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Fast Facts – The Alamo

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What was the Alamo?

When people say “the Alamo,” they are usually referring to the Alamo Mission, where the famed Battle of the Alamo took place in 1836. This battle was a key turning point in the Texas Revolution, many of the events of which have since become legendary. The Alamo itself was a repurposed Spanish colonial mission, and was never meant to be used as a military fortress. Today, it is a museum and probably the biggest tourist attraction in all of Texas.

What was the Texas Revolution?

In the early nineteenth century, the present-day state of Texas (then called Tejas) belonged to the nation of Mexico. It had an unusual number of settlers and immigrants from the United States living there, and the region reacted badly when Mexican President and General Antonio López de Santa Anna changed the entire Mexican constitution. This decision was so unpopular that Santa Anna found himself with several separatist movements on his hands throughout the Mexican territories, including one in Tejas. After many heated battles such as the one at the Alamo, Santa Anna was eventually defeated, and the Republic of Texas was officially made independent of Mexico.

Who was Santa Anna?

Antonio López de Santa Anna was a Mexican general who became a national hero during his involvement in Mexico’s victorious revolution against Spain. Once elected President of Mexico, however, he made some unpopular decisions that led him to war once more (notably replacing a more liberal constitution with a centralist one that consolidated more power into his own hands and that of the Roman Catholic Church). He was known as a stern and effective general, but the ruthlessness he showed at the Battle of the Alamo came back to bite him when the Texians, driven by revenge, responded with even greater force and passion.

Who were the Texians?

Citizens of the current U.S. state of Texas are called “Texans,” but in the nineteenth century, settlers of the area were usually referred to as “Texians.” Most Texians were white immigrants from the United States, many of whom brought their slaves and Anglo-centric culture with them. The garrison that was massacred at the Battle of the Alamo was made up almost entirely of Texians and Tejanos (hispanics living in the then-Mexican state of Tejas).

What happened at the Battle of the Alamo?

Some of the events that occurred at the Alamo will always be shrouded in mystery, but perhaps the most important aspect was the fact that every single Texian defender was killed without mercy. Both armies suffered from a certain amount of disorganization and a lack of training, but the Texians were outnumbered by as much as 8 to 1. The Texians also had low provisions and only a few cannons against Santa Anna’s superior firepower. The battle was a slaughter marked by misinformation, panicking soldiers, and bad luck. The Mexican soldiers took heavy casualties but managed to swarm the walls, and under Santa Anna’s orders, the entire garrison was slain to a man. Only a handful of women, children, and slaves were left alive from the compound.

How many people died at the Battle of the Alamo?

There is some disagreement between various historians, but most accounts settle at about 400-600 Mexicans and 182-275 Texians having died. Santa Anna famously had every enemy combatant killed, but his own troops had also taken improbably heavy casualties. There were even a few American folk heroes among the dead, figures like James Bowie and Davy Crockett.

Who were James Bowie and Davy Crockett?

James Bowie was an American soldier and trader who gained widespread fame due to his fighting prowess, based on both real and fictional accounts. He often favored a type of large knife, which is now called the Bowie knife in his honor. He was a charismatic figure who was named a commander by the garrison at the Alamo, although he was soon to fall ill and later be slain in his bed by Mexican troops as they stormed the compound. Davy Crockett was even more famous, a legendary frontiersman whose memory is surrounded by great deeds both accurate and exaggerated. No one can be sure what happened, but it is said that he died at the Alamo beating back dozens of Mexican soldiers with the butt of his rifle. The loss of two such folk heroes as these only served to fuel the anger of the Texians against Santa Anna.

What was the ultimate effect of the Battle of the Alamo?

Santa Anna had crushed the defenders at the Alamo Mission, but because he had killed them all and taken no prisoners, it invigorated other Texians and sympathetic United States citizens to fight even harder against him. Many historians believe that not nearly as many people would have joined the Texas Revolution had the events at the Alamo been a more normal battle. As it was, the defenders of the Alamo were passed into legend as martyrs, and Texian forces defeated Santa Anna within the same year and established an independent republic (during the Battle of San Jacinto, where they found victory, Texian soldiers were heard to shout “Remember the Alamo!”). The Republic of Texas would only last a decade, however, before the onset of the Mexican-American War in 1846, during which everything about the area was going to change.

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