- Historic Sites
The Storming Of The Alamo
None of its defenders survived, so that legends obscure their fate. But the facts do no dishonor to these beleaguered men, sworn to fight on until the end “at the peril of our lives, liberties and fortunes”
February 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 2
San Antonio was a town of some two thousand Spanish-speaking people, mainly herdsmen and horsemen, who loved dancing, gambling, racing, and religious festivals. They remembered the cruelties of a Spanish army (Santa Anna was with it as a young lieutenant) that had sacked the town in 1813. They did not wish to see a repetition.
By the middle of February, Bowie, as commander of the volunteers, and Travis, as commander of the Regulars and the cavalry, were signing a joint appeal for money, provisions, men.
On the evening of February 21, Santa Anna and the advance guard of his army reached the bank of the Medina River, some twenty miles southwest of San Antonio. Heavy rains kept him from crossing for two days. Then, about noon on February 23, a sentinel posted in the tower of the parish church on Main Plaza sounded the bell. He said he had seen a “glittering, as of lances” in the west. Two horsemen rode out and reported a company of Mexican cavalry in formation, “their polished armor glistening in the rays of the sun,” an officer riding up and down in front of them waving his sword, as if giving orders.
About two o’clock in the afternoon Santa Anna’s advance guard entered the town. Bowie, Travis, and their men were in the Alamo. With them were several friendly Mexicans, including women and children; also the wife and infant daughter of Almeron Dickinson, captain of artillery. On their way in, the men had rounded up a herd of beeves and found some corn stored in the houses. Within the enclosure they had opened up a well. They would not lack for food of a sort, nor water. There was a scene of wild confusion, with men clamoring for arms and no semblance of order; the swearing was phenomenal.
About three o’clock a blood-red flag, meaning NO QUARTER, was hoisted on the tower of the parish church. Travis replied from the Alamo with a cannon shot. The next day, February 24, he sent out his famous message “to the People of Texas and all the Americans in the World”:
Fellow citizens & compatriots, I am besieged by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna—I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & 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 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 or that of his country—Victory or Death.
He meant every word of it.
A cold wind blew from the north on the night of February 25, chilling the blanketless men in the Alamo. Bowie, who had been hurt by a cannon ball that had rolled from a platform, was put to bed with pneumonia. Travis now had sole command.
On the twenty-fifth the enemy attempted to set up a battery in front of the Alamo’s south gate. The defenders made a sally and killed some soldiers. After dark the enemy charged the north wall and were repulsed with musket shot and grape. A detachment of cavalry attempting to cross the river on a narrow bridge was blasted by the Alamo guns and a Mexican colonel, knocked into the water, nearly drowned.
During the first four days of the siege the defenders made sallies, burned huts near the walls, and fought the attackers hand to hand when necessary. But after February 26 they were hedged in by artillery; the bombardment let up at intervals, only to resume with increased fury.
Davy Crockett entertained the men with his fiddle; but he did not like to be penned up. “I think we had better march out of here and die in the open air,” he would say.
But if the main body of defenders was pinned down, couriers could still go in and out. Travis sent a rider to Goliad, but there Fannin was in no position to help anyone; on February 27 and March 2 the remnants of the Matamoros expedition were killed or captured at and near San Patricio. Travis also appealed to the colonists at Gonzales, and he had some success. On March 1 a band of thirty-two volunteers, some of them boys, somehow found their way into the Alamo.