SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS
1997-2003, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved
Battle of Gonzales | Muster at Gonzales-Battle of Bexar

 

Dr. William P. Smith 1795-1870

First Surgeon General & Chaplain
Texian Army

President First Texian Army Medical Board

October 18, 1835. At the camp on the Cibolo today, Austin named Dr. William P. Smith surgeon of the army. On October 7, while the volunteers were yet at Gonzales, the entire medical fraternity joined in a memorial to Col. John H. Moore, offering its services: You are hereby requested to accept the medical services of the undersigned who without any discussion of grade have, with a special eve to the good of their country, constituted themselves a board for the volunteer army of Texas with sentiments of highest consideration. We subscribe ourselves. Yours sincerely, William P. Smith, Thomas J. Gazely, T. Kenney, Joseph E. Field, Amos Pollard.

From Weyand and Wade, The History of Fayette County. Now we have come to the story of one of the most remarkable men who ever lived in Fayette County, not only that, but he was also one of our best loved and most influential citizens, and in addition was one of the most energetic men the writer ever heard of. In proof of this last statement we wish to call our readers' attention to the fact that, according to Dr. Smith's own admission, he served us in turn as coroner, as Alcalde, as postmaster, as Notary Public, as Post Surgeon of an established army post, as Regimental Surgeon with the army on the march. In addition to all this he was a regularly ordained Methodist preacher, and after working all the week at his many other vocations spent the Holy Sabbath preaching and teaching Sunday school; however, from any or all of his many different jobs he was liable to be called any minute to answer to a call from the "stork" or from some good citizen who was sick or had accidentally got shot, for our good old Dr. Smith was a practicing physician of considerable renown, especially in the line of surgery and operation cases. And we must not loose sight of the fact that Dr. Smith was a great educator of his day, it was he who was one of the prime movers in the organization, founding and chartering of old Rutersville College; a casual inspection of papers relative to this institution will prove this truth beyond a doubt.

It must not be overlooked that Dr. Smith also took a "flyer" at the newspaper game and served as editor of the "Texas Monument," and he held that position until it was found that he was worth too much to the Monumental Committee to be wasted on editorial work, so he was transferred to the road with instruction to raise money to carry on the work outlined by this organization. During his leisure moments and while time was hanging heavy on his hands, especially during the long winter evenings, we find that our energetic hero occupied his time by visiting almost every Masonic Lodge within a radius of one hundred miles. His companion on these visits seems to have been John Murchison, who was the father of Fayette County Masonry. While Dr. Smith was a member of Florida Lodge No. 46, of Round Top, we find him registered repeatedly as a visitor in the other Masonic bodies of our county. Whatever faults Dr. Smith may have had, he surely possessed one virtue; he was a great believer in "tooting his own horn," and due to this peculiarity of his, there is left to us today several records of value that otherwise we would not have.

The first record we have of Dr. William P. Smith is the day he was born; this date we copied from his tombstone and reads as follows: "Born January 15, 1795," these figures are verified on his Headright Certificate which shows, that in spite of the universally common name of Smith, we have here the right man and that this is not another case of duplicate names so common in history. The next trace of our hero is in the War of 1812. He tells us himself that he fought at the Battle of New Orleans, and further states that he served under General Jackson and under Coffee and Carroll. We have applied to the War Department at Washington, D. C., for the official records covering this point but they have not yet reached our hands; however, we do not doubt but that Dr. Smith told the truth in this statement of his. The records of the Methodist Church as shown in the book, "Methodism in Tennessee," V. 3, pp. 362-363, prove that our preacher hero was officially ordained a Minister of the Gospel at Franklin, Tennessee, in the month of November 1829.

