How much of 2014’s The Alamo really happened? To help us separate fact from fiction in the movie, we’ll be chatting with professor, historian and author Stephen L. Hardin. Stephen was also a historical consultant on the movie we’ll be chatting about today, so we’ll get some extra insight into the production of the film as well.
Disclaimer: Dan LeFebvre and/or Based on a True Story may earn commissions from qualifying purchases through our links on this page.
Did you enjoy this episode? Help support the next one!
Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.
Dan LeFebvre 01:30
At the very beginning of the movie, we learn a bit about the Alamo itself prior to the events that we see in the movie. And according to the film, The Alamo was a Spanish mission that was established in 1718. But over the centuries, it ended up being more of a forte than a mission due to its proximity to settlements nearby. Then, a little later in the movie we learn about the Alamo as it relates to the timeline of the movie in 1830s. We learned this from the character of Lieutenant Colonel JC Neill, who tells William Travis upon his arrival, that the Alamo was named after a Spanish cavalry unit called the Alamo to parse. It has the most cannons of any for west of the Mississippi and is the only thing standing between Santa Anna’s army and the Texas settlements. So how well did the movie do telling the history of the Alamo itself leading up to the events that we see in the movie?
Stephen L. Hardin 02:19
Very well. The introductory text that you see at the beginning of the movie was actually written by my good friend, Colonel Alan Huffines, who wrote a wonderful book called Blood of Noble Men. It’s a it’s a day by day chronology, of the siege of the Alamo. And that’s smack on. And the dialogue that the JC male relates played to perfection by the Texas actor, Brandon Smith. I was so proud of that scene, because it really does fill in and not a polemical way. But just a conversational way. Well, here’s the skinny on on this place. And it seemed very natural. I think in the in the movie that Jason now should be telling Travis who, who is, after all, just arrived on the scene, and really doesn’t know the background to this place. I thought that was smack on.
Dan LeFebvre 03:21
Yeah, it seems like he’s just giving him a welcome tour.
Stephen L. Hardin 03:24
That’s right. That’s how we envisioned it. So you know, he’s giving the cook’s tour. And then of course springs it on him. But, uh, hey, I’m, I’m about to leave. And you’re in command of what? Yeah, I just got him. But, but that’s historically accurate, actually. He received word that his family was seriously ill in, in Mena, which is what modern day Bastrop. And, you know, at that point, they’re not expecting the Mexicans to arrive until at least March 15. But he says this in the movies as you know, your greatest challenge of keeping the regulars and the volunteers from from killing each other. But sometimes, we show this in the film two steals a march by having a bitter march in the winter. And, and you know, normally South Texas is pretty temperate. But the the winter of 1836 was the coldest and wettest in human memory. General feha Silva, who writes about the weather conditions, it says that there’s, there’s 14 inches of snow in South Texas. Funny thing we were we had all the soldado extras set up to do that thing. And we had brought in all sorts Have fake snow. Yeah. And so what happens the night before we shoot that same, its nose in Dripping Springs. So that was that was pretty cool.
Dan LeFebvre 05:12
Of course. A lot of movies, make up fictional characters or create composite characters. So I want to ask about some of the main characters that we see in the movie. And we mentioned some of them already, we see William Travis being in charge of the Alamo, who was temporarily in command, according to the movie after J.C. Neill leaves. There’s also Jim Bowie who is leading a volunteer militia. Davy Crockett arrives a little bit later, but when he arrives in the movie, it’s pretty clear that he thought the fighting was already over. So he doesn’t seem to be there to fight. There’s also Sam Houston, who is not at the Alamo, but he plays a big part in the movie. And then on the Mexican side, the key figure is general Santa Ana, who you mentioned, traveling in the dead of winter movie says over 300 miles to get to the Alamo, is that pretty accurate?
Stephen L. Hardin 06:01
The way that the movie sets up these main characters is extremely accurate. All of those were real people. And the script reflects pretty, pretty carefully, I think. Now, of course, there’s, we took some liberties, I always do in a movie. And, you know, interesting thing when I my first meeting with the director, john Lee Hancock, it was Alan high fines and myself. And he told us look, I want, I want you guys to work on this movie as advisors. And I want the movie to be as historically accurate as possible. He says, No, let me tell you what that means. He said first, it’s got to work as a movie. Or it doesn’t matter if it’s historically accurate or not customers can be watching. So I may, for dramatic purposes, combined some characters, I might telegraph some things, but that’s just standard operating procedure. Because history is complex. And movies have to be something that got that I understood. I mean, I I watch movies, I, you know, so I was perfectly okay with that. But But he said something that impressed me then and impresses me now. He said, I don’t want to make any errors in ignorance. He says if we depart from historic the historical record, or historical truth or historical fact, I want to do that for creative and cinematic reasons. Not simply because I didn’t know any better. So your job is to be whispering in my ear, saying, Wow, this is how it really went. And, you know, the first thing when you’re a historical advisor for a movie, and a lot of a lot of people can’t do this. And they’re ineffective as, as a historical advisor. They don’t have to take your advice. But here’s the thing, and I give him credit for when I went to him, I said, Look, this is this is how it really went down. He said yeah, but we always had we always had the conversation. And when he did depart from the historical record, it was for cinematic purposes. And you know, he was he was right, you know, heck, I I tried to talk him out of the best scene in the movie. Because I didn’t understand it until I saw it and when I saw it, bro, so you know sometimes you should ignore the historical advisor, which seems specifically referring today. Actually the same of where Crockett serenades the Mexican soldiers, I had the script and I’m reading you know, and I said, you know Crockett says that that’s pretty talking about the the quail acid, generally, I’ve heard that the quail and it’s a lot of things but it’s it’s not a pretty tune. It’s a it’s a menacing and what I have what I had not realized is he had the composer completely worried Do the big oil so it you know work for the federal government. And I think that is the best saying and this may be or any other you know I’ve talked to several people over the years. This mile just love that same for Crockett place the fiddle, so dad’s pretty good. And, of course, it’s a testament to Billy Bob’s acting skill, but it’s, it’s also a testament to john Lee’s writing piece. He wrote that same. So what what were we trying to do with that saying, well, we don’t know for a fact that David David Crockett did play the fiddle at the Alamo, he kept up people’s spirits. So we wanted to do a hat tip to the to the real Crockett. But we also wanted to show the man’s humanity. And I think that same just did it perfectly. And in fact, that same was so effective. If you’ll recall, we in the movie, whether we praise to that thing. That wasn’t the original intention. We had a whole different ending, and in fact, shot a whole different ending, which showed once again, returning to San Antonio, there’s the, you know, you see him riding down the hill, there’s the Alamo in ruins. And he’s going back, and he meets to Hannah, and he says, hey, you’re back. He said, Yes, he said, I, I have a promise to keep, because he had promised. Which is, which would have been a great ending. But when john later saw how, how beautiful. The same was, he wanted to work for us back to that. I think that’s probably a good choice.
