A True Texan Hero
Yes, Milton Irish was a true Texas hero. He was a veteran of the Texas Revolution, an early colonist, an active participant in the 1835 Siege of Bexar, and a survivor of the 1836 Goliad Massacre.
Milton was born May 7, 1812 in Lincoln County, Maine, a son of Rev. Cornelius Bailey Irish and his wife Polly Adams. His ancestral roots on both sides of his family went deep into New England. One ancestor, John Irish, arrived in Rhode Island in 1629; his mother's immigrant, Peter Adams, came sixteen years later and settled in Medfield, Massachusetts. Both were Englishmen.
In 1835, at age twenty-three, Milton arrived in San Augustine, and was quickly caught up in the spirit of the Texas Revolution. After buying land there in August of that year, he joined Captain John English's mounted company, enlisting for a period of three months. This company and another from the Ayish Bayou region, both under the command of Colonel Philip Sublett, traveled overland to join the ragtag Texian Army in the celebrated Siege of Bexar.
They arrived in San Antonio in early November and found themselves confined to camp outside the city. Colonel Sublett issued a furlough to Captain English's company on November 24, which allowed them to return home. Milton, single and not pressed to return home, decided to stay. He was granted a discharge from English's departing company, and on December 4, joined a new company commanded by Captain Thomas Llewellyn, who had been a lieutenant under English.
When the legendary Colonel Benjamin Rush Milam asked the famous question: "Who will go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?" Llewellyn's company and five others became part of Milam's infantry division. Eight other companies were placed under the command of Francis White Johnson. Early on the morning of December 5, artillery under the command of James C. Neill opened up fire on the Mexican forces entrenched at the Alamo. This diverted attention from the infantry, at least momentarily. While Milam's column entered San Antonio from one direction, Johnson's column charged down Soledad and captured the Veramendi house. Llewellyn's company, which included Milton Irish, steadily worked their way through town and witnessed the tragic death of Ben Milam on the third day of the assault. This force helped capture the Antonio Navarro house on that same day, December 7, and the Zamarano Row, a strategic piece of ground on the 8th. General Martin Perfecto de Cos, the brother-in-law of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, surrendered his forces on the fifth day. This was a stunning moment in history.
While most troops figured the war was over and returned home, Milton Irish decided to remain in San Antonio with Captain Llewellyn. By the end of the year, December 31 to be exact, Llewellyn's company and Irish had signed on with Col. Johnson, James W. Fannin, Jr., and Dr. James Grant, agreeing to take part in their plans to attack Matamoros. Llewellyn's company cast their lot with Johnson, who joined with Dr. Grant, and took one route to Goliad. Fannin and his forces took another route. Irish and his companions reached Goliad on January 9, 1836. After resting for a few days, Johnson and Grant pushed on to Matamoros, heading south by way of Refugio. General Sam Houston, a firm opponent to the Matamoros Expedition, intercepted the men and urged the two commanders to abandon their plans. Although Johnson and Grant refused to change their plans, Milton Irish and many other soldiers decided to abandon the expedition and return to Goliad. On February 27, General Jose Urrea's forces struck Johnson and part of the troops and destroyed the entire force. The remainder of the troops under Grant's command was surrounded four days later at Agua Dulce Creek. A dozen of these men were killed, while six were captured and another six escaped. Irish's commanding officer, Captain Thomas Llewellyn, was among those killed.
On their way to Goliad, Irish and his comrades appear to have reached Refugio around February 5, 1836. At this point, he joined numerous other "citizen soldiers" in signing a "Convention Memorial" in Refugio sometime around February 5, 1836. A rather remarkable document, signed by volunteers serving in the Army of Texas, the memorial pledges support to the Convention scheduled to meet at Washington-on-the Brazos in March of that year. It also asks members of the Convention to extend the privilege of voting in any elections to soldiers serving in the Army. Colonel James Fannin, who had been travelling a different route, reached Goliad on the 12th of February. Irish and other soldiers who had departed from the ill-fated Johnson command reached Goliad at approximately the same time. From this point on, Irish's story intersects with more familiar events of the Texas Revolution. By the middle of the month, he had been temporarily assigned to Captain John Shackelford's company of "Alabama Red Rovers," but was later assigned again to Captain William Cooke's company of "San Antonio Greys." This force was actually commanded by Captain Samuel Pettus during Cooke's absence.
