2001-2006, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved


Previous page 1 Fall of the Alamo by John Sutherland

During the twenty-third the siege as before remarked, continued with increasing severity. An incessant bombardment was kept up day and night, while a hail of bombs and cannon balls was poured within the walls, and, strange as it may seem, without the loss of one of our besieged. The garrison replied with great vigor from their guns mounted around the walls. This continued from day to day until the morning of the third of March when, if there was any change, the bombardment increased in severity. Indeed the din and roar of the artillery had become a monotony, which, though it was kept up by the enemy with great loss to them, was, nevertheless, fast subduing the physical strength and vigor of the garrison. Their number being insufficient to man the walls by detail, every man was required at his post and sleep was out of the question. About mid-day on the third of March, whilst the Texians were at their posts, maintaining their position against the charges of the enemy as usual, a hideous yell was raised by the population of the town. The cry "Santa Anna," "Santa Anna," was shouted throughout the city. This attracted the attention of all, and a large body of the enemy was seen entering the streets of the city on the west side. The buildings were at that time so low that the entire city could be viewed from the Alamo. The besiegers for a while slackened the vigor of their operations and joined in the general rejoicing.

This incident was related to me by J. W. Smith, Mrs. Dickinson and Travis’ negro boy, all at different times, and in substance the same. To consider it singly, without any connection with others of a like bearing, would be to consider the whole in mystery, unless there were no assertions that Santa Anna’s arrival took place before that time in which case it would be at once fix the time of that event on the third of March. But as it is we could not account for it in any other way. This we must do, we must give it a place somewhere. It was the opinion of Mr. Smith and the other persons mentioned that neither Santa Anna nor his main force were at San Antonio at any time during the siege before this event took place, and that opinion is supported by some very strong circumstantial evidence. First, it is not reasonable to suppose that so large a body of men could have been in and about the city during the siege without being seen from the Alamo, the country around being comparatively open, unless they concealed themselves during the day, and if they had arrived at any time before, why should such a parade, the like of which had not occurred before, be made over them at this late day? Again, we could have no good reason for supposing that Santa Anna could have been encamped around the walls of the Alamo, for nearly two weeks, with an army of five thousand men, and have made no effort to take it, especially when he must have been aware of the importance of an early blow. The question might be asked here, "If he knew so well the importance of haste in his movements, why did he not attack the fortress as soon as he reached it, instead of waiting nearly three days?" To which I would answer that his men had just been on a heavy march and that he might have doubted the result of an assault with jaded troops, while good judgement counseled a few days rest, and further some time was necessary for reconnoitering the position for a proper disposition of the column for an assault.

Furthermore, there can be no sufficient reason why the demand of a surrender should have been made in the name of Colonel Almonte, if the General-in-chief had been present himself. Almonte told me in person that Santa Anna did not reach Bexar until after he did, though he did not state the exact date. Whether these circumstances are sufficient to fix the time on the third of March or not, they certainly have their bearing and are entitled to proper consideration.8  After the salutations and rejoicings of citizens were concluded, the besiegers resumed their operations and prosecuted the siege with renewed violence. Perhaps a few of Santa Anna’s troops assisted them, though the main part took a position on the old Goliad road half a mile from the Alamo, where they no doubt rested, for no assault for the purpose of storming the fort was made until the sixth of March.

By this time nearly all of the Mexicans who had joined the garrison at the beginning of the siege had left. They had joined believing that Travis would receive reinforcements sufficient to enable him to maintain the fort, when they would be on the safe side, but, being disappointed in this their hearts failed in view of the fate which they must unavoidably suffer should they stand up to their first resolves. They knew both the weakness of the garrison and the strength of the enemy. Only three of them remained true to our cause. These desertions left the number of the Texians one hundred and eighty-six, counting John W. Smith who had remained, since his entrance on March the first, to take his chance with the rest.

