Interview with Gary
Brown . . .Part 1
ADP: Gary are you a native Texan?
Brown: No, actually I'm from Missouri. I've been in Texas for about 30 years. I live in Friendswood, about halfway between Galveston and Houston.
ADP: Can you tell us a little more about your background?
Brown: Well, I'm a state employee, I'm getting ready to retire in August. I've enjoyed Texas history my whole life, even when I lived in Missouri I was interested in the Alamo. And since I've lived here for nearly 30 years now, I've just gotten more and more interested in it. The closer I get to retirement, the more I've been traveling around and I've written a few articles in magazines.
ADP: Aren't you involved in education in some form?
Brown: I'm a vocational counselor for the State Prison System and I teach part-time at Galveston College.
ADP: Wouldn't you say your position with the prison system is somewhat unique?
Brown: Yeah, it is. But the position at the Galveston college kind of balances things [out] At the prison I teach vocational skills.
ADP: Moving on to your book, The New Orleans Greys..., is this your first published work?
Brown: This is my first book. I've written two or three, but this is the first one to be published.
ADP: You came up with a rather interesting approach by starting each chapter in "first person" then moving on to explain the historical aspect of it. How did you come up with this idea?
Brown: Actually, it's [the idea is] from [Walter Lord's] "A Time To Stand". I really liked that book a lot. When I was reading his first chapter, he [Lord] was telling about the man in the bell tower that saw the shining lances...then he looked back and all of a sudden they were gone...I was thinking to myself, " How does he know that guy saw that?" Then it dawned on me what he was doing. He was placing an individual in one specific place and trying to project what he may or may not have seen. I really liked that. [And I used that device because] I didn't want the book to read like a textbook.
ADP: Have you written anything else in relation to the Alamo?
Brown: I did an article in "THE ARTILLERYMAN" about the cannon in the Alamo. Basically, I took [the viewpoints of] five historians who had written about where they thought the cannon had been placed and made comparisons... [as to]... locations and type of ordinance they had in the Alamo.I did an article in TRUE WEST about the Missourians who fought at the Alamo. But mostly, Goliad has been my main interest.
ADP: Goliad is a special place. It's one of the few places that you can still get a real feel for the history and how it happened.
Brown: You can do that at the Alamo too, but it's just that so much of the Alamo is gone...you have part of the Long Barracks and part of the Chapel, but here [La Bahía] you have everything.
ADP: There are so many people in Alamo Plaza during the day it really hard to visualize anything. You really have to go out there early in the morning or late at night to do that.
Brown: Last Spring, I spent the night at the Menger Hotel and though it wasn't there during the battle, you can, like you said go out there at night it's something to see.
ADP: What sparked your interest in the New Orleans Greys?
Brown: It's kind of hard to say any one thing did it, but everywhere I went, It seemed like I would see their names mentioned. You see it mentioned at the Alamo. You see it mentioned here at Goliad...different places...you'd just see mentions of it. And yet, when I would go to the library and look up a book about them...there really was no book about the New Orleans Greys. You've got Eherenberg's diary, which I don't really think is a real accurate description of the Greys...I think he has useful information.
ADP: Do you think that Eherenberg had a bone to pick?
Brown: Yeah, I do. He was so anti-Fannin that I think that it became almost a personal vendetta in his later diary. It was so strong, I think that it probably affected his objectivity as a writer.
ADP: Do think that Eherenberg was basically telling the truth.
Brown: What bothers me about Eherenberg's diary...is first of all, he claims he lost the original swimming in the San Antonio River. From Texas, he went back to Germany for a number of years. So, he wrote this diary years later from memory...without being able to consult anybody else who was in this situation...none of the Goliad survivors. He was alone over in Germany. The first three publications of his book were all in German titles while he was over in Germany. So, he wrote this all from memory. I really question how much he could to do that without being able to discuss it with other people. I have a little bit of a problem with that...his objectivity too.
ADP: For those people who may not have read your book yet, can you give us a brief synopsis?
Brown: Well, there was a group of young men...about two-thirds of them were American and a third of them were Europeans. They were a mercenary force, which I know has negative connotations today....but, they were a mercenary force. They came to Texas for personal gain. They were organized in a New Orleans coffee house. They split into two companies. One came to Texas by boat from the mouth of the Mississippi River to Velasco and then marched through Goliad to San Antonio. The other company sailed up the Mississippi and Red Rivers to Alexandria and then marched across Louisiana and Texas to San Antonio. To me, it's an amazing feat that they got to San Antonio within two weeks of each other. It's just amazing that they could do that back in those days. But they arrived in San Antonio just in time to see the army disintegrating. The desertion rate was extremely high. The Texians had been laying siege to San Antonio and they were tired of it. They wanted to either fight or go home and plant their crops for the Spring. The army was falling apart when the Greys got there. I think they injected a vitality...maybe. I mentioned in my book that I think the Greys probably were more responsible than they are given credit for in leading the move to attack the city. Ben Milam gets an awful lot of the credit, but I think the Greys were also very instrumental....maybe more instrumental. And of course when they did that...really against the odds, they won the Battle of San Antonio, which they shouldn't have. But they did, and that drove the Mexican army south of the Rio Grande...and for a while there was no Mexican army in Texas. In that sense, were a force in the revolution.
