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This Week In History

El Álamo. February 23, 1836.

The Battle of El Álamo (that took place from February 23 to March 6, 1836) was a major military conflict in the Texan Revolution. It started with a 13-days siege that ended with the final confrontation between the parts on March 6. It confronted the Mexican army, led by General Antonio López de Santana, against a Texan secessionist militia, formed in its majority by American colonists. It took place in San Antonio de Béxar, that was at that time part of the Mexican province of Coahuila y Texas (today, US state of Texas).

All the combatants for the Republic of Texas died, except for two of them, which inspired a lot of Texan colonists as well as American mavericks to join the Texan army. Heated by the desire of vengeance because of the cruelty shown by General Santana during the siege, Texans finally defeated and massacred the Mexican army while they slept in the Battle of San Jacinto, in April 21, 1836, putting an end to the revolutionary movement.

Several months before the encounter, Texans had taken all their Federal troops out of the Province of Coahuila y Texas; about 100 Texans took refuge then in El Álamo. The Texan force grew slightly thanks to the arrival of reinforcements led by commanders James Bowie and William Barret Travis. On February 23 about 1.500 Mexican soldiers marched over San Antonio de Béxar (today´s San Antonio), as a first step in a campaign to regain Texan territories. During the following 12 days, both armies took part in small skirmishes with few casualties. Being aware that their small garrison would not be able to put up with the Mexican force, Travis sent several letters asking for more men and supplies, but only 100 reinforcements came.

In the daybreak of March 6, the Mexican army marched to El Álamo. Texans rejected two attacks, but were unable to reject the third. Mexican soldiers climbed over the exterior walls, so Texans took shelter in the inner buildings. Those that were unable to reach these buidings were killed by the Mexican cavalry while trying to escape. It is likely that a group of 5 to 7 Texans tried to surrender, but Mexicans had no mercy and executed them instantly. Accounts of witnesses report 182 to 257 Texan casualties, while most of the historiographers agree that Mexican casualties could be of 400 to 600 soldiers dead or severely wounded during the battle.

In the end, non-combatants (mostly women and children) were sent to Gonzáles to spread the word of the Texan defeat. The news created panic among colonists and the Texan forces of the new Republic of Texas fled to escape the advancing Mexican army.

In México, the Battle has been often overshadowed by the events that took place in the War against the United States from 1846 to 1848. In the 19th century, El Álamo started to be known as the site of the battle. The State Legislature of Texas bought the site and the buildings that remained in the 1920´s and designated the chapel of El Álamo as the Sanctuary of the State of Texas.

El Álamo is nowadays the most turistic site in Texas. It has also been featured in non-fictional accounts. Most of Americans, nevertheless, are more familiar with the myths built by movies and TV adaptations of the story, including the Disney series Davy Crockett in the 50´s, and the film El Álamo, featuring John Wayne, in 1960.

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