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The History of the Alamo, Part III: From Forgotten to Army Depot

 

The three ruined Alamo buildings

Drawing by John A. Beckmann of the three ruined Alamo buildings stated as being in 1845, before reconstruction. However, please note that the church has the two upper windows in this drawing , which weren’t added until the roof was in 1849.   

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Ron Current

In this post I’ll continue the story on how the almost forgotten Alamo battlefield was slowly erased by the City of San Antonio as it grew and expanded. Sadly, one of the main contributors to this urban sprawl was a man who had a direct connection with the Alamo and its fallen defenders.

I’ll also tell how the Alamo’s main buildings survived, and how the ruined Alamo church became how it looks today.

First, I’ll start with the Alamo defender who, for his personal gain, almost single handed destroyed the hollowed grounds. 

Samuel A. Maverick (July 23, 1803- September 2, 1870)
In Texas history Samuel Maverick is best known as a mayor, land speculator and developer of San Antonio in the mid-1800’s, and its also said that his name was the source for the term, “being a maverick, “ a person of independent thinking. But beyond this Samuel Maverick also had a direct connection to the Texas Revolution, the Battle of the Alamo, and was a major influence on what became of the Alamo battlefield.

Samuel_Maverick

Samuel A. Maverick 

Samuel A. Maverick came to San Antonio from South Carolina in 1835, at the very start of the Texas Revolution. He took part in the Siege of Bexar and afterwards became a member of the Texan garrison at the Alamo. During the Alamo’s siege Maverick left the fort on March 2, as a courier for Travis and also as a representative for the garrison at the convention for Texas Independence, thus escaping the final battle.

In 1838, Maverick began buying up land grants around San Antonio, believing that the city would explode with new settlers from the United States now that Texas was a republic. That same year he moved his family into one of the remaining houses that had been part the forts west wall. While living there he continued purchasing the remaining lands on and around the Alamo compound, including the rest of the old west wall. In his development of that area he demolished what traces of the west wall that remained.

Maverick claimed a deep attachment to the Alamo, and wanted to live close to where his friends had fallen. He built himself a grand two-story home which sat where the Alamo’s west and north walls had met. This area would have been the location of one of the Alamo’s cannon platforms, and most likely where Travis had met his death.

Ten years later Maverick subdivided the lands on the west, north and northeast sides of the Alamo battlefield, including where the main body of the Mexican army had attacked the north wall. Maverick’s “Alamo Village” would cover the north wall battlefield completely.

Maverick laid out all the lots, streets and the Alamo Plaza itself, giving it the look we see today. Maverick may have felt close to his fallen hero friends, but his developments were one of the main contributors the demise of  the Alamo battlefield.

Thanks to Maverick what had been the Alamo’s west wall was now a row of commercial buildings, and its north wall would be taken over by a massive Federal building. By the 1840’s all that remained of the Alamo fort was its three large buildings: the Long Barracks (the old Convento), the Low Barracks (what had been the forts main gate), and its Church.

These historic buildings where in an advance stage of deterioration: the roofs of the Long Barracks and Low Barracks had collapsed, weeds were growing out of the building’s walls, and animals, bats, and birds made their homes there. What remained of the Alamo sat vandalized, slowly decaying, and mostly forgotten.

The Alamo under the Army (1847-1878)

In 1847, during the Mexican-American War, a 29 year old American soldier named Edward Everett, who was unable to join his command in Mexico because of an injury, was assigned by his commander, Col. John Hardin, to collect information on the local history and customs of San Antonio. Everett, who was also an accomplished artist, began sketching the different sites and missions around the town, including the Alamo ruins. Many of the images we have today of the Alamo during this period comes from Everett’s work.

alamo-storage in the 1860's

Wagons delivering supplies to the reconstructed Alamo church, now a warehouse for the U.S. Army depot, circa 1860

In 1849 the U.S. Army leased the church and Long Barracks from the Catholic Church to be used as a quartermaster depot. To save cost Captain James Ralston proposed using the Alamo’s buildings as foundations. However, Everett, who had become the Captain’s clerk, convinced Ralston to use only the Long Barracks and Low Barracks, leaving the church as a historic relic. It’s interesting to note that Everett considered the Alamo’s church as a historic relic, but not its other two buildings. It could have been a lack of the locals not knowing the true history of the Alamo battle, or was it again the allure of the church’s façade that drew Everett away from the historical fact that it was in the Long Barracks where so many defenders and Mexican soldiers had fought to the death, and the Low Barracks where Jim Bowie had died.