ADP: Do you feel then that the Texian siege and assault at Bejar would have been successful had the Greys not been present?
Brown: Well, they were probably almost half of the fighting force. Everything you read, it's the New Orleans Greys and Mississippi Volunteers. And I think there was a small company of thirty Brazoria volunteers. But really, the Greys were about half of the force...they were certainly instrumental.
ADP: They were really one best organized and equipped group of volunteers in the Texas Army. Would you describe them as being an "elite" unit?
Brown: Yes! Yes, I think they were probably THE elite unit. After the Battle of San Antonio, they were really the only combat tested veterans that Sam Houston, Stephen Austin or Fannin had to place in the field against the Mexicans. They knew that the Mexicans were going to re-invade. But really the Mississipians kind of scattered out in different units...the Greys remained together. The name changed somewhat..."The San Antonio Greys" or "Blazeby's Infantry" in the Alamo...but the New Orleans Greys were the true combat veterans at the Battle of San Antonio.
ADP: The Greys were one of the few volunteer units to have been issued uniforms. In your book, do you discuss what the uniforms may have looked like?
Brown: No...and I know that there's a lot of controversy over that. I know that one theory is that they were US military surplus uniforms. Another theory is that they may not have been uniforms at all. They may have been like what we call "Dickies" work clothes today...laborer's clothing perhaps [like] even slaves wore. They were probably a mixture of cotton and wool. ...The Indians around Nacogdoches thought the army had invaded. So, they did resemble military uniforms very closely. My theory is that they got these uniforms out of different magazines around New Orleans. Probably, they were very similar, but not necessarily uniforms. So there may have been about four or five different kinds of gray uniforms. And I think too, a lot of New Orleans Greys didn't wear uniforms.
ADP: You sound like you favor the "work clothes" theory over the "military surplus" theory.
Brown: I don't know if I favor one over the other...It was probably a mixture of both.You know, a lot of the state militias purchased the US army surplus uniforms and of course Louisiana being a southern state, had several militias, ...so I think that probably some of them were military uniforms, but not necessarily all.
ADP: What happened to the Greys after the Siege at Bejar?
Brown: They got caught up in the turmoil of Texas politics and I think that....Hubbard Davenport wrote an article in Southwestern Historical Quarterly...I think in 1949...in it he mentioned...it's kind of a classic study...that it's hard to read about that period in Texas history without getting a sick feeling in your stomach. So many men were betrayed by the politicians. There was so much conspiracy going on. And the New Orleans Greys were caught up in it. I think being the true combat veterans of the revolution, just about everybody who had a personal agenda wanted to use the New Orleans Greys because they were combat veterans. When Grant and Johnson decided to take off their Matamoros expedition by themselves, the New Orleans Greys were among the main recruits that they got. I mean they had combat veterans here to go and fight a war in Mexico. They stripped the Alamo. Most of the Greys went with Grant and Johnson and Eherenberg talked so glowingly of Grant..."The noble Grant" he calls him... and things like that.Some of the Greys were wounded at the Battle of San Antonio...disproportionately so...because they were in heavy combat. They stayed behind at the Alamo and recovered. Some of them furloughed out. Some of the others, I think, just stayed at the Alamo because they felt that was the place they wanted to be. A smaller number of them stayed at the Alamo...most of them though came down with the Matamoros Expedition.
ADP: Were there any individuals among the Greys that especially captured your attention?
Brown: Yeah, there were.That's one thing that I'm especially proud of in the book...I took the rosters...which the originals are gone...and I cross-referenced rosters. The names don't match up and the numbers don't total the way that they should, but I took as many of the names that I could verify and anything biographical about that individual I could get and I put it in the back of the book. I'm most proud of that appendix.Thomas Ward was an Irishman.[unintelligible]..lost a leg in the Battle of San Antonio. Lived through it...furloughed to New Orleans...came back to Texas. Later on during a San Jacinto Day celebration, he lost an arm in a cannon explosion.Yet later, he had eye problems during the "Archives War"...the lady...I can't remember her name...shot the cannon at Sam Houston's men, Thomas Ward was one of them. He was in the middle of everything. He lost and arm and a leg and his obituary listed him as like a giant oak tree shorn of its limbs, but solid in the cause of Texas. So, Ward was a favorite.William Gordon Cook...he was so influential in post revolution Texas...William Hunter survived the massacre here at Goliad and never left. He stayed here and became a judge and a legislator. If you go down to the courthouse, you'll see references to "Judge Hunter" ...so he's one of my favorites. There were so many of them, I can't really single them out.
