I regard the siege of the Alamo one of the signature ethics events in U.S. history, both for what it was and what it came to represent. There have been many posts on the subject as well as many references to the Alamo in other posts, all of which are accessible here.
Today, March 6, marks the fall of the converted mission. Ethics Alarms has two pieces from its archives to present:
I. Last year, Texan and Ethics Alarms stalwart Michael West’s provided Ethics Alarms readers with a day by day account of the Alamo’s the final days, March 5 and March 6. Here it is:
March 5, 1836
After the previous day’s war council (on March 4), 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 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 about how they would perform under fire, simultaneously trying to hide their nerves from the experienced soldiers, who 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 out-ranged the standard Mexican issue musket by nearly 300%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 pressed into service only months before, who would have had a partially begrudging attitude and were mostly leaning towards “let’s get this over with so I can get home.” Some of the dictator’s soldiers were convicts for whom the upcoming bloodshed was just one more act of brutality to endure in an already brutal and brutalized life. For a large number of the soldiers, for whom soldiering was life, this would be a terror that they knew would be expected of them. Regardless of their motivations, there would be no getting out of the upcoming ordeal and every single one of them would be in the same peril when a Texan cannon roared out at their formation.
Set to wake up at midnight to begin movements to their attack positions, the 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 faeful courier entered the Alamo with news that despite all the hopeful reports, no immediate help was on its way. 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. Whatever was said, it appears all but perhaps one of the men decided to stay
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 might have boosted their necessary alertness. Nonetheless, they began succumbing to sleep deprivation and may have 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. No shame in that: 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 no principle of warfare that requires that a soldier die on principle.
Most would have recognized that with San Antonio immediately to the west, and several Mexican artillery batteries to the north and south, the east would be the best direction to break out for should the situation so demand. That was also where the gathering Texan army could be found, eventually.
Right after dusk, Travis dispatched the final courier on yet another appeal for assistance. Then, as in each night during the siege , Travis assigned several men outpost duty beyond the walls of the Alamo to provide an early warning before turning the watch over to another officer.
He hoped to get a little bit of sleep himself.
March 6, 1836: The End
Sam Houston’s day began with his men yelling at each other – some to a point of near violence.The urgency of the situation at the Alamo 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 their rescuers 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 an army there to relieve the besieged Alamo defenders. Once they had heard a plausible plan,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 as many as 400). Fannin was back at Goliad with his 400 men after his half-hearted foray towards the Alamo several days earlier. Travis and his men, 180-200 of them, were pinned down in the coverted and crumbling mission.
Houston knew of two general aadnavces 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 could 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 else. 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 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, His gathering Army would 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, I 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 able to muster. 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, thoughless because 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 he dispatched “Deaf” Smith and a few rangers to scout towards San Antonio and 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 a sudden early morning assault, the defenders caught nearly completely by 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 still as abandoned cannon no longer contributed to the bedlam, then even quieter as the combat resorted to bayonets and hand-to-hand fighting. Captain Dickinson’s wife would have reviewed the atrocious murder of prisoners and accidental (or purposeful) mistreatment of some of the civilians by Mexican soldiers with their blood up. She would have recounted the occasional sounds of panicked gunfire outside the walls as two groups of Texans who had successfully broken out to the east were being slaughtered 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 were 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 the Texas towns, had contributed the most men, dozens, to the cause – 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 also 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 had become the front lines of the war.
II. The following post, assembled from my past Alamo essays, first appeared here in 2020.
I will never forget my first visit to the Alamo, and seeing Texans weeping, openly, proudly, as they read the plaque with Travis’s words engraved on it:
Commandancy of the Alamo
Bejar, Feby. 24, 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 and 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, and 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 and 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 and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country VICTORY OR DEATH.
William Barret Travis.
The story of the Alamo isn’t taught in schools outside of Texas. It wasn’t taught in my school, either: like most American history, I learned about the event though a thick mixture of pop culture, reading (Walter Lord’s “A Time To Stand” was a birthday present in 1961) and ongoing research. I recently completed “Texas Rising,” which was also just broadcast on cable as a mini-series starring the late Bill Paxton as Sam Houston. Historian Stephen Moore is a plodding writer, but he nicely puts to rest the currently popular politically correct slander that the defenders of the Alamo and the Texas rebels were fighting to keep their slaves, and trying to steal Mexico’s land. The Texans were opposing a dictator who had changed the terms under which they had come to the territory, and anyone familiar with the American character could have predicted what would happen when a despot demanded that they submit to unelected authority. The Alamo was a fight for liberty and democracy, and its martyrs exemplified sacrifice for principle and country.
