Victory or Death!

The Siege of the Alamo by Howard David Johnson

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 Barret 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

In the still darkness of early morning on March 6, 1836, the most important defeat in Texas history took place as the assault on the Alamo began.  Inside that former mission were 189 courageous men ready to lay down their lives for Texas’ independence.  Outside, columns of Mexican army troops were drawn up for battle, led by Santa Ana, “the Napoleon of the West”.

The walls of the Alamo, which once gave shelter to the Blessed Sacrament and Franciscan missionaries, would soon witness these few brave men shed their blood that Texas might be free.

Once the battle began, it was over in less than two hours.  Santa Ana, called it “a small affair,” despite losing nearly a third of his troops to the greatly outnumbered Texians and Tejanos.

At the beginning of the 13 day siege leading up to the battle, Col. William Barrett Travis penned a letter calling on The People of Texas and All Americans to come to the aid of the Alamo defenders.  He closed with the emphatic declaration VICTORY OR DEATH.

Those men did indeed meet death at the Alamo – and death was their victory.

The courageous sacrifice of the men who gave their lives became a rallying point, inspiring many to come to the aid of Texas in her struggle for independence.

The same bravery which inspired Travis to declare “Victory or Death” found an amplified voice at the Battle of San Jacinto, as Sam Houston’s men, quickly vanquishing Santa Ana’s troops, roared “Remember the Alamo!”

The famous letter written by Col. Travis will be on display through tomorrow (March 7) at the Alamo. This is a once in a lifetime chance to view the letter where it was written 177 years ago.

The Battle of the Cross: Lepanto

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“You have come to fight the battle of the Cross – to conquer or to die.  But whether you die or conquer, do your duty this day, and you will secure a glorious immortality.”  — Don John of Austria to his men before the Battle of Lepanto

Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse

Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,

Trumpet that sayeth ha!

Domino gloria!

Don John of Austria

Is shouting to the ships!

If you read a lot of Catholic blogs this is probably not the first time today you’ve seen lines from GK Chesterton’s poem Lepanto, his greatest work, which tells the story of that historic battle fought Sunday, October 7, 1571.  If, by chance, you’ve never read the entire poem, you must do so, but to get the full benefit you really need to do it out loud.  The pounding meter, like the hooves of a galloping war horse, lifts you out of ‘today’, and onto the gore-drenched decks of the Christian fleet.  If it’s still too early in the day for blood and smoke and cannons, then you might want to wait until later.

Though it happened almost 450 years ago, the Battle of Lepanto is still relevant today.  It forever altered the course of history, changing the future of Europe, and thus the future of our own nation.  Our challenges today are not that different from those of the Christians who fought so valiantly in that decisive battle.

At that time the advancing Ottoman Empire was preparing to sack Rome.  Pope Pius V had been urging Europe to unite and face this threat, but received little help.  Understanding that, above all, this was a spiritual battle, a “clash of creeds” with very high stakes, the Pope urged the faithful to fast and pray, stressing the importance of the Rosary, for the success of The Holy League (formed by Spain, Venice and the Papal States), whom he was sending forth to meet the Turkish fleet at sea.

Every man on board the Christian vessels had been given a Rosary; their prayers, united with those of the faithful across Europe, stormed heaven, beseeching God for victory. Against all odds, and thanks in no small part to a miraculous change of winds, the smaller Christian fleet defeated the much larger Turkish fleet in one of the greatest naval battles ever to take place.  Hundreds of miles away in the Vatican, at Don John’s hour of victory, Pope Pius V was granted a vision of the Holy League’s success.  He later declared a feast in honor of the victory, and in thanksgiving for Our Lady’s intercession, which we know today as the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

The battle we must wage today, against the culture of death, is no less important; the future of countless generations hangs on its outcome.  This battle gives us an incredible opportunity to foster unity.  The very real threats to religious liberty have prompted many non-Catholics to say “we are all Catholic now”, pointing out that all Christians must now stand or fall together.

 Like the Holy League so many centuries ago, it may seem as though we face insurmountable odds. We have already seen the light of the west dimmed in Europe, which has fallen to secularism. Prayer is still our greatest weapon; prayer and personal holiness, and actions animated by our prayer life: these are the weapons that will win the battle.  We already know Who wins the war.

 If you want your own copy of Lepanto, I highly recommend the edition published by Ignatius Press, from which I have taken some of my quotes.  It includes fantastic explanatory notes and commentary, plus essays on the  historical background, the battle itself, its aftermath (which, believe it or not, we still feel today), essays by GKC, and more.