Susanna Wilkerson Dickinson (1814 – October 7, 1883) was one out of two American survivors in 1836 Battle of the Alamo during the Texas Revolution, where her husband, Captain Almaron Dickinson, and 182 other Texian defenders were killed by the Mexican Army. The second survivor was her infant daughter.
Susanna Dickinson was born in 1814 in the U.S. state of Tennessee, but little is known of her early life. On May 24, 1829, at the age of 15, she married Almaron Dickinson. Justice of the Peace Joseph W. McKean officiated the ceremony. Two years later she and her husband became DeWitt Colonists, obtaining property on the San Marcos River, where he opened a blacksmith shop and went into business with colonist George Kimbell in a hat factory. Her husband would later join with other volunteers during the Battle of Gonzales and he was a member of the "Old Gonzales 18". She joined her husband in San Antonio, Texas, shortly after he was assigned there.
Susanna Dickinson lived in Gonzales in Dewitt's Colony in Texas with her first husband, Almaron Dickinson. As the Mexican government increasingly abandoned its federalist structure in favor of a more centralized government, Almaron Dickinson became one of the early proponents of war. He participated in the Battle of Gonzales, which officially launched the Texas Revolution on October 2, 1835. By the end of the year, the Texian army had driven all Mexican soldiers from the territory. Almaron Dickinson was assigned to the garrison at the former Alamo Mission in San Antonio de Bexar (now San Antonio, Texas). The Dickinson family lived outside the Alamo, boarding with the Ruiz family.
In early 1836, Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna led an invasion into Texas. His troops arrived in San Antonio on February 23 and immediately besieged the Alamo. The garrison was completely unprepared for the arrival of the Mexican army and had no food in the mission. The men quickly herded cattle into the Alamo and scrounged for food in some of the recently abandoned houses. A few members of the garrison brought their families into the Alamo for safety. Susanna Dickinson and her daughter Angelina were among these.
For the next twelve days, the Alamo lay under siege. Santa Anna planned an early morning assault for March 6. At 8:10 pm on March 5 the Mexican artillery ceased their bombardment. As Santa Anna had planned the exhausted Texans soon fell into the first uninterrupted sleep many had had since the siege began. At 5:30 a.m. Santa Anna gave the order to advance. As the Mexican soldiers began to yell and their buglers began to play, the Texan defenders awakened and rushed to their posts. Dickinson and her daughter gathered in the church sacristy with most of other noncombatants for safety. She later mentioned that Davy Crockett stopped briefly in the chapel to pray before taking his assigned position.
The Mexican soldiers soon breached the outer walls of the Alamo. As previously planned, most of the Texians fell back to the barracks and the chapel. In the confusion, Almaron Dickinson slipped from his post manning a cannon in the chapel to join his wife in the sacristy. He yelled "Great God, Sue, the Mexicans are inside our walls! If they spare you, save my child!", then kissed her briefly and returned to his cannon. It took an hour for the Mexican army to secure complete control of the Alamo. The last of the Texians to die were the 11 men, including Almaron Dickinson, manning the two 12-pounder cannon in the chapel. The entrance to the church had been barricaded with sandbags, which the Texians were able to fire over. A shot from the 18-pounder cannon destroyed the barricades, and Mexican soldiers entered the building after firing an initial musket volley. Dickinson's crew fired their cannon from the apse into the Mexican soldiers at the door. With no time to reload, the Texians, including Dickinson, Gregorio Esparza, and Bonham, grabbed rifles and fired before being bayoneted to death. Texian Robert Evans, the master of ordnance, had been tasked with keeping the gunpowder from falling into Mexican hands. Wounded, he crawled towards the powder magazine but was killed by a musket ball with his torch only inches from the powder. If he had succeeded, the blast would have destroyed the church, killing Dickinson and the other women and children hiding in the sacristy.
As soldiers approached the sacristy, one of the sons of defender Anthony Wolf stood to pull a blanket over his shoulders. In the dark, Mexican soldiers mistook him for an adult and killed him. Possibly the last Texian to die in battle was Jacob Walker, who attempted to hide behind Dickinson and the other women; four Mexican soldiers killed him in front of them. Another Texian, Brigido Guerrero, also sought refuge in the sacristy. Guerrero, who had deserted from the Mexican Army in December 1835, was spared after convincing the soldiers he was a prisoner of the Texians. In the confusion, Dickinson was lightly wounded.
On March 7, Santa Anna interviewed each of the survivors individually. He was impressed with Dickinson and offered to adopt Angelina and have the child educated in Mexico City. Dickinson refused the offer, which was not extended to fellow Alamo survivor Juana Navarro Alsbury for her son who was of similar age.
