It reads almost like a folk tale. In March of 1836, a few hundred men huddled in a roofless fort, fighting to the death in a quixotic battle against two thousand Mexican soldiers commanded by the autocratic and ruthless General Antonio López de Santa Anna. Davy Crockett was there with his rifle and his coonskin cap. So was Jim Bowie, too ill to wield his eponymous knife, but said to have died propped up in his bed aiming two pistols at the Mexican soldiers who barged into his room.
“Remember the Alamo!” is the most famous of battle cries, but the history behind it is complex and the stories it spawned seem almost fantastic. Seeing, however, is believing and it is well worth a trip to San Antonio to experience it firsthand.
A few things to remember if you go:
- It’s right in the middle of town – an easy five-to-ten minute walk from most of the centrally located hotels.
- “Be prepared for how small it is”, everyone said. If you are expecting a massive fort, you will be surprised. A secularized mission, The Alamo lacked a roof and even the most rudimentary defense structures.
- Your understanding of the events will be greatly enhanced by taking the one-hour Battlefield Tour.
- Current excavations at the site are yielding artifacts and insights into the events that took place during the siege and the battle.
- No photographs inside The Alamo. Staff members were unable to provide a reason for the ban on cameras, but the rule is actively enforced.
- See the movie! The AMC Rivercenter 11 offers a stirring IMAX film about the Alamo with several showings daily. The production values and the attention to historical detail are excellent.
A massive monument outside the shrine pays tribute to the illustrious patriots who died there. To understand their decision to stay and fight given that they were wildly outmatched by Santa Anna’s forces requires an unraveling of the historical events that led up to the battle and those that followed it. Start with the Lousiana Purchase and then connect the dots from the Mexican War of Independence and the colonization of Texas to the Battle of Gonzales and the Texas Revolution and you start to get the picture. There does not seem to be consensus on the “best” book about the Alamo, but there are a handful that are popular:
- The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for The Alamo – and the Sacrifice that Forged a Nation by James Donovan (528 pages)
- Three Roads to the Alamo: The Lives and Fortunes of David Crockett, James Bowie, and William Barret Travis by William C. Davis (816 pages)
- Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution by Stephen L. Hardin (344 pages)
- The Alamo by Frank Thompson (384 pages)
- The Alamo: An Illustrated History by George S. Nelson (114 pages)
I read The Alamo by John Myers Myers, a rather colorful treatment of events in which the author asserts that Sam Houston’s Texan army “was no better organized than a centipede with jake leg”. But the sacrifice at The Alamo inspired Houston and his troops to victory just a month later at the Battle of San Jacinto, where the cry “Remember the Alamo” spurred the Texians to overpower Santa Anna and his army and gave rise to the Republic of Texas. History at its most stirring, and most definitely worth remembering.