Michael West’s Alamo Diary Concludes…

On this date in 1836, the Battle of the Alamo and the courageous 12 day stand that preceded it began its journey into memory. The day before, March 6, near dawn, saw the fortress fall in a bloody but hopeless battle in which the Texans were overwhelmed in less than an hour.

Here is Texan and Ethics Alarms stalwart Michael West’s account of the final days, March 5 and March 6:

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% Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: The Alamo, March 4, 1836

I hope a lot of you are enjoying Michael West‘s generous labor of love during the countdown to the Alamo’s fall. It is, as I’ve said here often, one of the most vivid and fascinating of all ethics chapters in U.S. history, and the fact that it is neglected in popular culture and public education to the degree it is disgraceful, like much of this nation’s negligent and cavalier attitude toward history.

I want to apologize to readers and especially Michael for a mistake I have made. One of my sources, echoing others, printed the Mexican dictator’s name as “Santa Ana,” with one “n.” Convinced that I had been perpetrating an error, i began lnocking off the second “n” in Michael’s posts and my own, though I always had assumed that “Anna” was correct.

Well, it was and is correct. His full name is Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón. Now I have to go back and correct the correction.

Here is Michael’s focus on Day 11 of the siege, March 4, 1836.

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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 had 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. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: The Alamo, March 3, 1836

Michael West’s dedicated account of the last days of the Alamo in 1836 continues with Day 10 of the siege, March 3. Michael’s mention below of the Alamo couriers reminds me of what I found to be the most moving of the commemorative bronze plaques at Alamo National Monument in San Antonio. It lists the couriers, and reminds us that every one of them headed back to the make-shift fort, knowing what was probably in store for them.

As far as I can determine, two of Travis’s final couriers didn’t arrive in time to participate in the final battle, and thus lived to tell the tale. James L. Allen (1815-1901) was probably the last courier to be sent by Travis, as he carried a final appeal to Fannin at Goliad. He reached Goliad on March 8, and was preparing to return to the Alamo when he learned that it had fallen. John William Smith  (1792-1845), who had been sent out from the Alamo by Travis previously, was sent again on March 3 1836. Smith was returning with 25 volunteers from when the Alamo fell. In John Wayne’s movie, Smith is played by Frankie Avalon, and is a composite of Allen, who was young (21) like Frankie, and the real Smith, who actually made it back only to find that the battle was over. Frankie’s big scene occurs when, having delivered a message relaying the fort’s dire situation to Sam Houston (Richard Boone), Houston offers him food and rest. “No sir!” “Smitty” says, turning his horse. “I gotta get back to the Alamo!”

Here’s Michael’s Comment of the Day on Day 10 of the Alamo story...

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Comment Of The Day: The Alamo, March 2, 1836

Michael West has been counting down the days of the Alamo Siege for us, which is generally regarded as beginning on February 3, 1836, and ending on March 6. That makes March 2, yesterday, the 9th day of the iconic historical event. (As Michael reminded us in an earlier post, 1836 was a Leap Year, so there’s an extra day in there.)

Reflecting on The Alamo is always appropriate, but perhaps more this year than usual. The siege of Ukraine has more than a little in common with the desperate stand of the Texans against another ruthless dictator, and the values at stake are the same. Travis, Bowie, Crockett, Dickinson, Bonham and the rest decided to stay and fight for what they believed in and also for those seeking to establish their independence, though they were outnumbered and surrounded. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, resembles the Texas patriots in his determination to stay with his nation’s endangered citizens, because he knows his courage, sacrifice, and likely martyrdom, will be crucial in preserving his nation in the long run.

In many ways Zelenskyy resembles Davey Crockett, a celebrity known for his humor who found himself first thrust into politics and later in deadly fight that required him to rise to new heights of character.

