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Battle of the Alamo

Plan of the Alamo, by José Juan Sánchez-Navarro, 1836.
Battle of the Alamo
ConflictTexas Revolution (against Mexico)
DateFebruary 23-March 6, 1836
PlaceSan Antonio, Texas
ResultMexican victory
Combatants
Republic of Mexico Mexican state of Coahuila y Texas
Commanders
Antonio López de Santa Anna Perez de Lebron William Travis
Jim Bowie
Davy Crockett
Strength
1,600 in attack 183–250
Casualties
600 dead 183–250 dead

The Battle of the Alamo was a battle between Mexican and Texian forces during the Texas Revolution that took place at the Alamo mission in San Antonio in February and March of 1836. The siege ended on March 6 with the capture of the mission and the death of nearly all the Texian defenders, save for a few slaves. The seige of thirteen days did delay the bulk of the Mexican army and cost Santa Anna supplies and good manpower. It allowed the Texans to build a government and to draft a constitution. The delay made the fact aware to Texans that they would have to continue the fight in order to wind it's independence. Never before had a nation been born in such short order as the Republic of Texas.

Table of contents

Historical and Strategic Context

Mexican Army General Martin Perfecto de Cos (1802–1854)had been forced to surrender, 11 December, a garrison of 1,100, many ill-trained conscripts and camp followers,and the public property, guns, 500 muskets and twenty one pieces of artillery and ammunition stocks of the Mexican army in the city of San Antonio de Bexar to Texas general Edward Burleson in the December, 1835 Siege of Bexar.Burleson had taken over command from Stephen F. Austin (1793–1836)who was sent on a diplomatic mission to the U. S. After nearly twenty hours of negotiations it was agreeded upon that Cos would be permitted to withdraw his troops across the Rio Grande upon their pledge of support for the Constitution of 1824 and not to bear arms in Texas again. All Mexican troops were permitted to retain their private property and personal arms as well. With the surrender of Cos, there were no Mexican military presence in Texas. Mexican President and General Antonio López de Santa Anna Perez de Lebron decided to launch an offensive with the aim of putting down the rebelious state of Coahuila y Texas. He assembled an estimated force of 6,100 and twenty cannon at San Luis Potosi and moved throughSaltillo, Coahuila, to Texas. A seaborne attack was proposed to Santa Anna by Minister of War Jose Maria Tornel and Maj. Gen. Vicente Filisola (1789–1850)which would have been easier on the troops plus was a tried and true means of expeditions into Texas since 1814. Santa Anna refused on the basis that this plan would take to long and the rebels in Texas might recieve aid from the United States.

The "Texian" forces who had re-fortified the Alamo were volunteer( war duration or two years) soldiers and regulars(two year service) of the Provisional Government, lead by Henry Smith. Sam Houston was to be the major general and commander-in-chief under the authority of the governor. The Provisional Government was often at odds with Governor Smith. The two sides clashed over politics and decision. The Matamoros Expidition led to Smith being voted out of office and replaced with Lieutenant-Governor James Robinson. This squabble was a total embarassment to the Texas government while the rebellion needed them the most. The Texan Army never was larger than 2,000 men at the time of the Alamo siege. With the successive losses at Goliad, Refugio, Matamoros and San Antonio, the army was reduced to about 1,000 men.

The Battle

Shortly after the year 1836 began, General Antonio López de Santa Anna marched an army across the Rio Grande river through inclement weather, including snowstorms in mountain passes, to suppress the Texas rebellion. San Antonio de Bexar was one of his intermediate objectives; his ultimate objective was to capture the Texas government and restore the rule of the central or "Centralist" Mexican government over a rebellious state. He had earlier surpressed the rebellion in the State of Zacatecas in 1835.

The Alamo, a converted Roman Catholic mission, protected the road farther northeast into Texas. Although the Alamo was not designed for military purposes, the Texian militia and regulars under Green B. Jameson, fortified the post and mounted 18 cannon, including an 18 pounder (8 kg). This was the greatest concentration of cannons west of the Mississippi Riverat one place. The Mexican forces would not be able to bypass the post and use the road without investing and taking the Alamo.

