Feb. 23, 2022

The Battle of the Alamo

The Battle of the Alamo

February 23, 1836. The Mexican Army begins a thirteen-day siege to reclaim the Alamo, resulting in the most fabled battle of the Texas Revolution.

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Cold Open

It’s midnight on October 2nd, 1835 near the settlement of Gonzales, Texas… and a revolution is about to begin.

Colonel John Henry Moore, an early Texas settler, stands on the banks of the Guadalupe River. Behind him are 140 armed Texans, their sights set on a camp of Mexican soldiers just on the other side of the river. There is a thick fog and Moore can barely see. But he presses on.

He whistles to his men giving them the signal to advance.

Tensions between the Texas settlers and the Mexican government have been simmering for some time. Mexico wants the settlers to pay taxes and follow Mexican laws. But the settlers want independence, to write their own laws; and tonight, they’re going to send a message.

Moore and his men make it across the river and close in on the Mexican camp.

Moore lifts his hand in the air. His men take aim…

Amid a spray of bullets, the Mexicans scramble to mount their horses. Moore and his men fall back to a thicket of trees where they’ve strategically placed a cannon.

And as the Mexican cavalrymen gallop after them… Moore orders his artillery to fire. The Mexican cavalry are scattered and flee back to camp.

Moore’s spirits soar as he watches their retreat. He turns to look at a flag his men have hoisted in the air. At its center is the image of the cannon, with a simple provocation emblazoned underneath: “Come and Take It.”

The Battle of Gonzales, as it will come to be known, is the first conflict in the Texas Revolution, and it was fought over this cannon. Years before, the Mexican Army lent this artillery to the Gonzalez settlers so they could protect themselves from Comanche raids. But recently, as tensions worsened, the government asked for the cannon back. The settlers did not comply, and instead, used the weapon to launch a surprise attack.

As news of the Texas victory at the Battle of Gonzales spreads, it will transform into a rallying cry. In just one month, the Texans will establish their own provisional government and throw themselves wholeheartedly into a war for independence; a goal that will be put to the test just five months later when Mexican forces lay siege to a small fortress called the Alamo on February 23rd, 1836.


From Noiser and Airship, I’m Lindsay Graham and this is History Daily.

History is made every day. On this podcast—every day—we tell the true stories of the people and events that shaped our world.

Today is February 23rd: The Battle of the Alamo.

Act One: The Siege Begins

It’s January 1836 at a fort in Goliad filled with armed Texans who are about to invade Mexico.

But inside the fort, a soldier named James Bowie gears up for a change of plans. Bowie’s just received orders from the Texas Army’s highest-ranking officer, General Sam Houston. Houston wants Bowie to leave Goliad at once. Santa Anna, Mexico’s president and highest general, is marching with over a thousand men at his command on another city, San Antonio.

But Houston doesn’t want Bowie to defend San Antonio, he wants him to withdraw the town’s troops and artillery and destroy a fort there, called the Alamo. Bowie shudders at the thought of giving up San Antonio, the town he considers home to Santa Anna.

Bowie was one of many Americans who renounced their US citizenship and pledged allegiance to Mexico in exchange for land and new possibilities. The Mexican government initially welcomed the immigration, but tensions between the Mexicans and new settlers have been mounting. Many of the Americans depend on slave labor for their livelihood. They’ve grown frustrated at Mexican’s criminalization of slavery. And they refuse to pay the Mexican government’s taxes. Many settlers, like Bowie, believe the only solution to their conflicts is a fight for independence. And that fight, Bowie thinks, can't be won if cities like San Antonio are abandoned to the Mexicans.

So, Bowie makes an executive decision. Instead of Burning the Alamo and leaving San Antonio to Santa Anna, Bowie pleads with the Texans to stand and fight.

Colonel William B. Travis, a former lawyer, is given the task of defending the Alamo. But he fears staving off the advancing Mexican forces will be an impossible task. Complicating matters, Travis quickly learns that Bowie and his ragtag militia of volunteer soldiers have no respect for his authority. They dispute Travis’s leadership and ultimately force him to share command with Bowie.

But despite their differences, both men are deeply concerned about the fort’s readiness against the Mexican invasion. Their only hope is that the reinforcements and supplies they've pleaded for will arrive before Santa Anna does.

But, on the morning of February 23rd, 1836, Travis receives word that Santa Anna and 1,500 Mexican cavalrymen are closing in.

