By Gary Brown
Republic of Texas Press,
Plano, TX, 1999. Softcover,
336 pages with 27 photographs.
The two New Orleans Greys companies departed the city separately, and taking two different routes to their ultimate destination of San Antonio de Bexar. One traveling by sea and the other overland, they both arrived in Bexar within weeks of each other. They joined the small Texian army besieging the forces of General Martín Perfecto de Cos, bottled up in the town and the small fort across the river, the Alamo.
This history of the Greys as told by Gary Brown unfolds with all of the excitement and drama of many novels. Volunteers has the feeling of a good historical novel, Brown opening each chapter with a fictional vignette depicting the imagined thoughts and actions of a selected member of the Greys.. This fictitious introduction to each chapter is an unusual plot device, that Brown uses skillfully to set the mood for the historic material comprising the rest of the chapter.
After describing the Greys' birth, Gary describes the separate travels of the two companies, and their reunion at Bexar. A cherished moment in Texas history is the rallying of the Texian volunteers by Benjamin Rush Milam -- "Who will follow old Ben Milam into San Antonio?" Brown departs from this accepted tradition to say that it was chiefly one of the Greys' leaders, William Gordon Cooke, who persuaded the Texian besiegers to assault the city. Brown's description of the Bexar battle is one of the most exciting episodes of Volunteers. The following passages, a depiction of some of the savage house-to-house fighting, will serve to illustrate:
As they continued to be pinned down under the heavy fire, the Texans began scrambling from rooftop to rooftop to gain the best possible cover. In the process, many were wounded -- some so seriously that they were unable to climb back down without assistance. In desperation, their comrades began tearing holes in the roofs in order to lower the wounded to safety inside. . . Once a hole was created, another danger existed: Were there Mexican soldiers stationed in the room below? While the seriously wounded were being lowered into the rooms, the uninjured Texans often dropped through the hole first not knowing if they would be greeted by gunfire.The Greys took heavy losses in the Battle of Bexar. The aftermath saw the New Orleans Greys torn asunder, with some remaining in Bexar to help garrison the town and the Alamo, and others going off with James Grant on a foolhardy expedition to conquer Matamoros. When the Mexican forces of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna arrived in Texas in February of 1836, most of the Greys from the stillborn Matamoros trek garrisoned the La Bahía Presidio at Goliad. They vainly attempted to convince their commander, Colonel James Walker Fannin, to reinforce their comrades left behind in San Antonio.
Brown gives a stirring description of the siege and battle of the Alamo, where many of the Greys met their end. Fannin ordered their comrades in Goliad to abandon the fortress after it was too late to aid the Greys in the Alamo. Surrounded at Coleto Creek, and forced to surrender to the Mexican troops, they returned to the fort as prisoners. Gary paints vivid scenes of the Texian prisoners crowded into the Our Lady of Loreto chapel, without food or water, and of the Palm Sunday massacre.
Volunteers in the Texas Revolution chronicles the birth and death of "the most effective fighting force to serve in Texas during the seven-month revolution...the only Anglo Texan unit to have served at Bexar, the Alamo, San Patricio, Agua Dulce, Refugio, Coleto, and Goliad." As Brown says, "Because the Greys were always at the forefront of the fighting, they were wounded and killed in disproportionate numbers. The muster rolls carved into granite monuments at the Alamo and Goliad are testimony to those numbers."
Volunteers in the Texas Revolution: The New Orleans Greys is an engrossing account of one of the most famous units in the Texas Volunteer Army. The only major deficiency is the lack of maps to assist the reader in following the journeys of the Greys. I highly recommend this book.