James C. Neill

James Clinton Neill was a 19th-century American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

A soldier is a member of the land component of national armed forces; whereas a soldier hired for service in a foreign army would be termed a mercenary...

 and politician
A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

, most noted for his role in the Texas Revolution
Texas Revolution
The Texas Revolution or Texas War of Independence was an armed conflict between Mexico and settlers in the Texas portion of the Mexican state Coahuila y Tejas. The war lasted from October 2, 1835 to April 21, 1836...

 and the early defense of the Alamo
Alamo Mission in San Antonio
The Alamo, originally known as Mission San Antonio de Valero, is a former Roman Catholic mission and fortress compound, site of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836, and now a museum, in San Antonio, Texas....

. He was born in North Carolina.

Early life and career

Neill was born to John and Margery Ferguson Neill who hailed from Loch Fergus Farm, Ayrshire
Ayrshire is a registration county, and former administrative county in south-west Scotland, United Kingdom, located on the shores of the Firth of Clyde. Its principal towns include Ayr, Kilmarnock and Irvine. The town of Troon on the coast has hosted the British Open Golf Championship twice in the...

, Scotland. His parents moved the family to North Carolina and eventually had 11 children. James married Margaret Harriett Ferguson in 1807. Neill moved his family to Alabama and later enlisted in the West Tennessee Militia (protecting present day Alabama). He enlisted on September 20, 1814 and was discharged on April 10, 1815. He participated in the latter part of the War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

, during the Creek War
Creek War
The Creek War , also known as the Red Stick War and the Creek Civil War, began as a civil war within the Creek nation...

. Although wounded, he fought in the decisive battle against the Red Sticks
Red Sticks
Red Sticks is the English term for a traditionalist faction of Creek Indians who led a resistance movement which culminated in the outbreak of the Creek War in 1813....

, at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend
Battle of Horseshoe Bend
The Battle of Horseshoe Bend , was fought during the War of 1812 in central Alabama...


He served as a Captain under Major William Woodfolk. The battalion was designated as "Separate Battalion of West Tennessee Militia". This battalion was based at Fort Jackson most of the time from late November 1814 to early 1815. Some of the men were stationed at Fort Decatur, where the remnants of the defeated Creek Nation came to surrender, seeking food and supplies (surrendering Creeks also went to Fort Jackson). One company, under Captain Abner Pearce, was stationed at Fort Montgomery. Woodfolk was a wealthy land speculator who owned a large plantation in Jackson County.

He served in the state legislature and was also a justice of the peace in Jackson County. He lived in Tennessee
Tennessee is a U.S. state located in the Southeastern United States. It has a population of 6,346,105, making it the nation's 17th-largest state by population, and covers , making it the 36th-largest by total land area...

 (present day Alabama) with his wife Margaret Harriett, who bore him three children George Jefferson Neill (b. 1808), Samuel Clinton Neill (b. 1815) and Harriett (b. 1820).


After time in Tennessee/Alabama, where he served in the state legislature, then moved on to Texas. The family moved to Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 in 1831 with Stephen F. Austin
Stephen F. Austin
Stephen Fuller Austin was born in Virginia and raised in southeastern Missouri. He was known as the Father of Texas, led the second, but first legal and ultimately successful colonization of the region by bringing 300 families from the United States. The capital of Texas, Austin in Travis County,...

's third colony where he received a league of land(4,428) acres. They settled in (Viesca District) what is now Milam County. Neill served as a district representative in the Convention of 1833
Convention of 1833
The Convention of 1833 , a political gathering of settlers in Mexican Texas, was a successor to the Convention of 1832, whose requests had not been addressed by the Mexican government...


Texas Revolution

Due to his previous experience in battle, Neill had some knowledge of artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

. In 1834 Neill and his family moved to Mina, modern day Bastrop
Bastrop, Texas
-Demographics:As of the census of 2000, there are 5340 people in Bastrop, organized into 2034 households and 1336 families. The population density is 734.8 people per square mile . There are 2,239 housing units at an average density of 308.1 per square mile...

