Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Second Lieutenant George M. Petty - another view.

George M. Petty was elected Second Lieutenant to the first detachment of Texas Ranger Corps from Mina (Bastrop) Texas, (a.k.a., "Tumlinson's Rangers") by the Provisional Government of the Republic of Texas.  His commission date is reported by various sources as 28-Nov-1835, but the minutes of the proceedings of the Laws of Texas give the date of the vote as 1-Dec-1835.

When the Runaway Scrape began, Captain Tumlinson and the 1st Lieutenant Rogers, with several other men of the unit provided protection for the families fleeing the advancing Mexican Army, beginning at Bastrop. This left Lt. Petty, essentially a supply clerk, in command of the remaining combat unit.

Said unit consisted of spies, or "scouts" in the modern parlance, probing the advancing Mexicans while guarding the rear of Houston's still retreating Texan Army. Their orders were to form with other units behind the main Texan Army.   From correspondence between Sam Houston and Robert McAlpin Williamson (a.k.a., "three-legged-Willie"), Major, commanding the Ranger units, we know that Petty was commanding the unit just before San Jacinto, that his Rangers had captured Mexican soldiers and the unit was keeping a half-dozen of the men out on constant patrol.

(See original, transcribed below:)

April 7th, 1836
To General Houston,
Since writing this morning by Major [Robert] Barr, I realized that I omitted stating to you that one of our spies, Daniel Gray, returned last night. He gives information of a chase given him by a party of mounted men, in number eight, supposed by him to be Mexicans. I think he is mistaken. Five men are still out in the same direction and well mounted and have had time to report. I take them to be a party of your spies that have given chase. In a few hours we will know the truth.
Yours ably,
R M Williamson, Maj .
P.S. Write me [immediately?] upon receipt of this. A Mr. Henry* told me you wished me to come down [to see?] you. I have no acquaintance with this Henry and think you would have written me to that effect if [imploring?]. Williamson 

The dispatch sent from Sam Houston and Thomas Rusk earlier that day and alluded to at the beginning of the one quoted above, indicates for us Sam Houston's rage that some of the prisoners brought in by the unit's spies had been killed in the camp at night by members of the same unit who had gotten drunk (a fact which is, suspiciously, not mentioned by self-promoting unit member Noah Smithwick in his chronicle of those days "Evolution of a State").

Williamson is summonsed to join Houston, which Major Williamson does, and uses as his "excuse" for staying with the Texan Army up through the Battle of San Jacinto in which he fought as a private.  Williamson's reply to Houston includes mention of one unit member, Daniel Gray, as the unit scouts probe the approaching Mexican Army.

In that book, Smithwick also pleads it was circumstance, but not a lacking in personal desire which kept him from action. However, he recollects no instance of one of his brothers in arms' combat death against the Mexicans two days before Smithwick mustered out.

From Gray Joshua

 Joshua Gray was the son of the Daniel Gray mentioned in the Williamson to Houston dispatch, above.  Still, Smithwick is quite disparaging of  Lt. Petty, recounting how Petty tore up his commission in response to a certain private chiding him about how officers would be treated by Mexican forces if captured:

There was an old fellow, John Williams, in our squad, who had been through several revolutions, from which he had derived a holy horror of Spanish methods of warfare, and he so worked upon the natural timidity of our commanding officer, that, he saw a Mexican soldier in every bush. He actually tore up his commission, lest it be found on him, and condemn him to certain death. I cursed him for a coward then; but, looking back at it now and remembering that Houston was bitterly denounced as a coward for pursuing the only course that could have saved Texas, I am fain to confess that what we hotheads sneered at as cowardice in Lieutenant Petty, was really commendable caution. Had Grant and Ward and King been of the same temperament, the lives of themselves and their followers would not have been so uselessly sacrificed. Ignorant of the whereabouts of either friend or foe, knowing that Gaona was behind us, and surmising that Santa Anna was between us and Houston, we had good reason to feel timid.

After the Battle of San Jacinto, George Petty is next seen at San Jacinto auditing and appraising the claim of Moses Davis' shotgun which that solider lost during the battle two days before (audited claim #4293).  Two months later, Petty is still shown in public record as commanding the Ranger Corps, in the absence of the Captain and the 1st Lieutenant.  In July while awaiting the approval of his resignation eventually back-dated to March (Republic audited claim #904 concerning Henry Redfield). One assumes that the intentionally torn commission papers resulted in discipline and thus a "resignation" in March even though he continued to lead the troops up to and beyond San Jacinto.

In August, as Assisting Quartermaster, he is at Cayce's Crossing (likely, "Canes Crossing") on the Colorado near Matagorda (claim #1202).

In October, he is present in Columbia under the same posting of Assisting Quartermaster, when Sam Houston was inaugurated as the President of the Republic (#876).   In December of 1836, perhaps still as assisting quartermaster, George Petty is found in Matagorda appraising damages done to a ship on behalf of R. R. Royall (a man who had been, essentially, the Republic's procurement officer).

At present, I have found no further record of the young Lieutenant.

* Williams probably is referring to either Charles M. Henry or Robert Henry.  Both of those men were present with the Texan Army then with Houston.  Colonel Henry Raguet is another possibility.

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