From the official Alamo website:
While the Alamo was under siege, the provisional Texas government organized at Washington-on-the-Brazos. On March 2, the convention declared independence and the Republic of Texas was born, at least on paper. The Alamo’s garrison showed its support for independence from Mexico by sending its own delegates to the convention.While they were unaware that Texas had declared independence, the roughly 200 Alamo defenders stayed at their post waiting on help from the settlements. Among them were lawyers, doctors, farmers and a former congressman and famous frontiersman from Tennessee named David Crockett. While the youngest was 16 and the oldest defender was Gordon C. Jennings, age 56, most defenders were in their twenties. Most were Anglo, but there were a handful of native Tejano defenders as well. Legendary knife fighter and land speculator James Bowie was in command before falling ill and sharing duties with Travis. Several women and children were inside the Alamo, including 15-month-old Angelina Dickinson. Just before the final battle, Travis placed his ring around her neck, knowing she would likely be spared. One of the last messages from the Alamo was a note from Travis asking friends to take care of his young son Charles.
The final attack came before dawn on March 6, 1836. As Mexican troops charged toward the Alamo in the pre-dawn darkness, defenders rushed to the walls and fired into the darkness. Travis raced to the north wall but was soon killed. Bowie was most likely killed in his bed, while reports differ as to Crockett’s death. Many believe Crockett survived the initial attack but was put to death by Mexican soldiers soon afterward.
Mexican soldiers breached the north wall and flooded into the compound. The fierce battle centered on the old church, where defenders made a last stand.
The battle lasted about 90 minutes.
From the San Antonio Express News:
BEXAR, Texas, March 6, 1836 — Alas, alas! Forever more, the name of the Alamo shall stand alongside that of Thermopylae in the annals of history as a tale of unmatched bravery to be handed down from generation to generation.
The bastion of Texas Liberty has fallen, and to a man, Lt. Col. William Travis and his fellow defenders — like the immortal 300 Spartans — have been martyred.
After withstanding an unrelenting siege of twelve days’ duration by one of the mightiest armies ever assembled on this continent, the walls of the old mission that had housed Travis (a man as brave as the fabled King Leonidas), Col. James Bowie, the Hon. David Crockett and some 200 other defenders were breached before the sun rose to-day.
Savagery was unleashed therein as a juggernaut orchestrated by the modern-day Xerxes, Mexican Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, swept over the Alamo….
Since I was a small boy, this episode in American history moved me more than any other. It still does. I first learned about the Alamo when I watched Fess Parker as Davy Crocket, swinging his rifle like a baseball bat at Mexiacn skulls, the last man standing as behind him we could see more of Santa Anna’s soldiers pouring over the wall. We never saw Davy fall—my dad explained that this was appropriate, since nobody is sure how or when he died, unlike Travis and Bowie, and the last verse of the Ballad of Davy Crocket played…
His land is biggest an’ his land is best
From grassy plains to the mountain crest
He’s ahead of us all meetin’ the test
followin’ his legend into the West
Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier!
[A brief humorous note related to Davy: When my son was about three-years-old, I gave him a replica Alamo toy that included little plastic Mexican soldiers and models of the fort’s defenders, with identifiable models of Crockett, Travis, and Bowie. Grant let the prize within range of our first Jack Russell Terrier, Rugby’s more diabolical predecessor Dickens. Grant brought us Dickens’ sole victim, a headless plastic man. “Deedee eat!” he said sadly. Yes, it was Davy Crockett.]
The politics and complexities of the Texas war of independence don’t alter the essential facts: a group of men of different backgrounds, under the command of three prototypical American figures—the pioneer (Crocket), the settler (Bowie), and the law-maker (Travis), all of whom were trying to recover from dark periods in their lives—chose to make the ultimate sacrifice for a cause they believed in fervently enough to die for, in the company of others who felt the same. It was, after all, the perfect ethical dilemma, the choice between an ethical act for the benefit of society and a non-ethical consideration, the most basic one of all: staying alive. They all had the same choice, and rejected life for a principle.
The story of the Alamo should be told and retold, with its ethics lessons made clear and bright.
Here is the best current list of the Alamo’s fallen defenders, and a link to find out more about them. For a long time 187 was the famous number of the slaughtered Texans, but eventually historians determined that the number was at least 212. Another 43 combatants left the Alamo at some point and thus survived. Looking over the list, I am always amazed at how many entered the fort knowing that they were going to die. Many arrived as late as March 4. They knew what awaited them.
Scroll down the list, and think about that. They earned our admiration and respect.
