TENNESSEE HISTORY Classroom
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Tennesseans at the Alamo


Following the defeat of Congressman David Crockett at the hands of then-President Andrew Jackson, the Cherokee Removal from Southern Appalachia, and an American economy that seemed to be out of control, many Tennesseans started casting their eyes westward to different lands where they could start over and find the traditional opportunities that were disappearing from their home state.
Prior to the 1830s, Tennesseans began drifting towards the lands of Texas. A young Missourian named Stephen Austin, who had completed his father’s dreams and built a thriving colony in the region, had attracted them with free lands and offers of financial opportunities.
The new colonial movement, however, would create uneasy feelings in Mexico and lead to a battle that would become one of the most studied and talked about in American history.



Many colonists felt the region rightfully belonged to America as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Spain, however, felt they had legal rights to it from a treaty that removed the European nation’s presence from Florida and France had tried to exert its own claim on the region – saying it had never been a part of the original tract sold in the Louisiana Purchase. All the European nations had failed to successfully colonize Texas and many resented the new American presence–feeling that wherever colonists go the American government would soon follow and keeping the young republic’s expansion in check was a major issue for Europe’s traditional powers.
Following the Mexican Revolution that overthrew Spanish rule, however, the newly formed Mexico government laid final claim to the region and through one junta after another tried to enforce it with military might. Although agreement had been reached with Stephen Austin to allow colonization of some Texas territory, Mexican officials knew that the Americanization of the region posed a serious threat to their sovereignty. Various Mexican leaders tried to deal with the "problem", but none stayed in power long enough to effect change.
In 1833, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was elected President of Mexico. The new President was classically educated, skilled in European government, and a veteran of numerous conflicts in Mexico. He reorganized the Mexican Army into a first-rate fighting force and used them to put down the countless factions he felt threatened his rule. His was so successful that he declared himself dictator in 1835 and vowed he would crush the growing Texas rebellion and bring the region back under Mexican rule. General Santa Anna styled himself after French Dictator Napoleon Bonaparte and was known for his excessive tastes. During his meteoric rise to power, thousands of colonists continued to pour in to Texas and it wasn’t the American government that was following them. The Texans were working to create their own nation separate from America and in a constant state of disorder as each group of colonists positioned themselves in the newly forming nation.
With Tennessean Sam Houston rising to leadership in the state, Former Congressman David Crockett joined countless other Tennesseans in sensing a chance to reinvent himself and his political career in Texas. In a Memphis tavern as he was preparing to leave, the frontier statesman made the notorious quote that came to symbolize Crockett’s migration westward and the opportunities that he believed it held:
"My constituents can go to Hell. As for me, I’m going to Texas."
With the strings cut, he and 15 other men rode into Texas where David Crockett made a bid for office. As requirement for citizenship that would allow him to run for office, he had to join the Texas militia and swear allegiance to Texas and/or and future nation that the people created. Crockett only did so after he marked through the word nation and wrote "Republic" in its place. Although he lost in his first run at office, he was appointed a colonel in the Texas militia and, while the Texas Constitutional Convention was meeting, was sent to San Antonio with his men to help the Texas soldiers stationed at a small Franciscan mission that was serving as a fort.
The Mission of San Antonio de Valero was a crumbling three acre compound that had been seized by Texans the previous December. The Mexican Army had cleaned up the dilapidated facility and had turned it into a barracks and armory. When the Texans took it over, a Texas attorney named Green Jameson, who found himself better suited to being an engineer, turned in and started working to fortify the position. Although he did great wonders with it, the mission, which was locally called the Alamo because of a grove of poplar trees that stood nearby the structure, was not built as a military fortress and the Texans knew it would be hard to defend.