One would suppose that this little band of men became aware of their inadequacy to maintain their position and that emotions of despair began to invade their hearts. For eight days and nights they had been constantly on duty, without sleep and on scant rations. They had anxiously expected the hour when assistance would reach them, that hour, which alas, they were never destined to hail. Now they were wearied and worn down by their constant vigilance, yet soon to be called upon to resist a force more than sixteen times their equal in number. What dark emotions they must have experienced in this extremity. All the sacred associations of the past crowded upon them, whilst the embittering prospect of the future silently admonished them that they would never witness that glorious dawn which should hail their country free and independent of despotic sway. But it was not theirs to falter. The rights of their countrymen were seized by the oppressive arm of a tyrant, and they were called upon to rescue them from his grasp. The fondest endearments of time sustained and buoyed them and though they should perish, and their names be forever consigned to oblivion, the noblest considerations of chivalry and honor still pressed upon them and demanded a sacrifice at their hands, which the All-wise disposer of events, for purposes of his own wisdom, allowed that they should make, and for which thoughts, the dearest that humanity could bestow, they should receive the richest reward of a grateful people. It was this consideration which upheld them. That pride of character, love of home and country, the true soldier’s noblest attributes, enabled them to sustain with cheerfulness, if possible, their position, in this, their hour of extremity. It was thus, surrounded with the enemy, and awaiting the hour of attack, not knowing how soon it might arrive, that Travis addressed a letter to the Convention, and several others to private individuals, amongst which was a note to his friend in Washington county. Who, as he reads it does not feel something of that spirit possessed by its author, and whose heart does not swell with increased sympathy, and feel for that officer, this noble man, and his compatriots, that they can never repay the debt of honor he owes to their sacred memory! Those letters from Travis and quite a number of others from his comrades to their relatives were sent out on the night of the third of March by John W. Smith, who reached Gonzales on the following day about three o’clock P. M. Immediately on his arrival there he represented to the citizens the perilous condition of their countrymen at Bexar, assuring them that Travis and his men must inevitably perish unless assistance was despatched in the greatest possible haste. He announced that if one hundred men could be raised that they would be sufficient to sustain the fort, at least until others could reach it, and that he would start with them, as guide, as soon as they could get ready. In a short time he was informed that the number desired could not be raised, but that fifty could and would be ready very soon. The following night passed and he was informed that some of the fifty had declined to go, but that twenty-five men were available and would be at his service the next day. Saturday finally came, when, owing to some unspeakable cause, they were yet unable to set out. After much hurry and confusion, and, consequently, further delay, Sunday morning found them en route for Bexar, well equipped, with good arms and ten days provisions. Travis’ supply of beef and corn had well nigh given out and when Smith left the fort his order was that every may who came to his assistance should bring ten days rations, saying that he would fire the eighteen pounder three times a day, at morning, noon, and night, so long as the Alamo stood. The gun was fired regularly and was distinctly heard at Gonzales.

Santa Anna having his position below the Alamo as mentioned, immediately set about making preparations for the assault. New batteries were erected, which opened heavily upon the Alamo, whilst his men were plainly seen from the church making ladders for storming the walls. All the necessary arrangements being made, the main part of the division rested from the fatigue of their march, awaiting the time of attack which was, probably, not yet determined. The siege was continued with great violence, harrassing the Texians constantly on every side, while the heavy batteries, lately erected, thickened "the showers of bombs and cannon balls which had been continually pouncing amongst them."  The Texians replied vigorously with rifle and cannon, and made great slaughter amongst the enemy.

About ten o’clock on Saturday night all firing ceased. The besieging forces were withdrawn and the batteries hushed. The thunder of artillery was now succeeded by a universal stillness which reigned throughout the Citadel. Not even the trail of a sentinel around the walls broke upon the waiting senses of the little band within. Silence, darkness reigned within and without the Alamo. The moon had retired from the heavens, whilst the dim light of the stars was now shut out by the vail of smoke and mist which settled above. A gloomy pall now enwrapped the walls of the Alamo, fit emblem of the melancholy which hung above the inmates.

