Today marks the 176th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo, the bloody showdown between Texian (yes, Texian—that’s what the Texas revolutionaries were called) and Mexican forces in present-day San Antonio, Texas that marked a turning point in the Texas Revolution.
On March 6, 1836, Mexican forces laid siege to the Texian outpost. The Texians were far fewer in number and insufficiently equipped, but, under the leadership of James Bowie, William Barret Travis and coonskin-capped folk hero Davy Crockett, they mounted a courageous defense. While Texians lost the Battle of the Alamo, the event elicited nationwide sympathy and support for the Texas Revolution. It was in the spirit of vengeance that Texians, using the battle cry “Remember the Alamo!”, defeated the Mexicans just a few weeks later at The Battle of San Jacinto, effectively ending the Revolution.
The tale is popular among history buffs and diehard Texans, but continued research has unearthed surprising facts about the battle and the events leading up to it. Here are a few lesser-known facts about the Alamo, and the books that will give you the full story.
A sacred site
Before its heyday as a fortress compound for the Texian army, the Alamo was a Christian sanctuary, the Mission San Antonio Del Valero. The Spanish Empire erected it during the 1700s to educate Native Americans they’d recently converted. It was abandoned from 1793 until 1803, when a Mexican army group gained control of it, giving it the name “The Alamo.” Mexicans held onto it until the Siege of Bexar in 1835, when they were forced to surrender it to the Texian army, only to regain it a few months later in the Battle of the Alamo. In “Alamo Traces: New Evidence and New Conclusions,” Thomas Ricks Lindley combines heavy research with a passion for Texas history and gives us a sweeping new view of the Alamo, from its beginnings as a Christian outpost to its current role as a landmark of the Texas Revolution.
No high-noon showdown
Thanks to the classic John Wayne film The Alamo, we often picture the famous battle taking place under a midday sun, with most of the Texian casualties dying in a heroic but doomed defense of the fortress compound. But in “Exodus from the Alamo: The Anatomy of the Last Stand Myth,” historian Philip Tucker presents a strikingly different story. He shows that Mexican forces actually staged a predawn siege, taking the slumbering Texian forces by surprise. And the great majority of Texian soldiers, he shows, actually died trying to escape the fortress, not defend it.
Davy Crockett, James Bowie and William Barret Travis: Heroes, but not angels
Bowie and Travis are credited with bolstering manpower and artillery prior to the siege, and Davy Crockett famously rode to Texas to aid in the Texas Revolution after losing a Congressional race in Tennessee. All three died in the battle. In “Three Roads to the Alamo: The Lives and Fortunes of David Crockett, James Bowie and William Barret Travis,” historian William C. Davis charts the trajectories that led each man to the Alamo, and paints surprising portraits of Bowie (a land speculator notorious for fraud and forgery) and Travis (a crooked country lawyer). Fortunately, Davis mostly preserves Davy Crockett’s reputation as a gallant frontiersman.