ADVANCED PLACEMENT AMERICAN HISTORY

Remember the Alamo!

 

*During Jackson’s presidency, the expansion of the West was proceeding with such alacrity that it outpaced the borders of the United States, but at first these settlers were welcome in their new homes. 

 

*As Spain was losing its grip on Mexico in the late 1810s, she was still working to settle it by encouraging immigrants from America to move there and settle in Texas.  After Mexico won its independence from Spain, she had continued that policy.

*The first major land grant was given to Moses Austin, who died (after being beaten by highwaymen) shortly afterwards, leaving the right to bring settlers to Mexico to his son, Stephen Fuller Austin.  He ultimately recruited 297 families (‘The Old Three Hundred’) to move to the Bravos River region of the province of Texas in the newly independent Republic of Mexico.

 

*There were many benefits to moving to Mexico:  land was cheap (12½¢ per acre, 10% the going price for similar land in the US), immigrants were exempt from property taxes for ten years, and did not have to pay customs duties for seven years. 

 

*There was also a price:  immigrants had to become Mexican citizens, convert to Catholicism, learn Spanish, and leave their slaves behind—and in 1829 the Republic of Mexico outlawed slavery outright (although Texans were given an extra year to free their slaves). 

*At first, this seemed like a good deal for everyone.  However, American-Texans soon outnumbered Mexican-Texans (many of whom had also recently moved there).  Although they accepted Mexican citizenship, most did not convert to Catholicism or adopt a Spanish culture, nor were they willing to give up slavery (as many moved to Texas to grow cotton).

 

*Many of these new Texans were reprobates and scoundrels fleeing from the law, but a few were distinguished men (or distinguished scoundrels). 

 

*Samuel Houston was from Tennessee, having lived many years near Maryville and having practiced law in Lebanon. He had been adopted by the Cherokee who called him ‘The Raven,’ and at one point he took a Cherokee wife.  He had also fought the Creek at Horseshoe Bend.  He was a former governor of and congressman from Tennessee and an ally of Andrew Jackson.  However, he arrived in Texas in 1832, after leaving behind Tennessee, a divorced white wife, an abandoned Cherokee wife, and many empty liquor bottles. 

 

*Davy Crockett was also from Tennessee.  Born in Greene County, he was famous as a frontiersman, hunter (he supposedly killed 105 bears), veteran of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, storyteller, and Congressman.  Elected to two non-consecutive terms in the House of Representatives, he opposed Jackson on the issue of Indian Removal and other points, lost an election in 1835, and left Tennessee hoping to make a new political career in the West.  He told his constituents ‘You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.’

 

*These men had both come to Texas illegally, because in 1830, Mexico had outlawed further American immigration to Texas and revoked their exemptions from taxes and customs duties, but this did not stop Americans moving there.  Soon Mexico grew tired of this illegal immigration from the United States and threatened to send the army into Texas.

*Furthermore, Mexico was having its own problems in many of its other provinces.  Many parts of Mexico wanted greater self-government, and General Antonio López de Santa Anna promised it to them when he overthrew the Mexican government in 1832 and placed one of his fellow generals in charge as the new president.  The next year, 1833, the Mexican Congress made Santa Anna himself president.  Shortly afterwards, he changed his position to favour of a strong central government.

*In 1834, Santa Anna dissolved many state legislatures, disarmed state militias, and abolished the Mexican Constitution of 1824.  Soon many of Mexico’s states rose in rebellion, including Texas.

*At first, Texans wanted to remain part of Mexico, and even as they formed Committees of Correspondence and Safety, they flew a flag based on that of Mexico but with the year 1824 written in the centre to assert their loyalty to the Constitution of 1824 which Santa Anna had recently abolished.  They also stopped paying customs duties, and in 1835 Santa Anna sent a small group of soldiers into Texas, where they were repulsed on 2 October, 1835 along the Guadeloupe River.

 

*After this, Santa Anna prepared to march his army into Texas, as did another Mexican general, José de Urrea, while the Texans debated the possibility of independence. 

*One of the first defences standing between Santa Anna and the main settlements of Texas was the Alamo, an old mission near San Antonio that had been converted into a rough fort that contained a few old cannon.  Samuel Houston, leader of the Texan army, sent Jim Bowie to remove the cannon and destroy the fort.  However, when he got there, he could not find any draught animals to haul the cannon away with.  Instead, he decided to stay and defend the Alamo, telling his superiors that it was of great strategic importance in blocking the Mexican invasion.  Soon he was joined by William Travis, who brought reinforcements.  Together the commanded the Alamo (and were later joined by volunteers from America led by Davy Crockett).

*On 23 February, 1836, Santa Anna’s army surrounded the Alamo.  He had about 2,400 soldiers while the Alamo was defended by about 180 men.  Santa Anna demanded immediate and unconditional surrender, but Travis and Bowie refused.  Jim Bowie then became so sick he had to be confined to his bed.  For a few days, Santa Anna patiently waited outside the Alamo, while inside the Alamo the defenders waited for reinforcements.  Some approached the Alamo, but turned back before reaching it.  Reinforcements for Santa Anna did arrive.

