Mar 05 2018
Thank you to Dr. Stephen Hardin for this account of the battle from the perspective of a Mexican reporter. In our app, the story of Alamo is as engaging as the technology we use to bring it to life.
10:00 a.m., March 5, 1836: Reports confirm that Generalissimo Antonio López de Santa Anna has ordered an assault on the Texian rebels besieged inside the former mission outside town. According to His Excellency, the onslaught will take place at 4 a.m. tomorrow morning.
12:00 a.m., March 5, 1836: San Antonio de Béxar is buzzing. In compliance to orders released this morning, Mexican soldiers are busy making preparations for tomorrow’s assault. Engineers are building ladders, while NCO’s insure their men’s equipment meet exacting standards.” His Excellency was clear on this topic: “The arms, principally the bayonets, should be in perfect order.” These actions do not bode well for the rebels inside the Alamo.
3:00 p.m., March 5, 1836: Generalissimo Santa Anna and the four column commanders are currently conducting a reconnaissance of the attack positions and approaches. “His Excellency” insists that his commanders inspect the ground during daylight, as they will be unable to see it in the pre-dawn gloom.
4:00 p.m., March 5, 1836: The Mexican artillery fire against the Alamo’s north wall has intensified. Mexican gunners believe that their fire has weakened the obstacle, but still it stands. The rebel defenders have reportedly bolstered it with odd timbers and dirt piled up against the inside.
5:00 p.m., March 5, 1836: The Mexican artillery has suddenly halted. After such a long barrage, the silence seems eerie. The order to halt firing is perhaps in deference to the soldados, who this reporter can see taking to their bedrolls. Officers have instructed them to get plenty of rest; their day will begin early.
7:00 p.m., March 5, 1836: This reporter has learned that many influential senior officers continue to have unspoken misgivings concerning Santa Anna’s orders to take no prisoners. Even so, “His Excellency remains adamant and the red flag of no quarter continues to wave above San Fernando Church.
8:00 p.m., March 5, 1836: Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis and his men are grateful for the lull in what has been an almost constant bombardment. Travis posts a few sentries, but instructs most of the garrison to take advantage of the respite to get some much needed sleep.
10:00 p.m., March 5. 1836: A courier gallops through Mexican lines and into the fort. He reports that the enemy has cut off Texian communications and that the promised reinforcements will not be arriving—at least, not any time soon. Travis received the intelligence and retired to his quarters.
11:00 p.m., March 5, 1836: At this hour, the four column commanders meet with junior officers and NCOs. They once again go over plans for the assault that will occur in a matter of hours. Officers tell the NCO’s to let the enlisted men enjoy their last few minutes of sleep. They will be awakened soon enough.
Midnight, March 6, 1836: Mexican NCOs nudge sleeping soldados awake with the toes of their boots. Hastily—but silently—the groggy enlisted men join their units.
1:00 a.m., March 6, 1836: Mexican assault columns have formed up and are now moving toward their assembly areas. The weather is cool, but not cold.
3:00 a.m., March 6, 1836: Mexican columns are now crossing narrow wooden bridges across the San Antonio River. Engineers are marking minor obstacles so assault troops can approach the Alamo without being noticed.
4:00 a.m., March 6, 1836: At this hour each Mexican assault column has arrived at its pre-determined staging area. Officers order their men to lie in the wet grass while they await orders. No smoking or talking is allowed. While the Alamo looms ahead in the darkness, the soldados can detect no movements. Perhaps, they really can surprise the rebels.
5:00 a.m., March 6, 1836: Having lain in the wet grass for more than an hour, the Mexican assault troops are beginning to shiver. What is the cause of the delay? Santa Anna’s orders called for a four o’clock attack; the elaborate plans are already an hour behind schedule.
5:30 a.m., March 6, 1836: Santa Anna is in his command post, the artillery battery opposite the Alamo’s battered north wall. He wants to insure all is in order before ordering the attack. Yet, staff officers who have just returned from inspecting the assault columns, inform His Excellency that the troops are starting to lose their edge. These reports persuade Santa Anna and he orders the signal. A rocket streaks across the darkness. Soldados rise to their feet and surge forward. THE ASSAULT HAS BEGUN.