This cessation was not without its intended effect. In no great while after it took place the hitherto vigilant eyes of the Texians were closed in sleep. For more than eleven days and nights they had been constantly at their posts, partaking of food only at such intervals as were allowed them. A few cooked the corn and beef for the rest who took it from their hands at the wall. Coffee would have been indeed a boon to them, yet they had no stimulant. However, coffee could not have sustained them long for their physical strength began to fail for the want of rest, and artifice could have resisted the power of nature only a short time. Their number having been too small for a part to sustain the defense while the remainder were at rest, they had seldom enjoyed it, and an opportunity being now offered, it is not surprising that their energies yielded, and the drooping spirit sought repose. Yet they did not leave their posts but lay near the walls with their arms beside them. The rough ground upon which they had stood for nearly two weeks, was to their wearied limbs as an easy couch. They lay unconscious of aught that pertained to life, relieved of the recollections of the post, the anxieties of the present, and the mingled forebodings of the future. The heavings of their slumbering spirits was the only sound that broke upon the gloom and darkness of the scene, whilst none were disturbed from their repose save perhaps a dreamer, pierced by a visionary gleam of that future which awaited him.

E’er 9 daylight dawned on the following morning, the enemy advanced stealthily upon the stronghold hoping to complete the escalade before the garrison was aroused, but they were disappointed. Being discovered by a wakeful sentinel the alarm was given, when the Texians were at their posts in a moment. Yet the Mexicans had arrived so close to the walls that there could be no halting, saving more than to advance the more rapidly. The ordnance on the walls, and the rifles both opened upon them with such severity that they were forced to give way. A brief interval passed, and they summoned their stifled courage for a second effort, which, though vigorous, was also repulsed without damage to the garrison. By this time the darkness, which had hitherto enveloped all things, began to recede before the approaching light of the day. This enabled the enemy to operate to more advantage. They rallied their broken columns and made a third charge, which proved successful. This time they reached the walls, erected their scaling ladders and as Travis’ boy, "Joe," expressed it, "commenced pouring over the walls like sheep." The Texians met them with the sword and many a one, as he leaped from the wall, fell lifeless upon the ground. Then it was that those hardy sons of freedom felt the responsibility which rested upon them. They knew well the strength of the enemy and divined that surrender or defeat meant death. Resistance until death was the motto of each and none knew the limit of his strength.

The conflict continued some time near the outer barrier, but the area became so crowded that the Texians found it advantageous to retreat near the wall of the long barracks, where the enemy fell in heaps. Finally their number became so diminished that they retired into the church and rooms of the barracks. Here each stood as a lion in his lair, felling his assailants at his feet as they advanced upon him, but they too followed their comrades, one by one, until all had shared the same fate.  The struggle did not last longer than half an hour, yet in that half hour, more blood was drawn perhaps, than ever issued before at the hands of the same numbers in the same length of time and under like circumstances.

Travis and his boy cut their way through the thickest of the ranks of the enemy and finally came near the northeast corner of the church, when Travis, seeing that the enemy were still rushing over the wall, mounted it, cheering his men to the conflict. After discharging his pistol he continued the slaughter with his sword, dealing blow after blow. As fast as they loosed their holds, they tumbled to the ground beneath him. But he was not long to occupy so conspicuous a place. Receiving a ball through the head, he fell on the inside. His boy, ever faithful, had continued near him, doing good service, but seeing the fate of his master and thinking that all was of necessity, lost, concealed himself in one of the small rooms of the barracks where, after the action was over, he and another man were found by an officer. The former’s life was spared because he was a negro. The latter was promised protection if he would show the bodies of Travis and Bowie which he did, but Santa Anna soon rode within the walls and seeing him asked, "What’s that fellow doing here?" On being informed of the condition upon which he had been spared, he replied that they had "no use for any such men," and ordered him shot. A file of soldiers executed the order at once.

