Texas is the finest portion of the globe that has blessed my vision. – Sam Houston
Beginning at the Battle of Gonzales in October 1835 and ending swiftly in the 18 minute Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, the Texas Revolution birthed a new nation and saw one-third of the land mass of America change ownership. In between these two engagements we learn from history about the Battle of Coleto Creek, the massacre at Goliad, and the thirteen days of glory (Feb 23-Mar 6, 1836) wherein the defenders of the Alamo in San Antonio de Bexar bought time for General Sam Houston and his army to escape to the east during the Runaway Scrape.
All in all, Texian and Tejano forces were defeated, massacred, and chased from one end of the state to the other. But in the end, one of the swiftest and most decisive battles in history proved the resolve of the men who proclaimed as they charged the field, “Remember Goliad! Remember the Alamo!”
What drove these men in the fight? What motivated those who knew that in battle they would most surely die? When the odds were so stacked against them, what kept them going?
The political climate in Mexico was one of upheaval. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had helped overthrow the sitting government and had in time been declared the sole ruler, a military dictator. The 1824 Constitution of Mexico which had guaranteed freedoms and rights to the citizens of Mexico and the settlers in Texas was rescinded and the army was used to force subjects into submission to the new government.
With their loss of rights, land, and privileges, the settlers appealed for a return to freedom and lost. They took up arms to defend themselves and win their freedom. The flag that flew over the Alamo was a Mexican flag with the year 1824 written in the middle, signifying defiance for the current regime and a desire to return to the rule of law under the previous Constitution.
As Col. Travis and Col. Bowie led the forces at the Alamo, joined by volunteers from Tennessee commanded by former Congressman David Crockett, this band of 180 or so men were determined to hold the fort and delay the advancing Mexican army. Travis appealed to the newly formed government of Texas asking for reinforcements but none ever came.
As Travis fought off a much larger force for 13 days the Constitutional Congress of the Republic of Texas met at Washington-on-the-Brazos and drafted the Texas Declaration of Independence. Signed on March 2, 1836 (Texas Independence Day), this document saw the birth of a new nation.
The battle at San Antonio ended on the morning of March 6 when Santa Anna’s troops finally breached the walls and put every remaining Alamo defender to the sword. No prisoners were taken. Women, children, and a few slaves were allowed to leave. Otherwise there were no survivors.
Later that month, Col. Fannin’s troops were overwhelmed and surrendered. On Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, some 350 Texian prisoners were ordered to march to a new location. While on the road, marching single file, they were executed in Goliad.
The remaining Texian and Tejano forces were not demoralized, but instead were motivated by these atrocities. It steeled their courage and drove them to success at the final battle of the revolution. There was not only a desire for liberty and freedom – there was also a desire to ensure that these men at the Alamo and Goliad had not died in vain.
The Texians lost right up until the end. Houston’s strategy to hold out, to deliberately pick the field of battle for the final engagement, and to lead the Mexican army further and further away from its supply lines meant that in that final battle only 9 out of 900 Texian soldiers were killed while over 600 Mexican troops were killed and another 700, including Gen. Santa Anna, were captured.
The Republic of Texas existed as a sovereign nation from March 2, 1836 until its annexation as the 28th state by the United States on December 29, 1845. In order to pay off debt from the war Texas ceded to the United States land that stretches from Oklahoma and New Mexico, up through Kansas and Colorado into Wyoming.
From this brief history review we can learn valuable lessons for today. A small group of people committed to a task can overcome overwhelming odds and succeed in meeting their goals. This determination must be joined with endurance. To achieve our goals at work or at home we must be willing to work through the hardships that will arise, keeping in mind where we want to be, not where we are at the moment. We must learn to be diligent and deliberate in our actions, planning for success, and working with ambition and adaptability to stay the course.
The lessons of war teach us that in life we need to know the difference between strategy and tactics. Strategy refers to the overall goal, the big picture, the end game. Tactics are the means to implement the strategy, to make it happen one step at a time. That is why losing one or two battles does not settle the outcome of a war. Likewise, failure should only drive us to try again, to never give up, to press on, and to keep in mind the overall goals we have set. As we remember the Alamo this month, remember that out of defeat can come the motivation for history making victory.