The Fight for the Alamo On March 1–2, 1836, Texans met at a settlement called Washington‐on‐the‐Brazos to decide what to do about Santa Anna’s troops. They believed they could do only one thing: to declare Texas a free and independent republic. Sam Houston, the only man at the meeting with military experience, was placed in command of the Texas army.
The Texas army hardly existed. At that moment, there were two small forces ready to stand up to Santa Anna’s army. One was a company of 420 men stationed at Goliad, a fort in southeast Texas. The second was a company of 183 volunteers at the Alamo. Headed by William Travis, this small force included such famous frontiersmen as Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. In addition, Juan Seguín (wahn seh•GEEN) led a band of 25 Tejanos in support of revolt.
On February 23, 1836, Santa Anna’s troops surrounded San Antonio. The next day, Mexicans began their siege of the Travis scrawled a message to the world.
Because Juan Seguín spoke Spanish, he was chosen to carry the plea through enemy lines. Seguín got the message through to other Texas defenders. But when he returned, he saw the Alamo in flames. The Alamo’s defenders held off the Mexican attack for 12 violent days. Travis and the defenders stubbornly refused to surrender. On the 13th day,
Santa Anna ordered more than 1,800 men to storm the fortress. The Texans met the attackers with a hailstorm of cannon and gun fire. Then suddenly it became strangely quiet. The Texans had run out of ammunition. At day’s end, all but five Texans were dead. The Battle of the Alamo was over.
Those men who had not died in the fighting were executed at Santa Anna’s command. A total of 183 Alamo defenders died. A few women and children were not killed. Susanna Dickinson, one of the survivors, was ordered by Santa Anna to tell the story of the Alamo to other Texans. He hoped the story would discourage more rebellion. The slaughter at the Alamo shocked Texans—and showed them how hard they would have to fight for their freedom from Mexico.
1. Travis Letter 2. Line in the Sand 3. Eyewittness 4. From a General Group 1: TRAVIS LETTER
Text of the Victory or Death Letter
"To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World"
February 24, 1836 Fellow citizens and compatriots; I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna. I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls.
I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country. Victory or Death. William Barret Travis Lt. Col. Comdt. P.S. The Lord is on our side. When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn. We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels and got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.
Group 2: LINE IN THE SAND The Alamo
Travis’ Line in the Sand
Soon, the ominous news reached Texas that Santa Anna himself was marching north with 7,000 soldiers to crush the revolt. In actuality, Santa Anna's army was not particularly impressive; it was filled with raw recruits, and included many Indian troops who spoke and understood little Spanish. When Houston learned that Santa Anna's initial goal was to recapture San Antonio, he ordered San Antonio abandoned. But, 150 Texas rebels decided to defend the city and made their stand at an abandoned Spanish mission, the Alamo. The Texans were led by William Travis and Jim Bowie, and included the frontier hero David Crockett. For twelve days, Mexican forces lay siege to the Alamo. Travis issued an appeal for reinforcements, but only 32 men were able to cross Mexican lines. Legend has it that on the evening of March 5, 1836, Travis, realizing that defense of the Alamo was futile, drew a line in the dirt with his sword. Only those willing to die for Texas independence, Travis announced to the garrison, should step across the line and defend the Alamo. All but two men did. One refused to cross the line, and another, Jim Bowie, too sick to move from his cot, called over some friends and had them carry him across Travis's line. At 5 a.m., March 6, Mexican troops scaled the mission's walls. By 8 a.m., the fighting was over. 183 defenders lay dead--including several Mexican defenders who had fought for Texas independence. (Seven defenders surrendered and were immediately executed, and approximately 15 persons survived, including an American woman and her child). Mexican forces soaked the defenders' bodies in oil, stacked them like cordwood outside the mission, and set them ablaze. If the Alamo was a military defeat, it was a psychological victory. Santa Anna's troops suffered l,550 casualties--eight Mexican soldiers died for every defender. "Remember the Alamo" became the battle cry of the Texas War of Independence. Source: The Alamo - Digital History Group 3: EYEWITNESS Remembering The Alamo
A Failed Strategy
