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Battle of the Alamo


On the morning of March 6, 1836, some 200 Texian troops made their final stand at the Alamo, a former Franciscan mission located near the present-day city of San Antonio, Texas. After withstanding a 13-day siege, the Texians were ultimately overwhelmed by a vastly superior Mexican force led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Nearly all of the Alamo’s defenders were killed during the fierce struggle. Among the fallen were Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis, who vowed to “never surrender or retreat,” Colonel James Bowie, and the famed frontiersman Davy Crockett. For all Texians engaged in the fight for Texas’ independence from Mexico, the overwhelming sacrifice made by the Alamo’s garrison became an enduring symbol of heroic resistance. Today, more than 2.5 million people a year visit what remains of the Alamo, walking the hallowed ground where one of the most valiant stands in history was made.

In December 1835, during the early stages of Texas’ war for independence from Mexico, a group of Texian (the term would later be contracted to Texan) volunteers overpowered the Mexican garrison at the Alamo, capturing the former mission and seizing control of San Antonio de Béxar (now San Antonio). By mid-February 1836, Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis and Colonel James Bowie had taken command of the Alamo’s defenders. Among the Texian ranks was Davy Crockett, a three-term Tennessee congressman and frontier hero. While there was no shortage of bravery and determination at the Alamo, manpower was limited. Texian troop strength at the fort never exceeded more than 200.

The remains of the Alamo today. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

On February 23, 1836, a large Mexican force led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna arrived in San Antonio. The Mexicans surrounded the Alamo and began a siege of the fort. On February 24, the Texians answered Santa Ana’s call for surrender with a cannon shot. That same day, Lieutenant Colonel Travis penned a famous letter, calling on the “People of Texas & All Americans in the World” to send reinforcements. While he made the vulnerability of the situation clear, Travis also declared, “I shall never surrender or retreat.” He also explained, “If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country,” signing off the letter with the now-famous phrase, “Victory or Death.”

A painting of William Travis, by Henry McArdle. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

32 men from the town of Gonzales answered the call for assistance, entering the Alamo on March 1, but these were the only reinforcements that Travis would receive.

The final assault on the Alamo began at 5:30 a.m. on March 6. Some 1,100 Mexican troops surrounded the garrison and launched their attack. “Come on, boys,” Travis shouted as he sprang to action and sprinted to the walls, “the Mexicans are upon us, and we’ll give them hell!” The Alamo’s defenders did give their enemy hell, firing deadly cannons loaded with every available piece of metal at the tightly bunched attackers. Santa Anna even sent in more troops, raising the Mexican assault forces to nearly 1,800. The Texians fought bravely, but they were simply too heavily outnumbered.

The Alamo Cenotaph, a monument in San Antonio, Texas, dedicated to the Alamo’s defenders. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Mexican forces achieved a breach in the outer wall of the courtyard and overran the Alamo. Travis, Bowie, Crockett, and the rest of their comrades were killed during the bitter struggle. Historian Thomas Ricks Lindley, author of Alamo Traces, estimates that the Mexicans suffered around 145 killed on March 6. Based on his research from numerous Mexican sources, Lindley also calculates that some 442 Mexican soldiers were wounded during the entire siege.

The Fall of the Alamo, by Theodore Gentilz. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Santa Anna pursued a ruthless victory, ordering his men to take no prisoners. In the aftermath of the battle, he had the bodies of all the Texians heaped onto pyres and set ablaze. Captain Almaron Dickinson was killed during the fighting, but his wife and infant daughter were among the few that Santa Anna spared. He sent them with a warning to the camp of Sam Houston, the commander-in-chief of Texian forces. Santa Anna wanted Houston and his men to know that if their revolt continued, they could expect a similar fate to those who had defied him at the Alamo. Despite his warning, the Texians did not quit. 46 days after the fall of the Alamo, Santa Anna finally met his match.

On April 21, 1836, Texian troops shouted, “Remember the Alamo!” as they attacked Santa Anna’s Mexican force of some 1,200 at San Jacinto (near the site of present-day Houston). Sam Houston and his force of around 900 men achieved a definitive victory at the Battle of San Jacinto. In his official report, Houston noted that the battle lasted 18 minutes, 630 Mexicans were killed, and 730 were taken prisoner. Only nine Texians were lost during the engagement. Santa Anna initially escaped, disguising himself as a common soldier, but the Texians captured him the following day. After negotiations, Santa Anna agreed to sign a treaty guaranteeing Texas’ independence from Mexico. The freedom that the men at the Alamo had fought and died for was finally realized. Their story of courage and sacrifice lives on to this day.

The Surrender of Santa Anna, by William Henry Huddle. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Sources

History.com: Alamo Defenders Call for Help.

History.com: Texas Declares Independence.

History.com: The Alamo.

History.com: Travis Writes from the Alamo: "Victory or Death"

Smithsonian.com: Remembering the Alamo.

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