The defenders of the Alamo came from many places besides Texas. The youngest, Galba Fuqua, was 16, and one of the oldest, Gordon C. Jennings, was 57. They came from twenty-eight different countries and states. One group, the New Orleans Greys, came from the city of that name to fight as infantry in the revolution. The two companies comprising The Greys participated in the Siege of Bexar(Dec.1835). Most Greys then left San Antonio for an expedition to Matamoros with the promise of taking the war to Mexico and plundering the city, but about two dozen remained at the Alamo. After the battle of the Alamo, the company flag was captured and sent to Mexico City as proof of U. S. envolvement. It is now the property of the National Historical Museum in Mexico City.No one knows which flag flew over the Alamo during the battle. One flag of note was the Mexican tri-color flag with the numbers "1824" set in the middle denoting the Constitution of 1824. Another flag might have been the Mexican tri-color with two stars in the middle denoting Coahuila y Texas. The flag issue thus remains unsolved.

From Tennessee, came another small group of volunteers led by former Tennessee Congressman David Crockett. The Tennessee Mounted Volunteers as they were called arrived at the Alamo on February 8, 1836.

The Mexican Army arrived on February 23, 1836 and was a mixed force of regular infantry and cavalry units as well as activo reserve infantry battalions. They were equipped with the British Baker and the out dated, short range but effective and deadly British "Tower Musket, Mark III or Brown Bess musket and were well-drilled, though the Mexican army discouraged individual marksmanship. The initial forces were equipped with (four) seven inch howitzers, (seven) four pounders, (four) six pounders, (four) eight pounders and (two) twelve pounders cannon: Several of the Mexican officers were European mercenary veterans, (Filisola-Italy), (Antonio Gaona-Cuba) and General Santa Anna was a veteran of the Mexican War of Independence. The Mexican siege was scientific and professionally conducted in the Napoleonic-style. The Mexican army was about four times larger than the U.S. Army. The average Mexican soldier stood 5'1".

The number of Mexican forces attacking the post was reported as high as 4,000 to 5,000, but only about 1,400–1,600 soldiers were used in the investment and the final assault. 6,500 soldiers did set out from San Luis de Potosi, but illness and desertion reduced the force. After a 13-day siege, the Mexican army attacked the post in four columns plus a reserve and a pursuit and security force, starting at 5:00 a.m. on March 6 and took the Alamo by 6:30 a.m. that day, using hand-to-hand combat.The first column was comprised of 400 men lead by Martin Cos. The second column of 380 men was commanded by Col. Francisco Duque. The third column was comprised of 400 soldiers lead by Col. Jose Maria Romero. The fourth column was comprised of 100 cazadores or light infantry-commanded by Col. Juan Morales. The attacking columns had to cover 200–300 yards of open ground before they could reach the Alamo walls. To prevent any attempted escape by the fleeing Texans or reinforcements from coming in, Santa Anna place a 350 calvary under Brig.Gen.Ramirez y Sesma to patrol the surrounding countryside.

Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis, commander of the Texas regular army forces, was able to dispatch riders before the battle and as late as March 5, informing the Texas provisional government of his situation and requesting assistance. However, the Texas Army was not strong enough to fight through the Mexican Army and relieve the post. Travis had sent several riders, James Bonham (1808–1836), to Colonel James Fannin for help. Fannin, (1804–1836) commander of over 450 Texas forces at Goliad(100 miles southeast of the Alamo)weakly attempted a relief march with 320 men and cannon on 28 February to the Alamo but aborted the relief column due to poor transportation.

On 1 March at about 1AM, 32 men lead by Capt. George Kimbell and John W. Smith from the town of Gonzales were able to make it through Mexican lines and join the defenders inside the Alamo.

