In the winter of 1915/16 Mexican counter-counter-revolutionary (I think), Pancho Villa, was on the losing end of his fight against “Primer Jefe” First Chief Venustiano Carranza. The “Villistas” as Pancho Villa and his men were called, were holed up in the Chihuahua Mountains and were desperate for supplies to continue. Three miles across the US/Mexican border was the town of Columbus, New Mexico, which could provide the necessary guns, horses, food, and blankets.
Before dawn on 9 March, 1916, Pancho Villa and 500 Villistas attacked Columbus and Camp Furlong just outside of town where 120 troopers of Headquarters, H, and F Troops of the 13th Cavalry were stationed. The garrison at Camp Furlong was saved by the actions of two lieutenants, one barefoot, who organized a defense around the post’s guard shack with the headquarters troop’s machinegun platoon. Once the Villistas were beaten back at the camp, F troop moved into Columbus where the civilians were fighting back from the brick schoolhouse while Pancho Villa and his men looted and burned the rest of the town. They arrived just in time to prevent the Villistas from robbing Columbus’ bank when a well-placed Hotchkiss machine gun prevented any attacker from crossing Broadway, Columbus’ main street.
The raid was successful, if at a heavy cost, as Pancho Villa stole hundreds of horses, rifles and pistols, and much needed food and blankets from the town at the cost 90 casualties, 70 of whom were killed. But he wasn’t counting on the natural aggressiveness of the United States Cavalryman. As Pancho Villa raced to the border, and then 15 miles into Mexico, the regimental executive officer with 40 men dogged them for the next 8 hours, killing or wounding another 250 Villistas, and forcing Pancho Villa to abandon much of his booty.
In the end Pancho Villa suffered over 300 casualties and the Americans eleven troopers and ten civilians killed and another dozen wounded in the Battle of Columbus. The raid sent shockwaves through the United States, particularity the death of the pregnant Mary James, who was killed by the Villistas fleeing the burning Hoover Hotel. President Wilson would authorize a punitive expedition into Mexico led by LTG John J. “Blackjack” Pershing to capture or kill Pancho Villa.
At the Treaty of Paris in 1783 which ended the American Revolution, Great Britain ceded parts of the province of Quebec west of Pennsylvania, south of the Great Lakes, and north of the Ohio River to the nacent United States of America. Known as the “Old Northwest” or “Ohio Country”, the cessation consisted of the present day American states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and northeastern Minnesota. Since the government under the Articles of Confederation had no provision to tax, the new US government expected raise money to pay off its war debt through the selling of land in the Northwest Territory to settlers. In the Ohio Country lived Britain’s Indian allies during the American Revolution, whose lands were recognized by the Americans, but forfeit, as per the terms of the Treaty of Paris. The area was a vast wilderness punctuated by only a few Indian nations, but the Indian culture demanded vast amounts of land for hunting grounds in addition to their semi nomadic system of agriculture. The settlers arriving in the Northwest Territory to claim their land naturally led to conflict with the Indian nations and led to increasing bloodshed along the frontier. Moreover, despite the Treaty of Paris, the British had no plans to evacuate their troops from the area, and still occupied Fort Detroit in the late 1780s. The British secretly desired a client buffer state between Canada and the United States, which would keep the Great Lakes under British control, and provide an exclusive market for their manufactured goods, upon which the Indians were dependent but had no way of producing on their own.
At various times between 1783 and 1785, the leadership of the Indian nations of the Northwest Territory, primarily the Wyandot (Huron), Miami, Shawnee, Lenape (Delaware) Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Kaskaskia, and the Wabash Confederacy, came together at Fort Detroit to form a bulwark against the expansion of the United States westwards. They formed the United Indian Nations in 1785, which was a loose confederation of generally Algonquin speaking Indian nations who agreed not to treat with the United States separately. The decentralized nature Western Confederacy, as UIN was known in the US, was exploited by the land hungry Americans. Less than a year later in January 1786 the Shawnee, Delaware, and Wyandot signed the Treaty of Fort Finney which allowed Americans to settle on their lands along the Ohio River. The Confederate Council Fire at Fort Detroit rejected the treaty which violated the Confederacy agreement. The Americans didn’t care.