Ralston put Everett in charge of turning the Alamo’s two buildings into offices, living quarters, workshops, and storage rooms. Under Everett’s direction the Low Barracks was re-plastered and a new roof added. However his reconstruction of the Long Barracks was the most drastic to the original building. Most of the Long Barrack’s interior and some of its walls were removed. The second floor was in bad shape, but Everett used what he could, and even extended the length of the second floor by adding new walls. Further changes were made by cutting additional windows and doors into the buildings thick stone walls.

Although Everett left the ruined church intact he did order for the rubble that littered its interior be cleaned out. It was reported that during this a few skeletons and artifacts attributed to the 1836 battle were found.

Although Everett and Ralston wished to keep the church as it was the new assistant quartermaster had a different idea, not only for the Alamo’s church but its other two buildings as well.

Major Edwin Babbitt was placed in charge of making the site ready as an Army depot. Babbitt wanted to tear down all of the Alamo’s buildings; even those that had been rebuilt by Everett, and construct all new structures on the site. If Babbitt had gotten his way it would have been the complete loss of the Alamo.

But General Thomas Jesup strongly disagreed with Babbitt. Gen. Jesup saw that the reconstructed Long and Low barracks were more than adequate, and that the church’s thick, high walls would make a strong foundation for a third building. Although Gen. Jesup over ruled Babbitt he also had over ruled Everett’s vision of keeping the Alamo church as it was. Jesup’s order would bring about the way Alamo church looks today.

The reconstruction of the Alamo church was a major undertaking. The first thing that the engineers needed to do to make it useable was to add a roof. But before they could do that they needed to raise the walls of the church with new stone and make it even. Once that was done they were able to add a wooden gabled roof that ran from the front to the back of the building, using a hip design on its eastern end. However the roofs western peak couldn’t be finished that same way, it would made it look unsightly. That problem was solved by architect and stonemason John Fries.

It was Fries who came up with the design for the Alamo’s now famous “hump.” Where Fries actually got this idea is lost to time. Although we can’t picture the Alamo today without its hump it wasn’t much appreciated at the time.

Originally the church only had windows on each side of its main door and one over it, but when the army added the roof they also added a second floor. To help get sunlight into this room they needed to add more windows. Those two windows you now see near  the top on both sides are what were cut into the building by the army; and if you look closely you’ll see they don’t line up.

The Alamo

The Alamo Church as it looked in the late 1800’s 

The United States Army continued to use of the Alamo buildings up until the Civil War. After Texas seceded from the Union the Confederate Army used the buildings from 1861 until the wars end. After the Civil War the U.S. Army again occupied the Alamo until its depot was moved to Fort Sam Houston in 1878. After the Army left the three Alamo buildings once again came under the control of the Catholic Church.

By that time the Catholic Church had little use or need for the buildings. It was then that a local merchant approached the Church, making them an offer they couldn’t refuse. An offer that would once again change the look, and history, of the Alamo, and not for the better.

Some of the resources used:

Thompson, Frank. “From Army Headquarters to Department Store.” The Alamo, A Cultural History, Taylor Publishing , 2001.
Nelson, George. The Alamo, An Illustrated History. Cenveo Printing, 2009.
“Samuel Maverick .” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, May 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Maverick.
“Alamo Mission in San Antonio.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, 2 July 2018, en.m.wikipedia/wiki/Alamo_Mission_in_San_Antonio.
Selcraig, Bruce. “Remembering the Alamo.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian.com, 1 Apr. 2004, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/remembering_the_alamo-101880149/.