Dan LeFebvre 11:54
If we head back to the movie, we get a little bit of backstory about why the battle happens, the texians as they call themselves, they swear allegiance to Mexico, under the Federalist constitution of 1824. But Santa Ana personally tore up that document and named himself supreme dictator who considers himself the Napoleon of the West. And they don’t want to swear allegiance to a dictator. So they intend to form their own country. And according to Sam Houston, and movie, it’ll be a country that will be recognized by every nation in the world. not to get too far ahead in the movie, but later on, we see that Houston gets a letter from President David G. Burnett. So the impression that I got while I was watching the movie was that the Texans wanted to be independent from Mexico and the United States. They want it to be their own country. And Santa Ana, of course, isn’t too keen on letting that happen without a fight. Is that a good explanation of the why behind the battle at the Alamo? Yes, it’s simplistic. Because what you have to understand is every one of the delegates there at the town of Washington on March 2 1836, when they declared Texas independence from Mexico. Every one of those delegates expected that Texas would be annexed into the federal union. But declaring independence was a necessary first step to make that happen. And I think most of those guys probably thought that Texas would would join the union, maybe six months, maybe a year, but not the 10 years that ultimately took they underestimated the vehemence of the northeastern voting bloc. And, of course, if Texas comes in the Union, there’s no question that it will come in as a slave state. And the North Eastern Bloc, they don’t want another slave state. And they’re, and they did block the the annexation of Texas for a full decade. But yeah, basically, Texas is it’s got to be its own country, at least for a little while. But the ultimate goal, the ultimate goal, especially, it’s the ultimate goal of Sam Houston is to wrest Texas, away from Mexico and add it to the federal firmament. And, if possible, during the administration of Andrew Jackson koshino. Sam Houston had a special relationship with Andrew Jackson. Many historians have said that Jackson was a father figure, of course. Houston lost his own father when he was quite young. So Jackson had been a mentor to Houston, and I think he wanted to Because he had messed up, Houston, he had been the governor of Tennessee, the youngest governor in Tennessee history, had a bad marriage had resigned the governorship and his rise had been meteoric, his fault was was even more so. And so when he comes to Texas, he is coming as a ruined man. And he wants to recreate himself and do something big and show. Jackson Look, I’m not a screw up. And I think he wants to present Texas as a presence to Jackson with a bow on here. This is I did this for you. And he and now he wasn’t able to do it during the Jacksons administration. But the last act of Jackson’s administration is he recognizes on behalf of the United States, he recognizes the independence of Texas. But that’s a far cry from accepting Texas into the union or achieving an Andrew Jackson wasn’t expansionist. But, but even Andrew Jackson. I mean, Andy Bhagat Jackson didn’t have the clout to pull that off, then, you know, it’s not Old Hickory, but young hit free. And the guys for Polk, you know, was finally made that happen. That’s that story was far too complex to tell them a movie.
Dan LeFebvre 16:45
Sure, it makes sense. You have to simplify that. While on the other side of that there’s there were three key sequences in the movie that stood out to me that gave insight into general Santa Ana, as a military leader. And one of those we see him ordering the execution of some of his own soldiers. Maybe they were deserted or something movie doesn’t get too far into that. But we see him doing that. You’re right. We don’t really get into that. But what that is supposed to represent is the rifles, aka take us a second take us a federal state that resisted his. Douglas decides on Thomas dictatorial regime. And he took his separatists army into Zacatecas and absolutely crushed the Zacatecas militia, and then unleashed his soldiers on the town. So that’s the sort of shorthand, if you know about Zacatecas. Oh, yeah, that’s supposed to be exactly. Okay, that makes sense. Now, that makes sense. I do explain that a little bit later, we hear him not wanting to wait for a candidate to attack even though he wants to soldiers generals say, remember the exact line but they, you know, we’re gonna lose a lot of men if we just attack if we don’t wait for this cannon that’s coming. And he says something like, what are the lies of soldiers, but so many chickens. And then a little bit later, almost counter to that there’s a scene in the movie where Santa Ana allows some civilians in the Alamo to leave, we see a lot of people taking up that offer before the inevitable attack. And it almost seems a little contradictory to him, not really caring about the lives of the soldiers, but then he’s almost has, you know, indifference to human life. In some cases, how well did the movie do showing Santa Ana as a military leader, that why water the lives of soldiers with so many chickens? That is an actual quote from one of his soldiers. I mean, that is a line straight out of history. He said that exact thing. So I was glad that we were able to get that in. The character of some time is very interesting. Because in the first part of the movie, he comes across, sort of like a buffoon. And there is that one same, just one thing, where he goes off on, I think it was General Chemistry on it is really easy. As you know, we, you know, we just started our country. And now these pirates are trying to take us around, we have got to make this and you realize for the first time, this guy can be charismatic, this guy can be passionate. And you okay, I can understand why they would be willing to follow this guy because this is the first time in the movie that we’ve actually seen that this guy has some fire in the belly. And that scene was so important for that reason, but after that, you know, he’s been, you know, kind of sybaritic character which he was, but I think it was important that we were criticized at the time. Far Sort of giving the Mexican point of view. And one critic said, well, would you know, would you have made a movie about World War Two? You know, given the Nazi point of view? Well, that’s no, that’s ridiculous. I think enough time has passed. Now that that we can be more objective and I think it was important that we kind of give the Mexican perspective for two. So that I like that same not only because it’s so true to history, because it works cinematically. And you remember in that same day, they say, Okay, this is this is how we’re going to attack the album. And how many movies you know, really get into the tactics of about you know, and then when, after you’ve explained Okay, here’s the Alamo cost comes in from this way and bouquet comes in from this, whatever a barrel comes in from and then, you know, when we shoot those things, Oh, okay. That’s That’s why. So, yeah, that no other Alabama movie has ever done that. I was really proud of that sequence.
Dan LeFebvre 21:17
When the siege in the movie first starts, we do see Jim Bowie riding out to meet some of Santa Ana is meant to try to negotiate a truce. And then from the walls of the Alamo. Travis sees it, he’s not happy. And so he orders a cannon to be fired, needless to say, put a pretty quick end to the negotiations. And then St. Anna orders a red flag with a skull to be flown. The movie explains it as saying meaning Death to the traders. Can you give a little bit more historical context around what if any negotiations happened between Santa Ana and the men in the Alamo?
Stephen L. Hardin 21:52
Well, that didn’t happen on the first day. The Mexicans arrived in San Antonio on February 23 1836. Travis, the acting Alamo commander because JC Mele is the Alamo commander but he’s he’s elsewhere. So he leaves Travis in charge and unwelcome guests arrive before nail can get back. So it’s Travis, we remember in that JC male. So, you know chasing mail misses out on his chance to be a Texas hero, which he does regularly. It’s he’s an interesting character. But yeah, that happened. It wasn’t a buoy that went out. But another guy, but again, for cinematic reasons we need to make it but the guy did deliver a letter from Billy Moore, he says, basically says, you know, can we come to some sort of terms? And he’s told, well, yeah, you can surrender discretion are no terms at all, you know, buoy who has a foot and they and the Tahoe community who speaks fluent Spanish. You know, I think maybe he thought, you know, maybe maybe we can negotiate. And when he finds out that he can’t, I think he becomes as committed to defense as anybody else. But again, the movie shows this. I mean, as as the siege began, buoy, is a critically sick man. And by by the 24th, he has collapsed completely, and will be bedridden. Far, far the rest of the seas. So buoy, notwithstanding being a major character really doesn’t take an active role. I mean, he’s on his back. When we do see him, you know, Travis at one point goes in to see him after he speaks to the garrison. But he’s, he says, Yeah, I heard it, but he’s not out there with the guys and wouldn’t have been so this is the ridiculous thing about all other alibi movies is that even though buoy is desperately ill, I mean, he he kills 20 Mexican soldiers flat on his back. And when we shot Billy’s death, saying we wanted it to be that mean, we wanted to show him trying to put up resistance, but when he gets off to shots and he’s, he’s reaching for his knife but doesn’t get it. In fact, the bully probably was completely incoherent when the Mexicans broke into the room because some of the Mexican accounts sort of disparage him. He said, Well, he was hiding under his covers like a woman that wasn’t hiding under his covers. He was he was deathly ill. Of course, Mexican soldiers wouldn’t know that. But, you know, it’s just too bad that they couldn’t have seen buoy at his best, you know, face fate was very unkind to Jim Bowie.
Dan LeFebvre 25:23
Once the Mexicans do arrive in the movie, we kind of get the sense that there are thousands in Santa Anna’s army, but we don’t really get specific numbers from the movie. It’s just very clear that the defenders in the Alamo are heavily outnumbered. And what sort of numbers were there on either side?
Stephen L. Hardin 25:46
Well, when the siege starts, Travis has about 150. And you’ve got reinforcements from Gonzalez, that’s another 30 to the Mexican sources after the battle, say 250 between 250 257. And that’s created a controversy. Where did those extra guys come from? Well, maybe those guys were ill, you know, maybe they were in the hospital. But it’s been speculated that some of those people may have actually because, you know, we know nothing. The last letter, Travis writes from the Alamo is March 3, of course, the Alamo falls on March 6. And there’s a three day period where we know almost nothing about what’s going on inside Pl. And it’s been speculated that some fans from goliat may have cut their way in during those three days. And that would account for the higher number of Alamo defenders. You know, we knew that we couldn’t get in to the weeds like that. So we have crocketts, looking at all of the Mexican soldiers flooding in to San Antonio and telling Travis, we’re gonna need a lot more men. We’re outnumbered, which is all the average viewer probably needs to know.
Dan LeFebvre 27:23
Another thing I’m assuming is going to be because of the movie just compressing the timeline. We do see at the very beginning, there’s 13 lines etched into rock, you know, the siege lasting for 13 days. We don’t see this happen 13 times you mentioned earlier that degray Oh, but we do see enough to get kind of that there’s probably this cadence they they play the song. And then at the end of the song, there’s a bombardment with cannon fire. And there’s a brief line of dialogue where Travis says that they’re bombarding each night so that the defenders don’t get any sleep, where they actually bombarding each night of the siege, like the movie says?
