- The U.S. Army and the Alamo, 1846–1877
For nearly three decades the United States Army had a direct relationship with the Alamo, occupying it as a supply depot, and twice, saving it from destruction. This long-term army occupation ultimately helped preserve the Alamo. While individual soldiers expressed a sensitivity to the site’s heroic heritage, the army as an institution did not operate out of a generous appreciation of the Alamo’s historic legacy, but rather as a practical requirement for convenient and secure storage, office, and workshop space. The U.S. Army’s involvement with the Alamo began with the War with Mexico and, except for an interruption during the Civil War (during which time the iconic landmark was occupied by the Confederate Army), extended to 1877.
When the Republic of Texas became a state in 1845, the United States federal government inherited its border and frontier security problems as well as a boundary dispute with Mexico. Texans claimed a southern and western border to the banks of the Rio Grande, while Spanish maps, political memory, and traditional folkways marked the boundary of Texas at the Nueces River. As a precaution, or perhaps a provocation, in April 1844, President John Tyler ordered Brevet Brigadier General Zachary Taylor to form the Corps of Observation on the Louisiana border. Thirteen months later, President James K. Polk (Tyler’s successor) ordered Taylor’s army forward to Corpus Christi and the Nueces River.1
On July 25, 1845, Taylor’s advance guard of infantry arrived by sea at Corpus Christi, while the Second Dragoon Regiment began to march by [End Page 263] horse overland from Arkansas and Louisiana. Led by Major Thomas T. Fauntleroy, 119 troopers of Companies A and G of the Second Dragoons from Fort Washita, Arkansas, passed through Austin on October 16, 1845, arriving at San Antonio on October 20, going into “Camp Bexar, 6 miles below San Antonio.” On October 28, 1845, the dragoons moved from Camp Bexar into San Antonio proper, beginning a relationship between the U.S. military and the city that endures to this day.2 In March 1846, Taylor launched his army from Corpus Christi, across the Nueces into the disputed territory, which eventually led to the Battles of Resaca de la Palma and Palo Alto on May 8–9, 1846.3 After those fights, Taylor and his troops crossed the Rio Grande.
While Taylor marched into Mexico, troops under Brigadier General John E. Wool began to concentrate in San Antonio. Wool had been ordered to form a force of 3,400 men and march west into Chihuahua from Texas. The majority of Wool’s force landed at Port Lavaca, with the lead elements arriving in San Antonio in late July, and the main body closing in mid-August 1846.4 To supply Wool’s army from Port Lavaca came 1,112 wagon loads of cargo, hauled 160 miles one-way, with 500 wagons making multiple round trips. Supplies of every sort, from beans to gunpowder, were scattered around the town, often in the open and unguarded. In early September Quartermaster Major Charles Thomas arrived, and he quickly concentrated all the supplies, equipment, and repair shops into the empty and largely abandoned Alamo compound. This would mark the third significant military occupation of the Alamo.5 [End Page 264]
The first military occupation of the Alamo began in the decades after San Antonio’s founding by the Spanish. Responding to potential French interest in Texas, and to serve as a way point to Catholic missions in East Texas, in 1718 the Viceroy of New Spain, the Marqués de Valero, ordered the establishment of a Franciscan mission, military presidio, and small civilian settlement on the San Antonio River. San Antonio de Valero Mission struggled with little success for four decades as an Indian mission, starting a chapel in 1744, which collapsed in the 1750s; the replacement, the current Alamo, was never completed. The mission was finally abandoned and secularized by the king of Spain in 1793. The former mission had more success as a military site. The site was occupied in 1803 by a...