. On September 28, 1835, when armed conflict with Antonio López de Santa Anna
Antonio López de Santa Anna
Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón , often known as Santa Anna or López de Santa Anna, known as "the Napoleon of the West," was a Mexican political leader, general, and president who greatly influenced early Mexican and Spanish politics and government...

's Mexican
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 troops seemed inevitable, he joined the Texian
Texian is an archaic, mostly defunct 19th century demonym which defined a settler of current-day Texas, one of the southern states of the United States of America which borders the country of Mexico...

The term militia is commonly used today to refer to a military force composed of ordinary citizens to provide defense, emergency law enforcement, or paramilitary service, in times of emergency without being paid a regular salary or committed to a fixed term of service. It is a polyseme with...

 as a captain of artillery. On October 2, 1835, he saw action at the conflict at Gonzales
Battle of Gonzales
The Battle of Gonzales was the first military engagement of the Texas Revolution. It was fought near Gonzales, Texas, on October 2, 1835, between rebellious Texian settlers and a detachment of Mexican army troops....

. Texian John Holland Jenkins recorded that Neill actually fired the famed Gonzales "Come and Take It" cannon, crediting him with firing "the first shot of the Texas Revolution."

After Gonzales, James would move onwards to the Alamo and join with Stephen F. Austin
Stephen F. Austin
Stephen Fuller Austin was born in Virginia and raised in southeastern Missouri. He was known as the Father of Texas, led the second, but first legal and ultimately successful colonization of the region by bringing 300 families from the United States. The capital of Texas, Austin in Travis County,...

's forces in the Siege of Bexar
Siege of Bexar
The Siege of Béxar was an early campaign of the Texas Revolution in which a volunteer Texan army successfully defeated Mexican forces at San Antonio de Béxar . Texians had become disillusioned with the Mexican government as President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna's tenure became increasingly...

. From December 5–10, Neill's battery provided covering fire for the assault on San Antonio de Béxar. He had gained an additional artillery piece from the Battle of Concepción
Battle of Concepcion
The Battle of Concepción was fought on October 28, 1835 between Mexican troops under Colonel Domingo Ugartechea and Texian insurgents led by James Bowie and James Fannin. The 30-minute engagement, which historian J.R...

 and two more from the New Orleans Grays. They would be placed in the Texian post, just west of the Alamo, confronting the town, however their fire could not shake Cos from Bexar. Then, Neill and his command formed a plan. They took a cannon across the San Antonio River and fired upon the Alamo as a diversionary tactic. The plan worked and the Texians were able to enter into Bexar. House to house fighting would eventually push the Mexicans back and into the Alamo. On December 8, the Mexican Army made a counter attack, Neill and his crew were there to answer back with canister. The flying hailstorm would quickly end the advance, ultimately resulting in the surrender of the Mexican forces on December 9.

On December 7, the Texas General Council had commissioned Neill lieutenant colonel
Lieutenant colonel
Lieutenant colonel is a rank of commissioned officer in the armies and most marine forces and some air forces of the world, typically ranking above a major and below a colonel. The rank of lieutenant colonel is often shortened to simply "colonel" in conversation and in unofficial correspondence...

 of artillery in the regular Texian army. Having received several captured Mexican field pieces to augment his firepower, he now commanded over twenty artillery pieces, the largest amount west of the Mississippi River and north of the Rio Grande.
Neill had been recommended for the commission by one of his neighbors, D. C. Barrett, who wrote to Texian Army
Texian Army
The Texian Army was a military organization consisting of volunteer and regular soldiers who fought against the Mexican army during the Texas Revolution. Approximately 3,700 men joined the army between October 2, 1835 during the Battle of Gonzales through the end of the war on April 21, 1836, at...

 commander Sam Houston
Sam Houston
Samuel Houston, known as Sam Houston , was a 19th-century American statesman, politician, and soldier. He was born in Timber Ridge in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, of Scots-Irish descent. Houston became a key figure in the history of Texas and was elected as the first and third President of...

 that "age and experience with his militia rank & title, would seem to justify his first commission as a field officer".

