TENNESSEE HISTORY Classroom
FULL HISTORY STORIES
at the Alamo
Following the defeat of Congressman David Crockett at the hands
of then-President Andrew Jackson, the Cherokee Removal from
Southern Appalachia, and an American economy that seemed to
be out of control, many Tennesseans started casting their eyes
westward to different lands where they could start over and
find the traditional opportunities that were disappearing from
their home state.
Prior to the 1830s, Tennesseans began drifting towards the lands
of Texas. A young Missourian named Stephen Austin, who had completed
his fathers dreams and built a thriving colony in the
region, had attracted them with free lands and offers of financial
The new colonial movement, however, would create uneasy feelings
in Mexico and lead to a battle that would become one of the
most studied and talked about in American history.
Many colonists felt the region rightfully belonged to America
as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Spain, however, felt they
had legal rights to it from a treaty that removed the European
nations presence from Florida and France had tried to
exert its own claim on the region saying it had never
been a part of the original tract sold in the Louisiana Purchase.
All the European nations had failed to successfully colonize
Texas and many resented the new American presencefeeling
that wherever colonists go the American government would soon
follow and keeping the young republics expansion in check
was a major issue for Europes traditional powers.
Following the Mexican Revolution that overthrew Spanish rule,
however, the newly formed Mexico government laid final claim
to the region and through one junta after another tried to enforce
it with military might. Although agreement had been reached
with Stephen Austin to allow colonization of some Texas territory,
Mexican officials knew that the Americanization of the region
posed a serious threat to their sovereignty. Various Mexican
leaders tried to deal with the "problem", but none
stayed in power long enough to effect change.
In 1833, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was elected President
of Mexico. The new President was classically educated, skilled
in European government, and a veteran of numerous conflicts
in Mexico. He reorganized the Mexican Army into a first-rate
fighting force and used them to put down the countless factions
he felt threatened his rule. His was so successful that he declared
himself dictator in 1835 and vowed he would crush the growing
Texas rebellion and bring the region back under Mexican rule.
General Santa Anna styled himself after French Dictator Napoleon
Bonaparte and was known for his excessive tastes. During his
meteoric rise to power, thousands of colonists continued to
pour in to Texas and it wasnt the American government
that was following them. The Texans were working to create their
own nation separate from America and in a constant state of
disorder as each group of colonists positioned themselves in
the newly forming nation.
With Tennessean Sam Houston rising to leadership in the state,
Former Congressman David Crockett joined countless other Tennesseans
in sensing a chance to reinvent himself and his political career
in Texas. In a Memphis tavern as he was preparing to leave,
the frontier statesman made the notorious quote that came to
symbolize Crocketts migration westward and the opportunities
that he believed it held:
"My constituents can go to Hell. As for me, Im going
With the strings cut, he and 15 other men rode into Texas where
David Crockett made a bid for office. As requirement for citizenship
that would allow him to run for office, he had to join the Texas
militia and swear allegiance to Texas and/or and future nation
that the people created. Crockett only did so after he marked
through the word nation and wrote "Republic" in its
place. Although he lost in his first run at office, he was appointed
a colonel in the Texas militia and, while the Texas Constitutional
Convention was meeting, was sent to San Antonio with his men
to help the Texas soldiers stationed at a small Franciscan mission
that was serving as a fort.
The Mission of San Antonio de Valero was a crumbling three acre
compound that had been seized by Texans the previous December.
The Mexican Army had cleaned up the dilapidated facility and
had turned it into a barracks and armory. When the Texans took
it over, a Texas attorney named Green Jameson, who found himself
better suited to being an engineer, turned in and started working
to fortify the position. Although he did great wonders with
it, the mission, which was locally called the Alamo because
of a grove of poplar trees that stood nearby the structure,
was not built as a military fortress and the Texans knew it
would be hard to defend.