My favorite Alamo history is “Three Roads to the Alamo” by William C. Davis, who makes the case that the mission’s story is a microcosm of the American saga. Each of the three major players in the drama, Travis, Jim Bowie and Crockett, embody an archetype of how the nation came to be. Crockett was the restless pioneer who ventured first into unsettled lands. Bowie, apart from being the bona fide frontier fighter that the public believed Crockett to be, was the land speculator, part of a group that brought business, finance, and corruption to the West. Finally, Travis was the law-maker and politician, who promised to build a civilized structure where families could thrive.

Indeed the Alamo and its participants would support a whole course that would teach young Americans about history, politics, war, human nature, ethics, economics, law and more. Teaching its many complexities and lessons would definitely be more enlightening and productive than focusing on slavery as the defining feature of U.S. culture.

Here’s Michael’s Comment of the Day on Day 9 of the Alamo story...

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The Snake Island Episode Is A Perfect Opportunity To Explain Moral Luck To Your Family And Friends

The legend was quick to take hold. The account was that as the Russian military pounded targets across Ukraine with bombs and missiles, a small team of Ukrainian border guards on rocky, desolate Zmiinyi Island, “Snake Island” to its friends, received a warning that the Alamo defenders would have recognized: Surrender or die. “I am a Russian warship,” the invaders said, according to a recording. “Lay down your arms and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary deaths. Otherwise, you will be bombed.”

Travis answered the equivalent message with a cannon shot. The defenders of Snake Island’s answer was more reminiscent of the famous reply of the 101st Airborne Division’s acting commander Anthony McAuliffe during the Battle of the Bulge. Defending Bastogne, McAuliffe gave a one-word reply to a German surrender ultimatum: “Nuts!” The Ukrainians’ version: “Russian warship, go fuck yourself.”

[Quick digression here: As I have mentioned before on EA, my WWII vet father, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and got a Silver Star for his efforts, insisted that nobody in the Infantry believed for a second that “Nuts” was the actual reply. He said the consensus of those who knew McAuliffe as well as the way soldiers talked in the field were certain that he had really answered exactly like the Ukrainians. Meanwhile, how absurd is it for today’s media to celebrate the courage and defiance of the Snake Island defenders’ response, yet feel compelled to censor it by printing “f—“? ]

Digression over. The story reported in the news media was that the Russians opened fire, killing all 13 border guards. They became instant martyrs and their fate became inspiration for the brave Ukrainian refusal to accept Russian domination. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky later announced the deaths and said that the island’s defenders will be bestowed with the title “Hero of Ukraine,” the highest honor the Ukrainian leader can award.

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Ethics Footnotes, 5/11/21: Misremember The Alamo, and Other Alarming Things That Could Never Happen Here

the-artwork-for-1984-142271

1. The glorious defeat of the Alamo by that champion of diversity, General Santa Anna! The San Antonio Express-News reports that a local activist and university professor, Mario Salas, who has taught African American studies and somehow ended up on the city’s historical commission (though he is not a historian), is claiming that Santa Anna’s army in 1836, the one that slaughtered the defenders of the Alamo, had an all black regiment that has been erased from history. The theory seems to be that if the Mexican dictator had an all-black regiment, he’s not the villain in the Alamo story, he’s the tragic hero: a woke dictator who opposed slavery and fought against the white supremacist Alamo defenders. Like most of the historical revisionism designed to smear American history and its heroes, this requires ignoring a lot of facts.

The Texas Revolution was part of a much wider war that engulfed Mexico at the same time, not a rebellion based on slavery and race. From much of northern Mexico and including Texas as well as states as far from Texas as Yucatan, the war’s primary issue was Santa Anna’s betrayal of the federalists and his abrogation of the 1824 Mexican constitution when he sought absolute dictatorial power. He abolished state legislatures and redrew state boundaries into military districts. His favored treatment of those who opposed him was to execute whole regions. Keeping slavery in Texas was indeed a bone of contention among the mostly Southerners who settled the region, but non-slave states in Mexico were rebelling as well.

