By Richard G. Santos (2012)

This last Sunday morning (March 4th) I had the honor and pleasure of speaking at a special event at Alamo Plaza in front of historic Mission San Antonio de Valero – The Alamo. Hosted by the Primer Batallion de Mexico, a group of re-enactors and component of the San Antonio Living History Association, we paid respect to the Mexican soldiers who died at the March 6, 1836 Battle at the Alamo. Having published two books and a number of articles on the battle, and having through the years spoken at the battle re-enactment a number of times, it was a surprising turn of events to honor the memory of the soldados mejicanos who perished assaulting the Alamo.  Also speaking at the ceremony were old friend, retired Judge Juan Chavira, Dr. Feliz Almaraz, re-enactor Gus Martinez and emcee attorney John Serna. The previous two columns have dealt with the 1835-1836 Mexican Army of Operations Against the Texas Rebellion. Certain points need to be repeated in order to understand the Mexican assaulting force and casualties at the battle at the Alamo. The foremost unit was the Vanguard Brigade commanded by General Joaquin Ramirez y Sesma. On paper the Brigade was composed of 1,500 men. That figure however, was as of January 1836 when a count was taken at San Luis Potosi. As previously mentioned, all brigades marched through a devastating blizzard that ranged from Monclova, Coahuila to the Frio River in South Texas. As reported in the daily communiqués by the commanding officers, the storm left from 36 to 38 inches of snow and ice on the ground. Moreover, an untold number of men, women, children and animals froze to death during the blizzard or died of pneumonia thereafter.  Apart from the weather, the Army of Operations did not have any doctors or medical supplies. Therefore, men, women and children died of natural causes, animal bites and attacks by marauding Lipan Apaches and Comanche’s who as reported, frequently attacked lagers, deserters and the rear of the various columns and especially the supply wagons and its personnel and accompanying camp followers. Second Commander-in-Chief Vicente Filisola complained that the camp followers composed of wives, girlfriends, children and merchants slowed the march before, during and after the blizzard. It should also be recalled that the 200 forced conscripts marched tied one to the other were attached to the Vanguard Brigade at Guerrero, Coahuila along the Rio Grande. The conscripts were identified as the Batallon de Dolores and on paper numbered 280 men as other men had been attached to original 200 conscripts. It must also be recalled that this unit had been drafted from the jails, townships and ranchos along the Camino Real from San Luis Potosi – Saltillo-Laredo arriving at Bexar on December 9, 1835.  General Martin Perfecto de Cos surrendered San Antonio to the rebels the following day and without being untied, the conscripts were forced to march back to Laredo, then Guerrero, Coahuila where they were attached to the Vanguard Brigade for a second march to Bexar.Also attached to the Vanguard Brigade was the “reserve infantry battalion of San Luis Potosi” that numbered on paper 460 men. Identified as a “reserve battalion” meant it had been recently created and included retired or elderly personnel. The Matamoros Permanent Battalion was composed of 350 men. Identified as a “permanent battalion” meant it was an experienced, trained unit.

The Jimenez Permanent Battalion numbered 300 men on paper. Three small “cavalry units” were attached to the Vanguard Brigade. On paper the Veracruz unit numbered 9 men. The Coahuila unit numbered 30 and the miscellaneous “Presidial” (meaning militia) unit numbered 50 men. The grand total of personnel composing the Vanguard Brigade (on paper including casualties and desertions suffered between San Luis Potosi and San Antonio de Bexar) numbered 1,479 men.  Santa Anna had a 50 man escort of non-combatants and they joined the Vanguard Brigade at the Rio Grande. The reinforcements asked for by Santa Anna and sent at fast march pace by Brigadier General Antonio Gaona numbered (on paper) 849. The force was composed of the Aldama Reserve Battalion of 300 men. The Toluca Active (or Permanent) Battalion composed of 364 men and the Zapadores (sapper) Battalion  composed of 185 men on paper. Added to the reinforcement group were the muleteers hauling provisions and ammunitions and an unknown number of camp followers.  All total, the reinforcements numbered approximately 1,000 men. The total number of Mexican soldiers at San Antonio de Bexar, ON PAPER on March 6, 1836 numbered 2,379. Again, one must recall this figure includes casualties suffered in route as well as the ill and injured. As taught in military courses since the 17th century, an assaulting force attacking a fortress or stronghold must number three times the number of defenders. Moreover, the assault force can expect losing one third of its men. The Mexican assault force at the Alamo numbered between 1,000 and 1,200 men. The cavalry units of the Vanguard Brigade were patrolling the Caminos Real east and north of Bexar.  Their assignment was to engage and stop any reinforcements as well as any person or people leaving the Alamo before, during or after the final assault. The attacking Mexican force lost some 550 men killed in battle or from wounds suffered in battle due to the lack of doctors and medical supplies. Colonel Jose Enrique de la Pena wondered why Santa Anna had not waited for the heavy siege artillery and the Second Infantry Battalion still in route to Bexar.  In his memoirs, de la Pena also stated Santa Anna did not care if he won or lost for there was no one to hold him accountable for his actions. He concluded Santa Anna could thus sacrifice the honor of the National Government and Army. Colonel Carlos Sanchez Navarro who had been in charge of the forced conscripts stated “another victory like this will be hell”. It is those men, the forced conscripts, regular and reserve troops who lost their lives at the battle at the Alamo, who were remembered in the special first time ceremony this last Sunday.  May they rest in peace.

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