The Illustrated Alamo 1836

In the pre-dawn of March 6, 1836, the fate of an unknown number (but probably around 200) of Tejanos, Texians and American Texas immigrant rebels and an unknown number (but probably in the high hundreds to low thousands) of Loyalist Mexican soldiers was decided at a place almost everyone has heard of...but that almost no one can properly visualize, as it was on the day: the crucible of Texas liberty (and an anvil upon which was struck much of subsequent North American history, from the nineteenth century through the present)—the Alamo.

Artist Mark Lemon has created the most thorough-going visual recreation of the Alamo to date, in his meticulously-researched and skillfully rendered 'The Illustrated Alamo 1836 A Photographic Journey'. From the 1/48th scale model Alamo he bases his work on, to the stunningly evocative photographic work which brings the model to realistic life, to the text analysis of both, including his reasoning behind some of the speculative decisions he had to make, Lemon's work is impeccable...and the result is a fuller understanding of the monumental hopelessness of a few hundred defenders securing so broad and open a 'fortress' against determined assault—and a deeper appreciation for the depth of their conviction to their cause, that nonetheless they tried.

While there are unfortunate errors in editing (Lemon consistently misspells Alamo commander William Barret Travis' middle name, for example), they are rendered inconsequential in contrast to the enormity and thoroughness of Lemon's research. Not only does he cover the physical plant of the Alamo on that fateful day (visitors to the shrine as it is currently preserved in San Antonio unfamiliar with the changes—and in some cases virtual demolition—the Alamo has been subject to in the years since 1836 will be stunned by how different a place it was), Lemon also details virtually everything known of the mission fortress' artillery battery, complete with illustrations of the guns, and provides one of the most cogently-argued analyses of which flag(s) flew over the commandery while it was in possession of the Texians, and why.

That this is a must for the library of every Alamo historian goes without saying. It will probably be of considerable interest to the model-builder and miniature military gamer, as well; though Lemon's triumphs here are ultimately in line with his intentions—to recreate history insofar as possible and do so with an artistry that transcends simple recreation—the stunning package that is 'The Illustrated Alamo 1836' is arguably one of the most beautiful, elaborate tributes to the scale modelers' art, as well, and deserves appreciation for that.

By the time the sun rose on the Mission San Antonio de Valero on March 6, 1836, the thirteen day seige was over. William Barret Travis, James Butler Bonham, Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett and her other defenders were all massacred (or soon would be, depending on one's fixation with how things for each of them ended, especially Crockett). Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the 'Napoleon of the West,' would dismiss the battle as 'a small affair.' But the most experienced heart of his veteran army lay wounded, dying or dead piled high against the mission fortress' north wall, and dedication to a cause—which was arguably still smouldering in the hearts of many beyond its most ardent disciples—had been fanned to incandescence by Travis' epistolary eloquence, by the band of defenders' courage, by the mercilessness of Santa Anna's massacre. Without the Alamo, there well might never have been a Texas.

Mark Lemon's book finally brings the birthplace of Texas freedom back to life, as it was—and takes us there.