The Northwest Territory was formally organized in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The governor, Arthur St. Clair, was instructed to “re-establish peace and harmony” with the Western Confederacy, but by 1789 peace negotiations broke down and Indian war parties and American militias raided each other’s settlements regularly. About 1500 American settlers were killed or enslaved, along with an unknown number of Indians, in the two years before the beginning of the Northwest Indian War.
The ratification of the US Constitution in 1787 permitted the authorization for the Executive Branch to raise a permanent army, funded by yearly appropriations by the US Congress. The first 300 American regulars were barely enough to keep up with settlers floating further and further down the Ohio and enforce the treaties with the various nations of the Western Confederacy. The big problem was not the Indians, but the settlers, just as the British found out 30 years before after the French and Indian War. Congress only authorized one regiment for operations on the frontier, and then only for year one terms as per US Constitution. That wasn’t nearly enough time, or men, to train the men properly, man the forts, maintain the treaties, protect the surveyors, much less act on the delicate situation. The untrained, ill equipped, ill funded, and inexperienced soldiers of the First American Regiment under Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmer could not keep the squatters and settlers inside the treaty lands, the Shawnee and Miami war parties from attacking homesteads and settlements, nor the Kentucky, Virginia, and Pennsylvania militia from conducting reprisal raids.
In 1786, Harmar built Fort Knox at Vincennes, (the old Fort Knox in present day Indiana, not today’s Fort Knox in Kentucky) specifically to prevent Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark and his Virginia militia from raiding Confederacy lands. In 1789, newly inaugurated President George Washington suffered significant blowback from American citizens in the West to do something about the bloodshed. Washington, always a friend to the Indians, at least until he wasn’t, asked St. Clair if the Western Confederacy was inclined to peace or war, St. Clair responded, “War”.
In 1790, Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox authorized Harmar to conduct a “punitive expedition” against the Shawnee and Miami to deter further attacks. Harmar might have been a dandy, but he didn’t need instructions on how to prevent Indian attacks. He was the senior officer in the American Army. As the Indians and settlers knew, the American frontier was too large and too untamed to defend outside a few forts where refuge could be found, the only choice was to attack, something the Pilgrims and Puritans figured out 125 years previously in the Pequot War. Western New York was just at that time open for settlement because of Sullivan’s Campaign in 1779 broke the Iroquois permanently, even though the Iroquois continued to raid from Fort Niagara and reservations in Canada for years.
Along with the First American Regiment, Harmar, now promoted to major general, mustered the militia at Fort Washington (present day Cincinnati, Ohio), and Fort Knox at Vincennes. The two forces, one under Major Jean Hamtramck at Vincennes and the other under Harmar, were to converge on the large Miami town of Kekionga (present day Fort Wayne, Indiana). They’d destroy any Confederacy villages and British trading posts along the way. The destruction of the British trading posts was key. Their loss would economically tie the Western Confederacy to the United States, no matter how many villages were destroyed. The Indians simply had no choice: the old ways were lost forever, if not completely in knowledge, then certainly in will. With the trading posts gone, the British would be in the same position France was in before the French and Indian War: without massive subsidies, British goods would be too expensive, too few, and of lesser quality than American goods produced nearby. The Indians would have no choice but to buy from American traders. Once Kekionga and the surrounding Miami villages were destroyed, the combined army would go on to Fort Detroit, weather permitting, and expel the British, completing the subjugation of the Western Confederacy.
The expedition got off to a rough start. In early October 1790, Hamtramck’s column burned a few abandoned villages of the Wabash Confederacy, but his Virginia militia began to desert soon after. The militia that Hamtramck, and Harmar, had for the offensive was not the same that took part in the raids. The campaign was in the middle of the harvest and many farmers paid for substitutes, who not fighting for their homesteads and strictly for pay, made for poor militia. As soon as the festive atmosphere of the original muster at the fort was replaced by the hard living and imminent fear of death or mutilation endemic to campaigning, the militia trickled away. Hamtramck was only out for a few weeks before he turned around and returned to Vincennes.
