, the capture of this gun position would
have been of great advantage to the Mexicans, as the cannon could
have been turned to fire at either the Long Barracks or the church
Pre-1850 drawings of the buildings indicate that this didn't happen,
although the Maverick watercolor suggests that one of the cannons in
the Main Plaza may have been fired straight at the chapel entrance
from beyond the Low Wall. Everett's sketch of damage to the lower
portion of the arched door advances this possibility.
43 PRIVATE JOHN PURDY REYNOLDS
Trained as a surgeon in Pennsylvania, he seems to have exchanged his
scalpel for a musket when he arrived at the Alamo with the Tennessee
Mounted Volunteers. He carries a contract model (American copy) of
the French Charlesville, a favorite weapon throughout the Texas
Revolution. As with others (during rapid reloading) he holds his
44 PRIVATE DANIEL WILLIAM CLOUD
A Kentuckian and a lawyer, at 22, he joined up with the Tennessee
Volunteers along with Crockett when they passed through Nacogdoches.
He is shown carrying the well-known long rifle, usually associated
with his native state. This particular rifle is 5'5" in length.
Cloud and Reyolds are falling back from the Low Wall toward the gum
platform only to find that it too is being abandoned. As I mentioned
earlier, I continued to work on the painting after the
Smithsonian article appeared, adding the "saints," etc., even
after the work had been installed in the Remembering the Alamo
exhibition in San Antonio's Witte Museum. As the Witte never got
around to printing a catalog of this splendid Sesquicentennial
collection of Alamo related material, the people visiting the
exhibit had absolutely no idea of who the guy with the handful of
brushes up on the 9-foot ladder was.
One memorable afternoon sixty of Crockett's relatives dropped by all
in a group. Standing up on that ladder I felt pretty vulnerable.
Fortunately for my survival, they seemed to approve of my image of
their forebear. Over the weeks many interesting discussions
occurred. The most probing question came from a native Texan and
student of the battle: "Do you think there would have been that many
defenders out in the open, that late in the battle?" By way of
answering all I could say was that an historian friend, (who is also
involved in re-enactments, once stood where the gun platform would
have been, mock-fired a musket, ran to a spot midway between the
palisade and the Long Barracks, "reloaded and fired" again, and ran
to the opposite wall. It all took less than a minute. True,
if it had been a rifle (like Cloud is carrying) it would have taken
a little longer. The point being is that the tremendous explosion of
kinetic energy occurring in a relatively small area defies the
a matter of minutes there might be a third, or even fewer,
less people than I show. Certainly no one was staying in one place
very long; only the dead and dying. It was soon over. The battle
that had begun with a bugle could not be halted by one. De la Pena
wrote: "...General Cos ordered the fire silenced; but the bugler
Tamayo of the sappers blew his instrument in vain, for the fire did
not cease until there was no one left to kill...shortly after six in
the morning it was all finished."
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