Category: Archive

Hibernian Chronicle: 165 years ago: The Alamo falls

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ed O’Donnell One hundred and sixty-five years ago this week, on March 6, 1836, the men inside the Alamo — many of them Irish — could hold out no longer. Barricaded within a mission compound-turned-fort in San Antonio, they’d held out for nearly two weeks against several thousand Mexican soldiers under the command of Santa Anna. But with a rising death toll, dwindling supplies, and no reinforcements, defeat was only a matter of time. When Santa Anna’s men finally breached the compound that day in early March, none inside were spared in the most heralded battle in the struggle for Texas independence. Before 1835, Texas was part of Mexico, which in turn had only recently (1821) gained its independence from Spain. The government of newly independent Mexico was wary of the expanding United States to the north, but it also wanted to attract settlers — even if they were Americans — to its northern regions. So, beginning in the late 1820s, it offered contracts to any empressario who, in exchange for as much as 40,000 acres of land, agreed to settle a certain number of families in Mexican territory. Stephen Austin was the first to arrive with the band of settlers in 1821. Thousands more Americans soon followed, drawn by the promise of land and opportunity. "What I have seen of Texas," wrote one enthusiastic pioneer by the name of Davy Crockett, "it is the garden spot of the world." Among these Texas pioneers were many Irish. Indeed, the Mexican government was quite keen on Irish immigrants, reasoning their Catholic faith would strengthen their loyalty to the Mexican government. Two notable Irish empressarios were James McGloin and John McMullen, who in 1828 received a large land grant for the settlement of 200 families. The next year they brought Irish families from New York, establishing the "Villa de San Patricio de Hibernia" (town of St. Patrick of Ireland) on the Neuces River’s north bank. The town became the county seat of San Patricio County, Texas, after Texas independence. In 1834, two more Irishmen, James Power and James Heweston, likewise established a settlement named Refugio on the Gulf of Mexico to which they brought dozens of families directly from Ireland. By the early 1830s, the more than 20,000 American settlers in Texas easily outnumbered their Mexican counterparts. The Mexican government passed laws to slow the tide of American immigration, but to no avail. To make matters worse, few of these settlers exhibited much affection for the Mexican government, especially after the overbearing Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna became president in 1833. Protest soon flourished into open rebellion and by late 1835 the war for Texas independence was on. Enraged, Santa Anna led an army of 5,000 into Texas to subdue the American rebellion. He headed straight for San Antonio, an old mission settlement reportedly under rebel control. The report was true. By mid-February, a force of 187 men barricaded in the old Alamo mission compound. Among them were nearly 40 men of Irish heritage, beginning with two descendents of Ulster Irish immigrants, the leader, Col. William Barrett Travis, and Crockett. At least a dozen, with names like Jackson, McGee, Nolan, and McCafferty, were Irish born. The rest, including several from the Refugio and San Patricio settlements, are believed to be either of Irish or Irish-American heritage. The goal of Travis and his men was to hold the Alamo until reinforcements arrived. Unfortunately, they never arrived. Santa Anna laid siege to the Alamo on Feb. 23. For 13 days his men poured a hail of bullets and cannon balls into the stubborn outpost. Several times Santa Anna offered to spare their lives if they would surrender, but they refused, choosing instead to fight to the death. When the final assault succeeded, on March 6, Santa Anna’s men were under strict orders to execute all survivors. Santa Anna’s victory at the Alamo was short-lived. For Sam Houston, another man of Irish lineage, soon had the opportunity to avenge the massacre at the Alamo and win Texas independence. In late April 1836, Houston’s force surprised Santa Anna’s army at San Jacinto and crushed it. Texas independence, declared on March 2 during the siege of the Alamo, was now a reality. Today the Alamo is a shrine maintained by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Every year on St. Patrick’s Day, members of the Harp and Shamrock Society of Texas lay a wreath at the Alamo to honor the memory of the Irish and Irish Americans who died in the struggle to win Texas independence. HIBERNIAN HISTORY WEEK Feb. 28, 1935: Ireland bans the importation and sale of contraceptives. March 4, 1943: James Cagney wins an Academy Award for Best Actor for his depiction of George M. Cohan in "Yankee Doodle Dandy." March 5, 1770: Patrick Carr, an Irish-born leatherworker, is one of five men to die at the hands of British soldiers in the Boston Massacre. March 6, 1867: Fenian uprisings begin in Dublin and Munster.HIBERNIAN BIRTHDATES: March 1, 1954: Actor and Director Ron Howard born in Duncan, Okla. March2, 1793: Founding father of Texas Sam Houston born in Rockbridge County, Va. March 4, 1778: Patriot Robert Emmet born in Dublin March 6, 1831: Union Army General Philip Sheridan born near Albany, N.Y. Readers may reach Edward T. O’Donnell at odonnell@PastWise.com.

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