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William Barret Travis' Letter from the Alamo, 1836

At the Alamo in San Antonio, then called Bejar, 150 Texas rebels led by William Barret Travis made their stand against Santa Anna's vastly superior Mexican army. On the second day of the siege, February 24, 1836, Travis called for reinforcements with this heroic message:

I shall never surrender or retreat. 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. ... VICTORY OR DEATH.


The Republic of Texas - The Texas Revolution

The Battle of the Alamo

William B. TravisImage: William Barret Travis. From October 1835, Texans in the field had succeeded in most of their military campaigns. The cannon at Gonzales remained, smaller military units surrendered and then retired to Mexico, and Bexar finally gave way after a two-month siege. When Martin Perfecto de Cos and his men retreated from Bexar in December 1835, Texas had eliminated the last of the Mexican garrisons.

Most of the volunteers returned to their homes, convinced the war was over. The provisional government, split by internal quarrels over the objectives of the war, failed to supply the men in the field adequately. What little remained of the munitions and supplies were further subject to confiscation by commanders proposing buccaneering expeditions to Matamoros.

By January, the small body of men commanded by James C. Neill were reduced to about 100. They were supplemented by some twenty-five volunteers commanded by James Bowie. William Barrett Travis arrived on February 3 with thirty men from the regular army, ordered there by Governor Henry Smith.

In spite of engineer Green B. Jameson's belief that the Alamo was indefensible, both Neill and Bowie saw the fortress as a strategic post, particularly because of its armament. Houston, on the other hand, preferred to avoid fixed fortifications, and ordered Bowie, subject to Henry Smith's approval, to blow up the building.

When James C. Neill left the city a few days later to deal with illness in his family, he left Travis in command. Bowie, however, as commander of the volunteers, refused to accept orders from a regular army officer. A divisive contest was avoided when Bowie became ill and was forced to accept the arrangement.

Santa AnnaImage: D. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Santa Anna crossed the Rio Grande on February 12, and - a month earlier than expected - he arrived outside Bexar on February 23. Travis dispatched a note to Gonzales calling for reinforcements and numbering the defenders at 150. The next day he wrote his Letter from the Alamo, probably the best known of all Texas documents.

Reinforcements under Captain Albert Martin arrived from Gonzales on March 1. With the arrival of the last of Santa Anna's forces, Travis was able to send out only one last appeal on March 3. Again, he echoed the determination of the fortress to withstand surrender: "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.."

After the battle, the Texan bodies were burned. The pyre was constructed about three o'clock in the afternoon of March 6, and was lighted about five according to Francisco Antonio Ruiz, who went on to report: "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 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."

After the fall of the Alamo in 1836, the church and buildings were largely abandoned. The government of the Republic returned the chapel to the Catholic Church, but after annexation, the U.S. Government claimed it again for military use. In the ensuing years, both U.S. and Confederate forces used the building to house quartermaster stores and munitions. The U.S. Army continued to lease the property until 1876. Bishop John Claud Neraz's offer to sell the Alamo in 1882 was made to Frank W. Johnson, first president of the Texas Veterans' Association. He, in turn, passed the information on to the governor with a recommendation that the State purchase the building. On April 23, 1883, the Texas legislature passed an act authorizing the purchase of the Alamo. Money from the sale went to complete a new chancery building for the San Antonio diocese.

Fall of the Alamo by GentilzImage: Fall of the Alamo, by Theodore Gentilz

Related Battle of the Alamo topics from this online exhibit:

William Barrett Travis' Letter from the Alamo

David Crockett

James Butler Bonham

Santa Anna's Account of the Battle

Election return from the Alamo, February 1836

The Sale of the Alamo

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Page last modified: December 5, 2017