The Story of the Alamo
The Story of the Alamo
The Alamo was already a hundred years old at the time of the siege and battle. It was founded in 1718 as a Spanish mission for the purpose of Christianizing the Indians indigenous to the area. The Indians themselves built the mission under the supervision of the Spanish priests and it was named Mission “San Antonio de Valero.” The church was designed without the benefit of a master engineer, the roof collapsed almost immediately, and this portion of the mission was never actually completed.
By 1793, most of the Indians had died from disease and “San Antonio de Valero” was closed as a mission. In 1803, a Spanish cavalry unit from Alamo de Parras, Mexico, was quartered In the mission and it was from this unit that the mission received the name “Pueblo del Alamo.” The Spanish word “alamo” means “cottonwood” and possibly referred to the cottonwood trees along the San Antonio River.
In 1821, Mexico won her independence from Spain and claimed all the land that Spain owned which included Texas. In 1824, Mexico created a democratic constitution based on the United States Constitution. Mexico opened Texas for colonization, offering land very cheaply to new settlers. Many people, both Americans and Europeans, relocated to the area which offered the opportunity for a fresh start. In 1833, a Mexican general, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, was elected President of Mexico, but it wasn’t long before he turned his presidency into a dictatorship. He began to collect high taxes and passed harsh and unreasonable laws, making the settlers very unhappy with their new home. By 1835, many colonists began to threaten revolt. Alarmed by these threats, Santa Anna sent his brother-in-law, General Martin de Cos, to reinforce the Alamo. General Cos arrived in San Antonio, quartered himself and his troops in the Alamo, and converted the old mission into a fortress. He added some 21 cannons which he placed around the walls and began to prepare for a siege and battle. Declaring martial law, he jailed people for no reason and soon the threat of revolution became a reality. Almost two months after Cos’ arrival, in December of 1835, a force of 400 Texans led by Ben Milam made their way into San Antonio and engaged General Cos in battle. After several days of fighting Cos surrendered by raising a white flag above the Alamo.
The Texan force of 400 suffered 19 casualties while defeating Mexican forces of 1,100 and gained the most important military stronghold north of the Rio Grande. Leaving his cannons behind, General Cos fled to Mexico promising not to return. The defeat of Cos angered Santa Anna. It became a matter of honor to teach the Texans a lesson and he began to raise an army which he would personally lead to San Antonio.
In the meantime, despite the obvious importance of the Alamo’s location, Texas Army Commander Sam Houston ordered the Alamo abandoned and destroyed. Feeling that the outpost was far too isolated, he sent Colonel James Bowie with 30 men to carry out his orders. After arriving in San Antonio, somehow Bowie couldn’t bring himself to destroy the old mission. Hearing that Santa Anna was marching toward The Alamo, he became even more determined to save the Alamo.
Unsheathing his sword during a lull in the virtually incessant bombardment Colonel William Barret Travis drew a line on the ground before his battle-weary men. In a voice trembling with emotion he described the hopelessness of their plight and said, “those prepared to give their lives in freedom’s cause, come over to me.”
Without hesitation, every man, save one, crossed the line, Colonel James Bowie, stricken with pneumonia, asked that his cot be carried over.
For twelve days now, since February 23, when Travis answered Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s surrender ultimatum with a cannon shot, the defenders had withstood the onslaught of an army which ultimately numbered 4,000 men.
Committed to death inside the Alamo were 189 known patriots who valued freedom more than life itself. Many, such as the 32 men and boys from Gonzales who made their way through the Mexican lines in answer to Travis’s plea for reinforcements, were colonists. Theirs was a fight against Santa Anna’s intolerable decrees. Others were volunteers such as David Crockett and his “Tennessee Boys” who owned nothing in Texas, and owed nothing to it. Theirs was a fight against tyranny wherever it might be. A handful were native Texans of Spanish and Mexican descent who suffered under the same injustices as the other colonists.
Now with the ammunition and supplies all but exhausted, yet determined to make a Mexican victory more costly than a defeat, those who rallied to the Texas cause awaited the inevitable.
It came suddenly in the chilly, pre-dawn hours of March 6. With bugles sounding the dreaded “Deguello” (no quarter to the defenders) columns of Mexican soldiers attacked from the north, the east, the south and the west. Twice repulsed by withering musket fire and cannon shot, they concentrated their third attack at the battered north wall.
Travis, with a single shot through his forehead, fell across his cannon. The Mexicans swarmed through the breach and into the plaza. At frightful cost they fought their way toward the Long Barrack and blasted its massive doors with cannon shot. Its defenders, asking no quarter and receiving none, were put to death with grapeshot, musket fire and bayonets.
Crockett, using his rifle as a club, fell as the attackers, now joined by reinforcements who stormed the south wall, turned to the chapel. The Texans inside soon suffered the fate of their comrades. Bowie, his pistols emptied, his famous knife bloodied, and his body riddled with bullet holes, died on his cot.
Present in the Alamo were Captain Almeron Dickinson’s wife, Susanna, and their 15-month-old daughter, Angelina. After the battle, Santa Anna ordered Mrs. Dickinson, her child, and other noncombatants be spared. Other known survivors were Joe, Travis’ servant; Gertrudis Navarro, 15, sister by adoption to James Bowie’s wife, Ursula; Juana Navarro Alsbury, sister of Gertrudis, and her 18-month-old son, Alijo; Gregorio Esparza’s wife Ana, and her four children: Enrique, Francisco, Manuel and Maria de Jesus; Trinidad Saucedo and Petra Gonzales. Another survivor was Lewis “Moses” Rose, who by his own choice left the Alamo on the fifth day of March.
