THE LAST 24 HOURS OF THE ALAMO
The Battle of the Alamo ended on March 6, 1836. It has become a legendary event in the history of Texas, and all of the country.
During the early 1830’s, many immigrants from the U.S. had settled along the Mexican border in an area known as Texas. They made few attempts to adopt the Mexican culture. But what they did do was to inspire the native locals, called Texicans, to oppose the iron-handed rule of President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. He, in turn, blamed the unrest on the unwanted American immigrants (which it was). The upsurge in opposition to the government reached a climax in October 1835 when groups of Texicans drove the last Mexican soldiers out of the region.
The angered Santa Anna perceived the Americans to be the source of the problem, and began to prepare an army to deal with them. He announced that, if caught, all foreigners fighting in Texas were not to be taken as prisoners but were to be executed immediately.
One large group of Texicans and their American allies converged on the village of San Antonio de Bexar just before the end of the year. They converted the small three-acre Alamo Mission into an improvised fort. Its walls, where walls existed at all, were 9’ to 12’ high but the perimeter of the fort was 1,320’ around the outside; a distance that the 100 volunteers inside would not be able to defend. The defenders had 19 cannons that were left behind when government troops evacuated the area. Repeated requests were made to the rebel Texican government for more men, ammunition, and other supplies; but none were available. Other small groups of volunteers did arrive during late December; most notably Col. James Bowie with 30 men, Col. William Travis with 30 more, and Davy Crockett with a band of Tennessee sharpshooters.
By late December, Santa Anna would wait no longer and led his army of over 6,000 soldiers northward toward San Antonio de Bexar (modern San Antonio). He was not without problems of his own. When pay was delayed for the civilian teamsters, they quit. Supply shortages were made worse by the need to feed the many women and children who followed the army. The biggest problem, however, was that most of his soldiers were untrained. They had to be taught how to march in formation, as well as aim and shoot their weapons
By February 21, 1836, the Mexican Army was within 25 miles of the Alamo. Two days later, it had reached and surrounded the mission, staying at a distance of about 300 yards. The Texicans inside asked Santa Anna for an honorable surrender, but he refused and repeated that all foreigners would be instantly executed. He believed that there was no glory in a bloodless victory.
For the next twelve days, the Mexican Army waited in siege outside the Alamo. There were several small skirmishes but the casualties on both sides were slight (9 Mexicans, 1 Texican). The Alamo defenders sent scouts out to search for the rescue parties that they were promised were coming. But there was no rescue.
THE LAST DAY
On March 5th, General Santa Anna told his officers that the assault would commence the next morning. At 10:00 p.m., the Mexican artillery ceased firing, and 2,000 troops prepared to move on the Alamo in the first assault. Another five hundred cavalry encircled the fort to pick off any defenders who would try to escape the slaughter.
At 5:30 am, with heavy clouds blocking the sunrise, and the Texican pickets located outside the walls killed, four columns of infantry approached within range of the Alamo. Most of the defenders were still sleeping when the first volleys came in. The Mexican buglers sounded the charge. The Texicans and the Americans ran to their posts. Having little ammunition for their cannons, the men loaded the barrels with metal scraps, nails, and horseshoes.
The Mexican infantry columns were now pressed tightly up against the walls of the fort. The Texicans who leaned over the edge to fire down on the enemy left themselves exposed to musket fire from soldiers farther out. The American Commander, William Travis, was one of the first to die. Few of the dozens of ladders carried by the Mexicans reached the walls of the Alamo, and soldiers that were able to raise and climb them were quickly killed. The defenders almost immediately ran out of the muskets that had been loaded in advance, and they struggled to reload. After a brief time, the first wave of Santa Anna’s troops fell back.
In their next assault, Mexican infantry under Gen. Amador found a small gate in the north wall that was open and poured into the Alamo plaza. The defenders’ artillery turned around from their position on the south wall and fired on the enemy streaming in. Within a few minutes, however, other Mexican soldiers reached the top of the wall where the artillery was now facing away from them and killed all the Texican gunners.
As the battle raged, most of the defenders fell back to the mission’s buildings, abandoning the walls. A few dozen men on the west wall were cut off from the main body and headed out of the Alamo toward the river to escape. They were spotted by the Mexican cavalry who charged and killed all of them. A similar event took place on the opposite side of the Alamo when a small group tried to escape only to be massacred by cavalry.
Davy Crockett and his men were the last defender’s still remaining without cover from enemy volleys. They used their muskets as clubs because they couldn’t reload them. But they were no match for the Mexican infantry’s bayonets. In spite of rumors that Crockett was captured, a Mexican eyewitness confirmed that he had been killed and was surrounded by sixteen Mexican corpses. With the remaining defenders now hold up in the church and the barrack building, the Mexican artillery turned their guns on the doors and fired. This was followed by a musket volley and a bayonet charge into the buildings. Jim Bowie, who was sick in one of the rooms, tried to fight from his bed but was stabbed to death. As the fury of combat subsided, Mexican soldiers examined each body, bayoneting anyone that moved. By 6:30 am, the battle was over. None of the Texican fighters survived. A few historians claim that a Henry Warnell escaped the battle but there is no conclusive proof.
In all, between 182 and 240 Texicans died. Their bodies were stacked and burned. The ashes were left undisturbed for almost a year afterward. Only a few women and children were left alive. They were given blankets and a few pesos and returned to their homes in Bexar. One woman, Susanna Dickinson, and her two children were spared so that they could tell the story of Santa Anna’s vengeance to other American intruders. General Santa Anna believed that the story would convince the Americans to leave Texas, but it prompted the opposite result.
One month later, the Texican Army under Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto in less than 18 minutes, spurred on by the cry “Remember the Alamo.”