Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
Thank you guys for the outstanding perspective which surrounds this topic, and while not of course directly attending to the issues on the gunpowder, the context is certainly pertinent.
The Mexican forces under Santa Anna were indeed widely diverse ethnically, and while Mestizos were broadly considered of Spanish and Mayan mixed ancestry, there were over twenty Indian tribes in Mexico which also accounted for the mixed groups.
As noted, the ethnicity had nothing to do with the efficiency or lack thereof in the tactics and warfare employed by Santa Anna, however it does seem was less than concerned on the well being of his troops, whom he regarded as expendable.
Getting to the guns, it seems that the 'Brown Bess' purchased in huge volume by Mexico (over 400,000) was the Third Pattern M1793 (Windus pattern) designed to replace the earlier Long and Short Land patterns which comprised the two earlier types.
Production of these was temporarily halted with peace with France in 1802, but peace ended quickly, and production heartily resumed. Over three million were produced by the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815. These were produced under the auspices of the 'Tower' in England, and the term 'India Pattern' was used for them, perhaps due to large EIC orders, of course quite separate from government orders.
Apparently, England decided to dispose of these, as many references deem a consistent reaction of England to peace, so some 700, 000 were sold off to Central and South America as well as Mexico, as these countries took independence from Spain .
So the disposal was not necessarily from poor quality, but from sudden surplus and opportunity to sell them off for profit and restoring the coffers after the long wars. The Baker rifle of course stood on its own merits for its accuracy , it was the ineffective long. heavy and awkward bayonet that was its issue.
I found that the British gunpowder was the 'best in Europe' and they apparently sold much of it to their allies, so I cannot imagine them not selling to Mexico and what countries bought the surplus guns. This was probably (I am assuming) that the tremendous supply of saltpeter coming out of India was the basis for such high quality powder.
This being the case, it seems likely that the powder may have been somehow adulterated or diminished in the also likely corrupt dealings of suppliers handling the Mexican powder.
What I have not been able to find is if it was produced in Mexico, or if they relied on outside suppliers.
With the firing of the Brown Bess muskets, in the original India pattern (Third pattern) that the Mexicans were using, it was given a rather poor review in criticism by Hans Buck about 1840s in "The Rifle and How to Use it" . The author claimed it was clumsy and worst contrived of any firelock in the world, and required the "largest charge of powder" and "its weight and windage were the greatest, its range the shortest, and its accuracy the least".
While this criticism years later was deemed harsh, it does seem that these muskets did require a notable charge of powder (it seems one revision to this pattern was a deeper pan and the charge was 6 drams). One soldiers account was that his shoulder was 'blackened' by the repeated recoil.
With this it would seem that the Mexican forces, not particularly familiar with the firing of these, would quickly resort to lowering the weapon away from their shoulders. If they were adding to the already excessive charge required then they must have been like hand held cannons, and the explosions into the darkness and disorganized masses (there were numerous redirections in the attack) simply devastating fire without aim.
This was the recipe for disaster, but with the defenders at the Alamo overrun, outnumbered, caught off guard, the outcome was still in Mexican favor.
Still, despite the obvious failings of Mexican force effectiveness overall with poorly trained troops, disrupted attack maneuvers etc. it was still the powder that played a large part in all of this, and this is the theme of this thread.