“At the sound of the bugle they could no longer doubt that the time had come for them to conquer or die. Had they still doubted, the imprudent shouts for Santa Anna given by our columns of attack must have opened their eyes. As soon as our troops were in sight, a shower of grape and musket balls was poured upon them from the fort, the garrison of which at the sound of the bugle had rushed to their posts.”
This was part of the report of Don Vincente Filisola, a General in the Mexican Army. He was describing the opening moments of the final assault on the Alamo which took place on today’s date, March 6 in 1836.
Santa Anna Moves North to Quell Rebellion in Texas
In January of 1836, an army led by the Mexican president, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (below) concentrated south
of the Rio Grande, intending to quell the rebellious province of Texas. Sam Houston, commanding the Texas armies ordered San Antonio abandoned, but troops under James Bowie and William Travis chose to remain at the Alamo, a mission compound converted for military purposes. The Mexicans have been estimated to have numbered between 2,500 and 5,000 men versus only about 185 Texans. The siege commenced on February 23, but the Texans put up a determined fight culminating thirteen days later with the all-out assault described above.
The defenders on the walls of the compound were eventually pushed back, and the fighting became a room to room battle inside the buildings within the compound, as described by Mexican sergeant Francisco Becerra:
“The Texans fought like devils. It was short range — muzzle to muzzle, — hand to hand — musket and rifle — bayonet and Bowie knife — all were mingled in confusion. Here a squad of Mexicans, there a Texan or two. The crash of firearms, the shouts of defiance, the cries of the dying and the wounded, made a din almost infernal. The Texians defended desperately every inch of the fort — over-powered by numbers, they would be forced to abandon a room; they would rally in the next and defend it until further resistance became impossible.”
The De la Pena Diary, and Davy Crockett
The only eyewitness accounts of March 6 available from are from the Mexican side. This is because none of the defenders survived the day. Whether or not any defenders managed to survive the battle itself remains a matter of controversy. Santa Anna had ordered that no prisoners were to be taken. Nevertheless, some accounts of the battle from Mexican soldiers have surfaced over the years which say that several of the Texans were in fact taken prisoner, and were subsequently executed on the orders of Santa Anna. Details in these accounts vary; the number ranges between two to seven men. Particular dispute centers on the fact that most of these accounts mention Davy Crockett
(Above in a painting by J.G. Chapman) as having been one of the survivors. One such hotly disputed document is attributed to Mexican Lieutenant Jose Enrique de la Pena, the original of which is housed at the University of Texas at Austin. The authenticity of the de la Pena account has been called into question, with some suggesting that it is a forgery written sometime later. Why this account should be so violently disputed by some remains a mystery to this author, as in both accounts, Crockett met his fate bravely. Nevertheless, the dispute continues, and it is unlikely that it will ever be settled to everyone’s satisfaction. An excerpt from de la Pena’s account is presented here for “Today in History” readers to consider for themselves:
“Some seven men had survived the general carnage and, under the protection of General Castrillon, they were brought before Santa Anna. Among them was one of great stature, well proportioned, with regular features, in whose face there was the imprint of adversity, but in whom one also noticed a degree of resignation and nobility that did him honor. He was the naturalist David Crockett, well known in North America for his unusual adventures….. Santa Anna answered Castrillon’s intervention on Crockett’s behalf with a gesture of indignation and, addressing himself to the…troops closest to him, ordered his execution. The commanders and officers were outraged at this action and did not support the order, hoping that once the fury of the moment had blown over these men would be spared; but several officers who were around the president….thrust themselves forward in order to flatter their commander, and with swords in hand, fell on these unfortunate, defenseless men just as a tiger leaps upon his prey. Though tortured before they were killed, these unfortunates died without complaining and without humiliating themselves before their torturers. I turned away horrified in in order not to witness such a barbarous scene….I confess that the very memory of it makes me tremble and that my ear can still hear the penetrating, doleful sound of the victims.”
“Eyewitness to America” edited by David Colbert, Pantheon Books, 1997, pp. 149 -150.
“The Alamo; Siege and Battle” by Alan C. Huffines, Eakin Press, 1999, p. 157, and p. 186.