The old timers said that a dry, chill wind was blowing out of the northwest, right from the heart of the Commancheria, that dawn of March 6, 1836. It ripped the palls of black smoke billowing from the old Alamo mission into ragged tendrils and hurled them away, as if trying to clear the air of the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh and the acrid stench of gunpowder. By the time the sun broke above the horizon and cast a golden light over the old mission-turned-fortress, gunshots still sporadically rent the air, but the main sound was that of an enraged mob.
Near the old chapel, there was a tumult as isolated survivors trying to escape across the scrub were mercilessly pounced upon by the Mexican cavalry and savagely killed. Inside the compound, the soldatos, their blood lust and anger fed by the sight of men who’d killed so many of their compadres, pounced upon the unarmed wounded and able. Men trying to surrender were cut down. No quarter was shown.
As the last of the defenders were killed in the approaches to the chapel and inside the old chapel itself, it was the bayonet that did the work. With it, the enraged soldatos could work up close and savor the agony and torment of the men who, in the pre-dawn darkness, had poured a deadly cannonade and withering musket fire into their close-packed ranks. Many of the Texian defenders were tossed bodily upon the bayonets of several soldiers.
Even when all the defenders were dead, the soldatos’ rage continued unabated as the Texian bodies were desecrated, and every hiding space was checked for anyone left alive. The young son of one of the non-combatants hiding in the sacristy was shot when he stood up to place a blanket around his shoulders. Mexican officers quickly placed all non-combatants under their personal protection.
Soon, the officers and non-coms were called to take charge, but like the British regulars at Badajoz, they were immune to orders, exhortations or threats, even when His Excellency, General Santa Anna showed up to inspect his handiwork. Finally, buglers were summoned and after several calls of Retreat and Assembly, the uniformed mob began to respond. Now, only the awful cries of the Mexican wounded and dying could be heard. All the Texians fighters were dead. The Texian non-combatants – women, children and Negro slaves – who’d been hiding in the sacristy, were now prisoners of theMexican Army.
While General Santa Anna basked in his glorious victory, the poor soldatos and Zapadores (sappers), who’d paid the butcher’s bill, sat dazed in the glorious sunshine of the day they’d prayed they would live to see. Some of them clutched Rosaries, and tears of both grief and thanksgiving swept away the black powder residue from many faces. Their adrenalin was spent, their mettle in battle tested. Others were too numb to do anything except obey as their officers and non-coms, now in control, sought to turn the mob back into an army.
As that strange, post-battle gloom and quiet settled over the old mission compound, only the cries of the Mexican wounded and dying could be heard. Like all wounded, they were crying for their mothers, praying, cursing and begging for water. Always water. The first of the soldaderas – the solders’ “wives” – appeared, seeking their men. Their keening wails, agonized cries and shouts of relief spoke plaintively of whether their soldatos were dead, wounded or alive.
Flames consumed the long buildings across the side of the old mission compound – the so-called north barrack and Long Barracks – which had been taken only by room-to-room fighting and at a terrible cost. The rooms of the north barrack and the Long Barracks had been well prepared well in advance in the event the Mexicans breached the walls and gained entry. The Texians made the rooms formidable redoubts by trenching the floors and barricading the entrances with raw cowhides packed with earth. For a short time, the Texians had held out in these fortified rooms, exacting more casualties from the attackers.
As the Texians were swept off the crumbling old walls by the third Mexican assault of the pre-dawn attack, they neglected to spike their cannons, one of them a fine 18-pounder. These cannons were used by the Mexicans, used to great effect to assault the fortified barrack rooms.
The Mexicans turned the abandoned Texian cannons on the barricaded defenders. With cannon blast followed by a musket volley, the Mexican soldiers stormed the rooms. With sword, bayonet, knife, and fist the adversaries clashed. The trapped Texian defenders used every instrument at their disposal and fought like men who, knowing their death is certain, were resolved to exact the greatest toll possible in Mexican lives. In the darkened, smoke-filled rooms, it was hard to tell friend from foe, and historians have speculated that many Mexicans were undoubtedly killed and maimed by their own men.
Room by room, the Mexicans systematically took the north barrack and the Long Barracks. The Texian dead were invisible amongst the heaps of dead and wounded Mexicans. As the sun rose, the light began to pick out the soot-muted uniform colors of the various Mexican assault companies, mixed and entwined in death as they were in the confusing melee that swept over the Alamo compound.
The last resistance was in the chapel. Again, the Mexicans used captured cannon to blast apart the defenses of the entrance. James Bonham, Almaron Dickinson and Gregorio Esparza fired one last blast from their cannon into the onrushing attackers, then grabbed muskets but finally died under a fusillade of musketry or on the point of a Mexican bayonet.
The body of William Travis lay somewhere around the north wall, where he was killed firing his shotgun into the massed troops below early in the final assault. James Bowie died on his sickbed, and depending on which legend you believe, he either died too ill to raise his head or propped on a pillow with a brace of pistols and his famous knife.
One of Santa Anna’s officers records that the soldatos overwhelmed and captured a small group of defenders. His account states that David Crockett was among them. These prisoners were brought before Santa Anna and noting their valor in battle, General Castrillon asked for mercy on their behalf. Instead, Santa Anna answered with a “gesture of indignation” and ordered they be immediately executed. When grimy and exhausted officers who’d participated in the battle hesitated, His Excellency gestured to a group of nearby officers who’d taken no part in the assault. They immediately fell upon the helpless Texians with their swords. A Mexican officer wrote admiringly in his journal that: “Though tortured before they were killed, these unfortunates died without complaining and without humiliating themselves before their torturers.”
On Santa Anna’s orders, the Alcalde of San Antonio de Bexar, Francisco Ruiz, organized citizens to gather to gather firewood. The dead Texians and wood were stacked in alternating layers, forming three pyres, and at 5:00PM, these pyres were set ablaze.
That same dry, north wind, blowing from the heart of the Commancheria, fanned high the flames of those pyres, and embers floated into the darkening gloom. The fires burned, hot and bright, long into the next day, turning the mortal remains of the Alamo defenders into ashes. But from these pyres rose a flame of a different type, so powerful and hot as to ignite a hatred, a yearning for vengeance that would drive a rabble army beyond its endurance to a marshy place on the lower San Jacinto River. It was from this crucible, poured from the furnaces of stout and resolute hearts, that a new Republic was forged. Forged in the refiner’s fire of everlasting victory!
The Republic of Texas.
Victory or Death!
The Alamo Survivors http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Texan_survivors_of_the_Battle_of_the_Alamo
The Alamo As A Pyrrhic Victory: The Mexican Experience In The Battle Of The Alamo http://www.lurj.org/article.php/vol1n2/alamo.xml
The Alamo Visitors’ Site (very good) http://www.thealamo.org/visitors/overview.php