Posts Tagged ‘SLAVERY’
Americans “remember the Alamo”–but usually for the wrong reasons.
Some historians believe the battle should have never been fought.
The Alamo was not Thermopylae–a narrow mountain pass blocking the Persian march into ancient Greece. Santa Anna could have simply bypassed it.
Mexican troops advancing on the Alamo
In fact, several of Santa Anna’s generals urged the Mexican dictator to do just that–leave a small guard to hold down the fort’s defenders and wipe out the undefended, widely-separated Texas settlements.
But pride held Santa Anna fast to the Alamo. His brother-in-law, General Perfecto de Cos, had been forced to surrender the old mission to revolting Texans in December, 1835. Santa Anna meant to redeem the fort–and his family honor–by force.
In almost every movie made about the Alamo, its two co-commanders, James Bowie and William Barret Travis, are portrayed as on the verge of all-out war–with each other.
William B. Travis
In John Wayn’e heavily fictionalized 1960 film, The Alamo, Bowie and Travis agree to fight a duel as soon as they’ve whipped the Mexicans besieging them.
In fact, the frictions between the two lasted only a short while. Just before the siege, some of Bowie’s volunteers–a far larger group than the regular soldiers commanded by Travis–got drunk. Travis ordered them jailed–and Bowie ordered his men to release them. Bowie then went on a roaring drunk.
The next day, a sober Bowie apologized to Travis and agreed they should share command. This proved a wise decision, for just as the siege started, Bowie was felled by worsening illness–typhoid-pneumonia or tuberculosis.
In Wayne’s film, Bowie repeatedly leaves the Alamo to ambush unsuspecting Mexicans.
In reality, he stayed bed-ridden and lay close to death throughout the 13-day siege.
Most people believe the Texans intended to make a suicidal stand.
Not true. From the first day of the siege–February 23–almost to the last–March 6, 1836–messengers rode out of the Alamo seeking help. The defenders believed that if they could cram enough men into the three-acre former mission, they could hold Santa Anna at bay.
It’s widely believed that no reinforcements reached the Alamo.
Not so. On March 1, 32 men from Gonzalez–the only ones to answer Travis’ call–sneaked through the Mexican lines to enter the Alamo. Meanwhile, the largest Texan force lay at Fort Defiance in Goliad, 85 miles away.
This consisted of 500 men commanded by James Walker Fannin, a West Point dropout. Fannin was better-suited for the role of Hamlet than military commander. Upon receiving a plea of help from Travis, he set out in a half-hearted attempt to reach the mission.
But when a supply wagon broke down, he returned to Fort Defiance and sat out the rest of the siege.
After it became obvious that the Alamo would not be sufficiently reinforced, the Texans still refused to evacuate. “I’ll die before I run” might have been their official motto.
The Alamo garrison was fully prepared to confront the Mexican army.
When the Mexicans suddenly arrived in San Antonio on the morning of February 23, 1836, they caught the Texans completely by surprise.
The previous night, they had been celebrating the birthday of George Washington. The Texans rushed headlong into the Alamo, hauling all the supplies they could hastily scrounge.
Santa Anna sent a courier under a flag of truce to the Alamo, demanding unconditional surrender. In effect, the Texans were being given the choice of later execution. Travis replied with a shot from the fort’s biggest cannon, the 18-pounder.
Santa Anna ordered the hoisting of a blood-red flag and the opening of an artillery salvo. The siege of the Alamo was on.
Many Americans believe that San Houston, who was elected general of the non-existent army of Texas, desperately tried to relieve the siege.
At Washington-on-the-Brazos, 169 miles east of San Antonio, Texan delegates assembled to form a new government. When news reached the delegates that Travis desperately needed reinforcements, many of them wanted to rush to his defense.
But Houston and others declared they must first declare Texas’ independence. On March 2, 1836, they did just that. Houston spent a good deal of the time drunk.
Did Travis draw a line?
Easily the most famous Alamo story is that of “the line in the sand.” On the night of March 5–just prior to the final assault–there was a lull in the near-constant Mexican bombardment. Travis assembled his men and gave them a choice:
They could surrender and hope that Santa Anna would be merciful. They could try to escape. Or they could stay and fight.
One of these was bed-ridden James Bowie. He asked that his sick-bed be carried over to Travis.
The other was a veteran of the Napoleonic wars–Louis Rose.
On March 2, 1836–179 years ago today–Texas formally declared its independence from Mexico, of which it was then a province.