By the time of the fateful encounter at Goliad, Fannin's forces had grown to around 300 men, but they were not a match for the superior numbers marching with General Urrea. After a late, and perhaps unwise, retreat from Goliad, Fannin's forces were surrounded by the Mexican military on March 19, 1836. The men fought bravely on the first day of what would later be called the Battle of Coleto. By the second day, however, their situation had deteriorated. Suffering from a lack of food and water, and faced by a heavy artillery fire from Urrea, Col. Fannin had no choice but to surrender his forces on the 20th. Milton Irish became part of that number. The prisoners were held for several days in Our Lady of Loreto Chapel at Goliad. On Palm Sunday, March 27th, in the second most infamous episode of the Revolution, the prisoners were led out in four different groups to gather firewood. The Mexican captors then opened fire upon them. Those who managed to survive the initial fusillade were pursued by the enemy and stabbed with bayonets, knives and other weapons. Around three hundred and fifty men were killed in the massacre. Some twenty-eight men, including Irish, survived. Irish was suffered a punctured lung, perhaps a rifle ball passing through his body, or the thrust of a bayonet. It would be a while before Irish realized he had a ruptured lung - but he did run, and he did escape!
He made it to the river and hid under a bank, submerged in the water, perhaps until nightfall, or at least until all the Mexican guards had given up the search and returned to the presidio. Heading east on foot, then turning north, Irish refused to travel on roads or trails, sometimes hiding during daylight and travelling at night. Using extreme caution, he eventually made his way to East Texas, over three hundred miles, not seeing a single Anglo throughout his trip home.
After countless days, and not knowing where he was, but acutely aware he was in forest country, he was sneaking along a creek when he overhead two women chattering as they washed clothes. Crawling closer he could hear them talking about a victory at San Jacinto and the capture of Santa Anna. Nearly starved and with shoes worn to nothing, he knew he was in East Texas. He had completed his long walk to safety.
Milton Irish had ended his service to the new Republic of Texas! Shortly after his return to San Augustine, Dr. Joseph Rowe, representative from the San Augustine area, filed a petition seeking compensation for Irish in the amount of $25.00 for the rifle he lost while a prisoner at Goliad. Rowe's petition bears an endorsement from General Thomas Jefferson Rusk stating that "the above individual will be entitled to pay from the Government."
As an early settler and a veteran of the war, he received three different land grants over the next few years, including his headright, one-third of a league, or 1,476 acres located in Shelby County. This tract was surveyed in April of 1838. He also received a 640-bounty land grant on the East Side of the Irish Bayou, three miles south of San Augustine. This was given to Irish for his service to the Texas Army from October 17, 1835 until June 2, 1836. He also qualified for a Donation Land Grant for 640 acres for having taken part in the Siege of Bexar in December 1835. This section of land was located and surveyed in Navarro County. This land was never patented since Irish never presented the certificate to the Court of Claims for approval.
Milton Irish was elected County Coroner of San Augustine County on February 6, 1843. He held this position until 1852 when he left the county for California.
Milton married Emily A "Embie" Eaves on November 26, 1845 in San Augustine County. Emily was 18 at the time and was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Burwell Eaves. The young couple soon became the parents of three children: Benjamin Milam (named for the heroic Ben Milam), born November 17, 1847; Laura Ann, born September 22, 1848, and Joseph Rowe (named for Dr. Rowe, the representative and a family friend), born November 16, 1850.
Milton operated a modest farming operation, and also worked as a shingle-maker. On November 10, 1849, he sold his homesite at San Augustine to his wife, Emily for one dollar. This was an unusual step and suggests that he may have been contemplating his move to the California gold fields for some time prior to his actually doing so. Whatever the case, Milton departed for California on April 8, 1852, along with four other local men. Milton settled in Redwood City in San Mateo County, where he and two other men built a shingle mill. Milton occasionally sent letters back home, although correspondence eventually dwindled to nothing. Milton died in California on July 15, 1869 at the age of fifty-seven years. The exact location of his grave is not known.
Emily sold their homesite in San Augustine and moved to Center in Shelby County. She applied for a widow's pension from the State of Texas on December 17, 1877, which was granted. In 1881 she applied for and received a land certificate for 1,280 acres that was due to veterans of the Texas Revolution. Emily died in Shelby County on February 14, 1911 at the age of eighty-four years and was buried in the New Hope Cemetery just outside Center. By that time she had been by herself, without benefit of a husband's support, for almost sixty years. She had outlived Milton by 42 years.
