James Clinton Neill
(c. 1790 March 31, 1848)
was a 19th century American soldier and politician,
most noted for his role in the Texas
Revolution and the early defense of the Alamo.He was born in North Carolina.
Early life and career
Neill was born to John and Margery Ferguson Neill who hailed from
Lough Fergus Farm, County of Ayr, Scotland. His parents moved the
family to North Carolina and eventually had 11 children. Neill
moved his family to Alabama and later enlisted in the West
Tennessee Militia (protecting present day Alabama). He enlisted on
September 20, 1814 and was discharged on April 10, 1815. He fought
in the Creek War
where 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.
in Tennessee (present day Alabama) with his wife Margaret
Harriett, who bore him three children George Jefferson Neill
1808), Samuel Clinton Neill (b. 1815) and Harriett (b.
After time in Tennessee/Alabama, where he served in the state legislature
moved on to Texas. The family moved 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
Neill served as a district representative
in the Convention of 1833
Due to his previous experience in battle, Neill had some knowledge
. In 1834 Neill and his
family moved to Mina, modern day Bastrop.
September 28, 1835, when armed conflict with Antonio López de Santa
Anna's Mexican troops
seemed inevitable, he joined the Texian
militia as a captain of artillery.
October 2, 1835, he saw action at the conflict at Gonzales
. Texian John H.
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." From December 5–10, Neill's battery provided
covering fire for the assault on San Antonio de
Neill and his command had taken a cannon
across the San Antonio River and fired upon the Alamo as a
On December 7, the Texas General Council commissioned Neill
in the regular Texian army. He was given 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
commander Sam Houston
that "age and experience with his
militia rank & title, would seem to justify his first
commission as a field officer". On December 21, 1835, Houston requested that
Neill, a lieutenant colonel of an artillery company, take command
at of the 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
The Texian garrison was woefully undermanned and underprovisioned,
with fewer than 100 soldiers remaining by January 6, 1836.
Neill wrote to the provisional
: "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 Texian government was in turmoil and
unable to provide much assistance. Four different men claimed to
have been given command over the entire army; on January 14 Neill
approached Houston for assistance in gathering supplies, clothing,
On January 17, 1836, James Bowie
with the suggestion from Sam Houston
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
." 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
On February 11, Neill left the Alamo, likely to recruit additional
reinforcements and gather supplies for the garrison. He
transitioned command to Travis, the highest-ranking regular army
officer in the garrison. Neill was heading back to the Alamo when the
fort fell to Mexican troops on March 6 (the Battle of the
Alamo). 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.
On March 13, 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
abandoning Gonzales. That changed on April 11 when the "Twin
Sisters" —two matched six-pounders— reached the Texian camp.
cannons were a gift from the people of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Since Neill was a ranking artillery
officer, Houston named him to command the revived artillery corps.
20, Neill commanded the Twin Sisters during the Battle of
During this fight, his artillery corps
repulsed an enemy probe of the woods in which the main Texian army
was concealed. Neill was seriously wounded when a fragment of a
Mexican grapeshot caught him in the hip.
- quote in Winders (2004), pp. 88–9.
- Winders (2004), p. 89.
- Todish et al. (1998), p. 29.
- Todish et al. (1998), p. 30.
- Todish et al. (1998), p. 31.
- A week after Neill sent his letter, the Texian provisional
legislature impeached the governor, who in turn
disbanded the legislature. The interim constitution had given
neither party the authority to take those actions, and no one in
Texas was entirely sure who was in charge. (Todish et al.
(1998), pp. 30–1.)
- Houston, James
Fannin, Frank W. Johnson, and Dr. James Grant
(Todish et al. (1998), p. 30.)
- Todish et al. (1998), p. 32.
The Battle of San Jacinto was fought on April 21st. However, there
were several skirmishes in the days preceding, all characterized as
"The Battle of San Jacinto". It was in the skirmish on April 20th
that LtCol Neill was injured.
Neill did command the Twin Sisters cannons on April 20th, but this
was during a skirmish on the day before the actual battle took
- Barr, Alwyn, Texans in Revolt: The Battle for San Antonio,
1835, University of Texas Press; ISBN 0-292-78120-2
- Davis, William C., Lone Star Rising: The Revolutionary
Birth of the Texas Republic, Free Press; ISBN
- Hardin, Stephen L., Texian Iliad: A Military History of the
Texas Revolution, University of Texas Press; ISBN
- King, C. Richard, James Clinton Neill, The Shadow Commander
of the Alamo, Eakin Press; ISBN 1-57168-577-4
- Nofi, Albert A., The Alamo and
the Texas War for Independence, Da Capo Press; ISBN