An account of the battle written in 1849 offers a critical perspective on Santa Anna's strategy at the Alamo from a Mexican soldier at the Alamo. “...On the morning of March 6, the Mexican troops were stationed at 4 o'clock, A.M., in accord with Santa Anna's instructions. The artillery, as appears from these same instructions, was to remain inactive, as it received no order; and furthermore, darkness and the disposition made of the troops which were to attack the four fronts at the same time, prevented its firing without mowing down our own ranks. Thus the enemy was not to suffer from our artillery during the attack. Their own artillery was in readiness. At the sound of the bugle they could no longer doubt that the time had come for them to conquer or to die. Had they still doubted, the imprudent shouts for Santa Anna given by our columns of attack must have opened their eyes. As soon as our troops were in sight, a shower of grape and musket balls was poured upon them from the fort, the garrison of which at the sound of the bugle, had rushed to arms and to their posts. The three columns that attacked the west, the north, and the east fronts, fell back, or rather, wavered at the first discharge from the enemy, but the example and the efforts of the officers soon caused them to return to the attack. The columns of the western and eastern attacks, meeting with some difficulties in reaching the tops of the small houses which formed the walls of the fort, did, by a simultaneous movement to the right and to left, swing northward till the three columns formed one dense mass, which under the guidance of their officers, endeavored to climb the parapet on that side.... Our loss was very heavy. Colonel Francisco Duque was mortally wounded at the very beginning, as he lay dying on the ground where he was being trampled by his own men, he still ordered them on to the slaughter. This attack was extremely injudicious and in opposition to military rules, for our own men were exposed not only to the fire of the enemy but also to that of our own columns attacking the other Fronts; and our soldiers being formed in close columns, all shots that were aimed too low, struck the backs of our foremost men. The greatest number of our casualties took place in that manner; it may even be affirmed that not one-fourth of our wounded were struck by the enemy's fire, because their cannon, owing to their elevated position, could not be sufficiently lowered to injure our troops after they had reached the foot of the walls. Nor could the defenders use their muskets with accuracy, because the wall having no inner banquette, they had, in order to deliver their fire, to stand on top where they could not live one second... The official list of casualties, made by General Juan de Andrade, shows: officers 8 killed, 18 wounded; enlisted men 52 killed, 233 wounded. Total 311 killed and wounded. A great many of the wounded died for want of medical attention, beds, shelter, and surgical instruments.
The whole garrison were killed except an old woman and a Negro slave for whom the soldiers felt compassion, knowing that they had remained from compulsion alone. There were 150 volunteers, 32 citizens of Gonzales who had introduced themselves into the fort the night previous to the storming, and about 20 citizens or merchants of Bexar [San Antonio].... Finally, the place remained in the power of the Mexicans, and all the defenders were killed. It is a source of deep regret, that after the excitement of the combat, many acts of atrocity were allowed which are unworthy of the gallantry and resolution with which this operation had been executed, and stamp it with an indelible stain in the annals of history. These acts were reproved at the time by those who had the sorrow to witness them, and subsequently by the whole army, who certainly were not habitually animated by such feelings, and who heard with disgust and horror, as becomes brave and generous Mexicans who feel none but noble and lofty sentiments, of certain facts which I fore bear to mention, and wish for the honor of the Mexican Republic had never taken place. In our opinion the blood of our soldiers as well as that of the enemy was shed in vain, for the mere gratification of the inconsiderate ... and guilty vanity of reconquering Bexar by force of arms, and through a bloody contest. As we have said, the defenders of the Alamo, were disposed to surrender, upon the sole condition that their lives should be spared. Let us even grant that they were not so disposed--what could the wretches do, being surrounded by 5,000 men, without proper means of resistance, no possibility of retreating, nor any hope of receiving proper and sufficient reinforcements to compel the Mexicans to raise the siege? Had they been supplied with all the resources needed, that weak enclosure could not have withstood for one hour the fire of our twenty pieces of artillery which if properly directed would have crushed it to atoms and leveled down the inner buildings.... The massacres of the Alamo, of Goliad, of Refugio, convinced the rebels that no peaceable settlement could be expected, and that they must conquer, or die, or abandon the fruits of ten years of sweat and labor, together with their fondest hopes for the future.” Vicente Filisola, Mexican soldier at the Battle of the Alamo