Harmar’s column departed Fort Washington on 7 October had much more success initially. At the head of 320 regulars of the First American Regiment, and 1,200 militia from Kentucky and Pennsylvania, Harmar headed directly at Kekionga, burning villages along the way. On 15 October, about 25 miles from Kekionga his scouts captured a Shawnee scout who told him that the warriors of the Miami and Shawnee tribes were massed at Kekionga waiting for more warriors from the other nations of the Western Confederacy and 320 Cherokee warriors, traditional British allies. Determined to surprise the Indians before they grew even stronger, Harmar dispatched Colonel John Hardin with 600 soldiers and militiamen to force march and surprise the Indians while he followed behind with the trains and main body. Hardin found the village abandoned and when Harmar arrived on the 16th, they confiscated the food left behind, and burned the town to the ground. There were no Confederacy warriors to be found.
The 1000 warriors of the Western Confederacy under war chiefs Little Turtle of the Miami and Blue Jacket of the Shawnee weren’t running away, they were just waiting for Harmar to divide his force. They knew everything about Harmar’s army, its morale problems, and everything about Harmar himself. They knew he spent a significant amount of time in Paris (where he delivered the ratified Treaty of Paris to Benjamin Franklin in 1783) and got addicted to the good life. They knew he was up to his eyeballs in debt because of it, but refused to give up the lifestyle. They knew he would have a sumptuous wagon filled with top shelf booze. They knew he was a drunk. Hell, everyone knew Harmar was a drunk: Henry Knox even referred to it in one of the specified objectives of the campaign “Don’t drink, sober generals are good generals.” Little Turtle and Blue Jacket knew it was only a matter of time before Harmar made a mistake they could exploit and his army disintegrated as a result. There was no reason to waste warriors’ lives, who could not be replaced, in a straight up battle for Kekionga, They didn’t have to long to wait.
As Harmar and the main body established a camp outside Kekionga, Harmar sent raiding parties out to destroy the smaller villages and find the elusive warriors. These raiding arties were exactly what Little Turtle and Blue Jacket were waiting for. On 19 October, Hardin set off to attack the village of Miami chief Le Gris. On the way, Hardin’s 30 regulars, 30 cavalry and 180 militia spotted a lone Indian and they gave chase. The Indian ran into a swampy marsh along the Eel River known as “Helle’s Corner”. He was a decoy. Once inside the marsh, Little Turtle attacked the spread out Americans. The militia immediately broke, mainly without coming into contact, though a few stayed with the regulars and died fighting. Only 8 regulars survived, including the company commander who had words later with Hardin. Though most of cavalry and militia survived, including Hardin, they mostly went home, but not before spreading the tales of their defeat back at Harmar’s camp.
The next day, another 300 strong mixed American force was ambushed eight miles north of Kekionga, leaving 20 dead, including the well-liked ensign who commanded the force. Almost certainly drunk, Harmar surprisingly pulled the camp back two miles further south of Kekionga in response to the attack. Even worse, Harmar refused the men’s request to recover and bury the bodies. They were no strangers to the Indians’ proclivity to mutilate the dead. Morale plummeted at Harmar’s obstinacy.
On the night of the 21st, Hardin decided to attack on his own, if only to bury the bodies. He also said he hoped to catch the Indians digging up their possessions that they buried, but more likely Hardin was looking to redeem himself after the Battle of Helle’s Corner. With sixty regulars and 300 militia, Hardin set out into the darkness. When Hardin arrived at Kekionga, he was surprised to find the ruins occupied by about a thousand Confederacy warriors, well-armed with British Brown Bess muskets. Little Turtle and Blue Jacket occupied the town after Harmar withdrew out of sight the day before. Hardin sensed an opportunity to trap the Indians in Kekionga, which was nestled in the bend of the Maumee River. Hardin sent a rider back to the camp for Harmar to bring up the main body, while he fixed the Indians in place.