Then we have no record of him until he hit Texas; in his Headright Certificate, mentioned above, he tells us that he emigrated to Texas in January 1835, just in time to par. ticipate in a red-hot rebellion and a bloody conflict, for all of which his previous army experience, medical and relig ious training, particularly well fitted him to play a leading part, as we shall presently see. It is not clear to us just how Dr. Smith occupied his time between January and October 1835, the only thing we know for a fact during this nine months prior is that our hero made the acquaintance of Dr. A. P. Manley who was destined to be his lifelong friend; we know also that he located in Fayette County and must have occupied himself with getting himself established, in making new friends and studying the political situation of Texas and in making up his mind as to the right and wrong of the proposition in order to determine where he stood and what he should do. This brings us to late September 1835, and to the town of Gonzales, known as the "Lexington of Texas." This was the spot where the first shot of the Texas Revolution was fired by Eli Mitchell on October 2, 1835.

It will be remembered that Texas was, figuratively speaking, "setting on a powder keg" just at this time, and it needed only a spark to start the conflagration of war and desolation. Here was the situation briefly: Mexico realized that she would have to do something about Texas and do it quickly; she conceived the idea that it might be a good plan to disarm her American children before they injured themselves or hurt somebody else, and they decided to start in at Gonzales by demanding the return of the little cannon that had been given to the citizens of this town as a protection against the Indians; to enforce this demand a detail of soldiers was sent; however, the people of Gonzales did not take kindly to this move on the part of Santa Anna and decided that while they had no serious objection to giving up the worthless little gun, still they were opposed to the principal of the thing and made up their mind that they would hold on to it at any cost. In keeping with this decision our Gonzales brethren found it necessary to do several things right quick, first they told the Mexican officer that their Alcalde, Andrew Ponton, was out of town and for that reason they could not officially surrender the little cannon, next they dispatched Mathew Caldwell (Old Paint) for help; this ride made him. famous for life as the Paul Revere of Texas. Next, our good people of Gonzales took the offending little four-pounder and buried it down in Mr. Smith's peach orchard and then ploughed up the ground over it to conceal the spot. Next they took the ferry-boat and ran it up into a slough and hid it to keep the Mexicans on their side of the Guadalupe river. Now a storekeeper named Albert Martin organized his neighbors into a little company and made himself captain; these men he stationed as pickets to watch the enemy and guard the river crossing. After this there was no more to be done until the help Caldwell had been sent to fetch began to arrive, and here and now our hero enters into the picture and takes charge.

The Battle of Gonzales, which occurred on October 2nd, 1835, and this incident goes down in history as paralleling a similar occurrence in our American Revolution and is known as the "Lexington of Texas." There is still another historical duplication in this first beginning of hostilities. It will be remembered that just before the Battle of Bunker Hill the Colonial Army remembered that before undertaking any great or laudable undertaking they should first invoke the aid of Deity and accordingly a prayer was offered up to God just before the engagement commenced. This is just exactly what Reverend William P. Smith did before the Battle of Gonzales, for he tells us all about it himself. When we last saw him he, no doubt, had his Bible in one hand and his old flintlock rifle in the other, preaching to the Texas army assembled just before it started on the march for San Antonio; he even goes so far as to tell us what his text was and that he was riding a mule and all about it. This soldier-surgeon-chaplain also mentions the fact that he was appointed Surgeon-General by Stephen F. Austin, who had arrived on the scene and been elected Commander-in-Chief, after the reconciliation between himself and William H. Wharton which took place at Gonzales just at this time and was by far the most important event in the affairs of Texas up to this date as the adjustment of the difference between these two, previously enemies, united for the first time the opposing parties in Texas and enabled us to present a united front to our Mexican foes.


The Battle of Gonzales-Muster for Bexar

Dr. William P. Smith give his own version of this affair in his own words signed as "An Old Soldier" in the Texas Almanac in 1861. Weyand and Wade in History of Fayette County state there was no doubt that the source of this treatise was William P. Smith.

