1836: The Battle of the Alamo
Remember the Alamo? Me neither…
The story of the Alamo is the history of Texas itself.
Following the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, the Empire of Spain colonized Mexico, sending in Catholic missionaries to convert the indigenous populations. The two cultures (native and Spanish) merged together and a new culture emerged among the Mestizos population. During this time a Spanish mission was established by the Roman Catholic Church in 1718 along the San Antonio River: known as the Mission San Antonio de Valero. Located deep in the heart of what is now Texas, the fortified church compound was surrounded by miles of desert brimming with danger.
During its long history, the Alamo’s original church structure collapsed and was in the middle of reconstruction when the sanctuary was abandoned in 1793, the roof was never installed. In 1810 Mexico declared separation from Spain and in 1824 (after a few missteps with a wannabee emperor) became the Independent United Mexico States. The ‘Alamo’ gained new purpose as a fortress of the Mexican army.
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna de Lebron, a former officer of the Spanish Army joined the Mexican cause, and eventually manipulated his way into political power. In 1833 Santa Anna was elected President of Mexico. His first act was to dissolve Congress, and dismantle the Federal system of government. It was like a kick to the crotch to the free people of Mexico. He immediately made a hobby out of viciously putting down revolts as they flared up across the country.
Many Americans in the ‘Tejas’ region (pronounced Texas in American) had been previously offered land by the Spanish government, and had established whole communities. These ‘Texians’ were now starting to get nervous from the news coming south of the border. You see tyrants and Americans, especially Texans, don’t mix. Word of secession and armed rebellion spread throughout Texas, as they prepped for the worst.
Santa Anna’s enforcer, General Martin Perfecto de Cos, announced that President Anna fully intended to deal with civil disobedience… personally. General Cos and 1400 men established a base at San Antonio de Bexar across the river from the Alamo. The Texas settlers began forming an army at the nearby town of Gonzales, some of the volunteers were American veterans from the War of 1812.
General Cos was either determined to provoke hostilities, or determined to prove his inefficiency at handling diplomatic affairs when he approached Gonzales. In 1835, Cos demanded the prompt return of a previously rented cannon. In response, the townsfolk began flying a banner stating, “Come and Take It!” Cos decided to do just that, unfortunately his incompetent men were forced into a quick retreat from the gun-totting Texans. Thus began the War for Texan Independence.
A notorious, knife-wielding, duelist by the handle of James Bowie joined the Texan cause after the tragic death of his family, with nothing left to lose. Bowie was a no nonsense hard-ass whose only hobby was lobbing sharp pointy objects at guy’s smug faces. Bowie personally led an attack on Cos and his army at San Antonio where General Cos was holed up in the fortified Alamo. The Texan attack force was too small to launch a full-on siege, so awaited reinforcements throughout the winter. The New Orleans Greys joined the fight along with Ben Milam, a Kentucky born American who’d recently escaped a Mexican prison after being incarcerated for his political views. Bowie and Milam led the 300 rebels in an all-out, balls to the wall, assault on San Antonio, fighting door to door with six shooter pistols and hunting rifles.
Regardless of his relative safety within the confines of the Alamo, with superior numbers, General Cos was still thoroughly freaked out enough to surrender to the Texas rebellion under the terms that they be allowed to march back home. The victorious Texans celebrated and most returned home leaving behind a garrison of just 104 men under the command of Colonel James C. Neill who was entrusted with improving the defenses at the Alamo. The fortress had seen better days, but lucky for them Cos had left behind a good 20 cannons for their enjoyment, including the Carronade, primarily used as a shipboard weapon designed to obliterate enemy vessels, proved to be sufficient at pulverizing approaching enemies with volleys of grape shot blasts.
General Sam Houston of Texas however felt that the Alamo was a lost cause and should be abandoned. Bowie disagreed and wrote back in a letter, “The salvation of Texas depends in great measure on keeping Béxar out of the hands of the enemy. It serves as the frontier picquet guard, and if it were in the possession of Santa Anna, there is no stronghold from which to repel him in his march toward the Sabine.” Governor Harvey Smith conceded and sent in available reinforcements to defend the Alamo from Santa Anna’s approaching forces.
Lieutenant-Colonel William B. Travis, a South Carolinian lawyer and regiment of 30 men rode in on February 3, 1836. Then, on the 8th of February, a company of volunteers from Tennessee arrived, under the command of larger-than-life action hero Davy Crocket himself! David Crocket (1786-1836) was a badass pioneer, famed hunter, Indian fighter, legendary soldier, militia officer, and former congressmen who’d once fought alongside Andrew Jackson. In his lifetime he’d become an urban tall tale with the likes of Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, John Henry, Calamity Jane, and Johnny Appleseed. “I have come to aid you all I can in your noble cause. All the honour I desire is that of defending the liberties of our common country.”
