The Epic Stand at the Alamo and the Road to Revenge at San Jacinto
A bright moonlight beamed down on the faces of roughly 200 Texians hunkered down behind the crumbling walls of the Alamo, a former Franciscan mission located near present-day San Antonio, Texas. It was the early, weary hours of March 6, 1836. The Texians were entering their thirteenth day under siege. Outside of their embattled stronghold stood some 1,800 troops under Mexican President and General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The acting commander of the garrison, 26-year old William B. Travis, had vowed to “never surrender or retreat,” replying to Santa Anna’s initial demand for capitulation with a cannonball. Despite appeals for reinforcements, only a small company of 32 troops had arrived to join the defenders of the Alamo. For Travis and the other fighters on the frontline of Texas’ struggle for Independence from Mexico, the most desperate hour was now at hand.
At 5:30 a.m., Santa Anna sent his men forward to finish off the garrison by assaulting the walls of the Alamo from four directions. As Mexican troops crept toward the stronghold under the moonlight, soldierly silence gave way to shouts of “Viva Santa Anna!” and “Viva la Republica!” The cries of the enemy rang like an alarm-bell in the ears of the Texians. “Come on, boys,” shouted Travis as he sprinted to the walls, “the Mexicans are upon us, and we’ll give them hell!”
Behind the points of their bayonets, axes, crowbars, and ladders to scale the Alamo’s battered walls, tightly packed bands of Mexican troops surged ahead. Taking advantage of every available piece of metal, the Texians loaded their cannons with hinges, chains, nails, and even parts of horseshoes, greeting the attackers with a crude wall of death and destruction. Sharp Texian rifle and cannon fire thinned the Mexican ranks, but the odds against the men of the Alamo were simply too great. Among the first to perish was William Travis, who was felled by a musket ball to the forehead. Many more Texians soon joined him by giving the last full measure of devotion themselves.
Like a great, merciless tidal wave, Santa Anna’s troops flooded through the outpost. In dim rooms and other spaces around the collapsing compound, men ripped, slashed, and swung at one another in ferocious hand-to-hand combat. Too sick to even rise from his bed, Jim Bowie, one of the most prominent leaders at the Alamo, was cut down. With white cloths tied to their bayonets, some of the Texians made desperate pleas to surrender, but they too were given no quarter. In perhaps 90 minutes or less, the assault was over and the Alamo had been conquered.
Texians defiantly struggling to the end as Mexican troops swarm around them and overwhelm the Alamo. (Photo Credit: Fall of the Alamo by Mort Künstler)
Within the smoking, battle-scarred mission, seven of the Alamo’s defenders stood before their conquerers. They were the only Texian survivors of the battle. Every other defender lay lifeless under the rising morning sun. Still among the living was the famed frontiersman and Tennessee congressman David Crockett. On a day when pity seemed hard to find, it is said that Mexican General Manuel Fernandez Castrillón wanted to spare the survivors. As Santa Anna strode into the stronghold that had cost him around 600 dead and wounded to capture, however, the remaining Texians were destined for death. Under the orders of the Mexican commander-in-chief, all seven survivors were executed.
The grisly work at the Alamo was not finished yet. Inside and outside the outpost where they had made their ferocious stand, the body of every fallen Texian was heaped atop a pyre and put to the torch. “The bodies,” wrote one Mexican officer, “with their blackened and bloody faces disfigured by desperate death, their hair and uniforms burning at once, presented a dreadful and truly hellish sight.”
Hell continued to follow those fighting to secure Independence for Texas. Shortly after the fall of the Alamo, Texian forces under James W. Fannin, Jr. fought stubbornly at the battle of Coleto, but were ultimately surrounded and forced to surrender. Subsequently imprisoned at Goliad, Fannin and approximately 350 other Texians were executed under the orders of Santa Anna on Psalm Sunday, March 27, 1836. Texian fighting fortunes had been dealt another bloody blow. As Santa Anna and his men would soon learn, though, other Texians were rising and preparing to battle back.
With revenge in their hearts, General Sam Houston and his army of 900 Texians stared ahead at the camp of Santa Anna and his 1,200 soldiers at San Jacinto, near present-day Houston, Texas. Few among the Texians could forget how the enemy before them had butchered their brethren at the Alamo and at Goliad. Now, there was only one thing left for Houston and his men to do. April 21, 1836 was to be a day of righteousness retribution.
It was around 4:30 p.m. as Mexican soldiers rose up from their afternoon siestas and stretched their weary bodies. After cool dreams in the shade, it quickly became apparent that something back on the plain of reality was very wrong. The smell of gunpowder sifted through the air. Behind crackling guns, Sam Houston’s Texians thundered forward. With vengeful shouts of “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!,” the Texian army went through the Mexican camp like a raging, inextinguishable fireball, consuming everything in its path. In only 18 minutes, the Mexicans were completely routed, suffering over 600 killed. The Texians also took 700 of the enemy prisoner. Houston lost only nine men killed or mortally wounded as a result of the action.
Sam Houston and his Texians exacting their swift and sharp vengeance against the Mexicans at San Jacinto. (Photo Credit: Heritage Auctions)
As the Texians took measure of their triumph, an important element was missing. Many of the enemy had been taken prisoner, but Santa Anna was not one of them. Without him, Texian redemption would not be complete. On the morning of April 22, search parties were dispatched to hunt for the Mexican president.
At first, he seemed like just another Mexican soldier. The Texians had found him hiding in the grass. He was wet and dirty, wearing a common uniform. To other Mexican prisoners, however, this man was no mere foot soldier. As they addressed him as “el presidente,” the Texians knew they had found their man. Santa Anna was now a prisoner. While in captivity, he would later sign a peace treaty recognizing Texas’ Independence in exchange for his release.
The road to Independence for the Texians was paved by blood, toil, and sacrifice at the Alamo, Goliad, San Jacinto, and across other seminal moments of the Texas Revolution. Victory also set the stage for the eventual annexation of Texas into the United States in 1845. Over the course of the long and rich history that followed, sons of Texas pridefully carried on the defiant fighting spirit of the 200 men who courageously faced down overwhelming odds and gave their lives in the struggle for freedom at the Alamo. The epic stand at the Alamo will forever endure as a foundational bedrock of the Lone Star State.
History.com: William Travis Writes from the Alamo: "Victory or Death."
San Jacinto Museum of History: Victory at San Jacinto.
Smithsonian Magazine: Remembering the Alamo.
Texas State Historical Association: Battle of the Alamo.
Texas State Historical Association: Battle of San Jacinto.
Texas State Library and Archives Commission: The Battle of Coleto and the Goliad Massacre.