ADP: In your book, you made the statement that it may have actually been one of the Greys who said " Who will go into San Antonio with Old Ben Milam". Where did you uncover that information?
Brown: That was written up in a Master's dissertation in 1939 by a man name Alan Adams at the University that is now called Southwestern State University in San Marcus. I don't remember what it was called in 1939. He wrote his Master's dissertation on William Gordon Cook, the captain of the Greys. And, at that time, some of Cook's relatives still lived in San Antonio. Adams managed to find one of those relatives and that relative had a letter in which Cook explained his version of what happened. [When that dissertation was published in 1939]...it was published after the Centennial...it caused quite a stir because in it Adams claimed that Cook was suggesting that because there were really no Texans taking part in the battle...you know the settlers were supposed to be trying to secure their liberties under the Constitution of 1824...but they were all home! They were either farming...and the only people fighting the revolution were people from the United States.Santa Anna was very sensitive about it being a mercenary war, a proxy war by the U.S. government. So, what Cook was suggesting here was that actually, it was he that organized the 200 plus men to assault the city, but because they were all mercenaries or American soldiers, or European soldiers and not Texas settlers, the Texans were very afraid of what this would signal to Santa Anna and to the rest of the world. Ben Milam had been living in San Antonio as a vecino or native San Antonian and he was influential in organizing the first assault on the city, but what Cook was suggesting was that by giving Ben Milam the credit, it made it a Texas issue...assaulting the city... and not a U.S. issue. He caused a bit of a stir at the time, but then it kind of died down, but as I read the dissertation, it seemed to me that he had a good point.
ADP: How many of the Greys died at the Alamo and at Goliad?
Brown: I'm not sure. I listed the ones that could be verified in the back of the book. And again, names changed, surnames, family names and given names...fathers and sons had the same names... There were brothers that fought in Texas, some of them were Greys and others weren't . I guess there brothers just came down and met up with them here. So, it's really hard to say. I'm guessing about 23 in the Alamo and to be honest with you, I can't give you a number for Goliad...there was a considerable number at Goliad.
ADP: How many original Greys were there?
Brown: We think it's between 120 and 130. The original muster rolls were destroyed in....I think it was the Attorney General's office in New Orleans in around 1850 or so...about 15 or 20 years after the Greys had been organized. The original muster rolls were destroyed in the State Archives during a fire. Now there are hand-written muster rolls available. One of them was taken to Velasco with Morris' group of the Greys. But again, the names are misspelled and they don't match up the numbers don't total right and there was a muster roll taken and written down before the attack on San Antonio. We're not sure but probably 120 to 130.
ADP: Why did they form into two different companies?
Brown: I don't think we really know. One possible reason could be that one of the companies had some cannon...we think it was two, three, or maybe four cannon. That was probably the company that came by ship. Obviously, where they wouldn't have to tote the cannon across land. Now there some disagreement that the "18-pounder" cannon that was so important during the battle of the Alamo arrived days after the Battle of San Antonio. It arrived, I think, at Dimmit's landing. Some historians believe that the New Orleans Greys brought that cannon with them. They couldn't off-load it at Velasco...and they didn't have the shot for it anyway. So, it was sent by Williams McKinney down to Dimmit's Landing and was in a shipwreck and actually dumped into Matagorda Bay. It was salvaged...brought up, but the Greys had already left. So, it arrived in San Antonio three days after the fighting ended. So some historians don't agree that the Greys brought it but I think they did bring several cannon and that's probably why they came by ship. Horses were always a problem for the New Orleans Greys. They could never get enough horses or the ones they got weren't broken. The ones that went through Louisiana stopped at Nacogdoches at Adolphus Stearne's house. He did provide them with broken horses.They had attempted to appropriate horse here in Goliad from the Mexicans and they were giving them certificates, which I'm sure were worthless. The Mexicans figured that out and basically gave them unbroken horses. There is one diary of a Grey...we don't know who wrote it...and he talks about them trying to ride these horse around, but they ended up walking to San Antonio...it just didn't work. The horses were always a problem for them.
ADP: To what do you attribute the sudden resurgence of interest in the Greys?