5:35 a.m., March 6, 1836: As they move forward, the columns maintain their silence. But the anxiety proves too much. One soldado shouts, “Viva Santa Anna!” Another replies, “Viva la Republica!” Hundreds of voices rend the air. His Excellency curses these “imprudent huzzas.” This was supposed to be a surprise attack!
5:36 a.m., March 6, 1836: The cacophony outside the walls has alerted Texian sentries who sound the alarm. Groggy rebels throw off blankets, grab rifles, and run to their posts.
5:40 a.m., March 6, 1836: Imbedded with the Texian rebels defending the Alamo, this reporter sees Adjutant John J. Baugh rush into Lieutenant Colonel Travis’s quarters to alert him that the Mexicans are attacking in force. Awake in a flash, Travis grabs his double-barreled shotgun. Joe, the colonel’s body servant, shares his master’s lodgings. Travis calls his man to follow him to the north wall artillery battery. As the pair sprint across the compound, the post commander sees his men hastening to their duty stations. “Come on, boys,” he shouts, “the Mexicans are upon us and we’ll give them Hell!”
5:45 a.m., March 6, 1836: Travis mounts the north wall battery and peers over the wall. What he sees alarms him. Mexican troops have advanced dangerously close to the wall. Some are already “under the guns”—that is to say, so close that Texian gunners can’t depress their cannon barrels enough to hit them. Travis does what he can; he unloads both barrels of his shotgun into the head of the nearest column. Almost immediately, this reporter witnesses a slug penetrate his forehead. Travis lurches backward, dead before he hits the ground. His shotgun drops from his hands and tumbles over the wall, landing among soldados crouched at the base of the wall.
6:00 a.m., March 6, 1836: This reporter is imbedded with the Toluca Battalion as it advances against the Alamo’s north wall. Some of our men are under the guns, but we remain frightfully exposed. Horrified, I watch a single cannon blast sweeps away half a company of cazadores. My professional detachment evaporates as their blood and brains soaks my face, hair, and clothing.
6:15 a.m., March 6, 1836: Seeing the attack falter, Santa Anna is committing his tactical reserves, the elite Zapadores—combat engineers. They unleash a volley toward the rebels atop the north wall. Yet, many of their rounds fall short, killing or wounding comrades jumbled at the bottom.
6:25 a.m., March 6, 1836: Finally, the sheer mass of humanity against the wall achieves the desired result. Dozens of assault troops gain a foothold on the northern barrier and drop into the compound. At the same time, soldados wielding axes and crowbars smash through the wooden doors along the west wall and pour into the fort. THE REBEL DEFENSES APPEAR TO BE CRUMBLING!
6:30 a.m., March 6, 1836: On the opposite end of the compound, this reporter witnesses cazadores of the Morales column carry the fort’s southwest corner. They have captured the 18-pounder, the rebels’ largest cannon.
6:35 a.m., March 6. 1836: As Mexican assault troops overwhelm the outer perimeter, this reporter sees Texian rebels fall back into the long row of buildings on the fort’s east side. Others, however, understand the hopelessness of their resistance and abandon the fort, running across the prairie.
6:40 a.m., March 6, 1836: The rebels have withdrawn in such haste, that they neglect to disable their guns. This reporter sees soldados roll captured cannon into the compound, employing them to blast through doors into the enemy barracks.
6:45 a.m., March 6, 1836: Mexican troops push through shattered entrances into rebel quarters. In these cramped, smoke-filled spaces the fighting is fierce and hand-to-hand. But it is also brief. I can report that the Mexican tri-color now flies atop this building.
