When it comes to writing the history of the Battle at the Alamo, personal exaggerations, self role embellishments, political-social-religious-ethnic-racial factors created a larger than life and outright erroneous depiction of the 1835-1836 Texas Revolution and Battle at the Alamo.
Contrary to what was written and taught for the first 100 years, the Texas Revolution of 1835-1836 was not an ethnic struggle of Anglos versus Mexicans, or Protestants versus Catholics. The Revolution started as Federalists (supporters of the Mexican Constitution of 1824) versus Centralists (supporters of President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s dictatorship). The residents of Coahuila y Tejas rebelled against the Presidency of Santa Anna for doing away with the Constitution of 1824. In other words, the Coahuiltejanos favored states’ rights and rebelled under the Mexican flag with 1824 stamped on the center white panel.
Stephen F. Austin’s “People’s Federalist Army of Texas” was composed of Anglo American colonists and Tejanos rebelling against Santa Anna’s Centralist government and supported Texas becoming an independent state of the Republic of Mexico. The recently arrived legal and illegal U. S. colonists and individuals favored immediate annexation to the United States and in December 1835, removed Austin as commander of the rebel army and under escort sent him to the United States. Command of the rebel army was given first to Edward Burleson and later to Sam Houston both being pro-U.S. annexationists. Thus from mid-December 1835, the federalist uprising became an annexationist U.S. invasion with hundreds of “U. S. volunteers” entering Texas wearing their respective state militia uniforms, weapons and flags.
By mid January 1836, Texas politics was divided among people who were Federalists (fighting for Mexican state rights under the Constitution of 1824), Centralist (supporters of Santa Anna’s dictatorship), Annexationists (favoring immediate annexation to the U. S.) and a handful of Republicans (favoring an independent Republic of Texas free of both Mexico and the U.S.). Tejanos and Anglo American colonists could be found in all political factions but were rapidly outnumbered by the recently arrived non-residents and military volunteer annexationists.
In mid January 1836, Colonel James Neill was in command of 150 able-bodied men and some “50 or 60 sick and wounded at the Alamo hospital.” Thus when Colonel James Bowie arrived to take over command of the Alamo Garrison, he had approximately 212 men at Bexar. Bowie had been ordered by Houston to destroy all fortifications at Bexar and retreat towards Gonzales. Texas. He refused and chose to stay and defend San Antonio. Houston then dispatched Colonel William Barret Travis to replace Bowie and abandon the Alamo City. Travis arrived with some 27 men bringing the total of rebels at Bexar to some 240 men more or less.
Former U. S. Congressman David Crockett, who from Nacogdoches had written his son Robert he was in Texas hunting bear, arrived in San Antonio in mid February 1836 with some two or three companions. The number of rebels at Bexar did not change as couriers were constantly being sent to Commander-in-Chief Houston and Colonel James Fannin at Goliad asking for provisions and reinforcements. In time, approximately 27 volunteers from the Gonzalez area arrived at Bexar bringing the total of rebels at Bexar to some 270 men. Only 189 Alamo defenders have been identified to date.
Countless Tejanos who entered the Alamo under Captain Juan N. Seguin are unaccounted for, as are an untold number of San Antonio residents who took refuge at the Alamo when the Mexican forces arrived.
The Mexican force that arrived at Bexar on February 24, 1836, was composed of the Vanguard Brigade under General Joaquin Ramirez y Sesma. On paper, the unit numbered 1500 men when last counted in Saltillo the previous December. Since then, the unit had suffered losses caused by desertions and an unexpected blizzard that left over 36 inches of snow between Monclova, Coahuila and the Frio River in Texas. Brigadier General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and his 50 man (non-combatant) escort accompanied the Vanguard Brigade. Instead of using any of the established trails of the Caminos Real, the force had used the “Smugglers’ Trail” to avoid detection by the Tejano spies posted by Captain Seguin on the Nueces, Leona and Frio river crossings. It was not until arriving at the Medina River on February 22nd (at present Castroville) that a Tejano named Menchaca encountered the Mexican force.
The siege of the Alamo began February 24 and Santa Anna quickly ordered General Gaona for additional men. Gaona sent 1,000 men of which only 800 were combatants. The assault on the Alamo on March 6 was composed of some 1,100 Mexican infantrymen with the Vanguard Brigade guarding and patrolling the Caminos Real north and east of the city. Mexican casualties numbered some 550 men killed in battle or dying from wounds thereafter.
At least four Anglo American Alamo Defenders managed to escape and were recorded as notifying the people of Nacogdoches the Alamo had fallen. Meanwhile, Brigido Guerrero of Seguin’s Company survived the battle by claiming to have been a prisoner. He was released and in the 1860s received a pension and land grant from the State of Texas as the only known and documented Alamo defender survivor. Hence it is not true that no Alamo defender survived the battle.
In 1986, 120 years after the battle at the Alamo, Texian Press released Santa Anna’s “Campaign Against Texas.” The book was an annotated translation of the field commands of Santa Anan but for the first time relied on actual documents to tell the true story of the Texas Revolution and Battle at the Alamo. The book was considered highly controversial as it went against the school taught version and John Wayne movie on the Alamo. The book was reprinted in 1981 and by that time it had become part of the required reading at West Point and the U. S. Military College of War. Thereafter the history books, articles, TV programs and movies regarding the battle began to change. Yet today there are still some who prefer the myth and legends a la John Wayne version of the battle that began 176 years ago this week.
Richard G. Santos is an international research historian and retired university professor who lives in Pearsall, Texas.[Photo By Elizabeth Thomsen]