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The battle of the Alamo

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The battle of the Alamo occurred in the 19th century between Mexico and rebel Texas forces at the time of the Texas Revolution. It occurred at the Alamo Mission, San Antonio in Texas. The battle had various high profile personalities such as David Crockete, a Tennessee congressman, James Bowie an entrepreneur and adventurer and Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna the Mexican president. William Travis also gained renown due to the war (Randy and Olson, 2001, pg 45).

            For majority of the American especially Texans, the battle is a symbol of patriotism. However the true account of the historical event is often obscured by emphasis on legendary aspect (Hardin, 1994 pp30-31). In December 1835, an army of Texan immigrants and their allies together with American volunteers captured a town from the Centralist force and with this victory majority of the Texan volunteers left service.  The officials of the government however feared that the centralists would attack in the spring (Hardin, 1994).

Several frontiers served as picket guards so they could inform the Texas settlements in case the enemy advanced. Following the departure of most of the Texan settlers, American volunteers labored to be fortify the mission at Alamo, however the garrison was still under the risk of attack and the predominant feeling was that unless reinforcement was provided the volunteers would fall easily to the enemy (Hardin, 1994 pp31).

            The Centralist army had meanwhile been advancing and on February 23 had reached Bexar. The commanding officers at the Alamo quickly sent a letter requesting for reinforcement. When Santa Anna, demanded that the Alamo surrender, Travis responded with a cannonball. The volunteers and regulars under Travis command engaged the Mexican’s in a 13-day siege (Randy and Olson, 2001 pg70).

            On March 6, the Mexicans penetrated the defensive perimeter of the Alamo. Travis was among the first to perish, Bowie too was killed even though he was too ill to leave the bed. Other defenders withdrew to the rooms in the Long Barracks where the fought hand to hand with the Mexicans. The whole assault for that day was approximately ninety minutes long and by around eight o’clock March 6 every one of the Alamo defenders was dead.

Seven were still alive at the end of the battle but they were summarily executed following Santa Ana’s orders (Hardin, 1994 pp30). The men of the Alamo were valiant and defended the Alamo to their death, they were not suicidal however because Travis continually called on the government for reinforcement. The government at the time had so much discordance within it that they did not avail the necessary assistance soon enough. However, Travis’ requests served to bring in more volunteers.

            There were several myths about the war. To begin there is the myth that winter of 1836 was the coldest ever in Texas history. This belief is reinforced by the fact that on February 13 there was a blizzard that continued through to most of the following day. The stormy weather that day was bad enough to kill both man and animal (de la Pena, 1997, pg 26-29). Observers in Texas, William Gray and Juan Almonte report otherwise.

They made entries in their journals which give an indication of the weather. There was some cold weather with the temperatures dipping to the 30s. Before this, the temperatures had been fairly warm though it was cold and rainy. The temperatures were around 60 degree on February 29. It was cool around March 6, but by March 8, the weather, as Gray reports was fair (de Pena, 1997 pg 26-29).

            The myth that the men of Alamo bought time for same Houston’s army to be built is generally believed by many but in truth it is unfounded. Sam Houston was appointed the commanding-General of the Texas army. With a large authority over the regular army it became legally impossible for him to issue orders to those in the field (Barton, 1959 pg, 300). He therefore dispatched recruiters so that they could raise a regular army and agents who would acquire arms and supplies.

Houston, since he had no troops to command took leave and participated in negotiations with Cherokee Indians and later signed a treaty with them. (Jenkins, 1973, Pg 260-261). He also served as a delegate in the Constitutional Convention and at this time he was reappointed commanding general of the Texas army and got control over both regular and volunteer troops. When he arrived at Gonzales to provide reinforcement for the Alamo defenders he found that the Alamo had already fallen. (Filisola, 1987 pp69). He arrived on March 11 when the Alamo had fallen on March 6. As shown, Houston was not involved in building an army but was tending to other business.

            It is also a myth that the defenders at Alamo died unaware of the declaration of independence by Texas. While there may be some truth in that myth, the fact is that the garrison at Alamo favored independence and their expectations were that the Convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos would result in secession from Mexico. Travis in a letter indicated that the Convention had support from the Alamo men to declare independence. Travis in his letter stated that if independence was not declared then he and his men would lay down their arms. They therefore expected the Texas Declaration of independence (Jenkins, 1973, 324-325, 504-505). Some of the men at the Alamo were even sent as delegates to the convention.