Hardin divided his small force and one column rode around the town on the far bank to attack after crossing the river to the north. Unfortunately for Hardin, Little Turtle and Blue Jacket struck first as the small groups moved to their assault positions. Attacking and feigning retreat, the Indians spread Hardin’s command out further. Systematically defeating the small isolated detachments, the Indian warriors surrounded Hardin and the remaining regulars defending the ford over the Maumee River. Hardin’s men held firm and they were confident in the imminent arrival of the main body, just a few miles away.
Harmar wasn’t coming. When the rider told him of the Indians’ strength he began shaking. He was almost certainly drunk by several accounts. He formed the 900 men remaining in the camp into a hollow square to await the Indian attack. After about three hours, and low on ammunition, Hardin and what remained of his command broke out of the Indian encirclement and rejoined Harmar back at camp.
Harmar attempted to throw his officers a victory banquet that evening, but there was no denying the scale of Harmar’s defeat. Over the past three days, Harmar’s command suffered 262 killed and 106 wounded, and he barely heard shots fired in anger. Most of the killed were still laying in the fields, which infuriated the men. An unknown number of Indians were killed and wounded, the best guess was about 150. Ignobly, Harmar decided that he no longer had enough strength to continue. His militia were deserting in droves, so he returned to Fort Washington.
When the sun came up on the morning of 22 October 1790, the bodies of the American regulars and militia still lay unburied on the battlefield. The scalped heads of the dead reminded the Indians of squash steaming in the autumn air. They named their great victory over the United States at Kekionga, “The Battle of the Pumpkin Fields”.
Though Harmar proclaimed victory, Knox had him court martialed. Unfortunately the politically connected Harmer convinced the board to place the blame for the defeat at The Battle of the Pumpkin Fields on the ill-disciplined militia. Washington was furious at the defeat and Congress authorized another expedition, this time with Arthur St. Clair in command. Little Turtle and Blue Jacket became Indian heroes among the Western Confederacy. Most of what we know of Harmar’s campaign comes from the meticulous detail in the diaries of Major Ebenezer Denny, a Revolutionary War veteran, Pennsylvania regular in the First American Regiment, and future first mayor of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Battle of the Pumpkin Fields was the worst defeat suffered by the United States of America against the indigenous people of North America up to that time. The Battle of the Pumpkin Fields would end up being the third worst defeat against the Indian nations in American history, after the Battle of the Wabash in 1791 and the Battle of the Little Big Horn 85 years later in 1876.
In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain and the new state encompassed all the land from the Confederacy of Central America in the South (Not that “Confederacy”, Central America’s) to the Transcontinental Treaty Line of 1819 in the north (the borders of Oregon and Idaho, and California, Nevada and Utah today), and from the American Louisiana Purchase in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west. For the next 24 years, Mexican Centralists and Federalists vied for power. Though nominally a federal republic as per the Federal Constitution of 1824, the Mexican government was always just one Centralist election victory away from dictatorship.
The liberal immigration policies of the Constitution of 1824 allowed for thousands of immigrants from the United States to settle in Mexico, mostly in the Mexican state of Texas. Far from Mexico City, the Anglo American colonists, known as “Texians”, and their Hispanic brethren the “Tejanos” had grown used to self-rule as the various factions in the newly independent Mexican government politicked and consolidated power. In particular, the Mexican law was written in the tradition of the Napoleonic Code i.e. “guilty until proven innocent” while the Texians, mostly colonists from the United States of America, were steeped in the tradition of English Common Law i.e. “innocent until proven guilty”. This fundamental difference in the understanding of law led to many accusations of tyranny against the Mexican government when it did exercise its authority. By 1835, the Mexican Centralists led by President Antonio López de Santa Anna, the “Napoleon of Mexico”, had taken power in Mexico City from the Federalists, and he repudiated the Constitution of 1824. The stage was set for a Texian and Tejano break with the Mexican government.
