Today is the 187th anniversary of the beginning of the massacre at the Alamo, February 23, 1836. When it was over 13 days later, Texas had declared its independence from Mexico; “Remember the Alamo” was a battle cry heard across the new Republic; and 189 men, women, and children were being mourned in the South Texas Cradle of Independence.
Texas founding fathers declared The Republic of Texas to be a nation independent of Mexico on March 6, 1836.
On this day, 186 years ago, February 23, 1836, one of the bloodiest battles of the Texas War for Independence began: The Battle of the Alamo. At the end of the 13-day battle, more than 187 Texians (as they were called back then) lay slaughtered in and around the San Antonio mission, along with 400 to 600 Mexicans who died or were wounded in the assault on the Mission. This battle generated the battle cry: “Remember the Alamo,” which resonates with Texans, even today.
At the end of the 13-day siege (February 23 – March 6, 1836) Mexican President and Army commander of more than 1,500 Mexican attackers, General Antonio Lopez de Sana Anna claimed victory over the Alamo’s Texian defenders, all of whom were either killed in the onslaught or executed after the battle. This bloody massacre was soon followed by the Battle of Goliad and later the Battle of San Jacinto where Santa Anna (as he was called) was defeated in a battle that lasted just 18 minutes by Texas General (and first Republic President) Sam Houston on April 21, 1836. The rallying cries, “Remember the Alamo” and “Remember Goliad” echoed throughout this final battle for Independence. The Battle of Goliad was fought at sunrise on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836. The Mexican Army marched most of the captured Texian army from the Persidio La Bahia near Goliad out in three groups. A short distance later, the Mexican army opened fire on the unarmed Texian defenders and executed 342 of them. Forty of the executed soldiers were too wounded to march.
In February, 1836, the garrison at the Alamo, a Spanish mission near San Antonio, Texians led by 26-year old Colonel William B. Travis, James Bowie (originator of the famed “Bowie Knife”), Tennessean Davy Crockett and others, prepared to defend the mission. James Bowie had originally been ordered to the Alamo on January 19, 1836. He arrived with orders to destroy the complex. Instead, he took command of the garrison as its co-commander, along with Colonel William Barret Travis. Travis became the sole commander of the Alamo on February 24, 1836.
Texians, enraged by the slaughter at the Alamo and later Goliad, joined the Texas Revolution cause across the state. A little more than a month after the fall of the Alamo, Texas General Sam Houston made his stand on the banks of the Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto Bay near the present-day city of Houston, and defeated Mexican General and Commander, Santa Anna in a battle that lasted just 18 minutes. General Santa Anna was captured while disguised as a mere foot soldier and Private, but was recognized and cheered by his men as he was paraded through the other Prisoners of War. Santa Anna was presented to General Sam Houston and just three weeks after the battle, was forced to sign a peace treaty which dictated that the Mexican Army would depart the area to south of the Rio Grande River. The Republic of Texas then became an independent country, General Samuel Houston became a national celebrity, and the rallying cries “Remember the Alamo,” and “Remember Goliad” became legendary in Texas history.
On this day (October 2nd) in 1835, the Texas Revolution begins! Did you know that the first battle was fought because Texans decided that the Mexicans would have to pull an old, small cannon out of their cold, dead hands?
Does that fact, alone, explain my home state?!
The Texas Revolution wasn’t fought entirely over one old cannon, of course. That cannon was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, prompting a skirmish that came to be known as the Battle of Gonzales.
In 1835, Texans (or “Texians”) were concerned about the increasingly dictatorial Mexican government and its army. But the town of Gonzales found itself in the crossfire for a rather unexpected reason. It possessed one small cannon that had come from San Antonio de Béxar in 1831. Some thought the cannon was loaned, others thought it had been given. Either way, Gonzales felt that it needed the cannon to scare off local Indian tribes.
As tensions between the Mexican government and the Texians escalated, the Mexicans decided that Gonzales could not keep its cannon anymore. The given reason was that the cannon had been given only as a loan. But perhaps the real reason is that the government wanted to disarm citizens? Either way, town officials were notified that the cannon must be returned.
The alcalde, or mayor, of Gonzales called a town meeting and a vote was taken. All but three people agreed: Gonzales should keep its cannon!
Nevertheless, Mexican commander Francisco de Castañeda was sent to retrieve the cannon.
The Mexican force reached the Guadalupe River on September 29, but then it got stuck. Recent rains had made the river difficult to cross. Complicating matters, Texians had taken all the boats from Castañeda’s side of the river. Eighteen Texians were now guarding the river on the other side. In the meantime, Gonzales was calling for help from nearby towns. Its citizens buried the cannon in a nearby peach orchard.