The mission church had long since collapsed. Its towers and dome had fallen in and only the stone walls still stood. In addition to the ruined church, there was a two-story building known as the Long Barracks and a lengthy one-story structure called the Low Barracks. The entire area was enclosed by stone walls, which was up to 12 feet in height and two to three feet thick. The three acre compound was rectangular in formation measuring some 250 by 450 feet. While the Mexicans had left more than 20 cannons in the fort, there were no parapets where they could be stationed. Jameson had worked to overcome the deficiencies and, with the right number of men, felt the mission could be held against a Mexican assault. His job was made much easier by a muscular Tennessean name Almeron Dickerson. The blacksmith was in charge of the artillery batteries and helped Jameson build earthen walls behind the fort to place the cannons in a tactical position. The ordinance chief was also a Tennessean named Sam Blair, who overcame the ammunition shortage by chopping up horseshoes and other metal objects into grapeshot projectiles.
The Alamo stood in the logical path of an invader from the south, but the powers that were began draining men from the mission for other possible campaigns against the Mexican Army. Houston and the other military officials did not believe the Alamo would be attacked because it held no obvious strategic value. They also rationalized the winter months would make it impossible for General Santa Anna to move his massive army northward across what they saw as a barren plain.
The men in the Alamo, who were under the divisive leadership of Colonels Jim Bowie and William Travis, were cautious and didn’t really know what to believe. While Col. Travis consistently held to and supported the official Texas explanations, Col. Bowie insisted the dry mesquite grass of the Texas plain would support Santa Anna’s army in a northward march and that thought should be given to evacuate the fort if he arrived while the mission was still undermanned. Both men had been ordered to the mission to blow it up and remove the cannons to nearby Golidad and Gonzales where they could consolidate the Texas forces. Both colonels, however, had decided against destroying the mission and chose to keep the Alamo as a key defensive structure to check Santa Anna.
On Feb. 8, 1836, Col. David Crockett and his men rode into San Antonio amid cheers and accolades from the men and the citizens who recognized the nationally acclaimed statesman. The former congressman and his men found a number of fellow Tennesseans in the ranks of both Bowie’s and Travis’ commands. While the two men fought for command of the Alamo, Crockett and his men spent their time in the cantinas and taverns of San Antonio celebrating with old friends and neighbors.
Col. Bowie, who had well established himself among the Mexican people, started receiving intelligence reports that the Mexican Army was coming close. While Travis had little belief in Bowie’s sources, the commanders had agreed to post a sentry in the Bell Tower of the city’s San Fernando Church.
On the morning of Feb. 22, sentry Daniel Cloud saw something on the horizon and immediately began pulling the bell cord on the church. Bowie and Travis flew up the stairs, but no one could see anything and thought the sentry was over-reacting to a mirage. They dispatched two men, however, to check out the sighting and noticed that the Mexican townspeople were silently leaving San Antonio. Later that night the scouts returned at a gallop with the news Gen. Santa Anna and his army were approaching the city. Colonels Bowie and Travis immediately called in their men from the city and fell back to the Alamo Mission to begin preparations to hold the fort while waiting for reinforcements to support their position. Col. Crockett and his men fell in with the rest and took up position inside the mission on the southeast wall. The remainder of the men quickly foraged and put the finishing touches on the fortification as Gen. Santa Anna marched his army into San Antonio.
While the 150 Texans waited to see the tri-colored Mexican flag go up over the bell tower, the general instead raised a giant red flag over the San Fernando Church to show that no quarter would be given the Alamo defenders and that a quick surrender was all that could save them. Gen. Santa Anna also raised a white flag, which meant that he wanted to parley with the leaders to discuss terms. Defiantly Col. Travis responded by firing a round from the 18-pound cannon to show Santa Anna they would not surrender. Col. Bowie had seen the white flag and scribbled a message of terms that was carried by Jameson to the Mexican officers that would allowed the men in the Alamo to evacuate safely. Gen. Santa Anna’s reply, however, was that only unconditional surrender would be accepted. As Jameson returned with the answer, the Mexicans brought up their cannons and, on Feb. 24, 1836, began firing on the mission.
Travis was furious with Bowie for trying to parley with the Mexican General and a serious battle for command would have happened had not Bowie suddenly fell deathly ill – leaving Travis undisputedly in command.
