The story, and the myth, of the siege of the Alamo may be my favorite chapter in American history. I bet the Alamo isn’t even taught in public schools outside of Texas, which raises too many other issues to tackle here. On February 24, the make-shift garrison of a couple hundred volunteers from all over the States (and some Mexicans too) found themselves surrounded and outnumbered by well-trained Mexican troops under the command of the ruthless dictator Gen. Santa Ana. The reason for the Texas patriots’ stand was to buy time for Sam Houston to organize an army, but it was quickly evident that this was a Thermopylae in the making, with the same likely result. Nonetheless, Alamo commander William Barrett Travis answered Santa Ana’s call for unconditional surrender with shot from the Alamo’s cannon. Later the same day Travis sent out several couriers carrying letters asking, indeed begging for reinforcements. Addressing one of his pleas to “The People of Texas and All Americans in the World,” Travis signed off with “Victory or Death” in a letter many Texans know by heart:
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.
1.The MacKenzie Fierceton Saga. This weird ethics tale got lost in the shuffle last month, but it is ever-green. University of Pennsylvania student Mackenzie Fierceton saw her Rhodes Scholarship revoked and her master’s degree withheld after allegations surfaced that she was lying about her first-generation low-income status and life in foster care.
Fierceton graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science at the UPenn in 2020, then became one of the 32 Rhodes Scholars chosen from more than 2,300 U.S. students. She was in the process of completing a clinical master’s degree in social work, also at the University of Pennsylvania. She was celebrated as a true up-from-her-bootstraps achiever, a foster kid who got the proverbial brass ring through native talent and hard work. But an anonymous tip was sent to officials at the University of Pennsylvania and Rhodes Trust claiming that Fierceton was “blatantly dishonest in the representation of her childhood.” The tip included photos of Fierceton skydiving, riding a horse and whitewater rafting. The university and Rhodes Trust then started their own investigation. It was discovered that Fierceton attended Whitfield, a private school in St. Louis charging tuition of nearly $30,000 a year. Her mother was a radiologist with a college degree. Other aspects of the student’s account of coming from an impoverished background and abusive parents did not check out either. (The story is far too complicated to cover here. The Chronicle of Higher Education has the whole mind-numbing tale in exquisite detail.
Yes, MacKenzie is suing. (Pointer: Curmie)
2. He really said this. Mitch McConnell, who infamously refused to let the Senate even consider Merrick Garland when President Obama nominated him for the Supreme Court in 2015, told reporters that he expects a confirmation process “Americans can be proud of,” in contrast to the ugly hell Democrats put Justice Kavanaugh through. “We believe a Supreme Court nominee ought to be respectfully treated, thoroughly vetted and then voted upon,” Mitch said. That has to set some kind of record for gall.
21 thoughts on “Evening Ethics Excerpts, 2/24/2022: It’s “Remember The Alamo” Kick-Off Time!”
I think the Texans fell back to the Alamo on the 23rd.
On the Alamo and luck:
General Sesma, at the head of the lead elements of Santa Anna’s column, had been given orders to surprise the Texans during a night raid on San Antonio as soon as possible. His lead cavalry, whom he was with, arrived at the Medina River at a crossing 20 miles from San Antonio on the evening of the 21st of February, confident the Texans weren’t expecting the Mexican army to arrive quickly. However, they had force marched through one of Texas’s worst winters in a feat of will outside of any expected movement. He was right – the Texans assumed Santa Anna wouldn’t arrive until the 2nd or 3rd week of March based on standard pacing of the day. The Texans had a rip-roaring fandango celebrating George Washington’s birthday the evening of the 22nd. Quite contentedly drunk afterwards, a dangerous contingent of the defenders were functionally incapacitated. Sesma’s orders and plan would have had him in position to the west of town exactly when the Texans were most vulnerable. Luck was on his side as there was no reason for him to assume they’d have fiesta-ed themselves out that evening. He was expecting a surprise attack to be resisted as surprised men do – some fighting, some running – but easily mopped up in the end. Instead, he would find them mostly sound asleep during his charge into San Antonio.
Only Sesma was concerned. Recent rains had swollen the Medina river. He didn’t want to risk losing soldiers fording the river and chose to wait until day light to cross. This delay ended up causing Sema to arrive at San Antonio the following morning instead of the night of the 22nd and therefore giving the Texans time to sleep off their hang-overs as well as time for the rumor mill of locals to reach Travis’s ears, who promptly put a look out in the tallest tower nearby – that of the church – who hadn’t been up long before he saw the Mexican cavalry with enough time for the Texans to make a panicked and disorderly withdrawal to the Alamo.