            The failure of the Texans to answer Travis requests for help is a frequently asked question. Many believe that the only Texans who came to assist the Alamo were 32 men from Gonzales. The only documented instance of aid was the arrival of Gonzales Ranging Company on March 1 1836 (Jenkins, 1973, 502-504). Colonel Fanning has been derided for failing to provide assistance when he was 100 miles away at Goliad.

Colonel Fanning could not run the risk of leaving his post unguarded since there was another advancing Mexican column. Travis letters did not go unheeded but they proved effective as they brought more recruits to the battlefield. Many volunteers had gathered at Gonzalez to reinforce the Alamo when they got news that the Alamo had been vanquished (Jenkins, 1973, pp 22-23). The Mexican army was eventually defeated by these men at the battle of San Jacinto on April 21 (Jenkins, 1973, pp 69).

            That the men at the Alamo had the choice of leaving at whatever time they pleased because they were volunteers is also another myth that needs to be dispelled.  The men could not just leave at their own will because of an oath they had made to the Provisional Government of Texas. As citizens-soldiers this oath of allegiance they took bound them to defend any of the posts they were assigned to and follow laid down rules and regulations in obedience to officers who presided over them (Barker, 1906, pp 227-261).

            William B. Travis was not disliked by the garrison as portrayed in the popular media. Initially, the volunteers had refused to take orders from a regular and had elected James Bowie as their leader as he was also a volunteer. This was because usually volunteers took orders from other volunteers while regulars took orders from a regular. Their initial rejection of him had nothing to do with dislike for him. Travis was in reality, outgoing and well-respected by his peers (Winders, 1997 pp 150). When James Bowie fell ill with pneumonia, Travis took full command of the garrison and the men followed his order without qualms. In addition, even before James Bowie had fallen ill both he and Travis had dual command of the garrison and they did so without unpleasantness.

            Sam Houston had earlier on suggested that the Alamo be destroyed because in his opinion, the volunteers were not in a position to provide adequate protection and stall the Mexican army if they were attacked. Governor Smith however did not grant his request. Due to an absence of houses and mulls, transportation of supplies ammunition and cannons would have been impossible if the Governor has agreed to Houston’s request (Hardin, 1994)

Many have the view that the Battle of the Alamo would have been avoided if the garrison had been blown up as requested by James Houston. This is not true especially in consideration of the view expressed by Bowie that the Salvation of Texas dependent on the Mexicans being kept out of Bejar since it served as the piquet guard of the frontier.

            Santos asserts that David Crockette did not die fighting with Mexican soldiers as is feet as suggested by present-day myths. He was actually executed after the battle (Santos, 1990, pg 6-c)

            The men of the Alamo garrison died a heroic death despite all the mythology that surrounds the events of the battle. In fighting the Mexican army that greatly outnumbered them and that was adequately armed in comparison to them, the Alamo defenders inspired the remaining army who eventually defeated the Mexicans at San Jacinto. In addition the battle still serves as inspiration to this day.

Works Cited

Barker EC 1906, The Texas Revolutionary Army, the Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association April 1906, 227-261.

De la Peña JE 1997, With Santa Anna in Texas College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 26-29;

Filisola V 1987, Memoirs for the History of the War in Texas vol 2 Austin: Eakin Press, 2:157-159

Hardin SL 1994, Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994 pp30-33.

Jenkins JH 1973, ed., The Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836 Handbook of Texas Online retrieved from www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/onlinearticles/AA/qea2.htm

John H. Jenkins 1973, Papers of the Texas Revolution Austin: Presidial Press,  4:128, 160, 263-265, 324-325, and 504-505 vol 10

Winders RB 1997, Mr. Polk’s Army: The American Military Experience in the Mexican War College Station: Texas A & M Press, pp 150

Santos RC, 1990 Mythologizing the Alamo, Express News San Antonio, Texas: Saturday, March 3, 1990, page 6-C

Randy R and Olson JS 2001, A line in the Sand, the Alamo Blood and Memory, Free Press, pp45, pp70

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