In 1831, Mexican authorities in San Antonio de Béxar lent the town of Gonzalez a small six pound cannon for protection against the frequent Comanche Indian raids. Four years later on 10 September 1835, amidst the tensions caused by Santa Anna’s dictatorial rule and the open formation of Texan militias to protect themselves from him, a Mexican soldier clubbed a Gonzales resident which caused widespread outrage and public protests against Mexican tyranny. The senior Mexican military commander in Texas, Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea, thought it unwise for the upset residents of Gonzales to keep the cannon. He sent a corporal and five soldiers to retrieve the cannon from Gonzales’ “alcalde” Andrew Ponton. (An “alcalde” is a combination municipal magistrate, judge, and chief councilman of an area.) While the soldiers patiently waited, the town voted to keep the cannon, and sent them away.
Undeterred, Ugartechea dispatched Lieutenant Francisco de Castañeda with 100 dragoons on 27 September to seize the cannon. But this time the residents of Gonzales buried the cannon in a nearby peach orchard, and sent word to other towns to send their militia to prevent the Mexicans from taking the cannon. The Texians needed time for the militias to arrive, and delayed Castañeda at the river. The residents confiscated all the boats on the west side of the swollen Guadalupe River which forced the Mexicans to cross at the ford west of town. There they were met by the 18 men of the Gonzales Texian Militia company, now known as “The Old Eighteen”. Castañeda was under orders not to start a war and opened negotiations with the Texians. Captain Albert Martin, yelling from the east bank, told Castañeda that only Ponton could give up the cannon, and he was out of town. With no easy way across the river and with orders to not force an engagement, Castañeda’s men withdrew to a nearby hill while he continued to parley with the Texians at the ford. All the while Texian militias converged on Gonzales.
The stalemate continued for two days. By 1 October, there 150 Texian militia in the town and John Henry Moore was elected commander. Moore was one of the Old Three Hundred, who were the first Texian settlers to Mexican Texas, the owner and builder of Moore’s Fort at La Grange, and one of the most respected men in the area. That afternoon the Texians voted to initiate a fight, before their stalling backfired and the Mexicans brought reinforcements of their own. The Texians dug up the cannon, mounted it on cart wheels, and in lieu of cannonballs, gathered metal scraps for ammunition. The cannon was crewed by veteran artillerymen from the War of 1812.
At the same time, Castañeda was informed by a Coushatta Indian that the Texians were massing in the town and that they’d be about 300 strong soon. Not wishing to force the ford, the dragoons decamped and moved seven miles downstream to find another ford. That night they made camp on William’s Farm. Moore and the Texian militia with their cannon, now under a new banner, followed. Legend has it the flag was made from the wedding dress of Green DeWitt, the founder of Gonzales. The new makeshift flag was white with a star and the drawing of a cannon over the words, “Come and Take It”.
About 3 am on 2 October 1835, the Texians blundered toward the Mexican camp in the dense fog. Castañeda was alerted to their presence by a barking dog and several sentries fired into the midst. Only one Texian was hurt, and only because his horse threw him and bloodied his nose. Moore ordered everyone into the woods to wait for morning. Castañeda broke camp and withdrew to a defensive position on a small nearby bluff to await the attack.
At dawn the Texian emerged from the woods at stated firing on the Mexicans. 40 dragoons charged and the Texians withdrew back into the woods. One Mexican private was wounded, who would later die, and the dragoons retreated back to the bluff, not wanting to fight in the trees.
Castañeda again attempted to salvage the situation with negotiation, and asked why Moore attacked without provocation. Moore explained that the Texians needed the cannon to defend themselves whether against Indians or Mexican oppressors. He further stated that the Texians no longer recognized Santa Anna’s Centralist government, and were faithful to the Constitution of 1824. Castañeda, a federalist himself, sympathized with the Texians, and Moore even asked Castañeda to join their new hours old revolution. However, Castañeda declined and said his honor as a soldier was tied to following his superior’s orders.
Moore returned to camp and under their new flag the Texians fired their cannon at the Mexican camp. There would be second shot: the shot was too powerful for the makeshift carriage and the cannon fell apart. The one shot was enough though. One Mexican dragoon was killed. Outgunned and outnumbered, Castañeda, who did not wish further bloodshed and had specific orders to avoid stating a war, rode back to San Antonio de Béxar.
