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DeWitt Colony Alamo Defenders | Independence-Index


The Fall of the Alamo

By Dr. John Sutherland
1936, The Naylor Company, San Antonio, Texas.

Written in 1860 and now published for the first time an authentic account of that tragic event in the history of Texas compiled from facts known to the author and supported by evidence of others who were witnesses to the siege and fall of the Alamo together with a sketch of the life of the author by his grand-daughter -- Annie B. Sutherland.

Dr. John SutherlandSketch of the Life of Dr. John Sutherland.  Dr. John Sutherland was born in Virginia May 11, 1792 on Dan River near the site of the present town of Danville.His father Captain John Sutherland, or Sutherlin as the name was then called, was an officer in the Revolutionary War. Of sturdy Highland Scotch descent, his forefathers emigrated to America in the early days of its history.Captain John Sutherland with his family, following the westward trend of emigration, moved from Virginia to Tennessee in 1805 and settled on Clinch River, where he kept a ferry known as Sutherland's Ferry. At the age of young manhood, John Sutherland, Jr. went to Knoxville where for several years he clerked in a store for a man named Crozier. Later he became a partner in the firm.

About 1824 he moved with his family to Decatur, Alabama, where for a time he was president of a bank. After a short time he moved to Tuscumbia, Alabama, and entered into the mercantile business with his brother George. They traveled on horseback to Philadelphia and Baltimore where they bought their merchandise, which was hauled in wagons to Tuscumbia. About 1827-28, through unfortunate business ventures, the firm became financially embarrassed and in 1829 closed up its business.

In December of that year George Sutherland moved to Texas and settled on the Navidad River at a place now in Jackson County. During the winter of 1829-30 several other related families emigrated to Texas and settled in Austin's Colony, taking out grants of land and establishing homes under the liberal colonization laws governing Texas.

Meanwhile the subject of our sketch remained in Tuscumbia, practicing medicine under the old Thompsonian System. He continued the practice of medicine through the succeeding years of his life, and in the 50's, when cholera swept through the Southern States, he distinguished himself by discovering a cure for that dread malady, whereby he never lost a case not already in the last stages of the disease. Dr. Sutherland freely passed his great discovery on to other doctors for the relief of suffering humanity.

In December, 1835, Dr. Sutherland, Captain William Patton and several others visited Texas with a view to settling on lands which the Mexican government offered as an inducement to settlers to make homes in Texas.

Arriving at San Felipe they took the oath of allegiance to the new government. They then proceeded toward San Antonio. Meeting General Sam Houston, then in command of the Texian forces, he advised them against going on to San Antonio, saying that he had ordered all troops to fall back east of the Guadalupe River.

The party however went on to San Antonio, arriving there on the 18th of January, 1836. The accompanying account of the "Fall of the Alamo" by Dr. Sutherland gives his connection with that tragic event in the history of Texas. After the fall of the Alamo, General Houston sent messages by Dr. Sutherland to President David G. Burnet, after which President Burnet appointed him one of his aides-de-camp, sending him a written order 1 to facilitate the retirement of the women and children over Groce’s Ferry to the east side of the Brazos River. Having accomplished this mission, Dr. Sutherland returned to Harrisburg, when President Burnet appointed him his private secretary, which position he held until after the battle of San Jacinto and peace was assured. Then he returned to his family in Tuscumbia, Alabama. In the fall of 1837, having closed up his business in Alabama, he brought his family to Texas, reaching the settlement known as Egypt in December. Next year he built a home on the west side of the Colorado River, four miles from Egypt, where he lived until the fall of 1849, when he moved to what is now known as Wilson County, settling near the Sulphur Springs on the Cibolo River. He was the founder and proprietor and first post master of the little town of Sutherland Springs. A lover of education, he encouraged and supported schools in our pioneer State for his own and his neighbor’s children, and when he had provided his children with the best advantages available here, he sent them off to higher institutions of learning. A devout Christian from early manhood, he gave freely of his substance to the building of churches and the support of the ministry. His house was ever the retreat of the wayfarer and the welcoming home of the homeless and needy. He died at his home at Sutherland Springs, April 11, 1867, at the age of seventy-four years and eleven months and is buried in the Sutherland family lot in the Sutherland Springs Cemetery which was a gift from himself to the town. Over his grave and that of his third wife, his surviving children erected a substantial monument. He died as he had lived, a pioneer, a patriot, a Christian gentleman. This sketch of his life is affectionately dedicated to his memory by his grand-daughter.

Annie B. Sutherland

The Fall of the Alamo
By Dr. John Sutherland

In 1835, I visited Texas with a view to making it my home, and it was my lot to witness her in that struggle with the tyrannical power of Mexico which terminated in securing the liberties we now enjoy.

Having acknowledged allegiance to the Provisional Government of Texas, and enlisted in the service of the army for one month, et. cetera, I proceeded, in company with Captain William Patton and ten others, to San Antonio, which place we reached about the eighteenth of January, 1836. From that time until the twenty-third of February, I was cognizant of all that occurred of importance within the garrison of the Alamo, and remember well its hopes, fears, and anxieties for the safety of the country, and her interests.

I propose to state such facts as came within my personal knowledge up to the time of my departure from Bexar,2 and such information as I have derived from the statements of others who were witnesses of the siege and fall.

How I escaped the fate of my comrades, being crippled by my horse falling on me, will appear in its proper connection with the other incidents which I propose to relate. I have frequently conversed at length with one who was in the Alamo for some days whilst the siege was going on, and with others who were there during the whole of it, and witnessed its beginning, its progress, and its unfortunate termination. The first alluded to was John W. Smith, whose name not only stands prominently connected with this tragic affair, but deserves a conspicuous place in a great portion of the history of our country. The latter were those who were spared from the massacre, Mrs. Dickinson, and Colonel Travis’s servant. I had also an interview with Colonel Almonte, General Santa Anna, and his private secretary, all of whose accounts agree whenever they relate to the same incidents, and with the other three mentioned, as well with my own knowledge of what took place whilst I remained at San Antonio. I should not under ordinary circumstances be disposed to credit the Mexican authorities, for they are not always reliable when left to stand upon their own merits, but since they agree substantially with other witnesses upon whom we may safely rely, there can be no good reason why their statements should not be adopted as true. These statements being made separately, and at different times, and corroborating each other as they do, build a weight of evidence which is not to be obtained from any other source, and which seems substantial and conclusive.

Though many years have elapsed since the Alamo fell, I have never, until recently, thought it necessary for me to publish anything in regard to it, supposing the facts would appear from some other source substantially correct. But, since several conflicting accounts have been published, some of which differ widely from my own knowledge of facts, I have deemed it my duty to history and to the children of the worthy patriots, to write out and publish my version of the last noble struggle of the gallant Travis and his noble band.

When reaching San Antonio we found the forces there in a manner destitute. Grant and Johnson had left but a short time previous with their companies taking with them almost everything in the shape of supplies and more than their share of the scant allowance of clothing, blankets and medicines. The Government, of course, at that date was not able to meet their demands. They lived upon beef and corn bread. The former they obtained from the numerous stocks of cattle in the country and the later from the few farmers who raised corn by irrigation in the vicinity of the town. But the consumption of these commodities at Bexar had been so rapid for some months past that both were becoming scarce and not easily obtained. They were also out of money.

They were all volunteers and their own resources upon which they had relied most of the time were now exhausted. There being no treasury they, of course, had not received anything in the shape of pay. A small amount was obtained from a few individuals from time to time and distributed amongst those in the greatest need, but the liberality of these few soon reduced them to a like degree of want. This state of affairs, with no prospect of relief, was fast bringing about dissatisfaction among the men. Colonel James C. Neill, who was then in command, readily foresaw that something must be done, and that, too, without delay, or his position would be abandoned and left subject to recapture by the enemy should they return. He therefore determined to procure, if possible, a portion of a donation of five thousand dollars which had been given to the cause of Texas by Harry Hill of Nashville, Tennessee, and accordingly he left Bexar about the twelfth or fifteenth of February for that purpose.

About this time there were frequent rumors of an invasion of the country, but being generally of an unauthorized character, but little notice was paid to them. It was generally believed that the terms upon which Cos had been permitted to return to Mexico would be complied with by him and that his defeat would serve as a warning to Santa Anna and induce him to postpone operations until summer.By Colonel Neillís absence, Colonel James Bowie was left in command but he was shortly afterwards taken sick and confined to his bed. In a few days, however, Colonel Travis reached Bexar and, by the request of the former, accepted the command. Travis had been commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel and ordered to raise a regiment of men for the regular service, but owing to the distracted state of the public mind and the embarrassing condition of affairs generally, he had been unable to do so. In the meantime, rumors of a suspicious character reached him. It was said that the country would be invaded much sooner than had been expected. Regarding the maintenance of the position of Bexar as of vital importance to the country, and knowing the inadequacy of the forces there, he set out forthwith to join them. On his route he enlisted about twenty men, with which number he reached Bexar a few days after Colonel Neillís departure.Colonel David Crockett arrived a few days later with twelve others, direct from Tennessee. Crockett was immediately offered a command by Travis, and called upon by the crowd for a speech. The former honor he would not accept, but mounted a goods-box on the Civil Plaza, amongst prolonged cheers of the people. The applause, however, was followed by profound silence, when the full-toned voice of the distinguished speaker rose gradually above the audience and fell with smooth and lively accent upon the ears of all. Its sound was familiar to many who had heard it in days past, while the hearts of all beat a lively response to the patriotic sentiments which fell from his lips. Frequently applause greeted him, as he related in his own peculiar style some of those jolly anecdotes with which he often regaled his friends and which he, only, could tell with appropriate grace. He alluded frequently to his past career and during the course of his remarks stated that not long since he had been a candidate for Congress in his native State and that during the canvass he told his constituents that "if they did not elect him, they might all go to----- and he would go to Texas." After which he concluded in substance as follows: "And fellow citizens, I am among you. I have come to your country, though not, I hope, through any selfish motive whatever. I have come to aid you all that I can in your noble cause. I shall identify myself with your interests, and all the honor that I desire is that of defending as a high private, in common with my fellow-citizens, the liberties of our common country."This made many a man who had not known him before Colonel Crockett's friend.

The strength of the Texians at Bexar now consisted in one hundred and fifty-two men. Eighty of these were a part of the original garrison, who had not caught the Matamoras fever. Twenty-five had returned with Colonel Bowie from Goliad. Colonel Travis had brought with him about twenty; Colonel Crockett, twelve; Captain Patton, eleven. These detachments, with their respective commanders, made the number. A few days after their concentration, some twenty Mexicans of the city joined them, increasing the number to one hundred and seventy-two. 

It is, perhaps, proper to notice that very few of the Mexican citizens of the Republic were friendly to the cause of Texas. Some were openly hostile and had gone to Mexico to join Santa Anna, while a majority occupied a kind of halfway ground, yet eager to follow the dominant party. It was said that between a thousand and fifteen hundred of them joined Santa Anna during his stay in Bexar and whilst on the march from that place to the Colorado.

Of the one hundred and seventy-two men now at San Antonio, some twenty-five or thirty were on the sick list and suffering through want of medical aid. The surgeon of the command, Dr. Pollard, had exhausted his stock of medicines and no others were to be obtained in the country. In this emergency I was requested to take charge of the sick and appropriate a small quantity of medicines that I had brought with me to their necessities. I did so and finally succeeded in relieving most of them. A few, however, did not recover entirely, one of which was Colonel Bowie, whose disease, being of a peculiar nature, was not to be cured by an ordinary course of treatment.

Having taken this hasty view of the manner in which Colonel Travis and his command were brought to Bexar, and of their necessitious circumstances all the while, I will notice briefly the operations of the enemy.

Although the frequent rumors of an immediate invasion which reached us failed to arouse the mass of our population to a sense of danger, they were not without their effect upon some, who, notwithstanding the fancied security of the majority, realized the danger of a surprise and the insecurity of our interests and were disposed to contribute their efforts to prevent being taken unawares. One of these was Captain Juan N. Sequin, who, though he has since been charged with hostility to the Texas cause, certainly did not manifest it at the time of which I am speaking. He manifested every desire for the success of our cause. He was then a citizen of San Antonio, and believing that the conditions upon which Cos had been allowed to return to Mexico would be of no avail, and that his inglorious surrender would but exasperate Santa Anna, and cause him to strike an early blow upon the rebellious province, he used the precaution of stationing a spy upon the Rio Grande, with orders to report to him immediately any movements which indicated an advance. This spy was a young man by the name of Blaz Herrera, a cousin of Colonel Seguin. He remained at his post sometime before any signs of a suspicious character were discovered. About the eighteenth of February, however, Santa Anna commenced to cross the river (Rio Grande) with an army of five thousand men. Herrera made some inquiry as to their numbers, plans, et cetera, without being suspected of his motives. According to his instructions he set out post haste for Bexar, where he arrived about dark on Saturday evening, the twentieth, and reported his discoveries to his employer. Colonel Seguin immediately informed Colonel Travis of what he had learned and assured him of his confidence in Herrera.

About nine o’clock that night a council of war was held in Colonel Travis’ room. Herrera was brought before it and required to report what he had seen. He reported that he had seen the army crossing the river and through inquiry had ascertained that the main body of the force, numbering thirty-five hundred, would travel slowly, but that the cavalry, fifteen hundred strong, would make a forced march for the purpose of taking the Texians by surprise. This created some considerable discussion. Some held that it was more authentic than anything that had reached them before, whilst a majority declared that it was only the report of a Mexican, and entitled to no more consideration than many others of a like character that were daily harangued throughout the country. The council adjourned without coming to any conclusion as to whether it was necessary to give any heed to the warning or not.

In justice to the incredulous part of the council, I will remark that such was the universal distrust of Mexican authority that no report coming from it ever received due consideration. So many false alarms had been given by a degraded class of "Greasers" continually passing to and fro through the west, that no danger was apprehended. Many had persuaded themselves that Santa Anna would never attempt to conquer Texas and the most general reply to any argument to the contrary was that he was afraid to meet us. "He knew better." A majority believed that Cos’ defeat would have the effect of intimidating him and, if not deterring him from invasion altogether, would at least induce him to postpone it till a late day. This will relieve Travis of the charge which has been urged against him that he manifested a want of subordination in neglecting scouting service. He only reached San Antonio, as we have seen, two days before this report, and that area being the extreme western part, information from Mexico was most likely to arrive there first. Finding such an opinion prevailing, it was almost an unavoidable conclusion that the newcomers would fall into it. Until Colonel Neill’s departure, Deaf Smith had been a regular scout, but they too, entertained the common belief, or they would have never left their post.

The night and following day, after the arrival of Herrera, passed as usual, without the occurrence of anything worthy of notice. The little excitement which was created passed off as fast as the report which produced it became more and more discredited. The twenty-second passed likewise. On the morning of the twenty-third the inhabitants were observed to be in quite an unusual stir. The citizens of every class were hurrying to and fro through the streets with obvious signs of excitement. Houses were being emptied and their contents put into carts and hauled off. Such of the poorer class who had no better mode of conveyance, were shouldering their effects and leaving on foot.

These movements solicited investigation. Orders were issued that no others be allowed to leave the city, which had the effect of increasing their commotion. Several were arrested and interrogated as to the cause of the movement, but no satisfactory answer could be obtained. The most general reply was that they were going out to the country to prepare for the coming crop. This excuse, however, availed nothing for it was not to be supposed that every person in the city was a farmer. Colonel Travis persisted in carrying out his order and continued the investigation. Nine o’clock came and no discoveries were made. Ten o’clock in like manner passed and finally the eleventh hour was drawing near and the matter was yet a mystery. It was hoped by Colonel Travis that his diligent investigation and the strict enforcement of the order prohibiting the inhabitants from leaving the city would have the effect of frightening them into a belief that their course was not the wisest for them to pursue; that he, provoked by their obstinacy in refusing to reveal the true cause of the uneasiness, would resort to measures which might be more distasteful than any which would probably follow an open confession. But in that he was disappointed. The treacherous wretches persisted in their course, greatly to his discomfiture all the while.

Finally he was informed secretly by a friendly Mexican, that the enemy’s cavalry had reached the Leon, eight miles from the city, on the previous night, and had sent a messenger to the inhabitants, informing them of the fact, and warning them to evacuate the city at early dawn, as it would be attacked the next day. He stated further that a messenger had arrived a day or two before and that it had been the purpose of the enemy to take the Texians by surprise, but in consequence of a heavy rain having fallen on the road, their march was impeded and they were unable to reach the place in time. This statement seemed altogether plausible, and substantiated the statement in the report given by Herrera three days before, yet it wore the countenance of so many of their false rumors that it was a matter of doubt that there was any truth in it.

Colonel Travis came to me forthwith, however, and informed me of what he had learned, and wished to borrow a horse of me to send out to the Salado for his Caballado 3 that he might start a scout through the country. As I had two, of course he obtained one, when a runner was started forthwith. In company with Colonel Travis and at his request, I proceeded to post a reliable man on the roof of the old church as a sentinel. We all three went up but were unable to make any discoveries. The Colonel and myself returned. The sentinel remained at his post with orders to ring the bell if he should discover any sign which he might deem ominous.

Colonel Travis went to his room, and I to the store of Captain Nat Lewis, who requested me to assist in taking an inventory of his goods, saying that he had some suspicion that they would soon be taken from him. We proceeded to the task but had not been long engaged when the sentinel rang the bell and cried out, "The enemy are in view." Immediately I went out and ran across the plaza toward the church, when a considerable crowd soon gathered around. Colonel Travis was also there. Several persons ran up to the sentinel’s post and, not being able to see anything justifying the cry, halloed that it was a "false alarm," and "our fears useless." The sentinel exclaimed with an oath the "he had seen them," and "that they had hid behind a row of brushwood." The crowd disbanded, the greater part of them discrediting the report altogether.

I then proposed to Colonel Travis that if any one who knew the country would accompany me, I would go out and ascertain to a certainty the truth or falsity of the whole. John W. Smith was soon at hand. When we started, taking the Laredo road, I remarked to Travis just as I mounted my horse, that "if he saw us returning in any other gait than a slow pace, he might be sure that we had seen the enemy." This arrangement proved of some benefit. A moderate gait soon brought us to the top of town, when we were not surprised to find ourselves within one hundred and fifty yards of fifteen hundred men, well mounted and equipped; their polished armor glistening in the rays of the sun as they were formed in a line between the chaparral and mesquite bushes mentioned by the sentinel; the commander riding along the line, waving his sword, as though he might be giving directions as to the mode of attack. We did not remain long watching their movements, but wheeled around and started full speed back to town. In consequence of a heavy rain through the previous night, the road was quite muddy and my horse, being rather smoothly shod, began to slip and scramble and stopped at the end of fifty yards where, with a tumbling somersault, he pitched my gun out of my hand, throwing me some distance ahead of him, and followed himself, rolling directly across my knees. Smith dismounted and pulled him off of me. Having been slightly stunned, he had made no effort to rise but lay perfectly still holding me fast beneath him. After some moments he managed to get up when, by the assistance of Smith, I did likewise. Picking up the pieces of my gun I found it broken off at the breech. Being again mounted, we resumed our gait and were not long in getting to town.

On reaching the Civil Plaza we met Colonel Crockett who informed us that Colonel Travis had removed his headquarters, together with the entire force, from the city to the Alamo. Smith here left me and went to his house.

On learning that the Mexicans had arrived, Colonel Crockett returned with me. We crossed the river at the ford below and on our way up to the fort we met Captain Dimmitt and Lieutenant Nobles. The former inquired where we going. I told him, when he remarked that "there were not men enough at Bexar to defend the place, that it was bound to fall"; and insisted that I go with him saying he "would see me safely out," when we would go and bring reinforcements to the garrison. I replied that "I should go and report to Colonel Travis, and could not say that I could accompany him, even then." As we rode on he remarked that he would wait for me down the street at his house. It was not until attempting to dismount in front of Travis’ room, that I was sensible of the extent of the injury caused by the fall of my horse. On alighting from the saddle, my knee gave way and I fell to the ground. By the assistance of Colonel Crockett I got up and went to Colonel Travis’ room, where we found him writing a despatch. 4 He had watched our movements and by this time no longer doubted that the enemy were upon him. I informed him of our discoveries, and of the accident which had happened to me and added that "if I could be of any benefit to him, I was at his service." He replied that he wished me to go forthwith to Gonzales, and rally the settlers, if possible, to his relief. Colonel Crockett yet standing by, remarked to him, "Colonel, here am I. Assign me a position, and I and my twelve boys will try to defend it." Travis replied that he wanted him to defend the picket wall extending from the end of the barracks, on the south side, to the corner of the church.

At this time the Texians had well nigh consumed everything they had on hand in the way of provisions. Grant and Johnson had left them but a small supply of coffee, sugar, and salt which had long since disappeared and none of these necessaries were to be found though they might have had ever so much money with which to buy them.

Their meat they obtained by driving the beef from the prairies just as they needed it, and as they never had more at one time than would serve them more than twenty-four hours, it so happened that they were in need just at that time. They were out of corn from which they made their bread and had no money to purchase more. Though Travis afterwards thought that the Lord was on his side upon the promise that "he would provide for the upright," if he had claimed his favor under the circumstances it would have been upon the score that, "He chasteneth whom He loveth." While they were retiring from the city to the Alamo they met twenty or thirty beeves coming down Alamo Street, (now Commerce Street), and gathered around them and drove them into the Alamo. They also got their bread by chance. During the hurry and excitement of the day a number of Mexican "Jacales"5 near the Alamo had been vacated. In them they found some eighty or ninety bushels of corn. These were their supplies during the siege.

As soon as the Texans entered the Alamo they set about preparing for its defense. The beeves were secured in a pen on the northeast side of the fortress, as shown on the diagram. The corn was stored away in some of the small rooms of the barracks. They did not obtain water from the small canal which runs near but dug a well within the walls. There being no portholes in the walls, it was necessary for them to make an arrangement by which they could shoot over it. This was done by throwing up an embankment against it on the inside. This being done they proceeded to make other arrangements that were necessary. Their guns were placed upon the walls as soon as possible. Of these they had some thirty or forty pieces of various calibre, amongst them an eighteen pounder. Most of them they had taken from the enemy in the previous December when Cos had surrendered. Though they had so many, they were not all mounted. I think not more than about twenty were put to use during the siege. They had also obtained from the same source a considerable number of muskets, swords, and bayonets, together with any amount of ammunition, which came in play, for of their own they had but a small supply. All were armed with good rifles, single barrel pistols, and good knives. Their powder they kept in a small room in the southwest corner of the church which was covered over with an arched roof of stone and plastered perfectly tight so as to make it proof against sparks of fire from the enemy’s shells.

James BonhamSo soon as Travis ascertained that the enemy were upon him he sent a despatch to Colonel Fannin, then at Goliad, representing to him his position and requesting assistance as speedily as it could be sent to him. This despatch was borne by a young man by the name of Johnson, and not by J. B. Bonham, as stated in some accounts. On the twenty-third, when Almonte arrived at Bexar, Bonham was absent from the city. He had visited Texas with a view of purchasing land and had not attached himself to the army, though he held himself in readiness to serve the country whenever an emergency occurred. At the time the cavalry arrived he was prospecting the country in the vicinity of San Antonio and on hearing the report of cannon in the city, started on the return. On the way, near the Salado, he met Johnson with the despatch to Fannin, and learned the cause of the cannon fire. He put spurs to his horse and made his way into the walls of the Alamo.

Between three and four o’clock P. M. I started, as requested by Colonel Travis, for Gonzales. I first rode down the river a short distance, thinking to meet Dimmitt, but he had gone, taking the main Goliad road. On coming near the ford I fell in with J. W. Smith, also on his way to Gonzales. We halted and were paralyzed for a moment when we saw the enemy march into Military Plaza in regular order. While we sat on our horses for a moment watching their movements, Captain Nat Lewis came to us on foot. He too, was bound for Gonzales with as much of his valuables as he could carry in his saddle bags thrown across his shoulder, leaving the remainder of his storehouse a contribution to the enemy.

We soon parted, Captain Lewis taking one direction, Smith and myself another. Thinking the Mexicans might have seen us going off and pursue us, we took the old Goliad road which runs directly south for some distance. After going about half a mile we turned due east into mesquite and chaparral brush, following the winding paths that lead through it. We crossed the Gonzales road between the city and Powder House Hill, about one mile East of town. Turning eastward over the hill we saw three men riding in the distance across the Salado; about a mile and a half from us. We suspected that they might be a scouting party of the enemy attempting to cut off any one leaving the city and kept on our course, rather bearing around them to the left.

On reaching the Salado, my injured leg began to stiffen and to give me such pain that I thought of turning back and should have done so if Smith had not urged me on, believing that the enemy had by that time surrounded the fort, for a few minutes had passed since we had heard a cannon shot. After resting a moment and filling our gourds, bought from a Mexican whom we met, for a dollar, we went on, continuing parallel with the road and about a mile from it. After riding about sixteen miles, dark came upon us, when my pains became so acute that I was forced to stop. We spread our blankets upon the ground, and ourselves upon them, and being somewhat relieved of my suffering, I was soon asleep.  By daylight on the morrow we were again in the saddle and on our way to Gonzales where, after a hard days ride, and anything else but an agreeable one to myself, we arrived about four o’clock, P. M.

So soon as we entered the town we made known our mission and sent notice to all the neighboring settlements with the news of the enemy’s arrival, calling upon the citizens to come immediately to the relief of the besieged. This was on Wednesday, the twenty-fourth. By Saturday we succeeded in getting twenty-five men who were placed under the command of Ensign Kimble. These were principally from the town of Gonzales, men of families and her best citizens. They started for San Antonio on Saturday about two o’clock P. M., with John W. Smith acting as guide. On the Cibolo they increased their force to thirty-two, which number reached Bexar about one o’clock A. M. on Tuesday, March the first. On reaching the suburbs of the city they were approached by a man on horseback who asked in English, "Do you wish to go into the fort, gentlemen?" "Yes" was the reply. "Then follow me," said he, at the same time turning his horse into the lead of the company. Smith remarked, "Boys, it’s time to be after shooting that fellow," when he put spurs to his horse, sprung into the thicket, and was out of sight in a moment, before a gun could be got to bear on him. Some supposed that this was General Woll, who was an Englishman6 in the Mexican service.

The little band proceeded silently in single file, towards the fort, but were soon to be saluted again, though not in so friendly a manner. Notwithstanding Smith had taken the precaution to despatch a messenger ahead, there seems to have been some misunderstanding as to the direction from which they should approach the walls, for the sentinel not being aware of their presence, fired upon them without hailing. The ball took effect in the foot of one of the men. The mistake was soon rectified, when all went in without further mishap.  This accession to the garrison, counting Smith and Bonham, increased its original strength to two hundred and six, but Captain Patton left the city, and Johnson and myself having gone with despatches, left the actual number now within the walls two hundred and three.  Most of these were wearied and worn by the constant duties of the fort, while the remainder suffered from the fatigue of several day’s travel. Their condition was not, indeed, the most desirable in which to sustain a siege against a force so greatly their superior in point of numbers.

