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"To Whom Was This Sacrifice Useful?":
The Texas Revolution and the Narrative of José Enrique de la Peña

 

"To whom was this sacrifice useful?..."

Plano de la ciudad de San Antonio de Bexar y fortificacion del Alamo
Ygnacio de Labastida, “Plano de la ciudad de San Antonio de Béxar yfortificación del Alamo . . . Marzo de 1836. ”Autograph document, Texas Map Collection.

 

The Alamo was an irregular fortification without flank fires. . . . Four columns were chosen for the attack. The first . . . was to move against the western front, which faced the city. The second . . . was entrusted with a like mission against the front facing the north. . . . The third . . . was to attack the east front, which was the strongest. . . . The fourth . . . was entrusted with taking the entrance to the fort. . . . This was the general plan. . . .

--José Enrique de la Peña Narrative

 

Drawn by the commander of engineers for Santa Anna's army, this is the official battle map of the Alamo fortifications. It shows a wide area around the Alamo, including the town and military presidio of San Antonio.

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Fuerte de San Antonio de Valero, llamado comunmente del Alamo . . . 1836
José Juan Sánchez Navarro, “Fuerte de San Antonio de Valero, llamado comunmente del Alamo . . . 1836.” Autograph document, CN 01579 Pt. 1 & 2, José Juan Sánchez Navarro Papers.

 

 

 

  

Sánchez Navarro kept a private record in his ledgers detailing his observations both of the siege of Béxar in 1835 and the assault on the Alamo in 1836. In one ledger he drew this plan of the Alamo, identifying the fort's physical components and its defenses, with comments on their relative strengths.

 

 

 

 

 
 

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La guerra de Tejas; memorias de un soldado
Carlos Sánchez-Navarro [y Peón], La guerra de Tejas; memorias de un soldado. Méjico: Editorial Polis, 1938. CN 10459, Texas Collection Library.

 

 

 

 

 

A century after the assault on the Alamo, José Juan Sánchez Navarro's memoirs of the Texas campaign were published in Mexico by one of his descendants.

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

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Pages describing the deaths of Travis and Crockett
Manuscript page describing the death of William Barret Travis. Autograph document, José Enrique de la Peña Narrative, José Enrique de la Peña Collection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have written as an eyewitness to these . . . events. I have described them with accuracy and have recorded them not from memory, but as they took place.

--José Enrique de la Peña Narrative

 

Peña Narrative contains his account of the death of William Barret Travis at the Alamo. His description, translated, reads as follows:

They had bolted and reinforced the doors, but in order to form trenches they had excavated some places inside that were now a hindrance to them. Not all of them took refuge, for some remained in the open, looking at us before firing, as if dumbfounded at our daring. Travis was seen to hesitate, but not about the death he would choose. He would take a few steps and stop, turning his proud face toward us to discharge his shots; he fought like a true soldier. Finally he died, but he died after having traded his life very dearly. None of his men died with greater heroism, and they all died. Travis behaved as a hero; one must do him justice, for with a handful of men without discipline, he resolved to face men used to war and much superior in numbers, without supplies, with scarce munitions, and against the will of his subordinates, He was a handsome blond, with a physique as robust as his spirit was strong.

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“More Particulars Respecting the Fall of the Alamo,” in Telegraph and Texas Register, March 24, 1836 - page 2
“More Particulars Respecting the Fall of the Alamo,” in Telegraph and Texas Register, March 24, 1836.

 

To whom was this sacrifice useful and what advantage was derived by increasing the number of victims? . . . Death united in one place both friends and enemies; within a few hours a funeral pyre rendered into ashes those men who moments before had been so brave that in a blind fury had unselfishly offered their lives and had met their ends in combat.

--José Enrique de la Peña Narrative

 

This early Texas newspaper attempted to piece together the details of the Alamo drama from various sources. Its glowing praise of the fallen defenders gave voice to the first legends to arise from the battle.

  

 

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The Facade of the Alamo, 1849 (Daguerreotype)
The Façade of the Alamo Chapel, 1849. Gov. Dolph and Mrs. Janey Briscoe Alamo Daguerreotype, Prints and Photographs Collection.

 

 

 

This 1849 daguerreotype of the façade of the Alamo chapel in San Antonio is the earliest datable photograph taken in Texas and the only extant photographic view of the Alamo made prior to its reconstruction in 1850. Governor and Mrs. Dolph Briscoe acquired this benchmark Texas photograph for the Center for American History in 1993.

 

 

 

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