This week marks the 180th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo (February 23-March 6, 1836.) I have always held this battle in reverence since my reading of Bill Davis’s outstanding book: Three Roads to the Alamo. It’s one of those books I read every two years or so…it’s that good. As a bagpiper myself, the fact that John McGregor was at the Alamo, playing his pipes in battle, offers a fascinating mental picture for me. Yes, the defenders had a bagpiper with them, how kick-ass is that?
On paper, the fight was one-sided. Santa Anna’s 1800 troops against 185-200 Texas volunteers. The defenders of the old mission were not professional soldiers by any stretch. When you think of the Alamo, it is hard not to wonder what was going through the minds of the volunteers. They knew the odds against them. Surrounded, they knew they were cut off and that reinforcements were not coming. There’s a special bond formed among men facing such calamity that is impossible to put in words. We know it, we think we understand it, but how many of us would have remained there in the mission and opted to fight – knowing what the final fate was going to be?
The Alamo brought unlikely men together, as if it was destined to be a crossroads in history. Travis and Bowie were both struggling with debt and had played land speculation. These were not heroic figures up until this battle. Only the last days of their lives forever changed public opinion of these brave men. Both were drawn through circumstance to be at the mission 180 years ago.
Perhaps the most intriguing character that came to the defense of the impromptu fort was former congressman David Crockett. A failed politician he was, at the time, more hype than reality. The Alamo changed that. Crockett and his party’s arrival at a juncture of history ensconced him as a Texan and American hero.
There is a transformative ability that the siege of the Alamo has. It took men, and even the efforts to carve out Texas as a nation, and make them a reality. Last stands are not the property of America, but it became one of the few that the entire nation adopted as its own.
Hollywood further solidified this battle in history. Be it Fess Parker, John Wayne, or Billy Bob Thorton; the Alamo is destined to be something the entertainment industry will never let us forget. Gaming wise, SPI put out a fairly good game of the Battle of the Alamo but few boardgames have tried to capture the fight.
Militarily, the battle, like many epic stands, on its own, was not strategic. The same could be said of Rorke’s Drift. The Alamo did buy several days for the Texian forces to assemble, but overall, the Alamo did not determine the fate of the war. Their devastating defeat however served as a rallying point for the Texians to eventually drive to victory.
The men didn’t have to fight to the brutal end but chose to. That kind of resolve, especially in our modern age, is unheard of. There are images, scenes of the siege that stick in our minds. Did Travis draw a line in the sand with his sword, challenging men who wanted to leave to cross the line? Did Davy Crockett survive the fight only to be slaughtered afterwards?
In the end, those details simply don’t matter. The Alamo is a symbol in American and Texas history. And on this 180th anniversary I merely wanted to take a few moments to remember the resolve of brave men everywhere in our armed forces. The men at the Alamo set a standard for heroic behavior that few of us would have the courage today to set up and embrace.