Why do we remember the Alamo?

The Battle of the Alamo

A depiction of the battle within the walls of the Alamo. Combatant Davy Crockett is shown with his rifle raised as a club.
A depiction of the battle within the walls of the Alamo. Combatant Davy Crockett is shown with his rifle raised as a club.

From Feb. 23, 1836, to Mar. 6, 1836, San Antonio, Texas had served as a battleground between the Mexican Army and Texan and Tejano revolutionaries. A group of insurgents had been forced to hole up in the Alamo. The Mexicans were led by the centralist General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, a former president of Mexico famous for his military prowess and for introducing chicle (the main ingredient in chewing gum) to gum maker Thomas Adams [source: Publishers Weekly]. Now he and his 1,800 troops were a short distance away from the Alamo.

The former mission town had been converted into a fort, and the insurgents were trapped inside without reinforcements. Among them were frontiersmenJim Bowie (who was confined to a bed and delirious) and Davy Crockett, a former congressman from Tennessee. There were men from Denmark, Ireland, Scotland and England -- settlers who had come to America and migrated to Texas. And there were also women, children and slaves. Runners had been sent to elicit help from neighboring areas, but the only response came in the form of 32 volunteer rangers from the town of Gonzales. In total, the fighting men inside the Alamo numbered less than 200.

According to legend, the rebel commander of the Alamo, William B. Travis, drew his sword and traced a line in the sand with its tip. He asked every man who was willing to defend the fort to the death to cross it. Only one man didn't cross [source: The Alamo].

When Santa Ana sent an offer for the rebels to surrender peaceably, Travis shot back -- literally.

It was around 5 a.m. on March 6 when the Mexicans stormed the Alamo. The army was forced back at first by cannon fire from the fort, but succeeded in breaking through. The insurgents and army fought a heated battle with rifle and pistol fire and hand-to-hand combat with fists, knives and bayonets. Travis was one of the first to die; he was shot from his position on the roof. The rest soon followed, as the Mexican centralists broke through each barricade and strong-armed their way deeper into the Alamo. Bowie, still infirm, was killed in his bed.

By dawn, the Mexicans had taken the Alamo. Women, children and slaves were taken from the fort. So, too, was a small group of six captured rebels. They were taken to Gen. Santa Ana, who commanded their execution. Every rebel fighter had been killed. Six hundred of the Mexican troops had died in the battle [source: PBS]. A slave, known to history only as John, was the lone noncombatant male who lived to tell the provisional rebel government what had happened at the fort.

Read on the next page how Gen. Santa Ana's army was finally defeated.