Yes, Milton Irish was a true hero of early Texas!
Friday February 10, 1837
Mr. Irish’s Letter from Texas
We publish below, extracts from the letter of Mr. Irish, in Texas, to his father in Union. We are informed that he kept no regular journal, and therefore had to trust wholly to his memory for the correctness of the dates, consequently there may be some inaccuracies on that point, but the general particulars may be relied on as fact.
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I shall now return to the time that I wrote you from Alabama, directly after which I went to New Orleans, where I staid 10 ten days. From thence I proceeded to Natchitoches, on my way to Texas, where I met a gentleman name Alanson Burr, when I accompanied to his residence near San Augustine and with whom I resided from July 5, to Oct. 17th 1835; when I joined a company of volunteers, for San Antonio or Bexar, against the Mexicans; which placed we reached Nov. 4.
We remained inactive, with the exception of a few trifling skirmishes, in several of which I was engaged, till Nov. 26th, when a spy brought word that a reinforcement of Mexicans 600 strong, was within 6 miles of Bexar.
The bustle and confusion in the Camp caused some delay of the Infantry: but Col. James Bowie with 36 horse, on the first alarm, threw himself between the approaching enemy and the town. The reported reinforcement proved for be a foraging party, from the town, 150 strong, with whom the cavalry under Col. Bowie, had a smart engagement of about half an hour, when 300 of our Infantry reached the scene of action.
The enemy were also reinforced by 600 men. A charge was instantly ordered by our commander which was made with great spirit: the Mexicans were touted with great confusion and we pursued them till we were fired on from the town. Our loss was 3 slightly wounded; that of the enemy 10 killed, 2 taken prisoner, wounded unknown. In this action I for the first time heard the groans, and beheld the agonies o death, by the hand of man, which greatly shocked my feelings.
Nothing further occurred worth of notice till the morning of Dec. 1st, when at the dawn of day we made a descent upon the fortified town of Bexar, with about 300 men; commanded by Col. Milhelm. We advanced within 60 yards of the enemies works, where we sheltered from their fire by the houses, which were of stone. The fortification consisted of batteries thrown across the streets at their entrance into the public square—They were from 12 to 15 feet high with a ditch in front. There were also port holes made in the backs of the houses, fronting the square. We dug port holes through the walls of the houses, wherever they would bear upon those of the enemy.
Divisions of men were sent to different houses, some of which fronted the streets, with their end on the square. Things continued thus until the 5th at 3 o’clock A. M. when a Division of men forced their way through the barricaded door of a house, that fronted the square without the loss of a man. The enemy commanded the house until day light, when a few well directed fires from our deadly rifles, drove them to the fort on the opposite side of the river, leaving us in possession of the town.
A capitulation was soon agreed upon, why which the Mexicans were to deliver up the fort and all public property, in 6 days. In the engagement our loss was 7 killed and 15 wounded, that of the enemy 160 killed and wounded. The only injury I received was a slight wound in the neck from a musket ball.
According to the capitulation at the end of 5 days we had the pleasure of seeing 1100 Mexicans leave the fort for Rio Grande. The force of the enemy could not have been less than 1700 men while ours did not exceed 550.
I shall now give a short description of the stone houses, at Sand Antonio, which may be interesting. They were built of undressed rock, and a sort of unslacked line dug from the earth. The walls are generally 33 inches thick and 20 feet high. The width of the houses is generally from 20 to 25 feet, the length is various, often long ranges with partitions, in which are neither doors or windows. The roofs are also singularly constructed. Instead of rafters, beams extend from one end to the other, about a foot apart. A covering of shingles, resembling staves, follows, over which a course of small stone, and then a thick coat of mortar which hardens in the sun till a complete roof is formed. Their Churches and Missions are built of the same materials, with arched roofs, instead of rafters and shingles – They also have high steeples, with several bells in each. The walls of buildings are as high as any part, which gives them the appearance of being flat. The dwellings of the poor, are miserable low huts, formed by placing round poles with one end in the ground, in a high straight line, as near together as possible, 7 or 8 feet high, over the center extends a large ridgepole, supported at each end by a forked stick, let 2 or 3 feet into the ground; from this rafter extend to the poles which compose the walls, covered with straw, or mortar, with which also the walls are daubed – In these there are no floors except the ground.