Jocko: “Well, sir, if you really insist, I guess I’ll leave with my wife.”
Jocko’s wife: “Don’t you be all high and mighty!!! MY JOCKO WILL GLADLY DIE WITH YOU OTHER MEN!!!!”
Jocko: “Shut up woman! They gave me orders to leave! Just let this go!!!”
Jocko’s wife: “Yessirreee!!! He’ll be happy to stay and sacrifice his life alongside you fellows in this hopeless battle that none of you will surely survive!!!”
Jocko: ***glares in 1800s consternation***
Galling as it is, McConnell’s statement does give a bit of hope that the Republicans won’t engage in America destroying tit for tat at every available opportunity.
The republican political class will let the democrats do whatever they want. The republican political class always let the democrats do whatever they want. The republican political class are perfectly happy losing at everything so long as they can make themselves rich and powerful by doing so. The political class may be fat and happy, but the seething masses will not be. This will only drive the populist flames higher. Just because the political fight doesn’t play out in congress, doesn’t mean it won’t play out. There will be consequences. If the battles aren’t fought symbolically through appointed political parties, they will be fought in real life. That is not actually better.
I think McConnell knows he can’t stop this, but going into it all “yay open fair discussion” will give him an open mike to ask all the kinds of questions Democrats ask of Republican nominees to air out the nominee’s political bias.
One quality McConnell possesses in abundance is gall. Having said that, it is an altogether common, possibly universal, quality of US senators of both parties.
In Alamo related history – on this date, Urrea and the “Coastal Column” arrive on the Nueces river about 60 miles south of Goliad, where Fannin’s roughly 400 man force is stationed. Simultaneously, Fannin, acting on Houston’s orders to displace to Victoria in an ultimate move to continue to the Colorado river, where terrain and vegetation was more favorable to the settler’s style of fighting. Fannin had plenty of a head start to fulfill Houston’s vision.
Only wagons broke down and he spent a night camping northeast of Goliad before returning the following day to Goliad where he would inexplicably stay for several more weeks before departing on the 19th of March – with Urrea dangerously close for – a fateful encounter on terrain completely opposite of his people’s style of fighting and 100% perfect for the Mexican Army’s preferred tactics.
On this day in Alamo history – the Mexican army finally cut off the last acequia (irrigation ditch) that supplied the Alamo – reducing the Texan defenders to reliance on an barely producing well. Misery would be growing noticeably at this point inside. Around this time, Travis’s famous appeal to aid would have reached the vast majority of interested parties ears and the first clusters of reinforcements would begin their treks to the Alamo – gathering around the town of Gonzales, with several clusters ultimately pushing on to the crossing at Cibolo Creek Crossing at Deaf (pronounced Deef) Smith’s land between Goliad and San Antonio, with an eye to secure this area for Fannin’s approach to San Antonio.
Recall, Houston’s authority was not fully established and most defenders of the Alamo were there since the beginning of the revolution in October and virtually every colonist would respond rapidly to the source of need – Travis and his messengers would have assumed that Fannin would head to the Alamo unaware of Houston’s orders to fall back to the Colorado River.
A lack of a unified chain of command plagued Houston.
At the Cibolo Creek Crossing, one would expect to find a gathering of more eager types to relieve the Alamo, even while those gathering at Gonzales were eager themselves. Something like 30-60 men at any one point in time may have been hovering around here during the Alamo siege. And some imaginative historians have posited that this could account for the additional bodies found around the Alamo that increases the body count to 210-240 in some accounts. According to this theory, men at the Cibolo Crossing finally had enough waiting and decided to break into the Alamo and by coincidence arrived right about the time of the final assault in time to die with the rest. Similar theoreticians claim that this relief element could’ve entered in the last 3 days of the siege (after the last communication from inside the Alamo had departed).
I don’t give it much weight, but who knows.
I love the day-by-day Alamo updates, MW. Please keep them going.
I realized this year, I’ve been slacking I my usually annual Texas War for Independence reading binge. Likely tied to the fact that I haven’t done an Alamo visit since before Covid which we tried to do annually or every other year.
This year will be odd for the day-by-day though because 1836 was a leap year and the defenders were in the Alamo on the 29th of February.
