The phrase “Remember the Alamo!” has been a part of American heritage for almost 200 years and conjures up images of Texan resolve and American patriotism. However, some might argue that the phrase has become so well known that it has overshadowed the Alamo itself. Let’s look at what the Alamo is and why we should remember it.
History of the Alamo
The Alamo Mission of San Antonio is a historic church and fortress that sits in the middle of San Antonio, Texas. The first components of the compound were built in 1724 and were relocated from a nearby site that had been decimated by a hurricane.
One of the main purposes of the complex was to introduce christianity to the Native Americans who lived in the region. This effort was met with some success. At one point, over 300 Native Americans lived and worked on the 2.5-acre campus. The Alamo served this function until the 1790s, when changing legislation and incursions from other groups of Native Americans made life at the mission inhospitable. The Alamo was abandoned in 1793 and sat dormant until the following century.
Use as a Military Complex
The mission was repurposed by the Spanish military in 1803 and was named “The Alamo" — a reference to a grove of cottonwood trees that grew nearby. The Alamo remained in Spanish possession for the next 20 years and alternated between being a hospital and a political prison while the Spanish fought the War of Mexican Independence.
Mexico was successful in that conflict and control of the Alamo passed to the Mexican government in 1821. The Mexican Army maintained a garrison at the location during the outbreak of the Texan Revolution in 1835. That garrison was overrun after a two-month siege and the Texas revolutionary forces took control of the fortress.
The Battle of the Alamo
When the Mexican garrison at the Alamo was forced out, many Texans hoped it meant the end of the war since it was the last significant group of Mexican forces in the region. However, the Mexican Army was determined to retake the San Antonio area and returned with a detachment of 3,000 men in February.
Informed of the overwhelming force that they faced, Alamo commander James Niell requested that 200 more troops be sent to secure the compound. However, the Texan forces were stretched too thin and only 35 men showed up.
Mexican General Santa Ana arrived with his army on February 23rd and began a 13-day siege of the compound. When the defenders proved more resilient than the general had anticipated, the Mexican forces charged the compound on March 6th. All 100 defenders were killed within 90 minutes of fighting.
“Remember the Alamo!”
“Remember the Alamo!” became a rallying cry for the Texan forces who were gathering in the north. The supposed brutality of the conflict drew revolutionaries together and they made their stand at The Battle of San Jacinto near present-day Galveston.
The battle between Texas revolutionaries and the Mexican Army took only 18 minutes before Texans overran their opponents and secured a decisive victory. They were able to destroy a large portion of the Mexican force and capture the rest including General Santa Ana. Santa Ana then brokered the peace deal that granted Texas its independence and paved the way for it to become the largest state of the union until the arrival of Alaska in 1959.
The phrase has kept its cultural cache as a part of Texan heritage and as an enduring symbol of Hollywood’s memory of the period. Films such as “The Alamo” in the 1960s starring John Wayne helped cement the battle and the phrase as a part of American culture, which is why over 2.5 million people travel to San Antonio to remember the Alamo every year.