It Was Not About Texan Independence
Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821. Texas (called Tejas) was part of Mexico. In 1824, Mexico’s leaders wrote a federalist constitution, like the United States already had and thousands of people from the U.S. moved into the region.
The new migrants brought slavery with them, and in 1829, the Mexican government outlawed slavery. By 1835, there were 30,000 Anglo-Americans (called Texians) in Texas, and only 7,800 Texas-Mexicans (Tejanos).
In 1832, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna took control of the Mexican government, and annulled the constitution to set up centralist control. Texians and Tejanos wanted the federalist constitution back, others wanted centralist control to be based in Mexico and that was the main basis for the turmoil in Texas, not independence.
Sun Tzu said ‘If your opponent is of choleric temper, irritate him.’ The Alamo issue irritated Santa Anna who had a temper and felt he must show the rebels that Texas will remain with Mexico.
After San Antonio was captured by rebel Texans in December 1835. General Sam Houston felt that holding San Antonio was impossible and unnecessary, as most of the settlements of the rebellious Texans were far to the east. So Houston sent Jim Bowie to San Antonio with orders were to destroy the Alamo and return with all of the men and artillery stationed there. But whilst there he saw the Alamo defences and decided to ignore Houston’s orders, convinced of the need to defend the city of San Antonio.
Defenders of The Alamo
The commander of the Alamo was James Neill who left because of family issues, leaving the inexperienced in battle Lt. Colonel William Travis in charge and we must remember half of the men there were not enlisted soldiers, but volunteers who could come, go and do as they please and most of these men only listened to Jim Bowie, who disliked Travis very much and often refused to follow his orders. Once they saw the advance of a common enemy (the Mexican army), the arrival of the charismatic and Davy Crockett eased the tension between Travis and Bowie.
Santa Anna’s army arrived in San Antonio in late February 1836. With the Mexican army on their doorstep, the Texan defenders retreated to the fortified Alamo. At first, Santa Anna made no attempt to seal the exits from the Alamo and the town giving the defenders the chance to slip away in the night if they so wished but they remained, trusting their defensive capabilities and their skill with their long rifles.
Sun Tzu said ‘When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard’.
Mexican forces maybe were giving a chance for the Texans to leave in peace but we should remember sometimes fleeing soldiers can be killed more easily than those who, with their backs to a wall, are forced to fight to the death which was in the case of the defenders of The Alamo.
European Armies from Roman and Greek armies and others up toWorld War One – the phalanx formations were devised to make the other side flee and which made the winning side kill from behind much easier. Which is exactly how Hannibal defeated the Romans. It is possible that leaders of The Alamo thought this is what the Mexicans would do. But we don’t know.
Reinforcements Were NOT on the Way
Lieutenant Travis repeatedly sent requests to Colonel James Fannin in Goliad (approx 90 miles to the east) for reinforcements and believed that Fannin would come. As the siege commenced, the defenders of the Alamo looked for Fannin and his troops, but they never came. Fannin decided that the logistics of reaching the Alamo in time were next to impossible, and his 300 or so men would not make a difference against the Mexican army and its 2,000 soldiers.
Mexicans Also Defended The Alamo
It wasn’t just migrants and refugees to Texas who rose up against Mexico along with them there were native Texans – Mexicans referred to as Tejanos—who joined the movement and fought alongside their Anglo companions.
Of the 187 men in Travis’s forces who died were 13 native-born Texans, 11 of Mexican descent. 41 Europeans, two Jews, two African Americans, and the rest were migrant Americans from states in the United States. Santa Anna’s forces included a mix of former Spanish citizens, Spanish-Mexican criollos, mestizos, and indigenous men sent from the interior of Mexico.
It was not about Independence initially
Some defenders of the Alamo believed in independence for Texas, yet their leaders had not declared independence from Mexico. Only on March 2, 1836, delegates meeting in Washington-on-the-Brazos formally declared independence from Mexico but, the Alamo had been under siege for days, and it fell on March 6, with the defenders never knowing that Independence had been formally declared a few days before. Texas declared itself an independent republic in 1836 but was not recognised by the Mexican nation until the signing of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848.
Davy Crockett was a former US Congressman, and the highest-profile defender to fall at the Alamo. Crockett’s fate is unclear but according to Jose Enrique de la Pefia, one of Santa Anna’s officers they held a handful of prisoners, including Crockett, were taken after the battle and executed. Whether Davy Crockett fell in battle or was captured and executed, Crockett certainly did fought bravely and did not survive the Battle of the Alamo.
Not everyone in the fort was killed
Survivors included women, children, servants, and slaves. Among them Susanna W. Dickinson, widow of Capt Almeron D and her infant daughter Angelina. Dickinson reported the fall of the post to Sam Houston in Gonzales.
Santa Anna won the Battle of the Alamo but lost the War
Around 600 Mexican soldiers died in the battle, compared to around 200 Texans. And in the defence of the Alamo caused many more rebels to join the Texan rebels. And in the end, he lost the war, going down in defeat within six weeks.
Sun Tzu said ‘The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.’ If Santa Anna concentrated on seeking a peaceful resolution to what was happening in Texas – Texas may have stayed with Mexico or at least split – but the ego of Santa Anna lost Texas and encouraged many to join the Texans in their fight for independence.
Also, Santa Anna read up on Napoleonic biographies collected Napoleonic artifacts. Portraits of the French emperor were on the walls of his estates, and his military regiments sported uniforms inspired by the French.
A portrait of Napoleon riding heroically ahead of his troops was his favourite painting and so Santa Anna decided to also lead his troops from the front, and he mimicked his hero’s tactics, even making his troops march in the same manner as Napoleon’s army, down to the precise inch. When Santa Anna sought to mirror Napoleon’s sweep across Europe in his offensive against the Texas rebels in 1836, however, he encountered the same disastrous fate suffered by his idol in his Russian campaign of 1812.
This ‘Napoleon Complex’ may have made him successful but was also his undoing with the Texans.
Some Rebels Snuck into the Alamo
Some 32 men from the town of Gonzales made their way through enemy lines to reinforce the defenders of the Alamo. On March 3rd, James Butler Bonham, who had been sent out by Travis with a call for reinforcements also sneaked back into the Alamo with his message delivered. Bonham and the men from Gonzales all died during the Battle of the Alamo.
Remember the Alamo!
After the Alamo battle, the soldiers under Sam Houston’s command were the only obstacle between Santa Anna’s attempt to force Texas back into Mexico. But Houston was indecisive, as he lacked a clear plan to engage the Mexican army, still, he met Santa Anna at San Jacinto on April 21st, overtaking his forces and capturing him as he retreated south. And it was Houston’s men who first shouted: “Remember the Alamo!“
It was not the 1890s that two women, Adina De Zavala and Clara Driscoll, worked together to preserve the Alamo. They and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas started a movement to rebuild the monument which laid in ruins since the war of Texan independence.