The Siege and Battle of the Alamo

The Battle of the Alamo was fought during the Texas revolution at a small fort in San Antonio, Texas. It lasted from February 26 to March 6, 1836. Many famous Texan and American figures lost their lives during the 13-day siege, including James “Jim” Bowie, William B. Travis, and Davy Crockett. All 200 Texan defenders were killed in the fighting, inspiring the famous battle cry, “Remember the Alamo!” 

The Alamo stood at a pivotal location on one of the two main roads into Texas from Mexico, known as the Old San Antonio Road. Previously a Spanish mission, the Alamo became a fort that was built to defend against attacks from Native Americans. There were no firing ports and contained only a small catwalk at the top for defenders to fire from, but lacked the protection of the upper body if defenders stood. Because of this, it was mostly used as a place for the Texian army to see enemies and alert other Texan settlements as well as stock supplies. Additionally, after the Texian army captured the Alamo during the Siege of Bexar, most of the troops returned home to their families. They had not prepared to be away for long and therefore did not have enough supplies, leaving around 100 defenders at the Alamo.

Knowing the Alamo was in a very vulnerable condition, James Clinton Neill, whom Commander Sam Houston had placed in charge of the Alamo, wrote to Houston to ask for more men and supplies in January 1836. Houston sent James Bowie and 25 men. He also wrote a letter to Governor Henry Smith, recommending the abandonment and destruction of the fort. 

“I have ordered the fortifications in the town of Bexar to be demolished, and, if you should think well of it, I will remove all the cannon and other munitions of war to Gonzales and Copano, blow up the Alamo and abandon the place, as it will be impossible to keep up the Station with volunteers, the sooner I can be authorized the better it will be for the country.”

Once he saw the fort, Bowie decided that it was worth defending. Neill and Bowie wrote back to Smith, asking for more reinforcements. Smith ordered Lieutenant William B. Travis and 30 horsemen to the fort. David Crockett arrived soon after with another small group of volunteers, bringing the total to about 188 men. On February 14th, however, Neill left the fort to return home, where his family was sick. He left Travis in charge, much to the older Bowie’s dismay. Eventually, the two decided to split command of the fort between themselves. 

General Lopez de Santa Anna arrived at the Alamo with somewhere between 1,500-6,000 troops on February 23, 1836. As the army approached, Travis fired a cannon. Bowie, wanting to first see what the Mexicans had to say, sent an emissary to the Mexican Army. Travis, resenting Bowie’s actions, sent his own emissary as well. The two returned with a message from the Mexicans that said that only unconditional surrender would be accepted. Together, both Travis and Bowie fired the cannon once again, sending a clear message to the Mexicans. The Texians would stay to defend the fort until the end. 

On the second day of the siege, Bowie fell gravely ill. He transferred full command over to Travis. During the fighting, some of his men brought Bowie around the fort in hopes that he could inspire the defenders. Instead, it had the opposite effect. Seeing their brave commander on the brink of death, many of the Texians began to lose hope. On February 24, Travis wrote his famous “Letter from the Alamo” to the “people of Texas and Americans all around the world,” asking for reinforcements. On March 1, 32 troops arrived. Knowing this was not near enough, Travis wrote again to the Washington-on-the-Brazos convention on March 3. Unfortunately, additional reinforcements never arrived.

On March 5, Santa Anna announced to his officers his plan for the final attack. March 6th, 1836, at around 5am, the Mexican army stormed the Alamo. Travis was among the first to die on the north wall. Many of the defenders retreated to the dark rooms of the Long Barracks, where they met their death as Mexican soldiers scaled the walls and entered the fort. In less than 2 hours, all of the Alamo’s defenders lay dead. Some sources argue that around seven soldiers were taken captive, among them Davy Crockett, but killed quickly after. Women and children, including Susanna Dickenson, were spared, along with a few slaves. 

An estimated 600-1,600 Mexican soldiers died at the Alamo along with the almost 200 Texian defenders. “Remember the Alamo!” became a battle cry in the Texas Revolution and even in the Mexican-American War in the 1840s. The fierce and brave fighting that the Texian soldiers endured protecting their rights and their country is inspiring to many as their memory and honor live on. 