Source: Remembering the Alamo - Digital History Group 4: FROM A GENERAL The Alamo
One General’s Perspective
“The enemy fortified itself in the Alamo, overlooking the city. A siege of a few days would have caused its surrender, but it was not fit that the entire army should be detained before an irregular fortification hardly worthy of the name. Neither could its capture be dispensed with, for bad as it was, it was well equipped with artillery, had a double wall, and defenders who, it must be admitted, were very courageous.... An assault would infuse our soldiers with that enthusiasm of the first triumph that would make them superior in the future to those of the enemy.... Before undertaking the assault and after the reply given to Travis who commanded the enemy fortification, I still wanted to try a generous measure, characteristic of Mexican kindness, and I offered life to the defendants who would surrender their arms and retire under oath not to take them up again against Mexico.... On the night of the fifth of March, four columns having been made ready for the assault under the command of their respective officers, they moved forward in the best order and with the greatest silence, but the imprudent huzzas of one of them awakened the sleeping vigilance of the defenders of the fort and their artillery fire caused such disorder among our columns that it was necessary to make use of the reserves. The Alamo was taken, this victory that was so much and so justly celebrated at the time, costing us seventy dead and about three hundred wounded, a loss that was also later judged to be avoidable and charged, after the disaster of San Jacinto, to my incompetence and precipitation. I do not know of a way in which any fortification, defended by artillery, can be carried by assault without the personal losses of the attacking party being greater than those of the enemy, against whose walls and fortifications the brave assailants can present only their bare breasts. It is easy enough, from a desk in a peaceful office, to pile up charges against a general out on the field but this cannot prove anything more than the praiseworthy desire of making war less disastrous. But its nature being such, a general has no power over its immutable laws. Let us weep at the tomb of the brave Mexicans who died at the Alamo defending the honor and the rights of their country They won lasting claim to fame and the country can never forget their heroic names.” Source: Carlos E. Castañeda, General, Mexican Army at the Battle of the Alamo
Source: Digital History ________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Victory at San Jacinto With Santa Anna on the attack, Texans—both soldiers and settlers—fled eastward. Houston sent a message to the men at Goliad, ordering them to retreat. They were captured by Mexican forces, who executed more than 300. The Texans would not soon forget the massacre at Goliad. But even in retreat and defeat, Houston’s army doubled. Now it was a fighting force of 800 angry men. It included Tejanos, American settlers, volunteers from the United States, and many free and enslaved African Americans.
In late April, Santa Anna caught up with Houston near the San Jacinto (san juh•SIN•toh) River. Late in the afternoon of April 21, 1836, the Texans advanced on the Mexican army “with the stillness of death.”
When close to Santa Anna’s camp, they raced forward, rifles ready, screaming “Remember the Alamo!”
In just 18 minutes, the Texans killed more than half of the Mexican army. Santa Anna was forced to sign a treaty giving Texas its freedom. With the Battle of San Jacinto, Texas was now independent.
MAIN IDEA 4: Explain how Texas became its own country.
Lone Star Republic
In September 1836, Texans raised a flag with a single star. They adopted a nickname—Lone Star Republic— and proclaimed Texas an independent nation. The new nation set up its own army and navy. Sam Houston was elected president of the Lone Star Republic by a landslide.
Many Texans did not want Texas to remain independent for long. They considered themselves Americans and wanted to be a part of the United States. In 1836, the Texas government asked Congress to annex (add/ join) Texas to the Union.
Many Northerners objected. They argued that Texas would become a slave state, and they opposed any expansion of slavery. If Texas joined the Union, slave states would outnumber free states and have a voting advantage in Congress. Other people feared that annexing Texas would lead to war with Mexico.
In response, Congress voted against annexation. Texas remained an independent republic for almost ten years. In the next section, you will learn that the question of annexing Texas did lead to a war between the United States and Mexico.
What events led to Texas’s Independence from Mexico? MAIN IDEA 1: Explain the origins of “Manifest Destiny”. Henry Clay sneered, “Who is James K. Polk?” Clay had just learned the name of the man nominated by Democrats to run against him for president in 1844. “A mistake!” answered Washington insiders.
