How the Texas Revolution was reported in Britain.
Messages from the Alamo.
In the days before overseas telegraph, international news travelled as fast as the fastest ship. Although special correspondents and reporters played a part, unexpected stories required newspaper agents to gather the latest papers tie them up and send them home, where editors would either print verbatim or amalgamate stories to make up a column.
Delays in the relay of information, which filtered north and south through Texas into the United States, Mexico and then across the sea, meant that by the time some British readers heard about the fall of the Alamo, the defenders had been dead for nearly two months.
As early as February 1836 British newspapers were carrying reports of the Texas Revolution. The column for the 10th of Feb in the London Evening Chronicle reported on the Federalist victory at Bejar (12 Oct 1835 – 11 Dec 1835) and on 25 April the Morning Post was reporting on the advance of the Mexican army and the initial investment of the fort. The Chronicle speculated that it would soon fall.
It was therefore in May, that from London to Scotland and across the Irish Sea, papers like the Morning Post, London Evening Standard, Morning Chronicle, London Chronicle, Evening Gazette, and papers country wide like the Northampton Mercury included items about the campaign in Texas and the fall of a small fort called the Alamo.
‘It appears that there has been some desperate fighting between the Texians and Santa Anna.’ ran the opening sentence of the Mercury’s coverage of Mexican News:
‘On Feb. 25, The Texian garrison of Bexar, of 150 men was attacked by the advanced division of Santa Anna’s Army consisting of 2,000 men, and repulsed with a loss on the part of the latter of more than 500 men, while the Texians escaped without any serious loss.’
The ‘New Orleans Free American’ however, says,
‘On the 6th of March about midnight, the Alamo was assaulted by the whole of the Mexican army, commanded by Santa Anna in person; the battle was desperate until daylight, when only seven men belonging to the Texian garrison were found alive, who cried for quarter, but they were told there was no mercy for them and they continued until they all were butchered. The bodies of the slain were thrown into a mass in the centre of the Alamo and burned. The loss of the Mexicans in storming this place was not less than 1,000 killed and mortally wounded.‘
The Mercury column seems to share the views of the Evening Standard, which on the 23rd of April reported that General Cos with 4,000 men had been repulsed from the Alamo with a loss of 500 men. We might presume that stories became entangled and that these are garbled retellings of the Battle of Bexar.
Meanwhile the Morning Post for the 14th of May was able to relay news from American papers detailing Travis’ report of the 2nd of March, which told how the Alamo been surrounded by entrenchments and subjected to a bombardment of 200 shells, which had nonetheless hurt no one. The column noted optimistically that 31 men had recently reinforced the garrison. The Post of 18 May gave its readers a thorough overview from papers the editor had acquired from Charleston. These being details of the “brutal conduct of Santa Anna“.
‘Charleston papers were received here this morning, with dates to the 14th ultimo inclusive. We extract from them the following particulars relative to the attack lately made by Santa Anna on the frontiers of Alamo in Texas, which are given as authentic:-
“Colonel George C. Childers arrived on the 30th of March at Natchez, states that the only individual who escaped on the occasion was a negro servant of Colonel Travis, who concealed himself, but being discovered and wounded, was spared through the intercession of an officer.
He adds that all the Texians fell gallantly, fighting to the last, with the exception of Colonel Bowie, who, being sick, was butchered in his bed, and a soldier who during the final massacre, concealed himself; but on coming out and claiming the protection of Santa Anna was shot by order of that savage chieftain. Colonel Crockett and Captain Dickerson [sic] fought with a desperation worthy of a better fate. We are glad to contradict the report that some of the Texians laid violent hands upon themselves. They sold their lives dearly and that barbarian, Santa Anna, and his savage hordes will long remember the terrible affair of Bexar, and the voice of fame when she proclaims in future times the names who may have died an honourable death will not omit the the heroes of the Alamo. Col Fannin, with 800 men, was at La Bahia, and felt confident in case of attack, he could make a successful resistance. General Houston was on the Colorado, with a force of 2,500 men. Mrs. Dickerson fell into the hands of the Mexicans and in company with the servant above mentioned was sent to General Houston’s camp. After the slaughter, Santa Anna in person ordered the bodies of the slain to be thrown on a pile and burned, as has been stated in a former account”
These details, as regards the extent of the carnage are confirmed by the Mexican papers just received; in which, however, it is stated, as upon the authority of a despatch from Santa Anna himself, that, in addition to the loss sustained by the insurgents at Alamo, namely 600 killed, besides arms, ammunition, provisions, and twenty-one field pieces, an attack had been made on Goliad by General Urrea, where 150 men, including their commander Dr. Grant had been killed. Te Deum was about to be performed in celebration of these events.‘
In this way, ironically also due to the reports of the Mexican supremo, the names of the the principle fallen, Travis, Crockett and Bowie and even Dickinson found themselves on the tongues of people in places thousands of miles away. In the days that followed more details gleaned from Vera Cruz and quoted Santa Anna’s report made copy. Informing readers that on 6 March he had hurled 6 battalions in 4 columns on the Alamo and had carried the fort in an hour and a half. Mexican newspapers running Santa Anna’s personal dispatch were still being sourced and cited by the Morning Advertiser on 7 June 1836. In August the Evening Mail reported acerbically ‘No attempt was made by General Houston to succour [or] relieve Colonel Travis. As soon as Houston heard of the tragedy of the Alamo he burnt Gonzales…’
Coverage of the Revolution would continue in some detail, right down to the defeat of Fannin, and up to the end at San Jacinto. The latter specifically mentioning the use of the warcry “Remember the Alamo!”. The year after, interest remained sufficient for the British papers to run articles about Bowie and Crockett. By the 1840s when Mexican-US relations were deteriorating again, articles began to appear in such well known publications as the Illustrated London News, about the heroic defence of the Alamo.