Despite Castañeda’s wishes, “the fight at Williams’ place”, which was just a small skirmish with few shots fired, was the first battle of Texas Revolution. Two days later Texian leader Stephen F Austin wrote, “War is declared – public opinion has proclaimed it against a Military despotism – the campaign has commenced” News of the fight spread like wildfire across the continent and it was renamed “The Battle of Gonzales” which made better headlines. Adventurers and settlers in the United States flocked to Texas. In Texas, Texian militias mobilized and concentrated at Gonzales. Austin was elected their commander. Within a few months after the Battle of Gonzales, Mexican troops were driven from Texas. Texian success sparked Federalist rebellions across the length and breadth of Mexico.
Gonzales’ cannon, the defense of which sparked the Texas Revolution, eventually ended up in San Antonio de Béxar. It was subsequently used in the defense of the Alamo in March 1836. Some would snarkily say that, “Santa Anna came and took it”. Though a Mexican victory, Santa Anna paid a heavy price for that cannon: the defense of the Alamo was instrumental in Texas winning its independence from Mexico. In April, the Texian army under Sam Houston, formed and trained during time bought with the blood of Alamo’s defenders, captured Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto in April. After a short time as an independent republic, Texas’ admission to the United States led to the Mexican-American War. In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the war in 1848, Mexico ceded to the United States all of its northern states, including present day California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and all Texan territory north of the Rio Grande.
With the end of the American Revolution, American merchant ships lost the protection of the British Navy. Soon, they became the favorite prey for the Barbary corsairs (Muslim pirates) of the North African coast, particularly the Ottoman province of Tripolitania. Hundreds of American sailors were seized and those not ransomed were either forcibly converted to Islam or sold into slavery. In 1796, President George Washington and Congress paid $900,000 ($15 million today), or 1/6th of the American Federal budget (633 billion with a “b” today), to free 113 American hostages and a yearly tribute of $43,000 (2.5 million today). The hostages were freed, but as ransoms usually go, it was still not enough to stop the depredations.
The US Congress authorized the creation of a navy in 1794, but the initial six frigates weren’t ready until 1798. In 1801, the US declared war on the Barbary States of Morocco and Tripolitania. After three years of blockade and inconclusive fighting during the First Barbary War, President Thomas Jefferson authorized the regime change of Tripolitania, replacing its ruler Jusef Qaramanli with his pro-American exiled brother, Hamet.
In early 1805, a former army captain and consul to Tunis, William Eaton, traveled to Egypt with a Marine detachment under 1st Lt Presley O’Bannon. They recruited 500 Greek, Arab, and Berber mercenaries. They then made a 600 mile trek to capture Derna, the capital of Cyrenacia and the stepping stone to the capital, Tripoli.
The Marines put down several mutinies during the grueling march and the small expedition finally met a small squadron of US ships off of Derna on 26 April, 1805. The next morning, Eaton demanded the Bey of Derna surrender. The Bey, who thought he was safe behind his 4000 warriors, replied, “My head or yours!”. Eaton and his small army, led the Lt O’Bannon and his eight Marines, stormed the town. At 4 pm, they raised the Stars and Stripes over the fortress protecting the harbor.
It’s the first time the American flag had flown over an overseas foreign territory. Impressed with the professionalism and fighting spirit of the U.S. Marines, Prince Hamet gave his Mameluke sword to Lt O’Bannon as a sign of gratitude and respect.
The Battle of Derna is immortalized in the second line of the Marine Corps Hymn, “to the shores of Tripoli” and USMC officers wear a replica of Prince Hamet’s sword with their Blue Dress Uniform to this day.
On 3 March 1855, the US Army constituted its fourth regiment of mounted troops.
