"It could be observed that a single cannon volley did away 
with half the company of chasseurs from Toluca..."
José Enrique de la Peña
In the early dawn hours of March 6, 1836, the Mexican army bravely charged into the face of certain death. It came in the form of the gunners of the largest artillery contingent west of the Mississippi.  Artillery played a vital role in the Texas Revolution and its use influenced several  pivotal decisions during its course.

The 1835-36 Texas Revolution began as shots were fired over a cannon that had been given to the town of Gonzales for protection against Indians.  As the rebellion progressed,  the Texians were hard pressed to find ordnance and found it even harder to transport.  Subsequently, the reluctance to abandon such a precious commodity played an important role in the decision to remain at the Alamo.  At Goliad,  Fannin's men may have all died because Fannin was hesitant to abandon his artillery.  At San Jacinto holding on to the "Twin Sisters"  cannon played a significant role in the Mexican defeat.

During this period "cannon" refered to the barrel of the gun.  The entire gun was known as a "piece of ordnance".  Cannon were made of either iron, brass or bronze.  These materials became designations that were used  to denote the material of which a cannon was made.  A cannon was classified by the size of the projectile it fired.  For example, a six-pound cannon fired a six-pound ball. In 1830's Texas artillery fell into one of four classifications:

  1. Guns that fired shot or shell over long distances.
  2. Carronades were shorter barreled, lighter pieces that could fire at higher elevations. These were used defensively and on ocean going vessels.
  3. Howitzers were short barreled weapons that could be fired at steep angles or horizontally.
  4. Mortars had short stout barrels that fired an exploding canister shell.  This canister shell could be lobbed over the defensive works of an enemy.
Guns were mounted on carriages to fitted for a specific duty.  These usually fell into one of three categories.
  1. Garrison carriages were used in permanent locations where weight was not a factor.  These could be made of either wood or iron.
  2. Siege carriages usually made of wood were used to hold heavy siege guns.
  3. Field carriages were light weight wooden carriages designed for mobility.
The cannon of the Alamo were probably mounted on field carriages.  There is some evidence that a few pieces, such as the iron 12 pound gunade, were mounted on garrison carriages.  A gunade appears as a combination of a cannon and a carronade and was sometime used on merchant ships of the time to meet insurance requirements. How this particular specimen ended up 150 miles inland is another of the Alamo's many mysteries.

In 1836, artillery was loaded and fired in a fashion similar to the rifles and muskets of the day.

First, a pre-measured amount of powder was shoved down the barrel. Wadding was then stuffed into the barrel and packed on top of the powder before inserting the chosen projectile. The cannon was then primed by pouring powder into the touchhole on top of the barrel. Firing was accomplished by touching off the priming powder with a slowmatch that was held on a long rod called a "linstock".

Projectiles could be solid shot (cannon ball), exploding shell, grape shot, cannister or even scrap metal such as nails, horse shoes and chains that had been chopped to pieces.  This method turned a cannon into a very effective scatter gun. The devastation that these jagged pieces of scrap inflicted must have been terrible and horrifying, unlike anything the Mexican soldados had faced before.

Based on recent research, we know that they faced 18 cannon of various sizes consisting of:  the famous 18 pounder, one iron 16 pounder, one iron 12 pound gunnade, one 9" pedrero, two iron 8- pounders, six 6-pounders, three iron 4- pounders, another 4-pounder of either brass or bronze and two 3-pounders.

Two small brass and one small iron gun were not used during the battle and are probably the guns shown lying in the Alamo courtyard on the Labastida map of the compound.

This would have brought the total number of cannon in the compound to 21.  This was the number agreed upon by Santa Anna's report of March 6th 1836 and the sketch made by Juan Sanchez Navarro.

Col. James Neill  reported 24 cannon.   However, this number matches  if we subtract the three guns sent to Philip Dimmit at Goliad.  Further support for  this number is given in the list of captured arms and equipment compiled by José M. Perez who also listed 21 guns. Susanna Dickinson, whose reports varied, stated "about 18 cannon were mounted on parapet and in service all the time."

 The 9" pedrero fired stone balls that sunk ships and  was used to defend batteries against assault.   During the Alamo siege, it was probably used as a giant howitzer.

Military doctrine of the time assigned six men to each cannon crew.  If Travis  had followed this formula nearly half the garrison would have been assigned to the artillery. A gun could be manned with fewer men although not as quickly and it is unlikely that anymore than three men were assigned to a crew. Even with smaller gun crews, this was still a very large percentage of the available men used to man the artillery.

The accumulation of artillery by the Texian army began with the 6-pound bronze Gonzales cannon that has erroneously been reported as being buried on the Gonzales road to Bexar. Statements given by James Neill, Sion R. Bostick, William T. Austin and longtime Gonzales resident Mrs. D.S.H. Darst seem to support  that the Gonzales cannon arrived at the Alamo. The famous 18-pounder was probably the last piece to join Col. Neill's artillery park in the Alamo.  Green B. Jameson placed the cannon in the southwest corner of the compound.

The 18-pounder arrived at Velasco with the New Orleans Grey's aboard the schooner "Columbus".  It was left behind when it they realized that they had failed to bring any ball ammunition with the gun. It finally arrived in Bexar after General Cos's surrender in December in time to begin its part in the Siege.

As with  everything  associated with the Alamo, the exact placement and type of  artillery pieces is subject to debate. Most Alamo researchers/authors agree that there were:

3 guns in the chapel mounted on the ramp
1 to 4 guns in the palisades area
1 to 2 guns at the northwest corner
2 to 3 guns on the north wall
2 cannon in the lunette guarding the main gate
2 cannon redoubt facing the main gate
1 cannon in the cattle pen
1  to 2 cannon in the horse corral, firing either over or through the west wall
1  18-pounder in the southwest corner.

After the siege, the Mexican army retook the Alamo.  They began to make repairs and improve its fortifications until word was received that the army had been defeated at San Jacinto.  At which time the repairs they had made were razed.  At least 13 cannon were spiked and had their cascabals and trunions broken off before being dumped in the ditches around the compound. An unknown number of bronze and brass cannon were melted down and an unknown number were taken back to Mexico successfully putting an end to the Alamo Artillery.

John Bryant, Staff Writer for Alamo de Parras
Illustration ©1997 Gary Zaboly. Used with Permission.


Archivo Historico Militar Mexicano, Secreteria de la Defensa Nacional, Mexico City,
Expediente XI/481.3/1655

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