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Letters from the Alamo

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery
It's not unusual for me to become sort of melancholy this time of the year.

When February rolls around, I tend to reflect on those historic events that occurred in Texas so many years ago and I can't help but; "Remember the Alamo." The story of the little fortress on the San Antonio River has been told and re-told so many times that it may no longer stir the emotions of some folks. But I like to believe that most Texans still get that certain chill down their spine when they step inside the Alamo chapel. It happens to me anytime I go near the place or even think about it.
Wallace O. Chariton wrote one of my favorite books about the Alamo. His work, "100 Days in Texas, The Alamo Letters," is a fantastic collection of historic documents in the form of old newspaper articles, excerpts from personal journals, and official orders from both the Texan and Mexican armies. Chariton put all this information together in chronological order as per the date they were written and he included a time period that he felt would portray an accurate account of the Alamo story. This period consisted of exactly 100 days, from December 9, 1835 to March 17, 1836. Any document that he felt had any historical significance was included for each particular day.
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Like Chariton, I've also had a desire to get my information from the original sources - that is, those folks who actually lived, loved, fought, and died during those turbulent times of early Texas. Some modern-day historians are inclined to write articles that they consider "politically correct" about the Alamo battle. Fact is, if some writers had their way, true events that happened in Texas during the fight for independence would be struck from the record and a new account would be given. To those folks I would just say, "Read the words of the people who actually lived during that time or better yet, just call your work fiction."

I don't know of any writer who could improve on the eloquent words of Travis when he issued his plea of help for his beleaguered command. "Do hasten on aid to me as rapidly as possible, as from the superior number of the enemy, it will be impossible for us to keep them out much longer," wrote Travis in his famous letter of February 25, 1836. "If they overpower us, we fall a sacrifice at the shrine of our country, and we hope prosperity and our country will do our memory justice. Give me help, oh my country! Victory or Death!"

And who could put it any better than His Excellency Santa Anna, when he wrote out his order of battle for the final assault on the Alamo. "The arms, principally the bayonets, should be in perfect order." This excerpt leaves little doubt that Santa Anna expected the battle to be fought primarily in bloody hand-to-hand combat and indeed it was.

He ended his order by letting his troops know what was expected of them. "His Excellency expects that every man will do his duty, and exert himself to give a day of glory to the country, and of gratification to the Supreme Government, who will know how to reward the distinguished deeds of the brave soldiers…."

Upon the conclusion of the battle, the Mexican officer Almonte made this entry in his diary: "…at half past 5 A.M. the attack or assault was made, and continued until 6 A.M., when the enemy attempted in vain to fly, but they were overtaken and put to the sword, and only five women, one Mexican soldier (prisoner) and a black slave escaped from instant death."

Another Mexican soldier gave this account of what he saw after the battle: "Poor things - no longer do they [Texans] live - all of them died, and even now I am watching them burn…their leader named Travis, died like a brave man with his rifle in his hand at the back of a cannon."

No, we don't need anyone to re-write our Alamo history for us - it has already been written by our ancestors. We have a rich heritage in Texas and it came about by the sacrifices of a tough breed of people who made their homes in the wilderness. Personally, I would like to see even more tribute paid to the lesser-known men who served in both those armies - Mexican and Texan, alike - after all they too, were patriots. The Mexican was protecting his country and the Texan was fighting for his independence. I don't know if defending your country or fighting for liberty is politically correct nowadays, but it seems pretty noble to me.
© Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary >
March 27, 2007 Column

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