Although bombarded daily by Mexican cannons, Col. Travis managed to dispatch couriers to the nearby towns seeking reinforcements. Col. Fannin at Fort Defiance in Goliad raised 320 men to help relieve the Alamo, but suddenly feared attack and returned. Two other couriers did reach Gonzales and returned to the Alamo with 25 men five days later. During this time, General Santa Anna’s army continued to arrive in San Antonio and its ranks swelled to nearly 6,000 men.
At night, the Mexicans would use the darkness to drag their cannons closer to the Alamo. Supporting soldiers would draw near to the mission only to be repelled by the sharpshooters on the Alamo walls – the most noted of which was David Crockett and his Tennesseans. The Mexican soldiers learned to fear the buckskin-clad men and their long rifles. After he would fire a round, Crockett could be seen standing up and calmly reloading while he swore at the Mexican soldiers trying to march on the mission.
While they could keep the Mexican soldiers checked during daylight hours, it was impossible to stop the cannons from moving ever closer to the Alamo. While Mexican casualties mounted, surprisingly no one inside the Alamo had been killed by the daily bombardment. As the month of March began, a bitterly cold weather front moved in on San Antonio making it even more difficult for the Texans who were forced to stay at the posts night and day. On March 3, Col. Travis sent one last message asking for help from the Texas government. Two days passed and Colonels Travis and Crockett were forced to realize that no help would be coming to relieve them and a sense of doom started falling on the defenders. Col. Crockett echoed the thoughts of many of his men when he said:
"I think we had better march out and die in the open air. I don’t like to be ‘hemmed’ up."
With the Mexicans now only 200 yards away from the mission, the Alamo’s walls were starting to chip away and the men could see Mexican soldiers building scaling ladders. At 10 p.m., March 5, a sudden silence fell over the battlefield that rattled the men inside the mission. After 12 days of constant cannon fire, the quietness forced the defenders to fight fatigue and the desire to sleep. It was all part of Santa Anna’s plan as he had issued the order to his commanders to prepare their men for a final assault on the fortress. At 5 a.m. March 6, 1836, the cry "Viva Santa Anna!" went up and the thudding of thousands could be heard descending on the Alamo. The Texans gathered themselves and waited for the Mexicans to come into range. The first wave was repulsed from the walls and Santa Anna watched the deadly effects on his troops.
With the inevitable looming upon them, the Alamo defenders fought like they never had before and delivered unbelievable carnage to the Mexican soldiers as the army tore through the mission killing all. Colonels Bowie, Crockett, Travis, and every man was bayoneted and no quarter given any who tried to surrender. Only the wife of Tennessean Almeron Dickerson, her infant child, and a couple of other non-combatants were spared. Susannah Dickerson, who was shot in the calf of her leg while under Mexican escort, and her infant daughter were brought before Gen. Santa Anna. She was permitted to leave carrying a message to the other Texans that the same fate would befall all who opposed General Santa Anna.
Following Gen. Santa Anna’s viewing of the carnage, the bodies of the defenders were piled together and burned. Others were supposedly buried in a mass grave. The bodies of Bowie, Crockett, and Travis, men who were descended from some of America’s greatest citizen families, were shown to Gen. Santa Anna .His European education forced him to realize the men killed at the Alamo had not died the classical death of Roman patricians, but had fallen in the greatest tradition of Greek heroes and left behind a legacy that would fuel the Texas Revolution to victory.