So soon as the bodies of Travis and Bowie were shown by this man, they were brutally mutilated by the sword and bayonet. Colonel Bowie, being yet sick, was confined to his room, indicated, on the diagram, which he had occupied from the beginning of the siege. It was there while suffering the tortures of disease, unable to lift his head from his pillow, that he was butchered. He was shot several times through the head, his brains spattering upon the wall near his bed-side.10  Near the picket wall reaching from the corner of the barracks to the southwest corner of the church, lay in one promiscuous heap, disfigured in their mingled gore, twenty-five of the enemy and David Crockett, with his twelve "Tennessee boys." They had bravely defended their position during the whole siege.  Captain Dickinson commanded a gun which bore from the small window in the east end of the church. It was in the second story and there being no floor overhead, he erected a scaffold for the gun to stand upon. It was in the church that he fell. The story that he killed himself and child by springing from the window of the church is a romance. I know what part of the house his wife occupied at the time. She told me, however, that he fell as stated. They had but one child, who is still living. Some time ago a donation was made to her by our Legislature as "The Child of the Alamo."

Captain Dickinson was a brave, noble man, well worthy the distinction shown him in electing him to command of the Artillery in the absence of Colonel Neill who had been the principal officer in that department.  With regard to the number of persons who were found alive after the action, I have never learned that there were more than eight, Mrs. Dickinson and child, the man who was shot by order of the Commander-in-chief, Travis’ boy, two Mexican women and their children. One of these was Mrs. Doctor Alsbury of San Antonio. These persons were all treated with civility by the victors, except those who vainly trusted to the grace of one who knew but little of such a virtue.  The number of Texians who fell in the Alamo was one hundred and eighty-five, John W. Smith having gone out on the third. This agrees with Ruiz’s account, which says that the number burned was one hundred and eighty-two, of course exclusive of the Mexicans who fell with them.

Though the number of the Texians is thus easily ascertained, with regard to the loss of the enemy, at their hands, unfortunately there is some discrepancy. Mr. Yoakum records it at five hundred and twenty-one killed with a like number wounded; Mr. Potter, about five hundred killed and wounded. Mr. Ruiz says it was estimated at sixteen hundred. Indeed it excites no surprise that the authorities differ so widely about a matter which it seems ought to be free from all doubt. We know not why, and perhaps will never know. Yet, it is, nevertheless, a satisfaction to know that the question may yet be settled.  The messenger who was sent by the Navarro family at San Antonio to Colonel Seguin at Gonzales four days after the fall, reported the enemy’s loss to have been about fifteen hundred. Mrs. Dickinson and Travis’ boy, on their arrival at Gonzales, six days after the fall, reported the same. But there is another witness whose statement, I think is more conclusive still, since his information is of an official character and more definite. I allude to the private secretary of General Santa Anna, whose name I do not remember. During my interview with this man on the Brazos, I requested Captain Patton to ask him how many men they had brought to San Antonio, and what was their loss there. He did so, and I received substantially these words in reply: "We brought to San Antonio five thousand men and lost during the siege fifteen hundred and forty-four of the the best of them. The Texians fought more like devils than men." Santa Anna and Almonte both were present at the time. If the statement had deviated far from the truth, it certainly derogated sufficiently from their soldierly qualifications for them to have denied it, without scrupling to question the validity of their fellow.