Come hell or high water, they were not giving up that cannon!
The Texians managed to stall for a while. Castañeda wanted to talk, but the Texians noted that the talks were more properly held with the alcalde, Andrew Ponton. (Surprise, surprise. He wasn’t there.) Even when the Texians did engage in talks, they just shouted across the river at Castañeda. At one point, a single Mexican was allowed to swim back and forth with messages.
What a scene! Naturally, the delay mostly ensured that the Texians got reinforcements.
The stalemate continued until October 1, when Castañeda moved his men a few miles upriver. By now, the Texians were getting tired of the situation. They dug up the cannon and created shrapnel from anything they could find. They hauled the cannon across the river and approached the Mexican camp early on October 2. A thick fog hid them from view.
A few shots were exchanged during the early morning hours, but the more serious fighting began after sunrise. Naturally, the controversial cannon was brought into battle. The Texians had created a white flag, which waved proudly over the cannon.
You guessed it. The flag bore the words: “Come and Take It.”
The fighting itself was more of a brief skirmish than a true battle. In the end, Castañeda quickly retreated because he thought his orders required him to do so before the conflict escalated into war. His retreat came too late. The Texas Revolution was on.
On this day in 1836, Texans win the Battle of San Jacinto. The battle was won in only 18 minutes! The decisive victory would ultimately ensure independence for the Republic of Texas.
It also avenged the blood that had been shed at the Alamo and at Goliad.
The Texans (then “Texians”) had accomplished their goal with a swiftness that would surely make George Washington’s Continental Army a bit jealous. Texas declared its independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836. Within a matter of days, Sam Houston had been appointed “Commander in Chief of all the land forces of the Texian Army, both regulars, volunteers and militia,” and he joined the Texian forces then gathered near Gonzales.
It wasn’t long before he received word that the Alamo had fallen. Mexican forces were headed his way. Houston knew that the Texians weren’t ready for a clash with a large Mexican force—at least not yet. An immediate retreat was imperative if the cause for independence was to survive.
Some Texian families had already been fleeing from the Mexican Army. Now the Texian forces fled, too.
Perhaps retreat doesn’t come naturally to Texans!? Volunteers began flocking to join Houston. They’d heard about the Alamo, and they were ready to fight! By March 19, the size of the army had roughly tripled, and the army was starting to get antsy. Why were they retreating so far? When would they turn and fight?
Some Texians got so disgusted with the inaction that they left, but Houston was determined to pick his spot.
In the meantime, Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna had decided to personally join the pursuit of Houston. There was no way he was going to let some other Mexican general take credit for ending the Texian uprising!
Perhaps Santa Anna should have stayed behind. When the two sides finally met near San Jacinto in mid-April, Santa Anna made a few rookie mistakes. Houston chose to camp in a wooded area that hid his army’s full strength of about 900 men. By contrast, Santa Anna’s larger army made camp in a more vulnerable position. The choice was criticized by Colonel Pedro Delgado who noted that the spot chosen “was in all respects, against military rules. Any youngster would have done better.”
On the night of April 20, the Mexican Army built breastworks and fortified its position. In the meantime, Houston had already issued an appeal for a final round of volunteers. “We view ourselves on the eve of battle,” he’d written. “We are nerved for the contest, and must conquer or perish. . . . Be men, be freemen, that your children may bless their fathers’ names.”
How strange it must have been when the next morning dawned—and nothing happened! The Mexican Army received reinforcements, but still didn’t attack. The Texians destroyed a bridge to prevent more Mexican reinforcements from arriving, but Houston didn’t order an attack, either.
Santa Anna’s soldiers relaxed their vigilance, just for a bit. They even took a siesta!
At 3:30 p.m., the Texians made their move. Shielded by high grasses and a rise in the land, they covertly approached the Mexican position. When they were about 200 yards away, they fired the first cannon. Texians were soon swarming over the Mexican breastworks. Within about 18 minutes, Houston later reported, “we were in possession of the enemy’s encampment.” The battle was over, but Texians continued to pursue the fleeing Mexicans for hours afterwards.
Chants of “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” echoed among the victorious Texians. It was basically a slaughter. Hundreds of Mexicans were cut down.
Santa Anna would be captured the next day. A little over three weeks later, a treaty was signed, requiring all Mexican forces to leave the Republic of Texas. #DontMessWithTexas
On this day in 1836, the Battle of the Alamo is fought. Despite a valiant defense by the Texans (then called Texians), the Mexican Army is victorious.
