Freedoms Worth Fighting For

1830 Map of Texas with parts of Adjoining States
Credit: Texas General Land Office
Stephen F. Austin, Map of Texas with parts of Adjoining States. Philadelphia: H. S. Tanner, 1830. Map #94440, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX. Map image courtesy of Frank and Carol Holcomb.

Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821 following 11 years of conflict. With independence achieved, Mexico struggled to find its own independent identity, first establishing a monarchy then a constitutional republic. The need to protect the northern frontier prompted the government to establish colonization laws that allowed colonists into Texas. Large groups of people moved to Texas, with the attraction of land and an opportunity to start over. People, such as Stephen F. Austin, helped to facilitate the arrival of immigrants to Texas by ways of colonies and land grants. Many of these colonists, along with the native population, enjoyed a semi-autonomous way of life far from the capital in Mexico.

The Texas colonists’ autonomy was challenged with the centralization of power in Mexico City. In 1833, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was elected President of Mexico. When he abolished the Constitution of 1824, it prompted a Mexican Civil War and the Texas independence movement. His political views would change from federalism to centralism, causing Mexico to fall into a civil war and Texas to seek its own independence. Laws changed curtailing the influx of immigrants as well as the autonomy that Texans had grown used to. Texas, with its lower population, was joined to the neighboring state of Coahuila, forming the state of Coahuila y Texas.

Revolution Breaks Out: Battle of Gonzales

On October 2, 1835, the Texas Revolution began as tension boiled over and shots were fired in the town of Gonzales.  The Mexican Army had been sent to recover a cannon that was loaned to the town for protection against aggressive native tribes.  Upon their arrival, 18 men stood on the opposite side of the river and refused to hand over the cannon.  The Mexican Army searched for a way to cross the river, but while searching were called back by the colonists to discuss the cannon.  

This time there were approximately 180 men on the other side of the river – outnumbering the Mexican Army force of 100 dragoons (mounted infantry).  The people of Gonzales once again refused to return the cannon, arguing that they were fighting to uphold the Constitution of 1824.

That night, the men of Gonzales crossed the river searching for the Mexican Army.  It was foggy and both defensive forces bumped into one another in the night. Both groups fell back to await daybreak. 

The following day, October 2, 1835, both groups met on the field of battle.  The Texans fired a shot at the Mexican Army, leading to the start of the Texas Revolution.  The Mexican Army retreated to arrange for a parlay.  Discussions did not lead to a resolution, and therefore the fighting continued.  The Mexican Army realized they were outnumbered and retreated to Bexar.

After this encounter, the Mexican Army returned to San Antonio without the cannon, which was seen as a victory for the Texan army.  Emboldened, Texan forces decided to follow and march to San Antonio as well.

Siege of Bexár Begins

Painting of Benjamin Mileham rallying volunteers to fight at the Seige of Bexar.
Credit: The Alamo Collection
This oil painting in the Alamo Collection depicts Texan Benjamin Milam rallying volunteers to fight at the Siege of Bexár. It was painted by Henry Arthur McArdle in 1901.

An army of Texan volunteers arrived in Mexican-occupied San Antonio de Bexár in late October, and began to lay siege to the town as a result of the Battle of Gonzales.  By mid-October, the volunteers had amassed to over 400, with individuals such as James Bowie, James Fannin, and Juan Seguin arriving on the outskirts of town. These men were under the command of Stephen F. Austin.

On October 28, 1835, as the Texan Army lay siege to San Antonio, a group of Texans and the Mexican Army clashed, at Mission Concepción. During the foggy morning skirmish, Bowie and Fannin led a group of Texans to victory over a detachment of 275 Mexican Army troops led by General Martín Perfecto de Cos. Once again the Mexican Army was defeated, with over 50 casualties and loss of a cannon.  

The Grass Fight

Mexican saber with engraving on the blade.
Credit: Phil Collins Texana Collection
This saber, dated circa 1822 and with an engraving of the Mexican eagle on the blade, would have been carried by a Mexican Cavalry officer.

