By Greg Ritchie
LONE STAR STATE – For the 200 or so defenders and civilians trapped in the Alamo near San Antonio, the gathering storm of Mexican forces must have seemed like the end of the world. The Mexican Army had been organized based on Napoleon’s force, with Mexican President Santa Anna styling himself the “Napoleon of the West.”
Santa Anna had brought these thousands of men north through the winter after seizing power in Mexico City and crushing rebels who stood against him. He determined it was now time to teach these Texian settlers that Mexico meant business. With glimmering bayonets, military band, big artillery guns and the best cavalry in the new world, Santa Anna was looking for a fight.
When the settlers had seen the Mexican army approaching and headed for the confines of the old Spanish fort and its many cannons – a fight was the last thing they wanted. They knew Santa Anna was a dictator and here to end any sense of freedom and they were ready to fight against that. No one, however, could quite agree on what the settlers were fighting for.
Was Texas to be a part of a new, free and democratic Mexico? The old-timers believed in Mexico and longed for a free space to make their homes. Newer arrivals believed Texas should join with the young United States and become part of that growing country. Others thought Texas should be its own independent nation. Some of the younger men – recent deserters from the U.S. army – were just looking for a good fight.
As it became clear the Mexicans wanted to make a point and Sam Houston’s recently formed army was not coming to save them, they resigned themselves to their fate. They decided to stay and take whatever came. To give Houston time to form that army, to give the political leaders time to hammer out whatever Texas would soon become – and to show the world freedom has a price that some will not hide from paying.
They were not supermen or heroes. They were farmers and ranchers. Shopkeepers and bookkeepers. They valued their lives as highly as we do today. They prayed for a miracle so they could all go home and be with their families. They did not pile into the Alamo planning to be martyrs or even be remembered.
Small steps can lead to great things. Once they understood there would be no escape, they met their fate with a steely gaze, selling their lives as dearly as possible to their enemies.
And pay they did. The Mexicans stormed the walls in the early morning of March 6, 1836 and wiped out the Texians but losing somewhere about 1,000 men of their own. It was a glorious victory for the Mexican Army that led Houston to defeat Santa Anna and capture him personally just over a month later.
The Mexican soldiers seeing the Texians charge at them on the field of San Jacinto must have been terrified hearing the cry of, “Remember the Alamo!” In 18 short minutes all Mexican hope of reconquering Texas were gone and this ragtag group of farmers and ranchers sent them scurrying into Buffalo Bayou.
As they say, Texas is like a whole other country. We do things differently here, we think differently and we don’t treat armies who massacre us very nicely. Santa Anna himself fled into the fields and dressed in the clothes of a common soldier to avoid escape. When he was brought back to the Texian camp with a group of prisoners and the Mexican officers stood and saluted him, the gig was up.
The true lesson of the Alamo is about more than our separation from Mexico and later integration into the United States. It is about the cost of freedom. It is a story of simple people who drew a line in the sand and told the dictators, “thus far and no further.”
That spirit still animates the heart of every Texan to this day. We are good, kind and patient people who will take so much – and then take no more.
God bless you, our dear readers and may God bless Texas, our home. We would like to leave you with immortal words of Col. William Travis besieged inside the Alamo. Words which have inspired those who read them at the time, which inspired Texans from Omaha Beach to Iraq and too many points in between.
“Commandancy of the The Alamo
Bejar, Feby. 24th. 1836
To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World-
Fellow Citizens & compatriots-
I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna – I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man – The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken – I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls – I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch – The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country – Victory or Death.
William Barret Travis.
P. S. The Lord is on our side – When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn – We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels and got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.
Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]