The Alamo was a mission, or religious compound, built by the Spanish in the early eighteenth century in what is now San Antonio, Texas . The four-acre walled compound was devoted to the agricultural and religious education of the area's Indians. By the early nineteenth century, the Alamo had been abandoned by the Catholic Church (see Catholicism ) and taken over by Spanish soldiers. After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican army occupied the compound.
By the 1830s, Texas had a majority of U.S. residents, although the area belonged to Mexico. In 1835, these residents revolted against Mexico. The rebels in San Antonio were able to clear their area of Mexican soldiers, and they quickly took command of the Alamo compound. On February 23, 1836, three thousand to four thousand Mexican troops crossed the Rio Grande—a river that borders what is now Texas and Mexico—under the command of Mexico's dictator, General Antonio López de Santa Anna (1794–1876). Their intent was to recapture the fortification. A force of 145 Texans, under the joint command of colonels William B. Travis (1809–1836) and James Bowie (1796–1836), prepared to defend the Alamo.
Santa Anna and his forces approached the stout-walled Alamo mission and demanded that the rebels surrender. When Travis replied with a cannon shot, the Mexican army surrounded the fort, and a thirteen-day siege began. The rebels sent a message to the commander in chief of the Texas military, Sam Houston (1793–1863), with a plea from Travis for reinforcements. On March 2, thirty-two of Houston's men made it through Mexican lines into the fort. They joined the Alamo's defenders, an assortment of men from eighteen different states and several European countries, many of whom were relatively new to Texas. Among the rebels was the frontiersman and former U.S. congressman Davy Crockett
(1786–1836) of Tennessee , who led twelve Tennessee volunteers. With the 32 newcomers, there were only about 187 men defending the Alamo against about 4,000 Mexican troops. During the siege, they suffered from lack of sleep and ran low on ammunition, but no one tried to flee.
At four o’clock in the morning of March 6, Santa Anna and his troops stormed the Alamo on all sides. The Texans fought against all odds. Their guns got hot from heavy firing, their ammunition was nearly gone, and men began dropping from exhaustion. Even when the Mexicans penetrated the walls of the Alamo, the defenders continued to fight, clubbing them with rifles and drawing knives. The last point taken was the church, where Crockett and his volunteers fell. By eight o’clock that morning, the last of the 187 defenders was dead, and about 1,500 of the Mexican troops were killed.
The fall of the Alamo sowed panic throughout Texas. Much of the civilian population and the government fled toward U.S. soil. Meanwhile, Sam Houston gathered an army. Six weeks later, marching to meet Santa Anna, Houston delivered an impassioned address to his troops, telling them to “Remember the Alamo!” With that cry, they defeated the Mexicans at a battle near the San Jacinto River, establishing the independent Texas Republic.