 

 

 

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American history, history and travel, History in Time, Still Current, Texas history, The Alamo, Travel, Uncategorized

The History of the Alamo, Part II: From Fort to forgotten

 

The Alamo Church in ruin 1848

1847, the Alamo church in ruin by Edward Everett

 

 

 

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“Remember the Alamo,” was the battle cry at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, were the forces of Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna’s army ending the Texas Revolution. Yes, Texans remembered the battle, and what Santa Anna had done to the defenders in that battle, but they soon forgot the Alamo battlefield and its buildings. On May 29, 2017 I published the article “The History of the Alamo: Mission to Fort,” in this post I’ll continue the story, taking the Alamo as a fort through the Mexican and Texas Revolutions, how the Alamo was almost lost before the 1836 battle, and the neglect it suffered after the fighting ended.

 

The Alamo under the Spanish
At the beginning of the 19th Century the Spanish increased the numbers of troops stationed at the old Alamo mission to help combat the intrusions by Anglo-American from Louisiana. This brought the need for a military hospital to be set-up within the mission; this would be the first hospital in Texas. The hospital was most likely in the Convento building (today’s Long Barracks). The Alamo’s unfinished and rubble filled church was mostly unusable.
Even though Spanish Mexico was afraid of wholesale attacks by Anglo Americans they were still open to immigration by American’s. In 1806 one of those Americans that petitioned for settlement in Texas near the Alamo was the blacksmith Daniel Boone, a relative of the famous frontiersmen.

During the war of Mexican Independence (1810-1821) the Alamo was occupied back and forth by both Spanish Royalists and Mexican Rebels. Other than being used as a military post, hospital and prison the Alamo saw little action during this war.

The Alamo under Mexican control
After Mexico won its independence the Mexican army continued to be stationed in the old mission. However the first threat to the Alamo came in 1825, when the need for funds caused the local political chief Saucedo to ask the Governor of the Mexican State of Coahulia y Tejas to sell the stones of the Alamo to raise cash. In 1827, the Coahulia y Tejas State Legislature approved of the selling of the stone.

Anastasio_Bustamante

Anastacio Bustamante

Before the sale could begin Anastacipo Bustamante, the new commandant of the Eastern Provinces, demanded that the order be suspended. Bustamante saw the need for the Alamo to be a permanent post for the Mexican army because of the increase of illegal immigration by Americans into Texas. Bustamante would be the first to save the Alamo from destruction, nine years before the famous battle.

 

The Alamo during the Texas Revolution
In 1835, as the rebellion in Texas began to unfold Mexican President Santa Anna sent his brother-in-law, General Martin Perfecto de Cos, with 500 soldiers to Bexar (San Antonio) to strengthen that post . Cos ordered 330px-Martin_perfecto_de_cosimprovements made to the Alamo’s defenses: digging trenches, building platforms and ramps for cannon, a wooden palisade was built across the open gap between the church and the Low Barracks, strengthening the crumbing north wall, and building a gun platform at the rear of the church from the rubble inside. On this platform were placed three cannon that could fire over the walls of the roofless church.
After the Battle of Gonzales on October 2, 1835, which officially began the Texas Revolution, Gen. Cos found himself constantly on the defensive: losing at Goliad, Concepcion, and finally surrounded in Bexar itself by the Texan rebels. The Battle of Bexar began as a fifty-six day siege and ended in a bloody house to house fight. The battle ended with Gen. Cos surrendering after being promised that he and his men would be paroled. Here’s an interesting twist of history, at the Battle of Bexar the Mexicans were inside the Alamo and the Texans attacked from the outside. Also, the Alamo’s defenses used in the Battle of the Alamo were those built by Cos.

Cos and his men did not honor the terms of their parole, meeting Santa Anna and his army heading north they returned and helped to retake the Alamo in the 13 day siege and battle.

