10/2/12 - ragtag mexican soldiers

In today's excerpt - the Alamo, one of the most famous battles ever fought on North American soil, should never have happened. Texas commander-in-chief Sam Houston thought the area was strategically unimportant, and had ordered the Texan troops to abandon it. Mexican general Santa Anna's advisors had counseled him not to attack it for the very same reason -- it was viewed as peripheral, unimportant, and too far from potential ocean-based supply lines. But happen it did. And though it has been portrayed as brave but ragtag Texans standing up to crisp Mexican troops, the truth was that the Mexican government itself was nascent, unstable, and nearly out of funds -- and its troops were raw, destitute, unmotivated, and prone to desertion:

"Years of civil war, rebel uprisings, and political turmoil had left the [Mexican] nation almost penniless, and the military had suffered more than most institutions. ...

"Some of the units of [Santa Anna's] army moving north [to the Alamo] boasted experience during the civil wars of the previous half dozen years, but nearly half the soldiers were raw recruits -- Indian peasants, vagabonds, prisoners, and the poor of the larger cities and towns -- quickly conscripted with no experience and little desire to fight. That trait was shared by numerous veterans, at least in regard to this campaign. The thought of marching almost six hundred miles to Mexico's distant northern frontier to fight norteamericanos who posed no direct threat to one's village seemed an abstract cause. Most inhabitants of the sprawling nation still thought of themselves as Oaxacans, or Zacatecans, or Chihuahuans first, rather than Mexicans -- the country was still too new, its towns and cities too far from each other, its politics too chaotic. In early December, Santa Anna had directed Ramirez y Sesma to 'take advantage of the enthusiasm of the citizenry of the towns along your route by drafting those useful men familiar with firearms into the rank and file as auxiliary volunteers to enlarge the division.' The unfortunates thus impressed into service -- unwilling conscripts were enlisted for ten years, volunteers for eight -- were neither enthusiastic nor volunteers, further eroding the quality and morale of the [Mexican] Army of Operations. ...

"The lack of funds led to serious shortages in every area.

"The Army of Operations had neither surgeons nor adequate medical supplies. The hospital corps had been abolished in 1833, and interim measures to fix the problem had failed, so medical students and three hundred pesos' worth of drugs obtained at Saltillo --and the occasional village quack impressed into aid -- would have to suffice. The quartermaster corps had neither the equipment nor the money to properly equip and supply an army of six thousand. But the army would march north with what could be scrounged together.

"Other deficiencies abounded. Because there was a scarcity of mules, hundreds of oxen would be used. They were slow and could only be driven for eight hours a day. The army's train comprised more than two thousand carts. ... Eventually the soldiers' daily [food] ration would be cut in half. ...

"Hostile Indians posed an even more significant problem. ...

"From Saltillo, the discrete units of Santa Anna's Army of Operations wound their way toward Monclova, 120 miles north, through the mountain passes on the edge of the Eastern Sierra Madres and to the eastern edge of a huge desert that continued all the way to the Rio Grande. Though most of the region El Camino Real ran through was semiarid and not extreme desert, it was an inhospitable stretch of land. Typical of the region, the weather remained cool at night but warmed once the sun was up. Here, the first cases of largescale desertions occurred. It was the rare day that did not see missing troops; many mule drivers also disappeared, some taking their animals with them. The problem became so bad that Santa Anna ordered local presidiales to patrol the roads and apprehend the deserters. The lack of water and forage could be seen in the condition of the horses and mules, some of which could not continue."


James Donovan


The Blood of Heroes: The 13 Day Struggle for the Alamo—and the Sacrifice that Forged a Nation


Little, Brown


Copyright 2012 by James Donovan


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