6:50 a.m., March 6, 1836: This reporter is imbedded with the cavalry units under the command of General Joaquín Ramírez y Sesma. His Excellency has placed us between the fort and the town anticipating that the rebels will attempt to flee their fort. His foresight is remarkable. I now see dozens of fugitives running in our direction. The general orders his horsemen to cut them off. Many of these absconders sell their lives dearly, but in a matter of minutes they all lie dead.
6:55 a.m., March 6, 1836: This reporter views Texian rebels retire into the old church. Soon afterward our soldados force their way in to engage the remaining defenders. Half a dozen defenders fight until our troops overwhelm them. I see General Manuel Fernández Castrillón order his men to spare these helpless men.
7:00 a.m., March 6, 1836: At this hour, chaos reigns. A pall of heavy smoke shrouds the area. And while frenzied soldados continue to fire at shadows, it appears to this reporter that all organized resistance has ended. The Mexican Republic is victorious. THE ALAMO HAS FALLEN!
7:15 a.m., March 6, 1836: His Excellency has just entered the captured fort. As he surveys the carnage, General Castrillón approaches and presents him the prisoners he has just taken. Santa Anna replies that he has expressly stated that he wanted no captives. Castrillón begs for their lives but El Presidente answers with a gesture of indignation. Officers on his staff, men who had not participated in the assault, draw their swords and spring toward the defenseless prisoners. I watch in horror as—[CENSORED BY ARMY HEADQUARTERS. SINCERE APOLOGIES TO OUR READERS].
7:30 a.m., March 6, 1836: This reporter has just learned that our troops have discovered some fourteen non-combatant women and children in the sacristy of the old church. I personally witnessed Colonel Juan Almonte (who speaks the enemy’s language) inquire if a Mrs. Dickinson was among them. At length, she stepped forward. She is the wife—now widow—of a slain rebel. She clutches to her breast her infant daughter. Colonel Almonte escorts Mrs. Dickinson and her child to the home of former Political Chief, Don Ramón Músquiz, family friends. Our army does not war against women and children; every Mexican should be proud of the chivalry displayed this day by His Excellency and his officers.
9:00 a.m., March 6. 1836: His Excellency has graciously allowed this reporter to accompany his party as he inspects the Alamo fort, which our noble soldiers took earlier this morning. Don José Francisco Ruiz—Alcalde of San Antonio de Béxar—and a slave called Joe—the rebel commander’s man servant—singled out the bodies of the Texian leaders. The fort’s commander, a man named Travis, had been shot in the head and appears to have died as a soldier. Not so for Bowie. He perished in his bed, offering no resistance. (In fairness, many citizens claim he had been desperately ill.)
Noon, March 6, 1836: The cost of our victory is now revealed. About seventy of our soldiers lie dead on the field. More to be pitied are the wounded. No hospital facilities have been prepared, and perhaps hundreds of these unfortunates lie moaning in the streets. Many will not survive. Veterans of the assault stumble about with shock and horror etched on their faces; they are more like ghosts than men. This reporter overheard one high-ranking officer observe: “Another such victory, and we will all go to the Devil!”
5:00 p.m., March 6, 1836: San Antonio de Bexar has a melancholy feel to it tonight. This reporter sees a huge pillar of flame and smoke rising to the south and east of the Alamo—funeral pyres for the rebels. Sobbing women can be heard mourning the loss of their loved ones, and the inability to bury their dead. Although they are wives and lovers of an enemy, humanity demands that I feel sorrow for them and their fatherless children. How severe are the dictates of war; how cruel its demands. I wonder, will those children remember the Alamo?
Feb 16 2018
On March 6, 1836, the Mexican army breached the outer defenses of the Alamo compound. Some of the defenders retreated to the Long Barracks behind barricaded doors and windows–prepared to fight to the last. The Mexican Soldados wheeled captured cannons in front of the barracks and blew holes through the barricades then rushed through the smoky openings for brutal hand-to-hand combat. The sheer numbers of the Soldados eventually overwhelmed the defenders inside.