On December 21, 1835, Houston requested that Neill, now a lieutenant colonel of an artillery company, take command at of the Texian and Tejano garrison stationed at the Alamo Mission in San Antonio de Bexar. The orders also specified that Neill should make a report to Houston detailing the current state of the defenses in the city and what improvements were needed.

The Texian garrison was woefully undermanned and underprovisioned, with fewer than 100 soldiers remaining by January 6, 1836. Neill wrote to the provisional government: "If there has ever been a dollar here I have no knowledge of it". Neill requested additional troops and supplies, stressing that the garrison was likely unable to withstand a siege greater than four days. The Texian government was in turmoil and unable to provide much assistance.A week after Neill sent his letter, the Texian provisional legislature impeached the governor
Henry Smith (Texas Governor)
Henry Smith was first American-born Governor of the Mexican territory of Texas and briefly presided over the revolution there.-Early life:...

, who in turn disbanded the legislature. The interim constitution had given neither party the authority to take those actions, and no one in Texas was entirely sure who was in charge. (Todish et al. (1998), pp. 30–1.)
Four different men claimed to have been given command over the entire army;Houston, James Fannin
James Fannin
James Walker Fannin, Jr. was a 19th-century U.S. military figure on the Texas Army and leader during the Texas Revolution of 1835–36...

, Frank W. Johnson
Frank W. Johnson
Francis White "Frank" Johnson was a co-commander of the Texian Army from December 1835 through February 1836, during the Texas Revolution. Johnson arrived in Texas in 1826 and worked as a surveyor for several empresarios, including Stephen F. Austin. One of his first activities was to plot the...

, and Dr. James Grant
James Grant (Texas)
James Grant was a 19th century Texas politician, physician and military participant in the Texas Revolution.-Early life:James Grant was born on July 28, 1793, in Killearnan Parish, Ross-shire, Scotland. In 1823, he traveled to northern Mexico, ending up in Texas. He became interested in real...

 (Todish et al. (1998), p. 30.)
on January 14 Neill approached Houston for assistance in gathering supplies, clothing, and ammunition.

On January 17, 1836, James Bowie arrived to evaluate the situation, with the suggestion from Sam Houston
Sam Houston
Samuel Houston, known as Sam Houston , was a 19th-century American statesman, politician, and soldier. He was born in Timber Ridge in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, of Scots-Irish descent. Houston became a key figure in the history of Texas and was elected as the first and third President of...

 to remove the artillery and blow up the Alamo. Houston had written the Provisional Government asking for approval of his orders. Houston sent Bowie to San Antonio because he trusted Bowie's opinion. Instead of leaving the Alamo and falling back to Gonzales or Copano Bay, Bowie and Neill became committed to its defense. Bowie, impressed with Neill's leadership, wrote, "No other man in the army could have kept men at this post, under the neglect they have experienced." Despite Houston's orders to have the Alamo destroyed as indefensible, Neill and Bowie vowed "... we will rather die in these ditches than give it up to the enemy." However, Neill was soon badly in need of supplies, as well as soldiers.

On February 11, Neill left the Alamo, to care for his family, overcome with a serious illness. He transitioned command to William Barret Travis, the highest-ranking regular army officer in the garrison. By the day of the battle, Neill had reached Gonzales
Gonzales, Texas
Gonzales is a city in Gonzales County, Texas, United States. The population was 7,202 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Gonzales County.-Geography:Gonzales is located at...

, where he signed a personal voucher for ninety dollars to buy medicine for the Alamo garrison. Neill was heading back to the Alamo, where unknown to him, the fort had already fallen to Mexican troops on March 6, during the Battle of the Alamo
Battle of the Alamo
The Battle of the Alamo was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution. Following a 13-day siege, Mexican troops under President General Antonio López de Santa Anna launched an assault on the Alamo Mission near San Antonio de Béxar . All but two of the Texian defenders were killed...


On March 13, he joined the withdrawal of Sam Houston's army to Groce's Retreat on the Brazos River
Brazos River
The Brazos River, called the Rio de los Brazos de Dios by early Spanish explorers , is the longest river in Texas and the 11th longest river in the United States at from its source at the head of Blackwater Draw, Curry County, New Mexico to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico with a drainage...

