- Historic Sites
¡Recuerda El Alamo!?
October 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 6
∗Remember the Alamo
The patriotic story that most Americans call to mind when they remember the Alamo is largely mythology, and it is a mythology constructed on the northern side of the border. The facts of that short, bloody prelude to our war with Mexico are just as grim but far less romantic.
An unusual account of this battle from the Mexican side was written by a young Mexican lieutenant colonel named José Enrique de la Peña, who was present on that murderous day in March, 1836, and who kept a diary of the siege and assault. Entitled With Santa Anna in Texas: A Personal Narrative of the Revolution , de la Pena’s diary has now been translated for the first time by Carmen Perry and will be published later this month by the Texas A&M University Press. The following article is an excerpt from this little-known document.
José Enrique de la Peña was obviously an unusual young officer. Brimming with patriotism, machismo, and a professional soldier’s love of battle, de la Pena was at the same time a sensitive person who despised senseless slaughter and was critical of thoughtless, inept leadership, whether Texan or Mexican. He was also determined to be accurate, and soon after his year with Santa Anna he augmented and amended his notes taken in the field, recopying a fuller version of his narrative. There is evidence that the narrative was published late in 1836, but the translator has been unable to locate a copy, and the presumption is that most if not all copies of the highly critical volume were destroyed by Santa Anna’s government.
We pick up de la Peña’s account as the Mexican forces arrive at the small city of San Antonio de Béjar,from which they had been expelled by Texans three months earlier. Across the river from this city stood an abandoned mission with heavy stone walls. It was called the Alamo.
Before describing what happened at the Alamo, I will speak of what happened between the arrival of the First Division at San Antonio de Béjar, the city directly across the river from the Alamo, and the time when our division, including the sapper battalion to which I was assigned, arrived there on March 3, 1836.
On February 23 General Ramírez y Sesma advanced at dawn toward Béjar with one hundred horsemen; he approached the city at three o’clock in the morning, and the enemy was unaware of his arrival. The rest of the division came within sight between twelve noon and one, but by then the enemy had sounded the call to arms and had withdrawn to his fortification at the Alamo. There they had fifteen pieces of artillery,1 but not all were mounted and ready to use, because of a shortage of cannonballs. They had an eighteen-pounder and an eight-pounder pointing toward town. After the division had rested for about a half hour at the foot of the Alazán Hill, two miles from Béjar, the president-general, Antonio López de Santa Anna, mounted his horse and started toward this city with his general staff, three companies of light infantry under the command of Colonel Morales, three of grenadiers under the command of Colonel Romero, two mortar pieces, and General Ramírez y Sesma’s cavalry; he ordered the rest of the division to march with General Ventura Mora to Mission Concepción, about five miles to the southeast. The president, unaware upon entering Béjar that the church was abandoned, ordered Colonel Miñón to take it with half the chasseurs. As the column entered the plaza, from the Alamo came a cannon shot from the eighteen-pounder; immediately our artillery commander was ordered to set up two howitzers and to fire four grenades, which caused the enemy to raise a white flag. The firing ceased, and Bowie sent a written communication addressed to the commander of the invading troops of Texas, stating that he wished to enter into agreements.2 Santa Anna ordered a verbal answer that he would not deal with bandits, leaving them no alternative but to surrender unconditionally. Then he ordered the placement of the troops, and that they eat and rest, and summoned to Béjar the forces attacking Concepción.
1There were nineteen, of different calibers.—J. E. de la P.
2William Barret Travis was commander at the Alamo, James Bowie his second, and a certain Evans a commander of artillerv.—J. E. de la P.
On the 24th at nine o’clock His Excellency appeared and ordered that shoes be distributed in his presence among the preferred companies and that the frontal advance proceed immediately toward the Alamo and commence the firing, which had been interrupted the previous afternoon. A battery of two eight-pounders and a howitzer was properly placed and began to bombard the enemy’s fortification. The enemy returned fire without causing us any damage. On this day inventories were also taken of stock in the stores belonging to Americans. At eleven His Excellency marched with the cavalry in order to reconnoiter the vicinity.