The mission church had long since collapsed. Its towers and
dome had fallen in and only the stone walls still stood. In
addition to the ruined church, there was a two-story building
known as the Long Barracks and a lengthy one-story structure
called the Low Barracks. The entire area was enclosed by stone
walls, which was up to 12 feet in height and two to three feet
thick. The three acre compound was rectangular in formation
measuring some 250 by 450 feet. While the Mexicans had left
more than 20 cannons in the fort, there were no parapets where
they could be stationed. Jameson had worked to overcome the
deficiencies and, with the right number of men, felt the mission
could be held against a Mexican assault. His job was made much
easier by a muscular Tennessean name Almeron Dickerson. The
blacksmith was in charge of the artillery batteries and helped
Jameson build earthen walls behind the fort to place the cannons
in a tactical position. The ordinance chief was also a Tennessean
named Sam Blair, who overcame the ammunition shortage by chopping
up horseshoes and other metal objects into grapeshot projectiles.
The Alamo stood in the logical path of an invader from the south,
but the powers that were began draining men from the mission
for other possible campaigns against the Mexican Army. Houston
and the other military officials did not believe the Alamo would
be attacked because it held no obvious strategic value. They
also rationalized the winter months would make it impossible
for General Santa Anna to move his massive army northward across
what they saw as a barren plain.
The men in the Alamo, who were under the divisive leadership
of Colonels Jim Bowie and William Travis, were cautious and
didnt really know what to believe. While Col. Travis consistently
held to and supported the official Texas explanations, Col.
Bowie insisted the dry mesquite grass of the Texas plain would
support Santa Annas army in a northward march and that
thought should be given to evacuate the fort if he arrived while
the mission was still undermanned. Both men had been ordered
to the mission to blow it up and remove the cannons to nearby
Golidad and Gonzales where they could consolidate the Texas
forces. Both colonels, however, had decided against destroying
the mission and chose to keep the Alamo as a key defensive structure
to check Santa Anna.
On Feb. 8, 1836, Col. David Crockett and his men rode into San
Antonio amid cheers and accolades from the men and the citizens
who recognized the nationally acclaimed statesman. The former
congressman and his men found a number of fellow Tennesseans
in the ranks of both Bowies and Travis commands.
While the two men fought for command of the Alamo, Crockett
and his men spent their time in the cantinas and taverns of
San Antonio celebrating with old friends and neighbors.
Col. Bowie, who had well established himself among the Mexican
people, started receiving intelligence reports that the Mexican
Army was coming close. While Travis had little belief in Bowies
sources, the commanders had agreed to post a sentry in the Bell
Tower of the citys San Fernando Church.
On the morning of Feb. 22, sentry Daniel Cloud saw something
on the horizon and immediately began pulling the bell cord on
the church. Bowie and Travis flew up the stairs, but no one
could see anything and thought the sentry was over-reacting
to a mirage. They dispatched two men, however, to check out
the sighting and noticed that the Mexican townspeople were silently
leaving San Antonio. Later that night the scouts returned at
a gallop with the news Gen. Santa Anna and his army were approaching
the city. Colonels Bowie and Travis immediately called in their
men from the city and fell back to the Alamo Mission to begin
preparations to hold the fort while waiting for reinforcements
to support their position. Col. Crockett and his men fell in
with the rest and took up position inside the mission on the
southeast wall. The remainder of the men quickly foraged and
put the finishing touches on the fortification as Gen. Santa
Anna marched his army into San Antonio.
While the 150 Texans waited to see the tri-colored Mexican flag
go up over the bell tower, the general instead raised a giant
red flag over the San Fernando Church to show that no quarter
would be given the Alamo defenders and that a quick surrender
was all that could save them. Gen. Santa Anna also raised a
white flag, which meant that he wanted to parley with the leaders
to discuss terms. Defiantly Col. Travis responded by firing
a round from the 18-pound cannon to show Santa Anna they would
not surrender. Col. Bowie had seen the white flag and scribbled
a message of terms that was carried by Jameson to the Mexican
officers that would allowed the men in the Alamo to evacuate
safely. Gen. Santa Annas reply, however, was that only
unconditional surrender would be accepted. As Jameson returned
with the answer, the Mexicans brought up their cannons and,
on Feb. 24, 1836, began firing on the mission.