. Unable to transport their cannons, Houston ordered them dumped into the Guadalupe River
Guadalupe River (Texas)
The Guadalupe River runs from Kerr County, Texas to San Antonio Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. The river is a popular destination for rafters and canoers. Larger cities along the river include New Braunfels, Kerrville, Seguin, Gonzales, Cuero, and Victoria...

 before abandoning Gonzales. That changed on April 11 when the "Twin Sisters" —two matched six-pounders— reached the Texian camp. The brass cannons were a gift from the people of Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio. Cincinnati is the county seat of Hamilton County. Settled in 1788, the city is located to north of the Ohio River at the Ohio-Kentucky border, near Indiana. The population within city limits is 296,943 according to the 2010 census, making it Ohio's...

. Since Neill was a ranking artillery officer, Houston named him to command the revived artillery corps. On April 20, Neill commanded the Twin Sisters during the Battle of San Jacinto
Battle of San Jacinto
The Battle of San Jacinto, fought on April 21, 1836, in present-day Harris County, Texas, was the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. Led by General Sam Houston, the Texian Army engaged and defeated General Antonio López de Santa Anna's Mexican forces in a fight that lasted just eighteen...

.Neill did command the Twin Sisters cannons on April 20th, but this was during a skirmish on the day before the final battle took place. During this fight, his artillery corps repulsed an enemy probe of the woods in which the main Texian army was concealed. Neill was seriously wounded when a fragment of a Mexican grapeshot caught him in the hip. The final Battle of San Jacinto was fought on April 21.

Later life

1838: received a league of land in Harrisburg County
Harris County, Texas
As of the 2010 Census, the population of the county was 4,092,459, White Americans made up 56.6% of Harris County's population; non-Hispanic whites represented 33.0% of the population. Black Americans made up 18.9% of the population. Native Americans made up 0.7% of Harris County's population...

, for his services during the revolution.

1839: ran for the position of major general of militia, losing to newcomer Felix Huston
Felix Huston
Felix Huston was a lawyer, soldier and the first commanding general of the Army of the Republic of Texas.Huston was born in Kentucky. He was a slave trader, planter and Whig politician and attorney in Natchez, Mississippi...


1842: led a ranging expedition along the upper Trinity River
Trinity River (Texas)
The Trinity River is a long river that flows entirely within the U.S. state of Texas. It rises in extreme north Texas, a few miles south of the Red River. The headwaters are separated by the high bluffs on the south side of the Red River....

, to contol hostile Indians.

1844: appointed as an Indian agent, responsible for vast areas of Texas.

1845: granted a lifetime pension of $200 a year, as compensation for San Jacinto injuries.

1845: died at his home on Spring Creek in Navarro County, Texas and was buried next to his wife in Seguin, Texas
Seguin, Texas
Seguin is a city in Guadalupe County, Texas, in the United States. It is part of the San Antonio-New Braunfels Metropolitan Statistical Area. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 22,011; the July 1, 2009 Census estimate, however, showed the population had increased to 26,842...



  • Barr, Alwyn
    Alwyn Barr
    Chester Alwyn Barr is an American historian who specializes in African American studies, the American South, the American Civil War, and Reconstruction. He is a professor emeritus and former history department chairman at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.-Works:Barr received his Ph.D...

    , Texans in Revolt: The Battle for San Antonio, 1835, University of Texas Press; ISBN 0-292-78120-2
  • Davis, William C., Lone Star Rising: The Revolutionary Birth of the Texas Republic, Free Press; ISBN 0-684-86510-6
  • Hardin, Stephen L., Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution, University of Texas Press; ISBN 0-292-73086-1
  • King, C. Richard, James Clinton Neill, The Shadow Commander of the Alamo, Eakin Press; ISBN 1-57168-577-4
  • Nofi, Albert A.
    Albert Nofi
    Albert A. Nofi , is an American military historian, defense analyst, and designer of board and computer wargaming systems.A native of Brooklyn, he attended New York City public schools, graduating from the Boys' High School in 1961...

    , The Alamo and the Texas War for Independence, Da Capo Press; ISBN 0-306-80563-4

External links

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