Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Texas War for Independence [1835-36]

The soon to be American southwest is the focus of two posts.

After "Norte Americanos" were permitted to settle the northern states of Mexico under impresarios like Stephen Austin during the early 1820s, Mexico declared and won its independence from Spain in 1824. Shortly thereafter, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna gained the presidency and became dictator. He fashioned himself the "Napoleon of the West." Like Napoleon, Santa Anna would have his Waterloo.

Catholic Mexico feared the encroaching predominantly Protestant Americans. The Americans had served as a convenient buffer for the northern frontier. They made the land profitable and helped contain the Comanches and other tribes in northern Mexico. Some also held slaves [illegal in Mexico] and were Catholic in name only. Although Santa Anna terminated immigration, many Americans and Europeans still entered Mexico.

"Texicans" [as the Americans became known] opposed the dictatorship and rebelled. In 1835 a small force in Gonzalez held off soldados sent to reclaim a cannon given to the settlers for protection against Indians. They held off the soldados while waving a banner reading "Come and take it!"

Later that year, the Texicans defeated General Cos at San Antonio de Bexar, bottling up Cos's men in the Alamo. The Alamo was an old mission and garrison outpost that had fallen into disrepair. Cos surrendered and was paroled on the promise of never returning to Texas.

The Texicans took over Bexar. The regulars were eventually under the command of Lt. Col. William Barrett Travis. The volunteers were led by Jim Bowie, a large landowner who had married into the prominent Veramendi family. Travis and Bowie frequently butted heads, but agreed that Bexar and the Alamo needed to be defended.

Gen. Sam Houston had sent Bowie to Bexar with orders to blow up the Alamo and retreat to Gonzalez. Bowie wrote him that they would defend the Alamo.

Adding to the garrison in early February 1836 was a small group calling themselves the "Tennessee Mounted Volunteers." Former US Congressman David Crockett was among them.

On 24 February 1836, the Mexican army was spotted by scouts and Bexar was evacuated for the Alamo. Santa Anna settled in for what would be a 13 day siege. Bowie fell ill and was bedridden, leaving full command to Travis. Messengers were sent out with pleas for reinforcements. They expected Col. Fannin to send help from Goliad, where the main army was located. Finally, 32 men arrived from Gonzalez. Another group may have come in as well. Recent research suggests that Crockett and the last messenger went out and came across some 50-odd men enroute to the Alamo. Some of those volunteers made it within the walls led by Crockett.

At least one member of the garrison, Louis Rose, may have opted to escape before the battle.

In the early morning hours of 6 March 1836, Santa Anna ordered about 1600 troops to attack. Two assaults were repelled, but the third breached the Alamo's north wall. Travis was among the first to fall. Bowie was bayonetted in his bed, but may have taken a couple of soldados with him. Upwards of 50 defenders attempted to escape the mission-fortress, but were slaughtered by the Mexican cavalry. A few smaller groups probably met the same fate. Those defenders who took refuge in the barracks building were blasted out by cannon fire and cut down in hand-to-hand combat. A small group of defenders were cut down near the mission church, Crockett among them. No quarter was given, every defender was killed. A few may have hid out and tried to escape, but were probably all killed as well.

The Texican bodies were stacked like cord wood and burned. Mexican dead were buried or tossed into the San Antonio River. A handful of survivors, wives, children and slaves were spared and released to spread word of Santa Anna's "small affair."

The defenders died not knowing that they gave their lives for the new Republic of Texas. Independence had been declared on the 2nd. Gen. Sam Houston was forming an army to fight Santa Anna. Fannin's command was captured and executed later in March. Santa Anna marched toward the US border, leaving towns in his wake in ashes. Houston, his army and fleeing families retreated.

Houston finally found his own Waterloo site, San Jacinto. The "Army of Texas" attacked Santa Anna's army on 21 April 1836. The battle lasted only about 18 minutes. Over 800 Mexican casualties and prisoners were tallied. Texican losses were minimal. Santa Anna, dressed in peasant's garb, was eventually caught and signed Texas over to  Houston.

Family connections: Lucinda Morris, 2nd wife of John Simmons Jr., was the widow of Captain Robert Cunningham. Their son, David married Anna Jennison [sister of Dolly, who married John William Simmons]. David and Anna's eldest, Robert W. Cunningham left the family home near Jeffersonville, Indiana to work on flatboats on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Robert found his way to New Orleans and in 1833 took up land in Austin's Colony. Robert was a sergeant in Captain Parrott's artillery company at the Battle of Bexar. He remained in the town to serve as a private in Captain Carey's artillery company at the Alamo. Robert W. Cunningham was one of at least 185 defenders to give his life at the Alamo. 

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