March 5, 1845: Mexican Forces Massacre Defenders At The Alamo
In 1836 Mexican President Lopez de Santa Anna decides the time has come to take back territory in the state of Coahuila y Tejas then occupied by Americans who cast themselves as “Texians.” His campaign begins with a brutal massacre of some 285 of their settlers garrisoned at the Alamo Mission in the town of San Antonio de Bexar. It then spins out of control, leading gradually but inexorably to the 1846 war between Mexico and America.
The Americans first appear on the land in 1819 after the government of Spain issues an “empressario grant” to one Moses Austin, a St. Louis businessman, who intends to create an Anglo colony to facilitate free trading between the two nations. But after Moses dies in 1821 and Mexico wins its independence from Spain, the grant passes to Moses’s son, Stephen Austin.
From there the population of Texians grows to 38,000 as of 1836, along with 5,000 slaves imported to grow cotton and sugar, the economic lifeblood of the settlers. While slavery is officially banned in the Mexican Constitution, the Texians try to circumvent the law by titling the blacks “indentured servants.”
Fearing that control over the state of Tejas is slipping away, Santa Anna assembles an army to drive the Americans off the land. His initial focus lies on taking back two fortified missions, one at The Alamo in San Antonio de Bexar, the other at Goliad, some 87 miles to the southeast.
The Alamo mission is in poor shape to defend itself. Structurally it is designed to hold off bands of Indians, not an army of 1800 troops, armed with cannons. Conditions are so bad in fact that, in mid-January, Commander Sam Houston sends Jim Bowie to retrieve all artillery and abandon the site. But lacking the needed draft animals for transport, Bowie and Lt. Colonel William Travis decide to try to hold out. They request reinforcements, and a few arrive, including ex-US Congressman, Davey Crockett. These bring his total troop count to roughly 285 men.
On March 5 Santa Anna surrounds the mission, hauls up a red flag signaling that he intends to take no prisoners, and launches his attack at 5:30am. The battle lasts for roughly one hour, with the Texians falling back from their outer walls into final defensive positions around the central barracks and church. But they are desperately outnumbered and finally succumb. The Mexicans then execute the remaining wounded before stacking and burning all of the bodies.
Three weeks later the scenario is repeated when another 300 Americans surrender at the town of Victoria before being marched back to the Goliad Mission before being executed by firing squads in the town square.
Ironically, Santa Anna’s triumphs quickly backfire on him as the remaining Texians regroup behind Sam Houston, defeat the Mexican army on April 21, 1836, at the Battle of San Jacinto, and declare their status as the Republic of Texas.