After the Mexican War and the various Indian wars against the Fox, Kickapoo, Dakota, and Sauk American Indians, the US Congress recognized a need for more regular mounted soldiers on the frontier. At the time the US had three mounted regiments: the 1st and 2nd Mounted Dragoons and the 1st Mounted Rifles. On 3 March 1855, the US constituted a fourth mounted regiment, the 1st Cavalry Regiment at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri under the command of Colonel Edwin Voss Sumner to augment the other troops on the frontier. After they were organized and training completed, the 1st Cavalry Regiment maintained law and order in the Kansas Territory and protect settlers from Indian attacks.
After the attack on Ft Sumter in 1861, the troopers and officers of the 1st Cavalry Regiment parted ways to fight on their respective sides during the US Civil War. 27 of those troopers became general officers during the war, including George C McClellan, Jeb Stuart, and Robert E. Lee, the commander of the regiment at the outbreak of the war.
Two months later, the US Army’s mounted regiments were re-designated by seniority. The 1st and 2nd Mounted Dragoons became the 1st and 2nd Cavalry Regiments, the 1st Mounted Rifles became the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, and the 1st US Cavalry Regiment became the 4th United States Cavalry Regiment.
Prepared and Loyal!
In the summer and autumn of 1835, Texian and Tejano separatists threw out the Mexican troops of Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the reigning dictator of the Centralist Republic of Mexico, due to his heavy handed rule and revocation of the Constitution of 1824. The Texian success sparked rebellions across the length of Mexico. In the winter of 1835/36, Santa Anna’s army brutally suppressed those rebellions, and then turned north on Texas. After the disastrous Texian invasion of Matamoros, Gen Sam Houston’s volunteers needed time to retrain and organize to repel Santa Anna. To buy him that time, Col William Travis, decided to occupy and hold the old Franciscan Alamo mission outside of the town of San Antonio de Bexar.
Travis, a regular army officer, shared command with famed knife fighter Col Jim Bowie, a Texian volunteer with ties to Bexar. But even with a group of Tennessee volunteers under frontiersman and former US congressman Colonel Davy Crockett, The Texian defenders of the Alamo still amounted to less than 200 men, and Travis sent increasingly desperate (and dramatic) letters asking for reinforcements. On 23 February 1836, Santa Anna’s army arrived in Bexar. It would take ten days for Santa Anna’s entire army of 4000 to arrive, while Travis and Bowie received less than 80 reinforcements. As Santa Anna’s army gathered, he besieged the Alamo for 13 days.
At dawn on 6 March 1836, Santa attacked the Alamo to the sounds of Deguello bugle calls which announced no quarter for the “pirates” as Santa Anna had decreed the Texians. He attacked with four columns of a total of about 1800 men: one column from each cardinal direction. He hoped to overwhelm the overextended defenders of the Alamo’s long walls. However, the north, east, and west columns all massed on the north wall in the confusion of two previous failed attacks.
The third assault finally carried the north wall after a hastily patched breach, caused by ten days’ worth of bombardment, was finally captured and opened, allowing Mexican soldiers to stream into the mission. (Travis was killed defending this breach.) Texian soldiers on the south wall turned their cannons around and attempted to defend in both directions but were soon overwhelmed. (Crockett, with his Tennesseans, initially defended the low wall outside the chapel. He died fighting along the makeshift wall facing north. Or, according to one report, was captured and executed there.) Many of the remaining defenders attempted to escape but were cut down by Mexican cavalry. Those that didn’t barricaded themselves in the barracks and chapel, where they were systematically rooted out and killed (which was where an ailing Bowie died). Any prisoners were slaughtered and only a few Texian non-combatants walked away from the assault. However the defenders sold themselves dearly and the Mexicans took about 600 casualties.
Santa Anna thought the utter destruction of the Alamo’s defenders would end Texian resistance but he was gravely mistaken. Texian civilians fled Santa Anna and volunteers flocked to Gen Sam Houston’s retreating army. Santa Anna would follow but Houston’s galvanized army would turn and attack at the Lynchberg ferry on the San Jacinto river. Houston’s Texian victory at the Battle of San Jacinto captured Santa Anna, and subsequent negotiations led to the Texian independence from Mexico.