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.