Stephen L. Hardin 27:57
Yes, except the last night. And we think that that Santana probably did that on purpose, so that they would, you know, low into slumber. And the plan was and the reason he attacked at 530 in the morning, you know, unlike john wayne, unlike almost all other movies that show the owl the Battle of the Alamo, the final assault taking place in broad daylight, we show it accurately it that battle was in darkness. By the time people, you know, Dawn at the mccardel dawn at the Alamo. And when actually, by the time the sun came up, it was done. That battle lasted about 90 minutes. So it was for all intents and purposes a night battle. And he did that for a couple of reasons. He actually wanted to be up and over the walls before the texians could rally. But also and I learned this very forcefully several years ago when I did a reenactment at the at the john wayne set. And at 5:30 we heard you know rockets and the Mexicans are attacking and we all ran it was cold and I went around to the north wall. And I peered over the wall. And you know what I saw? Not a darn thing because it was pitch dark and you cannot shoot a target you cannot see. And you know, I think the Mexican casualties which have have been seriously inflated over the years. Actually, the the Mexican casualties at the Battle of the Alamo were minimal, simply because the assault was well planned. But yeah, it was a it was a night battle. And I was so glad that that we did that right that we showed that there’s only been one other movie Alamo the price of freedom that shows down at the river Center in San Antonio. But yeah, I was I was very pleased with the battle scenes.
Dan LeFebvre 30:24
Earlier you did mention that Texas joining the Union would have been a slave state. And in the movie, there is a small part of the movie where we see a couple of slaves. And one of the conversations one of them says the Mexican law says there are no slaves. So it gives them the Spanish phrase to say,” I am Black. I don’t shoot.” Basically letting them know that they’re not a soldier and let them live. What was the battle at the Alamo, like for the black people that were there?
Stephen L. Hardin 30:50
Horrific. But in fact, and I was happy that way. One of the characters that we show is Joe, who is Travis’s body, sir. Now what we don’t show, and I’m almost certain that we shot this, but then the theatrical cut, we never know what happens to Joe. But in fact, Joe survived, because he was able to convince them and they almost killed it. But a Mexican officer saw that he was a black man, presumably a slave. And he’s and he told the soldiers No, stand down. This guy’s not our enemy. But he was one. He was he was bayoneted. But he survived. And actually, what we know much of what we know about the final assault comes from Joe. And even though he was illiterate, a lot of people wrote down why he said. So, yeah, we got, you know, sort of a hat tip that, yes, there were there were African Americans inside the Alamo. You know, it makes it a more complex story. You know, one of the one of my proudest moments as a historical advisor, Patrick Wilson, young man who played Travis, and I was so pleased that they got a gun, Travis, you know, Travis never saw his 27th birthday. And Patrick at the time was 28. So he’s a young guy, and always, like, cast Travis as a much older man. And alarms Harvey springs to mind. So I was glad that the age was right. But there’s that scene of where he’s telling the the two slaves. Look, if you have any time, you know, when you have a spare time, you need to be digging this well. And, you know, boy’s life reassignments having to do that. He says, you know, what, if I saw the line, he said, it’s not enough that we have to fetch their water, now we have to find it. And when when Patrick course, belying read, he was coming off, like, like a harsh boss. You know, really, you know, if you have any time you need to be doing. And I called john Lee as the john Lee. And the accounts and the slave accounts. What they say they resent the most was the condescension of their masters. The assumption that they’re like children. So instead of having Patrick read the line, angry, why don’t we have him read the line as if he is talking to a dull six year old? And the same just worked so much better? That was the tape that they used in the movie. And that was that that was one of those days that my presence there really made a difference.
Dan LeFebvre 34:30
Yeah, that I mean, this the scene worked really well. And I don’t remember many other Alamo movies even touching on that side of the battle at all.
Stephen L. Hardin 34:42
Well, that’s right. And, you know, I think it was important for John Lee to get that in. And, of course, I I endorsed that I was pleased. You know, I came late to the project. I mean, we had we had the script was written and in fact, my first meeting with with john Lee, he had sent Alan and I the script. And frankly, when I read it for the first time I I was pleasantly surprised, because it was clear to me that someone had done their homework. You know, they knew what they were talking about, you know, and and so john Lee said, Have you had a chance to read the script? I said, Yes. And there is much in this script that is good. He said, Well, I’m, I’m hearing a but I said, Yeah, I said, none of these people speak as if they’re living in 1836. You have them speaking, a modern vernacular. And he said, Well, is that something you could help us with? I said, I think we can. And the first thing Alan and I did is we sat down with the script. And we we put some period, vernacular into into the script. When when Crockett on the first day of thief comes in to Travis’s quarters and says, it’s a rail mares masked out here. Well, that was that was a, an idiom, you know, from the 1830s. The one that we really, really got into trouble for in the 1830s vernacular, a screamer. A screamer was a highly influential person. And the first thing that the actor Nimrod Wildfire says when he’s rehearsing his lines, and it’s hard to pick up because it’s cut so, so quickly, but the first thing he says is, I’m a screamer. And, and of course, that’s repressed in crocketts death scene where he makes the conscious decision. Because all throughout the film, he’s conflicted. You know, there’s this Davy Crockett, guy. And finally, though, he knows he’s at the end of his rope. And he has to make a decision do I go out as David? Or do I go out as Davy which, which makes a more lasting statement? And, and, and he comes Finally, in the last few moments of his life, he comes to terms with Davy, and, you know, he says, Well, you know, have some time to surrender to me, I’ll talk. He is done. I’ll try to save you know, and I anyway, he plays it for laughs. But, you know, when, when sometimes about unleash the salt soldato song, he looks at him and he smiles it says, I made to warn you, fellas. I’m a screamer. Now, that doesn’t mean like, I’m going to