Could Fannin Save the Alamo?

From a military and political point of view, the Texas Revolution was a total debacle.  There was almost no unity among the generals and constant bickering among the politicians on the most trivial of things.  The men of the Texas Army were either volunteers or had formal enlistments.  Consequently, they would choose when and if to follow orders.

James Bowie, a noted slave trader and drunk, was among the volunteers who simply took orders as suggestions.  In January of 1836, he was given “orders” by General Sam Houston to either destroy the Alamo, or destroy its store of supplies and withdraw the token forces.1  Colonel James Neil, who commanded the regular forces, and Bowie agreed they should hold the city of San Antonio de Bexar, against the wishes of Sam Houston.  Houston felt the city was too far away from the Texian population and was too close to Mexico.  In addition, its population strongly favored the Mexican government.

With the refusal to destroy supplies and withdraw, a fatal plan was set in motion for the defenders of the small mission.

On February 25, 1836, James Fannin, the Texas commander of La Bahia (now Goliad) received orders to reinforce Colonel Travis at the Alamo.2  Two days later, the advance scouts from scouts from Santa Anna’s army arrived in San Antonio.  The Texan defenders had chosen to abandon the city in favor of the protection the Alamo walls offered.  By the end of the siege, somewhere between 180 and 250 Texans would be inside the compound.

Colonel James Fannin
Colonel James Fannin

On February 27, Fannin set out for San Antonio with a force of around 300 men.  He never made it.  Just outside of Goliad, one of the wheels on a gun carriage broke, making the cannon virtually impossible to move.  Instead of spiking the cannon and continuing on, Fannin turned his force around leaving the men of the Alamo to their fate with no chance of reinforcements.  Fannin’s command was the largest nearby and may have proven useful to Travis and Bowie.3

From here, a number of scenarios could play out.  First, Fannin probably would have been stopped before ever getting into the Alamo compound.  Santa Anna had sent out patrols to cut the road to Goliad and prevent reinforcements from arriving. Undoubtedly a confrontation was coming into San Antonio would have bloodied Fannin’s nose, and possibly wiped out his forces.  He would have been on the road with tired men and virtually no cover while trying to fight a larger, and relatively well rested enemy that had him with at least even numbers an even larger reserve.  (Oddly enough, a similar scenario would play out for Fannin at the Battle of Colleto Creek when Fannin found himself outnumbered with tired men and virtually no cover while coming under fire from a superior army led by General Urrea.

The question still remains, could the Alamo have held with a combination of Fannin and Travis’ men?

As of the winter of 1835-36, the Alamo was one of the most heavily armed forts west of the Mississippi River.  The Alamo was equipped with 24 cannons and Fannin could have brought around fifteen for a total of near 40. 4,5  The combined forces could have brought the total manpower to around 500-600 men against an attacking force of about 1800 Mexicans with another 1200 serving as reserves or in support roles.  Essentially 550 vs 3000, with the smaller number heavily armed and in a solid defensive position.

The defenders would still suffer from a weak southern palisade and a gate to defend.  However, with 550 men, the Texans would have one man for every three feet of wall space, estimating the original compound walls to be around 1500 linear feet.  But, some men would need to man the palisade wall, the cannons to the rear of the church, the walls of the cattle pens, as well as the south gate.  Perhaps this would pull 100 men to man those positions, giving the Texans one man for every four to five feet of wall.  Again, some men could be pulled off of the interior walls between the compound and the church and cattle pens to the east.  This handful of men could be positioned on the north wall where the bulk of the Mexican attack eventually came from.  It is worth mentioning, the Alamo had an abundance of gunpowder and ammunition.

With the extra men, the compound would have been formidable.  However, the assault would have most likely played out the same with the initial attack coming from the north, then the west, and finally from the south, while the Mexican cavalry would have been used to cut off anyone trying to escape.  The numbers would not play in favor of the defenders.  An initial assault might have failed, but the attackers would have regrouped and mounted another attack.  Mexican soldiers would have the advantage of rest and time.

The Mexicans could have swarmed the Alamo, and they had the numbers to do so.  Just as the actual attack, the Texans would only have been able to get off a few shots per man before the Mexicans reached the walls.  The initial volleys would have been devastating with the extra men, causing more casualties.  However, the slow rifles could only be reloaded so fast.  The end results would have been the same.  Once the Mexicans reached the walls with ladders, the initial soldiers would be cut down.  When they reached the top of the walls, the initial push would have been hit with moderate to heavy casualties, but the defenders would have been pushed back, allowing the attackers to gain a foothold.  At that point, the Mexicans surge forward would continue to pull back to the barracks and chapel.  The Alamo would fall.

In this scenario, there could have been hundreds of variables.  What if General Urrea headed north after Fannin left Goliad and joined forces with Santa Anna?  The result would have been the same.  What if Sam Houston headed to reinforce San Antonio?  His ill trained army would have likely made no difference.

General Jose Urrea
General Jose Urrea

In the end, the results would have been the same.  Instead of defeats and massacres at San Antonio, Coletto Creek, and Goliad, there would have been one bloody defeat in San Antonio.  Historically speaking, an attacking army with superior numbers and time on their side can simply lay siege to an isolated defender and wait them out.  Santa Anna had many San Antonio residents on his side.  He could supply his army on the backs of the local population, being that he had not been able to live off of the land.  Santa Anna could simply wait out the Alamo supply stores.  That said, Santa Anna did not show a desire to wait that long. 6 He most likely would have still assaulted the Alamo, with considerable loss to his forces, and still would have won the battle.

With the possible numbers, the Alamo was still doomed to fall.

 

Sources and note to the reader

I have to admit I have read a lot on this subject in the past year or so.  However, I have not always marked and sourced where I found the information.  At the time I was reading I had no clue I would end up writing a blog about this topic.  That said, I assure my readers I have read the information reported above.  I also read that information on legitimate sites and from legitimate sources.

1  “The Alamo Should Never Have Happened.” Texas Monthly. 2013. Accessed October 07, 2016. http://www.texasmonthly.com/the-culture/the-alamo-should-never-have-happened/.

2 “Massacre at Goliad.” Massacre at Goliad. Accessed October 07, 2016. http://www.tamu.edu/faculty/ccbn/dewitt/goliadmassacre.htm

3 Ibid.

4  “Alamo Cannon.” Alamo Cannon. Accessed October 07, 2016. https://www.tamu.edu/faculty/ccbn/dewitt/adp/history/1836/the_battle/the_weapons/cannon.html.

5  “Map of Fannin’s Fight, March 19, 1836.” TSLAC |. Accessed October 07, 2016. https://www.tsl.texas.gov/treasures/republic/goliad/fannin-map1.html.

6 Peña, José Enrique De La, and Carmen Perry. With Santa Anna in Texas: A Personal Narrative of the Revolution. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1997.  (I use the book as a citation as there are numerous events referred to, but not stated explicity.  However, this book confirms much of the things I have read in other sources.  Sadly, I have been a bit lazy and did not document all such places I read.)

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Chris McMillan

I consider to be myself somewhat of a pretty cool nerd. I have a BBS in History from Hardin-Simmons University and I graduated with honors with an MA in Military History with a concentration on War Since 1945 from the American Military University. Needless to say I love history. When I'm not studying history I'm also keeping track of MLB and my Texas Rangers. I'm also an avid fan of fitness and putting rounds downrange when the time presents itself. I enjoy shooting so much I got Uncle Sam to pay me to do it for a bit. However, the best part of my life is being the husband to a wonderful wife and mother and the daddy to a bouncy, energetic little girl.

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