Remembering the Alamo
by Marcia Allen, Collection Services Manager
Sam Houston. Davey Crockett. Jim Bowie. William Travis. All are remembered in history because of their involvement in the siege of the Alamo in 1836, but of those four men, only one survived the struggle for Texas independence. While many books have been written about that struggle, few have the vibrancy and the fast pacing of Brian Kilmeade’s new book, Sam Houston and the Alamo Avengers. For those of us who love history or tales of the West, this new narrative is a standout.
Kilmeade’s thrilling account opens with the recognition that the Mexican and American hostilities are already building. Repeated skirmishes had left casualties on both sides. General Santa Anna was determined to drive the Texians from the territory and reclaim the land for Mexico, but President Andrew Jackson and his friend Sam Houston were equally determined to claim the Texas territory for the United States. As word of the hostilities began to spread, American frontiersmen and ex-military fighters traveled to the territory for their own patriotic reasons. Many legendary characters, like Jim Bowie and Davey Crockett, vowed to fight for their country. And they, like others, had run into difficulties elsewhere that made them want to seek new adventures.
The conflict came to a head at the city of San Antonio at the site of a missionary church. American forces decided to defend the weak fortifications and await the arrival of more defenders, hoping that General Santa Anna’s forces would arrive later. That was not to be. Nearly 200 defenders lost their lives during the standoff, and to the shock of the nation, the Texian survivors were executed outside the walls of the fortress. As Kilmeade tells us, battle losses were nothing new to the country, but General Santa Anna’s dispatching of the survivors was unforgiveable.
“Remember the Alamo” soon became a battle cry, perhaps coined by Sam Houston, to rally troops for further confrontations with the Mexican forces. Though not in good health, Houston realized he would have to take responsibility for the defense of Texas, and so he began elaborate plans to change the direction of the war. His followers were often dissatisfied with his leadership because he did not share his major plans with them and because they felt he was delaying confrontation for too long, but Houston was determined to avoid another crushing defeat like that at the Alamo.
Ultimately, the clash took place at San Jacinto. This time, there were plenty of American forces for the battle, and Houston’s lengthy training regime paid off. Too, the Americans had a favorable geographical advantage and elements of surprise in their favor. General Santa Anna was not only defeated but also captured while posing as a messenger. This was the confrontation that turned the war in favor of the Americans.
There are many reasons to appreciate and enjoy this book. One is that Kilmeade’s accounts of specific battles have an immediacy and drama that make them excellent stories. Another reason is his careful research that allowed him to convey relatively unknown details, taken from memories of those who witnessed these moments of history. And his clearly worded passages about those historical events make them easy to understand.
Perhaps the best reason for enjoying the book is depiction of characters. We know why Bowie and Crockett are there; we know their histories and their wilderness skills. We come to understand them, not as characters from a book, but as real personalities who were players in a particular period. “Deaf” Smith, for example, is little known in history, and yet he appears again and again in the conflicts as a colorful messenger/fighter/planner who accomplished so much for a newly assembled fighting force. He is one of many loyal followers for the American cause.
If you share my enthusiasm for this book, you will be pleased to learn that Kilmeade has written other equally captivating accounts of history. George Washington’s Secret Six and Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans are also available at the library. I’m sure that you will find them just as appealing as Sam Houston and the Alamo Avengers.