"No time was lost in sending an express to the Guadalupe, the Colorado and the Brazos, for aid. Volunteers from each of these points turned out and hastened to the rescue. On the arrival of Captain Goheen from the Guadalupe, Captains Moore and Coleman from the Colorado, and Captain Smith from the Brazos, with their companies, the citizens informed the Mexican commander their Alcalde had returned and that he had determined not to give up the cannon. The Texians completed their organization by electing Colonel John H. Moore and Lieutenant-Colonel J. W. E. Wallace to the command. There were seven physicians in the army---they formed themselves into a medical board by electing Reverend William P. Smith, M.D., President, and Thomas J. Gazeley, M.D., Secretary. Orders were issued on the same day (Oct. 1, 1835), in the evening, that the army take up the line of march, cross the Guadalupe, form on the west bank and await orders. The army having crossed and at about the hour of eleven at night, being formed into a hollow square, Colonels Moore and Wallace, with Rev. William P. Smith, rode into the square, when the latter, being seated on his favorite mule, addressed the army as follows:

FELLOW-SOLDIERS: To cap the climax of a long catalogue on injuries and grievances attempted to be heaped upon us, the government of Mexico, in the person of Santa Anna, has sent an army to commence the disarming system. Give up the cannon, and we may surrender our small arms also, and at once to be the vassals of the most imbecile and unstable government on earth. But will Texas give up the cannon? Will she surrender her small-arms? Every response is NO, NEVER! Never will she submit to a degradation of that character! Fellow-soldiers, the cause for which we are contending is just, honorable and glorious--our liberty! The same blood that animated the hearts of our ancestors of '76 still flows warm in our veins. Having waited several days for the Mexican army to make an attack upon us, we have now determined to attack them on tomorrow morning at the dawn of day. Some of us may fall, but if we do, let us be sure to fall with our face toward the enemy. Your humble speaker has had the pleasure of examining the contemplated plan of attack. It is judiciously arranged; and to show you that he has had some opportunity of judging, he would simply say that he was with Generals Jackson, Carroll, and Coffee in the great Battle of New Orleans in 1814-1815.

Fellow-soldiers, let us march silently, obey the commands of our superior officers, and united as one man, present a bold front to the enemy. VICTORY WILL BE OURS! We have passed the Rubicon, and we have born the insults and indignities of Mexico until forbearance has ceased to be a virtue. A resort to army is our only alternative; WE MUST FIGHT AND WE WILL FIGHT. In numerical strength, the nation against whom we contend is our superior; but so just and so noble is the cause for which we contend that the strong arm of Jehovah will lead us on to victory, to glory and to empire. With us, everything is at stake-our firesides, our wives, our children, our country, our all! Great will be the influence over the colonies resulting from the effort we are about to make. We MUST SUSTAIN OURSELVES IN THE CONTEST. This will inspire confidence in the minds of our countrymen.

Fellow-soldiers, march with bold hearts and steady steps to meet the enemy, and let every arm be nerved, while our minds are exercised with the happy reflection that the guarding angels are directing our course. Let us go into battle with the words of the immortal Patrick Henry, before the Virginia house of Burgesses, deeply impressed upon our hearts, when, with army extended towards heaven, and with a voice of thunder, he exclaimed in the most patriotic manner, GIVE ME LIBERTY, OR GIVE WE DEATH! The address being concluded, the army took up the line of March silently and in good order. As soon as daylight had fairly dawned, Colonel Moore demanded of the Mexican officer to surrender. On his refusal to do so, the order passed rapidly along the line---Fire! Immediately the Mexicans were saluted by a volley of grape thrown into their camp from the very cannon which had been the bone of contention. Being quickly seconded by a general discharge of small arms, the Mexicans retreated precipitately towards San Antonio, and in accordance with their usage, took their killed and wounded with them . . .

Several other companies of volunteers having arrived, so as to make a more extensive organization of the army necessary, Colonel Stephen F. Austin by acclamation was announced the commanding Gen'l. of the army, and he appointed William T. Austin his aid and Rev. William P. Smith, Surgeon-General. While drilling and preparing for the march to San Antonio, the Sabbath day arrived, on the evening of which Rev. William P. Smith, acting in the joint capacity of Surgeon and Chaplin to the army, preached to a large and promiscuous assembly of officers, soldiers, and citizens on these words: If ye be willing and obedient ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured by the sword, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 1.19, 20) This text was appropriate at the commencement of a revolution."
An Old Soldier


SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS
1997-2003, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved