What Americans Misremember When They Remember the Alamo

March 6, 2017 9:16 am
USA, 19th Century
‘Remember the Alamo’ by Frederick Coffay Yohn (SuperStock, Getty Images)


On February 23, 1836, General Antonio López de Santa Anna’s Mexican Army began a siege of the Alamo.

On March 6, the Alamo fell.

That defeat wasn’t a surprise—Mexican forces vastly outnumbered the roughly 200 defenders. But it was a shock the defenders held out 13 days. “Remember the Alamo!” soon became a rallying cry for Texans and remains one to this day, helping inspire Texas to its independence.

The siege in what is now the city of San Antonio has been celebrated in countless films and TV programs (notably Disney’s Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier in 1955 and John Wayne’s The Alamo five years later). The result is something we’ve all heard of, but don’t necessarily know. Here are things we misremember when we remember the Alamo.

That it was a unique event. Three weeks later, the Goliad Massacre saw approximately 350 soldiers lose their lives. Sam Houston himself cried, “Remember the Alamo, remember Goliad!” But Goliad is now largely forgotten by popular culture, partly because of the absence of figures as iconic as Davy Crockett, William Travis, and Jim Bowie, and partly because the tragedy was more grim than inspiring. (Largely due to incompetence by their leader, the force surrendered, at which point they were slaughtered.)

That there were no survivors. An estimated 15 people survived the Alamo, including wives, children, servants, and slaves. (Incidentally, unlike Texas at the time, Mexico opposed slavery.)

That no one surrendered. We may never know with certainty what happened at the Alamo’s fall, but historians generally agree at least some soldiers surrendered, at which point they were executed by the order of Santa Anna. Related to this…

That Davy Crockett fought to the end. A diary by a Mexican officer reports that Crockett surrendered with a few other soldiers and all were killed with swords. The reliability of this account has been challenged, but no evidence has been put forward that definitively suggests he died fighting either. It should be noted that none of this changes the basic truth that Crockett fought at the Alamo and gave his life to the cause, whatever happened in his final moments.

That it was the beginning of the end for Santa Anna. While his leadership was unquestionably a disaster during the Texas Revolution, Santa Anna largely redeemed himself by defeating a French invasion at Vera Cruz in 1838. (He personally lost half a leg in combat, and, bizarrely, years later he insisted on giving his limb an elaborate funeral.) Santa Anna managed to hold the Mexican presidency on 11 different occasions, with his final run in 1855. He died in 1876 at age 82. His strange legacy includes playing a key role in the creation of the American chewing gum industry during an exile to Staten Island.

That Ozzy Osbourne urinated on it. The 1982 incident remains one of the most notorious moments in rock. In fact, the Black Sabbath singer relieved himself on a statue honoring the Texans who died that’s located near the Alamo, not on the Alamo itself. A more sober Ozzy toured the Alamo in 2015.

—Sean Cunningham for RealClearLife

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