Santa Anna would have been a villain if all his soldiers were black.

2. Oh! The defendant deserved to be attacked by the judge! Chief Magistrate Cary Hays III of Crawford County, Georgia “physically assaulted an inmate while the inmate was handcuffed, shackled at the feet, and accompanied by a law enforcement officer,” according to an ethics complaint. This is officially an allegation, but there is a video, and there were plenty of witnesses.

On December 2020, the inmate began cursing at Judge Hays and continued to do so as he was led out of the conference room where his bond hearing took place. Judge Hays “verbally engaged the inmate,” who cursed at Hays again. Hays followed the inmate into the hallway, grabbed him and pushed him into and up against a wall. The inmate did not physically threaten Judge Hays, attempt to escape or flee from custody.

Judge Hays’ defense? He says he didn’t hurt the guy, and if the video had sound and included what the inmate called him, his actions would be considered justified.

No, Your Honor, they wouldn’t.

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Saturday Ethics Diversions, 3/6/21…And Remember The Alamo!

Alamo morning

On this March date in 1836, after a 13 day siege, the Battle of the Alamo ended when a pre-dawn attack by the much larger Mexican force slaughtered the 200 (or more) Texan defenders, creating many legends—the line in the sand, Jim Bowie’s desperate fight from his sickbed, Davy Crockett battling on as the Mexicans poured over the walls of the fort— and an iconic symbol of American bravery, sacrifice, and resistance of tyranny. The final minutes of the defenders were spent in desperate hand-to-hand combat with knives, swords and clubs.

Thirteen days earlier, on February 23, Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna ordered a siege of the Alamo Mission, near present-day San Antonio. It was occupied by rebel Texas forces. They spent the next two week ducking shells during the night and repairing the fort during the day. On the night of the 5th, however, there was no shelling. The exhausted men of the Alamo finally had a chance to sleep, and the Mexicans were almost inside the walls before they awakened. The bloody battle was over in less than 30 minutes. Several Texans reportedly surrendered, but Santa Anna ordered all prisoners executed, as he had promised when William Barrett Travis refused to surrender at the outset of the seige. Historians estimate that the battle cost Santa Anna between 400 and 600 soldiers, a high price for a fort with little strategic value. On April 21, 1836, Texas and Mexico fought again at the Battle of San Jacinto. This time it was the Mexicans who were surprised, and the rout won independence from Mexico and brought the Texas Revolution to an end.

I’ll be watching the 1960 John Wayne movie tonight. It is historically inaccurate in almost every way, but if there was ever an event in our history when the legend was more important than the reality, it is the battle of the Alamo.

1. It’s great to see that the news media and others have adopted a more fair and forgiving sta… Oh. Oh, right. “It’s amazing. Indian-descent Americans are taking over the country: you, my vice president, my speechwriter,” President Biden told Swati Mohan, NASA’s guidance and controls operations lead for the Mars Perseverance rover landing. Imagine the reaction from Democrats and pundits had the previous President said that. It would have been a story for weeks. The episode would have been cited any time one of the Trump Deranged was asked to defend the hardy Big Lie that Trump was a racist. Now that Joe Biden is President, the office is back to having the benefit of a presumption of good will, which is necessary for any President to do his job. About the only people mentioning Joe’s latest—read his quote with Jews or “blacks” in place of “Indian-descent Americans”—are bitter conservative pundits, and people like me, who foolishly believe that the same standards should be applied regardless of race, creed, gender or political affiliation.

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Sunset Ethics Round-Up, 2/2/2021: The Narrative That Refuses To Die, The Weenie Who Whines From A Safe Distance, And Other Tales

setting sun

Pop quiz! What’s the significance of the photo above?

It’s official: last month, February 2021 was the worst in Ethics Alarms traffic in five years, and last week was the worst non-holiday week in longer than that. I am at a loss to explain it, and I am going to stop obsessing about it. The comments are among the best and most erudite on the web, and I am confident that the quality and variety of content remains as high as ever.