Okay, so I already discussed the long siege and battle a few days ago. But can you ever really say too much about Texas?! Ha. So, in that spirit, here are some random facts that you may not know about the Alamo.
When Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna arrived at the Alamo, he sent a courier with a demand that the Texians surrender. Do you want to take one wild guess as to how the Texians responded? They responded with a cannonball! The Texas spirit was born early, wasn’t it?
Three famous figures were killed at the Battle of the Alamo: William B. Travis, Jim Bowie, and Davy Crockett. Travis was defending the north wall of the Alamo when he was killed, early in the battle, by a shot to the head. Bowie probably died in the Low Barrack. He was ill and confined to bed when the battle started. Crockett’s death is more of a mystery. He either died during battle or he was executed by Santa Anna afterwards.
The number of Texians who died defending the Alamo is also a bit of an unknown quantity: Depending on whose figures you believe, that number is as low as 150 or as high as 250. The youngest of these Texians was 16 and the oldest was 56.
Imagine that! No more than 250 Texians, defiantly refusing to give up the Alamo to the much larger Mexican force (as many as 1,800 soldiers) sitting just outside the Alamo’s walls. BRAVE. DETERMINED. And they inflicted heavy casualties on the Mexican force, although historians dispute the actual number of killed and injured among Santa Anna’s men.
Maybe one of the bravest acts at the Alamo? During the course of the siege, 32 men snuck past the Mexican lines and joined their fellow Texians inside the Alamo. They had to know that they were volunteering to go to their death. Yet they joined the Battle anyway.
Those men truly meant the words written by Travis during that 2-week siege: VICTORY OR DEATH!
P.S. The painting is of the death of Jim Bowie. It’s depicted as the artist imagines it, of course, since no one knows for sure how he died that day.
On this day in 1793, Stephen F. Austin is born. He would come to be known as the “Father of Texas.”
Perhaps there is a twist of irony in that title? When Austin first heard of an opportunity to set up a settlement in Texas, he wasn’t so crazy about the idea.
To the contrary, it was Stephen’s father who originally wanted to go to Texas. Moses Austin’s personal finances had suffered following the Panic of 1819, and he was looking for new opportunities. He decided to seek land grants in Texas. Unfortunately, Moses passed away in the middle of the process. Thus, it was left to Stephen to take over where his father had left off.
It wasn’t easy! Ownership of Texas had changed. Although Moses had worked out a deal with Spain, the Mexican government did not want to honor it at first. Stephen traveled to Mexico City and lobbied in person, and he was eventually given permission to move forward. He was an “empresario,” with civil and military authority over the first Anglo-American settlements in Texas. More empresarios would follow, but Austin was the most successful of them, bringing as many as 1,500 families to the area. He was well-respected, and other empresarios sought his advice. As such, he found himself constantly mediating between Texan settlers and the Mexican government. You can imagine this got tricky! For instance, when Mexico banned further Anglo-American immigration into Texas in 1830, settlers were unhappy. Many had long thought that Texas would be purchased by the United States, but such a move now seemed less likely. They wanted the ban lifted. In fact, they generally felt that they should have a bigger say in their own governance. They wanted Texas to be its own state.
By 1833, matters were getting serious. Settlers wrote a list of grievances and a proposed Constitution for a new state of Texas; they elected Austin to take these items to Mexico City. Austin was worried that the move was too aggressive, but he went anyway. He ended up getting arrested for suspicion of trying to incite an insurrection. (Oops!) He wasn’t freed until July 1835.
‘War is our only resource. There is no other remedy but to defend our rights our country and our selves by force of arms. To do this we must be united.’
Austin was slow to get on board with the cause of Texas independence (he preferred conciliation with Mexico), but once he was on board, he did not turn back. As chairman of a Committee of Safety, he wrote: “War is our only resource. There is no other remedy but to defend our rights our country & our selves by force of arms. To do this we must be united.”
Austin commanded Texan forces during the Siege of Bexar, but he spent much of the (relatively short) 6-month Texas Revolution in the United States, seeking support for the “Texian” cause. When Austin returned home, he discovered that his influence had been eclipsed by that of Sam Houston, the victor at the Battle of San Jacinto. Both men were candidates in the first presidential election. Houston won. Austin came in a distant third.
Austin died only 8 months after Texas had won her independence, possibly weakened by a disease that he’d contracted during his imprisonment in Mexico. Upon hearing of Austin’s death, President Sam Houston declared: “The father of Texas is no more. The first pioneer of the wilderness has departed.”
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