On March 6, 1836, nearly 1800 soldiers in the Mexican army of Antonio López de Santa Anna brutally attacked the Alamo after a 13-day siege. Fewer than 200 men stood inside to defend the fort, accompanied by a small number of wives, children, and slaves. Miraculously, at least fourteen people lived through the battle, and a few would later provide chilling eyewitness accounts of what happened.
Enrique Esparza was the son of Alamo defender Gregorio Esparza and Ana Salazar Esparza. He, his mother, and two siblings survived the attack. In 1902 he told the story of his experiences to a reporter for the San Antonio Express:
On the last night my father was not out, but he and my mother were sleeping together in headquarters. About 2 o'clock in the morning there was a great shooting and firing at the northwest corner of the fort, and I heard my mother say:
"Gregorio, the soldiers have jumped the wall. The fight's begun."
He got up and picked up his arms and went into the fight. I never saw him again. My uncle told me afterwards that Santa Anna gave him permission to get my father's body and that he hound it where the thick of the fight had been.
We could hear the Mexican officers shouting to the men to jump over, and the men were fighting so close that we could hear them strike each other. It was so dark that we couldn't see anything, and the families that were in the quarters just huddled up in the corners. My mother's children were near her. Finally they began shooting through the dark into the room where we were. A boy who was wrapped in a blanket in one corner was hit and killed. The Mexicans fired into the room for at least fifteen minutes. It was a miracle, but none of us children were touched.
Esparza grew up to become a farmer and the father of seven children.
Susanna Dickinson, the young wife of Alamo defender Lieutenant Almeron Dickinson, hid with their infant daughter Angelina in a small dark room inside the mission. The Dickinsons were relative newcomers, having arrived in Texas from Tennessee in 1831.
She remembered the siege and battle in an 1874 interview:
A few days before the final assault three Texans entered the fort during the night and inspired us with sanguine hopes of speedy relief, and thus animated the men to contend to the last.
A Mexican woman deserted us one night, and going over to the enemy informed them of our very inferior numbers, which Col. Travis said made them confident of success and emboldened them to make the final assault, which they did at early dawn on the morning of the 6th of March.
Under the cover of darkness they approached the fortifications, and planting their scaling ladders against our walls just as light was approaching, they climbed to the tops of our walls and jumped down within, many of them to immediate death.
As fast as the front ranks were slain, they were filled up again by fresh troops.
The Mexicans numbered several thousands while there were only one hundred and eighty-two Texans.
The struggle lasted more than two hours when my husband rushed into the church where I was with my child, and exclaimed: "Great God, Sue, the Mexicans are inside our walls! All is lost! If they spare you, save my child."
Then, with a parting kiss, he drew his sword and plunged into the strife, then raging in different portions of the fortifications.
Soon after he left me, three unarmed gunners who abandoned their then useless guns came into the church where I was, and were shot down by my side. One of them was from Nacogdoches and named Walker. He spoke to me several times during the siege about his wife and four children with anxious tenderness. I saw four Mexicans toss him up in the sir (as you would a bundle of fodder) with their bayonets, and then shoot him. At this moment a Mexican officer came into the room, and, addressing me in English, asked: "Are you Mrs. Dickinson?" I answered "Yes." Then said he, "If you wish to save your life, follow me." I followed him, and although shot at and wounded, was spared.
As we passed through the enclosed ground in front of the church, I saw heaps of dead and dying...
I recognized Col. Crockett lying dead and mutilated between the church and the two story barrack building, and even remember seeing his peculiar cap lying by his side.
After the battle, Mrs. Dickinson was taken to see Santa Anna and then released. Struggling to survive on the frontier with little income, she would remarry four times, ultimately settling in Austin.
Juana Navarro Alsbury
Mrs. Juana Navarro Alsbury, sister-in-law of Colonel James Bowie and niece of José Antonio Navarro, hid in the Alamo, accompanied by her son and sister Gertrudis, for protection and to nurse Bowie, who was ill. Juana's husband, Dr. Horace Alsbury, had left the Alamo on February 23, the day the Mexicans arrived, probably seeking a safe place for his family. The couple reunited after the fall of the Alamo, though Horace would be killed during the Mexican-American War a little over a decade later.
