As I presented in my last posting the Alamo battle site has gone through many changers over the years. At the Alamo, unlike many other battlefields, you may have a problem finding where certain aspects and event locations of the battle took place. join me now as we take a walk around the Alamo compound, and its surrounding area, to see where those historic events of the thirteen days took place as they look today.
Getting our bearings; the Alamo compound as seen from the Tower of the Americas:
Modern San Antonio has completely surrounded, and in some areas taken over, the original battle site. This can best be seen by this photo taken from the top of the “Tower of the Americas.” The Alamo church’s roof is just to the left of the greenish building at the center right. The light colored multi storied building, with the red roof, above the Church is the US Post Office. This is where the north wall of the Alamo compound stood. It was at this point that the Mexican army broke through in the pre-dawn of March 6th and got inside the Alamo. The Alamo Cenotaph is the tower like structure in the center. The Cenotaph sits at the general center of the mission compound. The line of storefronts to the left of the Cenotaph was the location of the fort’s west wall. Hidden by the trees to the Cenotaph’s right, and just above the Alamo Church, is the Long Barracks Museum.
The Alamo Plaza
Across from the Hyatt Hotel on Losoya Street, named for an Alamo defender, is a walkway that will bring you out to where the southwest corner of the Alamo’s west wall stood. It’s at this walkway that I stopped to reflect on the battle, and where we will start our tour.
The low brown brick wall in front of the person in the background marks the spot where the west wall was. He is looking at an archaeological display showing one of the foundations of the original wall. Notice how far back the Alamo church is from the where the west wall was. This should give you an idea of how large the actual compound was.
I am standing next to a replica of the Alamo’s largest gun, its 18 pound canon. It is sitting in the general area where that gun was positioned atop the southwest corner of the compounds wall in 1836. From there it commanded the position overlooking San Antonio across the river.
From the North Wall
This photo was taken from the steps of the Post Office looking south into the Alamo Plaza. This is about as close to the actual location of the compounds North Wall as you can get. The real location is a few feet behind me inside the Post Office. This however would have been the view that the Mexican Soldados had as they came over the wall. That is minus the trees, streets, streetlights, cars and stores. It is also thought to be where Travis fell at the start of the battle. The Long Barracks can be seen on the left, it was into this building that the defenders fell back to when the wall was breached. I took this photo at 5:15 am on Sunday March 6th, the time and the day that a hundred and seventy five years earlier that the fighting on the North Wall took place.
The Long Barracks
On the east side of the Alamo Plaza stands what is left of the Long Barracks. Today it houses the Long Barracks Museum; However on the morning of Sunday March 6th, 1836 this building held the bloodiest fighting of the entire battle. It was this important historical structure that was saved from being torn down by Adina de Zavala.
Re-enactment of the Mexican Charge
One of the battle re-enactments during the 175th Anniversary had the Mexican army attacking along the Alamo Plaza passing the Long Barracks. Imagine the pre-dawn of March 6th, it was from this direction that the Mexican soldiers came.
The West Wall and the Main Gate Area
This photo is looking north along Alamo Street, which runs next to the Alamo Plaza. I am standing close to where the south wall and the main gate would have been. The line of stores in the background runs along the general line of the Alamo’s west wall. The site of the Low Barracks building that held the main gate would have been to the right of me by about fifteen feet. It was in a room on the east side of the gate that James Bowie died.
The rear of the Alamo Church
The rear of the restored Alamo Church as it is today. In 1836 the back wall of the church was much lower and had no windows or roof. The back walls were raised and the windows added during the 1847 reconstruction by the US Army. It was here, at the rear of the church, that the artillery platform, called “Fortin De Cos” was located. This platform was built by the Mexican army in 1835 as part of their fortifications. During the siege and battle of 1836 the Texans most likely had two 6 pounder canons and a 12 pounder canon stationed on it. From this position the Texans could rain cannonade to the southeast, east and northeast of the fort. It is also believed that this was the station commanded by Captain Dickinson.