About the 20th of Dec. I left San Antonio for Labadea, where I arrived in 5 days. On the 15th March, the company to which I belonged, was ordered to the Mission 27 miles off, to secure some property, assist some families in moving and take some Mexican slaves prisoners; before the advance of their army, then lying at St. Patrick, on the River Novas, 55 miles from the Mission. We reached the place at dark, 22 in number. In the morning our business was arranged except recovering some goods which the Mexicans had removed 8 miles below; and which our captain determined to secure. Myself and 6 others were left to guard the prisoners and property, while the other 15 being joined by 4 or 5 citizens, proceeded on their expedition below. When within a few hundred yards of the place where the goods were deposited, they were met by 30 or 40 Mexicans and Indians. A skirmish ensued, in which the Americans drove the enemy without any loss to themselves. Our men then returned to the within about a mile of the Missions, where we had been left with the prisoners. The guard was left with the baggage until the Company could go to the Mission, and send a waggon for that, which we could not otherwise remove. They had been gone a short time, when we discovered a party of 60 or 70 whites and Indians, advancing upon us. Finding it impossible to reach the rest of our company, we took shelter in a thicket on the river. On coming up the hostile party divided, one part surrounding the thicket, in which we were, while the other, went in pursuit of our company, a part of which was still in view. Another skirmish followed in which the enemy was repulsed, and one American slightly wounded. This relieved us, who were in the thicket, for on the commencement of the firing the hostile party left us.
This was the first time, I ever heard the horrid yells of the savages, when exasperated and seeking revenge. The moment we were left to ourselves, I endeavored to persuade those with me to cross the river; but to no effect. I then resolved to swim the river myself; but when I ascended the opposite bank, I found before me a high prairie, without a shrub for concealment. I then re-crossed, entirely below the enemy, where a thicket afforded it shelter. In about an hour dark came on, when I bent on my course for the Mission, where I expected to find our company. When arrived within half a mile of the place, I went round so as to come in from the opposite side. I came to the outer house, where I listened for some time, without hearing the least noise, which convinced me that our men were safe; knowing them to have plenty of liquor with them, which had it been into the hands of the Indians, would have produced great rioting. I concluded that our men were in the Mission, and closely besieged by the enemy, which proved to be the case. I therefore resolved to go to Labadea, as soon as possible, to procure assistance. On the road I fell in with the guard, I had left in the ticket, on their way to Labadea. When I arrived within 9 miles of Labadea, we met a body of Americans on their way to the Mission, having received an express for assistance some hours before. I proceeded to toLabadea where were about 300 men. The next day orders were received from Col. Fanning, to abandon the place. An express was sent from the Mission for our men who were on the march to return to Labadea with all possible speed, as the former place had fallen into the hands of the enemy. A few days after having discovered a body of Mexicans encamped within 5 miles of us, we concluded to retreat to Victory, a small town on the Warlope, about 25 miles off; for which we took up our march on the day following the discovery. After proceeding about 6 miles, we discovered a small party of the enemy on our left. We halted on a commanding eminence where we remained an hour or two. We proceeded a short distance from thence when we saw a large body of horse on our right. We were immediately formed for battle; and sent them a few rounds of canister when they made a manouvre to throw themselves in front us; seeing which our commander ordered us to march to the timber about a mile distant. The foe seeing this advanced upon us, both the cavalry and Infantry which had now come up. A sharp engagement ensued, in which the Mexicans were repulsed with the loss of 200 men. Our loss was 7 killed and 63 wounded. This engagement lasted three or four hours in which they had greatly the advantage being on the rising ground, while we were in a hollow, and numbering also upwards of 2000 men, while were not more than 300 – They had no Artillery, ours consisting of 7 pieces was silent some time before the close of the action, owing I suppose to the number of wounded of that department. My rifle having become useless, I repaired to a six pounder, and having procured several charges for her, with the aid of a cowardly Irishman, and a brave Pole, I fired twice with good effect, on a body of horse, advancing upon us. Immediately after the repulse of the enemy, we were employed to dig a ditch, at which we continued most of the night. In the morning the Mexicans appeared with several pieces of Artillery and large reinforcements – They hoisted a flag truce, which was followed by a capitulation honorable for us to accept, throwing us into their hands. We were taken back to Labadea, closely guarded and allowed about 3-4 of a pound of fresh beef a day. Four days after 60 prisoners were brought in who had been taken on