The question however arises, did he mean that fifteen hundred and fourty-four men were lost to the service, some killed and some permanently wounded, or did he allude to the latter! Mr. Ruiz says, "Santa Anna's loss was estimated at 1600 men," which would have left us in the dark, had he not indicated plainly from another remark that he meant the killed only. Speaking of one charge made by the Toluca battalion, he says: "They commenced to scale the walls and suffered severely. Out of 800 men, 130 only were left alive." By this remark the former is relieved of mystery, showing that he meant to say that sixteen hundred was about the number killed; for if 670 men fell out of one battalion in one assault, the number slain during the entire siege must have been fully in proportion.This clears the matter of all doubt, for if Ruiz came by estimate so near to the number as ascertained by actual count, it at once shows that Santa Anna's secretary did not allude to the wounded, but meant that fifteen hundred and forty-four was the actual number slain. Now his statement being thus definite and corroborated by those of Mrs. Dickinson, Travis' boy, the messenger to Colonel Seguin, and also by Ruiz, who buried the dead, it is no longer a matter of doubt that he spoke truthfully, and we must accept fifteen hundred and forty-four as the number slain.  I never learned how many of the enemy were wounded. Dr. Jack Shackleford, who was taken prisoner at Goliad, when Fannin surrendered, and afterwards was sent to Bexar to administer to their necessities, told me that there were a great many, though he did not state the exact number.The action being over, and the unholy appetite of the enemy having been satisfied in the remains of their victims, Santa Anna ordered the slain of his ranks hauled to the grave yard, which was done, but there being not sufficient room to bury them all, some were thrown into the river.After the Mexicans had been separated from the heaps of the slain, wood was procured, and the bodies of the Texians collected for burning. They were then made into a heap, alternate layers of each being placed together, and kindling distributed throughout the whole. The pile being completed, about five o'clock in the evening it was lighted. Thus was reared the altar upon which the heroic sons of freedom were consecrated to their country. As the flames crackled and increased, the smoke of the sacrifice ascended on high, invoking the wrath of the Almighty upon the oppressors, and of Heaven, the retributive arm of offended Justice was lifting the sword of vengeance which fell upon them at San Jacinto.The pile being consumed, such of the bones of the Texians as remained, lay for nearly a year upon the ground, while the ashes floated upon the breeze that fanned the sacred spot. There was no friend to collect and preserve those relics of the brave. They were scattered about on the ground, unnoticed by an ungrateful populace who knew not how to appreciate their value. On the twenty-fifty day of February, 1837, they were collected by Colonel Juan N. Seguin and command, and placed in a rude but substantial coffin, and interred with military honors, in what was then a peach orchard near the scene of the last struggle. The place is now an enclosed lot. Nothing remains to designate the exact spot where they lay, though there are persons yet living (in 1860) who might find it. A small but elegant monument, 11 made from the stones of the Alamo, is preserved at the State Capitol and stands as a monument of their death.

It is proper to state that efforts were made by some in behalf of Travis, though many were tardy in their movements. Captain P. Dimmitt after leaving San Antonio on the twenty-third of February, went forthwith to his residence near Texana, where he raised a small company and started on the return, but, on reaching Gonzales about a week after the fall, and finding that the town was on fire and that General Houston had retreated on the previous night, he returned home.  John W. Smith, after starting with the second squad of recruits on Sunday morning, the sixth of March, rode rapidly and came within a short distance of the Cibolo where, not hearing the gun of the fortress, he stopped and remained until the next morning, when he proceeded to the Cibolo, about twenty-three miles from Bexar. The signal gun being still silent, he became satisfied that the Alamo had fallen, and remained there until Wednesday morning, when he sent eight men, as scouts, towards the city. They had only gone about six miles when they met the advance of the enemy who pursued them. Being well mounted they made good their escape. Smith retreated forthwith, reaching Gonzales on Thursday evening. On Friday night, Mrs. Dickinson and Travis' boy also reached that place, confirming the fact indicated by the silence of the signal gun, which few had been willing to believe.Of those who fell in the Alamo on the sixth of March, the proportion was about equal between the Texians and the volunteers who had lately arrived from the United States and other countries. The former were colonists who had long enjoyed the rights guaranteed them by the constitution of 1824, and were willing that that instrument should govern them without modification, but to be deprived of representation in the councils of the government was a wrong to which they had never been subjected and a usurpation to which they would never submit. These colonists were from all parts of Texas as then settled. The numbers from each section I am unable to say. I may say, however, that Gonzales county suffered more than any other. Being nearer to Bexar than any other American settlement, such of her inhabitants as responded to Travis' calls, were enabled to reach the scene of action sooner than any others. Many of her best citizens, some of them with large families to support, fell on this gloomy Sabbath.12   Those noble spirits sought neither emulation nor distinction nor the empty praises of mankind. "Liberty or death" was the motto, not only of Travis, but of all, and when the alternative threatened them, they feared it not, but with a consciousness of rectitude, forsook their homes with all their sacred endearments, and seized the sword in defense of the former. Texas may never forget that sad but glorious day. She may revel in the enjoyment of her liberties, but those liberties, which, wherever obtained the world over, are stained with the blood of heroes.

John Sutherland

Provided courtesy of Randall Tarin from the files of Alamo de Parras

2000-2006, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved