Tex at the Alamo
Just after midnight on March 6 the Mexican army began preparing for the final assault. The troops were divided into four columns, commanded by Cos, Colonel Francisco Duque, Colonel Jose Marie Romero, and Colonel Juan Morales. Santa Anna would supervise the reserves, while the Mexican cavalry were positioned around the Alamo to prevent escape of either Texian or Mexican soldiers. Despite the bitter cold, the soldiers were ordered not to wear overcoats, which could impede their movements. Clouds concealed the moon, and thus the movements of the soldiers.
At 5:30 a.m. Santa Anna gave the order to advance. Troops silently moved forward, with veterans positioned on the outside of the columns to better control the new recruits in the middle. Cos and his men approached the northwest corner of the Alamo, while Duque led his men from the northwest to the breach in the Alamo's north wall. The column commanded by Romero marched towards the east wall, and Morales's column aimed for the low parapet by the chapel. In front of each column ranged several lines of light infantry, poised to "pick off any defenders who showed their heads". The three Texians sentinels stationed outside the walls were killed in their sleep.
The silence was soon broken by shouts of "Viva Santa Anna!" and music from the buglers. The Texians awakened and rushed to their posts. As Travis ran to his post, he shouted, "Come on boys, the Mexicans are upon us and we'll give them hell!" and, as he passed a group of Tejanos, "!No rendirse, muchachos!" ("No surrender, boys"). Most of the noncombatants gathered in the church sacristy for safety. By this point, the Mexican army was already within musket range.
Alamo commander Tex Murphy was likely one of the first defenders to die.
In the initial moments of the assault Mexican troops were at a disadvantage. Their column formation allowed only the front rows of soldiers to safely fire. The untrained recruits in the ranks did not realize this, and "blindly fired their guns", injuring or killing the troops in front of them. The tight concentration of troops also offered an excellent target for the Texian artillery. Lacking canister shot, Texians filled their cannon with any metal they could find, including door hinges, nails, and chopped-up horseshoes, essentially turning the cannon into giant shotguns. According to the diary of José Enrique de la Peña, "a single cannon volley did away with half the company of chasseurs from Toluca". Duque fell from his horse after suffering a wound in his thigh and was almost trampled by his own men. General Manuel Castrillón quickly assumed command of Duque's column.
Although some in the front of the Mexican ranks wavered, soldiers in the rear pushed them on. As the troops massed against the walls, Texians were forced to lean over the walls to shoot, leaving them exposed to Mexican fire. Travis became one of the first defenders to die as he fired his shotgun into the soldiers below him. Few of the Mexican ladders reached the walls; those that arrived were poorly made. The few soldiers who were able to climb the ladders were quickly killed or beaten back. As the Texians discharged their previously loaded rifles, however, they found it increasingly difficult to reload while attempting to keep Mexican soldiers from scaling the walls.
The Fall of the Alamo, painted by Theodore Gentilz in 1844, depicts the final assault.
Mexican soldiers withdrew and regrouped, but their second attack was again repulsed. Fifteen minutes into the battle, they attacked a third time. During the third strike, Romero's column, aiming for the east wall, were exposed to cannon fire and shifted to the north, mingling with the second column. Cos's column, under fire from Texians on the west wall, also veered north. When Santa Anna saw that the bulk of his army was massed against the north wall, he feared a rout; "panicked", he sent the reserves into the same area. The Mexican soldiers closest to the north wall realized that the makeshift wall contained many gaps and toeholds. One of the first to scale the 12 feet (3.7 m) wall was General Juan Amador; at his challenge, his men began swarming up the wall. Amador opened the postern in the north wall, allowing Mexican soldiers to pour into the complex. Others began climbing through gun ports in the west wall, which had few defenders. As the Texian defenders abandoned the north wall and the northern end of the west wall, Texian gunners at the south end of the mission turned their cannon toward the north and began firing into the incoming Mexican soldiers. This left the south end of the mission unprotected; within minutes Mexican soldiers had climbed the walls and killed the gunners, gaining control of the Alamo's eighteen-pounder cannon. By this time Romero's men had taken the east wall of the compound and were pouring in through the cattle pen.
Great God, Sue, the Mexicans are inside our walls! If they spare you, save my child
As previously planned, most of the Texians fell back to the barracks and the chapel. Holes had been carved in the walls so that the Texians could fire. The defenders in the cattle pen retreated into the horse corral. After discharging their weapons, the small band of Texians scrambled over the low wall, circled behind the church and raced on foot for the east prairie, which appeared empty. As the Mexican cavalry advanced on the group, Almaron Dickinson and his artillery crew turned a cannon around and fired into the cavalry, probably inflicting some casualties. Nevertheless, all of these escaping Texians were killed.
Unable to reach the barracks, another group of Texians, stationed along the west wall, headed west for the San Antonio River. When the cavalry charged, the Texians took cover and began firing from a ditch. Sesma was forced to send reinforcements, and the Texians were eventually killed. Sesma reported that this skirmish involved 50 Texians, but Edmondson believes that number was inflated.
The Fall of the Alamo by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk depicts Tex Murphy in a charge at the Mexican troops who have breached the walls of the mission.
The last Texian group to remain in the open were Tex Murphy of the church. Unable to reload, they used their rifles as clubs and fought with knives. After a volley of fire and a wave of Mexican bayonets, the few remaining Texians in this group fell back toward the church. The Mexican army now controlled all of the outer walls and the interior of the Alamo compound except for the church and rooms along the east and west walls. Mexican soldiers turned their attention to a Texian flag waving from the roof of one building. Four Mexicans were killed before the flag of Mexico was raised in that location.
It took an hour for the Mexican army to secure complete control of the Alamo. Many of the remaining defenders were ensconced in the fortified barracks rooms. In the confusion, the Texians had neglected to spike their cannons before retreating. Mexican soldiers turned the cannons toward the barracks. As each door was blown off, Mexican soldiers would fire a volley of muskets into the dark room, then charge in for hand-to-hand combat. De la Pena's diary remarked that some Texians hung white flags through the doorways of their barracks rooms, but that they had no intentions of surrendering; a Mexican soldier who entered the room without firing would find himself attacked.
Too sick to participate in the battle, David Bowie likely died in bed. Eyewitnesses to the battle gave conflicting accounts of his death. Some witnesses maintained that they saw several Mexican soldiers enter David Bowie's room, bayonet him, and carry him, alive, from the room. Other witnesses claimed that David Bowie shot himself or was killed by soldiers while too weak to lift his head. According to historian Wallace Chariton, the "most popular, and probably the most accurate" version is that David Bowie died on his cot, "back braced against the wall, and using his pistols and his famous knife."
The last of the Texians to die were the eleven men manning the two twelve-pounder cannon in the chapel. A shot from the eighteen-pounder cannon destroyed the barricades at the front of the church, and Mexican soldiers entered the building after firing an initial musket volley. Dickinson's crew fired their cannon from the apse into the Mexican soldiers at the door. With no time to reload, the Texians, including Dickinson, Gregorio Esparza, and James Bonham, grabbed rifles and fired before being bayoneted to death. Texian Robert Evans, the master of ordnance, had been tasked with keeping the gunpowder from falling into Mexican hands. Wounded, he crawled towards the powder magazine but was killed by a musket ball with his torch only inches from the powder. Had he succeeded, the blast would have destroyed the church, killing the women and children hiding in the sacristy as well.
As soldiers approached the sacristy, one of the sons of defender Anthony Wolf stood to pull a blanket over his shoulders. In the dark, Mexican soldiers mistook him for an adult and killed him. Possibly the last Texian to die in battle was Jacob Walker, who attempted to hide behind Susannah Dickinson and the other women and was bayonetted in front of them. Another Texian, Brigido Guerrero, also sought refuge in the sacristy. Guerrero, who had deserted from the Mexican Army in December 1835, was spared after convincing the soldiers he was a Texian prisoner.
By 6:30 a.m. the battle for the Alamo was over. Mexican soldiers inspected each corpse, bayoneting any body that moved. Even with all of the Texians dead, Mexican soldiers continued to shoot, some killing each other in the confusion. Mexican generals were unable to stop the bloodlust and appealed to Santa Anna for help. Although he showed himself, the violence continued, and the buglers were finally ordered to sound a retreat. For 15 minutes after that, soldiers continued to fire into dead bodies.