Before the siege, Santa Anna ordered that a red flag be raised from San Fernando catherdral indicating to the defenders inside the Alamo, that no quarter would be given. According to the contraversial Jose de le Pena diary several defenders who had not been killed in the assault on the Alamo, were captured by Col. Manuel Fernandez Castrillon (178?-1836) and were presented to Santa Anna who personally ordered their execution. Among the six prisoners wasDavid Crockett,. De la Pena also states that Travis attempted to negotiate a surrender with Santa Anna but was turned down on the grounds of 'no guarantees for traitors'. Two dozen women and children, as well as Bowie's slave Sam and Travis' Joe, were released. Before disappearing into history, Joe told of seeing a slave named John killed in the Alamo assault and another black woman killed. There were several African-Americans inside the Alamo at the time of the siege. Another reported survivor was Brigido Guerrero, a Mexican army deserter who had joined the Texan cause. He was able to convince the Mexian soldiers that he had been a prisoner held against his will. In addition, Henry Wornell was reportedly able to escape the battle but died from his wounds three months later.

From Travis's dispatches, we have a poignant example of the Texan spirit. He wrote, "The enemy has demanded my surrender. I have answered their demand with a single cannon shot. I shall never surrender." For many, these brave words sum up what it means to be a Texan.

Texas independence was declared on 2 March 1836. The delegates elected David Burnet as Provisional President and Lorenzo de Zavala as Vice-President. The men inside the Alamo never knew this event occured. Houston still held his rank. On 21 April at 3:30P in the Battle of San Jacinto, Santa Anna's forces, 1,250, were defeated by the Texian troops, about 910, of Sam Houston's army, who used the now-famous battle cry, "Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!" (Dingus, 1995). The Mexican loses for the day were about 650 killed and 730 taken prisoner. Texan loses were about eight killed and eighteen wounded. Santa Anna was caputured the following day, dressed in a common soldiers jacket, having discarded his finer clothing in hopes of escaping. He issued orders for all Mexican troops under the commands of Vincente Filisola (1789–1850) and Juan Jose Urrea (1795–1849) were to pull back into Mexico.

The Tejanos

In the United States at the time, the siege of the Alamo was seen as a battle of American settlers against Mexicans, but many of the Mexican nationals in Texas (called Tejanos) in fact sided with the rebellion. The Tejanos wanted Mexico to have a loose central government which supported states' rights as expressed in the Mexican Constitution of 1824. One Tejano combatant at the Alamo was Captain (later Colonel) Juan Nepomuceno Seguín who was sent out as a dispatch rider before the final assault. He later commanded a company and fought at the Battle of San Jacinto. Seguin was elected to the Texas Senate in 1838 and became mayor of San Antonio in 1840. In 1842 Sequin was forced from office as mayor on charges that he was aiding the Mexican amry and his defense of Tejano rights. Seguin fled to Mexico where he was arrested and forced to enlist in the Mexican army as an officer. He later served against Texas and the United States in the Mexican-American War. Sequin requested to return to Texas and lived there until 1867 when he returned to Mexico where he died in 1890. Seguin accopmplished all he did without speaking any English. The city of Seguin is named for him.

Casualties

Reports of the number of Mexican dead and injured vary from approximately 250 in the official Mexican account to 1,400 to 1,500 in later Texan accounts. Military experts familiar with warfare of the period believe there were approximately 300–400 Mexicans killed and 300 wounded.


183–250 Texian and Tejano bodies were found at the Alamo after the battle, though Santa Anna's official report back to Mexico City, dictated to his personal secretary Ramon Martinez Caro, stated 600 rebel bodies were found. Historians believe this to be a false claim. All but one of the bodies were burned by the Mexicans; the person was that of Gregorio Esparza, who was buried rather than burned because his brother, Francisco Esparza, had served as an activo who fought with General Cos in the Siege of Bexar.

Legends

There is a legend that Col. Travis drew a line in the sand on 3–4 March with his sword and invited all those who were willing to stay, and presumably to die, to cross over the line. According to this story, all but one crossed the line. The one person to leave was Louis- or Lewis- "Moses" Rose (1780?-1850?), said to be a French soldier who had fought under Napoleon in Russia before arriving in Texas.

After evading the Mexican forces by moving at night, Rose is said to have taken shelter with the family of William P. Zuber to whom he told the story. Many years later, Zuber (or his son) published a version of the story , which has not been corroborated.

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