Thursday, March 6, 2014

Remembering the Alamo

Today marks the day of the siege on the Alamo, March 6, 1836, when a few dozen Texans held off 5000 Mexican military—long enough for General Sam Houston to gather troops and win the war for independence a month and a half later. It was a sacrifice, but it wasn’t a lost cause. The standoff lasted from February 23 to March 6, some thirteen days by the time the Mexican Army went ahead with the take-no-prisoners attack (there were survivors, about a dozen noncombatants, mainly women and children).
The Alamo (image from Wikipedia)
Texas is a great state for history. We’ve got colorful things worth remembering and retelling. My daughter-in-law (Mrs. Political Sphere) comes from a little town west of Houston that was started by Father of Texas Stephen F. Austin, laid out by Gail Borden (who invented Borden sweetened condensed milk, and also a surveying method he used to make a living). This little town, San Felipe (pronounced by those who live there as San Phillip, or sometimes by others as San Phillipee) was mostly abandoned in what was known as the Runaway Scrape, with citizens freeing before the Mexican Army. A brief battle took place there. They still tell their local stories, even though it wasn’t a major part of the Texas war for independence.
Stephen F. Austin
(image from Wikipedia)
Mexico had a constitution, a written law that guaranteed citizens certain rights. But Santa Anna had taken over as dictator, disregarding the limitations in the law. Stephen F. Austin had gone to Mexico’s capitol to talk through the issues, and form a new state where the laws would be respected. Rather than having the opportunity to voice his complaints, representing his people, and work toward solutions, Austin was labeled an insurrectionist, placed in a dungeon too small to stand or stretch out, where he was held for eight months, being released in August 1835. At this point he returned to find the colonists on the verge of rebellion, and he let them know he now believed they were beyond negotiating with the tyranny of Santa Anna. It was time to fight for their freedom from the tyranny of Mexico.
The bad treatment in the prison deteriorated his health, leading to his death following a bad cold, in December 1836, just a half a year after Texas won independence.
Back to the Alamo. During the rebellion, the war for independence, Presidente Santa Anna moved his troops from city to city to quell the insurrection. The Alamo was an old mission, outside San Antonio (it’s right in the middle of downtown San Antonio today, since the city has grown around it), that could be used as a fortress. Colonel William B. Travis, assigned to lead the troops there, knew he couldn’t hold off the huge Mexican Army. But he also knew that he needed to detain that army as long as possible.
Just four days earlier (March 2, 1836, at Washington-on-the-Brazos, a long two-day’s horse ride from the Alamo) Texas had signed its Declaration of Independence from Mexico. And General Sam Houston was moving through the settlers to build up an army from among the Texians (the settlers that had immigrated from the United States) and the Tejanos (the ethnic Mexicans living in that region). He needed as much time as he could get.
Texas Declaration of Independence
(image from Wikipedia)
A Facebook friend quoted today a historical retelling of the Alamo from Bill Bennett’s American Patriot's Almanac, that I’d like to re-post here:
Storm winds of tyranny blew across Texas in early 1836. In those days the region was a part of Mexico, where General Santa Anna had seized power and made himself dictator. Texans weren’t willing to submit to his rule, so Santa Anna marched north with an army.
In San Antonio a small band gathered to make their stand at the Alamo, an old Spanish mission turned into a fort. They were tough characters, men who had settled a wild frontier. With them was the famous Davy Crockett from Tennessee.
The Mexican army arrived and demanded the Alamo’s surrender. The Texans answered with a cannon shot. Santa Anna ordered a red flag raised, a signal meaning “We will take no prisoners.”
Colonel William Travis, commander of the Alamo, dispatched messengers bearing appeals for reinforcements. “Our flag still waves proudly from the walls,” he wrote. “I shall never surrender nor retreat . . . Victory or death!”
Only 32 men made their way through the enemy lines to join the Texans at the Alamo. That brought the number of defenders to about 189. The Mexican army, meanwhile, swelled to perhaps 5,000.
Legend says that Travis called his men together, drew a line in the dust with his sword, and announced that those who wanted to stay and fight should step over the line. Every man but one crossed over.

The attack came early the next morning, on March 6, 1836. For a while, the Texans managed to hold the Mexican army back, but soon Santa Anna’s soldiers swarmed over the walls. All of the Alamo’s defenders were killed.
The Texans weren’t finished. On April 21, troops commanded by Sam Houston attacked and broke Santa Anna’s army. “Remember the Alamo!” was their battle cry—a cry that still reminds Americans of unyielding courage and sacrifice for freedom.

That April 21st defeat, at San Jacinto, just east of present-day Houston, took only 18 minutes. Houston comparatively small army took the Mexican troops by surprise. The tyrant Santa Ana was among the captives, dressed as just one of the men, trying to avoid notice, ignominious and cowardly. When discovered, he was forced by Sam Houston to officially declare Texas’s victory in its war for independence, and then he was allowed to return to Mexico to continue his cowardly tyranny there.
It takes bravery and sacrifice to secure liberty. And tyrants are generally found to be cowards and bullies when confronted with bravery. That’s something to remember in the never-ending battle between tyranny and freedom.

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