Brown: I hope that your right and that there is an interest in the Greys. I think that one thing the events that are going on like here at Goliad [speaking of the reenactment] And people like Waverly Johnson who have the cannon and are representing the Greys...I think the living historians play a large role in that.There is one misconception ... that all of the Greys died. In the Alamo, the all died and of course here [Goliad] they all died. But after the battle of San Antonio they took a lot of casualties and an awful lot of New Orleans Greys furloughed to New Orleans and came back later and served in the Texan army after Goliad...and there were at least five New Orleans Greys who fought at San Jacinto. But I think the part of the story about the New Orleans Greys that's not known is that the ones who lived and survived played such an important role in the wars of Mexico in the 1840's...the Summerville Expedition, the Santa Fe Expedition there were former New Orleans Greys [that] took part in that. There were probably twelve New Orleans Greys recuperating from wounds in New Orleans who reorganized a company under General Thomas Jefferson Green and came back into Texas and pursued another Matamoros expedition after the Revolution under the command of William Graham, a former New Orleans Grey. All of his NCOs were former New Orleans Greys. There was really, unofficially, a third company of the Greys.There were two New Orleans Greys who fought in the Confederacy. There was a New Orleans Grey who fought as a Texas Ranger...several of them fought in the Indian Wars. So the veterans of the New Orleans Greys played a major role in post-revolutionary Texas clear up to the time of the Civil War.
ADP: How many of the Greys survived from here [Goliad]?
Brown: Probably five or six. We know that one survived to cross the river, but he was never heard from again, so if he died somewhere in the Southwestern plains, we don't know.Ehrenberg did. William Hunter who stayed here and became a judge survived it. A German man, George (Johann) Voss survived and went on to become the Texas Ranger. William Brennan survived. We don't know much about what happened to him. He was found here in Goliad two weeks after the massacre...the Mexicans had left...the Texan officers came back. They found him wandering the streets of Goliad in shock...that's all we know about him...don't know whatever happened to him after that...of course Eherenberg is the most well known.Ehrenberg has always been held up as the model of the New Orleans Greys because of his diary, but as Eherenberg alludes to himself, he was serving on the rear guard when they were crossing on the plains of Toledo. Several sources accused him of going to sleep. And Eherenberg mentions himself...I forget how he says it...of course the translation is in English...something about that "the cannon surprised him" and startled him. He almost does suggest that he'd stopped and took a siesta. The Mexican army caught up with him. If that's the case, then Ehrenberg may not be the...
ADP: His [Ehrenberg's] whole story seems to be self -serving, don't you agree?
Brown: Oh sure, he's self-serving, but he fits right in with people like James Fannin and Sam Houston and William Barrett Travis. They were all self-promoting and self-serving people as well. Yes...he was very much so. He went on to a very illustrious life after the Texas Revolution. He crossed the Oregon Trail, he was a surveyor...he went to Hawaii and mapped out the city of Honolulu. He went to the south sea islands and came back to California and took part in the [BEAR FLAG??] revolts. He was killed in Arizona under suspicious circumstances...probably a murder...very, very well known.Something else that bothers me about Ehrenberg, he claims he jumped into the San Antonio River the day of the massacre yelling " Republic of Texas Forever!" Now was that what was really on his mind with these other guys shooting at him and chasing him? For somebody who did that...he never came back to Texas that we know of...and we don't know of him ever having contact with any other of the New Orleans Greys or really any other Texans. So, for somebody whose heart and life was to the Republic of Texas...he never came back. So, I wonder too, if his diary was part of his self-[unintelligible]
ADP: How do you feel about being at Goliad where so many of the Greys died and how would you like to see people remember the Greys?
Brown: This is where I feel the Greys the most...I come over here [Goliad] three or four times a year. I try to come during the week where I can pretty much walk around...It's not that I believe in ghost or anything like that...but I really to get a sense that the Greys were here and that this was significant. As far as a memorial for them...there's really not a memorial for the New Orleans Greys. There's the memorial in front of the Alamo, and a memorial here at Goliad... have their names etched in it. That in itself is a legacy that's enduring. I think the best memorial we can give to the Greys is what your doing here this weekend ...the living historians. I think that does more to perpetuate what they stood for than just about any granite memorial that we could build for them.
ADP: Do you have any more Texas history books in the works?
Brown: Yes, I'm working on one about Goliad during the Texas Revolution. I'm not going to speculate on it until the publisher agrees to publish it. I've become more and more interested in the San Patricios...which were later on...not during the Texas Revolution... of course some of that originated down here in Victorio, but the Irish, who were serving with the U.S. army and switched over to the Mexican army...I think that's a really fascinating story. If I do get to retire in August, that's one of the projects I'd really like to research.
ADP: There are other individuals presently working on books about the Greys. Do you think there's more to find?
Brown: There is SO much more to find. There are names that appeared up here on later rosters that did appear on Banks arcade...where did they come from? There were so many of them that furloughed out...where did they go? There were two or three newspapermen who were New Orleans Greys and furloughed out...surely they wrote something somewhere. But where did they go? Where did they publish their papers?I hope more books are being written and I hope they find a bunch more information.
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