This is a test-render of an in-app experience of that attack from the Experience Real History: Alamo Edition. When you visit the Alamo, if you open the app and stand in front of the Long Barracks the app will recognize where you are and show you this portion of the battle. Notice, we have voice-over that explains what occurred. Our historians wrote the content based on years of research.
Please note: this isn’t the final version–be sure to check out the app to see how the first version changed to reflect the historians input.
Feb 02 2018
Of the many stories about the Alamo, one of the least understood is the roll women played. There were three distinct, but very similar groups of woman. First, there were women and children who were sheltered in the Alamo during the siege and assault.
The second group of women were just outside the Alamo. They followed their husbands and lovers in the Mexican Army to San Antonio, and were deeply affected by the campaign, suffering deprivations during the long journey, and in the camp during the siege. And finally, there were the Tejano women from San Antonio who had fallen in love with some of the defenders. They waited in agony for the siege to end. While the smoke cleared, the wails of grief could be heard as the Mexican and Tejano women searched for their loved ones.
Inside the Alamo, the women already knew the fate of their loved ones.
Susanna Dickinson became the most famous woman survivor of the battle. The most mysterious was Sarah—the only woman who died in the battle. Sarah, a black woman, would remain anonymous for nearly 180 years. Susanna would be forever afflicted by the horror of the battle. Her trauma would be absorbed and extended by the tragic life of her daughter, Angelina, “The Babe of the Alamo.”
But what of the other women in the Alamo, the wives, the relatives, and the slaves of the defenders? Who were they and what became of them? Their stories are seldom told and overlooked, but their contributions to the struggle are as important as the men who died.
The order of the Mexican command was that non-combatants, women, children and slaves all would be spared unless they were actively engaged in combat. By and large the relatives of the defenders who entered the fort were sheltered in the Sacistry in the Church. However, there were a few exceptions.
Juana Navarro Alsbury, sister in-law of Jim Bowie, had her own quarters in a building on the west wall. She was related to Jim Bowie by marriage and her father was a former Spanish official. She was given special treatment due to her status and stayed apart from the rest of the women.
Jim Bowie had a woman slave named Bettie. She spent the siege dutifully taking care of the seriously ill Bowie, and was thought to be found alive in the Alamo kitchen near Bowie’s room.
Anna Esparza was married to Gregorio Esparza, a cannoneer who was stationed on the cannons in the rear of the Church with Almeron Dickinson and James Bohnam. She, and her children, snuck into the Alamo to be with him. Anna was sheltered in the Sacistry with the wives and children of other defenders, including Susanna Dickinson. She became a leader of the families, by calming their fears, and helping them cope with the dangers of the siege.
When the final assault threw the fortress into a maelstrom, the women and children lived through the horrors of the deaths of their relatives. At least one child was killed in the final frantic fight in the Church. Hidden under a blanket, the boy was shot when a panicked soldado mistook him for a defender.
As the defenses collapsed, Almeron found his way to Susanna, told her all was lost, and that she had to survive to save their child. He returned to his cannon and was never seen again by Susanna.
In the aftermath of the assault, carrying her baby, Susannah was led from the still smokey Church into the small courtyard where Santa Anna was surveying his victory. The bodies of the recently executed last few defenders lay in a bloody heap. He approached Susanna and offered to adopt her child. Horrified, she refused and was led from the battleground only to be shot in the leg by a stray bullet from a soldado who was still shaken from the trauma of the battle.
Many of those women sheltered in the Alamo are unknown today, but they played a pivotal roll in it’s defense. They came to support their friends and relatives only to see them all killed. The men were elevated as heroes, the women were largely forgotten.
Jan 27 2018
In developing the concept for the Alamo AR experience we realized we would have to invent a new form of storytelling. It had to be non-linear. Non-linear storytelling exists in film, for instance, Pulp Fiction is a great example. The beginning of the movie is actually near the end of the story. As a viewer you connect the dots and follow the path. But you never leave the theater or couch in front of the TV. Even with computer or console games, you are still in one physical location, in front of a screen. But, when it comes to virtual or augmented reality, you are interacting with your entire environment. Telling a story in that same fashion doesn’t make sense.