Since taking command, Travis has felt a certain gloom about the precarity of the Texans’ situation at the Alamo. Despite his best efforts to shore up the fort’s defenses, he has only 200 men. And now, as he eyes the size of the enemy force advancing, Travis only sees impending doom.

He watches from a window as the Mexican troops raise a blood-red flag. Travis knows what the color of the flag signifies: no quarter. The Mexican soldiers will show no mercy and take no prisoners. But a Mexican bugler sounds the request for parley, it's an opportunity to negotiate his way out of a certain death, but Travis ignores the call. Instead, he orders his men to fire the Alamo’s largest cannon. But then, Travis learns that Bowie had taken matters into his own hands again: he had already sent a representative to meet with Santa Anna.

Travis seethes at the news. But he also realizes that Bowie’s impulse to negotiate isn’t wrong. The Texans are outgunned and outmanned. But if there are to be negotiations, Travis can't let a hothead like Bowie run them. So he sends his own representative to meet with the Mexican officers. Both emissaries return with the same, unequivocal message: there will be no terms of surrender; the Texan rebels will get no assurances of safety.

As Travis and Bowie digest the news, the two men finally find themselves in agreement. They will fight to the bitter end. And to make their intentions known, they fire the cannon one more time.


It’s the afternoon of February 24th, 1836, inside the Alamo, just one day after Santa Anna and his 1,500 Mexican troops arrived in San Antonio. Colonel William B. Travis’s mind races as he stares at a blank piece of paper and ponders what to write. Things are not going well for Travis and his men. Earlier today, James Bowie collapsed from a mysterious but serious illness. And with Bowie bedridden and more Mexican reinforcements on the way, Travis knows time is of the essence. So he pleads for help.

At the top of the piece of paper, Travis writes: 

“To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World… I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch… if this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country.”

Travis hands his letter off to a messenger and prays aid will find them soon. That letter will be reprinted and distributed across Texas and the United States and will go down in history as one of the most powerful invocations of patriotism during the Texas Revolution. But the letter ends with a foreboding ultimatum; only two outcomes, he writes, are possible for Travis and his men: victory or death.

Act Two: The Final Battle

It’s a quiet morning on March 6th, 1836, thirteen days into the Mexican army’s siege.

A group of families huddle together in a store room inside the Alamo compound. Among them is the Esparza family and their eight-year-old son, Enrique. Most everyone is asleep. But Enrique’s eyes are wide open. He stares at his father who sleeps nearby. He’s grateful to have him by his side. The day Santa Anna arrived in town, Enrique and his family retreated to the Alamo where his father took up arms alongside the rest of the Texas army. For the past 12 days, little Enrique has listened to the soldiers fight. And though few Texans have been killed so far, Enrique worries for his father.

Enrique and his family are Tejanos, the term for Texas’s Hispanic settlers. Tejanos like Enrique and his family have played a significant role in Texas’s fight for independence. But for many of them, that fight comes at a personal cost. Enrique’s father fights for Texas’s independence inside the Alamo. But outside the fort’s walls, his uncle stands among the ranks of the Mexican Army.

For Enrique, it’s a confusing and difficult situation. But tonight, he enjoys a rare moment of peace and quiet. Eventually, drifting off into a deep sleep. Soon, shouting interrupts his slumber.

Mexican soldiers have jumped the wall. Enrique watches helplessly as his father leaps to his feet and heads out into the fight. As he goes, the battle cries of the Mexican soldiers fill the compound. Their voices crying out: “Viva la Republica! Viva Santa Anna!” Enrique hears the thundering sound of hundreds of Mexican soldiers pouring over the walls of the fort. Shots ring out and an errant bullet shatters the window of the store room where Enrique and others are hiding. Enrique hurries to a corner where he takes cover with other families. Across the room from him is another young boy wrapped in a blanket. Enrique watches as a bullet strikes him dead.

For fifteen minutes, bullets continue to pelt the room. By some miracle, they never hit Enrique, his mother, or his siblings. And after 90 minutes, the gunfire finally ceases, replaced with the sounds of footsteps drawing near. 

Suddenly, light streams through the door frame as a Mexican soldier steps inside. Enrique watches in horror as the Mexican soldier points his bayonet at his mother’s chest. The soldier demands to know where the Texans’ money is.

Enrique’s mother tries to appease the soldier, desperately pleading for her and her children's lives until a Mexican officer steps into the room and barks an order: “The women and children are not to be hurt.” The officer instructs the families to collect their belongings and prepare to leave the fort.