Santa Anna ordered that the Tejano civilian survivors be allowed to return to their homes in San Antonio. Dickinson and Joe, a Texian slave, were allowed to travel towards the Anglo settlements, escorted by Ben, a former slave from the United States who served as Mexican Colonel Juan Almonte's cook. Each woman was given $2 and a blanket and was allowed to go free and spread the news of the destruction that awaited those who opposed the Mexican government. Before releasing Joe, Santa Anna ordered that the surviving members of the Mexican army parade in a grand review, in the hopes that Joe and Dickinson would deliver a warning to the remainder of the Texian forces that his army was unbeatable.
When the small party of survivors arrived in Gonzales on March 13 they found Sam Houston, the commander of all Texian forces, waiting there with about 400 men. After Dickinson and Joe related the details of the battle and the strength of Santa Anna's army, Houston advised all civilians to evacuate and then ordered the army to retreat. This was the beginning of the Runaway Scrape, in which much of the population of Texas, including the acting government, rushed to the east to escape the advancing Mexican army.
Susanna Dickinson's witness accounts
Susanna Dickinson reported, after the battle, the following had occurred during the siege and ultimate fight;
- There were very few casualties before the final assault. She didn't know the number.
- She confirms that the legendary "line in the sand" incident, where Col. William Travis gave the defenders the choice of staying or leaving, did happen. However, she reports that it happened the day before the final assault, when it is believed to have happened on either March 3 or March 4.
- On the morning of the assault, her husband ran in to where she'd hidden, made his final statements to her and revealing that the Mexicans were inside, then returned to his duty. She never saw him again, nor did she ever see his body.
- She hid inside the chapel, and did not see the actual battle. One defender ran inside during the battle, attempting to hide, but was killed by Mexican soldiers.
- When she was discovered, a Mexican officer intervened, with her saying she believed he was a British mercenary named either Black or Almonte. She was mistaken about his ethnicity, as he was Col. Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, who spoke perfect English, having been educated in New Orleans, Louisiana.
- Outside there was a single survivor, found hiding, who unsuccessfully begged for mercy and was killed. Joe also reported this, claiming the man's name was Warner. However no Warner is listed as being at the Alamo. The closest name in similarity to Warner is Henry Warnell, however Warnell departed the Alamo as a courier on February 28, 1836.
- She saw the body of Davy Crockett between the chapel and the barracks building.
- She saw the body of Jim Bowie with two dead Mexican soldiers lying beside him.
- She was taken to a house where she'd previously lived, and from there could see the pyres of the dead being burned.
- The next day she was taken before Santa Anna, and Almonte, or Black, convinced Santa Anna to release her rather than imprison her.
- She was sent east with Joe, and on the way to Gonzales, Texas she was intercepted by a party including Deaf Smith.
- At some point after the battle, she has no recollections, only that she wept for days.
Some points of Dickinson's account were confirmed by other survivors, including Enrique Esparza, the son of Alamo defender Gregorio Esparza. Joe confirmed other statements.
After the Alamo
Illiterate, Susanna Dickinson left no written accounts of what happened in the Alamo, but did give several oral accounts, with them always corroborating what she had previously stated. She remarried soon afterward to a man last named Williams, in 1837, but divorced almost immediately afterward on the grounds of cruelty. She married a third time in 1838, last name Herring, with that husband dying due to alcoholism. Dickinson married her fourth husband in 1847, last name Bellows, but the couple divorced in 1857 allegedly due to her having an affair. In 1858 she married for the fifth and final time, to J. W. Hannig, a cabinet maker, and with whom she would remain for the rest of her life. Dickinson died in 1883 and was buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Austin, with the following inscription:
"Sacred to the Memory of Susan A. Wife of J. W. Hannig Died Oct. 7, 1883 Aged 68 Years."
The marble marker was placed there by Hannig. The marble slab was later added by the state on March 2, 1949. Her fifth husband Hannig was buried beside her after he died in 1890.
The house her fifth husband Joseph William Hannig built in Austin, Texas in 1869 was turned into a museum, The Joseph and Susanna Dickinson Hannig Museum, dedicated to Susanna Dickinson and the other survivors of the Alamo.
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- Feit, Rachel; Clark, John (2002), Archeological and Historical Research Investigations on the Historic Hannig-Dickinson House and the Hedgecoxe House in Austin, Texas, Austin, TX: Hicks & Company
- McArdle Collection Texas State Library and Archive
- Susanna Dickinson at the Texas State Cemetery
- Joseph and Susanna Dickinson Museum