Santa Anna

General Santa Anna

After Santa Anna retook the Alamo in the predawn of March 6, 1836 he prepared to pursue Sam Huston and the Texan army. Not wanting to leave his rear open for a counter attack he ordered Gen. Andrade, his commander in San Antonio, to rebuild the defenses of the Alamo. As Santa Anna and his army marched off to the northeast work began instantly on rebuilding the walls damaged in the battle. Most of this work of rebuilding was done by those Mexican soldiers wounded in the battle.
After losing at the Battle of San Jacinto Santa Anna sent counter orders back to Gen. Andrade to now destroy all of the Alamo’s defenses: its walls torn down, the gun platforms ripped up, and the canons spiked and disabled, making them unusable. This would be the first destruction of the Alamo compound.

oldalamo

This 1849 daguerreotype is thought to be the first photo of the Alamo church

 

The Alamo becomes a source for building materials 

Soon locals were using the stones and wood from the Alamo for building materials. By 1842, just six years after the battle, all that remained of the Alamo were a few of the buildings that were on west wall, these being rebuilt as homes. The missions major buildings: the Church, Long Barracks, and Low Barracks laid in ruin. For most Texans the Alamo sat forgotten, with only a few tourists visiting the ruins.

But this was only the beginning of what was to befall the battle site that Houston called to remember. I will continue my narrative of how the Alamo continued to survive, and of the changes that are predicted to come.

Resources:

Nelson, George. The Alamo: An Illustrated History. Third Revised Edition, Aldine Press, 2009.
Thompson, Frank. The Alamo: A Cultural History. Taylor Publishing Company, 2001.
Wikipedia. “Timeline of the Texas Revolution .” Wikipedia, Wikipedia , 27 Mar. 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:History/Timeline_of_the_Texas_Revolution.

Also read my post: The History of the Alamo: Mission to Fort 

 

 

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American history, history and travel, History in Time, Lost and Found, Myths and Legends, Still Current, Texas history, The Alamo, Travel, Uncategorized

The History of the Alamo: Mission to Fort

Ron Current

Ron Current

By the end of 15th century Spain had claimed for itself all of South and Central America and as far north in North American as California, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and Kansas. But claiming these lands and controlling them were two totally a different matters.

The professional Spanish Conquistadors sole mission was to look for gold and silver, not to create settlements for Spain. This was very true with their North America claims.  In fact Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Kansas went completely unsettled by the Spanish. The Spanish also had problems in populating the extreme northern parts of Florida and Mexico.

Although British colonists from Georgia and the Carolina colonies had begun settling in northern Florida and its panhandle it was losing their state of Texas that worried Spain the most.

In 1689, near Matagorda Bay in Texas, they found the remains of French explorer La Salle’s Fort Saint Louis. Fearing French encroachment Spain needed some way to secure the northern lands of Mexico, and the best way was to establish settlements of their own. They chose a method that had been successful in other regions of Mexico and California, Catholic Church Missions.

The Mission system was created by the Franciscan order of the Catholic Church to spread Christianity among the native peoples. But it also provided permeant settlements that could attract other Spanish colonist to move near these missions.

The mission San Antonio de Valero.docx

The Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1786

Of all the missions constructed in east Texas during this period the largest concentration in North America were the five built along the San Antonio River. The first of these missions was San Antonio de Valero in 1718, followed by the missions San Jose, San Juan, Concepcion, and Espada. Each of these missions is roughly five miles apart, the distance a monk could walk in a day.

Today four of these five mission churches are still being used as active Catholic parishes. Only the first, San Antonio de Valero is not, but is by far the most famous.

In 1718, the San Antonio de Valero mission was founded near todays San Pedro Springs Park in San Antonio. San Pedro Springs would be only the first of three sites for this mission. In 1724 it moved to its present location on the east side of the San Antonio River at an oxbow bend in that river.

In 1727 a two story stone convento, or priest’s residence, was completed, and in 1744 construction began on the mission’s first stone church. A small temporary adobe building was used for mass during its construction. This first church, with its bell tower and sacristy, collapsed in the 1750’s due to poor workmanship.

Construction on the second, more ambitious, church began in 1758. Its limestone walls were four feet thick to support a barrel-vaulted roof, dome and choir loft. Its design included twin bell towers and an elaborate carved façade. During this construction the Indian population declined causing work to stop. This building would remain roofless and never finished, except for the carvings on the façade.

During this time the mission’s need for defense drastically changed due to a massacre of the missionaries and mission Indians at Santa Cruz de San Saba in 1758. Although Spanish soldiers had begun a defensive presidio (fort) across the river in San Antonio de Bexar it was never completed. Fearing for their safety the priests and mission Indians took it about themselves to fortify the mission by enclosing the complex with an eight foot high, two foot thick wall and a fortified gate. Added to its defenses were a small number of cannon provided by the Spanish military.

