- Historic Sites
The Storming Of The Alamo
None of its defenders survived, so that legends obscure their fate. But the facts do no dishonor to these beleaguered men, sworn to fight on until the end “at the peril of our lives, liberties and fortunes”
February 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 2
Some at the Alamo, “not even sufficiently clad for summer,” endured the winter “with but one blanket and one shirt.” They had no money. “If there has ever been a dollar here,” wrote Neill, “I have no knowledge of it.” This was early in January, and the story is the same to the end: The men were not paid. In mid-January Neill reported he had only eighty “effective” men. The rest, apparently colonists, had gone home.
These eighty men had to garrison two distinct fortresses. In the town of San Antonio were the remnants of the Spanish fortress (on what is now Military Plaza), and a block to the cast, with the old parish church in between, was the Civil Plaza (now Main). These dusty squares, surrounded by stone houses withflat roofs, had been fortified by the Mexican army in December.
Half a mile away, across the San Antonio River, which here makes a large bend to the east, was the Alamo. This was a compound of stone walls, with huts of adobe and “little houses of mud and stone” ranged along their inner sides, enclosing a bare and dusty area the size of a city block. There was a gateway on the south, and facing west on the enclosed area was a two-story stone building, the “long barracks.” Behind this were two corrals walled with stone; and, south of these, a church—the “Alamo” of our day—facing west and making the southeast corner.
This drab enclosure comprised more than three acres. Built by Franciscan friars during the half-century after 1724 as a mission for Indians, it had been named San Antonio de Valero in honor of Saint Anthony of Padua and the reigning viceroy, the Marquis de Valero. It had long since been used as a barracks and cavalry yard, and renamed El Alamo for a military company from the town of Alamo de Parras (now Viesca), in Coahuila, which occupied it for decades. But during the fall of 1835 the Mexican Army had made the enclosure into a fort, with ditches and gun emplacements. The outer walls of stone, two feet thick and twelve feet high, were strengthened with palisades and tamped earth, until the thickness at crucial points was five feet. The Alamo, said an observer, was “a strong place.”
To defend this sprawling compound, the Americans had about twenty captured cannon and a prized 18-pounder (for 18-pound balls) that had been dragged up from the coast, 150 miles away, by oxen. This gun was given the place of honor, on the southwest corner, pointed at the town. The rest of the guns were, in the main, 6-pounders, 9-pounders, and 12-pounders. This was a tremendous armament for that time and place. The Americans improved the fort, building ditches and redoubts.
“In case of an attack,” wrote Green Jameson, the engineer at the Alamo, “we will whip 10 to 1 with our artillery.”
A false report of invasion, in mid-January, was forwarded by Neill to General Houston, who was visiting the coast to put a damper on the “Matamoros fever.” Houston, before leaving the field to Fannin, sent Colonel James Bowie to San Antonio with about thirty men and the suggestion to Neill that he remove the artillery and blow up the Alamo. Neill replied that he had no teams for the purpose. Then Bowie wrote: “Colonel Neill and I have come to the solemn resolution that we will rather die in these ditches than give it up to the enemy.”
An indignation meeting held by the officers at the Alamo on January 26 passed resolutions denouncing the council and its agent, Fannin, and upholding Houston, Governor Smith, and independence. Smith threatened to have the council arrested and sent to San Antonio for trial on a treason charge. The council, no doubt frightened, responded with an order for Neill: he was “required to put the place in the best possible state for defence, with assurances that every possible effort is making to strengthen, supply and provision the garrison, and in no case to abandon or surrender the place unless in the last extremity.”
At the same time, an order was issued that no more men were to be sent to San Antonio. Nor were any supplies ever sent there.
But Governor Smith had already ordered Colonel William Barret Travis to San Antonio, where he arrived about the second week of February with twenty-six men of the Regular Texas Army. On February 11, Neill took leave, on account of sickness in his family, asking Travis to accept the command. Some of the volunteers chose Bowie instead. Much has been made of the ensuing “quarrel,” but it was over in twenty-four hours.
Bowie was a sick man, in the last stages of a disease later diagnosed as consumption. He was also a sad man. He had married Ursula Veramendi, daughter of the vice governor of Coahuila-Texas, and she, together with their two children, had died of cholera in 1833. At San Antonio on one occasion he got “roaring drunk,” released prisoners from the calaboose, marched his men on Main Plaza, and generally raised a ruckus.