the indefensible alamo -- 12/13/21

Today's selection -- from Forget the Alamo by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford. In late 1835 and early 1836, the breach between the American immigrant cotton farmers in the Mexican territory of Texas and the Mexican government had morphed into war. There was disagreement among those 'Texians' about whether to try to defend San Antonio and its Alamo Mission--which they had recently taken from the Mexicans--from the Mexican army. Most--including Sam Houston, who along with Jim Bowie, one of the Texian military leaders--considered it indefensible. It had very long and low walls that were not built for military purposes. Houston wanted it abandoned:
"Sam Houston, meanwhile, got to squabbling with the politicians about what to do with [San Antonio]. Houston wanted nothing to do with the place. He thought it indefensible, as it pretty much was, and argued for establishing a defensive line across the rivers to the east. Almost no one listened. Give up San Antonio after fighting so hard to get it? Plus, the town did have some strategic importance, lying astride the road from Mexico.

"Houston took matters into his own hands. He took Jim Bowie aside, asked him to assess the situation and, should he too judge the situation untenable, consider destroying the Alamo and beating a retreat east­ward. Bowie took thirty men and left the next day. Houston, meanwhile, still a commander with no troops, got so sick of all the infighting he rode to Nacogdoches to negotiate a treaty with the Cherokee. He would be gone for much of what happened.

The Alamo

"Bowie arrived in San Antonio on January 19 and found the garrison a mess. There were barely a hundred fighting men, low on powder, food, and supplies, unpaid and angry about it. They were all outsiders; the only Texian was the new commander, an artilleryman named James Clinton Neill. In mid-January, Neill fired off a letter to Houston: '[The men] are almost naked ... and almost every one of them speaks of going home, and not less than twenty will leave to-morrow. We are in a tor­pid, defenseless condition.' 

"Bowie had little sense of the danger he was riding into. Just the day before, a scout named Jose Cassiano had trotted into the hills above the old Spanish town of Presidio on the Rio Grande. Below, he was startled to see Mexican troops on parade. Hundreds of them. Infantrymen in navy tunics. Dragoons in high hats and red sashes. Cannon. Cassiano counted the men and stopped at two thousand, then wheeled north to warn San Antonio."



Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford


Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth


Penguin Press


Copyright 2021 by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford


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