Interestingly, the Alamo’s defenders were not fighting for Texas independence. Texas was split in the middle of a Mexican political controversy. In 1832, Santa Anna annuled the constitution and set up a centralist government in Mexico City, replacing the federalist government. He started enforcing antislavery rules that mostly affected the American settlers that had brought slaves with them to Texas. The leaders of Texas had not officially declared Texas independent from Mexico until March 2, 1836, days into the Battle of the Alamo.

Why is the Alamo important to American history?

While the Battle of the Alamo was not successful for the Texians from a military standpoint, it did inspire the rest of the Texan settlers to fight for their independence. At the next battle, the Battle of San Jacinto, the Texian soldiers cried “Remember the Alamo!” as they ran into battle against the Mexicans. The bravery and courage of the Alamo’s defenders inspired not only the Texans but continues to inspire many today. Without the newfound motivation for justice, the Texas Revolution might have ended differently, and Texas might have still been a part of Mexico today.

Were there any survivors at the Alamo?

Around 14 women, children, and slaves survived the Battle of the Alamo. These included Ana Salazar and her three children, Susanna Dickinson and her infant daughter, and Juana Navarro Alsbury with her son and sister. Mrs. Dickinson and her daughter were sent by Santa Anna to Gonzalez with two dollars to tell the rest of the Texian army about the death and destruction that occurred at the Alamo. Travis’s slave, Joe, also was the only adult male who survived the battle, even after being shot and bayonetted during the fight. The survivors left various accounts of the battle as witnesses, helping us to piece together what really happened at the Alamo.

Who was the only Alamo defender to be buried?

Gregorio Esparza was the only Alamo defender allowed to be buried. His brother, Francisco Esparza, was granted permission by Santa Anna to look for his body after the battle. After finding it, Francisco and his two brothers buried Gregorio in the Campo Santos cemetery in San Antonio.

The rest of the defenders were burned in three bonfires by the Mexican army. On February 25, 1837, Texian Lt. Colonel Juan Seguin organized a formal military funeral for those that fell at the Alamo. After finding their remains in two separate piles, he placed some in a coffin that was buried after being carried in a procession through town. Additionally, there is also a marble sarcophagus that is said to contain the remains of James Bowie, William B. Travis, and Davy Crockett in the San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio. Its authenticity, as well as the location of the rest of the remains of the Alamo defenders, is widely debated among historians and archaeologists. Various accounts throughout the years have claimed to know the whereabouts of the remains, but it continues to be a mystery today. In 2019, archaeologists found remains of three bodies in the monk’s burial room in the church of the Alamo. Discussions are underway to decide what to do about these remains and who they might be.

What flag flew over the Alamo in 1836?

Multiple accounts describe a variation of the Mexican tri-color flag that was flown over the Alamo in 1836. The battle was fought against Santa Anna and his new dictator-like government that had been set up in Mexico, rather than for Texas independence. In fact, Texas didn’t formally declare independence until March 2, 1836, about a week into the siege of the Alamo. Unaware of the declaration, the Alamo defenders were fighting for the revoked Mexican constitution and the legality of Mexican state governments. At the beginning of the battle, Santa Anna set up headquarters at the San Fernando Cathedral. Here, he flew a blood-red flag, signifying that no captives would be taken alive.

What is the famous Alamo saying?

While it wasn’t actually said at the Alamo, “Remember the Alamo!” is the famous Texan battle cry during the Texas fight for independence. Most notably it was yelled during the Battle of San Jacinto which was a huge victory for the Texans in only 18 minutes. “Remember the Alamo!” was inspired by the 200 Texan defenders who were killed during the battle of the Alamo. Interestingly, the battle cry was actually, “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad! God and Texas!” but popular history seems to have left out the latter portion of it.

What does the saying Remember the Alamo mean?

“Remember the Alamo” was the battle cry used by Texans during their fight for independence from Mexico. It was used to motivate and inspire troops as they remember the 200 Texans that were killed during the Battle of the Alamo. The full battle cry was actually “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad! God and Texas!”

About Lyman

Lyman Hardeman has held a deep interest in Texas history. He spent his youth in College Station, Texas and received a degree in Electrical Engineering at Texas A&M in 1966. In 1995, Lyman created Lone Star Junction, a popular Texas history website that later merged with Lyman is a life member of the Texas State Historical Association and the author of Texas A&M The First 25 Years.