Some have supposed that Travis and his men were greatly deficient in discipline and a knowledge of the arts of war. That they knew little of military tactics is quite true, but that they were proficient in the use of arms were as well unsaid, as no pioneer, frontiersman ever knew anything better than how to use his arms, his daily and nightly companions. That none knew better how to handle them than the Alamo men, their work during this siege, and on the 6th of March will forever attest. Some of them were fair artillerists.7    Having followed this noble band of patriots to Bexar, and seen them united in that almost hopeless struggle for the defense of this remote outpost as it then was, I will return to consider the movements of the enemy.

After the entrance of the cavalry into the city which was effected without resistance, some few minutes passed when a white flag was seen descending Commerce Street. Major Morris and Captain Martin were commissioned to meet it and confer with its bearers. This meeting took place on a small foot bridge which led from the Alamo to the city, crossing the river just above the one which now crosses on Commerce Street. An unconditional surrender was demanded in the name and by the authority of Colonel Almonte, which, being reported to Colonel Travis, was answered by a cannon shot from the walls of the Alamo at a group of the enemy which had halted on Main Plaza, at the entrance of Commerce Street.  This was the shot that was heard by Bonham, Smith, and myself, the gun which opened that desperate struggle, which said to the foe, "Your demand is insolent, we are not here to surrender nor to retreat, but to fight you, though you be a million, and, if need be, to die here, sword in hand."

Colonel Almonte proceeded at once to arrange his forces to the best advantage, and to commence the siege. His main force was stationed at a point on the hill east of the Alamo and one thousand yards from it, though my informants were, of course, unable to ascertain the exact disposition which was made of the numerous small divisions which seemed to be maneuvering around in every direction. This position was assumed by Almonte for the purpose of cutting off supplies for the besieged, and guarding against surprise by any large reinforcement which might be coming on the Gonzales road near which his encampment was made. They seemed to desire that all the Texians that might have been absent from the city at the time of the arrival, and such other persons around Bexar, as were friendly to their cause and had not gone into the Alamo, might do so, that the slaughter might be greater, flattering themselves with the delusion that it would be but an easy matter to take it when their main force should arrive, even against a force twice as strong as that which it now contained. Their conduct toward Mr. Bonham indicated this idea. Whilst going into the fort as before mentioned, he passed their sentinel without being halted or molested. They paid no attention to him. This may not have been the case, and perhaps it is presuming too much upon Mexican vanity, yet the idea is supported by many incidents of this war which warrant the conclusion that Santa Anna regarded the subjugation of the Texians as a matter of easy conquest.

The siege, though at first opened with considerable vigor, was not for some hours carried on with very great severity. Towards night frequent skirmishes took place between the Texians and detachments of the enemy which moved up from almost every direction. These seldom if ever occurred without damage to the assailants, whilst the Texians lost not a single man.  After dark the Texians tore down and carried into the fort several "jacales" which stood in two rows, near the S. E. and S. W. corners of the wall. These constituted their firewood for which they had need only for the purpose of cooking.  During the night the siege grew heavier, and on the following day more vigorous still. The skirmishes became more frequent. Larger forces were employed and nearer approaches made. This, however, was but the more fatal to the enemy for the Texians had only to stand at their position, and drop them as fast as they came within range of the good old "Old Kentucky rifles."

We are not to suppose that these assaults were made with a view of storming the fort, for they were generally made by small forces, varying perhaps from one hundred to two hundred men in each. Almonte seems to have feared the result of an assault, even with his whole force, well disciplined as they were. They were doubtless intended merely to keep the garrison constantly harassed and on its guard, and to thereby so weary it by fatigue and want of sleep as to render the storming the easier when the main body of the enemy should arrive. Nor was this plan a useless one as will eventually appear.

With regard to the time of Santa Anna’s arrival at San Antonio there is also some difference of opinion between our historians, and indeed they all seem to speak positively with regard to it, as though there could be no room to doubt their correctness. Those from whom I derived my information were of opinion widely different from any of them, and though they made no positive assertions in regard to its truth, entertained no doubt with regard to it. The following circumstances seem to merit some consideration in determining the time of this event.

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© 2006, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved
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