The Beginning of a Revolution: Gonzales

In 1824 Mexico gave Stephen F. Austin a grant to colonize the area of the Brazos River; this made Texas a Mexican state. But because Texas was so removed both geographically and culturally, it was somewhat of an unwanted Mexican state; thus it had no real say in government and no real power, which ultimately caused friction in the relationship between Texas and Mexico. When Mexico forbade further emigration into Texas from the United States in 1830, relations worsened. Texans became restless and dissatisfied with Mexican rule, and Mexicans became aware of the growing tension. Something had to give.

The first shot of the Texas Revolution was on October 2, 1835, in the small settlement of Gonzales. A group of Gonzales citizens had borrowed a cannon from Mexico to help fight off Native Americans. But when Mexican soldiers under the command of Francisco de Castañeda went to Gonzales to repossess the cannon, they were met with opposition. The Gonzales troops had usurped the cannon and had no intention of giving it back to Mexico. Under the command of Colonel John Henry Moore and Colonel J. W. E. Wallace, troops loaded the cannon with scrap iron and fired it at the Mexicans, thus beginning the Texas Revolution. The Mexican troops, aware of precarious relations between Texas and Mexico, were under strict orders to avoid open conflict and subsequently retreated toward Bexar County. The cannon remained in Gonzales. This conflict gave rise to the Come and Take It Flag, which depicts a black cannon on a white field with the words "COME AND TAKE IT" written across the top. Immediately after this "battle," the First Army of Texas Volunteers was organized under Stephen F. Austin.

The Most Famous Battle in Texas History: The Alamo

The building we call the Alamo was built on the site of the Mission San Antonio de Valero, which was established in 1718 to Christianize the Native Americans of what was then New Spain. Franciscan monks began construction of the building we call the Alamo in 1724. But by the time Anglo American travelers began appearing in Bexar County in the early 1800’s, the mission had lost its Christian focus and had become a military post. The name "Alamo," it is believed, first came into use around 1807 but referred to the Mexican town origin of a company of soldiers at de Valero (La Segunda Compañía Volante de San Carlos del Pueblo del Alamo), not the actual building. Nicknames are a funny thing, and by the late 1820’s, the name "Alamo" had firmly become synonomous with the mission building itself.

The battle for the Alamo was, in essence, a siege. For thirteen days in 1836, from February 23 to March 6, Mexican troops surrounded Colonel William B. Travis and his garrison of about 145. As the standoff continued, the Texan troops began to run low on food and ammunition. The weather didn’t help much either, plunging to 39 degrees one day and then rising to 55 degrees the next. During the middle of the siege, on March 2, Texas was declared an independent republic at the Convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos. But alas, no reserves from anywhere in Texas were able to make it to the Alamo. Finally, on March 5 Colonel Travis gathered everyone together and made the announcement that reinforcements would not arrive in time. Travis drew a line on the ground with his sword and asked all those who were willing to fight with him to cross the line. All but one man—Moses Rose who escaped over a wall—stepped across. Around one in the morning the next day, between 1,400 and 1,600 Mexican soldiers moved into position, and at five o’clock that morning they stormed the walls of the Alamo. When the fighting was over, about ninety minutes later, Mexican casualties numbered nearly 600; all of the Texas defenders were killed. A few non-combatants survived, including a woman named Susanna Dickinson, her baby, and a black slave of Travis’.

The Darkest Hour: Goliad

Not long after the defeat at the Alamo came another dark hour for Texas: the massacre at Goliad. Mexican troops had advanced into Texas and were taking every fort along the way (they were taking many prisoners too). Goliad had been a stronghold for Texas, but along with the Alamo, it too had fallen into Mexican hands. At dawn on March 27, 1836, more than 400 unwounded prisoners of war were rounded up by Colonel José Nicolas de la Portilla and taken to Goliad. Upon an order given by General Antonio López de Santa Anna, Mexican troops fired at the prisoners at close range, killing almost all the 400-plus men at once. Only 28 Texas prisoners survived the massacre, some escaping into the Texas wild and another 20 survived by the grace of their calling (for example, medical doctors and nurses). After the execution, the bodies were burned and the remains were left for the vultures and the coyotes until June 3, 1836, when General Thomas J. Rusk had the ashes and bones buried with full military honors. A grave marker was constructed in 1885.

Before Goliad, Mexican general Santa Anna was not known as a cruel man; he was smart and cunning, not viscious. However, both the massacre at Goliad and the defeat at the Alamo stregenthened the cause against Mexico, which in turn helped Texas gain support from the United States, Britian, and even France.

The Beginning of Independence: San Jacinto

Texas was not about to give up. After the defeat at the Alamo, Sam Houston and a substantially dwindled Texan army went east to Buffalo Bayou, to the spot where the bayou converges with the San Jacinto River. Here the Texan army, which numbered about 750 men, battled against Santa Anna, whose army numbered more than 1,000 men. To reach San Jacinto, Mexican troops had to cross Buffalo Bayou from the south via a fifty-foot-wide bridge called Vince’s Bridge. On the morning of April 21, 1836, General Martín Perfecto DeCos brought more than 500 reinforcements to Santa Anna, swelling the Mexican army even more. At noon, General Houston met with the famous Texas spy Erastus "Deaf" Smith, and they decided to destroy Vince’s Bridge, a move that would cut off the Mexican army: no additional reinforcements coming in and no viable escape routes going out.

The battle began at three in the afternoon when Deaf Smith rode triumphantly into the camp, shouting "Vince’s Bridge is down!" The fighting did not last long. Most of the Mexican soldiers were taking a siesta at the time, so the Texan troops pounced on the dozing army crying: "Remember the Alamo!" and "Remember Goliad!" The eighteen-minute-long battle wiped out the Mexicans, but the Texan army suffered only nine casualties. The following day, the Texan forces caught the "Napoleon of the West," General Santa Anna. In exchange for his life, Santa Anna sent out an order for all Mexican troops to evacuate, to leave Texas, thus putting an end to the revolution. Finally, Mexico had acknowledged Texas as an independent republic.