The seeds of war were planted as Stephen F. Austin, charged with bringing settlers to the frontier of the new nation, started populating Texas with colonists from the United States, a trend the Mexican government eventually found troubling.
The 1830s became a pivotal time for the Alamo as Texans fought for their independence from Mexico. San Antonio—and the Alamo—fell into rebel hands in late 1835 as the Texans, led by Ben Milam, began the Siege of Bexar, a five-day battle where the outmanned and outgunned Texans forced the Mexican troops to accept a truce in exchange for all property in the town.
Furious with the loss of this strategic settlement, Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna marched his army to San Antonio where an estimated 200 rebels were ensconced in the Alamo. Arriving at the fortified old mission on Feb. 23, 1836, Santa Anna sent a courier to Col. William B. Travis demanding surrender. Travis replied with a cannonball, so Santa Anna laid siege and waited.
Undaunted, the Texians and Tejanos—Mexicans born north of the Rio Grande—prepared to defend the Alamo together. The defenders held out for 13 days against Santa Anna’s army.
William B. Travis, the commander of the Alamo sent forth couriers carrying pleas for help to communities in Texas. On the eighth day of the siege, a band of 32 volunteers from Gonzales arrived, bringing the number of defenders to nearly two hundred.
Legend has it that with the possibility of additional help fading, Colonel Travis drew a line on the ground and asked any man willing to stay and fight to step over—all except one did.
As the defenders saw it, the Alamo was the key to the defense of Texas, and they were ready to give their lives rather than surrender their position to General Santa Anna. Among the Alamo’s garrison were Jim Bowie, renowned knife fighter, and David Crockett, famed frontiersman and former congressman from Tennessee.
Finally, in the predawn hours of March 6, 1836, Santa Anna, flying the flag of “No Quarter,” sent his troops on a dash to the crumbling walls of the fortress. At the end of the 90-minute battle, all the Alamo defenders were dead. The official tally is 189, but more research may increase that number to 257 (some reinforcements had slipped into the besieged fort during the 13-day siege). Despite his threat of no quarter, and about 500 dead and wounded among his own forces, Santa Anna allowed several noncombatants—women, children, and slaves—to leave unharmed.
While the facts surrounding the siege of the Alamo continue to be debated, there is no doubt about what the battle has come to symbolize.
The Alamo is remembered as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds—a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the “Shrine of Texas Liberty.”
If you have never visited this sacred shrine, you haven’t really visited Texas. And even if you have made the pilgrimage, journey there again and walk the grounds and explore the many enclaves in reflection of the events that transpired there 175 years earlier.
Remember the Alamo!
Texas Spoken Friendly
In the sand he drew a line with his army sabre,
Out of a hundred eighty five, not a soldier crossed the line.
With his banners a-dancin’ in the dawn’s golden light,
Santa Anna came prancin’ on a horse that was black as the night.
He sent an officer to tell Travis to surrender.
Santa Anna turned scarlet: “Play Degüello,” he roared.
“I will show them no quarter, everyone will be put to the sword.”
One hundred and eighty five holdin’ back five thousand.
Five days, six days, eight days, ten; Travis held and held again.
Then he sent for replacements for his wounded and lame,
But the troops that were comin’ never came, never came, never came.
Twice he charged, then blew recall. On the fatal third time,
Santa Anna breached the wall and he killed them one and all.
Now the bugles are silent and there’s rust on each sword,
And the small band of soldiers lie asleep in the arms of The Lord.
In the southern part of Texas, near the town of San Antone,
Like a statue on his Pinto rides a cowboy all alone.
And he sees the cattle grazin’ where a century before,
Santa Anna’s guns were blazin’ and the cannons used to roar.
And his eyes turn sort of misty, and his heart begins to glow,
And he takes his hat off slowly to the men of Alamo.
To the thirteen days of glory at the seige of Alamo.
This always bring pride to my heart and a tear to my eye…
—The Alamo, sung by Donovan