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Monday, February 25, 2013

Remembering the Alamo

Depiction of the battle at the Alamo.
Surrounded by a massive army against odds that no sane man should ever willingly embrace, a pitiful force of just a few stood in brave opposition to a great many. Sound familiar? One of the earliest such battles we read about was at Thermopylae, where a few thousand Greeks led by Leonidas and his 300 Spartans stumped Xerxes and his hundreds of thousands of Persians for three days. As Thermopylae is to most Greeks, so is the Alamo to most Texans. And while the Alamo is one of two defining moments which helped establish the Texas brand identity, the Alamo is its own stand alone brand.

At the time of Leonidas there was no nation of Greece, so Thermopylae gave birth to an idea of Greek nationalism. Texas, too, was an undefined brand, little more than an expanse of northern Mexican territory. And not just a few of the men at the Alamo were Mexican. Fighting along side were a few native Texicans and many American ex-patriots looking for a new start—or maybe just a good fight. Still, even in 1836 a man from Tennessee was as different from a Virginian as a Spartan was from an Athenian. And somehow, they all had a vision of something called Texas and were willing to stand for it.

General Santa Anna.
On the flip side, not many would compare William B. Travis, the Texican commander of rebel forces at the Alamo, to the noble Spartan King Leonidas. Nor would any historian say that General Antonio López de Santa Anna and Xerxes of Persia were of the same caliber. Aside from his vengeful leanings toward Athens, Xerxes was actually a pretty tolerant monarch compared to the Mexican despot with a Napoleon-complex. However, both Xerxes and Santa Anna shared a common moment of short-sightedness. The Persian king obsessed over dislodging that spec of Greek military resistance when he could have found a way to circumvent Thermopylae. Santa Anna was equally determined to make an example of Texicans at the Alamo when the smart move would have been to bypass the old mission and strike the rebel jugular—Houston and his rag tag army.

The Alamo built in 1724 and originally named the Misión San Antonio de Valero. It was home to Spanish missionaries for about seventy years, although abandoned by the 1800s when the Spanish military used it as a fort. It became the Alamo when soldiers renamed it in honor of their hometown Alamo de Parras, further south in Coahuila. Occupying the Alamo were both Revolutionaries and Royalists during Mexico's independence from Spain. And then the Mexican army until Texican rebels seized it during the Texas Revolution.

But it was on February 23, 1836 that the Alamo began its journey into epic legend. On that day arrived Santa Anna's army. The Texican defenders held out for 13 days. Each day peeled away the hopes of William B. Travis that reinforcements might come to his aid. Although on the eighth day of the siege, 32 volunteers from Gonzales came to help, bringing the number of defenders to nearly two hundred.

William B. Travis
One of the most tantalizing moments from the Alamo legend is that with waning hope for outside help, Colonel Travis drew his sword before a his gathered band of defenders. With it he scratched a line in the dirt of the Alamo courtyard, and he asked any man willing to stay and fight to step over it. Now here's the cool part—all but one stepped over the line. Like their Spartan counterparts 2500 years earlier, the defenders saw the Alamo as key to the defense of Texas, and they were ready to give their lives rather than surrender to General Santa Anna.

The Alamo is marked by gallant bravery of but a few men willing to stand against a herculean force. On the final day, just before sun-up on March 6, 1836, cannon and small arms fire from inside the Alamo beat back several attacks. Still, Mexican soldiers finally scaled the walls and rushed into the compound. Desperate hand-to-hand fighting continued until the defenders were overwhelmed. By sunrise, the battle had ended and Santa Anna entered the Alamo compound to survey the carnage.

The siege and its details are debated to this day. But one thing is indisputable, the Alamo has come to symbolize a heroic struggle against impossible odds—a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. And for this simple reason, the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty.

Therefore, submitted for your approval...
Remember the Alamo!

(Originally posted 2012)