scream like a little girl. And a lot of people who didn’t understand that a third insanity really took offense at that. Especially when when Billy Bob, next thing he screams and defiant. So, you know, I think that was our fault for for probably not explaining that better. You know, there’s got to be some confusion there. But we just maybe a sense of the audience would was smarter than it was, which is easy to do. But we caught a lot of grief from it. And something else that I think visually, we showed crack it on his knees. And I think a lot of people really took offense at that. That’s the historical advisor. They were shooting that scene. I took john Lee aside, I said well, john Lee, historically, you know, yes, Crockett was killed after the battle. Not a locker showing. But the historical record shows that, you know, between four and six guys, we’re winning. And you’re showing him by himself. And he said, Yeah, that’s it. Well, you pay me to tell you what really happened and I’m telling you there at least four other guys with him. And he said, Well, what if we show these guys bound and dad on the ground and They’ve already been killed. And crocketts just the last man standing. And I said well, that. Yeah, I mean, that is I guess. And of course, and the Final Cut, we never say any of those guys I think he just trying to get rid of. But you know, and he told me Is this what you know, Steve? It’s it’s more, it’s more dramatic if it’s just he backs off and I said, Well, granted, and you know, it’s a swap what works better cinematic plan? I don’t think question works better. So let’s just Crockett by himself the last hurrah. Well, if we head back to the movie and the timeline there, while the Alamo is under siege, we see general Sam Houston trying to raise an army to come to the aid of the Alamo. He does raise some men, and there’s some of his other officers there who want to rush to aid the Alamos defenders. But he keeps insisting that we need to wait until we have enough men. How well did the movie do showing what was going on for general Houston while the Alamo was under siege? Well, very well, because that’s exactly the way it played out. I mean, he used to know, with the few men that he found in consoles. So yeah, I could take these men down to San Antonio and get them killed, too. But at that point, he hasn’t heard. Well, he, it hasn’t happened yet. But the plan was, he was going to take the man that he found a consolidate, and he was going to fall back to the Colorado River, and fathom and his 400 men that are going are going to join him on the Colorado and combine the Texan forces. In the original script, we were going to show the season beggar the goalie ad, you know, we were going to do it all. And you know, when I had my first meeting with Ron Howard, I said, you got to be able to, to do all this and an hour and a half. I said, Well, we’re thinking more like three hours. That said, but still. And of course, when it came down to it, the goliad I mean, we actually went down to the city, a lot of here to see if we can shoot there.
Dan LeFebvre 42:27
There were some communication in the movie that was going in and out of the Alamo. And I was curious about that site, because I got the you know, they’re under siege, which to me means there, there’s not much going in and out. But we do see some letters or messages kind of being sent in and out. What was that side of it like and how much did the men and the Alamo know about what was going on with Houston and fan and, and goliat and all that?
Stephen L. Hardin 42:52
Well, they didn’t know a whole lot. They knew how long it took to get from goliad to San Antonio. And they knew why aren’t they here yet. And the plan was the strategic plan from the jump is that we’re going to beat the skeleton garrison here down on the frontier, because remember, San Antonio was the southern frontier at that time. And we’re going to be a vital choke point here. Because El Camino right Rio, comes through San Antonio and then up to Bastrop. And then ultimately, all the way to Macedonia and Louisiana and and the Alamo is blocking that road. So the plan is look when when you see the Mexicans holler out, and the rest of Texas was siphoned down to this vital choke point. Good plan, not a bad plan. So why that happened? Because the Texian government that would have organized those we believe, could have and should have organized those relief efforts had fallen apart, and dissension and discord. So at this critical time, Texas doesn’t really have a government. And nobody’s concerned because everybody understands that. They’re meeting in Washington on the first of March, and we’re going to organize a new government anyway. So that’s why nobody bought by the time they organized, that new governments, the man of the Alamo have fallen through the cracks and not just the Alamo, the minute goliad. So it was really a failure of leadership on the part of the rebel axiom. Governor.
Dan LeFebvre 45:01
It sounds like they were really reliant on that March 15 date of that’s when the Mexicans are gonna get here, like they’re not going to get here early between Neill and between that and that side of it.
Stephen L. Hardin 45:13
And let’s give credit where credit is due. Santa Anna had a brilliant march. He got here, he stole the March on the Texans he got here, he achieved strategic surprise. And now let’s give him credit for that, because and, and well for the rest of the campaign, the tax liens were on their back foot. And yet our I parked this out and people, people forget this. But the Texas revolution splits conveniently into two parts, the campaign of 1835 and the campaign of 1836. And then the campaign of 1836, the texians when every single, bad. And then the in the campaign of 1836. The Texans lose every single battle, except the last. And of course, history shows that sometimes just finding the last battle is enough. But, you know, the campaign of 1836 was an unmitigated disaster until the victory of Santa Santa Oh, we pulled it pulled it out of the fire. But, you know, most people had had written us off, you know, it said, Look, I lost this war, even even some of the of the texians who were participating in the, and the runaway scrape, they were they were getting, you know, tried to get back across the Sabine and it was a miracle. It was a miracle. It’s, you know, it talks about Dunkirk miracle have done, you know, the miracle of saying, No, the odds were against them.
Dan LeFebvre 47:16
Earlier you mentioned the battle itself at the Alamo and have that plan of attack. And the way that the movie shows that plan of attack, we see the first charge is going to be left at the weak north wall, as they call it, then they’re going to attack from the northeast, they’re going to come in from the east and from the south. Was that how they attacked and I noticed I didn’t notice them say that they’re going to attack from the West Was there a reason why they didn’t attack from the west?
