A phrase that to this day reminds Americans of selfless courage and heroic sacrifice is “Remember the Alamo.”
The early history of the Alamo did not signal that someday it would become a shrine of freedom. Originally named Misión San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo was used by missionaries for decades before the Spanish seized the site for nonreligious purposes in 1793.
The Alamo thereafter housed a changing guard of military units representing Spanish, Mexican, and rebel forces until December 1835 when Ben Milam led a group of Texan and Tejano volunteers in a siege against Mexican-occupied San Antonio. After several days of intense street fighting, Milam’s warriors drove the Mexicans from the city, and the Texans staked claim to and fortified the Alamo.
The Mexican General Santa Anna decided to teach the upstart rebels—and all Texans—a lesson. On about February 23, 1836, a contingent of thousands from Santa Anna’s army invaded San Antonio, and the battle was on. When the first shots were fired, only about 150 Texans were at the Alamo to mount a defense under the joint command of William B. Travis and Jim Bowie. The day after the battle began, Colonel Travis said: “I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor and that of his country—victory or death.”1
Santa Anna’s troops battered the Alamo mercilessly. Travis and Bowie slipped couriers through enemy lines to go plead with residents of nearby communities to send reinforcements to defend San Antonio. On the eighth day of the siege, a small group of thirty-two volunteers from Gonzales finally arrived, bringing the number of defenders to about two hundred.2 The battle raged for another five days. As the likelihood of defeat increased, Travis gathered the men and drew a line in the dirt, asking the men willing to stay and fight to the death to step over. All but one did. Among those who stayed was the famous frontiersman David Crockett.
“The final assault came before daybreak on the morning of March 6, as columns of Mexican soldiers emerged from the predawn darkness and headed for the Alamo’s walls. Cannon and small arms fire from inside the Alamo beat back several attacks. Regrouping, the Mexicans scaled the walls and rushed into the compound. Once inside, they turned captured cannon on the Long Barrack and church, blasting open the barricaded doors. The desperate struggle continued until the defenders were overwhelmed.”3
None of the 189 soldiers defending the Alamo lived. The Mexican attackers lost an estimated sixteen hundred men.4 The Texans may have lost the battle at the Alamo, but their sacrifice so enraged and energized others in the territory that just six weeks later the Mexicans were defeated for good at San Jacinto. The rallying cry in that great victory was “Remember the Alamo.”
Colonel Travis was a leader who understood that perseverance for “the cause” is essential. Personal values translate into organizational values, and it takes persistence to communicate those values to everyone in the organization. Every day there are reasons to stray from deep personal values, but great leaders do not easily give them up or modify them in the face of pressure.
This kind of perseverance comes from a deep sense of purpose for life and from trusting in something outside ourselves. Personally, we believe it involves looking beyond ourselves and seeking to trust God for the answers, the vision, and the hope to persevere.
1. ‑The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, “The Alamo’s Historic Past.” Found at http://www.thealamo.org/history/historicpast.html.
2. ‑From “Alamo,” The New Columbia Encyclopedia (New York: Columbia University Press, 1975), 46.
3. ‑The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, “The Alamo’s Historic Past.” Found at http://www.thealamo.org/history/historicpast.html.