Ruins of the Church of the Alamo, San Antonio de Bexar by Edward Everett, 1847

Bexar After the Battle, Pt. 1

By: Dr. Bruce Winders, Alamo Director of History & Curation

For much of the public as well as many historians, attention quickly shifts eastward following the twin disasters at the Alamo and Goliad. The Runaway Scrape, General Houston’s retreat, and the Battle of San Jacinto each by themselves are certainly compelling stories. However, knowing what happened at Béxar highlights the chaotic situation Texas found itself in May of 1836, even though Antonio López de Santa Anna had been defeated and was a prisoner.

Santa Anna left Béxar on March 31, 1836, to join the majority of his troops that had marched eastward.[Santos, 92.] Far from abandoning the town, though, he appointed General Juan José Andrade to take command of Béxar and the Alamo, leaving behind “more than 1,000 men.” [Andrade, 11.] His primary task was to rebuild the fortifications so the town could be defended against a Texan attack. His secondary task was to care for the 150 Mexican soldiers who had been wounded in the battle along with another 40 men who had fallen ill. Andrade complained that he had only been left with $5,000 to provide for his commands’ many needs and that only 20 men had been detailed to attend to those in the hospital wards. [Andrade, 10, 15.]

In addition to the lack of medical personnel and supplies in town, Andrade noted “There is limited clothing for the soldiers, some without footwear, some without enough rations, except for the same miserable meat, corn bread, that we eat all the time. [Andrade, 12.] Still, Andrade later stated that the troops at Béxar remained loyal and “not demoralized.” [Andrade,17-18.]

Andrade receive medical assistance from an unexpected quarter. Reported Andrade, “In La Bahia, two of the foreign doctors who were part of the prisoners left over, were asked by Colonel Ugartechea, to help us.” [Andrade, 13.] Doctors Joseph Henry Barnard and Jack Shackleford arrived in town on April 20th and were cordially received by Andrade and his officers. Barnard billeted at the house of Angel Navarro, while Shackleford stayed with Ramon Muquiz. Officials told the two that 400 men had been brought into town following the battle, but Barnard thought that number too low due to the number of wounded men he witnessed on the street. As had been intended by Ugartechea, the two Texan doctors were assigned to care for the wounded Mexican officers, causing Barnard to record in his journal, “We have two colonels, and a major, and eight captains under our charge. . .” He noted that no amputations had yet been performed on any of the wounded in town and that many still carried balls inside their bodies and limbs. Despite their captivity, the two Goliad Massacre survivors found their assignment at Béxar relatively pleasant under the circumstances. [Barnard, 29-30.]

On May 6, 1836, Barnard noticed the town’s residents and some of the soldiers unsettled. Upon inquiry he learned that word of the Mexican Army’s defeat at San Jacinto and Santa Anna’s capture finally had reached Béxar. The news was confirmed the next day. Confusion reigned as no one seemed to know what would come next. [Barnard, 31-32.] One Texan, Dr. Horace Alsbury arrived from the east to retrieve his wife, Juana Navarro, and their son, Alejo, who had been inside the Alamo during the siege and battle. Having served in Captain Henry W. Karnes’ company at the Battle of San Jacinto, Alsbury was able to provide Barnard and Shackleford with details of events that had happened since their capture following the Battle of Coleto Creek before he and his family left town.[Handbook of Texas Online, ALSBURY, HORACE ARLINGTON.]

On May 19, 1836, Andrade received orders from General Vicente Filisola for his command to quit Béxar and reunite with the rest of the Mexican Army marching towards Matamoros. When his actions were later questioned by Filisola’s replacement, General José Urrea, Andrade stated “Morality and ethics will not be able to say that I lost because I had to evacuate San Antonio de Béjar, as a result of the order that I had received from Most Excellency, the general-in-chief, . . .” It would take Andrade several days before he could leave. Andrade’s chief of artillery spiked the artillery which had defended the Alamo. The general described the pieces as “all in bad condition, and of irregular calibers” and contended that the ammunition and projectiles from the Alamo were “of the same class.” Andrade, “ordered them, during the night, to be cast into the river . . .”[Andrade, 14.]