Travis was furious with Bowie for trying to parley with the
Mexican General and a serious battle for command would have
happened had not Bowie suddenly fell deathly ill leaving
Travis undisputedly in command.
Although bombarded daily by Mexican cannons, Col. Travis managed
to dispatch couriers to the nearby towns seeking reinforcements.
Col. Fannin at Fort Defiance in Goliad raised 320 men to help
relieve the Alamo, but suddenly feared attack and returned.
Two other couriers did reach Gonzales and returned to the Alamo
with 25 men five days later. During this time, General Santa
Annas army continued to arrive in San Antonio and its
ranks swelled to nearly 6,000 men.
At night, the Mexicans would use the darkness to drag their
cannons closer to the Alamo. Supporting soldiers would draw
near to the mission only to be repelled by the sharpshooters
on the Alamo walls the most noted of which was David
Crockett and his Tennesseans. The Mexican soldiers learned to
fear the buckskin-clad men and their long rifles. After he would
fire a round, Crockett could be seen standing up and calmly
reloading while he swore at the Mexican soldiers trying to march
on the mission.
While they could keep the Mexican soldiers checked during daylight
hours, it was impossible to stop the cannons from moving ever
closer to the Alamo. While Mexican casualties mounted, surprisingly
no one inside the Alamo had been killed by the daily bombardment.
As the month of March began, a bitterly cold weather front moved
in on San Antonio making it even more difficult for the Texans
who were forced to stay at the posts night and day. On March
3, Col. Travis sent one last message asking for help from the
Texas government. Two days passed and Colonels Travis and Crockett
were forced to realize that no help would be coming to relieve
them and a sense of doom started falling on the defenders. Col.
Crockett echoed the thoughts of many of his men when he said:
"I think we had better march out and die in the open air.
I dont like to be hemmed up."
With the Mexicans now only 200 yards away from the mission,
the Alamos walls were starting to chip away and the men
could see Mexican soldiers building scaling ladders. At 10 p.m.,
March 5, a sudden silence fell over the battlefield that rattled
the men inside the mission. After 12 days of constant cannon
fire, the quietness forced the defenders to fight fatigue and
the desire to sleep. It was all part of Santa Annas plan
as he had issued the order to his commanders to prepare their
men for a final assault on the fortress. At 5 a.m. March 6,
1836, the cry "Viva Santa Anna!" went up and the thudding
of thousands could be heard descending on the Alamo. The Texans
gathered themselves and waited for the Mexicans to come into
range. The first wave was repulsed from the walls and Santa
Anna watched the deadly effects on his troops.
With the inevitable looming upon them, the Alamo defenders fought
like they never had before and delivered unbelievable carnage
to the Mexican soldiers as the army tore through the mission
killing all. Colonels Bowie, Crockett, Travis, and every man
was bayoneted and no quarter given any who tried to surrender.
Only the wife of Tennessean Almeron Dickerson, her infant child,
and a couple of other non-combatants were spared. Susannah Dickerson,
who was shot in the calf of her leg while under Mexican escort,
and her infant daughter were brought before Gen. Santa Anna.
She was permitted to leave carrying a message to the other Texans
that the same fate would befall all who opposed General Santa
Following Gen. Santa Annas viewing of the carnage, the
bodies of the defenders were piled together and burned. Others
were supposedly buried in a mass grave. The bodies of Bowie,
Crockett, and Travis, men who were descended from some of Americas
greatest citizen families, were shown to Gen. Santa Anna .His
European education forced him to realize the men killed at the
Alamo had not died the classical death of Roman patricians,
but had fallen in the greatest tradition of Greek heroes and
left behind a legacy that would fuel the Texas Revolution to
Among the men who fell at the Franciscan Mission that would
give Texans the battle cry "Remember the Alamo!",
lead to the ultimate defeat of General Lopez de Santa Anna,
and become enshrined as some of the most courageous men in the
annals of American military history, were these 32 Tennesseans:
Samuel C. Blair
George Washington Cottle
John H. Dillard
James L. Ewing
James Girard Garrett
John Camp Goodrich
Charles M. Haskell
|William MarshalloJesse McCoy
Thomas R. Miller
Andrew M. Nelson
Andrew H. Smith
A. Spain Summerlin
William E. Summers
Joseph G. Washington
There have been numerous facts about the Battle of the Alamo that
have surfaced in recent years and especially about the events
surrounding the death of David Crockett. It is now believed he
was among the survivors who tried to negotiate a surrender and
was viciously executed. Diaries of Mexican officials that were
present at the Alamo noted, however, that the professional military
officers in General Santa Annas Army were disgusted by the
"No Quarters" order issued by him and tried to stop
the ensuing blood bath that happened at the Alamo to no avail.
