James Butler Bonham
(February 20, 1807 – March 6, 1836) was a 19th century American soldier who died at the
Battle of the
Alamo during the Texas
His younger brother, Milledge Luke Bonham
, was a brigadier general
in the Confederate States Army
American Civil War
, and served as
Governor of South
from 1862 to 1864.
born near Red Bank (now Saluda), South Carolina, a son of James and Sophia (Smith)(Sophia was his
dad's second wife) Bonham, who had moved to South Carolina from
after the American
Bonham was a second cousin to Alamo
commander William B. Travis
and their families attended the
same church in South Carolina. He was a first cousin once removed
to Andrew Pickens
entered South Carolina College in 1824.
In 1827, in his senior year, he led
a student protest over harsh attendance regulations and the poor
food served at the college boardinghouse. He was expelled, along
with the entire senior class! In 1830, Bonham practiced law in Pendleton, but was found in contempt of court after caning an attorney
who had insulted one of Bonham's clients.
When ordered to
apologize by the sitting judge, he refused and threatened to tweak
the judge’s nose. Bonham was sentenced to ninety days for contempt
He served as an aide to Governor James Hamilton Jr.
during the Nullification Crisis
brandished a sword and pistol, condemning Andrew Jackson and the Washington politicians.
outspoken position brought him the rank of lieutenant colonel
. At the same time he
served as captain of a
1834, Bonham moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where relatives lived. The following year he
went to Mobile, where he
helped organize a company of militia
cavalry called the Mobile Greys to
serve in Texas.
company reached San Felipe,
Texas in November 1835, and Bonham was commissioned a
lieutenant in the Texian Cavalry on December
Texas and the Alamo
On December 1, 1835, he wrote to Sam Houston from San Felipe
volunteering his services for Texas and declining all pay, lands,
or rations in return. In December 1835, he was commissioned a
second lieutenant in the Texas cavalry, but apparently was not
assigned to any specific unit. He had time to set up a law practice
in Brazoria and was advertising the fact in the Telegraph and Texas
Registery by January 2, 1836.
Bonham and Houston quickly developed a mutual admiration. After
being in Texas for only one month Bonham recommended to Houston
that William S. Blount of North Carolina be granted a commission as
a captain in the Texas cavalry. On January 11, 1836, Houston
recommended to James W. Robinson that Bonham be promoted to major,
for "His influence in the army is great, more so than some who
`would be generals'." Bonham probably traveled to San Antonio de
Béxar and the Alamo with James Bowie and arrived on January 19,
1836. On January 26 he was appointed one of a committee of seven to
draft a preamble and resolutions on behalf of the garrison in
support of Governor Henry Smith. On February 1 he was an
unsuccessful candidate in the election of delegates to represent
the Bexar garrison at the Texas constitutional convention.
He was sent by Travis to obtain aid for the garrison at Bexar on or
about February 16, 1836. He visited Goliad, but the
commander of the forces there, James
Fannin, were unable to provide assistance.
returned to the Alamo on March 3, bearing through the Mexican lines
a letter from Robert M. Williamson assuring Travis that help was on
its way and urging him to hold out. Bonham died in the battle of
the Alamo on March 6, 1836. He is believed to have died manning one
of the cannons in the interior of the Alamo chapel.
Texas, is named for him. Ironically, Bonham is
the county seat of Fannin County, named for the commander who Bonham tried to enjoin
for assistance at the Alamo.
"Flat Grove," Bonham's home in Saluda, is the only known birthplace
of an Alamo defender still in existence. It is maintained as a
Texas schools are named after James Bonham, for example, in the
cities of Abilene, El
Paso, Houston, McAllen, Midland, San Angelo, San Antonio, and Temple.
- James Butler Bonham Messenger of Defeat, William N. Bonham,
True North Books, 1990