On this day (28th) and sort of tomorrow (the 29th) the siege has settled down into mundanity. Not a lot of detail is known inside the Alamo on these days with certainty, but survivors mentioned that Crockett had by now become well known for periodic violin serenades to the various posts around town. Spirits would have likely been gradually waning from physical depredations but reasonably confident as most Texans would have been expecting massive reinforcements flowing in any day now.
A real oddity pops up in some accounts as well as Santa Anna’s own recollections years later of a truce possibly lasted up to 3 days. I question this as a lot of those recollecting a multi-day truce were children at the time and may have confused the lull in siege activity combined with a brief cessation of hostilities as one big event.
Needless to say, Santa Anna used the truce (no one is quite certain which side proposed the truce) as an opportunity to sow some discontent in the Texan ranks, as he offered amnesty and free passage to anyone who departed the Alamo during this time. Evidently quite a few Tejanos took this as an opportunity to leave. Make no mistake, these were likely civilians and not previously committed revolutionaries ducking out – the hero’s roll call of men who stayed included no small number of Tejano names equally disgusted by Santa Anna’s overthrow of the 1824 Constitution.
Santa Anna’s mercy however was purely tactical – his standing orders for the counter-insurgency was to execute all the rebels and on the same day as the truce he had captured a courier from Houston, bound for the Alamo with unusually bombastic claims by Houston that he was enroute to the Alamo with 2,000 soldiers and 8 fully manned cannon.
Frankly, I’m reasonably confident Santa Anna got spoofed by Houston here, as Houston had barely arrived at Washington-on-the-Brazos where the revolutionary’s fledgling government had convened and Houston would not be elected Commander-in-Chief for another 3 or 4 days. Nothing quite like counter-intelligence fed to to an enemy who is overconfident in his intelligence and underestimating his own opponent’s.
Needless to say, this information reached Santa Anna, along with rumors of his own that Fannin’s movement from Goliad was to aid the Alamo (this is the movement I mistakenly said was his first attempt to move to the Colorado River under Houston’s orders – he actually did initiate a half hearted movement to the Alamo and the broken wagon was an easy excuse to stop). So the dictator opted to dispatch a large contingent of Cavalry which had been screening the eastern approaches to the Alamo towards Goliad with orders to ambush any relief force at terrain of the Cavalry commander’s choosing.
In contrast with his temporary mercy of the truce and in line with his standing orders of the overall campaign, Santa Anna reminded the Cavalry Commander Sesma that any rebel Texans should be summarily executed upon capture.
This opening in the Mexican siege lines ended up coincidentally the perfect opportunity for another one of the Alamo’s stories of heroes.
Back in Gonzales, the ever growing relief force included a large contingent of Gonzales’ own citizens who had been present at the famous “Come and Take It” moment back in October – all of them frustratingly remember the rapidity with which other Texans – including most of the Alamo defenders – had rushed to their call for assistance. These men couldn’t stand any longer not rushing to the aid of the Alamo, so they departed.
The famous “Immortal 32” found their entry into the Alamo virtually uninhibited with the missing contingent of Mexican Cavalry sometime after midnight (1st of March). This would have been just the boost the defenders needed and another note to add to the epic and legendary allure of the Texas Revolution.
Crockett’s serenades to the various posts around the Alamo not around “town”.
March 1, 1836: The Alamo defenders are down to their last 5 full days.
The “Mina Volunteers” – a militia unit from Bastrop, Texas departs for the rendezvous in Gonzales. Captain Joseph Lynch begins recruiting up and down the Brazos River to form a company and march to Gonzales. Captain Phil Coe does the same up and down the Colorado River. Captain Robert McNutt and his 2nd in Command Gibson Kuykendall activate a company in San Felipe (west of what would eventually be Houston).
These are just a handful of the many companies gathering across Texas as rapidly as they could to make their way in answer of Colonel Travis’s plea for aid. All while the civil drama plays out in Washington-on-the-Brazos. Texas’s Declaration of Independence, to be officially declared the next day, was finalized by George Childress.
Behind enemy lines, south of Urrea’s “Coastal Column” a someone interesting character, Dr. Grant, and the fledgling remains of his wild mission to raise a rebellion in Matamoros continues to wander north, soon to meet it’s fate in a far less spectacular end that Grant probably had envisioned for himself.
Meanwhile, at the Alamo, the truce apparently has come to an end – as Santa Anna noted the Texans fired a cannon ending the truce and apparently ending any offer of amnesty he had made. In further Alamo lore, fact that seems to legendary to be true, of the cannons fired that day, one of them actually struck the house that the dictator was occupying.
