Remember Alamo Day: What happened at the Battle of the Alamo?

You know "remember the Alamo," but WHY do we remember the Alamo?

The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas
The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas / George Rose/GettyImages

You’ve almost definitely heard the phrase “remember the Alamo.” But what you might not remember is why we need to remember the Alamo or the specifics around the former mission… What it was used for, why it was being attacked, or who died there. And what better day to remember it than today, March 6, Alamo Day?

The day of remembrance is celebrated every year on March 6, coinciding with the end of the conflict at the Alamo. And if you head to Texas, you’ll find an annual Battle of the Alamo Commemoration held from February 23 through March 6, with events like recreations, a memorial service, and even a Family Day.

So with that in mind, let’s get into and break down what to remember – and why to remember – about the Alamo.

Where is the Alamo located?

The Alamo is located at 300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, Texas. At the time it was built in 1718, there was no San Antonio, but there was a Texas. Originally named Tejas by the Native Americans, the word was corrupted to Texas by the Spaniards who colonized the land.

What is the Alamo?

When the Alamo was founded by Spanish immigrants, it was called Mission San Antonio de Valero. Per its name, it was a mission, not a fort, and was located about 400 miles away from the next closest mission in California.

Around 1793, the mission was abandoned, and around 1800 was taken over by the Spanish military. They renamed the now-a-fort Alamo, potentially after a grove of trees nearby, or in Spanish, álamo, which is translated as “poplar” for poplar trees. It could have also been named after the Second Flying Company of San Carlos de Parras, aka the Alamo Company, based on their original location. They were stationed at the Alamo in 1803.

In 1821, Mexico gained independence, and since they owned the territory that the Alamo was based in, took over the fort from the Spanish. The Mexicans remained in control of the Alamo until 1835 when the Texas Revolution began as the people of Texas fought to gain their independence. In fact, the Mexican forces relatively quickly retreated from the Alamo, with a small cadre of Texans taking the building over.

What happened at the Alamo? What war was the Alamo part of?

So, here’s the problem. With the Mexicans retreating from the Alamo, and leaving no strongholds in Texas, the Texans thought the war was over and only stationed 100 soldiers at the outpost. Despite repeated warnings including that there were only enough supplies to last four days in case of a siege from Colonel James C. Neill, the man in charge of the Alamo, the spread-thin Texan forces were unable to provide much help. Instead, the men at the Alamo took what resources they could and fortified the building to the best of their ability.

It wasn’t enough, as history (and this article) showed. It was, in fact, a siege and a massacre that has reverberated throughout time.

So if you’re wondering what war the Alamo was part of, the answer is the Texas Revolution. And if you’re wondering what happened at the Alamo, the answer is a whole lot of people dying.

When was the Battle of the Alamo?

On February 23, 1836, the Alamo was attacked by about 1,000 Mexican troops, led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Over the course of two weeks, Santa Anna laid siege to the Alamo – and remember, they had said they only had four days of supplies.

On March 6, 1836, Santa Anna decided the siege was over. His forces broke through the North wall of the Alamo, and over the course of 90 minutes killed dozens of people inside. Though reports vary, some state that Santa Anna slaughtered even those who surrendered, only letting some women and children go free.

Who won the Battle of the Alamo?

In case that last bit wasn’t clear: Mexico decisively defeated Texas in the Battle of the Alamo.

Who died at the Alamo? Did Davy Crockett die at the Alamo?

Though we mentioned 100 soldiers initially being stationed inside of the Alamo, reports vary as to how many soldiers – and their families – were there during the siege of the Alamo. According to the Alamo itself, some 200ish “defenders” were at the Alamo on March 6, 1836, most of whom were killed by Mexican forces.

I say “most” because it is believed one man escaped, somehow, from the Alamo: Henry Warnell. As the story goes, Warnell managed to escape from the Alamo, where he was stationed, only to die in June of 1836 from wounds he sustained in the battle.

In addition, about 100 Mexicans reportedly died in the skirmish, though some historians believe it may have been as many as 400-600.

Given the lack of people who survived, clearly it’s hard to put a firm number on any of this.

However, there were some extremely famous legends that did die at the Alamo. James Bowie, William B. Travis, and David Crockett, aka Davy Crockett, all fought and died in the Battle of the Alamo.

What – and when – is Alamo Day? Why do we remember the Alamo?

To loop back to the beginning here, Alamo Day is celebrated yearly on March 6 to commemorate the massacre at the Alamo and remember the heroes who defended the building.

But why do we remember the Alamo, specifically? On April 21, General Sam Houston rallied his forces to attack and overcome Santa Anna’s army at San Jacinto. As they did, they shouted, “Remember the Alamo!” And the loss at the Alamo is in part credited with giving the Texans that extra push to win at San Jacinto, a victory that finished the Texas Revolution, and secured Texan independence - at least until 1845, when the United States annexed Texas.

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