|Battle of the Alamo|
|United States Army||Texas Militia|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Robert E. Lee||Benjamin McCulloch|
The Battle of the Alamo in 1861 was the second battle fought at the Alamo in a generation, and the first battle of the American Civil War. The battle was fought from February 18 (shortly after Texas seceded from the Union) through March 9, 1861, as Union troops under the command of Lt. Colonel Robert E. Lee defended U.S. Army property, including munitions, from Texas Militia forces under the command of Colonel Benjamin McCulloch. While Lee was defeated in the end, he and his garrison did not meet the same fate as the garrison at the first battle.
Before the Battle
The stage was set for the battle rather quickly. In February, 1861, the legislature of Texas voted to secede, despite the efforts of Governor Sam Houston. Not long after, Colonel Ben McCulloch and a group of the Texas Militia made their way to San Antonio, to demand Lt. Colonel Robert E. Lee, the Commander of the Department of Texas, surrender all US government property. Lee refused, and returned to headquarters, where he and his second-in-command, Major George Thomas, decided to take advantage of the undisciplined carousing of the Texas Militiamen and move their garrison into the Alamo in the early morning hours. Despite getting lost more than once, Lee's group made it inside successfully, and prepared for the coming siege.
McCulloch learned what had happened, and allowed Lee twenty-four hours to reconsider. The time lapsed, during which Lee and his men shored up their position. The following day, Lee again refused McCulloch's demand, and McCulloch angrily declared that a state of war existed.
In many ways, the battle wasn't a particularly remarkable one. Initially, McCulloch's men attempted to use a battering ram on the Alamo's gates. Lee was hesitant to open fire on the batterers, until the Militia opened fire on the garrison. Satisfied that he was not striking the first blow, Lee ordered his garrison to fire on the men working the ram. The survivors dropped the ram and fled.
Next, swarms of Texans attempted the use of scaling ladders. Again, Lee's men fought them off, stopping most before they ever reached a wall, and those few ladders that did make it to a wall were tipped back over. The militia retreated again.
McCulloch returned under a flag of truce, proclaiming that Lee and his men had fought hard enough to satisfy the demands of honor. He again offered Lee a chance to surrender. Lee again refused, and McCulloch rode away angrily.
Lee and Thomas began preparing for a night attack, but it was days before McCulloch's men decided to launch one. Concurrently, the voters of Texas approved a referendum on February 23 to remove the state from the Union. This revelation didn't move Lee to surrender.
The expected night attack came two days later. The garrison was alerted by Texas Unionist Andrew Crouch, who succeeded in entering the Alamo hours before the attack. Lee made Crouch a private on the spot to prevent him from being executed in the event the Alamo fell. After fierce fighting, which did see some Texans successfully scale a wall, the garrison repelled the attack, although both Lee and Thomas realized that they might not be so lucky with another night attack.
Again, McCulloch held back for several days after, save to appear in the plaza outside the Alamo on March 4 to jeer at the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. However, the battle finally came to an end on March 9, when the Militia brought out Napoleon cannon. After some initial wild shots, the Texans were able to bring the canons to bear on a wall, finally causing a 10-foot wide crack. Lee surrendered. McCulloch opted not to bring harsh terms, or slaughter the defenders (as Lee feared he might). Instead, he allowed them to leave Texas with an agreement they not fight the Confederate States until a proper exchange. While the terms were written down and notarized, Lee saw to it the supplies, including the munitions inside the Alamo were set afire, an act perfectly within the terms of the agreement. While furious, McCulloch decided not to kill Lee, but instead promised him that if they met again, McCulloch would kill Lee on sight.
Lee returned to Washington, D.C. a hero, a status he was not comfortable with, as his own home state of Virginia had joined the Confederacy not long after the Alamo. Lee was offered command of the United States Army. He refused, but agreed to take a command in the west - where he would not be as likely to find Virginians in the opposing lines - after a conversation with President Lincoln.