Juana Navarro Alsbury shared her memories with Texas history enthusiast John S. Ford in the 1880s, and he subsequently recorded them in his memoirs:
Mrs. Alsbury and her sister were in a building not far from where the residence of Colonel Sam Maverick was afterwards erected. It was considered quite a safe locality. They saw very little of the fighting. While the final struggle was progressing she peeped out and saw the surging columns of Santa Anna assaulting the Alamo on every side, as she believed. She could hear the noise of the conflict -- the roar of the artillery, the rattle of the small arms, the shouts of the combatants, the groans of the dying, and the moans of the wounded.
The firing approximated where she was and she realized the fact that the brave Texians had been overwhelmed by numbers. She asked her sister to go to the door and request the Mexican soldiers not to fire into the room, as it contained women only. Senorita Gertrudis opened the door, she was greeted in offensive language by the soldiers. Her shawl was torn from her shoulders and she rushed back into the room. During this period Mrs. Alsbury was standing with her one-year-old son strained to her bosom, supposing he would be motherless soon. The soldiers then demanded of Senorita Gertrudis: "Your money or your husband." She replied: "I have neither money nor husband." About this time a sick man ran up to Mrs. Alsbury and attempted to protect her. The soldiers bayoneted him at her side. She thinks his name was Mitchell.
After this tragic event a young Mexican, hotly pursued by soldiers, seized her by the arm and endeavored to keep her between himself and his assailants. His grasp was broken and four or five bayonets plunged into his body and nearly as many balls went through his lifeless corpse. The soldiers broke open her trunk and took her money and clothes, also the watch of Colonel Travis and other officers.
A Mexican officer appeared on the scene. He excitedly inquired, "How did you come here? What are you doing here any how? Where is the entrance to the fort? He made her pass out of the room over a cannon standing nearby the door. He told her to remain there and he would have her sent to President Santa Anna. Another officer came up and asked: "What are you doing here?" She replied: "An officer ordered us to remain here and he would have us sent to the President." "President the devil. Don't you see they are about to fire that cannon? Leave." They were moving when they heard a voice calling "Sister." "To my great relief Don Manuel Perez came to us. He said: 'Don't you know your own brother-in-law?' I answered: 'I am so excited and distressed that I scarcely know anything." Don Manuel placed them in charge of a colored woman belonging to Colonel Bowie and the party reached the house of Don Angel Navarro in safety.
Mrs. Alsbury says to the best of her remembrance she heard firing at the Alamo till twelve o'clock that day.
Travis' Slave, Joe
William Travis brought his slave, Joe, with him into the Alamo. Joe fought valiantly and became the only adult male survivor of the battle, though he was shot and bayonetted during the attack. A U.S. army officer later heard Joe's story of the assault. Joe never wrote his own account or told it to a journalist or historian, but the officer retold Joe's story from memory in a letter written in May 1836:
The Garrison was much exhausted by hard labour and incessant watching and fighting for thirteen days. The day and night previous to the attack, the Mexican bombardment had been suspended. On Saturday night, March 5, the little Garrison had worked hard, in repairing and strengthening their position, until a late hour. And when the attack was made, which was just before daybreak, sentinels and all were asleep, except the officer of the day who was just starting on his round.
There were three picket guards without the Fort; but they too, it is supposed, were asleep, and were run upon and bayonetted, for they gave no alarm that was heard. The first that Joe knew of it was the entrance of Adjutant Baugh, the officer of the day, into Travis' quarters, who roused him with the cry -- "the Mexicans are coming." They were running at full speed with their scaling ladders, towards the Fort, and were under the guns, and had their ladders against the wall before the Garrison were aroused to resistance. Travis sprung up, and seizing his rifle and sword, called to Joe to take his gun and [uncertain]. He mounted the wall, and called out to his men -- "Come on Boys, the Mexicans are upon us, and we'll give them Hell." He immediately fired his rifle.
Joe followed his example. The fire was returned by several shots, and Travis fell, wounded, within the wall, on the sloping ground that had recently been thrown up to strengthen the wall. There he sat, unable to rise. Joe, seeing his master fall, and the Mexicans coming over the wall and thinking with Falstaff that the better part of valor is discretion, ran, and ensconsed himself in a house, from the loop holes of which, he says, he fired on them several times after they had come in.
After the Alamo fell, Joe was taken to Santa Anna, and then returned to the Travis estate. A little over a year later, Joe took two horses and escaped to freedom.
Read more about Alamo survivors:
Matovina, Timothy, ed. The Alamo Remembered: Tejano Accounts and Perspectives. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995.
Hansen, Todd, ed. The Alamo Reader: A Study in History. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 2003.