Santa Anna’s full army still had not arrived and was not expected until about the 3rd of March.
The furthest Texan reinforcements were about 150 miles from the Alamo, the rest closer. At about 30 miles per day on horseback, the farthest reinforcements should reach the Alamo in 5 days. As the men rushed westward with all their zeal, they would have been quietly reminded that they were individually pockets of 15 – 45 men charging headlong out of wooded terrain and into open prairies towards an army of several thousand.
Today, the Texan government declared independence. The Alamo defenders would never have known this, and many were not too enthusiastic to become part of a larger independence movement (though I imagine attitudes were changing). The Texas Revolution cannot be understood outside of a Mexican Civil War – which in turn cannot be understood independently of the break up the Spanish Empire. Facing the instability borne of distance and liberty in the New World, much like the English colonies that would soon become the United States, Mexico had been ready for a split. The Napoleonic invasion of Spain and deposition of the Spanish King was the opening Mexico (and alot of Spanish colonies) needed.
In 1811, Paraguay gained independence; in 1816, Argentina; in 1818, Chile; in 1819, Colombia; in 1821, Santo Domingo and Mexico; 1822, Ecuador; 1823, Central America; 1824, Peru; 1825, Bolivia; 1828, Uruguay; and 1830, Venezuela.
Many of these were bloody affairs led by wild radicals. Mexico established a Constitution in 1824 and appealed to colonists from the United States to settle it as Mexican citizens. This arrangement lasted until 1835 when Centralists repealed the Constitution and Mexico descended into a brief civil war between those who wanted a Federal Government and those who wanted a Centralist Government. Most in Texas fell on the side of the Federalists along with some other Mexican frontier states.
On a side note, a lot of history-haters will claim that the Texans rebelled to keep their slaves because the Mexican’s abolished slavery. Only the Mexicans abolished slavery in 1829 and most Anglo Settlers arrived with that knowledge. But the Mexican authorities, wanting settlers before their principles, found creative ways to redefine slaves. And there was scant little evidence that Santa Anna’s usurpation would suddenly end that practice. No, the Texans rebelled with the other Federalists because coming from the tradition of the American constitution, they had agreed to the social contract established in 1824.
But, let’s be clear, in any revolution there are alot of interested parties – in Texas there were Centralists in support of Santa Anna, Federalists in support of the Constitution of 1824, others who didn’t want independence but didn’t want 1824 but didn’t like Santa Anna’s method of reform, there were Texans who wanted Independence and there there were Texans who “wanted Independence” but really wanted annexation by the United States.
For the Texans in the Alamo, a large amount were fighting for the Constitution of 1824 even while aggressive types like Travis were for Independence.
Anyway, on the 2nd of March, for Texans in the Alamo, days were growing long and mundane and men used to freedom of maneuver and hit and run tactics would have been getting a kind of cabin fever combined with clearly growing paranoia about a coming fight and the increasingly apparent lack of reinforcement. Closer groups of those answering the call would have arrived pitifully weak to do much for the Alamo and began lingering with the growing crowd in Gonzales.
Today, the Alamo garrison received the news it hoped for. James Butler Bonham had returned from courier duty. Among the depressing news that Fannin was likely not coming, he mentioned from another Texan gathering soldiers, that 60 men were en route to the Alamo that very moment, to be expected in days and that 600 more were organizing to begin their march to the Alamo as well.
The Texans, so boosted, were not facing hopeless odds, they were not digging in to die some sort of greek heroic death.
Outside the walls, one of Santa Anna’s brigades that had been on the march this whole time (his army had actually been strung out for several days along the road from Mexico) also arrived at San Antonio that same day. Both forces were bolstered – the Texans ready to hold out longer and Mexicans finally the strength to attack.
Travis sent his final courier from the Alamo with one more heartfelt appeal for aid.
His final letter (one of several sent with the last courier) to the Ayres family that he left his son with ended:
“Take care of my little boy. If the country should be saved, I may make for him a splendid fortune; but if the country be lost and I should perish, he will have nothing but the proud recollection that he is the son of a man who died for his country.”