Among the men who fell at the Franciscan Mission that would give Texans the battle cry "Remember the Alamo!", lead to the ultimate defeat of General Lopez de Santa Anna, and become enshrined as some of the most courageous men in the annals of American military history, were these 32 Tennesseans:

Micajah Autry
Joseph Bayliss
John Blair
Samuel C. Blair
Robert Campbell
George Washington Cottle
David Crockett
Squire Daymon
William Dearduff
Almeron Dickerson
John H. Dillard
James L. Ewing
William Garnett
James Girard Garrett
John Camp Goodrich
Charles M. Haskell
William MarshalloJesse McCoy
Thomas R. Miller
William Mills
Andrew M. Nelson
James Robertson
Andrew H. Smith
A. Spain Summerlin
William E. Summers
Edward Taylor
George Taylor
James Taylor
William Taylor
Asa Walker
Jacob Walker
Joseph G. Washington

 



There have been numerous facts about the Battle of the Alamo that have surfaced in recent years and especially about the events surrounding the death of David Crockett. It is now believed he was among the survivors who tried to negotiate a surrender and was viciously executed. Diaries of Mexican officials that were present at the Alamo noted, however, that the professional military officers in General Santa Anna’s Army were disgusted by the "No Quarters" order issued by him and tried to stop the ensuing blood bath that happened at the Alamo to no avail.
Historians continue to research the battle in both Texas and Tennessee. Among the most noted, besides Crockett, were Micajah Autry, Sam Blair, and Almeron Dickerson. Historians point out that Blair, Dickerson, and the other Tennesseans were among some of the most resourceful military minds in the compound, but more importantly weren’t afraid to stand their ground when the going got tough.
"The Tennesseans were noteworthy," said one military historian, "because of the fact that they fought when many Texas colonists refused to join because of the division that was prevalent in the region. You had two differing opinions on how Texas was to be governed and two provisional armies that competed and argued over authority. These guys hadn’t seen a paycheck in months, were poorly clad, and often had to sell their boots to buy food. Gen. Santa Anna and everyone else, Texans included, never expected them to inflict so much damage and hold out 13 days against such a vastly superior force. What mainly brought the Tennesseans into focus were the Mexican reports about their ability as riflemen and fearless fighters. The Mexican Army was a tough lot and respected very little about anyone. That is why their comments on them stood out to military historians. Crockett hadn’t just spun some colorful tall tales about the Tennessee people to America and the world. He and the other Tennesseans proved it in blood at the Alamo."
While General Santa Anna would be later defeated and captured at the Battle of San Jacinto, Texas Gen. Sam Houston released him and dispatched an escort to take Santa Anna to Washington, D.C. where the Mexican leader was sent into exile in Cuba. It was decided by Houston and the other Texas leaders that a living Santa Anna would be better than a possible Mexican martyr. Santa Anna would eventually escape exile in Cuba through a diplomatic loop, reorganize his forces, and lead them against America in the Mexican War. The general soon learned the battle cry "Remember the Alamo!" would then echo far beyond the borders of Texas and the stories of David Crockett and the Tennesseans find new life in their home state.
During the enlistment for the Mexican War, more than 30,000 Tennesseans swamped forming militias in Nashville and any border state where they could gain entrance. President James K. Polk had asked Governors to raise 2,800 men each for the war effort. Because of the huge numbers of Tennesseans who vengefully enlisted to "git" Santa Anna, the state forever earned its "Volunteer" nickname.
Historians in Tennessee are still working to recognize the native sons who died at the battle. Historian Jack Wood in Jackson was able to dig into old records, letters, and diaries and discovered the home of Micajah Autry was located, ironically, across the street from the library where he works. Research is still continuing to locate information on the other Tennesseans who died at the Alamo. It is hoped by many that their actions at the fateful battle will be recognized and a monument of some kind erected to honor their memories. David Crockett’s original entourage consisted of 12-15 men. The other Tennesseans had ventured into the region on their own looking for a better life and new opportunities. Many of which would go on to rise to prominence in the Texas nation and also later when it became an American state.
The legend that grew up around the Alamo continued to expand through the years and has become an American myth. There are numerous books available on the battle. One of the best written is the 1958 book "13 Days to Glory" by author Lon Tinkle upon which the movie by the same name starring John Wayne was supposedly based. While many historians will tell you the movie didn’t do the book justice, the David Crockett Birthplace Museum in Greeneville runs it on continuous loop as one of the best film portrayals of the Tennessee congressman.
Today the San Antonio shrine is still considered one of the most sacred battle sites in American history and remains one of the nation’s top tourist attractions. It is the site of numerous ceremonies and festivities and offers a wide range of activities for people of all ages.