Alamo in San Antonio

The Alamo in San Antonio Texas has been and is the most popular tourist attraction in San Antonio Texas. The Alamo, then with the Mexican name of Mission San Antonio de Valero, represented ground zero in Texas’ fight for independence from Mexico during the 1830’s. The site of the Alamo is both a popular stop in San Antonio for historians as well as those which look upon it as a type of shrine.

alamo in san antonio
The Alamo

If you haven’t visited the Alamo in San Antonio TX  I would highly recommend that you add it to your Texas vacation planner. San Antonio has a wealth of historic sites in addition to popular modern day attractions such as Sea World, the famous River Walk and Fiesta Texas. San Antonio literally has something to offer everyone and it’s a top Texas family vacation destination.

The Alamo in San Antonio Then and Now

The Alamo in San Antonio, built about a quarter mile east of the village settlement,  was the first Spanish mission built in San Antonio. There four other missions built to the south along the San Antonio River. The Spaniards built missions in California, New Mexico and Texas for the purpose of Christianizing the Native population and by doing so also creating new subjects for the King of Spain and helping to solidify Spanish rule in North America. All of the Spanish missions including the Alamo served as a symbol of Spanish rule. While being separate, the mission system worked alongside the Spanish military quite effectively. There was no other colonial power of the time where the church and state worked so much in unison.

alamo walls
Walls and convent rooms along Alamo perimeter

The Texas Republic

What has happened several times when American settlers flooded into certain regions, an urge to form their own government takes over. This happened in Texas and later to a degree with the Bear Flag Revolt in California in the 1840’s. In Texas it didn’t take long for American settlers to struggle against Mexican rule and this was only about a decade after the Mexicans themselves had ejected the Spanish from North America. Americans in Mexican controlled Texas wanted their independence. At the same time, General Antonio  Lopez de Santa Anna, dictator of Mexico in 1836, and self styled “Napolean of the West“, aimed to keep Texas under strict Mexican rule. The battle at the Alamo couldn’t be avoided.

What the Alamo Meant

It was widely felt that taking control of the Alamo Mission was the key to wresting away Texas from Mexico. The settlement, then named Bexar, was also a site of Mexican garrisons. The Alamo itself was a mission, not a fort. The perimeter walls were easily scaled by ladders. The chapel was the only relatively secure building due to it’s twenty foot high walls. The Texas defenders had thought they could hold out long enough for reinforcements to arrive. In the meantime, there had been other victories won by the Mexicans and many a Texan settler, fearing that all was lost, dashed for the U.S. border. The feeling was that if Mexico did indeed prevail, perceived traitors would be surely executed.

spirit of sacrifice memorial in san antonio tx
Spirit of Sacrifice Monument, San Antonio Texas

Back at the Battle of the Alamo, after two unsuccessful assaults on the Alamo mission grounds by troops under General Santa Anna, the third assault, using all the reserve troops under his command were able to scale the walls. Messages were dispatched from the Alamo by the Texan defenders calling for reinforcements but as history chronicles they never did arrive.

Mexican troops poured over the northern wall and after severe hand to hand combat, the Texas defenders fell back to die in the Alamo convent barracks and chapel building. Among those who lost their lives were Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett and Colonel William B. Travis. It is widely believed that Davy Crockett was among the defenders captured alive but shortly thereafter executed with the other prisoners by direct orders of Santa Anna.

What the Defeat at the Alamo Unleashed

It has been said that Santa Anna, while still losing some six hundred of his troops, considered the Alamo battle of little consequence. As it turned out he was dead wrong. The Alamo defeat stood as a symbol and battle cry that would galvanize the Texas forces in such a way that just some six weeks later Santa Anna was defeated further east by forces under the command of Sam Houston at Battle of San Jacinto and Texas won it’s independence. It was at this decisive battle at San Jacinto that the Texas volunteers charged the Mexican troops with the famous battle cry, “Remember the Alamo“.

alamo in 1860s
Alamo Plaza, 1860

Santa Anna Makes a Strategic Blunder

Historians contend that Santa Anna had made a terrible blunder while marching east. Instead of pursuing Sam Houston and his troops, Santa Anna decided to attack the settlement of Harrisburg where supposedly Texas government officials were. The town however was empty and Santa Anna’s diversion allowed Houston’s troops to fall in behind him. At this point, Houston had some 800 Texas troops. They would have about equal strength as the Mexicans. After sneaking up on the Mexicans through tall grass the Texas troops engaged the Mexicans in what would be a decisive defeat for Santa Anna and victory for Texas in it’s war for independence.

General Santa Anna’s Fate

Santa Anna facts include the following. Santa Anna was captured at the Battle of San Jacinto. After signing papers acknowledging Texas independence, Santa Anna was assured his safe return to Veracruz Mexico. The situation back in Mexico was a bit more complicated. A new government was formed in Mexico and it declared that Santa Anna was no longer president and that the treaty with Texas was null and void. As it turned out, the Mexican General spent some time in exile in the U.S. and while there actually went to Washington to meet President Andrew Jackson.

mexican general santa anna
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Mexican Dictator and General, circa 1853

Santa Anna eventually did make it back to Mexico and at one time regained power just to lose it again. Among the countries he lived in exile at included Cuba, Colombia, Jamaica, St. Thomas and the U.S. In 1869, the old Mexican general was actually living in exile on Staten Island in New York.

Santa Anna returned to Mexico under an amnesty given to him in 1874 and was largely ignored. He died in Mexico City in 1876.

An excellent book to learn more of the details on the life of the “Napolean of the West” is Santa Anna of Mexico by author Will Fowler.

You’ll also enjoy our Western Trips photo articles about the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in San Antonio and the historic Guenther House and Pioneer Flour Mill just south of the Alamo. Also, on our Trips Into History site the story of the de Anza Expedition and the founding of San Francisco and Exploring Western Art in San Antonio Texas.

San Antonio Texas is located 275 miles southwest of Dallas TX and 199 miles west of Houston TX.

(Photos from author’s private collection. Photos of the Alamo in 1860 and Santa Anna from the public domain)