Even before he had sent out the letter not even ten days prior Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis knew that the cause had been lost. Even as the 187 volunteers who stood guard within the mission walls looked out on the sea of 3,000 Mexican soldiers under the command of the Napoleon of the West, General Antonio López de Santa Anna, they knew how outnumbered they truly were.
In their minds this was not how it was meant to be, and there was little doubt they had wondered how it had carried this far. Mexico was supposed to be a land of opportunity for them. It had only declared its independence from Spain 4 years prior when Americans began to immigrate. The Panic of 1819 had led to financial disaster as depression gripped the economy and land prices soared. The Second Bank of the United States, and, in turn, the government had failed the people as the inflationary bubble ballooned out of control, until it finally burst. Mexico, despite the political instability, seemed like it was the new frontier with its vast open territory in Texas, and its new federalist system modeled after the United States
Yet it wouldn’t last…
In 1833 Santa Anna would be swept to power, and he would begin to test the scope of that authority. Within two years the fight between the President’s new Centralist Agenda, and the established Federalist order that had dominated the Mexican way of life for the past decade would turn to violence. It wasn’t just Texas that rebelled. Several states openly defied the regime that exerted its dominance over them. Yet one by one they fell to the Army of Operations as Santa Anna stepped down to lead the army and put down the insurrection. Even the well-armed Zacatecan Army under Governor Francisco García Salinas fell within two hours as 3,000 of his citizens were taken prisoner. It would be the last stand before the Constitution of 1824 was replaced by the Seven Laws. Mexico would dissolve the Congress and consolidate its power in the hands of the President, becoming a dictatorship.
Now, the Alamo was next in front of Santa Anna…
His troops had already been forced to withdraw at the Battle of Gonzales, humiliated during the Gulf Coast Campaign and defeated at the Siege of Bexar. Each step of the way they would be frustrated by the Texians. But there would be no salvation for the rebels locked behind those mission walls. Colonel Travis knew it as well. Having only been sent to the Alamo a month prior and having been given joint command with Colonel James Bowie, he had sent his famous plea just a few days prior, declaring, “ 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, & 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 & 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 & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country – Victory or Death.” Perhaps had Bowie removed the artillery and destroyed the fortification, having had the authority from Major General Sam Houston, but it was too late now
No real relief would come. Colonel James Fannin would march his troops, some three hundred strong, but they would push only to Goliad before trouble would greet them, leaving them stuck without food or adequate supplies. Washington was too far for Travis to reach the ears of the American President to send help and support, not with the numbers massing outside those walls.
At 5:30am on March 6th 1836 the Mexican Army would begin their advance. Sleep deprived and exhausted, three sentinels would be found sleeping, and killed before they could sound the alarm. It wouldn’t be until the sound of the bugle and the cries of “Viva Santa Anna!” that the defenders would know that the siege was upon them. The women and children would hastily rush to the chapel, barricading themselves in. From the other side, Travis would yell, “Come on boys, the Mexicans are upon us and we’ll give them hell!” as they rushed forward to meet the flood of troops that came crashing down on them. He would be one of the first to fall, shot firing into the invading forces rank, drawing his sword, taking a soldier who had scaled the wall with him.
Within an hour the battle would be over. Colonel Bowie would be dead on his cot, too sick to meet the invaders on at the wall, but braced against the wall with pistols and his infamous knife. Stories would circulate that Colonel Davey Crockett would be found with at least 16 enemy soldiers fallen around his corpse. Major Robert Evans would fall with a torch in his hand, trying to set the gunpowder on fire. Had he not the blast would have encompassed the church. Among the last to fall Captain Almaron Dickinson, Second Lieutenant James Bonham, Colonel Travis’ cousin, and Private Gregorio Esparza grabbed rifles and started to fire before being overtaken by the bayonet, the last words escaping Dickinson’s mouth crying out, “Great God, Sue, the Mexicans are inside our walls! If they spare you, save my child”. In the end, when the smoke settled, all but seven of the defenders of the Alamo had died. As Santa Anna’s troops toured the carnage there would be no mercy shown, no reprieve offered. Any found moving would be bayoneted. Even the seven who surrendered would find no pity in the eyes of the enemy as he ordered their immediate execution. Yet, it would be a costly victory. For the almost 200 who would die 600 Mexican soldiers would be wounded or killed at the Alamo.
Though Santa Anna would press forward amidst the Goliad campaign, the Alamo would be a rallying cry for the Texas revolutionaries as he met his decisive defeat at the Battle of San Jacinto. Perhaps best described by the memorial at the field where General Houston’s forces took Santa Anna prisoner, it simply reads, “With the battle cry, “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” the Texans charged. The enemy taken by surprise, rallied for a few minutes then fled in disorder. The Texans had asked no quarter and gave none. The slaughter was appalling, victory complete, and Texas free! On the following day General Antonio Lopez De Santa Anna, self-styled “Napoleon of the West,” received from a generous foe the mercy he had denied Travis at the Alamo and Fannin at Goliad.”