Young Idealist: 'I shall never retreat or surrender'

Today, February 24, is the 178th anniversary of one of the most heroic letters ever written. On February 24, 1836, Lt. Col. William Barret Travis and just 188 fellow freedom-fighters were holed up in a mission in San Antonio, Texas. The mission was originally called Mission San Antonio De Valero, but by 1836 had long been known as the Alamo.

On February 24, Travis commanded the small group of Texians inside the mission turned fortress. Four days earlier Texas had declared its independence from Mexico, reacting to Santa Anna's despotism. Surrounded by a hostile army far outnumbering his own forces, Travis wrote the following letter.

Commandancy of the The Alamo

Bejar, Feby. 24th. 1836

To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World—

Fellow Citizens & compatriots—

     I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna — I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man — The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken — I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls — I shall never surrender or retreat.  Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch — The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days.  If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country — Victory or Death.

William Barrett Travis.

Lt.  Col. comdt.

P. S.  The Lord is on our side — When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn — We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels and got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.

Travis

The Alamo fell on March 6, 1836. Relief for the Texians within the Alamo never arrived, but Travis' letter was key to bringing in more troops and support to fight for Texas. The 13-day siege gave Gen. Sam Houston time to gather forces to attack and defeat Santa Anna at San Jacinto on April 21. The Republic of Texas won its independence.

Lt. Col. William Barret Travis died in the Battle of the Alamo. He was just 26 years old.