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.


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 hole.

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 valuable.

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.


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.


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 1793.

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.


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 days before. 

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 condition.


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 the wall.


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.


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 clearly.

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.


(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.)

Since we're 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 slain!

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.

The accepted 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 light infantry.

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.


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 Castrillon.

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.

Perhaps, during 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) bespeaks professionalism.

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 Texans.

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.


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 one.

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 this part.


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 sandals."


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 possibility.

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.


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.


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 water­color).


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.

Penned up, 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."


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 bad shape.

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.


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.


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 recaptured.

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 easiest way).

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.


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 rebuilt.

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.


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 north.

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 visibility.

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 shadows.

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. 

4:45.  Nothing.

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 east.

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.


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 have not.


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 a private.

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.


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.

Although he 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 unbearable.


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.


A native of Ohio, at 25, he was in command of the so-called "Tennessee Boys."


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.


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.


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 position.

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 unnamed.

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.


In much the same way the trio of Mex­icans along the Low Wall became "the veterans," this figure entered my consciousness as "the beholder."

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: "the beholder."


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 the darkness.

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.


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 palisade.

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 again.

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 anything else.

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 America's POWs?


"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."


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.

38  12-POUNDER

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 important part.

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.


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.


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 March 5th.


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.


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 itself.

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.


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 ramrod loose.


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 imagination.

Therefore, within 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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