We designed the Experience Real History: Alamo Edition app to be used as people explore the large physical space around the 6.5 acres of Alamo Plaza. This creates a challenge all in itself. The people using the app become a part of the story, physically. We have a path people can follow, but we can’t guarantee they will follow it. We have no idea where someone will start their journey. So we have to be able to orient them no matter where they enter the story. It is a unique challenge.
We solved this problem in several compelling ways.
When someone launches the app we play a short overview movie of the whole story. Why did this happen here? Who was involved? Why were they involved? How did the battle take place?
We also provide a map that orients them to the 1836 Alamo and where they are standing in relation to our important locations marked on the map.
From that point the of entry, the traveler becomes a participant, finding answers to these questions in depth. By moving from location to location, they stand on the ground where the history took place, see the events that happened right before their eyes, and hear narration that brings the human element to life. These historical figures were real people, not mythical heroes. They fought, bled, and died as real people—only later did they become legends.
In any story of this size, context becomes key to understanding.
We embedded information at 14 different locations throughout Alamo Plaza that can help the user understand the entire story. For example, if I’m standing at the 18lb cannon on the southwest corner, there are biographies and stories of various characters who fought there, Mexican and Texian—the users will have all of that knowledge at their fingertips. They can capture an artifact from the story and hear other stories associated with the same location.
The Alamo is more than just what happened in 1836.
Many people passed through the Alamo both before and after the famous battle. In our Time Machine, layers of history come into focus—here’s what the Alamo was like 100 years before the battle, here’s what it looked like when the US military used it as a depot, here’s what it looked like when it was a saloon.
This depth creates an enormous amount of information people wouldn’t have access to even with the best tour guide. You get engaged with the material. You are standing on the spot where Crockett died and watch as he is dragged out the church and executed. You stand where Travis wrote his famous “Victory or Death” letter. Go into the room where Bowie died and witness his last desperate moments. How could that not be one of the most powerful things you’ve ever done?
What about accuracy?
We want this AR experience to be engaging, but also accurate. That’s why including historians who have written numerous non-fictional accounts on this topic was so important to us. The app contains so much content, users would have to spend years researching before they could gather all the information we have included.
We tend to say “this is so exciting” a lot. But for us, there’s just nothing like being able to work on this amazing story everyday. It is an honor.
Jan 26 2018
When it comes understanding the architecture of the Alamo in 1836, Gary Zaboly, author and illustrator of many non-fiction accounts including An Altar for Their Sons: The Alamo and the Texas Revolution in Contemporary Newspaper Accounts, is considered one of, if not the, top expert in this field. His hand-drawn illustrations and paintings are widely accepted as the most accurate ever created. He is precise because his creative process begins with a thorough understanding of every detail of the battle, including the surrounding flora, terrain, and structures. His historic architectural images of the Alamo scenes are displayed around the Alamo today.
When building the models for the Augmented Reality app, Imagine Virtua naturally turned to Mr. Zaboly for help. The developers recreated his illustrations in exact 3D models. When viewing the images in the Augmented Reality app, users can inspect the structures as closely as they choose, from every angle. Sometimes it took many iterations, but Mr. Zaboly placed his stamp of approval on every rendering.
You can see more of Mr. Zaboly’s work in the books linked below. Of note, two of them are authored by another Experience Real History: Alamo Edition team member, Dr. Stephen Hardin.
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Jan 20 2018
Below are screen captures from the 3D computer-generated models of the Alamo in 1836. With the aid of our augmented reality app you will be able to visit the Alamo compound as it existed at the time of the battle. The images are included in short movies that will provide information to help you understand what occurred, and the AR experience will help you re-live it.
Do I have to be in San Antonio? You do not need to be at the Alamo to view the content in the app, but if you are there, you will see the images at the correct geographical locations. The images below do not include any Mexican soldiers (Soldados) or Texas defenders, but we are working to add them now. In the completed app you will witness events as they occurred.
