San Antonio, Texas: The Alamo

The Mission San Antonio de Valero was established as a mission and fortress in 1718 by Spanish Roman Catholic missionaries to educate the American Indians and protect them from marauding Apaches. By 1744 over 300 Indian converts resided there. The mission was mostly self-sufficient, relying on 2000 heads of cattle and 1300 sheep for clothes and food and raising corn, beans and cotton. Inside the protective walls were up to 30 small adobe buildings housing workshops, storerooms and homes. The Indian population fluctuated over the years and by 1793, with only 12 Indians remaining, the mission was abandoned.

Around 1803 it was occupied by Mexican troops and given the name “The Alamo” possibly because of cottonwood trees in the area known as alamo’ in Spanish. Between 1806 and 1812 the mission served as San Antonio’s first hospital. During the Mexican War of Independence from Spain (1810 to 1821) the mission was occupied by rebel Mexicans and used as a political prison. In December 1835 Mexican General Martin Perfecto de de Cos surrendered the fort to Texas forces following a two month siege. The Mexican troops left behind 19 cannon.

When the Mexicans abandoned the Alamo, Colonel James C. Neill assumed control of about 100 Texas soldiers stationed at the Alamo and requested another 200 troops to help fortify it. General Sam Houston sent Colonel James Bowie and 35 – 50 men to retrieve all cannon and ammunition from the Alamo and close it down. Neill convinced Bowie of the Alamo’s strategic importance and on January 26 the Texian troops voted to hold the Alamo. On February 3 Colonel William Travis arrived with 30 men and five days later David Crockett arrived with volunteers from Tennessee. On February 11 Colonel Neill left to find additional men and supplies for the Alamo. Colonel Bowie and Colonel William Travis agreed to share command of the Alamo.

On February 23, 1836 Mexican General and President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna arrived at the Alamo in San Antonio with 1500 Mexican forces. Shortly, another 500 men arrived to supplement Santa Anna’s troops. For the next 10 days the armies engaged in several skirmishes with few casualties. In the early hours of March 6 Santa Anna’s entire force advanced on the Alamo. Santa Anna, furious at United States’ support of the Texas rebellion, had earlier notified President Andrew Jackson that any US participants in the war would be considered pirates and killed immediately, no prisoners would be taken. Between 182 and 257 Texians died and about 600 Mexicans were killed or wounded. The Texian bodies were stacked and burned by the Mexicans.

The Mexicans spared the life of Ben, Travis’s slave; Susanna Dickinson and her infant daughter; Juana Navarro Alsbury and her infant son and other Tejano women noncombatants. Alsbury and the Tejano’s were allowed to remain in San Antonio and Ben and Dickinson were sent to Gonzales to tell others that Santa Anna’s forces would be impossible to defeat.

Santa Anna’s army still had a 6:1 numerical advantage over the Texian army even after the Mexican’s losses at the Alamo. Santa Anna believed that advantage and news of his victory at the Alamo would squelch the rebellion but he was wrong. “Remember the Alamo” became a rallying cry for the Texians and men flocked to join Houston.

On the afternoon of April 21, 1836 the Texian army attacked Santa Anna’s camp near Lynchburg Ferry. Known as the Battle of Jacinto, the Texian troops defeated the Mexicans in less than 18 minutes. Santa Anna was captured the next day. He was forced to order his troops out of Texas. Texas became free of Mexico and began working on establishing itself as a free and independent country.