The Fall of the Alamo
By Steve Goldman, NCSA Member #9
Most Americans are familiar with the battle cry "Remember the Alamo." This has come to be a rallying cry for people to come together with a common goal of avenging past injustices. The Alamo was burned into American consciousness over 150 years ago in the town of San Antonio, then located in the Mexican province of Texas.
In 1835 the Anglo-American colonists in the Mexican province of Texas revolted against Mexican rule. They intended to separate Texas from Mexico and establish an independent Republic of Texas; however, the Mexican Central Government had other ideas. An expeditionary force of 6000 plus soldiers, led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, was sent to put down the rebellion and throw the American colonists out of Texas.
A force of 145 American (Texan) rebels, commanded by William Travis and James Bowie, gathered in the town of San Antonio. On February 23, 1836, General Santa Anna's army appeared on the out-skirts of San Antonio and the Texas rebels retreated into the stout-walled Alamo Mission within the town. Santa Anna demanded surrender. The Texans answered with a cannon shot, signaling defiance. Couriers rode out of the Alamo racing through Mexican lines with messages calling on all Texans to come aid them in this great struggle. The message from William Travis read in part: "... I have sustained a continued bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man... Our flag still proudly waves from the wall. I shall never surrender or retreat... VICTORY OR DEATH."
Reinforcements were few and far between and by the eighth day of the siege the number of fighters in the Alamo numbered only 187. The siege went on for 13 days. At 4 a.m. on the morning of March 6, 1836, the Mexicans led by Santa Anna stormed the Alamo. With bugles sounding the "Deguello" (signaling no quarter to the defenders) the Mexican troops attacked the adobe walls from all four sides. The first and second assaults were broken up. On the third try the Mexican soldiers breached the walls and a fierce battle ensued. The defenders fought fiercely from building to building and room to room but by 8 a.m. all 187 of the Texas troops were dead. This included such notables as Jim Bowie, William Travis, James Bonham and David Crockett. The cost for the Mexicans was high, as well over 1500 men were lost in the battle.
The first effect of the massacre was to sow panic throughout Texas among the Anglos. The Anglo civil population as well as the rebel government fled eastwards towards U.S. soil. Six weeks later, however, an army of Texas rebels, led by Sam Houston, defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto. Houston rallied his men before the battle with an impassioned speech to "Remember the Alamo." This defeat of Santa Anna at San Jacinto established the independence of the Texas Republic.
News of the Fall of the Alamo was slow in reaching the outside world. Even though all of the Alamo's defenders were killed on March 6, 1836, a small group of women, children, and slaves were spared by General Santa Anna. Principle among them were Susan Dickinson, wife of slain defender Almeron Dickinson. She was released on March 11 and instructed by Santa Anna to travel by foot back to the Texas colonists at Gonzales. Once there she was told to spread the word -- resistance was hopeless and Texas must succumb to Mexican rules once again. By noon of March 13, Mrs. Dickinson was 20 miles from Gonzales when she met up with a Texan scouting party lead by "Deaf" Smith. The party was riding out from Gonzales to check on the Alamo and its defenders. Mrs. Dickinson gave the bare details where upon a scout named Henry Karnes dashed back to Gonzales to tell the others the bad news.
At Gonzales the news came as no surprise. On the evening of March 11 two Mexicans who lived near San Antonio turned up in town with the appalling news of the Fall of the Alamo. Even though they were not personally present at the massacre they were told of it by a Mexican friend who was nearby. At the time Sam Houston was unsure of whether or not to believe this second-hand report. However, that evening of the 13th when Mrs. Dickinson arrived, she confirmed the news and gave Houston a complete and detailed account of the Alamo's fate.
The first newspaper account of the Fall of the Alamo was in the Telegraph and Evening Register of March 17, 1836. The full details including the names of the dead were printed in the next issue, that of March 24, 1836.
The Telegraph and Texas Register was first issued at San Felipe de Austin on October 10, 1835. It was established by Gail Borden, Jr., Thomas H. Borden, and Joseph Baker. The Telegraph was published at San Felipe from October 10, 1835 through March 24, 1836. With the Mexican invasion, the publisher fled with their press to Harrisburg, Texas where they published one issue, that of April 14, 1836. As the first issues of that date were being printed, Mexican forces arrived in Harrisburg and threw the printing press into the local stream, Buffalo Bayou. The Borden's, however, escaped. Gail Borden traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he purchased a new press. On August 1, 1836 the Telegraph was once again in print. Publication continued in Columbia from August 1, 1836 through April 11, 1837 when once again it moved -- this time to Houston.
From initial reports in the Telegraph and Texas Register of March 17, 1836, the news of the Alamo spread throughout the country reaching the east coast newspapers during the second week of April. The eastern press headlined the news with large column heads: "IMPORTANT FROM TEXAS -- FALL OF SAN ANTONIO AND MASSACRE OF THE TEXIAN (sic) TROOPS." These sort of headlines crystallized support for the Texas settlers and helped contribute to further aid in establishing Texas as a Republic.