Sixty-one delegates took part in the convention held at Washington-on-the-Brazos. Their signed statement proclaimed that the Mexican government had “ceased to protect the lives, liberty, and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived.”
Meanwhile, 169 miles away, the siege of the Alamo–a crumbling former Spanish mission in the heart of San Antonio–had entered its ninth day.
The Alamo. The mission that became a fortress. The fortress that has since become a shrine.
The Alamo Chapel
The combatants: 180 to 250 Texans (or “Texians,” as many of them preferred to be called) vs. 2,000 Mexican soldiers.
On the Texan side three names predominate: David Crockett, James Bowie and William Barret Travis. “The Holy Trinity,” as some historians ironically refer to them.
Crockett, at 49, was the most famous man in the Alamo. He had been a bear hunter, Indian fighter and Congressman. Rare among the men of his time, he sympathized with the Indian tribes he had helped subdue in the War of 1812.
He believed Congress should honor the treaties made with the former hostiles and opposed President Andrew Jackson’s effort to move the tribes further West.
Largely because of this, his constituents turned him out of office in November, 1835. He told them they could go to hell; he would go to Texas.
James Bowie, at 40, had been a slave trader with pirate Jean Lafitte and a land swindler. His greatest claim to fame lay in his skill as a knife-fighter.
This grew out of his participating in an 1827 duel on a sandbar in Natchez, Mississippi. Bowie was acting as a second to one of the duelists who had arranged the event.
After the two duelists exchanged pistol shots without injury, they called it a draw. But those who had come as their seconds had scores to settle among themselves–and decided to do so. A bloody melee erupted.
Bowie was shot in the hip and then impaled on a sword cane wielded by Major Norris Wright, a longtime enemy. Drawing a large butcher knife he wore at his belt, he gutted Wright, who died instantly.
The brawl became famous as the Sandbar Fight, and cemented Bowie’s reputation across the South as a deadly knife fighter.
William Barret Travis had been an attorney and militia member. Burdened by debts and pursued by creditors, he fled Alabama in 1831 to start over in Texas. Behind him he left a wife, son, and unborn daughter.
William Barret Travis
From the first, Travis burned to free Texas from Mexico and see it become a part of the United States.
In January, 1836, he was sent by the American provisional governor of Texas to San Antonio, to fortify the Alamo. He arrived there with a small party of regular soldiers and the title of lieutenant colonel in the state militia.
On the Mexican side, only one name matters: Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, president (i.e., absolute dictator) of Mexico. After backing first one general and would-be “president” after another, Santa Anna maneuvered himself into the office in 1833.
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
Texas was then legally a part of Mexico. Stephen F. Austin, “the father of Texas,” had received a grant from Spain–which ruled Mexico until 1821–to bring in 300 American families to settle there.
The Spaniards wanted to establish a buffer between themselves and warring Indian tribes like the Comanches.
These immigrations continued after Mexico threw off Spanish rule and obtained its independence.
But as Americans kept flooding into Texas, the character of its population changed, alarming its Mexican rulers.
The new arrivals did not see themselves as Mexican citizens but as transplanted Americans. They were largely Protestant, as opposed to the Catholic Mexicans. And many of them not only owned slaves but demanded the expansion of slavery–a practice illegal under Mexican law.
In October, 1835, fighting erupted between settlers and Mexican soldiers. In November, Mexican forces took shelter in the Alamo, which had been built in 1718 as a mission to convert Indians to Christianity. Since then it had been used as a fort–by Spanish and then Mexican troops.
Texans lay siege to the Alamo from October 16 to December 10, 1835. With his men exhausted, and facing certain defeat, General Perfecto de Cos, Santa Anna’s brother-in-law, surrendered. He gave his word to leave Texas and never take up arms again against its settlers.
Texans rejoiced. They believed they had won their “war” against Mexico.
But others knew better. One was Bowie. Another was Sam Houston, a former Indian fighter, Congressman and protégé of Andrew Jackson.
Still another was Santa Anna, who styled himself “The Napoleon of the West.” In January, 1836, he set out from Mexico City at the head of an army totaling about 7,000.
He planned the 18th century version of a blitzkrieg, intending to arrive in Texas and take its “rebellious foreigners” by surprise.
His forced march proved costly in lives, but met his objective. He arrived in San Aotonio with several hundred soldiers on February 23, 1836.
The siege of the Alamo–the most famous event in Texas history–was about to begin.