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An Alamo Rarity with Copious Manuscript Notes & Corrections by Author


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2.     [ALAMO]. POTTER, R[euben] M[armaduke]. The Fall of the Alamo: A Reminiscence of the Revolution of Texas. San Antonio: Printed on the Herald Steam Press, 1860. [1-3] 4-16 pp., untitled plan of Alamo on recto of preliminary leaf at front (presenting positions of men and supplies within); blank following text has pasted on recto and verso the author’s article “The Fall of the Alamo” which appeared in the San Antonio Herald, August 28, 1860, followed by an inserted leaf signed by author “RMP” and densely written notes, corrections, and discussion of disparities between the various accounts (includes material from a “Mexican Officer” whom author had not interviewed before this 1860 publication), text copiously annotated throughout in ink by author. 8vo (22 x 14 cm), original green printed wrappers with title reproduced within line border on upper wrapper, original stitching. Fragile wrappers neatly restored (a few chips sympathetically infilled), old pencil scribble on rear wrap, folder and text creased at center (where formerly folded), interior with a few dog-eared pages, a few light paste stains at end where Potter pasted in his newspaper article, overall a very good copy of an exceedingly rare pamphlet, a very desirable copy due to the author’s extensive additional handwritten material. Title with author’s signed presentation copy to “Br[igadier] Gen[era]l Joseph E[ggleston] Johnston, U.S. Army with the authors compl[iment]s, RMP.” Johnston (1807-1891) is best remembered as the Confederate general who surrendered the Army of Tennessee to Sherman on April 26, 1865. Exceedingly rare and a very desirable copy.

     First edition. Eberstadt, Texas 162:612. Library of Congress Exhibition 281. Raines, p. 167n (citing the 1878 reprint and commenting in general on Potter’s historical works): “Style clear and vigorous. An invaluable contribution to the military history of Texas.” Winkler 1368 (locates copies at the University of Texas and State Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin). OCLC locates copies of the 1860 edition at six institutions, but five of the locations are actually the 1977 reprint (only the University of Texas at Austin copy is the original edition of 1860). Other copies we located are Library of Congress, the Garrett Collection at the University of Texas at Arlington, and Yale.

     Potter’s book is one of the foundation sources of the battle of the Alamo, based on interviews with members of Santa-Anna’s forces and others, along with minute inspection of the Alamo grounds beginning in 1841. Since there were no Texas Alamo combatant survivors, Potter’s account is about as close as we can get to the reality of what occurred with the Texan defenders. Todd Hansen in The Alamo Reader (Stackpole Books, 2003, p. 694) deftly sums up the importance of this work: “Reuben Potter’s account is perhaps the most carefully researched balanced version of the siege and fall of the Alamo from the nineteenth century.” Schoelwer, et al., Alamo Images: Changing Perceptions of a Texas Experience (Dallas: DeGolyer and SMU Press, 1985), cite Potter’s account several times, sometimes pointing out errors he made which contributed to the mythological canon of the Alamo (see pp. 8, 39, 41, 112, 115, and 144).

     In his printed account Potter provides an excellent description of the fall of the Alamo, from the Mexican invasion to what happened after the smoke cleared and the dust settled. He discusses mistaken beliefs and errors compounded in the time following the battle and critiques misconceptions by both Texans and Mexicans; he corrects mistakes by historians, such as Yoakum. Especially valuable for historic archaeologists is the detailed and long description of the physical structure and grounds, including the plan at the front, based on measurements made by Potter in his first investigations on site at the Alamo in 1841. He sets out the Mexican military assault and compliments General Castrillon’s strategy. The actions and deaths of Travis, Crockett, Bowie, and other Texans are discussed. Some of what we learn about the men and their interactions does not mesh entirely with the stereotypes. Especially moving is Potter’s description of Almaron Dickinson’s fatal leap while taking mortal wounds as he sought to save his child’s life. Military lessons have been learned from his assessment of the battle. Potter concludes with a plea for a memorial to the honor the Alamo defenders:

The Government of the State of Texas has never secured or preserved but one memento of the Alamo. A small but finely executed monument was made from the stones of the fortress in 1841 by an artist named Nangle; and after lying long neglected it was purchased by the State. It now stands in the hall of the Capitol of Austin; but neither at the Alamo itself, nor at the forgotten grave of its defenders, does any legend or device, like the stone of Thermopylæ, remind the stranger of those who died for their country’s rights.

     After the fall of the Alamo, Captain Potter became highly interested in that pivotal battle and wrote this narrative for the San Antonio Herald in 1860. Because of great interest in the subject of the Alamo, this pamphlet was circulated extensively.

     For a more detailed version of the following discussion, click here.

