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Battle of the Alamo
The Battle of the Alamo was a battle between Mexican and Texian forces during the Texas Revolution that took place at the Alamo mission in San Antonio in February and March of 1836. The siege ended on March 6 with the capture of the mission and the death of nearly all the Texian defenders.
Historical and strategic context
Mexican Army General Martin Perfecto de Cos had been forced to surrender a garrison of 1,100 and the public property, guns, and ammunition stocks of the Mexican Government in the city of San Antonio de Bexar to Texas general Edward Burleson in the December, 1835 Siege of Bexar . This included the Alamo. Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna realized the strategic importance of San Antonio and decided to launch an offensive with the aim of recapturing San Antonio. Santa Anna assembled a force of 6,500 at San Luis Potosi and moved by Saltillo, Coahuila, to Texas.
The Texian forces who had fortified the Alamo in anticipation of the battle were volunteer soldiers of the Provisional Government of Texas who had signed an oath of allegiance to protect that government and obey the orders of that government's officers.
Shortly after the year 1836 began, General Antonio López de Santa Anna marched an army across the Rio Grande river through inclement weather, including snowstorms in mountain passes, to suppress the Texas rebellion. San Antonio de Bexar was one of his intermediate objectives; his ultimate objective was to capture the Texas government and restore the rule of the central Mexican government over a rebellious territory, as he had over the State of Zacatecas the previous year.
The Alamo, a converted Roman Catholic mission, protected the road farther northeast into Texas. Although the Alamo was not designed for military purposes, the Texian militia and regulars fortified the post and mounted 18 cannon, including an 18 pounder (8 kg). This was the greatest concentration of cannons west of the Mississippi River. The Mexican forces would not be able to bypass the post and use the road without investing and taking the Alamo.
The defenders of the Alamo came from many places besides Texas. One group, the New Orleans Greys, came from the city of that name to fight as infantry in the revolution. The two companies comprising The Greys participated in the Siege of Bexar. Most Greys then left San Antonio but about two dozen remained to fight and die at the Alamo. The Mexicans captured the company flag. It is now the property of the National Historical Museum in Mexico City.
From Tennessee, came another small group of volunteers led by former Tennessee Congressman David Crockett. The Tennessee Mounted Volunteers as they were called arrived at the Alamo on February 8, 1836.
The Mexican Army arrived on February 23, 1836 and was a mixed force of regular infantry and cavalry units as well as activo reserve infantry battalions. They were equipped with the British Brown Bess musket and were well-drilled, though the Mexican army discouraged individual marksmanship. The initial forces were equipped with several 6 pounder (2.7 kg) cannon. Several of the Mexican officers were European mercenary veterans, and General Santa Anna was a veteran of the Mexican War of Independence. The Mexican siege was scientific and professionally conducted.
The number of Mexican forces attacking the post was reported as high as 4,000 to 5,000, but only about 1,400 soldiers were used in the investment and the final assault. 6,500 soldiers did set out from San Luis de Potosi, but illness and desertion reduced the force. After a 13-day siege, the Mexican army attacked the post in four columns, starting at 5:00 a.m. on March 6 and took the Alamo by 6:30 a.m. that day, using hand-to-hand combat.
Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis, commander of the Texas regular army forces, was able to dispatch riders before the battle and as late as February 25, informing the Texas provisional government of his situation and requesting assistance. However, the Texas Army was not strong enough to fight through the Mexican Army and relieve the post. Colonel Fannin, commander of the Texas forces at Goliad, was forced to abort his relief march because he could not take his cannon with him.
Midway though the siege, 32 men from the town of Gonzales were able to make it through Mexican lines and join the defenders.
Before the battle, Santa Anna ordered that a red flag be raised indicating to the defenders that no quarter would be given. Several defenders who had not been killed in battle were captured and executed. Among its defenders were James Bowie (the leader of the militia forces), David Crockett, and William Barret Travis. Two dozen women and children, as well as two slaves at the Alamo, were released.
From Travis's dispatches, we have a poignant example of the Texan spirit. He wrote, "The enemy has demanded my surrender. I have answered their demand with a single cannon shot. I shall never surrender." For many, these brave words sum up what it means to be a Texan.
Later in the war, in the Battle of San Jacinto, Santa Anna's forces were defeated by the Texian troops of Sam Houston's army, who used the now-famous battle cry, "Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!" (Dingus, 1995).
In the United States at the time, the siege of the Alamo was seen as a battle of American settlers against Mexicans, but many of the Mexican nationals in Texas (called Tejanos) in fact sided with the rebellion. The Tejanos wanted Mexico to have a loose central government which supported states' rights as expressed in the Mexican Constitution of 1824. One Tejano combatant at the Alamo was Captain (later Colonel) Juan N. Seguín who was sent out as a dispatch rider before the final assault. He later fought at the Battle of San Jacinto and became mayor of San Antonio. The city of Seguin is named for him.
Reports of the number of Mexican dead and injured vary from approximately 250 in the official Mexican account to 1,400 to 1,500 in later Texian accounts. Military experts familiar with warfare of the period believe there were approximately 200 Mexicans killed and 400 wounded.
183 Texian and Tejano bodies were found at the Alamo after the battle, though Santa Anna's official report stated 600 were found. Historians believe this to be a false claim. All but one of the bodies were burned by the Mexicans; the unburned body was that of Gregorio Esparza, who was buried rather than burned because his brother, Franciso Esparza, had served as an activo who fought with General Cos in the Siege of Bexar.
There is a tradition that Col. Travis drew a line in the sand with his sword and invited all those who were willing to stay, and presumably to die, to cross over the line. According to this story, all but one crossed the line. The one person cowardly (or intelligent) enough to leave was Louis "Moses" Rose , a French soldier who had fought under Napoleon before coming to Texas. After evading Mexican forces, Rose supposedly took shelter with the family of William P. Zuber to whom he told the story. Many years later, Zuber (or his son) published the well-known version of it.
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