As Enrique ventures out of the store room, he’s met with a grim sight. Hundreds of bodies litter the ground. Many are Mexican soldiers, but the rest are the men he just spent the past two weeks with. Enrique’s stomach sinks as he realizes his father is likely one of them. 

Unbeknownst to Enrique, his uncle will later find his father’s body in the thick of the battlefield. Santa Anna will allow his uncle to retrieve the body for burial, a fate that will be unique among the Alamo’s defenders.

In the end, all 200 Texans will be found dead, along with 600 Mexican soldiers. Enrique will be one of only a handful of Texans who will leave the Alamo alive. And the only defender spared by Santa Anna will be Joe, William B. Travis’s personal slave.

Santa Anna will give these survivors money and a blanket before sending them on their way. Meanwhile, the bodies of the rebellious Texan soldiers will be placed in between layers of wood and set ablaze in massive funeral pyres, punctuating the final course of what some historians will call Santa Anna’s “feast of blood.”


It’s March 6th, 1836, the morning of the Alamo’s fall, in Washington County, Texas, over a hundred miles from the Alamo. General Sam Houston walks up to a small, unassuming building, ready to resume work on a constitution for the newly established Republic of Texas. A week ago, 41 delegates arrived here in Washington-on-the-Brazos to declare independence and create a new government. These delegates have already approved a declaration of independence, but they still need a constitution.

Houston is eager to get a plan approved, but as he enters the convention building, news of a letter from Alamo commander William B. Travis changes his plans. Houston quickly leaves the convention, but when he arrives in Gonzales to gather soldiers, Houston learns he’s too late. As word spreads of the slaughter, the Battle of the Alamo will reinvigorate the Texans with a motive even more powerful than independence: revenge.

Act Three: Victory at San Jacinto

It’s the afternoon of April 21st, 1836 in a Mexican military camp set up on a plain near Texas’s San Jacinto River.

Mexican general Santa Anna settles beneath the shade of a tree. Over the protests of his officers, Santa Anna doesn’t think twice about setting up camp today in a tactically unwise location; the self-proclaimed “Napoleon of the West” is ready for a break from the war.

Several battles have occurred since the defeat of the Texan forces at the Alamo two months ago, but each has been a victory for Santa Anna who now feels ready to put a decisive end to the Texans’ uprising. Feeling safe in the company of his 1,500 soldiers, Santa Anna drifts off to sleep, confident that the Texan rebels will be vanquished. But soon, he is startled awake by the sound of gunfire.

Santa Anna climbs to his feet. Every direction he turns, he sees Texan soldiers closing in. Santa Anna sends out battalions to fend off the advancing soldiers, but it is no use. The Texans keep advancing.

Santa Anna has no choice; he hops on his horse and rides away from the camp, heading toward a bridge he knows is near. But, as he nears the river, Santa Anna sees the bridge is gone, burnt to a pile of ashes. He jumps from his horse and resumes his escape on foot but soon realizes he has nowhere to run.

Desperate, Santa Anna will don the uniform of a common soldier to conceal his identity. But in the end, he will be captured and his meager disguise does not work. Fearing execution, he will sign an order calling for all Mexican troops to withdraw.

The Battle of San Jacinto, as it will come to be called, lasts only 18 minutes. In total, 630 Mexican soldiers are killed and 730 are taken prisoner by the Texan army. While many factors spurred the Texas war for independence, revenge brought the war to an end. The Battle of San Jacinto was born out of a passion for retribution summed up by the cry that rang out across the battlefield that day: “Remember the Alamo”.

Mexico will never regain the territory it lost in the Texas Revolution. Instead, Texas will remain an independent republic for nearly a decade before it joins the United States, becoming the 28th state of the Union. But the annexation of Texas will once again ignite conflict with Mexico and spark the Mexican-American War. Throughout this conflict, a familiar cry will ring out. Twenty-three years after the fact, U.S. soldiers will again shout “Remember the Alamo!”, bringing the mythology of that small fort back to the battlefield and continuing the life of a story set in motion on February 23rd, 1836.


Next on History Daily.February 24th, 1868, The House of Representatives moves to impeach Andrew Johnson, making him the first president to face removal from office in US history.

From Noiser and Airship, this is History Daily, hosted, edited, and executive produced by me, Lindsay Graham.

Audio editing by Mollie Baack.

Sound design by Derek Behrens.

Music by Lindsay Graham.

This episode is written and researched by Alexandra Currie-Buckner.

Executive Producers are Steven Walters for Airship, and Pascal Hughes for Noiser.