The Edge Of Freedomby John Willingham
Along with the familiar stories of Jim Bowie, David Crockett, and William B. Travis-the heroes of the Alamo-it is time, in the 175th anniversary year of the Revolution, to understand the more complex stories of James W. Fannin and his Mexican counterpart, José de Urrea. In The Edge of
The Alamo resounds in memory and myth...Goliad whispers from the shadows.
Along with the familiar stories of Jim Bowie, David Crockett, and William B. Travis-the heroes of the Alamo-it is time, in the 175th anniversary year of the Revolution, to understand the more complex stories of James W. Fannin and his Mexican counterpart, José de Urrea. In The Edge of Freedom, these and other historical figures show that the search for peace at Goliad was as dramatic as the fight for glory at the Alamo.
- First Books
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.83(d)
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I was thoroughly absorbed. And I guess I¿ll have to go back and peruse some Hemingway again to judge the comparison one reviewer made, because I was put more in mind of Henry James. Hope that doesn¿t come across as criticism. I am an ardent fan. Willingham¿s style and structure, both intellectually challenging, suit the complexity of the struggle he writes about. And only a gifted historian could master and control so much detail about the whereabouts and actions of factual figures. The author imagines their personal characteristics and distinguishing thoughts just as convincingly. By portraying the unique rationale each possessed, he creates a heartening counterpoint to chaotic action. As confusing and tragic as events were during those critical eight weeks in the spring of 1836, he leaves the reader convinced that most people involved were reasonably fair-minded, decent individuals. That objective representation creates a sense of hope, despite the tragic context. It¿s about time someone told the full Goliad narrative. Willingham fleshes out the dominant figures--Fannin and Urrea--whom most history pages leave as sketchy. Just as importantly, he makes settlers on both sides of the cultural divide equally sympathetic.
Like the Alamo, the Presidio La Bahia, or Goliad was garrisoned by Texian settlers and eager volunteers lately come from the United States, who came to Texas to fight for independence from Mexico, for the 1824 Mexican Constitution, defense of a little patch of home, or just because. The answer depends on the characters: mainly ranchers John White Bower and his neighbor and business partner Carlos de la Garza. Texian and Tejano, they remained friends before and after the war, in which they fought on opposite sides. In the end their loyalty is to their own Texas: to their families, their kin and their friends. Then there is James Fannin - militarily skilled, but ultimately and tragically doubtful of his abilities as a commander. He is the figure most clearly and sympathetically drawn and his tragedy was to be put in a situation requiring him to be resolute and decisive in a rapidly changing situation. He was overwhelmed within weeks.Finally he was only able to react to a situation that he could not control. His final act in command was to surrender what was left of his men, hoping to save their lives; the ultimate tragedy was that it did not. On Palm Sunday 1836, by the direct order of Santa Anna himself, Fannin's surviving men were slaughtered at point-blank range by their guards. The characters of various Mexican officers are also carefully drawn, as much from what is historically known as from imagination. The author makes clear they obeyed with varying degrees of reluctance, and created various pretenses to spare certain prisoners. The character and motivations of Francita Alavez, the Angel of Goliad are also explored; she is unambiguous, fiercely moral and fearless in her insistence that the executions are wrong. All in all, a completely satisfactory read. The writing is spare and polished, reminiscent of Hemingway in describing a world that is almost completely masculine. The author also has a good ear for 19th century conversation. This fictional retelling is an excellent and painless introduction to a little known but dramatic episode in Texas history.
Rather than diminishing Texas history, The Edge of Freedom makes it human without destroying its heroic spirit. That is no small feat. This is the story of James Fannin who surrendered and was executed, not that of the Alamo where men fought to the death and became immortal. One reads here about a man of flesh and blood who made the best decisions he could in confusing, even desperate circumstances. It is Fannin's mortality, and indecisiveness that make the story compelling.