For the next four decades the mission San Antonio de Valero would house and support a small number of monks and declining Indian populations, while across the river the town of Bexar continued to grow.

By the late 1700’s the population of mission Indians had continued to decline throughout Texas, and also the hope that these missions would attract more Spanish settlers to northern Mexico hadn’t happen ether. In 1793 Spain began to secularize, close down, the missions in Texas.

After secularization the San Antonio de Valero mission’s grounds and buildings were given to the twelve remaining Indians still living within its walls, and the mission’s religious duties passed to Bexar’s San Fernando church across the river. Over the next decade those twelve Indians would also move, leaving the mission compound to crumb in disrepair.

As the 19th century dawned Mexican Texas’ borders were again challenged by France. There was a disagreement over were the border actually was. Spain claimed it to be at the Red River, while France claimed it to be the Sabine River, 45 miles further west. The threat to their northern frontier became even more of a concern for Spain when the United States’ purchased Louisiana in 1803. There were already illegal French and American immigrants in Spanish Texas, and now the always expanding United States was at their very doorstep.

To help guard against further illegals from settling in Texas Spain increased their military presence throughout the region. They reinforced the small company of soldiers at San Antonio de Bexar with a Calvary company of one hundred men. These were the Second Flying Company of San Carlos De Alamo De Parras, named after the small town of San Jose y Santiago del Alamo, near Parras in the Mexican state of Coahuila.

Since a proper presidio hadn’t been built in Bexar the soldiers took up residency in the already walled Valero mission. Over time the mission Valero began to be called for the Calvary stationed there, and by 1807 military documents simply referred to the place as, the Alamo.

The Alamo

The Alamo Church late 1800’s, after the “hump” and roof was added.

There is a legend that says that the mission’s name came from the rows of Cottonwood (Alamo is Spanish for Cottonwood) trees near it on the Alameda road. However these trees were planted long after the mission was called the Alamo.

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Texas and the Alamo: Conflict between Mexico and the United States (Part V)

Memorial to Defenders

The United States’ Westward march and the Louisiana Purchase

After the American Revolution the new nation quickly began its move into the western territories. The region that would become the states of Indiana, Illinois and Michigan were known as the Northwest Territory. In the south with the signing of the Treaty of Lorenzo with Spain in 1795, gave what would be the state of Alabama to the United States. This was called the Mississippi Territory. And at the center of it all, Kentucky in 1792, Tennessee in 1796 and Ohio in 1803, were added to the union as States.

But the new nation was still limited in its growth by Britain in the north having Canada and Spain to the south, with Florida and all the lands west of the Mississippi River. Most troubling was Spain’s control of travel on the Mississippi river with them owning the port of New Orleans. In 1798, Spain revoked the treaty that they made with the U.S. in 1795, and prohibited Americans from using New Orleans. This also drew concerns by the United States as to their ownership of the Mississippi Territory (Alabama). All this would all change in 1800 with Napoleon Bonaparte’s raise to power in France.

In Europe Napoleon had made advances into Spain, and controlled certain regions of that country. Spain had become weaken, not the power it once was. Napoleon again thought of a French presence in the new world, and in 1800 he began to take back New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory for France. For the next three years New Orleans was controlled by two European nations, Spain and France. Not being aware of the transfer of this territory from Spain to France the United States became concerned when Napoleon sent troops to New Orleans in 1801, which gave rise to fears of a French invasion of the U.S.

Hearing of some sort of transfer between the two European nations President Thomas Jefferson sent his representative, Robert Livingston to France to get the details. He also authorized Livingston to make an offer to purchase New Orleans if the opportunity presented itself. Jefferson, covering all his bases, also had his personal friend Pierre Samuel du Pont, a French nobleman living in the States, to back-channel talks with Napoleon. Fearing a war with France over Louisiana Jefferson even considered an alliance with Britain, whom France was preparing to go to war with. This would be as a last resort for Jefferson, considering that relations between the States and its former mother country were not the best. Jefferson then sent James Monroe to Paris in 1802, to negotiate a settlement; if those talks failed Monroe was to then go the London.

