18th-century Franciscan mission in San Antonio, Texas, U.S., that was the site of a historic resistance effort by a small group of determined fighters for Texan independence (1836) from Mexico.
The building was originally the chapel of the Mission San Antonio de Valero, which had been founded between 1716 and 1718 by Franciscans. Before the end of the century the mission was abandoned and the buildings had fallen into partial ruin. After 1801 the chapel was occupied sporadically by Spanish troops. Apparently it was during this period that the old chapel became popularly known as "the Alamo" from the grove of cottonwood trees in which it stood.
In December 1835, at the opening of the Texas war for independence, a detachment of Texas volunteers drove a Mexican force from San Antonio and occupied the Alamo. Some Texan leaders, including Sam Houston, counseled the abandonment of San Antonio as impossible to defend with the small body of troops available, but the volunteers at the Alamo refused to retire from their exposed position. On Feb. 23, 1836, a Mexican army, variously estimated at 1,800 to 6,000 men and commanded by General Antonio López de Santa Anna, arrived from south of the Rio Grande and immediately began a siege of the Alamo. The small Texan defending force was supplemented by some later arrivals and amounted to about 184 men. This force was commanded by Colonel James Bowie and Colonel William B. Travis and included the renowned Davy Crockett. For 13 days the Alamo's defenders held out, but on the morning of March 6 the Mexicans stormed through a breach in the outer wall of the courtyard and overwhelmed the Texans. Santa Anna had ordered that no prisoners be taken, and 183 of the defenders were slain (only about 15 persons, mostly women and children, were spared). The Mexicans suffered heavy casualties, with credible estimates of their killed and wounded ranging from 600 to 1,600. These casualties and the time lost in reducing the Alamo dislocated Santa Anna's campaign long enough to permit Houston to perfect plans for the defense of Texas. The Alamo became for Texans a symbol of heroic resistance.
For many years after 1845 the Alamo was used by the U.S. Army for the quartering of troops and the storage of supplies. In 1883 the state of Texas purchased the Alamo and in 1903 acquired title to the remainder of the old mission grounds. The Alamo and adjacent buildings have been restored and are maintained as a historic site.