Rendering The Alamo

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On the morning of March 6,1836, a band of 187 Texas revolutionaries died at the hands of some three thousand Mexican troops within the crumbling pile of stones called the Alamo. The romance that still hovers about the place already was flourishing a decade after the massacre, a fact that led a young Mexican War volunteer to make the earliest known paintings of the Alamo—published here for the first time—and to participate in what was almost certainly the first (albeit minor) historical preservation project in the history of the United States Army.

Edward Everett, twenty-eight and a sergeant in the Quincy (Illinois) Riflemen, arrived at San Antonio de Bexar, Texas, on August 22,1846, a little over three months after the United States declared war on Mexico. His unit was destined to join American forces in northern Mexico. But first it was detached for guard duty in San Antonio, a clutch of weathered stone and adobe buildings in south-central Texas, founded as an outpost of the Spanish empire in 1718 and populated now by Mexicans and American Texans characterized by Everett in his 1881 memoirs as a seedy and often violent bunch who looked like “bandits.” The Army knew very little about Texas (annexed to the United States in 1845), and Everett and three other soldiers, as he recalled, were “assigned the duty of collecting information respecting the history, customs, etc., of places…and of making drawings of buildings and objects of interest, particularly those in the neighborhood of San Antonio.…Making the drawings was the share of work allotted to me.”

 

Everett set to making preliminary sketches of the Alamo, then journeyed seven miles outside of town to draw Mission San José de San Miguel de Aguayo, where he spent an uncomfortable night: “I had not laid long before I was savagely attacked, by enemies who would be satisfied with nothing short of my heart’s blood.…In short, I was nearly devoured by fleas.…” Surviving that, he intended to make finished watercolors of the Alamo, Mission San José, and another local mission (the latter two are shown on the following pages) but met with a guard-duty interruption. He was sent out to arrest a Texan gone wild with drink, and got shot just above the knee, a wound that took him out of active service and reduced him to clerking for the town’s military commander. Still, he not only managed to finish his watercolors in early 1847, but drew up plans for the restoration of the Alamo’s interior rooms, walls, and outbuildings for military use. The fort’s church, however, built in 1758, “we respected as an historical relic—and as such its characteristics were not marred by us.” They cleaned it out and left it alone. Others were not so reverent; in 1850, architect John Fries designed the now-familiar curved parapet of the church’s façade, an addition Everett still found offensive more than thirty years later: “I regret to see by a late engraving of this ruin, that tasteless hands have evened off the rough walls, as they were left after the siege, surmounting them with a ridiculous scroll, giving the building the appearance of the headboard of a bedstead.”

Everett died in 1903, and if he still smarted over the fixed-up walls, some comfort might have come from knowing he had left behind the first painted views of the Alamo-that-was.