Sunday 26 April 2020

Guest Review: Sam Houston & the Alamo Avengers By Brian Kilmeade

In March 1836, the Mexican army led by General Santa Anna massacred more than two hundred Texians who had been trapped in the Alamo. After thirteen days of fighting, American legends Jim Bowie and Davey Crockett died there, along with other Americans who had moved to Texas looking for a fresh start. It was a crushing blow to Texas’s fight for freedom.
But the story doesn’t end there. The defeat galvanized the Texian settlers, and under General Sam Houston’s leadership they rallied. Six weeks after the Alamo, Houston and his band of settlers defeated Santa Anna’s army in a shocking victory, winning the independence for which so many had died.
Sam Houston and the Alamo Avengers recaptures this pivotal war that changed America forever, and sheds light on the tightrope all war heroes walk between courage and calculation. Thanks to Kilmeade’s storytelling, a new generation of readers will remember the Alamo—and recognize the lesser known heroes who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Review: This book is part biography of Sam Houston, and part history of the founding of Texas as an independent republic, although the two accounts are closely linked.

In 1803, the USA purchased land west of the Mississippi from France in a transaction known as the Louisiana Purchase. Many believed that Texas was part of the deal and that this would allow for the westwards expansion of the fledgling nation. However, in subsequent negotiations in 1819 with Spain, the US president John Quincy Adams agreed that Texas should remain part of the Spanish colony of Mexico. When Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, it became a republic with Texas part of the state of Coahuila y Tejas. American settlers heading west began to populate Texas, attracted by the cheap price of land offered by the Mexican government who wanted to encourage the settlement of a largely empty area. Many of these settlers were seeking to make a new beginning. One such was Sam Houston, a former governor of Tennessee. His political career looked to be over following the end of his first marriage. He hoped to revive his fortunes in Texas and arrived there at the end of 1832. Shortly after his arrival, he was chosen as a delegate to a convention that was petitioning the Mexican government to make Texas a separate Mexican state.

In 1833, General Santa Anna was elected president of Mexico. He proved to be an autocratic leader, undoing earlier liberal reforms. In 1835, amid growing unrest among the Texan population, who had organised themselves into local militias, Santa Anna dispatched troops to disarm the Texans. After a few successful skirmishes, the Texans drove the Mexican garrison from the town of San Antonio and began to build defences around the old Spanish mission church known as the Alamo. Towards the end of 1835, Houston was appointed by the provisional government of Texas as General of its army and set about trying to recruit and organise the volunteers. He was concerned that this makeshift army was not ready to take on the professional army of Mexico, particularly after he heard at the beginning of 1836 that Santa Anna was marching on Texas at the head of a large army determined to crush the Texas Revolution. Arriving at San Antonio on 23rd February, the Mexican army besieged the Alamo for 12 days, before storming and capturing it on 6th March, resulting in the death of all 180 defenders including such famous names as Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett. The killing of prisoners that had surrendered, together with news of the executions at Goliad three weeks later of up to 400 prisoners that had surrendered, incensed the Texans. By this time, the Texan provisional government had declared independence from Mexico. Sam Houston was with his army to the east of San Antonio and north of Goliad. Still fearful that this army of volunteers was not ready to face Santa Anna’s army, he decided to retreat eastwards with the Mexican army in pursuit.

During the retreat, the Texan army grew in size and Houston was able to train his troops. Meanwhile, Santa Anna split his forces. Houston’s and Santa Anna’s armies came together by the San Jacinto River and on 21st April 1836, the Texans won a decisive victory. Santa Anna subsequently was captured. In the peace negotiations that followed, Texas gained its independence as a republic. In September, Sam Houston was voted in as the first president of the new Republic of Texas. Eventually, in 1845, Texas became the twenty-eight state of the USA and Sam Houston went on to represent it in the US Senate and became its governor.

Whilst everybody remembers the Alamo and its defenders as the embodiment of the Texas Revolution, it is the author Brian Kilmeade’s assertion in this book that it is the Battle of San Jacinto that has greater military and political significance. By gaining independence from Mexico and eventually becoming its twenty-eighth state, Texas allowed the westwards expansion of the USA from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. I found the book to be an exciting and readable account of this period in the history of Texas. Having visited the Alamo and heard about its defenders, I was very interested to see the events there put into the context of the whole struggle of the Texans leading to independence. The book has a number of illustrations and maps throughout. There are notes and an extensive bibliography at the end. As the author himself acknowledges, there are times when the primary historical sources are contradictory and he has had to make judgements as to which to use. However, the list of further reading at the end of the book will allow readers, who so wish, to pursue their own research. Overall, I would recommend this book as an interesting and thrilling account of a people’s struggle for liberty.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

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