“Who will go with old Ben Milam into Bexar?” That was the impassioned rallying cry of Benjamin Rush Milam on December 4, 1835. Milam had just returned from a scouting mission and learned that the Texan Army had decided to stand down for the winter instead of attacking and securing San Antonio. He went to Edward Burleson who had just been appointed commander of the volunteer army to make his plea – in his heart, Milam knew that putting off the assault on San Antonio would be disastrous for the cause of independence.
Benjamin Rush Milam was born in Frankfort, Kentucky on October 20, 1788. He had little formal education and later joined the 8th Kentucky Militia as a private, later promoted to lieutenant and serving in the War of 1812. After returning home from the War, Milam pursued trading opportunities with the Indians, traveling to Coahuila y Texas (a Mexican state). In the years following his first excursion to the territory, Milam worked to help Mexico and Texas gain independence from Spain. In 1824 he was granted citizenship and became a colonel in the Mexican army.
Milam was also an empresario (land agent) and in 1830 the Mexican Congress had passed a law prohibiting further immigration of United States citizens to Texas. In 1835 Milam made a trip to Monclava, the capital of Coahuila y Texas, to ask the governor to dispatch a land commissioner to Texas to assist with land title acquisition. The governor agreed and just before Milam left Monclava he received word that Santa Anna had overthrown the Mexican government, established himself as dictator and was then on his way to Texas.
Milam and the governor were captured and imprisoned in Monterrey. Milam later escaped and in October 1835 he came upon George Collinsworth and his soldiers, learning of the Texas push for independence. He immediately joined them and fought with them to secure Goliad. From Goliad it was on to the Battle of San Antonio de Bexar.
Fighting in San Antonio had been ongoing since October and with winter approaching a decision was made to stand down for the winter. After Milam uttered his challenge, however, three hundred volunteers came forward and the assault on the city began at dawn on December 5. While one contingency distracted with artillery fire on the Alamo, Ben Milam and Francis Johnson led two divisions in a surprise attack on the governor’s house.
The Texans continued fighting night and day and captured other houses. Milam, however, was killed by a sharpshooter on December 7. The Mexicans brought in 600 reinforcements, but the inexperience of three-quarters of that number likely contributed to the eventual Mexican surrender. The Texans sent in reinforcements and fought fiercely in hand-to-hand combat at times. Finally on the morning of December 9, the Mexican General Martin Perfecto de Cos asked for surrender terms which were readily accepted by Edward Burleson.
The Mexicans suffered signifcantly more casualties than the Texans. According to the Texas Historical Association web site, this was due to greater accuracy of Texans’ rifles. After that battle, most of the Texan soldiers returned home, leaving San Antonio and Texas both under their control.
A short time later, Santa Anna himself would return with a vengeance to try and retake the city, leading to the most famous battle of the revolution – the Battle of the Alamo (February 23 – March 6, 1836).
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