On November 26, 1835, the Texan Army once again defeated the Mexican Army in the Grass Fight, a battle that involved the Texans thinking the Mexican Army was bringing the army payroll to San Antonio. Instead, the arriving troops were bringing grass/hay for the cavalry. With the arrival of winter and an ongoing siege, grass and hay were in short supply and had to brought in for the Mexican Cavalry.

Texans Prepare the Alamo for a Counter-Attack

Official genuine copy of Labastida’s map of the Alamo.
Mexican Army Colonel Labastida, Santa Anna’s chief engineer, made the original of this map of San Antonio de Bexár and the Alamo to show its defenses. This is a copy in Phil Collins Texana Collection.

With General Cos’ soldiers gone, but in expectation of a counter-attack, the Texans began to fortify both the Alamo and the town. The Texans worked to repair the Mexican constructed entrenchments and fortifications, and brought additional cannons to the site. Just after the Siege of Bexár and the Battle of the Alamo, the Alamo had over 30 cannons on site. Some were distributed to other locations in Texas to help prepare for ensuing clashes. Because San Antonio de Bexár was located on the main roads leading into Texas, it was of strategic importance in maintaining supply lines as well as communications. The Texans saw it was necessary to maintain it in order to protect the settlements located to the east.

Painting depicting Green B. Jameson pointing out fields of fire to Travis and Dickinson from Long Barracks roof during the Alamo siege.
Credit: The Alamo Collection
This imagined scene depicts Alamo engineer Green B. Jameson pointing out fields of fire to Travis and Dickinson from the Long Barrack's roof during the Alamo siege. The painting is by James Frazer (1951) and is part of the Alamo Collection.
12 pound carronade at the Alamo.
Credit: The Alamo Collection
This 12 pound gunade was discovered under the Gibbs Building, and was very likely used in the Battle of the Alamo, probably on the West Wall. General Santa Anna ordered it to be rendered unusable before his departure for San Jacinto. Today it is part of the Alamo Collection.

Siege of the Alamo: 13 Days Under Fire

Scan of receipt for 30 beeves signed by W. B. Travis, 1836.
Credit: Phil Collins Texana Collection
This handbill, dated February 23, 1836, is for 30 head of cattle received by William B. Travis from citizen Ignacio Perez for the consumption of the Alamo Garrison. Francisco Ruiz paid the outstanding debt on Travis’s behalf after his death at the Alamo. This document is now part of the Phil Collins Texana Collection.

Just as General Cos’ Army headed towards the Rio Grande to Mexico, General Santa Anna’s Army were marching north towards Texas, unbeknownst to the Texans. Their plan was to take back the town of Bexár and end the Texas Revolution once and for all.  

Santa Anna’s Army began to arrive in San Antonio de Bexár on February 23, 1836.  Their arrival prompted members of the Texan Army to enter the Alamo, which was by now heavily fortified.  

The Alamo had 18 serviceable cannons and approximately 150 men at the start of the siege.  As the Mexican Army arrived, a parlay was called by one of the two Alamo Commanders, James Bowie, a famous adventurer and knife fighter.  Green B. Jameson, chief engineer of the garrison met with Mexican officials. Santa Anna’s terms were surrender at discretion, meaning he would decide their fate.  The other Alamo Commander, 26-year-old William B. Travis answered with a cannon shot from the 18-pounder cannon.  The Siege of the Alamo had begun. Santa Anna ordered a red flag to be flown from San Fernando Church showing that no quarter would be given.  

On February 24, 1836, with the garrison surrounded and the Texan Army at the Alamo outnumbered, one of the most famous letters in American history was written by William B. Travis.  It was addressed, “To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World.”  This letter was a passionate plea for aid for the Alamo garrison.  He ended the letter “Victory or Death” – the only outcome this battle could have.  That letter left the Alamo and the siege continued.  
On March 1, 1836, 32 men from the town of Gonzales arrived to aid the Alamo. This brought the number of defenders up to almost 200 men.