His little boy (from Texas State Historical Association):
“TRAVIS, CHARLES EDWARD (1829–1860).Charles Edward Travis, Texas Ranger, United States Army officer, and son of Rosanna (Cato) and William Barret Travis, was born in Alabama in 1829. After his father’s death at the Alamo young Charles lived in New Orleans with his mother and stepfather, Dr. Samuel B. Cloud, but upon their deaths in 1848 moved to Brenham to live with his sister, Mrs. John (Susan Isabella) Grissett. After becoming a member of the Texas bar he was elected to the legislature to represent Caldwell and Hays counties in 1853–54. He served briefly as captain of Company E of the Texas Rangers, which was stationed at Fort Clark, and was commissioned captain in the Second United States Cavalry on March 5, 1855, and appointed to the command of Company H, which he recruited at Evansville, Indiana. On August 6, 1855, he reported with his new command at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, where Second Lt. Robert C. Wood, Jr., preferred charges of slander against him. On the march to Texas charges of cheating at cards and unauthorized absence from camp were brought against him. Eliza G. Johnston remarked in her diary that Travis was “a mean fellow…no one respects or believes a word [he] says,” and on December 10, 1855, Col. Albert Sidney Johnston relieved him of command and placed him “under arrest in quarters.” To a formal charge of “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman,” Travis pleaded not guilty. He retained H. M. Lewis as his counsel; as an attorney himself, however, Travis mainly handled his own defense. Capt. Eugene E. McLean of the Quartermaster Department was appointed judge advocate, and Lt. Col. Henry Bainbridge of the First Infantry served as president. The court-martial, which convened on March 15, 1856, at Fort Mason, proved one of the most sensational in Texas history with Colonel Johnston and many of Travis’s fellow officers testifying against him. After almost a month of testimony and deliberation, Travis was found guilty of all three charges on April 11 and was dismissed from service on May 1, 1856.
Claiming that the graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point had discriminated against him as an appointee to the regiment from civilian life, Travis enlisted the assistance of the Texas legislature to help clear his name. A joint committee examined the testimony and recommended that he be publicly vindicated. On August 30, 1856, the legislature issued a joint resolution stating that “the sentence was not sustained by the testimony,” and requesting that President Franklin Pierce reexamine the proceeding and reverse the findings of the court martial. When Pierce refused to reopen the case, Travis took the unwise step of attempting to force several of the officers who had testified against him to recant. This tactic led to a backlash of public sentiment against Travis, who thereupon returned to his sister’s home in Washington County, where he died of consumption in 1860. William B. Travis’s “little boy” was buried in the Masonic Cemetery at Chappell Hill.”
It was cold that evening that the Mexican Artillerymen of the 1st Brigade under command of General Gaona settled down into their camp somewhere south of modern day Yancey, Texas. They’d been on a forced march since late January. The moon was full that evening, perfect for night operations – and despite the Texans being bottled up about 45 miles away, Native American raiders were still a possible threat. Reports had been received that straggling soldiers had been ambushed.
These Artillerymen were proud to be in charge of the heavy wall-busting 12 pounder cannon. Santa Anna, in his “Vanguard Brigade” had opted to bring the lighter artillery pieces with him so he could get to San Antonio faster and make contact with the enemy – a report they’d received 10 days prior when word came back for half of Gaona’s Brigade to increase their already forced march pace. They knew in a few days their firepower would bring down the adobe walls that the Texans were hiding behind, allowing infantrymen easy access to the outnumbered men within.
But that was still several days marching to go – by their estimates they’d be at the siege on the 8th or 9th of March – maybe even the 7th if they pushed it. So, with two battalions of infantry nearby and probably several hundred civilian “camp followers”, these Artillerymen settled down to rest, no doubt eager to show the Texan rebels that adobe walls won’t do much in the face of 12 pound iron balls in a well arranged battery, focused on a single point. If they weren’t thinking of that, they certainly were ready to be in the psychological comfort of the rest of the army and out of the rugged countryside that had produced little water and a lot of biting wind.
45 miles away, these Artillerymen were the topic of discussion in Santa Anna’s headquarters. Santa Anna, bolstered by the arrival of half of Gaona’s Brigade, had been long meditating the race between his army and the growing Texan army somewhere east of him. If he didn’t reduce the Alamo garrison soon, by the time he did, he may have to face a large Texan force. He was eager to end the siege and move on to wipe out the fledgling Texas forces gathering at Gonzales and then mop up the bands of Texans rushing west as he marched east.