Stephen L. Hardin 47:42
Well, actually, they did. Cos comes in at the on the west wall. But many of his men get through and braziers on the west wall but some of his men slop around the corner and then up on the north wall to because that’s where the breakthrough was, but it was kind of there at the corner of the north west corner. You know, that’s where costs cost us men come in which which we show that and but we also show them hitting the wall you remember in the movie for the sappers, the guys with the beards and the axis that’s they’re attacking the west wall they’re cutting their way through of the west wall.
Dan LeFebvre 48:30
Okay, so that was that was then how they attack there. How about the the strategy of it as we see in the movie we see them get in course it is dark out and they sneak up as close as they can. We see David Crockett firing the very first shot, which then wakes up some of the men in the Alamo…
Stephen L. Hardin 48:49
We’re departing from history there. That’s pure Hollywood. We got to have baby firing the first shot. I figured that would be the case. But I had to ask Berkeley it was all happening on the north wall. But you know, we got to give we got to give Billy Bob something. So yeah, we departed from history a little bit there.
Dan LeFebvre 49:14
We already talked about Bowie and the way he died, but the way that we see Travis die in the movie is that he gets shot near the wall, just kind of in the middle of the battle. Was that how he died as well?
Stephen L. Hardin 49:27
Yes, he did. That was very true to history. It was shot in the head. We know that because Joe was as we show in the movie. We’re standing right by him when he was hit. Now was the bullet fired by this little Mexican kid? Probably not, but you know, again, we had entered actually he had a much larger roll that kid did. But a lot of a lot of his saints got cut, which sort of robbed that scene of a lot of power because You know, we just see this kid, you know, we don’t really, but he had been developed, you know, in the in the more extensive cup. But yeah, I mean yeah he was shot in the head they fell down. And and then as we also show in the movie at that juncture Joe his body surface leaves and go and and Scott says himself and Travis’s quarters. That’s what Joe said he did. So that’s what we showed.
Dan LeFebvre 50:30
At the very end of the movie, we see what happens in the aftermath of the Battle of the Alamo. We see Houston and his men and Santa Anna is trying to track them down. And to do that he ends up splitting his own soldiers, sweeping them south, sweeping north, and then he takes some of his own men as well and basically trying to wipe out Houston’s army. I mean, while we see some dialogue, where Houston is saying that he’s gonna follow the tactic that the Duke of Wellington did to defeat Napoleon, basically moving around and trying to stay one step ahead until Napoleon in that case makes a mistake, in this case be Santa Ana making a mistake. And the way the movie shows it, that mistake happens when Santa Ana is just a couple miles from Houston. When they find out, they’re so close. Houston decides it’s time they attack and it’s the Texans who overrun the Mexican army this time. And then at the very end, there is some text that says his army said downest army was defeated in just 18 minutes, sat down himself was captured and ended up signing over all Mexican rights to Texas in exchange for his life. Is that pretty much how it happened?
Stephen L. Hardin 51:35
Pretty much how it happened. After the Alamo, Santa Anna did not know exactly where Houston was. He knew he was happy to have a Texas as a big place. So what he does is he splits his army up into what I describe in Texian Iliad as hunting parties. And the plan is, and it’s a very Napoleonic plan is that we will advance along parallel roads. And if you find Houston Sing out, and we will all come together to crush him. It didn’t quite turn out that way. So I’m Tom I finds out that the Mexican government is in Harrisburg, just a few miles away. And he has an opportunity to capture the entire rebel government. So he puts himself at the head of about 500 men and leaves his army and goes to Harrisburg, and is told by HP sorry, they left about 30 minutes ahead. And they actually pursued them down to the coast but Texas and government gets rowboats and Rose out to Galveston, so just very, very narrow escape. But we’re always fond of saying here in Texas that Sam Houston and his army, faded the Mexican army. And he did not do that. He defeated a very small contingent of the Mexican army. That Santanna very foolishly created that opportunity by separating himself. Now when they sprang the trap on on April 20. He sets down before it band and tells cost get up here, and that they arrive on the field about nine o’clock the next morning. And those additional Mexican reinforcements mean that they have numerical superiority. They now outnumber the Texans, but they’re dead on their feet many of and this is one of the things that drives me crazy because I hear people say, Well, we were able to defeat the Mexicans because they were taking a siesta. Now, of course what goes on spoken is, isn’t that just black and Mexican? Well, the fact of the matter is those Mexican soldados the one understand at some time, had been awake for almost 48 hours. They were walking zombies. And the ones under cos had marched all night. And so they arrive on the field exhausted and then they stand there. They expect the Texans Well, this is April 21. Again, they expect Houston will attack at dawn which would have been the conventional wisdom you know, so you can have the full light of day to fight your battle. All he does is expecting to attack it mid morning. He doesn’t. They expect him to attack it. noon he does. So by, ah, by four o’clock, Sam Thomas officers go to him and says, Look, your Excellency. If they haven’t attacked by now they’re not going to and our guys are dead on their feet. Can we have the guys stand down? It’s not Thomas’s Yes. And so I don’t know if you’ve ever been so tired, been up so long that when you finally go fall asleep you get into the REM sleep. And some idiot calls you on the phone or rings the door or whatever. And you wake up in and you’re disoriented. Well, that’s how the Mexican soldiers were. I mean, they fall asleep, their their family sound asleep. And when they wake up the taxi hams are already in their camp. I don’t think the physical state of the Mexican army is very often taken into account when we talk about the Battle of Santa Santa. I think we we did show in the movie that we just massacred these guys. I mean, they were trying to surrender we they were they were trying to swim across Peggy like and we’ve just literally shot them like fish in a barrel. They didn’t have a chance. And yeah, the battle lasted 18 minutes, but the slaughter, slaughter lasted much longer and slaughter lasted until nightfall. But by attacking that late in the day by talking about, well, the primary accounts vary but about 4:30.
