The Alamo

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The Alamo

The front of the chapel from across the plaza where the perimeter would have been. The chapel was in the defenders' left  rear. Davy Crockett and his men would have been on the right side of the photo where the trees now stand.

Sunday, March 6, 1836.  5:00 AM.  The storming of the Alamo by the army of Santa Ana begins.  After waiting since February 23 for reinforcements that never arrived, the defenders have to fight alone. Most have about 90 minutes to live.  A few will last a bit longer. They exact a fearsome toll on their attackers - estimates range from a few hundred to well over a thousand. We'll never really know.

The Battle of the Alamo needs no introduction. It is one of the most famous last stands in history, ranking right up there with Custer's Last Stand and the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae. Located in the heart of downtown San Antonio, TX, it is a hallowed place much like Gettysburg.  Most Americans know about it, but it's what they don't know that makes this a fascinating place. It didn't happen the way it does in the John Wayne movie.

The structure dates back to 1724 when it was called Misión San Antonio de Valero.  It housed Christian missionaries and their converts. The source of the name Alamo has two theories. Some say it comes from the Spanish word for cottonwood tree - El Alamo.  Others say it was named by Spanish troops who garrisoned the post in earlier days.  They were from a town called Alamo.

The crown that figures prominently across the front of the chapel wasn't there during the battle.  It was constructed in 1847.

It was bitter cold that morning and much of the fighting was in darkness. It was all over by 6:30 AM. 

The courtyard inside the Alamo compound.

The courtyard as it looks today. The chapel is behind you. By 6:00 AM, there was ferocious fighting here, much of it hand-to-hand with swords, bayonets, tomahawks and knives. The defenders fortified and barricaded every room inside the compound and exacted a fearsome price from the attackers, who had to fight for every square inch. Notice the office building in the top right of the picture.

The defenders were taken by surprise.  Santa Ana had shelled the Alamo non-stop for days. It stopped at 10:00 PM the night before and the defenders collapsed into an exhausted sleep. They had little if any time to ready for the actual assault.  They rushed to their positions in the dark and the fight was on.

Contrary to most movie and artist accounts, the chapel wasn't at the front of the action.  It was actually in the defenders' left rear of the post.  A perimeter, some of it makeshift, was manned by the defenders.  This perimeter extended across present day Alamo Plaza and the stores beyond.

The attack came from every direction. Defenders fought back two assault waves but were overwhelmed by the third. Once the perimeter was breached, the courtyard became a caldron. They did a fighting retreat across the courtyard into the chapel and barracks for their last stand.

The defenders used artillery with deadly effectiveness.  They loaded their cannons with nails, door hinges, horse shoes and anything else they could find, turning the cannon into giant shotguns that ripped huge gaps in the attacking ranks. However, they got pushed off their guns so fast, they didn't spike them.  The attackers turned the guns around and used them to blast away inside the compound. 

Painting of the battle and Davy Crockett by Richard Luce.

"For God and Texas"

by Richard Luce

Davy Crockett and his Tennesseans at the Alamo.  The artist has captured an accurate snapshot of the early part of the battle.  It's still dark. Unlike the movies, the chapel is in the correct place.  Crockett's men are shown behind a low, makeshift palisade which was the weakest part of perimeter.  Smoke fills the air. Men are frantically loading weapons.  You can almost feel the chaos and intensity.

The defenders fortified and barricaded almost every square inch of the buildings with the exception of the chapel. Fighting positions were dug in the floors of the rooms. Obstacles were placed in doorways and windows.  Holes were chopped between rooms to allow movement inside. With the walls breached, room to room fighting commenced. At first, the attackers paid dearly in the dark, close quarters fighting. It didn't take long for the captured cannons to be brought to bear. Santa Ana's soldiers wheeled them down to the rooms and blasted away at point blank range before entering and clearing.

Davy Crockett and his Tennessee volunteers defended the weakest point of the perimeter - a low wooden palisade just in front and to the left of the chapel.  They were the last ones to be pushed off.

The exact circumstances of the deaths of Crockett, Jim Bowie and Colonel Travis will never be known.  The popular images of Crockett on the wall swinging his rifle like a club, Bowie shooting from his sick bed and Travis surrounded with sword in hand are as good as any.

The women and children hid in the center of the chapel and survived.  Santa Ana spared them.

Other mysteries surround the Alamo. Did any defenders escape or survive? Some say they did.  Witnesses after the battle report seeing several defenders being brought before Santa Ana and summarily executed. One of them may have been Davy Crockett.

The bodies of the defenders were burned in a mass funeral pyre. A year later, ashes from that pyre were gathered and interred at the San Fernando Chapel in San Antonio.  These ashes represent the symbolic remains of Crockett, Bowie and Travis.  They remain there still.

Exploring the Alamo and Surrounding Area

The Alamo is obviously the centerpiece of San Antonio.  There are both guided and self-guided tours available.  The structures you see are the original ones that have survived.  Many have not. A modern urban environment surrounds the Alamo and encroaches into the actual battle area. Remember that when you are standing in the plaza in front of the Alamo, you are in the middle of where the fighting took place. If you go, remember no pictures inside the chapel.  It is also customary for men to remove their hats in respect.

The closest geocache is a webcam cache called "13 Days in 30 Seconds." If you haven't done a webcam cache, make sure you check it out.  We love them. Unfortunately, geocaching.com doesn't do webcam caches anymore although ones that are active are still available. All you need is your smart phone or tablet.  Make sure you know how to do a screen shot with it.

There are no other regular geocaches on Alamo grounds but you don't have to go far to find them.

If you like to eat, drink, walk, bike ride, explore, people watch and geocache along the way, you've come to the right place. San Antonio has it all. The downtown area and historic district are the center of all this, especially the  Riverwalk.  Also called Paseo del Rio, you can't walk 100 feet without finding a restaurant or a geocache. Geocaching here can be a challenge. There are lots of muggles and the GPS signal can be slow to respond in this urban arroyo. Best caching time is early morning.

For a change of pace, give letterboxing a try.  There's lots of them in town too.  You can find them at AtlasQuest.

Either way, San Antone is a spectacular setting for the hunt.

If you can't get to the Alamo, you can check it out on their live webcam

The GPS coordinates of the front door are N29.4324º, W98.4863º.  Click on the coordinates to bring up an interactive Google map.

Semper Fi....Out here....Alpha6 aka Boris