     Page 6 discusses how many Texans were actually at the Alamo and questions the calculation thereof by Francisco Antonio Ruiz, who as Alcalde of San Antonio at the time, was ordered by General Antonio López de Santa-Anna to count, identify, and dispose of fallen Texans: “The dead bodies of the defenders when burned according to the statement of Mr. Ruiz numbered 192. Contrary to this as the number of living men in the garrison on the morning of the assault, we may fairly estimate that not more than 165 or 170 were effective.”

     A footnote on p. 9, refers the reader to the leaf of handwritten notes by Potter inserted at end of printed text. This note relates to the details of the Mexican attack and an analysis of casualties and wounded:

*1 — Since this was published I have learned a few additional particulars from a gentleman who was an officer in the Army of Texas at San Jacinto [Francisco Becerra], and, being a native of San Antonio, was able to converse understandingly with the Mexican officers captured there. I learn[ed] from him that when the columns of attack first moved, and for some time before, the guns on the south side of the fort were answering the battery in front of them. I therefore erred in my stating that the cannon on both sides were at that moment silent. – Mr. Ruiz, who, according to this statement, listened to the din of the operations where he could not see them, seems to have been misled by this cannonade, and, in his recollections twenty odd years after, supported the fire of the Fort was all directed against storming parties, instead of against the besieging batteries. Hence his idea that a large portion of the Mexican loss was caused by Travis’ artillery. — See the Scrap pages which follow this. — My informant above referred to says that the guns on the north side of the Fort had time to make but one fire against the column advancing in that quarter, although it was staggered a short time near the breach. The guns on the south side, when their aim was turned from the besieging batteries to the assaulting force, could not have made more than two discharges before one of the columns on that side entered. The column against the north breach was checked, and that against the chapel repulsed, I presume, at nearly the same moment; and I infer that while the main attention of the garrison was drawn to these two points, the other column entered with less opposition.

My informant thinks I have rated the average force of the Mexican corps a fraction too high, and that it fell short of five hundred. He is confident the battalion of Toluca contained but four hundred and odd. — Mr. Ruiz in his statement asserts that it numbered 800, out of which only 130 were left alive. — Now if 670 were slain outright, how many were wounded? The remaining 130 would be an incredibly small proportion. The whole corps must have gone to the grave yard and hospital; yet only seven weeks after, a portion of it was killed and taken at San Jacinto, and a small remnant, not in that action, retreated with Urrea to Matamoros. — The Story of the Eight Hundred, equally with that of the 1600, in Ruiz’s statement shows what reliance is to be placed on local legends.

My San Jacinto informant thinks my estimate of the Mexican loss about right — that is five hundred killed & wounded, a little more or less. The captured officers who had been in the assault generally rated thereabout,— some above & some below it. — The highest conjecture, made by one officer only, was that the killed and wounded might have approached seven hundred. This though probably in excess indicates that I have not gone too high.

     A footnote on p. 12, refers the reader to the leaf of handwritten notes by Potter inserted at end of printed text. This note relates to Almaron Dickinson’s fatal leap when trying to rescue his child:

*2. — The authenticity of this incident, Dickenson’s [alternate spelling for Dickinson] has been questioned. — I heard it related with doubt on my part in the earliest verbal accounts of the action which I listened to in Texas; but it was afterwards mentioned by my servant ex-Sergeant Becero, who said he witnessed it. His reference to it was not suggested by any inquiry or allusion of mine; and, though he may have heard it spoken of before by others, it, seemed to come up spontaneously among his recollections when he first narrated the assault to me. The leap is generally spoken of as being made from the top of the chapel; but Becero, according to my present recollection, said it was from an upper window of the south side. When I first saw that building in 1841, there was at the point referred to, not a window, but a small breach or notch in the upper part of the wall, which may have been knocked out to serve as an embrasure. The opening, which is now converted into a window, is about 15 feet from the ground.

On p. 12 (third paragraph) is a discussion of a few men who attempted to leap from the outer barriers but who were cut down by Mexican gunfire: “One of the men concealed himself under a bridge of the irrigation ditch near the font, & remained hidden till late in the day, when he was discovered by some of the camp women who were washing near the bridge. He was dragged out & manacled.”

     Reuben Marmaduke Potter (1802-1890), soldier, author, and customs officer, son of Ichabod Potter, was born in Woodbridge, New Jersey. He held a large variety of important military and political positions during the Texas Revolution, the Mexican-American War, and the Civil War. Handbook of Texas Online: Reuben Marmaduke Potter.

For further information, consult the web site.


Sold. Hammer: $21,000.00; Price Realized: $25,200.00

Auction 22 Abstracts
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