Today, in the year 1836, the Mexican Army troops of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, finally were able to overrun the Texian volunteers defending the chapel of San Antonio de Valero Mission, after thirteen days of siege. General Santa Anna had his buglers play El Degüello (el da-gway-o), a bugle call of Moorish origins, to signify that no prisoners would be taken.
Although after the fact, this was widely thought of as a brutal and illegal measure, it was legally justified by a Mexican Resolution (which was sent to President Andrew Jackson) that declared that all combatants in the territory were to be classified as pirates, which legally, would be put to death immediately upon capture. Indeed, on this day in 1836, Santa Anna fulfilled that promise, and put to the sword every Texian combatant including many women and youngsters that were simply loading rifles.
Shortly after the first night of the seige, William Travis dispatched the first of many letters, pleading eloquently for assistance and supplies. Here is the first letter sent:
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 Barret 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 & got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.
Although popular support for the Texians’ plight at the Alamo ran high, no such assistance every arrived before the Alamo fell.
“Remember the Alamo” became a battle cry across the Republic, as the Texian Army proceeded to defeat the Mexicans all across Texas. The Alamo became a shrine to fallen Texan heroes, and remains the most visited tourist attraction in Texas to this day. Much like the U.S.S. Arizona, in Pearl Harbor, many visitors report that they can sense something surreal as they walk through the Alamo.
No visitor to the San Antonio area should miss the opportunity to see the Alamo, and appreciate the courage of the volunteers that readily gave up their lives for freedom, like so many others, before and after.