*His officers asked him to wait for cannon to arrive too, but by 4 March, he was impatient and wanted to attack.  According to legend, on 5 March, William Travis drew a line in the sand, telling everyone who was willing to fight for Texas to cross it and stand beside him.  Every soldier in the Alamo but one did so—Jim Bowie had men carry him across the line in his bed.

*At 10 PM on 5 March, the Mexicans advanced against the Alamo.  The Texans did not have grapeshot, so they fired any scrap metal they could find, including door hinges and horseshoes, at the Mexicans.  The Texans held off two Mexican charges, but there were so many Mexicans that on their third charge they made it to the walls and over them.  Colonel Travis was among the first to die as he commanded the men on the walls.

*As the Mexicans poured over the north walls, Texans on the south side of the Alamo turned their cannon around to fire on the Mexicans coming in on the North, and were then attacked from behind and killed, giving the Mexicans command of the main American guns.

*The last group of Texans in the open were Crockett’s men defending the low wall on the Southeastern corner of the Alamo.  As they ran out of ammunition (or time to reload), they fought with their knives and used their rifles as clubs.

*Finally the last Texan defenders were those inside the mission buildings.  Jim Bowie was bayoneted in his bed after firing a set of pistols he had kept loaded on his bed.

*A few Texans were taken prisoner, but executed at the orders of Santa Anna.  According to some accounts these men included Davy Crockett, who was given the opportunity to be spared if he begged for mercy, which he refused to do. 

*Every man who defended the Alamo was killed—about 180 men—but they inflicted 400 to 600 Mexican casualties before they died.  The execution of prisoners and the killing of all the defenders made the battle a rallying cry for the Texans:  ‘Remember the Alamo!’

*Furthermore, even though the Alamo fell, it delayed the main Mexican army long enough for a Texas to declare independence and form a government of their own.  They chose David Burnet as interim president and confirmed Sam Houston  as commander of the army.  Although many of the delegates to the convention wanted to go fight the Mexicans, Houston convinced them to stay to finish writing the Constitution so his men would have something to fight for.

*Shortly after declaring independence, Texas suffered another defeat at Goliad.  There James Fannin and 500 men fought another delaying action, but finally surrendered along with 341 surviving Texans after General de Urrea promised that his men would not be killed.  This was false, as Santa Anna had declared that all rebels would be executed. 

 

*On Palm Sunday, 27 March, 1836, almost all the Texans were shot, and those who did not die in the first volley were run down by the Mexican cavalry or clubbed to death (a few men did escape and some survived by falling down and pretending to be dead).  Now Texans had another battle cry:  ‘Remember Goliad!’

*Santa Anna and José de Urrea now joined their armies together and marched deeper into Texas.  However, by now Houston had been able to raise a large army of his own.  He led Santa Anna on a chase across Texas (possibly even planning on leading him into Louisiana, sparking a war between Mexico and the United States), burning farms and towns behind him so that Santa Anna would have no supplies to pillage. 


*Eventually, Santa Anna divided his forces and sent some of them towards Galveston to try to capture the Texan government, while he began leading 700 men back towards Mexico City, which he feared was going to rebel against his leadership.  Tired of running and angry at the loss of farms and towns they had burnt while retreating, Houston’s army ignored his orders and turned to follow Santa Anna, even after he received reinforcements that brought his army over 1,200 men.

*After defeating Houston in a small skirmish, Santa Anna decided to rest his army near the San Jacinto River (near Galveston).  A Texan scout reported their location to Houston, and the Texans planned a surprise attack.  They burnt the only bridge that would have allowed Santa Anna to escape across the San Jacinto, and then attacked about 3:30 p.m. on 21 April, 1836, catching the Mexican army during its siesta.

*The Mexicans were completely surprised, and attempted to flee the field, but were trapped against the river by Texans yelling ‘Remember the Alamo’ and ‘Remember Goliad!’  Many of them killed soldiers who tried to surrender.  Although the battle was over in just 18 minutes, prisoners were still being killed an hour later.  While only 9 of the 900 Texans engaged were killed (and 23 wounded, including Houston, who was shot in the ankle), 630 Mexicans were killed and 730 captured.

*Santa Anna tried to escape by dressing as a common soldier, but the other prisoners kept saluting him as ‘El Presidente.’  According to legend, a strip-search proved conclusively that he was Santa Anna because he was wearing silk underwear.  He was taken to Houston, to whom he officially surrendered, and was forced to sign the Treaties of Velasco withdrawing his army and recognising Texas’s independence.

*The Mexican government refused to honour Santa Anna’s agreements and stripped him of his position as commander of the army.  He ended up in exile in the United States, but later made his way back to Mexico where he managed to become president again (for the second of seven times). 

*Even though Mexico disowned the Treaties of Velasco, Texan independence was complete after the Battle of San Jacinto.  However, to avoid political problems with Mexico and between Northern and Southern states in the United States, neither Andrew Jackson, nor any other president for almost nine years, would agree to annex Texas as a state, so it existed as the Republic of Texas for almost a decade.


This page last updated 24 August, 2018.
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