their landing a Copono. On the morning of April 2nd we were paraded, for what purpose we knew not. We were then marched out of the Fort, divided into three parties and led, one company, down the river, the 2d up the river, the third in which I found myself, was taken about 300 yards from the fort, into a pen of about a quarter of an acre surrounded by a high brush fence. We were marched to the opposite side of the pen, with a file of men on each side, when one file halted and we were led round, till our whole line was brought along the fence, and then halted. The manoeuvres first intimated to us what was to be our fate. Here Death for an instant stared me in the face. In inwardly cried, Lord have mercy on me! When a though occurred to me; I had spent my life in wickedness, and it was now too late for hope; form that moment all fear left me; a desperate indignation took its place. In that awful hour a few impressioned exclamations burst from the men; as "Lord have mercy! O Lord! When a young gentleman from Alabama, said in a firm tone "Gentlemen, let us meet our doom like men." A young man on my right beginning to cry, I said to him "let us break:" he replied "no it is useless to run we shall all be killed." At this moment I heard the order for our executioners to make ready, and saw their guns presented not ten feet distant; yet such was the state of my feelings that I remained unmoved. I heard the order to fire; the roar of musketry followed; still I remained unhurt. But what a scene presented itself to my view! Those death shrieks still ring in my ears. Glancing my eyes hastily around, I discovered on my left, about a dozen men who had made their way over the fence. I sprung for the fence as one springing for life; I fell prostrate; but recovering was soon on the other side. I wide spread prairie was now before me, and the only shelter which offered was to the right or left where the other divisions had been marched. I chose the right. After running about 100 yards I ventured to look over my shoulder; a tall officer with a drawn sword was in pursuit of me; I then threw off my hat and coat; again looking behind I saw that my pursuer had stopped. As I passed near the main part of the town, I saw a horseman start after me; perceiving this I shifted by course more to the right, for the heads of the valleys that lay between the town and the division of men I had to pass. ON this the horseman wheeled and took after some men running in the prairie. The division before me was now fired on; and seeing several men run nearly for me, I shifted my course, and soon succeeded in reaching the bushes. I bent my course for the river, which I crossed, and proceeded some distance on the bank, when I again swam the river, as I had done five times before, and concealed myself where I remained till dark, when I ventured once more upon the prairie. But, by the reason of the great exertions I had made, being unable to proceed, I was obliged to lie down beneath the shelter of a single bush, where I soon fell asleep. How long I slept I know not; as I found myself standing on my feet, awakened, as I thought by the report of a musket; which was frequently the case afterwards. I bent my course for the American settlements, and after 10 days reached the Colorado having seen many of the enemy at a distance, at different times. Here I found the camp fires of the Mexicans still burning; I found also a calf’s head roasted by them the preceding evening, which was the first cooked food I had taken since my escape, having subsisted on raw vegetables. In 2 days I reached the River Brazos which was swollen to such a degree that I dare not attempt to cross it. I here heard the enemy crossing, and often saw their scouts, so that I deemed it not safe to go in quest of food. I therefore returned to the Colorado, where I often saw parties of both Mexicans and Indians. My concealment lasted more than six weeks during which time I procured plenty of provisions from neighboring farms. On the eighteenth of May I discovered that the Americans had returned to their farms, whom I hastened to meet, being the first person to whom I had spoken since my escape. Form them I learned that Santa Anna was a prisoner; also that the Texian army would be there in 2 days. On the arrival of the army I again joined it and went to Labadea, where I witnessed the funeral services of my former companions, whose remains after the massacre had been partly burned. This was by far the most trying scene through which I ever passed. I continued in the army till June 2d, when I procured my discharge, and reached San Augustine the 25th of the same month. The day after my arrival I was attacked with the ague and fever, which lasted more than three months. For the last three weeks I have been rapidly gaining my health, so that I am now able to go to work.
I will now give you some description of the Country. The Eastern part is principally timber land; the prairies being small; but as you advance to the west they become much larger, often 30 or 40 miles wide, and more than 100 in breadth. The soil in all parts is extremely fertile, and remarkably free from stones. Abundance of all kinds of stock is raised here without the trouble of feeding it. Game abounds, such as wild horses and cattle, hogs, bears, wolves, catamounts, panthers, wild cats, and plenty of deer, of which I have seen hundreds in a day. The soil produces readily, cotton, corn, sweet potatoes, turnips, and peaches.