News of Polk’s nomination was flashed to the capital by the newly invented telegraph machine. People were convinced that the machine didn’t work. How could the Democrats choose Polk? A joke! Polk was America’s first “dark horse,” a candidate who received unexpected support. The Democrats had nominated this little‐known man only when they could not agree on anyone else.
Still, Polk wasn’t a complete nobody. He had been governor of Tennessee and served seven terms in Congress. Polk was committed to national expansion. He vowed to annex Texas and take over Oregon. When the votes were counted, James Knox Polk became the 11th president of the United States. As you will read in this section, after his election Polk looked for ways to expand the nation.
“American Progress” - John Gast, 1872
When you look at the images used and the title given to this image, what do you believe is the artist’s point of view?
Americans Support Manifest Destiny The abundance of land in the West seemed to hold great promise for Americans. Although populated with Native Americans and Mexicans, those lands were viewed by white settlers as unoccupied. Many Americans wanted to settle those lands themselves, and they worried about competition from other nations. Mexico occupied the southwest lands, and Britain shared the northwest Oregon Territory with the United States. Many Americans believed that the United States was destined to stretch across the continent from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.
In 1845, a newspaper editor named John O’Sullivan gave a name to that belief. Manifest Destiny.The term “manifest destiny” was new, but the idea was not. By the 1840s, thousands of Americans had moved into the Oregon Territory. Since 1818, Oregon had been occupied jointly by the United States and Britain. In his campaign, Polk had talked of taking over all of Oregon. “Fifty‐four forty or fight!” screamed one of his slogans. The parallel of 54° 40’ N latitude was the northern boundary of the shared Oregon Territory.
Rather than fight for all of Oregon, however, Polk settled for half. In 1846, the United States and Great Britain agreed to divide Oregon at the 49th parallel. This agreement extended the boundary line already drawn between Canada and the United States. Today this line still serves as the border between much of the United States and Canada.
Your Turn According to the reading above, which other nations were occupying the land to the west of America?
What is meant by the term “Manifest Destiny”?
MAIN IDEA 2: Describe how the Mexican American War began.
Troubles with Mexico Polk had good reason for avoiding war with Britain over Oregon. By 1846, he had much bigger troubles brewing with Mexico over Texas.
In 1845, Congress admitted Texas as a slave state, in spite of Northern objections to the spread of slavery. However, Mexico still claimed Texas as its own. Mexico angrily viewed this annexation as an act of war. To make matters worse, Texas and Mexico could not agree on the official border between them. Texas claimed the Rio Grande, a river south of San Antonio, as its southern boundary. Mexico insisted on the Nueces (noo•AY•sis) River as the border of Texas. The difference in the distance between the two rivers was more than 100
miles at some points. Many thousands of miles of territory were at stake.
In 1845, Congress admitted Texas as a slave state, in spite of Northern objections to the spread of slavery. However, Mexico still claimed Texas as its own. Mexico angrily viewed this annexation as an act of war. To make matters worse, Texas and Mexico could not agree on the official border between them.
Texas claimed the Rio Grande, a river south of San Antonio, as its southern boundary. Mexico insisted on the Nueces (noo•AY•sis) River as the border of Texas. The difference in the distance between the two rivers was more than 100 miles at some points. Many thousands of miles of territory were at stake.
Mexico said it would fight to defend its claim. Hoping to settle the dispute peacefully, Polk sent John Slidell, a Spanish‐speaking ambassador, to offer Mexico $25 million for Texas, California, and New Mexico. But Slidell’s diplomacy failed. Believing that the American people supported his expansion plans, Polk wanted to force the issue with Mexico. He purposely ordered General Zachary Taylor to station troops on the northern bank of the Rio Grande. This river bank was part of the disputed territory. Viewing this as an act of war, Mexico moved an army into place on the southern bank. On April 25, 1846, a Mexican cavalry unit crossed the Rio Grande. They ambushed an American patrol and killed or wounded 16 American soldiers.
When news of the attack reached Washington, Polk sent a rousing war message to Congress, saying, “Mexico has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil.” Two days later, Congress declared war. The War with Mexico had begun. Thousands of volunteers, mostly from western states, rushed to enlist in the army. Santa Anna, who was president of Mexico, built up the Mexican army.
MAIN IDEA 3: Describe American actions in California, New Mexico and Mexico.