Texas Revolution: Battle of the Alamo

Fighting at the Alamo
Battle of the Alamo. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of the Alamo - Conflict & Dates:

The siege of the Alamo took place from February 23 to March 6, 1836, during the Texas Revolution (1835-1836).

Armies & Commanders:

Texans

Mexicans

General Antonio López de Santa Anna

  • 6,000 men
  • 20 guns

Background:

In the wake of the Battle of Gonzales which opened the Texas Revolution, a Texan force under Stephen F. Austin encircled the Mexican garrison in the town of San Antonio de Béxar.

On December 11, 1835, after an eight-week siege, Austin's men were able to compel General Martín Perfecto de Cos to surrender. Occupying the town, the defenders were paroled with the requirement that they forfeit the majority of their supplies and weapons as well as not fight against the Constitution of 1824. The fall of Cos' command eliminated the last major Mexican force in Texas. Returning to friendly territory, Cos provided his superior, General Antonio López de Santa Anna, with information about the uprising in Texas.

Santa Anna Prepares:

Seeking to take a hard line with the rebelling Texans and angered by perceived American interference in Texas, Santa Anna ordered a resolution passed stating that any foreigners found fighting in the province would be treated as pirates.  As such, they would be immediately executed. While these intentions were communicated to US President Andrew Jackson, it is unlikely that many of the American volunteers in Texas were aware of the Mexican intention to forego taking prisoners.

Establishing his headquarters at San Luis Potosí, Santa Anna began assembling an army of 6,000 with the goal of marching north and putting down the revolt in Texas. In early 1836, after adding 20 guns to his command, he began marching north through Saltillo and Coahuila.

Fortifying the Alamo:

To the north in San Antonio, Texan forces were occupying the Misión San Antonio de Valero, also known as the Alamo.

Possessing a large enclosed courtyard, the Alamo had first been occupied by Cos' men during siege of the town the previous fall. Under the command of Colonel James Neill, the future of the Alamo soon proved a matter of debate for the Texan leadership. Far from the majority of the province's settlements, San Antonio was short on both supplies and men.  As such, General Sam Houston advised that the Alamo be demolished and directed Colonel Jim Bowie to take a force of volunteers to accomplish this task. Arriving on January 19, Bowie found that work to improve the mission's defenses had been successful and he was persuaded by Neill that the post could be held as well as that it was an important barrier between Mexico and the Texas settlements.

During this time Major Green B. Jameson had constructed platforms along the mission's walls to allow the emplacement of captured Mexican artillery and to provide firing positions for infantry. Though useful, these platforms left the upper bodies of the defenders exposed. Initially manned by about 100 volunteers, the mission's garrison grew as January passed. The Alamo was again reinforced on February 3, with the arrival of 29 men under Lieutenant Colonel William Travis.

A few days later, Neill, departed to deal with an illness in his family and left Travis in charge. Travis' ascent to command did not sit well with Jim Bowie. A renowned frontiersman, Bowie argued with Travis over who should lead until it was agreed that the former would command the volunteers and the latter the regulars. Another notable frontiersman arrived on February 8, when Davy Crockett rode into the Alamo with 12 men.

The Mexicans Arrive:

As preparations moved forward, the defenders, relying on faulty intelligence, came to believe that the Mexicans would not arrive until mid-March. To the surprise of the garrison, Santa Anna's army arrived outside of San Antonio on February 23. Having marched through driving snow and foul weather, Santa Anna reached the town a month sooner than the Texans anticipated.

Surrounding the mission, Santa Anna sent a courier requesting the Alamo's surrender. To this Travis responded by firing one of the mission's cannon. Seeing that the Texans planned to resist, Santa Anna laid siege to the mission. The next day, Bowie fell ill and full command passed to Travis. Badly outnumbered, Travis sent out riders asking for reinforcements.

Under Siege:

Travis's calls went largely unanswered as the Texans lacked the strength to fight Santa Anna's larger army. As the days passed the Mexicans slowly worked their lines closer to the Alamo, with their artillery reducing the mission's walls. At 1:00 AM, on March 1, 32 men from Gonzales were able to ride through the Mexican lines to join the defenders. With the situation grim, legend states that Travis drew a line in the sand and asked all those willing to stay and fight to step over it. All except one did.

The Final Assault:

At dawn on March 6, Santa Anna's men launched their final attack on the Alamo. Flying a red flag and playing the El Degüello bugle call, Santa Anna signaled that no quarter would be given to the defenders. Sending 1,400-1,600 men forward in four columns they overwhelmed the Alamo's tiny garrison. One column, led by General Cos, broke through the mission's north wall and poured into the Alamo. It is believed that Travis was killed resisting this breach. As the Mexicans entered the Alamo, brutal hand-to-hand fighting ensued until almost the entire garrison had been killed. Records indicate that seven may have survived the fighting, but were summarily executed by Santa Anna.

Battle of the Alamo - Aftermath:

The Battle of the Alamo cost the Texans the entire 180-250-man garrison. Mexican casualties are disputed but were approximately 600 killed and wounded. While Travis and Bowie were killed in the fighting, Crockett's death is a subject of controversy. While some sources state that he was killed during the battle, others indicate that he was one of the seven survivors executed on Santa Anna's orders.

Following his victory at the Alamo, Santa Anna moved quickly to destroy Houston's small Texas Army. Outnumbered, Houston began retreating towards the US border. Moving with a flying column of 1,400 men, Santa Anna encountered the Texans at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. Charging the Mexican camp, and yelling "Remember the Alamo," Houston's men routed Santa Anna's troops. The next day, Santa Anna was captured effectively securing Texan independence.

Selected Sources