The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas

“THERMOPYLIE HAD HER MESSENGER OF DEFEAT: THE ALAMO HAD NONE ”

Early in the eighteenth century the Spaniards built in Texas, then a part of Mexico, a number of staunch structures that were designed to serve not only as chapels but also as fortresses. The mission that at length became known as the Alamo was first built on the Rio Grande in 1710, and during the next forty-seven years was rebuilt four times in a new location, before it was given a final resting-place at San Antonio, on the banks of the Alazan River. There it was called Alamo, or Poplar Church. Though the Alamo was begun in 1744, it was not completed until 1757.

For nearly eighty years there was nothing specially notable about the building. Then came the events that made the name famous.

In 1832 Sam Houston was sent to Texas by President Jackson to arrange treaties with the Indians for the protection of settlers on the border. Just at this time settlers in Texas, which was then a part of the state of Coahuila, were seeking equal privileges with the other Mexican states. Most of the settlers had come from the United States, and they hoped that in time Texas might become a part of that country.

On February 13, 1833, Houston wrote to President Jackson that the time was ripe for getting hold of the country. Less than three months later he was asked to serve as a delegate to a constitutional convention, which demanded from Mexico the organization of the territory into states, and was made the chairman of the committee which drew up for the proposed states a constitution based on that of the United States. Stephen F. Austin, who has been called ” The Father of Texas,” went to Mexico City with the petition. But he was imprisoned, and the request of Texas was denied by Santa Anna, president of Mexico.

Later, when the colonists attempted to defend themselves against the Indians and other lawbreakers, the demand was made that they give up their arms.

The organization of a provincial government followed in 1834, and Houston was chosen commander-in-chief of the army. The brief war with Mexico was marked by a number of heroic events, chief of which was the defence of the Alamo, where a small force of Texans resisted more than ten times the number of Mexicans.

When the army of Santa Anna approached San Antonio, on February 22, 1836, one hundred and forty-five men, under the leadership of Colonel James Bowie and Lieutenant-Colonel William B. Travis, retired with-in the church fortress. For nearly two weeks these heroic men defended themselves, and the enemy did not gain entrance until every one of them was killed.

The details of the heroic struggle were not known until 1860, when Captain R. M. Potter printed an account in the San Antonio Herald, in which he had patiently pieced together the reports that came to him through those whom he regarded most dependable among the besiegers, and from one who was an officer in the garrison until within a few days of the assault.

Within the walls a well had been dug on the very day the Mexican Army entered the town. Thus a plentiful supply of water supplemented the store of meat and corn for the defenders.

A message sent out by Colonel Travis on the night of March 3 told of the events of the first days of the siege:

” With a hundred and forty-five men I have held this place ten days against a force variously estimated from 1,500 to 6,000, and I shall continue to hold it till I get relief from my countrymen, or I will perish in the at-tempt. We have had a shower of bombs and cannon-balls continually falling among us the whole time, yet none of us have fallen.”

Santa Anna led a final assault on March 6. Scaling ladders, axes, and fascines were to be in the hands of designated men. Five columns were to approach the wall just at daybreak.

At the first onset Colonel Travis was killed and breaches were made in the walls. The outer walls and batteries were abandoned, and the defenders retired to the different rooms within.

” From the doors, windows, and loopholes of the several rooms around the area the crack of the rifle and the hiss of the bullet came fierce and fast; as fast the enemy fell and recoiled in his first efforts to charge. The gun beside which Travis fell was now turned against the buildings, as were also some others, and shot after shot was sent crashing through the doors and barricades of the several rooms. Each ball was followed by a storm of musketry and a charge; and thus room after room was carried at the point of the bayonet, when all within them had died fighting to the last. The struggle was made up of a number of separate and desperate combats, often hand to hand, between squads of the garrison and bodies of the enemy. The bloodiest spot about the fort was the long barrack and the ground in front of it, where the enemy fell in heaps.”

David Crockett was among those who were killed in one of the rooms. He had joined the defenders a few days before the beginning of the siege.

The chapel was the last point taken. “Once the enemy in possession of the large area, the guns could be turned to fire into the door of the church, only from fifty to a hundred yards off. The inmates of the last strong-hold fought to the last, and continued to fire down from the upper works after the enemy occupied the floor. Towards the close of the struggle Lieutenant Dickenson, with his child in his arms, or, as some accounts say, tied to his back, leaped from the east embrasure of the chapel, and both were shot in the act. Of those he left behind him the bayonet soon gleaned what the bullet had left; and in the upper part of that edifice the last defender must have fallen.”

This final assault lasted only thirty minutes. In that time the defenders of Texas won immortal fame. Four days before, the Republic of Texas had been proclaimed. Those who fell in the Alamo were hailed the heroes of the struggle. ” Remember the Alamo ! ” was the battle cry of the war for independence that was waged until the Mexican Army was routed at San Jacinto, April 21, 1836.

On the capitol grounds at Austin, Texas, stands a monument to the heroes of the Alamo, with the inscription : ” Thermopylae had her messenger of defeat; the Alamo had none.”