Miles DeForest Andross
Juan A. Badillo
Peter James Bailey III
Isaac G. Baker
William Charles M. Baker
John J. Ballentine
Richard W. Ballentine
John J. Baugh
J. B. Bowman
Samuel E. Burns
George D. Butler
William R. Carey
Daniel W. Cloud
Robert E. Cochran
George Washington Cottle
Antonio Cruz y Arocha
David P. Cummings PVT
Robert Cunningham PVT
Jacob C. Darst
Freeman H.K. Day
John Henry Dillard
James R. Dimpkins
Samuel M. Edwards
Frederick E. Elm
José Gregorio Esparza
Samuel B. Evans
James L. Ewing
William Keener Fauntleroy
Dolphin Ward Floyd
John Hubbard Forsyth
James W. Garrand
James Girard Garrett
John E. Garvin
John E. Gaston
John C. Goodrich
Francis H. Gray
Albert Calvin Grimes
James C. Gwin
Andrew Jackson Harrison
William B. Harrison
Joseph M. Hawkins
John M. Hays
Charles M. Heiskell
Patrick Henry Herndon
William Daniel Hersee
Benjamin Franklin Highsmith
William D. Howell
Thomas P. Hutchinson
William A. Irwin
Thomas R. Jackson
William Daniel Jackson
Green B. Jameson
Gordon C. Jennings
George C. Kimble
John C. Kin
William Philip King
William Irvine Lewis
William J. Lightfoot
George Washington Main
William T. Malone
Daniel McCoy Jr.
Thomas R. Miller
Edward F. Mitchasson
Edwin T. Mitchell
Napoleon B. Mitchell
Robert B. Moore
Willis A. Moore
Andrew M. Nelson
Christopher Adams Parker
John Purdy Reynolds
Thomas H. Roberts PVT
James Waters Robertson
James M. Rose
Jackson J. Rusk
Marcus L. Sewell
Cleveland Kinloch Simmons
Andrew H. Smith
Charles S. Smith
Joshua G. Smith
William H. Smith
James E. Stewart
Richard L. Stockton
A. Spain Summerlin
William E. Summers
William DePriest Sutherland
B. Archer M. Thomas
John W. Thomson
John, M. Thurston
William B. Travis
George W. Tumlinson
James Tylee, James
William B. Ward
Joseph G. Washington
Hiram James Williamson
David L. Wilson
14 thoughts on “Remember The Alamo Today, March 6, When The Fort Fell, And Entered American Lore And Legend Forever.”
Living as I do in part of the Gadsden Purchase, it was only recently I’d realized it was the Mexican American War that resulted in the U.S. acquiring most of the west and all it entails. This doesn’t get the attention paid to the Louisiana Purchase in terms of its essential impact upon the establishment of the United States as we known them. Amazing.
One reason why everyone knows about President Jefferson and almost nobody know a thing about President Polk.
For all the flaws of the various Presidents who were president at the times of the various major land gains – every single one of them accidentally or purposefully ensured America was in a position to rescue to the world from European totalitarianism and Japanese imperialism.
Yes. The country without unfettered access to the Pacific coast would have been of little or no consequence.
Pre-World War gains:
Jefferson – Louisiana Purchase
Monroe – Spanish Cession
Tyler – Texas Annexation
Polk – Oregon Territory and Mexican Cession
Johnson – Alaska Purchase
McKinley – Hawaii Annexation, Philippines
Monroe – British Cession
Pierce – Gadsden Purchase
McKinley – Puerto Rico
“I recently completed “Texas Rising,” which was also just broadcast on cable as a mini-series starring the late Bill Paxton as Sam Houston.”
I wish I had the time back in my life I spent watching that.
(Sorry this is sideways)
Who wants to point out what the producers of Texas Rising got mind numbingly wrong here?
(Although the redditor who posted the picture I stole made the quiz easy by posting the image sideways)
You know, I would do the same thing. When it’s flown horizontally, the red stripe is on the bottom. It seems logical to me that if you rotated it to be hung vertically, the red stripe would just rotate to be on the left.
After living a third of a century in Texas, I suppose I should know better, but until right now I didn’t.
So according to Wikipedia Texas state law says: “When displayed vertically, the blue stripe should be at top and, from the perspective of an observer, the white stripe should be to the left of the red stripe.”
And who am I to argue with the Texas legislature?
Learn something new every day.
I don’t even know the vertical hanging rules. But that’s not the problem with this flag.
But think about red stripe on bottom
I wish the U.S. would just pay off the crooked families and drug lords who own Mexico and Central America (I’m looking at you, Carlos Slim), scoot them off to Switzerland or Dubai, and make the rest of north America south of the U.S. part of the U.S. All the illegals living in the U.S. could simply go home and still remain in the U.S. It would be a win-win for everyone. If those countries weren’t run like shit holes, the people there could have decent lives.
Might work for Colombia and Venezuela and the D.R. as well.