A popular historian revisits the most stirring siege in American history.
On Feb. 24, 1836, vastly outnumbered and defending an old Spanish mission in San Antonio against Santa Anna’s Mexican army, garrison commander William Barret Travis issued a plea for reinforcements. To the people of Texas and “all Americans in the world,” he declared, “I shall never surrender or retreat.” He did neither, and the slaughter of the Alamo’s defenders has reverberated ever since. Donovan (A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Big Horn—The Last Great Battle of the American West, 2008, etc.) rightly deems the Battle of the Alamo the signal event of the Texas struggle for independence. The two-week siege bought precious time for the fledgling provincial government to organize, for settlers to recognize the immediacy of their peril and for Sam Houston’s Army of the People to assemble and train. The siege bogged down Santa Anna’s avenging force, killing many of his best troops. When, seven weeks later, Houston’s army surprised and routed the Napoleon of the West’s exhausted soldiers at San Jacinto, the Texans’ battle cry was “Remember the Alamo!” Donovan’s thoroughly researched and agreeably told story focuses on the 13-day standoff, but he also supplies crucial context, helping us to understand the history of the breakaway province and notable characters in the revolution like Houston, Stephen Austin, Ben Milam and James C. Neill. He explains how the principal actors in the Alamo drama—including, of course, former congressman and frontiersman David Crockett and knife-fighter James Bowie—arrived at this juncture in history. Yes, the Alamo is remembered, but not without controversy. What really happened inside those battered walls? Did Travis really draw a line in the sand, asking all who would stand with him to step across it? Without breaking the flow of his compelling story, Donovan reliably separates fact from legend, persuasively assessing the evidence and artfully setting the scene.
An authoritative, moving retelling of an enduring episode of sacrifice and courage.