- 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
But not quite all, yet. The church in the southeast corner of the enclosure held a few defenders. There lay the stricken Bowie. The women and children were there: Mexicans of San Antonio except for Mrs. Dickinson, holding her child in her arms. She knelt and prayed, clutching the child, in the narrow, vaulted sacristy, now filled with smoke. Pursued by Mexican troops, two boys, eleven and twelve years old, ran into the room with their father, a gunner. The father begged for mercy, but the soldiers ran him through and carried the boys out of the room on their bloody bayonets. Another gunner ran in; they shot him “and four Mexican soldiers stuck their bayonets into his body and raised him up into the air like a farmer does a bundle of fodder when he loads it into a wagon.”
In the small adjoining room, Bowie, from his cot, fired until his body, too, was riddled with bullets.
The father of twelve-year-old Enrique Esparza had been killed beside his cannon, which had been embrasured in the window of the south transept of the church. There was hand-to-hand fighting in the dark, the Mexicans rushing the defenders with bayonets. “It was pitch dark there,” said young Esparza. “After the soldiers of Santa Anna had got all the women and children huddled in the southwest corner of the church, they stood still and fired into the darkness. They kept on firing at the men who had defended the Alamo. For fully a quarter of an hour, and until someone brought lanterns, they kept on firing on them, after all the defenders had been slain, and their corpses were lying still.”
The Mexican women were taken to Santa Anna, questioned, and released. Mrs. Dickinson and her child were treated kindly.
Five “foreigners,” found hiding, were brought before Santa Anna; he upbraided the officer who had spared them, then turned his back. Soldiers set on them with bayonets.
“After all the dead Mexicans were taken out of the Alamo,” said the alcalde, “Santa Anna ordered wood to be brought to burn the bodies of the Texans. He sent a company of dragoons with me to bring wood and dry branches from the neighboring forest. About 3 o’clock in the afternoon they commenced laying the wood and dry branches, upon which a file of dead bodies was placed. More wood was piled on them and another file brought, and in this manner they were arranged in layers. Kindling wood was distributed throughout the pile, and about 5 o’clock in the evening it was lighted.
“The dead Mexicans of Santa Anna were taken to the graveyard, but not having sufficient room for them, I ordered some of them to be thrown into the river, which was done on the same day. Santa Anna’s loss was estimated at 1,600. These were the flower of his army.” (This estimate is too high, even counting both dead and wounded.)
“The men burned numbered 182. I was an eyewitness, for as alcalde of San Antonio, I was with some of the neighbors collecting the dead bodies and placing them on the funeral pile.”
Travis had said, three days before he died, “Victory will cost the enemy so dear, it will be worse for him than a defeat.” Santa Anna’s frightful losses did not deter him from driving his army on through Texas. But the slaughter of the men in the Alamo shocked the colonists out of their apathy.
On March 13 scouts from Gonzales met Mrs. Dickinson on the prairie. She had been given a horse and sent with an intimidating message for the colonists. That night the frontier town was a choir of grief.
Then Sam Houston, with less than 400 men, began a strategic retreat eastward, drawing Santa Anna after him. First Gonzales, then San Felipe, went up in smoke. Women, children, the old and infirm, struggled on foot or in creaking oxcarts through rain, slush, and mire across swollen rivers. Some reached the Trinity, some the Sabine. Bedsheets spread for tents dotted the Louisiana shore. At last, on April 21, Santa Anna, who had dashed on with a fraction of his army to Galveston Bay, hoping to catch (and hang) the officers of the upstart Texas Republic, was surprised by Houston’s smaller force on the San Jacinto River, just east of the present city of Houston. The Mexican commander was captured, and more than half his men were killed. The cry was “Remember the Alamo!”