Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Robert Cunningham & the Alamo

I was thumbing through my copy of Walter Lord's A Time to Stand, published in 1961. It is one of the better historical works on the battle of the Alamo. One item stood out that I had previously overlooked - " was Adjutant John Baugh who gave the signal to hole up. The men quickly dropped from the walls..... William Carey and the artillerymen on the west side."

Why is this passage significant? 1st cousin 5 times removed, Robert W. Cunningham was a private in Carey's artillery company.

Robert W. Cunnigham [b. 18 Oct. 1804 in Chenango or Ontario Co., NY] was the eldest son of David Cunningham and Anna Jennison. [Anna's sister, Dolly married John W. Simmons, my line. Also Robert's grandmother, Lucy Morris, was the step-mother of John W. Simmons.] The family eventually settled in Jeffiersonville, Clark Co., IN. They also spent time in Kentucky after leaving NY.

The Simmons and Jennison families tended toward occupations that kept them near the Ohio River in southern Indiana and Ohio and northern Kentucky. Robert was no exception. He eventually went to work on cargo boats traveling the Ohio and Mississippi. He spent some time in Arkansas before writing his family in 1832 that he had decided to settle in New Orleans.

That decision was short-lived. On 4 March 1833, Cunningham was granted a league of land on Skull Creek [present-day Colorado Co.] in Austin's Texas Colony. Robert joined the Texas army as a sergeant and 2nd gunner in Captain T.L.F. Parrott's Artillery Company. On 10 December 1835, the Texan forces took San Antonio de Bexar from General Cos. Cunningham was one of fewer than 100 regulars left to garrison Bexar.

In early 1836, Cunningham wrote the family that he had joined the army. He was reassigned to Captain William R. Carey's artillery company as a private. Carey's artillerymen were assigned to artillery HQ at the SW corner of the Alamo compound.

Thus the significance of the passage in Lord's book. Col. Travis was among the first defenders killed on the north wall. It was there that the Mexican forces finally breached the north wall and swarmed into the Alamo. When Baugh, 2nd in command, gave the order to "hole up," Robert Cunningham was probably among those men who methodically retreated to the barracks for the last stand. [Jim Bowie was too ill to take an active part in command and David Crockett had his hands full defending the palisade connecting the west wall with the church.] 
The barracks along the south and west walls were the scene of brutal hand-to-hand combat. The Mexicans turned the defenders' cannons on the barracks, then charged in to slaughter the survivors of the cannonade.

By 6:30 A.M. on 6 March 1836, 31 year-old Robert W. Cunningham, the more famous Travis, Bowie, Crockett and 180-200 other men had met their fate. The Alamo had fallen.

Whether Robert was killed at his post, during the ensuing retreat to the barracks or holed up with other defenders in one of the small barracks rooms is not known. His Simmons, Jennison and Singletary relations had chosen to take a stand for independence in 1776. Robert W. Cunningham gave his life for the same principle 60 years later.

My guess is that it was sometime in April before word reached the Cunningham home in Jeffersonville, Indiana that the Alamo had fallen.

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