San Antonio, TX (KTRE) - On this date 177 years ago, an old Spanish mission in San Antonio known as the Alamo fell on the last day of a brutal 13-day siege by the Mexican Army.
All 189 of the Texans defending the mission either died in the battle or were summarily executed when the smoke cleared. Among those who fell at the Alamo were Lt. Col. William Barret Travis, the Alamo's commander, entrepreneur-adventurer James Bowie, and Tennessee congressman Davy Crockett.
"The sacrifice of Travis and the rest of his command animated the rest of Texas and kindled a righteous wrath that swept the Mexicans off the field at San Jacinto," the Alamo entry on the Texas State Historical Association Web site stated. "Since 1836, Americans on battlefields over the globe have responded to the exhortation, "Remember the Alamo!"
According to the TSHA Web site, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the president of Mexico, overruled his generals' concerns about the military justification for such an action and decided to go ahead with the final attack on the Texan garrison at the Alamo at 5 a.m. on Sunday, March 6, 1836.
Mexican troops attacked the Alamo from four different directions, but the Texans on the walls manned their cannons as about 1,800 Mexican soldiers advanced into firing range, according to the TSHA Web site. The Alamo defenders fought off the first and second waves with intense cannon and rifle fire.
However, the Mexican soldiers got past the Alamo's defensive perimeter on the third wave. Travis was one of the first Alamo defenders to fall, the TSHA entry stated. Several historical accounts say that Travis was found slumped over his cannon on the mission's north bastion.
The Texas State Historical Association Web site stated that the Alamo's defenders abandoned the outer walls and withdrew to the Long Barracks.
"There, some of the bloodiest hand-to-hand fighting occurred," the entry stated. "Bowie, too ravaged by illness to rise from his bed, found no pity. The chapel fell last."
By 8 a.m. the morning of March 6, every defender at the Alamo lay dead. In all 189 Texans appear on the official list of those killed in action during the Alamo siege.
According to "The Gates of the Alamo" by Stephen Harrigan, the Mexican soldiers moved through the rubble of the mission and bayoneted every Alamo defender that was still moving. The Alamo defenders' bodies were tossed on a pile and burned at Santa Anna's orders.
The TSHA Web site states that the Mexican army paid a steep price to take the Alamo. Best estimates place the number of Mexican soldiers killed or wounded during the battle at 600.
Santa Anna allowed the noncombatant at the Alamo - women, children, and slaves - safe passage through the Mexican lines, according to the TSHA entry. He also provided each of them with a blanket and two dollars.
The most famous of the Alamo survivors was Susanna W. Dickinson, the widow of Capt. Almaron Dickinson. After the battle, Susanna Dickinson made her way to Gonzales, where she reported the fall of the Alamo garrison to Gen. Sam Houston.
On a related note, Travis' famous "Victory or death" letter will remain on public display at the Alamo in San Antonio until March 7. Two days into the siege, Travis, 26, addressed a letter to "to the people of Texas and all Americans." In the letter, he wrote that he and the Alamo defenders were facing thousands of Mexican soldiers and were under constant cannon fire. In addition, he wrote that Santa Anna had ordered the Alamo garrison to surrender. If they chose to fight, the Texans were to be executed.
"I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls - I shall never surrender or retreat," Travis' letter states. "Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch - The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days."
Travis wrote that if no one answered his call, he and his men would hold out as long as possible. He also mentioned his determination to "die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor and that of his country." He finished the letter with the words, "Victory or death."
Also on display for the 177th anniversary of the Alamo siege is a replica of the 18-pound cannon historians believe Travis used to answer Santa Anna's demand for the garrison's surrender. It will remain on display in front of the Alamo shrine until March 7.
"This 18-pound cannon embodies the Texians' unyielding defiance to tyranny," Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said in a press release. "This cannon - and the defiance it represented - was one of the main reasons Santa Anna was set on taking the Alamo."
The original cannon, probably located on the southwest corner of the compound, was capable of firing an 18-pound cannonball more than a mile, a press release from the Texas Land Office stated. The 18-pounder was the largest cannon at the Alamo at the time of the battle but was only one of about twenty cannons at the site.
According to the press release, the replica cannon was one of the few props to be salvaged from the 2011 fire that destroyed "The Alamo" movie set at Eugene Reimers' ranch. The $10 million set was the biggest in North America at the time and was used for the 2004 Touchstone film.
The original cannons captured at the Alamo were 'spiked" by the Mexican army, rendering them useless to the Texans. Several were found in the late 1900s when Alamo Plaza was developed.