This Day in Texas History:
Day Thirteen of the Siege of the Alamo
Sunday March 6, 1836
At Midnight on March 5, 1836, Santa Anna’s troops began moving into position for their planned attack of the Alamo compound. For several hours, the soldiers lay on the ground in complete darkness. About 5:30 A.M., they received the order to begin the assault.
The massed troops moved quietly, encountering the Texian sentinels first. They killed them as they slept.
No longer able to contain the nervous energy gripping them, cries of “Viva la Republica” and “Viva Santa Anna” broke the stillness.
Inside the compound, Adjutant John Baugh had just begun his morning rounds when he heard the cries. He hurriedly ran to the quarters of Colonel William Barret Travis. He awakened him with: “Colonel Travis, the Mexicans are coming!” Travis and his slave Joe quickly scrambled from their cots. The two men grabbed their weapons and headed for the north wall battery. Travis yelled “Come on boys, the Mexicans are on us and we’ll give them Hell! “Unable to see the advancing troops for the darkness, the Texian gunners blindly opened fire; they had packed their cannon with jagged pieces of scrap metal, shot, and chain. The muzzle flash briefly illuminated the landscape and it was with horror that the Texians understood their predicament. The enemy had nearly reached the walls of the compound.
The Mexican soldiers had immediate and terrible losses. That first cannon blast ripped a huge gap in their column. Colonel José Enrique de la Peña would later write “…a single cannon volley did away with half the company of Chasseurs from Toluca.” The screams and moans of the dying and wounded only heightened the fear and chaos of those first few moments of the assault.
Travis hastily climbed to the top of the north wall battery and readied himself to fire; discharging both barrels of his shotgun into the massed troops below. As he turned to reload, a single lead ball struck him in the forehead sending him rolling down the ramp where he came to rest in a sitting position. Travis was dead. Joe saw his master go down and so retreated to one of the rooms along the west wall to hide.
There was no safe position on the walls of the compound. Each time the Texian riflemen fired at the troops below, they exposed themselves to deadly Mexican fire. On the south end of the compound, Colonel Juan Morales and about 100 riflemen attacked what they perceived was the weak palisade area. They met heavy fire from Crockett’s riflemen and a single cannon. Morales’s men quickly moved toward the southwest corner and the comparative safety of cover behind an old stone building and the burned ruins of scattered jacales.
On the north wall, exploding Texian canister shredded but did not halt the advance of Mexican soldiers. Cos’s and Duque’s companies, now greatly reduced in number, found themselves at the base of the north wall. Romero’s men joined them after his column had wheeled to the right to avoid deadly grapeshot from the guns of the Alamo church.
General Castrillón took command from the wounded Colonel Duque and began the difficult task of getting his men over the wall. As the Mexican army reached the walls, their advance halted. Santa Anna saw this lag and so committed his reserve of 400 men to the assault bringing the total force to around 1400 men.
Amid the Texian cannon fire tearing through their ranks, General Cos’s troops performed a right oblique to begin an assault on the west wall. The Mexicans used axes and crowbars to break through the barricaded windows and openings. They climbed through the gun ports and over the wall to enter the compound.
The Texians turned their cannon northward to check this new onslaught. With cannon fire shifted, Colonel Morales recognized a momentary advantage. His men stormed the walls and took the southwest corner, the 18-pounder, and the main gate. The Mexican army was now able to enter from almost every direction.
In one room near the main gate, the Mexican soldiers found Colonel James Bowie. Bowie was critically ill and confined to bed when the fighting began. The soldiers showed little mercy as they silenced him with their bayonets.
The Texians continued to pour gunfire into the advancing Mexican soldiers devastating their ranks. Still they came.
When they saw the enemy rush into the compound from all sides, the Texians fell back to their defenses in the Long Barracks. Crockett’s men in the palisade area retreated into the church.
The rooms of the north barrack and the Long Barracks had been prepared well in advance in the event the Mexicans gained entry. The Texians made the rooms formidable by trenching and barricading them with raw cowhides filled with earth. For a short time, the Texians held their ground.
The Mexicans turned the abandoned Texian cannon on the barricaded rooms. With cannon blast followed by a musket volley, the Mexican soldiers stormed the rooms to finish the defenders inside the barrack.
Mexican soldiers rushed the darkened rooms. With sword, bayonet, knife, and fist the adversaries clashed. In the darkened rooms of the north barrack, it was hard to tell friend from foe. The Mexicans systematically took room after room; finally, the only resistance came from within the church itself.
Once more, the Mexicans employed the Texians’ cannon to blast apart the defenses of the entrance. Bonham, Dickinson and Esparza died by their cannon at the rear of the church. An act of war became a slaughter. It was over in minutes.
According to one of Santa Anna’s officers, the Mexican army overwhelmed and captured a small group of defenders. According to this officer, Crockett was among them. The prisoners were brought before Santa Anna where General Castrillón asked for mercy on their behalf. Santa Anna instead answered with a “gesture of indignation” and ordered their execution. Nearby officers who had not taken part in the assault fell upon the helpless men with their swords. One Mexican officer noted in his journal that: “Though tortured before they were killed, these unfortunates died without complaining and without humiliating themselves before their torturers.”
Santa Anna ordered Alcalde Francisco Ruiz to gather firewood from the surrounding countryside and in alternating layers of wood and bodies of the dead were stacked.
At 5:00 O’clock in the evening the pyres were lit. In this final act, Santa Anna’s “small affair” ended.