1835

n the telling of the Irish and Celtic contributions to Texas, it is has been necessary to relate the general history of Texas and insert for you where and when the Irish and other Celts played a part. As many of you have discovered, the general history of Texas is not widely known, let alone the Celtic connection. Sadly, this is true about the Texas Revolution as well. It was a short period, not even a year, with less than a dozen principle battles. Yet, most Texans remember only the Alamo, Goliad, and San Jacinto; the three shrines of the Texas Revolution. All these battles had Irish commanders! There were other battles.

Texans should remember some of the other battles. Gonzales is generally remembered, with some prodding. Such is not the case about Concepcion, the Siege of Bexar or the events in South Texas which included the battles of Lipantitlan, Coleto, Aqua Dulce, San Patricio and Refugio. The Irish colonists were in these fights as they were in every fight from Gonzales to San Jacinto. The ones you do remember and the ones you do not. The forgotten battles were for the most part fought in the Irish colonies' backyards. The price paid by the Irish of Texas in loss of property and destruction was greater than any other, save for the Mexicans.

To pick up the story where we left it at the end of the last chapter - the commander at Béxar, Colonel Ugartechea, received orders to recover cannon that were lent to settlements for protection against the Indians. Patrols were sent to San Patricio, Victoria, and Gonzales. There was resistance at all three places. The patrols left San Patricio and Victoria with only an incident, and with the cannon. They left Gonzales with knowledge the settlers would not give up the cannon. The Mexican officer, who led the patrol to Gonzales, Capítan Francisco Castañeda, left his men camped on the Guadalupe River on the opposite bank from the town while he reported the situation to Béxar and obtained further orders.

Before he could reach Béxar with the impertinent news, the word spread through the colonies, and beyond, that something was about to happen at Gonzales. One of the riders spreading the news was Mathew "Old Paint" Caldwell, of Scottish descent, who rode to Bastrop with the news and a request for volunteers to assemble in Gonzales.

Colonel Ugartechea decided to take all the troops he could to Gonzales to stop events there from spreading.

A showdown was anticipated for weeks. There were many stories in the newspapers of the United States about Texas and her need for American help. An example was a story in the New Orleans True American :

The Texians look with confidence toward their fellow citizens of the United States, particularly in the western states, for assistance in case of war with Santa Anna.. It is hoped they will not be disappointed in this expectation. In fact we believe that at the first signal, thousands of the hardy sons of the West will cross the boundary to join their former fellow citizens in maintaining the principles of '76.

The Red River Herald had an article saying the Texans were asking "their American brethren for immediate aid." "Now's the day and now's the hour." As far away as Baltimore, an article in the Baltimore Gazette announced :

Those who have volunteered to join the Texians, and those who may wish to do so, are requested to meet the committee at the arcade this evening at six o'clock, for the purpose of taking measures prepatory to an immediate departure; arms and ammunition will be furnished, and their passage as far as Natchitoches.

A New Orleans Bee article stated, the "...unprotected orphan makes to you a tacit but irresistible appeal" :

...hasten to the West, where you will be organized for a short and glorious campaign. MARCH!! Victory awaits you.

John Sowers Brooks (though Brooks is found as an Irish name in Ulster since the 16th century, I was unable to ascertain John Brooks ancestry) captured the spirit of the times in his writings.

His comments are included, as he may be Irish, but more for the fact his words particularly capture the poignancy of the times. In November 1835, the 20 year old Brooks left the deck of the U.S.S. Constitution where he was a member of the United States Marine Corps unit assigned to the ship. He left to join the Texas cause. He wrote his father Norborne C. Brooks:

There is something in the cause of the Texians that comes home to the heart of every true American. Its near similarity to the glorious struggle of our own ancestors in "Seventy-six" must produce a sympathy for them in every part of the Union, which will result in something more than kind wishes for their success.

I hope and believe that there are many youths in our country who have inherited enough of the spirit of their forefathers to induce them to procure, like myself, a musket and a hundred rounds of ball cartridge, and join the holy crusade...

A citizen's resolution in Natchitoches, called the Texans; bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.

GONZALES

Gonzales, it appeared, was to be the place of the first land battle of the Revolution. The battle would not be over the cannon. It was no longer used except for ceremonial purposes, as it was more noise than weapon! The battle would be the opening struggle for Texas itself! This was ironic because for the most part, the colonies of South Texas were not in support of a revolution in Texas. They supported a resolution of colony problems within the Republic of Mexico through the Mexican Federalist Party as opposed to the Centralists of Santa Anna. There occured on September 10, 1835 an incident in the DeWitt Colony that began to change many of the colonist's minds. The Sheriff of Gonzales, Jesse McCoy, was attacked by a Mexican soldier without provocation while both were in a general store in Gonzales. The Mexican soldier brutally bludgeoned the Sheriff with his rifle butt. Word of the attack and disrespect for an elected representative of the colony quickly spread throughout Gonzales, the colony and beyond. The tinder was in place at Gonzales, all someone needed to do was to bring a match anywhere near it.

