Alamo Heroism Was Just a Myth

August 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Davy Crockett’s defiant stand at the Alamo is cherished in the United States as a moment that defined a young nation’s pursuit of liberty. It is also utter fantasy, according to new research.

Legend describes a tenacious and lengthy defence of the garrison in 1836 that continued even once defeat was assured. However, a fresh study shows that the  Alamo was routed after a surprise night attack that left many Americans dead outside the walls — as they tried to escape.

Phillip Thomas Tucker, in Exodus from the Alamo, says the popular version took hold because no Americans survived and the Mexican version was ignored. He said: “A culture of chauvinism disregarded the accounts of the Mexicans. The power of the myth was so strong it transcended the truth.”

Using Mexican reports, diaries and newspaper accounts, Dr Tucker built a picture of a battle that may have lasted only 20 minutes. It was “but a small affair” said General Antonio López de Santa Anna, who led the assault. Scores of Mexican soldiers breached the walls before most inhabitants were even out of bed. There was no evidence of the drawn-out defence popularised by John Wayne and Hollywood. Most of the modest Mexican casualties were sustained inside the garrison walls, many as a result of “friendly fire”.

Dr Tucker writes: “A large percentage of the garrison fled . . . to escape the slaughter, trying to quit the compound before the battle inside had ended.” He also disputes the reasons for defending the garrison, which was of little strategic importance, and depicts a group hoping to profit from new land in which they could use slaves on plantations, but only if they could defeat the Mexicans who had abolished slavery.

Casemate, the publisher, says the book received a hostile reception in Texas where the story is said to embody the spirit of the state. A spokeswoman said: “Texans have rallied en masse . . . in the most vitriolic criticism any of our military history books has ever received.”

William Galston, of the Brookings Institute, said the myth was likely to prevail: “Children are taught to identify with American history, that’s how you become an American. Myths are powerful because they say things about people that they want to believe.”

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