On February 12, 1836, Santa Anna with an army of about six thousand crossed the Rio Grande to crush the rebellion in Texas. He ordered General Jose Urrea to move from Matamoros against Texas forces stationed at San Patricio and Goliad, while he led the main army directly to San Antonio.
San Antonio was a frontier post defended by a small group of Texans. In January, Colonel James C. Neill, commander at San Antonio, reported that he had only one hundred men and was badly in need of supplies, and the efforts during the next few weeks to enlist volunteers were almost futile. General Sam Houston ordered Colonel James Bowie to San Antonio to destroy the fortifications and then to retreat, but once there with about twenty-five volunteers Bowie was convinced that it was a strategic post and he chose to defy his orders and remain with the defenders. On February 3 William Barrett Travis with thirty men of the regular army, in compliance with Governor Henry Smith's order, joined the garrison. A few days later Neill went home on account of illness in his family and left Travis in command of the garrison. Though at first Bowie refused to accept the arrangement, illness forced his acquiescence.
Santa Anna surprised the garrison by arriving about one month before he was expected. On the afternoon of February 23 Travis dispatched a hasty note to the alcalde of Gonzales calling for assistance: "The enemy in large force is in sight. We want men and provisions. Send them to us. We have 150 men and are determined to defend the Alamo to the last. Give us assistance." The next day he wrote a stirring appeal for aid that has been called "the most heroic document in American history." In response to the appeals, Captain Albert Martin and thirty-one men of Gonzales slipped through the Mexican line into the Alamo on the night of March 1. Two days later, after the arrival of the remainder of Santa Anna's army, Travis sent out his final appeal for aid.
The first of the following documents is Travis letter to Judge Andrew Ponton and Citizens of Gonzales, Second is Travis' letter of February 24 the third is his final appeal for aid the fourth his the report of Colonel Francisco Ruiz, the alcalde of San Antonio, who was ordered by Santa Anna to dispose of the dead.
Travis's Letter from the Alamo to Andrew Ponton, Judge and Citizens of Gonzales
To Andrew Ponton, Judge and Citizens of Gonzales February 23, 1836
COMMANDANCY OF BEXAR, 3 o'clock p.m.: The enemy in large force are in sight. We want men and provisions. Send them to us. We have 150 men and are determined to defend the Alamo to the last. Give us assistance.
William Barret Travis Lt. Col. Comdt.
P.S. Send an express to San Felipe with news night and day.
Credit: Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
From William Barrett Travis, Bejar, To the People of Texas & All Americans in the world, Feby. 24th, 1836
Commandancy of The Alamo Bejar, Feby. 24th, 1836
To the People of Texas & All Americans in the world -Fellow Citizens & compatriots-
I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna - I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man - The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken - I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls - I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, 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 -- The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. 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 - VICTORY OR DEATH.
William Barrett Travis, Lt. Col. comdt.
P. S. The Lord is on our side - When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn - We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels and got into the walls 20 or 30 heads of Beeves.
MS; Archives, Texas State Library, Austin
From Mary Austin Holley, Texas (Lexington, Ky., 1836), 351-353.
Commandancy of the Alamo Bejar, March 3, 1836.
Sir, - In the present confusion of the political authorities of the country, and in the absence of the commander-in-chief, I beg leave to communicate to you the situation of this garrison. You have doubtless already seen my official report of the action of the 25th ult., made on that day to Gen. Sam. Houston, together with the various communications heretofore sent by express. I shall therefore confine myself to what has transpired since that date.
From the 25th to the present date, the enemy have kept up a bombardment from two howitzers, (one a five and a half inch, and the other an eight inch,) and a heavy cannonade from two long nine pounders, mounted on a battery on the opposite side of the river, at the distance of four hundred yards from our walls. During this period the enemy have been busily employed in encircling us with entrenched encampments on all sides, at the following distances, to wit: -in Bejar, four hundred yards west; in Lavilleta, three hundred yards south; at the powder house, one thousand yards east by south; on the ditch, eight hundred yards northeast, and at the old mill, eight hundred yards north. Notwithstanding all this, a company of thirty-two men from Gonzales, made their way into us on the morning of the 1st inst., at 3 o'clock, and Col. J. B. Bonham (a courier from Gonzales) got in this morning at 11 o'clock, without molestation. I have so fortified this place, that the walls are generally proof against cannon balls; and I still continue to intrench on the inside, and strengthen the walls by throwing up the dirt. At least two hundred shells have fallen inside of our works without having injured a single man: indeed, we have been so fortunate as not to lose a man from any cause; and we have killed many of the enemy. The spirits of my men are still high, although they have had much to depress them. We have contended for ten days against an enemy whose numbers are variously estimated at from fifteen hundred to six thousand men, with Gen. Ramier Siesma and Col. Batres, the aids-de-camps of Santa Anna, at their head. A report was circulated that Santa Anna himself was with the enemy, but I think it was false. A reinforcement of about one thousand men is now entering Bejar from the west, and I think it more than probable that Santa Anna is now in town, from the rejoicing we hear. Col. Fannin is said to be on the march to this place with reinforcements; but I fear it is not true, as I have repeatedly sent to him for aid without receiving any. Colonel Bonham, my special messenger, arrived at La Bahia fourteen days ago, with a request for aid; and on the arrival of the enemy in Bejar ten days ago, I sent an express to Col. Fannin, which arrived at Goliad on the next day, urging him to send us reinforcements-- none have yet arrived. I look to the colonies alone for aid: unless it arrives soon, I shall have to fight the enemy on his own terms. I will, however, do the best I can under the circumstances; and I feel confident that the determined valor, and desperate courage, heretofore evinced by my men, will not fail them in the last struggle: and although they may be sacrificed to the vengeance of a gothic enemy, the victory will cost the enemy so dear, that it will be worse for him than a defeat. I hope your honourable body will hasten on reinforcements, ammunition, and provisions to our aid, as soon as possible. We have provisions for twenty days for the men we have-- our supply of ammunition is limited. At least five hundred pounds of cannon powder, and two hundred rounds of six, nine, twelve, and eighteen pound balls-- ten kegs of rifle powder, and a supply of lead, should be sent to this place without delay, under a sufficient guard.