On March 2, 1836, Texas declared its independence from Mexico.  

On March 3, 1836, courier James Butler Bonham arrived at the Alamo with word from Robert Williamson informing Travis help was on the way.  Unfortunately it would not arrive in time. 

On March 5, 1836, Santa Anna held a council of war, setting forth this plan for a four pronged attack of the garrison.

Battle of the Alamo

At dawn on March 6, 1836, the 13th day of the siege, the Battle of the Alamo commenced. Fighting lasted roughly 90 minutes, and by daybreak all the Defenders had perished, including a former congressman from Tennessee, David Crockett. The loss of the garrison was felt all over Texas, and even the world. The Defenders were from many different countries, including some Defenders who were native-born Mexicans. Following the battle, Santa Anna ordered the Defender’s remains burned.  

See the 1836 battlefield then and now with the Alamo’s Digital Battlefield Visualizations.

Discover profiles of every brave Defender who perished at the Alamo.

Gold ring with "cat's eye" banded agate.
Credit: The Alamo Collection
A gold ring that once belonged to Alamo Defender William B. Travis. It is said that he gave it gave to Angelina Dickenson during the Alamo siege. Today it is part of the Alamo Collection.
Painting by Jose Arpa (1923) titled “The Funeral Pyre after the Fall of the Alamo”.
Credit: The Alamo Collection
This painting, "The Funeral Pyre after the Fall of the Alamo" by Jose Arpa (1923) depicts what the funeral pyres at the Alamo may have looked like. The painting is part of the Alamo Collection.

Battle of Coleto Creek at Goliad

Letter from Goliad commander José Nicolás de la Portilla to General José de Urrea, March 27, 1836.
Credit: Phil Collins Texana Collection
This letter, dated March 27, 1836, is one of two letters from Goliad commander José Nicolás de la Portilla to General José de Urrea that are now part of the Phil Collins Texana Collection. One letter alerts Urrea that Portilla has carried out the orders of Santa Anna to execute all prisoners. Another letter records Portilla's apprehension with Santa Anna's orders.

The defeat of the Alamo garrison was not the last significant loss of the Texas Revolution. On March 19-20, 1836, the Texan Army under James Walker Fannin engaged the Mexican Army under General Jose Urrea outside the town of Goliad at the battle of Coleto Creek. Fannin surrendered and he and his men were marched back the Presidio La Bahia. On March 27, 1836, Fannin and over 300 of his men were executed.  This prompted the people of Texas to begin fleeing towards Louisiana. 

Battle of San Jacinto

Gold Snuff Box Presented to Sam Houston by Santa Anna
Credit: The Alamo Collection
This gold snuff box, which is part of the Alamo Collection, was presented to Houston by Santa Anna after the battle of San Jacinto.

As they fled, General Sam Houston marched with the Texan Army behind the fleeing civilians.  Santa Anna left the Alamo at the end of March in search of the provisional government of Texas, which had been meeting at Washington on the Brazos and had declared Texas Independence, with a new constitution signed by delegates between March 1 and 17, 1836.  On April 21, 1836, the Texan Army under Sam Houston attacked Santa Anna’s army on the banks of the San Jacinto River with cries of “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad! God and Texas!” The battle lasted only 18 minutes and was a resounding victory for the Texans.

A Revolution Won: A Republic Born

Broadside declaring independence for Texas.
Credit: Phil Collins Texana Collection
This broadside, which is part of the Phil Collins Texana Collection, includes three orders by Santa Anna for the Mexican army to fall back, which were written while he was as prisoner of war. Also included are orders to the Texan forces from Thomas Rusk, Samuel Houston, and Thomas Green.

The following day, Santa Anna was captured and brought to Sam Houston.  An agreement was made and the Republic of Texas was born. The Texas Revolution, while short, would change the course of U.S. and world history.