Historians continue to research the battle in both Texas and Tennessee.
Among the most noted, besides Crockett, were Micajah Autry, Sam
Blair, and Almeron Dickerson. Historians point out that Blair,
Dickerson, and the other Tennesseans were among some of the most
resourceful military minds in the compound, but more importantly
werent afraid to stand their ground when the going got tough.
"The Tennesseans were noteworthy," said one military
historian, "because of the fact that they fought when many
Texas colonists refused to join because of the division that was
prevalent in the region. You had two differing opinions on how
Texas was to be governed and two provisional armies that competed
and argued over authority. These guys hadnt seen a paycheck
in months, were poorly clad, and often had to sell their boots
to buy food. Gen. Santa Anna and everyone else, Texans included,
never expected them to inflict so much damage and hold out 13
days against such a vastly superior force. What mainly brought
the Tennesseans into focus were the Mexican reports about their
ability as riflemen and fearless fighters. The Mexican Army was
a tough lot and respected very little about anyone. That is why
their comments on them stood out to military historians. Crockett
hadnt just spun some colorful tall tales about the Tennessee
people to America and the world. He and the other Tennesseans
proved it in blood at the Alamo."
While General Santa Anna would be later defeated and captured
at the Battle of San Jacinto, Texas Gen. Sam Houston released
him and dispatched an escort to take Santa Anna to Washington,
D.C. where the Mexican leader was sent into exile in Cuba. It
was decided by Houston and the other Texas leaders that a living
Santa Anna would be better than a possible Mexican martyr. Santa
Anna would eventually escape exile in Cuba through a diplomatic
loop, reorganize his forces, and lead them against America in
the Mexican War. The general soon learned the battle cry "Remember
the Alamo!" would then echo far beyond the borders of Texas
and the stories of David Crockett and the Tennesseans find new
life in their home state.
During the enlistment for the Mexican War, more than 30,000 Tennesseans
swamped forming militias in Nashville and any border state where
they could gain entrance. President James K. Polk had asked Governors
to raise 2,800 men each for the war effort. Because of the huge
numbers of Tennesseans who vengefully enlisted to "git"
Santa Anna, the state forever earned its "Volunteer"
Historians in Tennessee are still working to recognize the native
sons who died at the battle. Historian Jack Wood in Jackson was
able to dig into old records, letters, and diaries and discovered
the home of Micajah Autry was located, ironically, across the
street from the library where he works. Research is still continuing
to locate information on the other Tennesseans who died at the
Alamo. It is hoped by many that their actions at the fateful battle
will be recognized and a monument of some kind erected to honor
their memories. David Crocketts original entourage consisted
of 12-15 men. The other Tennesseans had ventured into the region
on their own looking for a better life and new opportunities.
Many of which would go on to rise to prominence in the Texas nation
and also later when it became an American state.
The legend that grew up around the Alamo continued to expand through
the years and has become an American myth. There are numerous
books available on the battle. One of the best written is the
1958 book "13 Days to Glory" by author Lon Tinkle upon
which the movie by the same name starring John Wayne was supposedly
based. While many historians will tell you the movie didnt
do the book justice, the David Crockett Birthplace Museum in Greeneville
runs it on continuous loop as one of the best film portrayals
of the Tennessee congressman.
Today the San Antonio shrine is still considered one of the most
sacred battle sites in American history and remains one of the
nations top tourist attractions. It is the site of numerous
ceremonies and festivities and offers a wide range of activities
for people of all ages.