In his war council, several generals argued that a few more days wouldn’t make much difference and then the heavy artillery would arrive. The 12 pounders at the center of a grand battery of all the Mexican guns, could bring down one section of the Alamo’s walls in less than a day. The breach would allow battalions to march in almost effortlessly. Saving the lives of countless soldiers. Some suggested leaving a token force to watch the Alamo and take the bulk of the Army east now. Santa Anna wouldn’t hear it – much of his force hadn’t even arrived at San Antonio yet. Assault NOW was his preferred plan. According to the de la Pena diary (he was an officer in the army) several other generals hated Santa Anna’s idea but wouldn’t tell him for fear of being on the dictator’s bad side.
Santa Anna reiterated his intention that all prisoner’s were to be executed and some suspected that part of his urgency to attack was that he’d heard intel from townspeople who had still been in some communication with the men in the Alamo that they were planning a break out if further reinforcements didn’t arrive in a day or two. I don’t know how much of this speculation is true…but if you visit San Antonio, the scale of the battlefield is small enough to lend credence the possibility that Alamo defenders could have had some sort of communication with any wily townsfolk brave enough to sneak up to the walls at night.
On the emphasis of attacking soon and executing all captured Texans, one of Santa Anna’s highest ranking staff officers, Castrillon (who, sorry to spoil things, wouldn’t leave Texas alive) protested vehemently that such conduct was not proper in this enlightened age. Santa Anna went on to explain his urgency to attack – that sometimes a battle is necessary to prove a point – and to explain his no-leniency – that he really wanted to send a message to all rebels.
Ultimately, by the end of the evening, Santa Anna’s plan was communicated and the next day would be spent on preparations for the assault. 45 miles away, the heavy artillerymen would rest up for what they believed would be their decisive role in the battle, while a half a mile away, Texans would have been resting with some confidence that help was coming. Though, they weren’t stupid – most would have been rehearsing in their minds all the contingencies necessary to get out of a tight spot if worse came to worse – running through their minds all the cart paths, creek bottoms, and landmarks to look for in an attempt to evade any Mexican pursuers.
Ignoring the obvious evil of Santa Anna’s no mercy plan – was he right to push for an assault before the heavy artillery arrived?
He had 3 rough courses of action to follow:
1) Attack now. The moon was right – it was full and had hit maximum illumination on the night of the 3rd and would have been decreasing in brightness from then on. The Texans in the Alamo were exhausted – a few more days of exhaustion wouldn’t have added much. Santa Anna had just received fresh troops. The Texas army to the east wasn’t anywhere near cohesive – even the Alamo defenders didn’t realize they now had an official commander in chief – Houston had barely been elected to this post that day and was still in Washington-on-the-Brazos 96 miles from the forces gathering at Gonzales. His draw back here is he hadn’t sited any of his artillery in massed batteries to focus on a single point in the wall – likely he didn’t want to give away his angle of attack.
2) Wait for the heavy artillery. By reasonable estimates, they wouldn’t arrive until the 8th. By then, the garrison would have been at a breaking point. A quick massing of the guns overnight would have allowed a large section of the wall to be pummeled into dust very rapidly and even if that gave away the Mexican’s intended vector of attack, the Texans wouldn’t be able to put all their men at the breach as Santa Anna would have still had smaller columns of men ready to approach other angles even while most soldiers came at the breach. The drawbacks here are that the assault would have to come likely the evening of the 9th or the morning of the 10th – significant delays to the benefit of the Texans in the east.
3) Bypass the Alamo and continue east. While this seems intelligent – Santa Anna’s army was still strung out along the San Antonio road. He had his Vanguard Brigade and half of Gaona’s Brigade. But the other half was still back about 40-50 miles AND somewhere behind it was General Tolsa’s Brigade which history will show us didn’t even arrive in San Antonio until the 16th of March.
No. The dictator would have his glory.
After the previous day’s war council, Santa Anna was content that his glorious assault would occur. But evidently, according to several reliable Mexican sources, a civilian woman from the town, who had retreated to the Alamo with the Texans made it out of the Alamo during the night and gave dire information to the Mexicans. Evidently the Texan garrison was increasingly despondent. According to the lady who escaped, Travis and the garrison had discussed their options and one of the more forceful arguments made was that they should consider surrender.
Santa Anna wanted none of this and accelerated his assault time-table (which he hadn’t necessarily meant for the 6th of March but for the 7th or even the 8th).
The Mexican soldiers would have received their orders in the morning and spent the rest of the day making preparations. There was scant little physically they had to do other than check the locks of their muskets, ensure they had the requisite number of extra flints (which would occasionally break in battle – testing the coolness of even the most experienced soldier), or assist in the production of several ladders Santa Anna had commanded each battalion to have prepared.
