When the Siege of Bexar was finally over on December 11, 1835, many Texans thought that the Mexican Army had left Texas, never to return. In fact, the Texan army had started to disband even before the Siege of Bexar had been won. The volunteer troops had farms to manage and families that needed provisions. So with a tip of the hat and wave goodbye, almost half of the soldiers that were camped outside of San Antonio went home.
Earlier on October 12, 1835, the Texan Army under the command of Stephen F. Austin had moved on San Antonio. They had just won at Gonzales, and were now ready to capture San Antonio de Béxar Presidio. Mexican General Martín Perfecto de Cos controlled the Alamo and surrounding area with about 700 troops, and was willing to fight to his death to remain there.
But then everything slowed down. Instead of an attack on the city, confusion erupted within the Texan leadership. While some wanted to attack, others felt that they should hibernate for the winter, and attack in the Spring. As the leaders fumbled with decision, the volunteer troops became bored and confused. That’s when they started going home.
Among the Texan leadership were such notable heroes as Stephen F. Austin, Jim Bowie, Juan N. Seguín, James W. Fannin, Sam Houston, William Barret Travis, Erastus (Deaf) Smith, and Edward Burleson. These were some of the best warriors we had. But their personal and military disagreements almost dismantled any hopes for a free Republic of Texas.
That’s when forty-seven year old Benjamin Rush Milam stepped forward. With the stock of his rifle, he drew a line in the dirt. Then he said, “Boys, who’ll go with old Ben Milam into Bexar?” Slowly, a few voices said, “I will.” The trickle became an avalanche as many loud voices yelled “I’m going with you, Ben!” Milam said that if they were going with him, they should step over the line in the dirt. Over three hundred volunteers lined up next to Milam.
Before dawn on December 5, the battle for San Antonio began in earnest. The fighting required an individual house-to-house invasion that was very dangerous. On December 7, an enemy sniper bullet killed the visionary Ben Milam. The battle raged on until December 10, when surrender was finally secured. The Texans lost about a dozen soldiers, while the Mexican army had over 300 casualties. For the first time, the Alamo was in the hands of the Texans. The confusion among the leaders was mitigated when a leader with a clear vision stepped forward.
Who was Ben Milam? Born in Kentucky in 1788, Milam was a veteran of the War of 1812. Ben probably grew up hearing the stories of the American Revolution from his father and uncles. They fought for the birth of the United States, and that was in Ben’s blood, too. After his military career, he was successful in several businesses, before coming to Texas to help gain independence from Mexico. While he did get engaged to Annie McKinney, he never married.
One of Ben’s best friends, and a man who greatly influenced him, was Collin McKinney. He was a land surveyor, merchant, politician, and Justice of the Peace. McKinney helped draft the Texas Declaration of Independence, and was a true Texas hero. Both Collin County and McKinney, Texas, its county seat, were named in his honor by the Texas Legislature.
Few remember that McKinney was a dynamic lay preacher. He helped to start the First Christian Church in the home of Elder E.D. Moore, in McKinney, Texas. McKinney was a member of the Restoration Movement, that was an outgrowth of the Second Great Awakening (1790-1840) led by Barton W. Stone. Their teachings rejected Calvinism and having specific creeds, and sought freedom of the Spirit in worship. The Restoration Movement often combined Camp Meetings with the Shakers Movement, where amazing manifestations of the Holy Spirit were seen. Through powerful preaching, and Signs and Wonders, crowds began to follow.
It is supposed that Ben Milam found inspiration and strength from the Spirit-filled sermons that McKinney preached. No doubt Milam had seen and heard the powerful Full Gospel presentation that gave him confidence and strength. He was a man who understood the ramifications of good and bad choices. So when he drew the line in the dirt, he may well have been thinking of the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:30, "Anyone who isn't with me opposes me, and anyone who isn't working with me is actually working against me.” Moses quoted the Lord when He said, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: choose Life!" (Deuteronomy 30:19) Joshua challenged the people by saying, “Choose you this day whom you will serve!" (Joshua 24:15) Life is about choices.
One of the men who stepped across that line in the dirt before the battle to take San Antonio was William Barret Travis. In a few short months, he would be commander of the Alamo when Santa Anna attacked. You may recall that it was Travis who drew a line in the dirt, and asked the defenders of the Alamo who would stay with him, and who wanted to escape. Could it be that he was influenced by old Ben Milam?
Influence is an amazing implement of progress. McKinney influenced Milam. Milam influenced Travis. Travis influenced the Texan Revolution, and soldiers even today. The Bible teaches much about influence. Proverbs 27:17 ESV – “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 13:20 ESV – “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Are you a good influence?