On the afternoon of February 3rd, 1836, twenty-six year old Lieutenant Colonel William Barrett Travis rode into Bexar, Texas, leading 18 regular calvary in the Texas Army with orders to reinforce the regular and volunteer force defending the old mission and relieve Colonel James Clinton Neill. He found at the Alamo volunteers James Bowie, who had arrived a few weeks earlier, and Davy Crockett, who arrived earlier that same day. Both men were cultural icons, with reputations as big as the Alamo itself, and who had brought with them sizable groups of volunteers under their command.
James Bowie had granted himself an informal rank of Colonel and took an immediate dislike of Travis. Even after Colonel Neill had left Travis, the ranking officer of the regular Texan forces, in command of the fort, Bowie repeatedly undermined his command and even encouraged volunteers to disobey Travis’s orders. The infighting finally came to a head, and Travis put it to the men of the Alamo who they’d rather have in command. The undisciplined volunteers and enough of the regular Texan Army soldiers elected Bowie to be the commander.
With the Mexican Army bearing down on San Antonio, James Bowie and the volunteers spent a night drinking and celebrating raucously in town, and another day sobering up. Colonel Neill had to return to the Alamo to restore order, putting Lt. Colonel Travis back in command of the regular Texas Army forces, but allowing James Bowie to lead the volunteers. Unfortunately, precious days had already been lost, and when the Mexican Army arrived in San Antonio in late February 23rd, the Alamo’s defenders were simply not ready for the impending siege.
When Santa Anna arrived, he had his generals notify the Texan forces early in the battle that, true to his reputation, there would be no quarter offered. Travis defiantly ordered a cannon shot in response, and the week that followed was filled with skirmishes between the approximately 200 Texan defenders and nearly 2,000 strong Mexican Army. By March 4th, Santa Anna’s forces had the Alamo effectively surrounded, with the Texan defenders trapped inside.
On March 5th, Lt. Colonel Travis, now the sole commander of the fort after James Bowie was injured, mustered the men inside the fort. Outnumbered ten to one, with the promise of death even if the defenders surrendered, Texas legend holds that Travis laid out the dire situation that faced them, and their options were few and grim. He made clear his intent to stay and fight, then, with the tip of his saber, he drew a line in the sand in front of his men. He challenged those willing to give their last in battle to cross the line…
“We must die.
Our business is not to make a fruitless effort to save
our lives, but to choose the manner of our death.“
-Lt. Col. William B. Travis-
This moment remains the most enduring legend of the Battle of the Alamo and, in fact, the entire Texas Revolution. The battle itself has become part of the heritage and character of the Texan psyche, as well as an American touchstone of patriotism. Sadly, there are many lessons to be taken from this battle that apply to our present political situation, such as not allowing brash and egotistical leaders to break down the order of a group. This is not to dishonor James Bowie by comparing him with any modern political figure. Bowie died with honor, after a distinguished career in the service of Liberty far surpassing any loud mouth billionaire.
The core, and most important lesson remains: even in the face of an enemy that will offer no quarter, true men of honor and principle, when faced with these dire circumstances, choose to stand on their convictions no matter the cost, while lesser men waffle in their courage and slink out in the middle of the night with the women and children. When we are called to take a stand on any issue, even politically or ideologically, we must do so with all of our heart, courage, and dedication.
We must not shy away from our principles simply because we fear dire consequences. A man that lives like that is not a man at all, but a victim waiting for a tyrant’s leash. So when a true man commits to something, whether that be espousing a principle or crossing a line in the sand, he must do so no matter the cost. No time of the day nor change in the season makes an unworthy person less unworthy. What is right and true does not change from day to day. We must remember that true men of honor commit to “resist every assault, and to sell our lives as dearly as possible.“
Does anyone deny that we are in the fight of our political lives? That our country is now poised to fall into the hands of unworthy and dishonorable sorts the likes of which we have never, in our lifetimes, seen or even thought to see? If not, then the cost of surrender is too great to bear. Our option to fight on also bears no better prospects. We are faced with a terrible choice. Either we can down quietly, or we can go down in defiance, standing for what we believe in.
That is our line in the sand. Fight on no matter the consequences, or to flee in the night. For me, the choice is obvious and simple.
“Victory or death!”
-Lt. Col. William B. Travis-
Be brave. Be free.
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