1. Never give up that narrative! Over the weekend the Times had a puzzling news article telling us that the FBI had “zeroed in” on a suspect in the death of Brian Sicknick, the Capitol police officer who was falsely and repeatedly cited by mainstream media sources and the Trump prosecution in the impeachment trial as being “killed” in the riot or by rioters. The great discovery was that of a video showing someone in the crowd spraying pepper spray or bear spray on officers during the melee. However, as the article itself states, neither irritant is known to be fatal, and both the officers and the crazies were using it that day. Sicknick died of a stroke after the riot, and no link between his death and what occurred while he was trying to control the crowd has been established.

The usual course is to first establish that there has been a homicide, then to look for suspects. “Let’s see if we can pin this on someone” is not considered ethical. I predict that no one will be prosecuted for Sicknick’s death—not ethically, anyway.

2. Speaking of predictions: In yesterday’s post about Governor Cuomo’s apology, I wrote,

[T]he acid test for sexual harassment (and worse) is whether there are additional victims who come forward after the first one breaks the silence. Cuomo is now up to two. It’s a safe bet there are more.

Yesterday a third accuser came forward. Three usually is the tipping point at which even the most protective mainstream media hacks will finally turn on a Democrat. For example, I doubt that Justin Fairfax, the Lt Governor of Virginia, would have survived three rape accusers, but he’s a black Democrat, so the formula is a bit different. The Babylon Bee has it exactly right. Meanwhile, Jim Treacher writes,

Late night liberal “comedians” are finally jumping on the bandwagon to criticize formerly beloved New York governor, Andrew Cuomo. Taking the media’s lead, “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert suddenly found the scandal-embroiled Democrat was an easy target, after several women came forward alleging sexual harassment from the governor.

On his Monday night show, Colbert spent roughly three minutes mocking Cuomo as an “old man” pervert for his alleged creepy comments and behavior towards young women. This after, he spent 2020 grossly promoting the Democrat’s leadership and sex appeal.

These are awful people. They were prepared to ignore the thousands of nursing home deaths Cuomo caused and covered up while praising him as a brilliant pandemic leader (unlike President Trump.) Indulging in the kind of sexual harassment and assault that Joe Biden engaged in regularly while cameras were shooting is too much to bear, however. Now Cuomo is a monster.

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Ethics Quote Of The Month: Colonel William Travis

Victory or Death

“”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 & 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.

Col. William Barrett Travis, Commander of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, on February 24, 1836, as his make-shift fort with its couple hundred volunteers were surrounded by the army of General Santa Ana, and a siege was inevitable.

Travis sent out several appeals for assistance and reinforcement that day, but this one has been enshrined as one of the iconic letters in American history. When the Texas revolution began in 1835, Travis, a failed lawyer, businessman and husband—he had abandoned his wife and unborn child in Alabama to escape his debts and start a new life in the Mexican territory—had became a lieutenant-colonel in the revolutionary army and was given command of troops in the recently captured city of San Antonio de Bexar (now San Antonio). On February 23, 1836, a large Mexican force commanded by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana arrived in the town. Travis and his troops barricaded themselves in an abandoned mission repurposed as a fort, the Alamo, where they were  joined by a volunteer force led by Texas land speculator and adventurer Jim Bowie. Later, another, smaller group of volunteers organized by former Congressman and self-made legend Davy Crockett joined them.

Before Travis’s fevered and desperate letter-writing, the Mexican dictator had demanded the fort’s unconditional surrender, promising no quarter if the defenders refused. As his letter said, Travis answered with a cannon shot.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

This is an especially important time for Americans to remember the Alamo.


Remember The Alamo Today, March 6, When The Fort Fell, And Entered American Lore And Legend Forever.

The following post was mostly assembled from past essays here about my favorite event in American History…

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 Texians 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: Continue reading