Dan LeFebvre 56:53
Did Houston know that about how tired they were?
Stephen L. Hardin 56:55
No, it was just, in fact by attacking late in the day it was a testament that we just couldn’t get our act together. He called an officers meeting. This this is not shown in the movie. Because of the movie. Of course Sam Houston has to be this grand glorious hero. I don’t think he was. What Sam Houston wants to do is retreat into East Texas. Because he knows that there is an American army under General Gaines at Fort Jessup, which is on the east bank of the Sabine and Louisiana we’ve got an American army. And he also and he he is keeping in touch with gains. And we know that because some of the couriers say, Well, you know, I was Houston sent me to deliver dispatches to games. So we know that. So they’re keeping in touch right. And I think what Houston wants to do is lower Santanna into East Texas and lure him across the Nexus river not not the new oasis in South Texas, but the Nexus in East Texas. Because Andrew Jackson has total general games. We will not tolerate a Mexican army on our board. And if the Mexicans cross the matches, attack the process have been engaged. In some of my writings, I call that Houston’s American strategy. Now, what does the American strategy do? If he can trigger American involvement? I think it’s pretty certain that the American army defeats Santana and the Mexican army, especially in East Texas, where the terrain favors, you know, the way we fight and when his lines of communication and supply have been stretched to the breaking point. And what’s more important, quad has up to that point, then a Texas war becomes an American war. And once Americans have some skin in the game. What Houston is betting on is that that’s they’re going to be invested now. And I think most of the people of town of Washington who signed that thought that this was just a stopgap measure. And I think most of them think that that Texas is going to join the union and maybe six months to a year But not the decades that it eventually took them to join. But I think that was Houston’s plan. And on that at that officers meeting that that officers made in that man, he says, Hey, guys, you know, it’s not too late, we could build a floating bridge across buffalo by you. We could retreat to East Texas. We could do that. And people just look at him and say, Sam, we’re here. They’re here. We’re never going to get this chance again. You know, a Houston said, he said, five then and be down. Now this is a several sources quote him saying it’s not just one source or two sources, but several sources, remember, and I and I think the reason I remember that that’s an odd thing for a commanding general to say. So I think it’s safe to say that Houston was not committed to battle. As late as noon on April 21, he was still clinging to quad I called the American strategy, because he realizes that a Bible at Santa Santa, even if it is a texian victory, it’s a Texan victory. It’s not an American victory. He needs an American victory to make this an American War, so he can get Texas into the game. Because a Texan victory does not satisfy his political goals, which has always been to get Texas.
Dan LeFebvre 1:01:49
And speaking of Houston, there at the last battle, in the movie, that’s the first time we hear the term remember the Alamo he uses that in the speech to his men. What did he actually use it there? When was the first time that that was used?
Stephen L. Hardin 1:02:05
Actually, he probably used it for the first time at Harrisburg. And we don’t really know who coined the phrase, but certainly it was taken up. There is no doubt that the soldiers that was their battle cry it was well actually, it was remember the alibi remember, lava here? Probably not remembered goliat it was probably remember lava here. But we tend to forget goliat in the mix, but of course in a movie called The Alamo. We’re really not gonna, you know, so, but But yeah, they would have said remember the Alamo rim. And in fact, if you if you look at the accounts, most of the texian soldiers were more incensed at the goliad massacre. Because they they were under the impression that those guys had surrendered and had been promised their lives. As it turns out that they hadn’t. You know, it was it was a deplorable episode, however, down completely unnecessary. But these people were wanting payback. And by God, they got it. And I think the the movie does a pretty good job of depicting that. I mean, there’s the same for Sam Houston a cease fire cease fire, like completely ignore him. There’s the same for once again, it’s just, you know, all these Mexican bodies, and these are, after all, his conference. And he’s, you know, we see him fall to his knees, you know, like, Oh, my God, what have I done? And yes, these Mexicans were the enemy. But they were Mexicans, walking emotional tightrope. And I think that maybe shows that too. Now the character of once again, let’s let’s talk about Seguin, because we, we really, we fudged. First in the movie Seguin is Houston’s moral compass. Right? That they’re good friends and, and fact, Houston news again, probably but they weren’t buds. And Seguin didn’t speak English. Never learned to speak English. So of course all for the movie. We have to gain speaking English. Now. Now that’s a fudge but but at least you know Being a creative decision right to make it easier for the for the viewer, I’m sure. Well, you know, we wanted to acknowledge the tejanos. And, and once again being the most prominent icon Oh, it was a natural thing to do, but we probably, well another thing we show the Thai canos charging in a cavalry charge all the time hamatos at sama Santo or or with Sherman fighting as infantry. But john Lee said, Well, you know, they, you know, people expect tejanos to be on horseback. That’s a fudge.
Dan LeFebvre 1:05:40
Is there anything that you wish had gotten a chance to be included in movie that wasn’t?
