Hundreds of Americans were massacred at the Battle of the Alamo in San Antonio — but they inspired a revolution
San Antonio, Texas, is the site of one of the most historic battles in the United States — The Battle of the Alamo. This pivotal siege in the Texas Revolution has become one of the great American myths and an iconic John Wayne movie. The battle took place in the city’s Missions and saw the defending Texians wiped out by the Mexican Army.
The city of San Antonio holds a lot of the United States’ cultural and colonial heritage. Situated close to Austin, it was founded by Spanish missionaries and colonizers at the beginning of the 18th century, making it the oldest city in the state. As part of their efforts to evangelize to and educate the indigenous Payaya people and to hold back French expansion from Louisiana, the colonizers built a complex called the Misión de San Antonio de Valero. This complex is now known as the Missions — or the Alamo.
In the early 19th century, Texas was part of the newly-formed and short-lived Mexican Republic. The state joined other provinces in rejecting centralized rule from Mexico City and pushed for secession. Mexico had outlawed slavery, and many American colonists wished to continue the practice. The Texians and Tejanos, Hispanic Texans, had attempted to revolt on a number of occasions, while President Santa Anna believed they were being encouraged to secede by the United States.
Losing Texas would be an encouragement to the other provinces unhappy about Santa Anna’s rule, and the Mexican government was unprepared to put down a series of rebellions. Worried about the influence of the United States in New Mexico and northern California, which at that point were both part of Mexico, Santa Anna sent the troops to Texas and the state put out a call to raise militias.
Fighting in the rebellion focused on San Antonio
Learn the pivotal history of San antonio
The war ebbed and flowed for six months. The Mexicans were forced to raise a new conscript and convict army, whose march to Texas was slow, as were their supplies. Much of the fighting was focused on San Antonio, then known as Béxar and the political center of Texas. The city had been under siege at the start of the war, and, six months in, another began.
More than 2,000 Mexican troops filled the city. No more than 260 Texians were holed up in the Missions. In the weeks leading up to the battle, the Texian commander, William B. Travis, had begged for reinforcements, but few arrived. The Texians sent an envoy to surrender but this was refused. Santa Anna, who was in Béxar, wanted a victory.
The Mexicans bombarded the Missions with cannon fire. On March 5, Travis is said to have gathered his men and drawn a line in the sand. The legend says he asked those who were willing to die for Texas to cross it. All but one man did.
A last stand at the Alamo
The attack began before daybreak on March 6 and the Mexicans were twice forced into retreat. 500 cavalry had surrounded the Alamo and four columns of men attempted to scale its walls. These tightly packed formations gave the Texians the advantage. Filling their cannon with whatever they could, they stopped the Mexican ladders from reaching the walls. Travis was killed in the first assault.
At the third time of asking, the Mexicans breached the north wall, forcing the Texians stationed there to fall back. The Texians at the south wall turned their guns north and were quickly overrun. Then the east wall fell. They had been prepared for their defenses to break and retreated to the chapel and barracks where rifle holes had been cut through the walls.
One last group of Texians stood outside to defend the chapel. Led by Davey Crockett, the former congressman and King of the Wild Frontier, these men led a last stand with knives and the butts of their rifles. Some fell back into the chapel. No one knows whether Crockett died here or survived and was executed later.
The Mexicans turned their cannon on the barracks and chapel while struggling to raise their flag above Missions. Until they were overrun, a sniper shot every Mexican who tried to replace the Texian flag. Once the doors and barricades fell, the Mexicans rushed in and took no prisoners. The battle lasted 13 hours. Only three Texians survived. Those who surrendered were executed. Between 400 and 600 Mexicans were killed.
News of the Alamo spread through Texas like wildfire. Santa Anna instructed the civilians who survived to tell everyone that his army was unbeatable. Instead, Santa Anna’s brutality and the ability of such a small force of Texians to withstand his assault inspired the revolution. Texians flocked to volunteer. A month and a half later at the Battle of Jacinto, the Texian army defeated the Mexicans in just 18 minutes, brought the war to a close and founded Texas as an independent state. As the Texians charged, their battle cry was: “Remember the Alamo!”