The Alamo: History & Facts

Instructor: Michael Knoedl

Michael teaches high school Social Studies and has a M.S. in Sports Management.

Missions have been built for centuries all over the world, but few have a history as meaningful as one in south Texas. This lesson will teach you about the Alamo.


The Alamo was founded in Spanish-controlled Northwest Mexico in 1718. (The location and buildings were moved and rebuilt several times.) The current building was built in 1744. It was originally called Mission de San Antonio de Valero, which means the Mission of Saint Anthony. It was created to convert the local native tribes to Catholicism but was mostly used as a protective fortification. Original planning called for two bell towers and a dome roof, but everything except the outer wall collapsed near the end of construction. It was reconstructed with a small church building and a few other small rooms, all made of limestone. The structure would be used as a church until its abandonment in 1793, thanks to the Spanish government secularizing the local missions.

The name 'The Alamo' was coined by a Spanish cavalry unit, stationed at the Mission, in the early 1800s. Alamo translates to the English word Cottonwood, which is a native tree of the area. The structure would always be referred to as The Alamo from that point on.

Military Use

The Alamo was consistently used as a fort during the Mexican War of Independence from 1810 until 1821. The Spanish held troops there for several years until it was overtaken and occupied by Mexican rebels. The Mexican military would use the fort to control the northern parts of Mexico that connected to the United States. The fort would be one of only two that held Mexican troops at the beginning of the Texas Revolution.

The Texas Revolution began at the Battle of Gonzalez in October of 1835. In December of 1835, Ben Milam led a group of rebels against the Mexican military occupying the town of San Antonio and controlling the Alamo. After five days of fighting, General Martín Perfecto de Cós surrendered the Alamo. The rebels then took preparations to defend themselves, which was somewhat easy since the Alamo was already set up as a military fort prepared to ward off attacks.

As the rebels occupied The Alamo, they were caught off guard when General Antonio López de Santa Anna's army showed up on February 23, 1836. They gathered supplies and quickly barricaded themselves inside The Alamo. The rebels, led by Colonel William Travis and James Bowie, had about 170 men. The rebels were made up of several local Indians, Mexicans, and many from Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, and other parts of the U.S. One of the most well-known men was Davie Crockett, a former Congressman from Tennessee and frontiersman who had reached star-status at the time. The Mexican army was estimated at over 2,000. The Mexican Army was also well equipped, with many large cannons and plenty of ammunition. The rebels inside The Alamo had only a few cannons and limited ammunition. Women and children were given permission to leave The Alamo by General Santa Anna, and most left that day.

Small skirmishes occurred each day as the Mexican Army would test the strengths of The Alamo and the rebels inside. They Alamo would take a nightly bombardment from the Mexican cannons in an attempt to deprive the rebels of sleep. Col. Travis snuck out carriers to ask for assistance from nearby towns. On the eighth night, 32 riders came in for support, bringing the total rebels to about 200.

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