Stephen L. Hardin 1:05:47
Oh, God, yeah. Yeah, I, you know, as you know, a guy who has written on this, you know, I was really excited when I read the script, and saw that they were going to include a same depicting the breakout at the, I mean, the guys actually jumping the walls and trying to escape and they get caught out in the open by the the Mexican Lancers. I think that should trigger I mean, I write about that and texting earlier than I always thought that would be a really dramatic scene. And, and by the way, if you if you can get hold of Frank Thompson’s making of book, it’s got the shooting script. And you can see what we shot. And what you saw. And all this footage is floating out there somewhere. But when it came time to shoot at night, we had these enormous and I mean, enormous lights. And they were installed at several hundred yards away. And they just cast Well, it looked like moonlight. But it gave us enough light still look dark. Apparently, these lights, you know, came from from California, and they were a rugged, awful expensive terrain alone. And now we were shooting the night saints. And I was talking to john Lee. And he said, Well, this is the you know, this is the last night and I said well, john, like what? What about the breakout? We haven’t shot the breakout? And he said, No, we’re not, we’re not gonna be able to shoot. You know, we’ve, we’ve got to get these lights back. And I was just crushed. I told him I said, you know, that’s never been done in any Alamo, maybe we could have really distinguished ourselves if we have added that. And I think it would have been because a lot of us, it was described in the insane. You see all these guys jumping over the wall. But the camera follows just one of the actors that we’ve kind of gotten to know. And we see him running through the dark. And he’s looking behind him. And he turns around–and it gets the lance in the chest. And I could see that I can still see that in my head. And it was all because we had used up our lifetime. And so that broke my heart that absolutely broke my heart that we weren’t able to. Because that was that was the one thing that I was really excited about because no other Alamo movie has ever shown to this day. To this day, that’s never been shown.
Dan LeFebvre 1:09:03
Those are the things that you don’t really think about when you’re watching a movie like you know, they leave something out. You don’t think about Oh, it was because they were renting these lights and they’d had to return to them so it can’t shoot anyway.
Stephen L. Hardin 1:09:14
Yeah, that’s right and sometimes comes down to just something like that. Can I tlel you the scene in the movie that I absolutely hate? And I cringe every time I see it, it’s the scene where Crockett shoots off some Thomas appalam remember that same. Yeah, shooting off the shoulder. He’s aiming right there pulls out Yep, yep. Yeah. Yeah, no, I thought that was so hokey. And so Hollywood. Now we know. We know. He was a great shot. And we know from Mexican sources that many soldados were shot at distances. They thought were impossible. And I expect, Crockett, you know was was doing the firing. And that would have been great just to show him shooting a Mexican soldado. But no, it can’t just be a soldado. It’s got to be sometime. And we’ve got to shoot office appelman. And we’d have to suggest that he did that on purpose. And I just that is so Hollywood and so false. I hate that same. And every time I watched the movie.
Dan LeFebvre 1:10:31
I’m just really, really, it did stand out as being very implausible because he’s he goes out there by himself. Santana is out there by himself. Nobody else is around him. perfect target.
Stephen L. Hardin 1:10:42
Yeah. And I just, I just thought that, who but a Hollywood screenwriter could have come up with this nonsense. But you know, they’re more I think there are more good saints, saints like that.
Dan LeFebvre 1:10:56
Well, thank you so much for coming on a chat about the Alamo. I know you’ve got some great books about the history of Texas. So for someone listening to this, who wants to learn more, which of your books would you recommend that they start with? And then can you share where they can pick up a copy?
Stephen L. Hardin 1:11:10
Well, you know, to start with, I have a book called lust for glory, lust for glory, an epic story of early Texas and the sacrifice that defined a nation. And the nation I’m talking about, it’s not the United States of America, it’s the Republic of Texas. And I wrote that book, not for my academic colleagues, but far students and their teachers and their parents. And for people who maybe took seventh grade Texas history many years ago, and have forgotten a lot of the details. And that book covers the 25 year period between 1821 and 1846. I sort of like what led up to the Alamo, the Alamo. What followed the Alamo, what were the consequences of the Alamo. And I mean, I talked about the period of the Republic of Texas. So that’s a that’s a good introductory book. But if you’re if you’re into military history, my book texian alien and military history of the Texas revolution. You know, we really get into the weeds, the nitty gritty of the military history. I’ve got another book, which is actually my favorite of all the books I’ve written. It’s called texting mccobb the melancholy a tale of a hanging in early Houston. It’s a story of Houston during that period during the period of the Republic of Texas where Houston served as the capital of Texas, and you know, people think of Deadwood as being a rough and Willie place but early Houston just bad luck. So I had a lot of fun with that book. My most recent my book, it was an editing job called the Robert Coleman Houston displayed our who won the battle of Santa Santo and obscure 1837 pamphlet that was highly highly, highly critical of Houston general ship. Houston’s character Houston’s fashion choices, Houston’s horse. Coleman really hated yesterday, and he makes it clear. But what I found when I started comparing what Coleman is saying to what other people are saying, is that nine times out of 10 A Coleman is telling the truth, he might be doing it in two particular way. And that’s the problem. Historians and biographers of Houston have dismissed this little pamphlet. This is well that’s just you know, he’s grinding axes. He’s biased. Well, he is biased. But that doesn’t mean you can completely disregard this critical primary count it was other than Houston’s a post battle report. Depressed a burnout it was the earliest account of the Battle of sauna St. Joe by a participant Matt Farr for popular consumption. And there’s there’s information in that little 38 page pamphlet that you can find nowhere else now. I’m very proud. It was published by the guy your library. at SMU, and Clements center, they’re at SMU Beautiful, beautiful production. That’s fine press book. Limited Edition. But yeah, I’m really proud of how that came together. By the way, I’ve got a website, and it’s defined its simplicity itself. It’s Steven L. Hart, Steven l harden, all lowercase, all one word.com. And there are links there to all of my books, it’ll take you to Amazon, you can get my books. And also, I’ve got some pretty interesting content also on the website has to do with Texas history. extrapolation, if you have an interest in the Texas revolution, Texas history are especially, you know, things I’ve done there, of course of my career. Oh, yeah, check it out, you might find something that will engage your interest antastic.
Dan LeFebvre 1:16:02
I’ll make sure to add links to all of that in the show notes for this episode as well.
Stephen L. Hardin 1:16:07
I appreciate that.
Dan LeFebvre 1:16:08
Thank you again, so much for your time, I really appreciate it.
Stephen L. Hardin 1:16:10