February-March, 1836: Battle of the Alamo Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In San Antonio de Béxar, Colonel Benjamin Rush Milam and 300 Texan volunteers arose against the Mexican garrison under General Martín Perfecto de Cós (December 5–10, 1835). When Cós surrendered, Milam’s men occupied the Alamo and enhanced its fortifications. Colonel James C. Neill took command of the Alamo’s garrison of about a hundred on December 21.

In San Antonio de Béxar, Colonel Benjamin Rush Milam and 300 Texan volunteers arose against the Mexican garrison under General Martín Perfecto de Cós (December 5–10, 1835). When Cós surrendered, Milam’s men occupied the Alamo and enhanced its fortifications. Colonel James C. Neill took command of the Alamo’s garrison of about a hundred on December 21.

Acting as emissary and military attaché for Governor Henry Smith and General Sam Houston, Colonel Jim Bowie arrived in San Antonio on January 19, 1836. Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis came with thirty more men on February 2. Colonel Davy Crockett brought about twenty Tennesseans on February 8. With Neill on temporary furlough, Travis and Bowie decided to share command on February 14.

General Antonio López de Santa Anna arrived in Béxar on February 23 and immediately began bombarding the Alamo. The Mexicans had hundreds of field pieces, but no heavy siege guns. The Alamo had fourteen smoothbore cannons, the largest an eighteen pounder. When Santa Anna demanded unconditional surrender on the first day of the siege, Travis answered with a blast from that gun. Santa Anna ordered continuous bombardment.

Travis assumed sole command on February 24 when Bowie fell ill with fever, perhaps pneumonia, and was incapacitated for the rest of the siege. That day Travis wrote a famous letter promising that he would never surrender but begging for help.

The Mexican encircling of the Alamo was not tight. Messengers could come and go almost at will, and the Texans could make night raids on the Mexicans. Even reinforcements could get in. The last reinforcements to arrive were 32 men from Gonzales on March 1. An unverifiable tradition says that Travis, on March 3, having accepted that he would get no aid from either Colonel James W. Fannin at Goliad or Houston at Washington-on-the-Brazos, drew a line in the sand on the parade ground with his sword and asked all who chose to die with him to cross it. All but one, Louis Rose, crossed. Bowie, too weak to move, had to be carried across. That night, the tradition continues, Crockett helped Rose escape.

By the twelfth day of shelling (March 5), Santa Anna had become impatient. He announced that his troops would storm the Alamo at dawn. His officers advised waiting because the walls were about to crumble, the north wall was already breached, and the Texans would soon run out of food and ammunition. Few men on either side had yet been killed, but a direct assault would result in considerable Mexican casualties. Santa Anna overruled all these objections.

The Alamo mission building from which the Texans tried to hold off a Mexican army is now preserved as a museum. (Library of Congress)

At 4:00 the next morning the first wave attacked. Antipersonnel charges from the Alamo’s cannons took their toll as did the sharpshooters on the parapets. The first two waves retreated with heavy losses, but the third wave succeeded in scaling the west wall. Thereafter the fighting was hand-to-hand. Within ninety minutes, all the defenders were dead. Estimates of Mexican casualties range from 600 to 1,500.

The heroic defense of the Alamo provided the famous rallying cry, “Remember the Alamo!” that later boosted the morale of Houston’s men in their easy victory over Santa Anna at San Jacinto (April 21, 1836).

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