Santa Anna, minimizing his losses which numbered nearly 600, said, “It was but a small affair,” and ordered the bodies of the heroes burned. Colonel Juan Almonte, noting the great number of casualties, declared, “Another such victory and we are ruined.”
The Texans’ smoldering desire for freedom, kindled by the funeral pyres of the Alamo, roared into flames three weeks later when Santa Anna coldly ordered the massacre of more than 300 prisoners taken at the Battle of Goliad.
On April 21, forty-six days after the fall of the Alamo, fewer than 800 angered Texans and American volunteers led by General Sam Houston launched a furious attack on the Mexican army of 1,500 at the San Jacinto river. Shouting “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!”, they completely routed the Mexican army in a matter of minutes, killing six hundred and thirty while losing only nine. Santa Anna was captured. Texas was free and a new republic was born.
An independent nation for nearly 10 years, Texas was officially annexed to the United States on December 29, 1845. With the change in government, and the lowering of the Texas flag on February 19, 1846, outgoing President Anson Jones declared, “The final act in the great drama is now performed; the Republic of Texas is no more.”
13 DAYS OF THE SIEGE OF THE ALAMO
First Day Tuesday, February 23, 1836
General Santa Anna with the vanguard of his army arrived in San Antonio close to sundown. A blood-red banner was run up an San Fernando Cathedral, signifying no quarter. Colonel William ‘Travis ordered the red banner answered with a cannon shot. The Mexican soldiers fired back and the siege of the Alamo began. It lasted 13 days.
Second Day, Wednesday, February 24, 1836
Colonel Bowie, gravely ill, turns over command to Colonel Travis. Travis sends Albert Martin with a letter “To the people of Texas and All Americans in the World.”
Third Day, Thursday, February 25, 1836
Messengers reach Fannin in Goliad as the Mexican batteries move closer. A strong Norther blows in around 9:00 P.M.
Fourth Day, Friday, February 26, 1836
A skirmish takes place east of the fort while the Texans are hunting for wood. Mexican troops try to cut water supply.
Fifth Day, Saturday, February 27, 1836
Bonham leaves for Goliad and Gonzales. The Mexican Army causes many night alarms, giving Texans very little sleep. The Mexicans again try to cut off water supply; this time on the north side.
Sixth Day, Sunday, February 28, 1836
Fannin starts for the Alamo and then returns to Goliad. Mexicans cannonade all day. Crockett with a fiddle and Mc Gregor with bagpipes, stage a musical to cheer up the Texans. It begins to drizzle.
Seventh Day, Monday, February, 29, 1836
Mexicans move earth berms closer. Santa Anna reconnoiters troops. The 32 men. leave Gonzales for the Alamo.
Eighth Day, Tuesday, March 1, 1836
3:00 a.m., Texans elated at arrival of 32 men from Gonzales. Texans fire two 12-pound shots at house Santa Anna is in on Main Plaza; one shot hits the house.
Ninth Day Wednesday, March 2, 1836
Heavy Mexican cannonading continues. The weary men in the Alamo are unaware that the Texas Declaration of Independence has been signed at Washington-on-the-Brazos.
Tenth Day, Thursday, March 3, 1836
Bonham returns from Goliad to report that Fannin is not coming. John W. Smith is sent to Governor Smith with a final message from the Alamo.
Eleventh Day, Friday, March 4, 1836
Cannonading starts early and continues all day. Little return fire from the Alamo.
Twelfth Day, Saturday, March 5, 1836
Colonel Travis famously draws a line on the ground with his sword for all who will stand and fight with him. Every man crossed the line to stay with him. Mexican bombardment ends at 10:00 p.m.
Thirteenth Sunday, March 6, 1836
1:00 a.m. Weary Texans sleep. Mexican troops move into positions.
2:00 a.m. Santa Anna and Almonte discuss battle plans.
3:00 a.m. Troops still moving into positions.
4:00 a.m. All is Silence. Troops are in position.
5:00 a.m. Santa Anna gives the signal and the Mexican bugler sounds Deguello. Four columns of the Mexican Army advance on the Alamo. Twice repelled by Texans during intense fighting the Mexicans suffer heavy casualties. Mexicans breach the north wall, pour into the plaza barracks, and former church.
6:30 am The Alamo has fallen.
Leaders at the Alamo
William Barret Travis - Was born in South Carolina in 1809. Practiced law before moving to Texas. Became a lieutenant colonel early in the revolution. Assumed full command of the Alamo when Jim Bowie became ill.
James (Jim) Bowie - Born in Tennessee (a part that is now in Kentucky) in 1795. Was an adventurer, Indian fighter, and was famous for his use of the “Bowie Knife.” Lost his wife and children in a cholera epidemic, and moved west. Held joint command at the Alamo with Travis until stricken with pneumonia.
David Crockett - Born in 1786 in the short-lived state of Franklin which later became part of Tennessee. Was a frontiersman, soldier, and a TN legislator twice, a U.S. Congressman three times. Fought with Andrew Jackson.
James Butler Bonham - Born in South Carolina in 1807. Was a lawyer, military man. Was a captain at the Alamo and was sent by Travis to get reinforcements. Returned through enemy fire to fight in the defense, knowing their situation
was hopeless. Was considered Travis’ best friend.