Santa Anna’s army was dispatched on the first of February, marching north towards San Antonio. In their march across the desert, their numbers waned due to dysentery. Back at the Alamo, Neil departed on leave, handed command over to Travis, whom dispatched a request for assistance to Colonel James W. Fannin, 90 miles downstream.
Reinforcements never arrived.
Instead on February 23rd Santa Anna arrived with 5,500 troops consisting of two infantry brigades and one cavalry unit. The Texan defenders of the Alamo were hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. Still, Travis, Bowie, and Crockett were not ready to surrender. They kinda resembled a reject version of the X-Men: Jim Bowie was knife-throwing badass and the bear-wrestling man-beast known as Davy Crockett was kind of like a raccoon-hat-wearing-Wolverine… minus the Adamantium skeleton of course. During the battle, it’s said that during the battle, Crockett took a cannonball to the arm and kept on fighting with superhuman endurance.
Santa Anna raised a red flag of warning. The Texans responded by firing a cannon ball at it. The Mexicans attempted to cut off their water supply, but the resourceful Texans had a backup well. Meanwhile, Travis desperately attempted to gather aid from the towns of Goliad and Gonzales with no luck. In his famous appeal, addressed to ‘the people of Texas and all Americans in the word’, he wrote, “Our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. […] Victory or Death.” When Santa Anna rolled out the big guns, Travis received a response from Sam Houston, “Sorry.”
It was in that moment that the 260 Texans knew they were shit out of luck as they stared down the lines of a Mexican Army 2,400 strong. Travis gave his soldiers a choice: Stay or Run, Fight or Flight. Ironically, the only one who didn’t stay his post was a French courier who panicked and ran away into the night and never looked back. Once the fighting started, it was like wave after wave of an endless zombie horde on survival mode. This relentless siege lasted until the 6th of March…
At dawn 1400 Mexicans attacked from all sides.
It didn’t go so well for the Texans.
Towards the end of the battle, Mexican soldiers were piling up against the walls until they were able to climb over the corpses of their fallen comrades and began to pour over the walls of the adobe fortress. Once the Mexicans got inside the walls of the chapel it was all downhill. This noble last stand started to look more like a chainsaw massacre. Somewhere between 400 and 600 Mexican soldiers were killed by this ragtag group of Texan fighters.
During the 13 Day Assault, Bowie reportedly drank himself into a stupor and became bed-ridden. There are conflicting accounts of his last hours during the inevitable Fall of the Alamo. Some say he died from liver failure on his cot, but most tend to think he went out like the total badass he was, with his back against the wall, guns-blazing, and chucking knives at mo-fos like a circus-themed serial killer, that is until he took several bayonets in the abdomen. As the Mexican onslaught began to pour over the North wall, Travis manned a cannon while kicking guys in the face as they ascended the wall before finally being taken down himself.
Legend says that Davy Crockett fought to the bloody end, the last man standing in a futile attempt to take on all of Mexico in order to buy the Texans time. One POV has Crockett’s body being found under a sixteen-Mexican-high pile-up. However, a diary was discovered which told another story… this account was written by one of Santa Anna’s subordinates and describes how the brutal fighting came to an abrupt end when Crockett and six others surrendered.Only three survivors were set free: the wife and daughter of a fallen soldier and Travis’s slave. Crockett and his men were brought before Santa Anna. Santa Anna smiled as he ordered their execution. “Revolutionaries are put down. No prisoners.”
When the Texans heard about the massacre at the Alamo they were furious. Americans were shocked and angered by the death of their national hero (Crockett) and emotionally moved by Travis’s pleas. “Remember the Alamo!” became their battle cry as they rallied to fight for Texan Independence.
Through Santa Anna’s nearly flawless victory, he doomed his entire operation. Through his sheer ruthlessness he’d kicked a hornet’s nest the size of… well, Texas. It was at the Battle of San Jacinto where 1250 Mexicans took on Sam Houston and his 750 troops. Houston caught them off guard while Santa Anna was … occupied by a certain ‘Texas flower’. Anna escaped in disguise, but was captured pleading “Me no Alamo!”, and forced to sign the treaty for Texan Independence. Upon returning to Mexico he was kicked out by his own people. FAIL
Sam Houston went on to became the President of Texas until President Andrew Jackson’s last day in office when he officially recognized the Republic of Texas, and they were eventually granted American statehood. Like the Spartans of Thermopylae, the defenders of the Alamo would go down in history as one of the greatest last stands in history, a sacrifice in the name of freedom, forever cementing the phrase “Don’t Mess With Texas!”
And that’s the story of how we stole land from Mexico.
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————–> Click for a Complete List of Essays on Historical Failure!!
“Last Stand!” by: Bryan Perrett
“The Blood of Heroes: The 13 Day Struggle for the Alamo and the Sacrifice that Forged a Nation” by James Donovan.
“THE ALAMO” starring: Dennis Quad and Billy Bob Thornton. Directed by: John Lee Hancock.
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