The Journal of the Life and Culture of San Antonio

The Alamo Abandoned

After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, Mexican forces occupied the Alamo just as the Spanish army had for several decades.

Following rebel uprisings throughout Texas in 1835, General Martin Perfecto de Cos of the Mexican Army established a headquarters in San Antonio and declared his intention to overrun Texas and expel all settlers who had arrived after 1830. All Texas patriots opposing Santa Anna were to be arrested. General Cos built ramps for rolling cannon up to the east wall of the Alamo. The Texans, led by Ben Milam and Edward Burleson, resisted the Mexican forces and defeated them in the Siege of Bexar in December, 1835. San Antonio and the Alamo became the focal point of rebellion and defense in Texas.

On February 23, 1836, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and the advance guard of his army again rode into San Antonio to re-take the Alamo and put down the revolutionaries. Under the joint command of William Barret Travis and James Bowie, the Texans took refuge within the walls of the Alamo and answered Santa Anna's demand for surrender with a cannon shot.

Defending the Alamo were 189 men armed with frontier-type rifles and muskets and eighteen or more pieces of artillery. Outside the walls Santa Anna amassed a force estimated at 4000 Mexican soldiers carrying English surplus escopetas and backed by two mortars and six pieces of artillery. The siege lasted thirteen days, and the climax came on March 6. To the strains of the Deguello, the "Death March," the Mexicans attacked. The defending Texans battled every step of the way, from building to building, room to room, using their powderless rifles as clubs and drawing their knives as a last defense. Travis at the north battery was felled by a single shot. The Tejanos and thirty-two men from Gonzales held out to the last powder ball fired from the parapet. David Crockett and his Tennessee Mounted Volunteers, positioned on the south side of the old church, defended the stockade using their rifle butts as clubs.

Major Ward's Georgia battalion, the New Orleans Greys, Duval's Kentucky Mustangs, the Red Rovers of Alabama, Burke's Mobile Greys, the men from New York and Pennsylvania, all brave men. But no snappy uniforms here; most men wore old leather and carried one blanket . All were slain. The Tejanos, the Irish, the Germans, the French, the English, the Polish - all within a short time were slain. Their bodies burned by order of Santa Anna. Only the walls of the old mission-fort were left standing.

After the fall of the Alamo the ruins of the old chapel building and the walls were deserted and left to deteriorate. In 1842 the Catholic Church petitioned the young Republic of Texas for its return, got title, but could not raise the funds to restore it as a place of worship. In 1849, the United States Army rented the property from the church, restored the chapel building, and built the rounded top on the existing facade. That same year the army restored the Long Barrack to use as its headquarters.

In 1861 the Alamo was surrendered to the State of Texas, and it was used by the Confederate Army, but at the end of the Civil War it was returned to the United States Army which continued to rent it as a depot until 1876 and the beginning of Fort Sam Houston. That same year, 1876, Honore Grenet, a French-born merchant, bought the property on the north side of the Alamo and built his "Palace," a general store, over the Long Barrack.

In 1883, with an act of the Legislature passed on April 23, the State of Texas purchased the old ruins of the Alamo chapel from the Catholic Church and placed the property in the custody of the City of San Antonio with provisions for its care and a paid custodian. Two years later, in 1885, the State gave the church building to the city. It was not until 1905, twenty years later, that the State purchased the store over the Barrack and clearing of the area began. That same year the State gave custody of the entire site, the Alamo mission-fort, the convent and Long Barrack, to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas with many members who were descendants of the heroes of the Alamo. The Daughters began their operation and maintenance of the Alamo which they opened free to the public and without cost to the State.

While the beginning of San Antonio dates back to the founding of Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1718, it was at the battle of 1836 where ordinary men in an act of extraordinary heroism brought glory and fame to the Alamo, so that today San Antonio is everywhere known as the Alamo City.

--Mary Ann Noonan Guerra,

excerpted from: The Alamo, 1996


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