Mexican sword tip from 1830s found at Alamo

The excavation at the Alamo has unearthed an intriguing fragment from the same period of the doomed defense of the fort that has been immortalized in film, literature and legend. It’s the broken tip of a sword, a piece about six inches long from a type of sabre known as a briquet which was manufactured in France from the Napoleonic era through 1860 and was sold to the Spanish and Mexican infantry. It would have been issued to a non-commissioned officer in the Mexican army.

The object was discovered in the area of the south wall gate where the adobe bricks were discovered. That was considered the weakest part of the fort and it saw a great deal of military action, but this is the first confirmed military artifact recovered thus far at the south wall.

Military artifacts expert Sam Nesmith, director of the Texas Institute and Museum of Military History, identified it as a Mexican briquet. He dates by its design to between October 1835 and February 1836. Until December of 1835, the Alamo was held by General Martin Perfecto de Cos, General Antonio López de Santa Anna’s brother-in-law, who ordered extensive modifications and fortifications, including strengthening the south gate right. After 56 days of siege, Cos surrendered San Antonio and the Alamo to Texian forces in December. Just a hundred men held the fort for the next two months. In the chaos of the period, requests for reinforcements went unfulfilled by the Texas government.

On February 23rd, Santa Anna, Cos and the Mexican army arrived in San Antonio and turned the tables. They besieged the Alamo for 13 days. On March 6, 1836, they attacked. Colonel Juan Morales was tasked with assaulting the south wall and gate with 100 infantry. The defenders, Davy Crockett and his Tennesseans, put up a strong fight, forcing Morales’ men to shift to the southwest corner of the palisade. They broke through there. Morales’ men turned the cannon onto the barracks and to the artillery installation on the roof of the Alamo church. Davy Crockett and James Bowie were killed in this assault.

If the dating proves accurate, this sword tip could have broken off during the famous battle itself. Nesmith doesn’t think so, though. The torquing and pattern of breakage suggested to him that the sword may have been being used as a tool in construction causing the tip to break. Somebody, perhaps during Cos’ fortifications of the wall in late 1835, could have reached for the sword as a handy device only to inadvertently break it. It wouldn’t be the first time. Another sword tip was unearthed in the Main Plaza in 2007 where Cos had his troops dig a defensive entrenchment in December of 1835.

The sword tip will go to the Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Texas San Antonio. They don’t know yet if they will clean the corrosion to restore it to a more recognizably shiny-swordy condition. The process is expensive, so they’ll have to see if there’s room in the budget.

There’s an excellent video in which an archaeologist explains the tip fragment in detail here. I can’t embed it because of cursed autoplay, but it’s just a couple of minutes long and well worth a look.


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Comment by dearieme
2016-08-13 07:21:21

I’m mildly surprised that the grievance mongers haven’t yet made the defence of the Alamo double plus ungood.

After all, among the causes the defenders were fighting for was slavery.

Comment by Rodrigo Garcia de Quiroga López de Ulloa
2016-08-13 08:29:17

They only failed, seemingly by the tip of a sword, to “Make Slavery Mexican, again !”.

Moreover, judging by the sheer almost ‘sword-like’ size of that ‘presentation box’, a healthy amount of optimism seems to have survived.

Personally, I could not tell if slavery turned Mexican by now, but am happy to see that at least those archaeologists appear to be slightly on the Mexican side. :boogie:

Comment by C. A.
2016-08-13 09:48:16

They are Archaeologists. They are on the artifacts’ side.
Not Texian or Mexican. If they found the cross of Coronado it would still belong in a museum. The loyalty is to the data.

Comment by BruceT
2016-08-14 02:31:34

It’s probably the tip of a variant of the French Naval Cutlass, a short sword carried by many early 19th century infantry. The famous Bowie knife is another variant on the form, even though Bowie didn’t invent that variation. It is supremely ironic that Bowie bought the farm at the Alamo in light of this finding.

These types of knives normally functioned as “camp knives”. They could be used for everything from skinning and butchering animals to cutting firewood and digging. If the troops of Santa Ana’s brother in-law were ordered to dig in, they were likely using these, as they were the utility tool of the era. Camp knives were widely used throughout the Americas and still are under various names. The types of machetes and cane knives are examples of similar knives.

I own one that was made in the late 19th century. They were called “brush knives” locally and used for farm work. Mine is a bit longer than most, an 18 inch end weighted blade with a five inch wooden handle. Most come in at 12-16 inches of blade. No matter, you could easily decapitate a man without much effort with the thing. I still use mine for cutting saplings and such.

Rodrigo, you need to get back on the job. The Mapuche are advancing on Valparaiso, while Sir Francis Drake and Lord Blackadder are patrolling your coast. I understand the latter is acting on a cunning plan.

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June 2022


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