History

The Forgotten Hero: Ben Milam

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Who was the first–and possibly the greatest–hero of the Texas Revolution? He’s a man you may have heard of, but not very often. Try Ben Milam. Surprised? You really shouldn’t be, but Ben’s been ignored and shortchanged by both academic historians and writers like me for so long that he’s been all but forgotten. Ben, though, really started it all.

The Forgotten Hero Ben Milam

Photo: texasescapes.com

Oh, sure–there were fits and starts as early as 1832. It was in 1835, though that things were set to pop. Martin Perfecto de Cos, Santa Anna’s brother-in-law, was arguably the best home-grown field general the Mexican Army had. Vicente Filisola and Adrian Woll were probably more competent overall, but they were European imports–soldiers-of fortune with European training and experience who took their talents to Mexico in search of a market and found one. Filisola was Italian, Woll German. Cos was a native of Mexico who’d been a successful officer in the Revolution and–while he did have the patronage of Santa Anna–he was good at what he did in spite of it. He held the largest population and trade center in Texas, San Antonio de Bejár, with a force not of peon levies and convict soldiers, but hardbitten, well-trained veteran regulars.

Against this the Texicans could muster only untrained volunteers. Man-for-man they were among the best fighters in North America, but their style of fighting–one-on-one, hit and run, honed against Lipans, Tonkawas, and Comanches–wasn’t exactly suited to the task ahead. They had to take a town, not necessarily well fortified but certainly strengthened, held by well-trained, well-disciplined veteran combat troops. That meant house-to-house fighting from behind walls and fences against disciplined firepower and possibly even artillery. It was not an inviting prospect.

The Forgotten Hero Ben Milam
Photo: coincommunity.com, Military heroes James Bowie, Richard Dowling, Sidney Sherman, James Butler Bonham, and Ben Milam were also selected as statue subjects.

The Texican leaders, Bowie, Milam, and others, did try to instill some discipline into the men, drilling them in advancing and retreating in good order, exhorting them to discipline their fire and concentrate their firepower with volleys rather than picking targets. It takes more than a few weeks, though, to overcome the habits of a lifetime and build soldiers that fight effectively as a team. The Texicans had only weeks to do what they could, and the Mexican troops had been trained in their tactics for years.

The Texicans were, in that wonderful Biblical phrase, “sore afraid” — which means, in plain Texan, those folks were flat skeer’d. The Indians they were used to fighting were, for the most part, poor shots. Their fighting was unpredictable. Sometimes they’d fight, sometimes they’d run–and there was no predicting which they’d do or when or why they’d do it. In addition, Indians fought ‘every man for himself,’ totally without command discipline.

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