No, most of the preparation would have been mental. A deeply Catholic people, the Mexican soldiers would have spent their energies on prayer and confession. New soldiers would have been nervous how they would perform under fire, simultaneously trying to hide their nerves from the experienced soldiers, who equally would have recognized the unique challenge before them – almost none had been asked to climb tall walls after traversing several hundred yards under fire against an enemy who had, in the previous 12 days, proven that their rifled muskets outranged the standard Mexican issue musket by almost 3 times.
Some of Santa Anna’s soldiers were eager to get into the fight – to uphold the honor of the Mexican nation against, not only rebels, but rebels seemingly motivated by pro-American attitudes. Some of Santa Anna’s soldiers had been farmers impressed into service only months before and would have had a partially begrudging attitude but mostly an attitude leaning towards “let’s get this over with so I can get home”. Some of the dictator’s soldiers were impressed convicts for whom the upcoming bloodshed was just one more act of brutality added to an already brutal and brutalized life. For a large portion of the soldiers, for whom soldiering was life, this would be a terror that they ultimately knew would be expected of them. For all motivations, there would be no getting out of the upcoming task and every single one of them would be the same when a Texan cannon roared out at their formation.
Set to wake up at midnight to begin movements to attack positions, what few soldiers could fall asleep would have tried to do so by twilight.
Inside the Alamo, evening would draw a miserable day to a close. Earlier that day, according to Enrique Esparza, aged 8 (who’s father, Gregorio, was fighting with the Texans), the aforementioned courier made it into the Alamo with news that after all the reports, no help was on it’s way immediately to the Alamo. Travis would have discussed with the men their options – a break out attempt in case of a successful assault would be their best recourse. A break out during the day would be impossible and one at night would be extremely risky. In any event, it would seem ALL but possibly one of the men would stick it out for the time being until a reasonable break out plan could be devised.
For the Texans, sleep would come quickly that evening. For the first time in 12 days, Santa Anna’s cannons didn’t create chaos inside the compound. It was silent. There could be no doubt that the defenders knew what this meant. But they were exhausted. They would have kept watch and pure anxiety would boosted their necessary alertness. But nonetheless, they would begin succumbing to sleep deprivation and been deep in dreams of life after the war – or perhaps of life before the war. Before collapsing in whatever position suited rest most would have reviewed their plans in their minds of how to get out once they’d done what they could to slow or halt the Mexican advance – and that’s fine – when a battle is clearly lost and standing your position doesn’t buy anyone else on the battlefield any opportunity to turn the tide there’s literally nothing in warfare that says you have to just die on principle.
Most would have recognized that with San Antonio proper immediately to the west, several Mexican artillery batteries to the north and south, that to the east would be the best direction to break out should the situation so demand – and anyway that was the direction of the gathering Texan army.
Right after dusk, Travis dispatched the final courier on yet another appeal for assistance. He then, as in each night, assigned several men outpost duty beyond the walls of the Alamo to provide early warning before turning watch over to another officer to get a little bit of sleep himself.
(oops too bad that can’t be back dated for the 5th)
There was a lot on his mind as he moved towards the enemy. His day began with men yelling at each other – some to a point of near violence towards each other – the urgency had driven many of them to what would be described as almost panic. These men knew they must get to their comrades on the front lines. They’d heard the calls of their fellows – men whose lives were going to be very short if they didn’t get to the walls of the Alamo rapidly. The chaos of the yelling match that morning ended and the attention of the men refocused to the emergency on hand only when Commander-in-Chief Sam Houston silenced the members of the convention with the bold directive that none of them would do Texas any good rushing to the Alamo to die – no, they had to stay in Washington-on-the-Brazos and form a government. The independence they’d just declared would do no good without a civil government to follow.
Houston declared he would set on to Gonzales and form the men there to relieve the besieged Alamo defenders. Once on board with a general scheme, the tentative government was temporarily satiated.
Houston had much to do to organize Texas’ defenses – a general view of the situation he faced:
Scattered bands of 10s and 20s were pocketed all over the colonies flocking in general to places like Gonzales, Washington on the Brazos, and towards San Antonio (though most of these diverted to Gonzales or collected near the Cibolo Creek Crossing southeast of San Antonio. There were several hundred men already in Gonzales by now (possibly up to 400). Fannin was back at Goliad with his 400 men after his half hearted foray towards the Alamo several days ago. Travis and his men, 180-200 strong were pinned down at the Alamo.