Another task that had to be accomplished was the destruction of the Alamo, which Andrade was quick to point out its shortcomings, opining “. . . that the Alamo fight, in military terms, was nothing at all,” to him. “Yes, indeed, it was only a corral composed of many badly constructed rooms an d quarters for the defense of unsheltered hungry men who were exposed to all kinds of weather . . .” [Andrade,17.] Still, he set his men to work. On May 22, Barnard noted in his journal, “General Andrade has received orders to destroy the Alamo. They are now busy as bees, soldiers, convicts and all, tearing down the walls &c.” [Barnard, 33.]

Andrade still had a number of men in the hospital that he planned to take with him when he departed Béxar. “I had stretchers for the wounded built, supplying carts for others,” he explained to his superiors. Even so, he was forced to leave eight soldiers behind, who were unable to endure the hard overland trip to Matamoros. Transporting them, he explained, “would cause more pain and discomfort than one’s own wounds.” [Andrade, 17]

At midday on May 24, 1836, Barnard made the following entry in his journal: “The Mexican army troops are now leaving town. The last column is this moment crossing the river.” [Barnard, 33.] According to Andrade, who worried what critics were saying, “The calm hand of labour existed as the garrison vacated Béjar. And at no time, ever, did I move or act in haste, in order to say that I was not retreating, nor was there a flight of my troops.” On June 1, Andrade’s command camp near Goliad in sight of the Texans but both sides observed the peace. He reached Matamoros on June 18, 1836, where he was reunited with the rest of the Mexican Army. [Andrade, 17-18]

Accompanied by Alcalde José Francisco Ruiz and other people from the town, Barnard and Shackleford went to see what had happened to the Alamo. Barnard related the following facts: “As the troops left town this morning, a large fire streamed up from the Alamo, and as soon as they had fairly left Dr. Shackleford and myself, accompanied by Senor Reriz [sic] and some of the citizens, walked over to see the state in which they had left it. We found the fire to proceed from a church, where a platform had been built, extending from the great door to the top of the wall on the back side, for the purpose of taking up the artillery to the top of the church. This was made with wood and was too far consumed for any attempt to be made to extinguish the fire. The walls of the church being built of solid masonry, of course could not be but little injured by the fire. The Alamo was completely dismantled, all the single walls were leveled, the fossee [i.e., ditches] filled up, and the pickets torn up and burnt. [Barnard, 33-34.]

Reflecting on the scene, a proud Barnard wrote, “Here the foes of liberty came and dealt death and destruction to all around. Here they exulted in their carnage and gloried in the conquest of a handful of brave men, who overpowered by numbers, fell as those heroes of old did Thermopylae.” He concluded that Bowie, Travis, Crockett, and all the other Alamo martyrs should look down and take pleasure in seeing their enemies “retreating ignominiously from the country they entered with such bravado.” Two days later, with their work completed and passports in their hands, Barnard and Shackleford, rode eastward from Béxar.[Barnard, 33-34, 35.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Andrade, Juan José. After the Battle of the Alamo: Documents Published by General Juan José Andrade on the Evacuation of San Antonio de Béjar, Texas, May, 1836. Edited by Roger Borroel. East Chicago, IN: La Villita Publications,1997.

Barnard, J. H. Dr. J. H. Barnard’s Journal. Aransas Pass, TX: Biography Press, 1983 reprint of 1912 edition.

Jenkins, John, ed. Papers of the Texas Revolution. 10 vols.; Austin: Presidial Press, 1973. See Volume 7.

Nance, Joseph Milton. After San Jacinto: The Texas-Mexican Frontier, 1836-1841. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963.

Pierce, Gerald S. Texas Under Arms: the Camps, Posts, Forts, & Military Towns of the Republic of Texas, 1836-1846. Austin: Encino Press, 1969.

Santos, Richard G. Santa Anna’s Campaign Against Texas, 1835-1836. Waco, TX: Texian Press, 1968.

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 edition of The Alamo Messenger, the Alamo’s monthly history publication. Subscribe Here

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store