With the war for Texas' independence from Mexico underway, the Alamo would prove to be an important catalyst.
Originally a Spanish mission site, the Alamo, near what is present day San Antonio, Texas, was repurposed as a military garrison in the early 1830s. It was first occupied by Spanish and then Mexican soldiers. Its importance as a military settlement and proximity to San Antonio drew the attention of Texan forces during the Texas Revolution.
In December of 1835, with the battle for Texan independence from Mexico raging, a group of Texans, led by volunteer fighters George Collinsworth and Benjamin Milam, seized control of the Alamo from Mexican forces. However, they did not have sufficient numbers to maintain control of the Alamo. Initially, only 100 men were left behind to defend the Alamo following the takeover.
Colonel James Bowie and Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis arrived with reinforcements in early February, including frontiersman and politician Davy Crockett, but it is estimated that there was only between 180 to 260 men holding the garrison at any point during the war. Sam Houston, the Commander-in-Chief of the Texan army, believed that it was too risky for the men to remain at the fort due to the insufficient number of reinforcements, and wanted them to abandon the post. Bowie and Travis, however, were committed to staying and defending the fort, and refused to leave.
On February 23, 1836, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, determined to retake the post, led a siege on the fort at the Alamo, commanding an army of between 1,800 and 6,000 Mexican soldiers. Vastly outnumbered and facing certain defeat, the Texan forces stationed at the Alamo, co-commanded by Bowie and Travis, chose to stay and defend the fort rather than face an unconditional surrender. The Texans held the fort against the Mexican army for thirteen days.
Tavis kept up a steady stream of defensive fire from inside the walls of the Alamo, and was able to successfully block Santa Anna’s first two charges at the fort. The Alamo finally fell on the morning of March 6, when Mexican forces finally broke through the outer walls of the fort on their third attempt. However, even in the face of such overpowering odds, the Texan forces continued to fight at close range, using rifles, pistols, knives, and even their own fists. Despite their small number, they managed to do significant damage to the Mexican army, killing between 600 and 1,600 of their men. However, even with their best attempts, the battle was over within ninety minutes after the Mexican forces made inside the walls.
According to some accounts, there were between five and seven Texan survivors, who surrendered and were immediately executed. The Mexican soldiers took no prisoners, and between 180 and 250 of the Texan forces were slaughtered at the Alamo, with one of the few exceptions being Susannah Dickinson, her infant daughter Angelina, a freed slave, and a servant. General Santa Anna allowed them to escape to Sam Houston’s camp with a letter of warning, telling Houston that if Texas continued to fight, a similar fate would fall on the remaining members of the Texan army.
But the letter did little to hinder the Texan army’s fighting spirit. Although the Alamo finally fell to the Mexicans, the battle became a powerful symbol of resistance for the Texan forces, and inspired many more men to join the fight for independence. Inspired by the courageous struggle at the Alamo, Texans went on to rally around the cry of “Remember the Alamo.”
On April 21, 1836, Texan forces, led by General Sam Houston, charged against General Santa Anna’s forces at San Jacinto. The battle was swift and decisive, by all accounts lasting just 18 minutes before the Mexican army was defeated. Santa Anna was taken as a prisoner of war. Three weeks after the pivotal battle, a peace treaty was officially signed, effectively ending the war and granting Texas its independence from Mexico.