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Texas History
Texas | Columns

A Soldier's Story

by Bob Bowman

A classic story of a simple soldier involved in the momentous events that gave birth to Texas

Bob Bowman

In the winter of 1837, the young son of a Union, Maine, preacher sat down at a table in San Augustine and wrote his father about his journey to Texas.

Milton Irish's letter, printed in the Lincoln Patriot at Waldoboro, Maine, on February 10,1837, has become a classic story of a simple soldier involved in the momentous events that gave birth to Texas the year before. In a few months, Milton -- an ancestor of Jack Irish of Lufkin -- found himself involved in the Siege of Bexar, the battle that preceded the fall of the Alamo, and barely escaped with his life during the massacre of Texas prisoners at Goliad.

In writing to his father, Rev. Cornelius Irish, Milton reported that he arrived in San Augustine July 5, 1835, and soon joined a company of volunteers headed for San Antonio.

In early December, 1835, when troops led by James Bowie and Juan Sequin defeated a Mexican garrison, it was the first time Milton had been involved in a battle. "In this action, I for the first time heard the groans and beheld the agonies of death by the hand of man," he wrote.

The battle ended when "a capitulation was soon agreed upon." and the Mexicans gave up the Alamo. While more than 170 men were killed and wounded on both sides, Milton received only "a slight wound to the neck from a musket ball."

On December 31 Milton left San Antonio for Mission LaBahia, near Goliad, joining another company of soldiers attempting to protect settlers from Mexican troops.

He was soon involved in several skirmishes with Mexicans and local Indians. "This was the first time I had ever heard the horrid yells of the savages," he wrote to his father. In one incident, Milton's group was surrounded by Mexican soldiers and he and only six men escaped back to Goliad.

Milton also described the retreat of Colonel Fannin's Texas soldiers: "My rifle, having become useless, I repaired to a six-pounder, and having procured several charges for her, and with the aid of a cowardly Irishman and a brave Pole, I fired with good effect on a body of horses advancing upon us."

Milton and his companions dug a ditch and spent the night, but in the morning "the Mexicans appeared with several pieces of artillery and large reinforcements (and) hoisted a flag truce, which was followed by a capitulation honorable for us to accept, throwing us into their hands." Taken to LaBahia, Milton and his fellow soldiers were guarded until they "were paraded for what purpose we knew not." But it soon became apparent the Mexicans intended to execute their prisoners. "The maneuvers first intimated to us what was to be our fate. Here, death for an instant stared me in the face. I inwardly cried, OLord, have mercy on me." I had spent my life in wickedness and it was now too late for hope. From that moment, all fear left me; a desperate indignation took its place."

A young gentlemen from Alabama, Milton said, spoke in a firm tone, "Gentlemen, let us meet our doom like men."

As the Mexican troops began firing into the Texas ranks, Milton miraculously remained unhurt while "death shrieks" rang in his ears. Running toward a fence, he leaped over, and evaded the Mexicans and Indians for six weeks, surviving on provisions left by settlers during their flight. Milton later returned to La Bahia where he witnessed the funeral of the more than 300 Goliad victims. As one of only 28 survivors of the massacre, Milton returned to San Augustine on June 25, 1836 -- two months after Texas won its independence at San Jacinto.



All Things Historical March 28, 2005 column
More Bob Bowman's East Texas
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers


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