The Alamo
in the center of San Antonio

Feb. 23 to March 6, 1836

The Alamo is a historic structure in the center of San Antonio. A famous battle was fought there from Feb. 23 to March 6, 1836, during the war for Texan independence. The Alamo is sometimes called the Thermopylae of America, after the famous battle in which the ancient Greeks held off a large Persian force. No Texans escaped from the Alamo after the night of March 5. The Alamo is now a restored historic site.

The Alamo was built as a Roman Catholic mission. Padre Antonio Olivares, a Spanish missionary, established it at San Antonio in 1718. The mission consisted of a monastery and church enclosed by high walls. The mission was originally called San Antonio de Valero. It was later called Alamo, the Spanish name for the cottonwood trees surrounding the mission. The Texans occasionally used the mission as a fort.

During the winter of 1835-1836, the people of Texas decided to sever their relations with Mexico because of dissatisfaction with the Mexican government. To prevent the success of this independence movement, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, in command of the Mexican Army, approached San Antonio with his troops. Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis and a force of about 150 Texans sought to defend the city. The company included the famous frontiersmen James Bowie and Davy Crockett. The quick arrival of the Mexicans took the Texans by surprise. They retreated to the Alamo to hold off the Mexican force of approximately 4,000 troops. Travis sent out a plea for help, supposedly declaring, "I shall never surrender or retreat." A relief party from Gonzales, Tex., passed through the Mexican lines and entered the Alamo, increasing the Alamo forces to 189 men. Colonel J. W. Fannin left Goliad, Tex., with most of his 400 men to relieve the Alamo, but he had equipment trouble on the way and returned to Goliad.

The siege of the Alamo lasted 13 days. By March 5, the garrison could not return Mexican fire because ammunition was low. This convinced Santa Anna that the fort could be assaulted. Early the next morning, the Mexicans succeeded in scaling the walls. At the end, the Texans fought using their rifles as clubs. Some historians believe that a few defenders, perhaps including Crockett, survived the battle only to be executed at Santa Anna's orders. Other historians accept the more familiar story that all the Texans who fought died in the battle. At 8 a.m., the Mexican general reported his victory to his government. Survivors of the battle included Susanna Dickinson, the wife of an officer; her baby; her Mexican nurse; and Colonel Travis' black slave Joe.

"Remember the Alamo" became a battle cry. The determined defense of the Alamo gave General Sam Houston time to gather the forces he needed to save the independence movement of Texas. He retreated eastward, pursued by Santa Anna. At San Jacinto, Texas, he turned on the Mexicans, surprised them during an afternoon siesta, and on April 21, in just 18 minutes, captured or killed most of the Mexican army of over 1,200 men. Houston's army captured Santa Anna the following day and forced him to sign a treaty granting Texas its independence.

Contributor: Joseph A. Stout, Jr., Ph.D., Prof. of History, Oklahoma State Univ.

Additional resources

Long, Jeff. Duel of Eagles: The Mexican and U.S. Fight for the Alamo. 1990. Reprint. Morrow, 1991.

Seguin, Juan N. A Revolution Remembered: The Memoirs and Selected Correspondence of Juan N. Seguin. Ed. by Jesus de la Teja. State Hse. Pr., 1991.

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