Texas Revolution: 1835-1836
San Antonio experienced two sieges and battles during the Texas Revolution.
The first, the Siege and Battle of Béxar, began in late October 1835 after the incident in Gonzales when angry colonists and Tejanos followed the retreating Alamo Company back to San Antonio in the early stage of the revolution. When the Texian siege of the town stalled, soldier and empresario Ben Milam rallied a force on December 5 that fought its way into the center of San Antonio. After a bloody five-day, house-to-house fight, the Texians took control of the town and Mexican General Martin Perfecto de Cos surrendered the town and the public property it held. Thus, the rebels gained control of San Antonio and the Alamo.
On February 23, 1836, after a grueling winter march, General Antonio López de Santa Anna and his army arrived at San Antonio to put down the frontier rebellion. The Texian rebels withdrew across the San Antonio River into the safety of the old fortified mission known as the Alamo. As Mexican forces surrounded the Alamo, Santa Anna raised the red flag indicating that no quarter would be given to the traitors inside the mission. Alamo commander William Barret Travis began writing desperate pleas for help, including the famous “Victory or Death” letter sent out on February 24.
While the Alamo was under siege, the provisional Texas government organized at Washington-on-the-Brazos. On March 2, the convention declared independence and the Republic of Texas was born, at least on paper. The Alamo’s garrison showed its support for independence from Mexico by sending its own delegates to the convention.
While they were unaware that Texas had declared independence, the roughly 200 Alamo defenders stayed at their post waiting on help from the settlements. Among them were lawyers, doctors, farmers and a former congressman and famous frontiersman from Tennessee named David Crockett. While the youngest was 16 and the oldest defender was Gordon C. Jennings, age 56, most defenders were in their twenties. Most were Anglo, but there were a handful of native Tejano defenders as well. Legendary knife fighter and land speculator James Bowie was in command before falling ill and sharing duties with Travis.
Several women and children were inside the Alamo, including 15-month-old Angelina Dickinson. Just before the final battle, Travis placed his ring around her neck, knowing she would likely be spared. One of the last messages from the Alamo was a note from Travis asking friends to take care of his young son Charles.
The final attack came before dawn on March 6, 1836. As Mexican troops charged toward the Alamo in the pre-dawn darkness, defenders rushed to the walls and fired into the darkness. Travis raced to the north wall but was soon killed. Bowie was most likely killed in his bed, while reports differ as to Crockett’s death. Many believe Crockett survived the initial attack but was put to death by Mexican soldiers soon afterward.
Mexican soldiers breached the north wall and flooded into the compound. The fierce battle centered on the old church, where defenders made a last stand. The battle lasted about 90 minutes.
After the battle – which Santa Anna described as a “small affair” – Mexican troops continued their march to the Texian settlements while rebel forces retreated toward Louisiana.
By April 21, Texian General Sam Houston noticed Santa Anna had split his forces and backed himself into a corner along Buffalo Bayou near present-day Houston. Houston seized the opportunity and attacked, surprising the larger Mexican force. In a bloody, 18 minute battle, Texian forces defeated the Mexican troops, captured Santa Anna and achieved independence to the cries of “Remember the Alamo!”
Upon the signing of the Treaty of Velasco on May 14, 1836 the revolution was over and the Republic of Texas began in earnest. However, the conflict between Texas and Mexico would continue for the next 10 years.
After two sieges and a bloody battle, many buildings in the Alamo mission compound were damaged, burnt or pockmarked by heavy cannonade. Before he marched east in pursuit of Houston’s small army, Santa Anna assigned Colonel Juan José Andrade and his troops the task of repairing and occupying the Alamo. The Mexican Army maintained control of San Antonio until May 1836. That month the soldiers of the Mexican garrison received orders to demolish the Alamo before they withdrew. They knocked down some of the outer walls of the compound, including the log wall known as Crockett's Palisade, so it could not be easily refortified by the Texians.
Many of the wounded Mexican soldiers had been housed in San Antonio following the battle. Several Texian doctors captured with Fannin's command were sent to San Antonio to help tend Santa Anna's wounded, who were then evacuated in May and June during the withdrawal.
Texian forces under Captain Juan N. Seguín entered San Antonio on June 4, 1836. Seguín reported that 18 Mexican soldiers, under the command of Lieutenant Don Francisco Castañada, were present when he entered the town. Relations between the two groups were peaceful and Castañada and his men withdrew two days later. The Texians evacuated the town several weeks later once it became clear that the new government was unable to send reinforcements.