Defending the Alamo

By Kingseed, Cole C. | Army, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Defending the Alamo


Kingseed, Cole C., Army


Defending the Alamo The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo - and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation, fames Donovan. Little, Brown & Company. 501 pages; black-and-white photographs; maps; notes; bibliography; appendices; index; $29.99. Publisher website: www. hachettebookgroup.com/publishing_ little-brown-and-company.aspx.

Few battles have been so seared into the American consciousness as the Battle of the Alamo, where fewer than 200 Texan defenders withstood a siege by more than 2,000 Mexican soldiers for 13 days before being overwhelmed and killed on March 6, 1836. In The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo - and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation, James Donovan combines exhaustive research with flowing narrative to produce a highly readable account of the battle that gave birth to the Republic of Texas.

Donovan is not only a first-rate historian but also a consummate storyteller. The author of A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn- The Last Great Battle of the American West, Donovan draws upon a plethora of U.S. and Mexican archives to produce the most comprehensive history of the battle since William C. Davis' Three Roads to the Alamo: The Lives and Fortunes of David Crockett, James Bowie and William Barret Travis in 1998. The subtitle of The Blood of Heroes reflects Donovan's personal bias of lending more credence to the Texan version of the siege. Following two appendices that list the Mexican Army of Operations' principal officers and the names of the Alamo's defenders, 80 pages of explanatorynotes examine the validity of the archival sources and separate the facts from the legend surrounding this epic battle. The notes alone make the book worth the purchase price.

As he did in analyzing the composition of the frontier cavalry of Custer in A Terrible Glory, Donovan provides an excellent description of Antonio López de Santa Anna's Army of Operations. The Mexican army of 1836 was topheavy with officers, many of whom owed their commissions to political connections. The majority of the senior officers, however, were veterans who had fought alongside Santa Anna in previous engagements. The rank and file of the Army of Operations consisted of approximately 50 percent permanentes (the regular army forces) and about the same number of activos (active militia) along with some frontier presidiai units.

At the heart of the Alamo story are Donovan's portraits of largerthan-life personalities of the principal combatants. Santa Anna emerges from these pages as a petty tyrant whose "only loyalty was to his own ambition." The self-proclaimed "Hero of the Fatherland" and self-styled "Napoleon of the West," Santa Anna offered the Texan "rebels" no quarter once his own army arrived on the scene. James Bowie, "the celebrated desperado" and land speculator, served as co-defender of the Alamo garrison before pneumonia forced him to relinquish command to 26-year-old William B. Travis. David Crockett is "the amiable cuss" who inspired the garrison with his quick wit and excellent marksmanship.

Donovan's hero, however, is Travis, who, along with Bowie, shared a single view of an independent Republic of Texas. Donovan begins and concludes his narrative with Travis. Donovan wholeheartedly concurs with historian Jonathan Kuykendall, who states that Travis "hungered and thirsted for fame - not the kind of fame which satisfies the ambition of the duelist and desperado, but the exalted fame which crowns the doer of great deeds in a good cause. …

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