Why are most of these shots from above? The bird’s eye images are important because they will allow you to both understand how difficult it was for 150-200 men to defend this shear size of the compound; and you will be able to witness the battle from that perspective.
West Wall, Large Court Yard Travis’s headquarters.
Alamo Church: View from above showing the cannon ramp.
Tambor at main gate. A tambor is a defensive position. You can’t see the cannon from this view because they are inside the structure.
The tambor guarded the gate, and had cannons facing in 2 directions.
View of Alamo Church from second floor of the Convento (on top of the long barracks).
Bird’s eye view from the east of the entire Alamo compound.
Long barracks inside the courtyard. Where is this today? Most of this building no longer exist.
It is located east side of the main courtyard. If you stand in front of the cenotaph look south east toward Alamo Church.
Jan 17 2018
In the Experience Real History: Alamo Edition app, the Imagine Virtua producers could have added any background music, or no music at all. But that would not have been an accurate depiction of events–and it would have been missing a huge element. Before the battle, the Mexican army played the “deguello” a song that struck fear in every defender. According to the Texas State Historical Association, the deguello announced that no quarter would be given the rebellious Texans, and signaled the final assault on the Alamo. An by “no quarter” they mean..
… the act of beheading or throat-cutting and in Spanish history [the deguello] became associated with the battle music, which, in different versions, meant complete destruction of the enemy without mercy.
To recreate the song, however, is more challenging than you might imagine. We asked the musician working on the Alamo Edition project how he did it. There were several steps.
1. Do Your Research. Youtube is full of themes claiming to be the deguello, and just as quickly you’ll find comments saying how that theme isn’t the “real” de guello. Fortunately, I found footage of a respected Alamo historian whistling the tune. I noticed that’s the same tune the most recent Alamo movie used, which seemed encouraging. Finally, I found a copy of the handwritten sheet music of the original bugle calls used for the deguello. There are four, and I used the second for the Aftermath music, and the fourth for the Assault music.
2. Choose the Right Location. For the app, we wanted to emulate the sound of Santa Anna’s band for the assault music to give a sense of what that might have been like for the defenders. Most music is recorded indoors, but that would not sounded exactly as they would have heard it. So, we sorted out how to record it outside.
3. Find Historically Accurate Instruments. Gathering all of the instruments required was probably the most challenging aspect. I used marching brass and percussion for the full ensemble and gave special consideration to the trumpets. Valved trumpets had not been invented at this time, so everything was played by bugles. The trumpet player I worked with happened to have a very unique old instrument called a slide bugle, very few of which were ever made. I think the serial number on his was “008”. Bugles can only play in one key, but this one has a slide similar to a trombone, so you can change the key it plays in.
So, how does it sound? I would describe the sound as more “authentic” than beautiful. I also layered in some tracks of him playing the bugle calls on cornet – which is the closest modern day equivalent to the bugle. The combination of the two instruments, along with the other brass and percussion, are what make up the wall of sound for the assault music.
Take a listen:
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Dec 14 2017
We debated how to show the battle. Ground level is the way a soldier would have viewed the action, but that only lends itself to viewing a very small portion of what occurred. So we devised a way to let the viewer fly above in an “elevator”.
Hear the Imagine Virtua CEO, Chipp Walters, describe it.
A neat example of using ARKit portal technology to create a world which you can not only walk around in, but also magically rise above!
Nov 20 2017
When Apple introduced their new iOS 11 ARKit, we knew it would be a great fit for the Alamo Edition. The kit provided a framework to create “portals” and therefore unparalleled augmented reality experiences. Apple states “By blending digital objects and information with the environment around you, ARKit takes apps beyond the screen, freeing them to interact with the real world in entirely new ways.”
We used the kit to create a portal in time, to the room where Jim Bowie died. Notice the amazing texture on the walls and the feeling that you are “there.” This room, however, no longer exists in San Antonio. The only way to see it and walk around inside it is through the app.
Below is one of our development tests by Image Virtua’s CEO Chipp Walters.