General Cós, upon reaching Goliad, left a large store of supplies. He left behind a small contingent to guard the supplies and took the main body of his force on the road to Béxar. He sent word to Colonel Ugartechea to stand down from his plan to attack Gonzales and to await his arrival in Bexar. John Linn wrote James Kerr on September 29, 1835. In the letter he told Kerr he talked to one of the Mexicans that was in Goliad when Cós passed through. The Mexican told him, "The new officers coming with the arms said that as soon as General Cós could reach Béxar, it would be the signal to march for San Felipe." Linn suggested to Kerr that Cós be taken and not San Felipe.

< John Linn

On October 1, 1835 a force of about 200 Mexican soldiers arrived in a show of force on the west bank of the Guadalupe River opposite Gonzales. The men of Gonzales hid all the boats and the ferry, so the two sides faced each other across the Guadalupe. Captain Francisco Castañeda had his men lined up in fine military fashion as he demanded the ferry be put in its place - and the cannon!

The ferry was called Duncan's ferry and was operated by Scotch born Benjamin Duncan. On the Gonzales side of the river, the Texans were growing in number by the hour as armed settlers filtered in. Among them with Celtic heritage were: John Moore, William Travis, Jesse McCoy, William Jack, Andrew and John Sowell, George Washington and Daniel Davis, Thomas Jackson, Ezekial Williams and more.

There was a major change in the resistance by the colonists. Originally, when they heard the Mexicans were coming from Béxar to claim the cannon, they buried it in George Washington Davis' peach orchard and wrote officials in Béxar a letter asking why they wanted the cannon back. In their letter they argued the reason for which the cannon was made available in the first place (protection from Indians) was more true than ever. By the time the Mexican troops actually got to Gonzales, the colonists changed from stalling tactics to outright overt resistance.

The Texans taunted the Mexicans across the river but, other than a demonstration by the Mexican cavalry, no shots were fired. That night, Colonel John H. Moore of Mina (later it became Bastrop) took command. His home was Moore's Fort located where La Grange is now. Moore planned an attack for dawn of the next day. The cannon was dug up from Davis' orchard and made ready. John Sowell, as the Gonzales blacksmith, made cannon balls and shot for the cannon. A flag, featuring the cannon with the words "Come and Take It", was also made by the women of Gonzales.

The Texans crossed the river away from the Mexican position and attacked at dawn. Because of heavy fog, the Texans ran into some Mexican pickets and alerted the main body of Mexicans. When the fog lifted, the Texans and Mexicans faced each other across a prairie. Their position was located on the property of Ezekiel Williams. Moore ordered the cannon fired. It went off with a great noise and no damage. It was fired by James Clinton Neill.

The Neill's, a family of ancient Celtic origin which gave Ireland many of its Kings, were in Austin's fourth colony (Austin was granted three additional empresario contracts after his original one for "300" families). Neill arrived in the colony with his wife and seven daughters in 1832. His brother, William, was later mayor of Sequin.

< Actual Gonzales cannon found and restored

After Jamie Neill fired the cannon, Captain Castañeda requested a parley. He wished to know why he was fired upon. Colonel Moore informed Castañeda that since the Captain "was acting under the orders of the tyrant Santa Anna, who had broken and trampled all the State and Federal Constitutions of Mexico, except that in Texas, the Texans were prepared to defend against such tyranny". Castañeda responded that he, and two thirds of Mexico, was Republican. While the government had undergone some changes, it was still the government, which he, as a professional soldier, was duty bound to uphold and which the Texans, as citizens, were duty bound to obey. Colonel Moore asked Castañeda, if he were a Republican, to join the revolution and make common cause against tyranny. Captain Castañeda refused, saying he would obey his orders (which were not to start war but to assess the situation).

Whereupon both men rejoined their troops. Colonel Moore, pictured to the right, ordered the Texans to fire. They did, but with minimal effect on the Mexicans. Castañeda withdrew his men toward San Antonio with the news of the Texan's reaction to Mexican authority. News spread quickly through the colonies of this first stand-off. Gonzales became a gathering point. Among others who came to Gonzales were J.W.E. Wallace, and Dick Andrews. Irishman James Walker Fannin arrived with the "Brazos Guards." Fannin was the son of Irish Doctor Isham Fannin.

FORWARD FROM GONZALES

Noah Smithwick was among those who gathered at Gonzales after the battle. In his writings he reminiscences about it, and more; giving us a good description of the times. It is a long quote but I think it appropriate, as he was an eye witness:

What days those were! So full to the brim with busy preparation, excitement and eager anticipation, without one misgiving as to the outcome. Looking back on it now, from the snow crowned summit of my ninety-one years, it seems a piece of egregious foolhardiness, and I find it hard to identify myself with the hotheaded youth who entered into it with such ardor. Our whole available force could not have amounted to more than 250 men, while Mexico has an organized army of several thousand, and there were thousands of Indians eagerly watching for an opportunity to swoop down on us and wipe us from the face of the earth and thus regain their lost hunting grounds, which they had always been able to maintain against the Mexicans.

