José Enrique de la Peña was a lieutenant colonel in the Mexican navy and participant in the battle of the Alamo. Born in Jalisco, Mexico, about 1807, De la Peña, around age eighteen, joined the navy in 1825. In 1828 and under the pseudonym “Lover of the Navy,” he wrote a series of pieces for El Sol newspaper that were critical of naval management. That same year, while en route to a naval assignment in Vera Cruz, De la Peña met Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna and instead remained with the general. De la Peña may have participated in military action when Spanish forces invaded Tampico in 1829. He was commissioned by the navy to study mathematics in Mexico in 1831.
In 1836 De la Peña fought in the battle of the Alamo as part of the Toluca Battalion and aide to its commander Col. Francisco Duque, who requested that De la Peña be with him during the assault. He suffered no serious injuries in battle. He was subsequently commissioned to be a captain in the Zapadores Battalion. On December 15, 1836, De la Peña testified regarding the actions of Gen. Vicente Filisola and his supervision of the Mexican army’s retreat from Texas. So began a series of scathing public writings between the two. In one such essay published in El Mosquito Mexicano on February 3, 1837, De la Peña mentioned a diary that he kept of his experiences at the Alamo and that he planned to “produce a Review of the Texas Campaign.”
He was an outspoken adversary of the Mexican Centrist government and published controversial articles. In 1838 he was put in prison for “revolutionary activity in favor of Mexican federalists aligned with General José Urrea.” He apparently “put in order the notes and observations that were to be based on the diary” while he was incarcerated but was not able to publish his account. In 1839 De la Peña wrote letters to the Mexico City newspaper El Cosmopolita and published Una Víctima del Despotismo. He was released from prison and military service in early 1840. Suffering from sickness and poverty, he possibly died between 1840 and 1841 in Mexico City, as reference to him has not been found in historical records after that time.
José Enrique de la Peña’s diary was published in 1955 under the title La Rebelión de Texas. A subsequent English translation titled With Santa Anna in Texas: A Personal Narrative of the Revolution came out in 1975. Its validity has been debated by historians, and by the latter part of the twentieth century the diary was the subject of heated discourse between those who questioned its credibility and suggested it an elaborate forgery and those who supported its contents. De la Peña’s diary reveals that Texan hero David Crockett surrendered to Mexican troops and was executed, contrary to the previously-recognized assumption that Crockett died fighting. In addition to revealing a detailed report of the battle of the Alamo from the Mexican perspective, De la Peña’s account provides deeper insight to the operations of the Mexican army in Texas, descriptions of disagreements between General Santa Anna and his officers, a report of the battle of San Jacinto, and a version of the execution of Col. James Fannin.