Houston knew of two general approaches being made by the Mexican Army – clearly he was aware of Santa Anna’s force and knew it would be several thousand strong based on Travis’s letters (though he’d cynically claim in a moment a stress that he thought Travis’s reports were exaggerated to build his own glory). He would have been aware of Urrea’s column moving up through the Coastal Colonies with only a vague awareness that it would be about 1000 strong.
Gonzales was a 2 day ride from Washington on the Brazos – Houston should arrive by the 8th, and begin his preparations to relieve the Alamo garrison – either by luring Santa Anna away to a fight or orchestrating a breakout or, who knows what, Houston’s options were limited for the time being.
But he didn’t arrive at Gonzales on the 8th. He would eventually arrive there on the 11th. He ended up lingering at Burnham’s crossing on the Colorado river (about halfway between modern day La Grange and Columbus) for two nights and a day. What was the overall commander of the disorganized Texan army facing what was clearly an seemingly impossible emergency?
Years later his critics would insist he spent most of that time stupefyingly drunk while others would insist he crafted Texas’ defense plan. I’m certain it was probably both. Pinched in from Santa Anna’s western force and Urrea’s southern force, Houston had a general plan in mind that would keep the government safe and his gathering Army and slow the Mexican advance on the denser areas of Texan settlement while men and provisions trickled towards Gonzales. He ordered Fannin to fall back through Victoria on the way to the Colorado river where he would receive further orders guiding a combined defense along that river.
He would begin forming regiments at Gonzales to take on the Mexican Army.
Only why the delay? Why 5 days? When he knew the urgency of Travis’s position and the promise made to the Texan government?
I almost wonder if he recognized the futility of relieving the Alamo. Just as Santa Anna had to race against time in the formation of the Texan Army – wonder if Houston had to race against time in getting to the Texan Army too late to do anything and therefore would have a mea culpa to fall back to the Colorado river with the forces at Gonzales.
I don’t know and I don’t believe it, but a relief of the Alamo would have required some extremely good generalship and soldiering that the men at Gonzales would probably not be ready for – I think Houston spent his time running through scenario after scenario and contingency after contingency to figure out how make good on his promise.
Houston departed Burnham’s crossing sometime on the 9th or 10th and reached Gonzales on the 11th. Where he discovered the town in panic from the news of two local Tejano vaqueros. They’d arrived that morning informing the town that the Alamo had been captured after a morning battle. Houston had the two men arrested as spies – less that he believed they were spies and more as a utilitarian effort to slow the growing panic if he could discredit them as Santa Anna’s agents. He most certainly would have believed the Alamo had fallen and so dispatched “Deaf” Smith and a few rangers to scout towards San Antonio to assess what could be salvaged of the defense there – who made it out, what damage had been inflicted on the Mexican army, did it seem as though the army was following, etc.
On the 12th, “Deaf” Smith returned. He had with him Susannah Dickenson, her daughter and Travis’s slave Joe. Houston couldn’t hide them as agents of misinformation. Their report was complete. To the last detail of sudden early morning assault, the nearly complete surprise, the deafening blaze of gunfire as the Mexicans were pressed against the wall, the odd lull in firing as pre-loaded muskets now took time to reload and men would be doing less reloading while falling back, less fire as abandoned cannon no longer contributed to bedlam, then even quieter as the combat resorted to bayonets. She would have reviewed the atrocious murder of prisoners and accidental (or purposeful) mistreatment of some of the civilians by soldiers with their blood up. She would have recounted the occasional sounds of panicked gunfire outside the walls as Texans who had successfully broken out to the east were being mopped up by the Mexican cavalry. She would have recounted the dictator commanding all the bodies of the Texans be burned in heaping piles while she watched as the personal belongings of men she’d have had conversations with the day before rifled through by Santa Anna’s soldiers.
In a matter of moments, the vast majority of Gonzales’ women discovered they were widows. Dozens of children were fatherless. Gonzales of all Texas towns had contributed dozens of men to the effort – theirs was the town where the war began and many of their men, such as Susannah’s husband, Almeron, had joined the initial capture of San Antonio back in December. Their town as well was heavily represented in the 32 men that had only days before broken into the Alamo.
Houston’s plan of defense had been modified or solidified for him in a matter of moments – but he had to wrangle the pandemonium that had erupted on what was now the front lines of the war.
“What was the overall commander of the disorganized Texan army facing what was clearly an seemingly impossible emergency?”
What was the overall commander of the disorganized Texan army doing for 5 days while facing what was clearly an seemingly impossible emergency?