Battle of the Alamo

There were many famous men involved in the battle of the Alamo, including Tennessee congressman David Crockett and Mexican president Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

In December 1835, a Federalist army of Texan, or Texian, immigrants, American volunteers, and their Tejano allies captured San Antonio from a Centralist force during the siege of Bexar. After winning that, many of the Texan volunteers of the “Army of the People” went back home to their families.

There were two main roads that led into Texas from the Mexican interior. The first was the Atascosito Road and the second was the Old San Antonio Road. Two forts blocked these approaches into Texas: Presidio La Bahia at Goliad and the Alamo at San Antonio. Each of them served as a way to alert the Texas settlements of an enemy advance.

At Bexar, James Clinton Neill tried to strengthen the fort. Major Green B. Jameson, chief engineer at the Alamo, installed cannons on the walls. Jameson bragged to General Sam Houston that if the Centralists attacked, they could “whip 10 to 1 with our artillery.” Unfortunately, on January 14, Neill told Houston that his people were defenseless.

Houston was not sure if Neill was the best person to protect Bexar. He told Governor Henry Smith that Colonel James Bowie and a group of volunteers were on the way to San Antonio. Houston's words reveal the truth: "I have ordered the fortifications in the town of Bexar to be demolished, and, if you should think well of it, I will remove all the cannon and other munitions of war to Gonzales and Copano, blow up the Alamo and abandon the place, as it will be impossible to keep up the Station with volunteers, the sooner I can be authorized the better it will be for the country." Smith refused to authorize Houston’s plan.

On January 19, Bowie rode into the Alamo compound and was impressed with what he saw. The mission looked like a fort! Neill convinced Bowie that the Alamo was the only post between the enemy and Anglo settlements. On February 2, Bowie wrote Smith to say that he and Neill would “die in these ditches” before surrendering.

Smith directed Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis to report to Neill with his “Legion of Cavalry.” Only thirty men came. They arrived at the Alamo on February 3. Once there, Travis became committed to Neill and the fort. On February 8, David Crockett arrived with a group of American volunteers.

On February 14, Neill left to take care of his sick family. He appointed Travis to be in charge. The Alamo’s volunteers were angry that they did not get to elect a leader. Travis agreed to an election, running against James Bowie. The regulars voted for Travis, the volunteers for Bowie. The two men worked together. Bowie would command the volunteers and Travis the regulars. They learned that Santa Anna’s army had reached the Rio Grande. He arrived in Bexar on February 23. Texans gathered in the Alamo, and Travis gave a speech saying that the enemy was in sight and they needed men to protect the fort. Travis and Bowie knew that the Alamo could not survive without more forces. They needed help from the General Council in San Felipe, Fannin at Goliad, and other Texan volunteers who might rush to help in Bexar.

Santa Anna sent a message to demand that the Alamo surrender. Travis replied with a cannonball. Centralist artillerymen started trying to knock down the walls. If they succeeded in bringing the walls down, the Texans would have to surrender. They had only one hope – that reinforcements would break the attack.

On February 24, Bowie fell ill and Travis took full command. He sent a letter to the “people of Texas and all Americans in the world” telling them that he would never surrender or retreat, but his main message was a request for help. Travis was upset that few people responded.

On March 5, twelve days into the siege, Santa Anna announced an assault for the following day. Around 5:00 AM on Sunday, March 6, Santa Anna hurled his columns at the battered walls from four directions. Texan gunners stood by their artillery. As 1,800 Mexican troops advanced into range, bullets ripped through their ranks. Shocked by the cannon and rifle fire, the Mexican soldiers stopped, regrouped, and moved forward. Soon they broke through. Travis was among the first to die.

Leaving the walls, defenders withdrew to the dim rooms of the Long Barracks. Many bloody battles occurred here. Bowie, too weak from illness to get out of bed, was killed. The chapel was last to fall. By dawn the Centralists had won. The assault itself lasted no more than ninety minutes. Seven Texans fighters survived the battle, but Santa Anna ordered them to be executed.

Although Santa Anna had his victory, but 600 Mexican men had been killed or wounded. Mexican officers led several Texas women, children, and slaves from the Alamo. He promised them safe passage and gave them each a blanket and two dollars.

Source: Battle of the Alamo
Copyright © Texas State Historical Association

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