The Alamo’s Long Barracks Museum
This is the reconstructed east side of the Long Barracks as it is today. Although it is still considered to be one of the last two remaining building of the original Alamo compound, it looks vastly different than it did in 1836. It still must be remembered that it was within in this building that the bloodiest fighting took place. It is on this side of the building that you enter the Alamo Museum. As you walk through the museum remember you are walking where many, both defenders and attackers, gave their lives in those dark and smoke filled rooms.
San Fernando Cathedral
About 300 yards west of the Alamo, between South Main Plaza Street and Military Plaza Street stands the San Fernando Cathedral. This church is both a historic site today as much as it was for the 1836 battle. In 1836, San Fernando was a much smaller church, rather than the large cathedral it has become. Then it only had a single bell tower, from which the warning signal was given on the morning of February 23rd announcing the arrival of Santa Anna’s army. It was in the Main Plaza, in front of the church, that the first Mexican troops assembled that day. And it was also from its bell tower that the blood red flag of “No Quarter” flew. Today if you go in the smaller door on the left you will see the marble sarcophagus that is believed to hold the bones of the Alamo defenders.
Where the Alamo defender’s bodies were burned
After the fighting had ended Santa Anna ordered that all the bodies of the Alamo defenders be gather up and burned. Santa Anna considered the defenders to be pirates, and not deserving to be buried. Since the Alamo grounds had been a church, and sacred ground, the Mexican soldiers took the bodies outside of the mission complex. The carried the bodies south of the Alamo to a road called Alameda, named for the row of large cottonwood tress growing along it. There they burned the bodies of the defenders in two pyres, about 250 yards from each other, on each side of the roadway.
Today Alameda is called East Commerce Street, just a block south of the Alamo Plaza. To find the plaque that marks the site of where one of the pyres was located you turn east on E. Commerce off of Alamo Plaza Street. Look for St. Joseph Catholic Church (623 E. Commerce St.), across the street there is a low stone wall, the markers on mounted on that wall.
Where the fallen Mexican Soldados where buried
About five blocks west of the San Fernando Cathedral is Milam Park. This park is named for, and is also the final resting place, of the December 1835 “Battle of San Antonio” hero, Ben Milam. However in 1836 it was the “Campo Santo” or the church cemetery for San Fernando. It was here that those Mexican Soldados killed at the Alamo were, or were to be, buried. History is a little unclear on what became of the remains of those soldados. Some accounts say that because of the great numbers, somewhere around 600 dead, that they were not buried but were thrown into the San Antonio River. This seems very unlikely, because even today the San Antonio River is not very wide, deep, or fast moving. It would not be very appealing to have a large number of decomposing bodies lying in the middle of your town. For this reason some historians feel that the soldados were indeed buried in Campo Santo.
I could not find any record in the park of the Soldados burials, or when the exhumations took place to create the park. There is however a small memorial on the east side of the park that lists names of some of those that were buried there. A few names are of Mexican Officers, but there is no connection to the battle of the Alamo mentioned.
Last, but not least- a real must see!
On East Houston Street, across from the Alamo gift shop, is the History Shop. Don’t let this seemly underwhelming outside fool you. Inside this treasure is one of the most informative presentations on the battle of the Alamo you’ll ever find. They use an extremely accurate model of the Alamo, created by Mark Lemon for his book “the Illustrated Alamo 1836”, to take you on a day by day accounting of the thirteen day siege and final battle. This presentation uses the model, lights and narrative describing the movements of Santa Anna’s Army and the Texans. It also shows where the History Shop sits on the battlefield, that gives you a point of reference when you go exploring.
The History Shop is at 713 E. Houston Street.
So now when you visit, or again visit, the Alamo I hope that this little photo tour will help you to find those historical sites of one of Americas’ most famous battles.
Next Posting: The Alamo, Mexico and the United States- The rise and fall of two nations