That one old bushed cannon was our only artillery, and our only arms were Bowie knives and Long single-barreled, muzzle-loading flintlock rifles, the same that our fathers won their independence with, and that the famous Kentucky brigade used with such telling effect in the battle of New Orleans; while all the powder in the colonies would scarce have sufficed to charge one of the big guns now in use. But the Mexican soldiers had not shown themselves brave; the army, indeed, being largely composed of peons and convicts--men who had no incentive to patriotism or bravery, and over whom it was necessary to keep a strong guard to prevent them from deserting.

Then, too, the seat of war was a long way from the Mexican base of supplies; a weary waste of desert infested by hostile Indians intervening, and no means of communication except by courier. Perhaps, too, we unconsciously relied on the active sympathy of the United States, whose offspring we were; still, as a rule, I do not think we apprehended the remotest possibility of such assistance being necessary. I cannot remember that there was any distinct understanding as to the position we were to assume toward Mexico. Some were for independence; some for the constitution of 1824; and some for anything, just so it was a row. But we were all ready to fight. So, while trusty messengers "sped the fiery cross" on through the interior, we were preparing for the campaign, which we intended should be quick, short and decisive. Our plan was to rush on to San Antonio, capture the garrison before it could get reinforcements, and then--on to Mexico and dictate terms of peace in the capital of the Montezumas.

Words are inadequate to convey an impression of the appearance of the first Texas army as it formed in marching order. Nothing short of ocular demonstration could do it justice. It certainly bore little resemblance to the army of my childhood dreams. Buckskin breeches were the nearest approach to uniform, and there was wide diversity even there, some being new and soft and yellow, while others, from long familiarity with rain and grease and dirt, had become hard and black and shiny. Boots being an unknown quantity; some wore shoes and some moccasins. Here a broad-brimmed sombrero overshadowed the military cap at its side; there a tall "beegum" rode familiarly beside coonskin cap, with the tail hanging down behind, as all well regulated tails should do. Here a big American horse loomed up above the nimble Spanish pony ranged beside him; there a half-broke mustang pranced beside a sober, methodical mule. Here a bulky roll of bed quilts jostled a pair of "store" blankets; there the shaggy brown buffalo robe contrasted with a gaily checkered counterpane on which the manufacturer had lavished all the skill of dye and weave known to the art--mayhap it was part of the dowry a wife brought her husband on her wedding day, and surely the day-dreams she wove into its ample folds held in them no shadow of a presentiment that it might be his winding sheet. In lieu of a canteen, each man carried a Spanish gourd, a curious specimen of the gourd family, having two round bowls, each holding near a quart, connected by a short neck, apparently designed for adjusting a strap about. A fantastic military array to a casual observer, but the one great purpose animating every heart clothed us in a uniform more perfect in our eyes than was ever donned by regulars on dress parade.

So, with the Old Cannon flag flying at the head, and the "artillery" flying at the heels of two yokes of long-horned Texas steers occupying the post of honor in the center, we filed out of Gonzales and took up the line of march for San Antonio. Our pride in our artillery soon began to wane. We had to take turns riding in its rear, and the slow pace of the oxen ill accorded with our impatient zeal. Sometimes, when the forward column opened a rather wide gap, we prodded up the oxen with our lances (the only use that was every made of them) until they broke into a trot and the old trucks bumped and screeched along at a lively gait till the gap was closed. But rapid locomotion was not congenial to them; they protested by groans and shrieks and at length began to smoke; we poured on water, but our way lay across a high prairie where no water was obtainable and our supply was limited to the contents of our gourds, a quantity totally inadequate to quench their insatiable thirst. We tried tallow, the only lubricator at hand, but that failed of relief, and finally, after all the trouble we had brought upon ourselves in its defense, the old cannon was abandoned in disgrace at Sandy Creek before we got half way to San Antonio, and the Mexicans might have taken it with impunity. It had played its part, that of inaugurating the revolution.

William Scott organized the Lynchburg Volunteers in September of 1835. He was elected Captain. Other officers in the unit were First Lieutenant Peter J. Duncan and Second Lieutenant James S. McGahey. The unit carried there own flag which was made from silk provided by Scott. The silk was solid blue upon which McGahey had painted a five pointed star in white and then the word "Independence in white under the star. When some of the men at Harrisburg heard about the flag they threatened to shoot whoever raised the flag, not wanting any trouble with Mexico. McGahey told the Harrisburg men to come over to Lynchburg and watch the flag raiseing. Several of the Harrisburg men did go to Lynchburg at the appointed time and McGahey raised the flag - without incident.