Newspaper Accounts of the Battle of the Alamo
Last Friday, March 6, marked the 173rd anniversary of the final assault on the Alamo garrison. In 1836, those living in Texas and beyond learned about this event (and the general course of the Texas Revolution) through published newspaper accounts. The information contained in these articles was gathered from named and unnamed sources such as Almaron Dickinson’s wife, Susanna; William Barret Travis’s slave, Joe; Ben, the servant to the Mexican officer Colonel Almonte; and Andres Barsena and Anselmo Bergara, Tejanos who based their statements on testimony given by Antonio Pérez, who was in San Antonio on March 6.
The DRT Library’s newspaper collection includes papers published in the spring of 1836 containing “news from Texas.” While the majority of these materials were published in American cities, also included is a photocopy of the Telegraph and Texas Register published in San Felipe, Texas, on March 24, 1836. According to Todd Hansen, editor of The Alamo Reader, this document “is probably the most influential single account of the fall of the Alamo by virtue of being the first in print, its access to authoritative sources, and its near universal dissemination” (551). Indeed, argues Hansen, this account “would be the picture of the fall for Texans (and the United States) and the starting point for all later secondhand accounts” (565).
Another important newspaper account of the fall of the Alamo in the library’s collections can be found in the Diario del Gobierno de la Republica Mexicana published on March 21, 1836. The draft of a 1968 press release announcing the library’s acquisition of the document states that it is “a rare copy of a Mexican newspaper containing the earliest known official announcement of the fall of the Alamo.”
As the official newspaper of the Mexican government, the Diario celebrated the bravery and success of Mexican officers and soldiers in achieving what is described as a complete and brilliant victory. “Long Live the Mexican Republic!” proclaimed the headline of this article, “Long live General Santa Anna and the brave army, victors of the Fort of the Alamo in Texas!”
A supplement to this edition of the newspaper contained additional details about the Alamo, specifically General Santa Anna’s report about the battle, his March 5th General Order outlining the plan for the assault, and a March 3rd letter from General Urrea to Santa Anna describing the former’s victory over James Grant’s men at San Patricio. The article also includes a Spanish translation of Robert McAlpin Williamson’s March 1st letter to Travis. Taken from Travis’s body or his quarters, the letter concludes with Williamson’s impassioned statement, “For God’s sake hold out until we can assist you.” The Diario supplement may be the first printing of the text of the letter; since the original manuscript of this letter has never been found, the publication is significant for revealing its existence.
Like other primary sources describing the siege and battle of the Alamo, newspaper accounts contain some confusing, problematic, and contradictory statements that researchers are still exploring, analyzing, and debating. For example, the report published in the Diario del Gobierno de la Republica Mexicana claimed that more than 600 Texans were killed, an estimation three times the actual number. Additionally, while only seventy deaths are attributed to the Mexican force, actual losses are estimated to be up to 600 soldiers.