The U.S. Army Quartermaster Department at the Alamo, 1847–1861
By: R. Bruce Winders, Ph.D.
From 1718 until 1835, the Spanish and then Mexican military used San Antonio as a half-way stop from the settlements along the Rio Grande to those in east Texas. San Antonio’s central location provided not only a place to rest and resupply, but had strategic value, as soldiers stationed there could be deployed in a variety of directions depending on where they were needed. Once Texan rebels captured the city in December 1835, however, San Antonio’s military role shifted to defense. Following the revolution, San Antonio remained a defensive outpost throughout the nine years of the Republic of Texas. With the annexation of Texas to the United States in 1845, however, San Antonio’s military role evolved again as the city became a central hub of military traffic and supply.
Upon annexation, President John Tyler granted the former republic all of the rights guaranteed other states, including the right of protection from foreign powers. Uncertainty over how Mexico would react to annexation — especially with Texas’ claim of the Rio Grande as its border — required U.S. troops on the ground as soon as possible. By late July 1845, the U.S. Army began concentrating soldiers at Corpus Christi near the mouth of the Nueces River. In March 1846, the army, led by General Zachary Taylor, marched to the Rio Grande. Mexico viewed this movement as a hostile act and in late April attacked a detachment of U.S. Dragoons. President James K. Polk proclaimed “American blood has been shed on American soil” and Congress declared war on Mexico on May 13, 1846.
United States army officers visited San Antonio in early 1846 in advance of Taylor’s move to Texas. A clause in the annexation treaty called for all existing forts and military installations in Texas to be turned over to the U.S. Army for its use. This included the Alamo, which was in disrepair and missing walls following the famous battle a decade earlier. Officers of the U.S. Army Quartermaster department decided to repair and use the old mission’s remaining structures, and by 1847, the old convent had been turned into a two story warehouse. In 1850, still needing more room, the army’s Quartermaster General ordered the roofless church repaired and a second floor created in the building. When informed by the Catholic Archdiocese that the old mission property still belonged to them — a fact confirmed by the Republic of Texas in 1841 — the army began paying rent to use the Alamo as a regional quartermaster depot.
During the war with Mexico, the quartermaster depot at the Alamo collected and funneled supplies south. After the Treaty of Guadalupe ended the war in 1848, Mexico recognized Texas as part of the U.S. and ceded the modern day states of New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada, as well as parts of several other western states. The depot at the Alamo’s attention shifted west as the U.S. Army established a line of forts and camps designed to extend and protect westward expansion into the new territory.
Supplies from the east landed on the Texas coast at Indianola and were freighted to San Antonio for storage. From the Alamo depot, wagons fanned out along a line originally stretching from Fort Clark (Bracketville) on the Rio Grande, through Fort Inge (Uvalde), Fort Mason (Mason), Fort Martin Scott (Fredericksburg), Fort Gates (Gatesville), Fort Graham (Lake Whitney), and Fort Worth (Fort Worth) in north Texas. A second line of forts and camps was quickly established further west, which included Fort McKavett (Menard), Fort Chadbourne (Bronte), and Fort Phantom Hill (Abilene). Supplies from the Alamo were even carried as far west as Fort Davis (Fort Davis) and Fort Bliss (El Paso). In the years between 1847 and 1861, the Alamo played a critical role in sustaining the new frontier line and anchoring the southern overland route to California.
An inspection report of western forts of the Department of Texas commanded by General David E. Twiggs in 1861 contains the following information about the site’s use by the quartermaster department. “[Capt. A. W. Reynolds, assistant quartermaster] occupies the building and locality called the Alamo. The first floor of the Alamo is used as a granary and the second floor by the military storekeeper. The building fronting the common [Long Barrack] is two stories and used for offices, storerooms, packing rooms, saddler’s shop, harness room, & wagon shed, and in the coral are mule sheds.” The report further relates that “On the east side of the street is a corral for wagons & the carpenter’s shop and smith’s shop & hay yard.” [i] Although this inspection had taken place in January 1861, by the time it was submitted in late February, Texas had voted to secede from the Union and Twiggs had surrendered the Alamo and all other U.S. military installations to the State of Texas rather than face an outbreak of hostilities. Twiggs surrender ended this chapter in Alamo history and resulted in yet another army taking possession of the mission turned fortress.
[i] Jerry Thompson, ed. Texas and New Mexico on the Eve of the Civil War. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001), 175