With the coming war with Britain, trouble in the transferring of control from Spain of the Louisiana territory and a slave revolt in Haiti, Napoleon had his hands full. Unbeknownst to Spain, or the United States, Napoleon dropped his vision of a French presence in the western hemisphere and gave orders to sell New Orleans and the entire Louisiana Territory to the United States, if they met his price. James Monroe came to Paris with permission to pay $11 Million for just the city of New Orleans and the land surrounding it. What France proposed was selling the entire 828,000 square miles, or 529,920,000 acres, of the Louisiana Territory for $15 million. Jefferson jumped at it, even though some in Congress complained that he didn’t have the Constitutional right to do so.

Spain had asked that in the transfer back to France that they keep Louisiana, not selling or trading it to the United States. On November 30, 1803, Spain transferred Louisiana back to France. Three weeks later on December 30, 1803, France ceded New Orleans to the United States and on March 10, 1804, France transferred the remainder of the Louisiana Territory.

The Louisiana Purchase would be one of the highpoints of Thomas Jefferson’s Presidency. With it the United States gained what would later become the States of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, parts of Minnesota west of the Mississippi River, most of North and South Dakota; portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. Also included by France in the purchase was what would be northeastern New Mexico and northern Texas. These last two lands would be a point of friction between the United States and Spain, and later Mexico.

The Louisiana Purchase gave the United States one less European power to worry about. The concerns of an invasion by France during the negotiation, the continued bad relations with Britain, which controlled Canada, and having Spain in Florida and Texas had the young United States worried about its security. Spain saw that the purchase opened their eastern border to aggressive land hungry Americans.

 

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Texas and The Alamo: Conflict between Mexico and the United States (Part IV)

Revolution gives rise to a new Nation

The Alamo Church The Alamo Church

At the end of the French and Indian War, with the signing of a treaty in Paris on February 10th 1763, the British Empire now counted seventeen total colonies in the new world. Two were added by the war with Upper and Lower Canada and another two with East and West Florida.

After the war France saw little value in the Louisiana territories that they retained after the war and ceded it to their war ally Spain. Spain even though lost its claim to Florida now had a buffer of land between Mexico and the English colonies. They also gained the city of New Orleans and navigation on the Mississippi River. Britain, although it looked as if they came out the overall winner in the war, made post war decisions that would be more far reaching and detrimental to their presence in North America.

The first detrimental decision was made by King George III in his Royal Proclamation of 1763. In it he included provisions that reserved lands west of the Appalachian Mountains for the native population.  This angered the thirteen original English colonies that had desires on expanding into these western lands. It was their expansion into those regions that helped to spark the war in the first place. Also with the French gone and the Spanish, for the most part, far away the thirteen colonies didn’t see the need for the protection of the British military. The last fatal decision by Britain was their plan to pay off their large war debt by imposing new taxes on those thirteen colonies. Their new colonies in Canada and Florida were excluded from these taxes. The British Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765 and the Tea Tax in 1773, these being the most infamous of the new taxes. Although each colony had a Colonial government, and the colonists felt that they were equal English citizens with their cousins across the ocean, they were never given a seat in the English Parliament. The new imposed taxes they felt was unjust because they had no representation in Parliament to plead their case. As the unrest grew in the thirteen colonies, especially in the Massachusetts Colony, Parliament and the King sent British troops to subdue the resistance. The actions by these troops further angered the colonists into open rebellion and finally revolution.

On July 4th 1776 the thirteen colonies declared their independence from their mother country of Britain. As the war draw on King George III lost support in Parliament for the continuation of the fighting in America. On September 3, 1783 “the Treaty of Paris” was signed ending the American Revolution. By the early part of 1784 the Continental Congress had ratified that treaty and the United States of American was officially a born.

The new thirteen Untied States were no longer restricted by King George’s proclamation halting their westward trek. The enterprises and population of those States had been growing at a tremendous rate since their founding and they needed land, and lots of it. The post war westward explosion was beginning, and Spain was watching.

 

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