The Battle of the Alamo (1836)

In 1836, Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the Mexican dictator, drove north into the Mexican province of Texas to combat a rebellion that began the previous year when Texan forces defeated the Mexican garrison of San Antonio. The rebels largely consisted of American immigrants to Texas who opposed Santa Anna’s centralist government. Once they defeated the Mexican garrison, the Texan military force took refuge in the Alamo, an old Spanish mission on the outskirts of San Antonio. In addition to constructing ramparts for artillery, the Alamo garrison also constructed platforms used to fire from the walls and built a palisade, closing a gap between the mission’s walls.

Santa Anna’s Army of Operations in Texas arrived in San Antonio on February 23, 1836, and surrounded the mission, beginning the siege of the Alamo. The Mexican army isolated the mission by posting cavalry on the roads leading to and from San Antonio. Santa Anna also ordered artillery posted at various positions to fire on the Alamo. Using the cover of darkness, these batteries moved closer every night. On March 5, Santa Anna prepared his 2,000- man army for an assault on the Alamo. He divided his men into four columns, each carrying ladders to scale the walls, and moved them within a few yards of the mission. He also established a reserve and used his cavalry to surround the Alamo to seal off escape and the possibility of reinforcement. Santa Anna ordered his artillery, which had fired every night of the siege to harass the Alamo’s garrison, to stop firing early that night. This allowed the Alamo’s approximately 186 defenders to sleep without interruption for the first time in many nights, including the sentries posted outside the walls; those men were bayoneted in their slumber prior to the assault. At 0530 the first assault began. The Alamo defenders successfully stymied the first two Mexican assaults but they could not stop the momentum of the third. Two of the Mexican columns converged on the Alamo’s weak north wall defenses. Although subject to artillery fire and musketry from the Alamo, the Mexican infantry gained a toe hold and began scaling the walls. Once the Mexicans were in the mission’s interior, the defenses at the north wall collapsed and the Alamo defenders began a steady retreat toward the chapel at the mission’s southeastern corner. Within an hour, Santa Anna’s force stormed the Alamo’s walls, fought their way through the mission, and killed all garrison’s defenders.

Santa Anna’s attack on the Alamo took advantage of several factors. By forming his men into columns, he concentrated his strength again the Alamo’s weak points. Such a plan also took advantage of the Alamo’s weak defenses by forcing them to concentrate their defensive efforts in several places simultaneously. While these columns held disadvantages for the Mexican force, such as allowing the Alamo’s artillery to concentrate their fire on the large formations, the disadvantage proved only temporary. The multiple columns soon overwhelmed other portions of the defenses and rendered them useless in supporting other threatened areas inside the Alamo. Moreover, once the Mexicans reached the Alamo’s walls, the Texan defenders had to expose themselves to fire on them, placing the advancing forces at a distinct advantage.

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