If these things are promptly sent and large reinforcements are hastened to this frontier, this neighborhood will be the great and decisive battle ground. The power of Santa Anna is to be met here, or in the colonies; we had better meet them here, than to suffer a war of desolation to rage in our settlements. A blood red banner waves from the church of Bejar, and in the camp above us, in token that the war is one of vengeance against rebels: they have declared us as such, and demanded that we should surrender at discretion, or that this garrison should be put to the sword. Their threats have had no influence on me, or my men, but to make all fight with desperation, and that high souled courage which characterizes the patriot, who is willing to die in defence of his country's liberty and his own honor.
The citizens of this municipality are all our enemies except those who have joined us heretofore; we have but three Mexicans now in the fort; those who have not joined us in this extremity, should be declared public enemies, and their property should aid in paying the expenses of the war.
The bearer of this will give your honorable body, a statement more in detail, should he escape through the enemies lines- God and Texas--Victory or Death!
Your obedient servant, W. BARRETT TRAVIS, Lieut Col. Comm.
P.S. The enemies troops are still arriving, and the reinforcement will probably amount to two or three thousand.
March 6, 1836
From Francisco Ruiz, "Report," trans. in Amelia Williams, "A Critical Study of the Siege of the Alamo and the Personnel of Its Defenders," The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXXVII (July, 1933), 39-40. Another translation by J. H. Quintero was published in the Texas Almanac (Galveston, 1860), 80-81.
On the 6th of March 1836, at 3 a.m., General Santa Anna at the head of 4,000 men advanced against the Alamo. The infantry, artillery and cavalry had formed about 1000 varas from the walls of the same fortress. The Mexican army charged and were twice repulsed by the deadly fire of Travis's artillery, which resembled a constant thunder. At the third charge the Toluca battalion commenced to scale the walls and suffered severely. Out of 830 men only 130 of the battalion were left alive.
When the Mexican army entered the walls, I with the political chief, Don Ramon Musquiz and other members of the corporation, accompanied by the curate, Don Refugio de la Garza, who by Santa Anna's orders had assembled during the night at a temporary fortification on Protero Street, with the object of attending the wounded, etc. As soon as the storming commenced we crossed the bridge on Commerce Street, with this object in view and about 100 yards from the same a party of Mexican dragoons fired upon us and compelled us to fall back on the river to the place that we had occupied before. Half an hour had elapsed when Santa Anna sent one of his aides-de-camp with an order for us to come before him. He directed me to call on some of the neighbors to come with carts to carry the (Mexican) dead to the cemetary and to accompany him, as he desired to have Colonels Travis, Bowie, and Crockett shown to him.
On the north battery of the fortress convent, lay the lifeless body of Col. Travis on the gun carriage, shot only through the forehead. Toward the west and in a small fort opposite the city, we found the body of Colonel Crockett. Col. Bowie was found dead in his bed in one of the rooms on the south side.
Santa Anna, after all the Mexican bodies had been taken out, ordered wood to be brought to burn the bodies of the Texans. He sent a company of dragoons with me to bring wood and dry branches from the neighboring forests. About three o'clock in the afternoon of March 6, we laid the wood and dry branches upon which a pile of dead bodies was placed, more wood was piled on them, then another pile of bodies was brought, and in this manner they were all arranged in layers. Kindling wood was distributed through the pile and about 5 o'clock in the evening it was lighted.
The dead Mexicans of Santa Anna were taken to the graveyard, but not having sufficient room for them, I ordered some to be thrown into the river, which was done on the same day.
The gallantry of the few Texans who defended the Alamo was really wondered at by the Mexican army. Even the generals were astonished at their vigorous resistance, and how dearly victory was bought.
The generals under Santa Anna who participated in the storming of the Alamo, were Juan Amador, Castrillon, Ramirez y Sesma, and Andrade.
The men (Texans) burnt were one hundred and eighty-two. I was an eyewitness, for as alcalde of San Antonio, I was with some of the neighbors, collecting the dead bodies and placing them on the funeral pyre.
Francis Antonio Ruiz