7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Colonial Texas History: the Alamo

The Alamo chapel, nestled in the heart of modern San Antonio
“Remember the Alamo!”

Who hasn’t heard that? And who really knows the significance of it?

I certainly didn’t, until a recent trip to San Antonio where I stayed and attended a conference a mere two blocks from the Alamo museum and shrine. Of course, being the history nerd that I am, I had to go visit.

And was utterly inspired.

So today, y’all, I’m serving up a slice of colonial history, Texas style.

Once upon a time, Texas was part of Mexico. It was the northern of two provinces, denoted by a flag with two stars, and when Texas declared its independence, it kept the one star—hence the term “Lone Star State.”

Mexico had itself just declared its independence from Spain. A fuller discussion of that is found at the official website of the Alamo, which has a handy scrolling timeline to check events in Mexico and Texas against what was taking place in the rest of the world. You’ll also find links to an excellent resource called the Handbook of Texas, run by the Texas State Historical Association. While the eastern American colonies were taking shape, present-day San Antonio was chosen as the site for a Spanish mission that remained modestly successful until the late 1700’s. Later, the chapel and grounds were fortified for use as a local garrison against the threat of the French and Americans.

They really do call it a shrine!
For a while, the Mexican government welcomed immigrants from the United States, and between 1823-28, the Anglo population grew from 5000 to about 30,000. Mexico’s attempts to stop immigration from the US only fanned the flame of independence in Texas. (Small wonder, they were just a generation removed from the American Revolution!) Then came the rise of Santa Anna, a self-styled dictator who repealed the federalist constitution Mexico had drafted in 1824. It was only a matter of time before he decided to quell the rebellion in Texas, once and for all.

The garrison at the Alamo was his primary target as "the first piquet on the frontier." The battle there was only one of many, but became famous for the severe outnumbering of its defenders by the Mexican army (roughly 10-to-1) and for Santa Anna’s cruelty in dealing with the rebellion. He flew a red flag at the outset, a sign that no quarter would be given (I’ll discuss later how this contrasts with one of the famous “massacres” of the American Revolution), and while he spared the lives of the women and children hiding there, he sent them on their way with orders to share details so the Texians would know how unbeatable his army was. (A fairly forthright and cohesive overview of the Battle of the Alamo is found on Wikipedia.)

Side gate to the Alamo history walk
The Alamo’s commanders agreed it wasn’t the most defensible position. Hearing of the Mexican army’s advance, they begged for reinforcements, but few came. Among those who did join the fight was a small group headed by former U.S. Congressman David Crockett of Tennessee. Other notables were the two men who became co-commanders in the battle, William B. Travis from South Carolina and James Bowie from Kentucky and Louisiana. Severe illness confined Bowie to bed when the Mexican army attacked after a 13-day siege, so Travis was in charge at the end. His plea for reinforcements contains the “Victory or Death” slogan made famous after this battle.

Santa Anna’s forces attacked before dawn, and after 90 minutes or so, all but a handful of the defenders lay dead. Survivors were speedily executed. Actual numbers differ—sources say between 182 and 257 men died there. The Mexicans lost two or three times that number.
A city stands where a terrible battle took place...

All this I was ignorant of until visiting the Alamo. We stood in line to walk through the chapel, which has been dedicated as a “shrine to Texas liberty”—photography is forbidden, but you can see some of the inside, including artifacts and artwork, at the official site. Under the “Plan A Visit” tab is an interactive map, offering several panoramic views of the grounds and inside buildings.

Sun over the wall
In the sacristy where the women and children hid during the battle (only one was killed, small comfort), I stopped to reflect on the awe and sadness that seems to infuse all battlefields. In the long barracks, we watched a short film giving an overview of the battle, and I was struck breathless at the parallels between this and Kings Mountain—only in this case, the defenders were the rebels and not the loyalists, but the battle of the Alamo certainly provided the fuel to galvanize the Texas army into defeating the Mexican army shortly afterwards, who outnumbered them 2-to-1. Walking through the mini-museum of the long barracks was an extra treat, as it contained several Pennsylvania long rifles, such as my characters might have carried in my stories Defending Truth and Loyalty’s Cadence. (In the long barracks panoramic view, you can just barely see the rifle and knife of Davy Crockett in a display case against the wall.)

Fifty-five years or so later than the American Revolution this might have been, and more than twenty after the War of 1812, but I was struck by the similarities and parallels.


  1. Great post, Shannon. This is so interesting. I hope I get to see the Alamo someday. It was closed the day I tried to go.

    1. Thank you, Carrie! I was a little nervous, because I know it's out of our era a bit, but I saw so many parallels to the American Revolution ... especially since the Battle of the Alamo seems like Kings Mountain in reverse. (Can't remember if I mentioned that or not!)

      And too bad about it being closed! I'd walked down there alone the first evening, and once I realized where I was, I had to stop and just savor the moment and snap a few pics. But they close it early in the evening.

  2. Fascinating post, Shannon. The Alamo is such an iconic place, but I confess I've always wondered more about it and the men who died there. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank YOU for stopping by, Susanne! I'm glad you found it informative!

  3. Was there about 7 years ago and was happy to see this since I will be there in about 2 weeks.

    1. Oh cool, Sonja! Enjoy your visit. And soak up as much as you can--there's a lot to see and absorb, more than you can really get in one trip, in my opinion! Thank you for taking the time to comment. :-)

  4. Excellent article! A pleasure to relive the visit with you!

    1. Thank you so much, Lynn! :-D It was a pleasure to BE there with you!


Thanks for commenting, please check back for our replies!