The Battle of the Alamo
Digital History ID 545
Antonio López de Santa Anna
Few historical events are more surrounded with legend than the battle of the Alamo, where a couple of hundred Texas volunteers sought to defend an abandoned missions against between two thousand and five thousand Mexican soldiers. Texan bravery and sense of duty in the face of certain defeat has become a popular symbol of heroism.
Most Texans are unaware that Tejanos played a pivotal role in this battle for Texas independence. Gregorio Esparza, Antonio Fuentes, Toribio Losoya, Guadalupe Rodriguez, Juan Seguin, and other Tejanos joined Colonel William B. Travis, who is said to have drawn a line in the dirt with his sword and asked those willing to stay and fight to cross the line. They fought alongside the bedridden Jim Bowie, who later died of a bayonet wound, but not before leaving his famous knife in an attacker's body. And they stood alongside of David Crockett, the fifty-year-old Indian scout and politician, who was either shot and killed or captured and executed.
For twelve days, Mexican forces laid siege to the Alamo. At 5 a.m., March 6, 1836, Mexican troops scaled the mission's walls. By 8 a.m., when the fighting was over, 183 defenders lay dead.
Two weeks after the defeat at the Alamo, a contingent of Texans surrendered to Mexican forces near Goliad with the understanding that they would be treated as prisoners of war. Instead, Santa Anna ordered more than 350 Texans shot.
These defeats had an unexpected side effect. They gave Houston time to raise and train and army. Volunteers from the southern United States flocked to his banner. On April 21, his army surprised and defeated Santa Anna's army as it camped on the San Jacinto River, east of present-day Houston. The next day Houston captured Santa Anna himself and forced him to sign a treaty granting Texas its independence, a treaty that was never ratified by the Mexican government because it was acquired under duress. In 1837, Santa Anna presented his perspective on the battle of the Alamo.
The enemy fortified itself in the Alamo, overlooking the city. A siege of a few days would have caused its surrender, but it was not fit that the entire army should be detained before an irregular fortification hardly worthy of the name. Neither could its capture be dispensed with, for bad as it was, it was well equipped with artillery, had a double wall, and defenders who, it must be admitted, were very courageous.... An assault would infuse our soldiers with that enthusiasm of the first triumph that would make them superior in the future to those of the enemy.... Before undertaking the assault and after the reply given to Travis who commanded the enemy fortification, I still wanted to try a generous measure, characteristic of Mexican kindness, and I offered life to the defendants who would surrender their arms and retire under oath not to take them up again against Mexico....
On the night of the fifth of March, four columns having been made ready for the assault under the command of their respective officers, they moved forward in the best order and with the greatest silence, but the imprudent huzzas of one of them awakened the sleeping vigilance of the defenders of the fort and their artillery fire caused such disorder among our columns that it was necessary to make use of the reserves. The Alamo was taken, this victory that was so much and so justly celebrated at the time, costing us seventy dead and about three hundred wounded, a loss that was also later judged to be avoidable and charged, after the disaster of San Jacinto, to my incompetence and precipitation. I do not know of a way in which any fortification, defended by artillery, can be carried by assault without the personal losses of the attacking party being greater than those of the enemy, against whose walls and fortifications the brave assailants can present only their bare breasts. It is easy enough, from a desk in a peaceful office, to pile up charges against a general out on the field but this cannot prove anything more than the praiseworthy desire of making war less disastrous. But its nature being such, a general has no power over its immutable laws. Let us weep at the tomb of the brave Mexicans who died at the Alamo defending the honor and the rights of their country They won lasting claim to fame and the country can never forget their heroic names.
Additional information: Carlos E. Castañeda, The Mexican Side of the Texas Revolution (Dallas: 1928).
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