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Lone Star Nation: How a Ragged Army of…

Lone Star Nation: How a Ragged Army of Volunteers Won the Battle for Texas…

by H.W. Brands

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My girlfriend thinks it's amusing that kids in Texas have to take at least one year of Texas History in junior high or high school. She's from Florida -- but I'm from Texas and it never struck me as that weird. Don't kids in Iowa have to take an Iowa History class? Maybe not.

Anyway. Regardless of the class, growing up in Austin, Texas a lot of Texas history works its way into your brain. Everyone knows the core elements of the revolution, for example: The Alamo. Goliad. San Jacinto. Houston. Crockett. Travis. Bowie. Santa Anna.

This book fleshed out that vague history very nicely. It provides a wide breadth of historical context, starting several decades in advance of the revolution with Moses Austin's arrival in the region and takes us up to Sam Houston's death during the US Civil War. Most of the book does, though, take place during the 1830s. And it does a great job of presenting these characters and situations in a realistic light, rather than as glowing-gold statues of perfection. The slavery issue, for example, is not shied away from and much discussion is given to how many in the US found the idea of annexing Texas repellent for this and a variety of other reasons.

It's also the first time I've really felt like I understood what the real situation in Texas was at that time. It was a fucking mess, for lack of a better term. Very little centralized control. Lots of crime and speculation. Continuing conflicts with the Native American populations. A mess.

Finally, one of the very interesting things about this book: It's the first time (I think) that I've really seen the Heroes of the Texas Revolution painted as real people. I knew kind of who belonged where. Travis, Bowie, Crockett = Alamo. Houston = General, later President. But I guess I hadn't been aware that Crockett had been a legitimate celebrity before he ever came to Texas. Or that William Travis was only 26 when he commanded the troops at the Alamo. I also hadn't been aware of the closeness of many of these guys to the power structure in the US Government. Both Crockett and Houston were at times considered viable candidates for the US Presidency. I guess when Texans present Texas History they keep it a bit artificially isolated from American History.

Anyway: Very good book. And continuing along my US history reading kick that started last year... ( )
  chasing | Jan 18, 2016 |
Brands produced a book that has a highly readable style. He hits the high points of the Mexican and Republic eras, but rarely gets into too much detail. The major characters, such as Austin, Travis, and Houston are covered just enough so that you don't think of them as iconic heroes. Two things struck me as interesting: the Texas army were total mavericks--unwilling to follow a command unless it suited them. Also, the Texas Republic was inept at governing. It had no power, couldn't tax and needed an Army but couldn't pay for it. All the while, the political visionaries knew that Mexican statehood was just not gonna happen. I'll read more by this author.
  buffalogr | Apr 12, 2015 |
This book by Brands has a great deal in common with the one I read on California a few months ago. The politics of admitting both Texas and California to the Union became a battleground for the slavery issue, as did, I presume, the political history of every other state admitted in the decades before the Civil War. Texas and California were just bigger and destined to be influential. I was disappointed when the California book left the gold rush—which was my primary interest in reading it—and got into the politics of slavery, but I ended up interested enough to think those decades before the Civil War were a lot more interesting than I’d assumed.Lone Star Nation doesn’t get to the slavery issue until the end, after Texas won its independence and sought to join the Union. Then former president John Quincy Adams led the opposition to Texas statehood on the grounds that it would be a backward stop to admit such a big state as a slave state. Adams was also offended, on moral grounds, that Texas had admitted slave owners with their slaves—illegally—even as a part of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas. (Mexico had outlawed slavery in the 1820s.) I had not known that the last public act of Sam Houston, then governor of the state of Texas, was to refuse to sign the papers officially transferring Texas to the Confederacy. He resigned and died before the Civil War was over and slavery defeated and the Union restored. Brands’ story is a heroic one—rag-tag settlers, mostly from the US, who tried to get along as a state of Mexico but failed. Stephen F. Austin, the founder of Texas, tried very hard to make Texas work as a Mexican state and before joining those agitating for complete independence from Mexico had advocated Texas statehood within Mexico separate from Coahuila. At one point he spent a year in Mexico City trying to move the government on behalf of Texas and when he returned in a last ditch effort to negotiate a deal with Mexico, he was imprisoned as the traitor he wasn’t at the time—but would become.The story of defeat and death at the Alamo and Goliad were familiar from an earlier read; Houston’s victory at San Jacinto is familiar because I’ve visited the battlefield and memorial many times and knew at least the barebones of the story. I enjoyed reading about the heroics of men who had been before only the names of downtown streets.Brands perpetrates the legend of ragtag and fiercely independent Texans. Houston’s army had no discipline at all, though Houston was trained under Andrew Jackson and knew something about military discipline. He wanted to fight a defensive war with Santa Anna’s superior forces (and he had ordered the abandonment and destruction of the Alamo), but his men made their own decisions, first to defend the Alamo and then forcing his hand at San Jacinto. One scene I had not known about though was the mass exodus of the civilian population that spring of war. Following the defeats at the Alamo and Goliad, settlers—often just wives and children—sought to leave, bunched up [b:on the road|6288|The Road|Cormac McCarthy|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/21E8H3D1JSL._SL75_.jpg|3355573]s, abandoning goods and vehicles that couldn’t deal with the roads and piling up trying to cross first the flood-swollen Trinity and then the Sabine. Knowing something of “evacuation” from recent hurricanes I was duly horrified at their predicament.I didn’t grew up in Texas but one thing I’ve learned from living here is that Texas is proud of being the only state that was once an independent nation, but that’s really twisting history. The years after victory at San Jacinto which ended the fighting and sent the army back to Mexico were years of trying to get adopted by the American union and treating with other countries (particularly Britain) in case that did not work out. And while Santa Anna, the President when he led the Mexican army to Texas, but soon deposed when he was captured, was willing to recognize Texas independence, official Mexico was not. The tensions led the Mexican war which finally paved the way for Mexico to recognize the annexation of Texas to the United States as well as to cede California and New Mexico. That’s the next period I need to read up on…. ( )
  fourbears | Apr 24, 2010 |
I just finished H.W. Brands’ Lone Star Nation: How a Ragged Army of Volunteers Won the Battle for Texas Independence and Changed America. This book is a history of Texas from the first American colonization of Texas until the annexation, with a brief chapter on post-annexation Texas to the Civil War. Brands has a highly readable style of writing, and this is makes for a very fast read. Even though the book itself is 526 pages, it only took me about a week and ½ of evening reading to get through it.

Brands hits the high points of the Mexican and Republic eras, but rarely gets into too much detail except with some of the major characters, such as Austin, Travis, and Houston. Other famous players, such as Bowie, Crockett, and Santa Anna, receive briefer, but interesting, treatment. I was pleased to see that Brands did not attempt to destroy such traditional heroes as Houston, Bowie, and Travis as is popular with historical revisionists like Eric Long (Duel of Eagles). He takes a realistic approach to those men and acknowledges that they were not the saints of early Texas legend, but also showcases their attributes.

Brands also does not delve far into controversial issues, such as the death of Crockett at the Alamo, or the bickering between Mexican Generals Filisola and Urrea after San Jacinto. Similarly, he glosses over complex actions, such as the Texian victory at San Jacinto without examining the reasons behind the Mexican Army’s total collapse.

I think that for what it is, a popular history for a broad audience, it is a very good book. It is readable, informative, and balanced. I could recommend this for anyone getting started in or interested in a broad overview of Texas history

It's not really about "How a Ragged Army won the Battle for Texas Independence and Changed America." Brands did not examine the battles of the Revolution in detail, and spent comparatively little time on the Revolution itself compared to the words spent describing the settlement of Texas. It's much more of a general history. I would probably subtitle it "How Anglo-americans Settled Texas and its Subsequent Revolution." ( )
1 vote devilyack | Aug 22, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385507372, Hardcover)

H.W. Brands's Lone Star Nation: How a Ragged Army of Volunteers Won the Battle for Texas Independence--and Changed America is not a complete history, but offers a compelling portrait of the key personalities in the war for Texas's independence from Mexico. Brands frames his narrative with two events: Moses Austin's 1820 proposal for an American colony in Texas and Sam Houston's removal in 1861 as governor. Along the way, Lone Star Nation is punctuated by textbook moments, from the battle of the Alamo to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The strength of Brands's account lies in his tendency towards biography and his talent for rendering dramatic anecdotes. Professor of American History at Texas A&M and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Brands has an attraction to powerful American personalities, as demonstrated by his biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Benjamin Franklin (T.R. and The First American, respectively). The history of Texas is rife with legendary frontiersmen, and David Crockett, Sam Houston, and James Bowie add color to the narrative built around Stephen Austin, Santa Anna, and a succession of American presidents with expansionist ambitions. When he arrives at the pivotal moments in Texas lore, Brands is apt to follow a singular individual rather than give a broad, battlefield account.

"For better or for worse, Texas was very much like America," Brands declares near the end of his study, reflecting on the abuse of indigenous peoples and the greed of those declaring "Manifest Destiny." He continues: "sooner or later ... democracy corrected its worst mistakes." Despite this sanguine conclusion, Brands omits a balancing account of Indian claims to Texas. The Comanches, "natural anarchists" according to Brands, are sketched in a few short pages, and no Native American shares a voice in the text (partially to be excused for a lack of primary sources). Brands argues, "If the Texans were guilty of theft, the people from whom they sprang were much guiltier." Perhaps true, but Brands's highly readable tale of Texas heroes would be even stronger with a tempering account of the victims of the thievery. --Patrick O’Kelley

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:28 -0400)

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Traces Texas's precarious historical journey to statehood, covering such events as its early colonization, the battle at the Alamo, its Native American and Mexican heritage, and its early days as a new republic.

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