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First Name: James

Last Name: Neill

Birthplace: NC, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Militia - Texas Revolution (Alamo)

Middle Name: Clinton

Date of Birth: 1790

Date of Death: 29 March 1845


Years Served:
James Clinton Neill

•  War of 1812


James Clinton Neill
Lieutenant Colonel, Texas Army

James Clinton Neill was born in 1790 in NC, the son of John and Margery Ferguson Neill who hailed from Loch Fergus Farm, Ayrshire, Scotland. His parents moved the family to North Carolina and eventually had 11 children.

James married Margaret Harriett Ferguson in 1807. Neill moved his family to Alabama and later enlisted in the West Tennessee Militia (protecting present day Alabama). He enlisted on 20 September 1814 and was discharged on 10 April 1815. He participated in the latter part of the War of 1812, during the Creek War. Although wounded, he fought in the decisive battle against the Red Sticks, at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

He served as a Captain under Major William Woodfolk. The battalion was designated as "Separate Battalion of West Tennessee Militia." This Battalion was based at Fort Jackson most of the time from late November 1814 to early 1815. Some of the men were stationed at Fort Decatur, where the remnants of the defeated Creek Nation came to surrender, seeking food and supplies (surrendering Creeks also went to Fort Jackson). One company, under Captain Abner Pearce, was stationed at Fort Montgomery. Woodfolk was a wealthy land speculator who owned a large plantation in Jackson County.

He served in the state legislature and was also a Justice of the Peace in Jackson County. He lived in Tennessee (present day Alabama) with his wife Margaret, who bore him three children - George Jefferson Neill (b. 1808), Samuel Clinton Neill (b. 1815) and Harriett (b. 1820).

Move to Texas

After a time in Tennessee/Alabama, where he served in the state legislature, Neill moved on to Texas in 1831 with Stephen F. Austin's third colony, where he received a league of land (4,428) acres. They settled in (Viesca District) what is now Milam County. Neill served as a District Representative in the Convention of 1833.

Texas Revolution

Due to his previous experience in battle, Neill had some knowledge of artillery. In 1834, Neill and his family moved to Mina, modern-day Bastrop. On 28 September 1835, when armed conflict with Antonio López de Santa Anna's Mexican troops seemed inevitable, he joined the Texas Militia as a Captain of Artillery. On 2 October 1835, he saw action at the conflict at Gonzales. Texan John Holland Jenkins recorded that Neill actually fired the famed Gonzales "Come and Take It" cannon, crediting him with firing "the first shot of the Texas Revolution."

After Gonzales, James moved onwards to the Alamo and joined with Stephen F. Austin's forces in the Siege of Bexar. From 5-10 December, Neill's battery provided covering fire for the assault on San Antonio de Béxar. He had gained an additional artillery piece from the Battle of Concepción and two more from the New Orleans Grays. They would be placed in the Texas post, just west of the Alamo, confronting the town; however, their fire could not shake Cos from Bexar. Then, Neill and his command formed a plan. They took a cannon across the San Antonio River and fired upon the Alamo as a diversionary tactic. The plan worked and the Texans were able to enter into Bexar. House-to-house fighting would eventually push the Mexicans back and into the Alamo. On 8 December, the Mexican Army made a counter-attack and Neill and his crew were there to answer back with canister. The flying hailstorm would quickly end the advance, ultimately resulting in the surrender of the Mexican forces on 9 December.

On 7 December, the Texas General Council had commissioned Neill Lieutenant Colonel of Artillery in the regular Texas Army. Having received several captured Mexican field pieces to augment his firepower, he now commanded over twenty artillery pieces, the largest amount west of the Mississippi River and north of the Rio Grande. Neill had been recommended for the commission by one of his neighbors, D.C. Barrett, who wrote to Texas Army Commander Sam Houston that "age and experience with his militia rank & title, would seem to justify his first commission as a field officer."

On 21 December 1835, Houston requested that Neill, now a Lieutenant Colonel of an Artillery Company, take command at of the Texas and Tejano garrison stationed at the Alamo Mission in San Antonio de Bexar. The orders also specified that Neill should make a report to Houston detailing the current state of the defenses in the city and what improvements were needed.

The Texas garrison was woefully undermanned and under-provisioned, with fewer than 100 soldiers remaining by 6 January 1836. Neill wrote to the provisional government: "If there has ever been a dollar here I have no knowledge of it." Neill requested additional troops and supplies, stressing that the garrison was likely unable to withstand a siege greater than four days. The Texas government was in turmoil and unable to provide much assistance. Four different men claimed to have been given command over the entire Army; on 14 January, Neill approached Houston for assistance in gathering supplies, clothing, and ammunition.

On 17 January 1836, James Bowie arrived to evaluate the situation, with the suggestion from Sam Houston to remove the artillery and blow up the Alamo. Houston had written the Provisional Government asking for approval of his orders. Houston sent Bowie to San Antonio because he trusted Bowie's opinion. Instead of leaving the Alamo and falling back to Gonzales or Copano Bay, Bowie and Neill became committed to its defense. Bowie, impressed with Neill's leadership, wrote, "No other man in the army could have kept men at this post, under the neglect they have experienced." Despite Houston's orders to have the Alamo destroyed as indefensible, Neill and Bowie vowed "... we will rather die in these ditches than give it up to the enemy." However, Neill was soon badly in need of supplies, as well as soldiers.

On 11 February, Neill left the Alamo to care for his family that had been overcome with a serious illness. He transitioned command to William Barret Travis, the highest-ranking Regular Army Officer in the garrison. By the day of the battle, Neill had reached Gonzales, where he signed a personal voucher for ninety dollars to buy medicine for the Alamo garrison. Neill was heading back to the Alamo, where unknown to him, the fort had already fallen to Mexican troops on 6 March during the Battle of the Alamo.

On 13 March, he joined the withdrawal of Sam Houston's Army to Groce's Retreat on the Brazos River. Unable to transport their cannons, Houston ordered them dumped into the Guadalupe River before abandoning Gonzales. That changed on 11 April when the "Twin Sisters" -two matched six-pounders- reached the Texas camp. The brass cannons were a gift from the people of Cincinnati, OH. Since Neill was a ranking artillery officer, Houston named him to command the revived artillery corps. On 20 April, Neill commanded the Twin Sisters during the Battle of San Jacinto. During this fight, his artillery corps repulsed an enemy probe of the woods in which the main Texas Army was concealed. Neill was seriously wounded when a fragment of a Mexican grapeshot caught him in the hip. The final Battle of San Jacinto was fought on 21 April.

Later Life

1838: Neill received a league of land in Harrisburg County for his services during the revolution.

1839: Neill ran for the position of major general of militia, losing to newcomer Felix Huston.

1842: Neill led a ranging expedition along the upper Trinity River to control hostile Indians.

1844: Neill was appointed as an Indian agent, responsible for vast areas of Texas.

1845: Neill was granted a lifetime pension of $200 a year, as compensation for San Jacinto injuries.

Death and Burial

Lieutenant Colonel James Clinton Neill died on 29 March 1845 at his home on Spring Creek in Navarro County, TX. He was buried next to his wife at the Riverside Cemetery in Seguin, TX.

Honoree ID: 2895   Created by: MHOH




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