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Hall Countian was among heroes at the Alamo

POSTED: January 30, 2011 1:00 a.m.

A few Georgians were involved in the Battle of the Alamo in what is now Texas in 1836, among them William Wells, who was born in what is now Hall County in 1798.

Jack Waldrip, a Gainesville Realtor, stumbled on this bit of history on the Internet. The late Sybil McRay, a Hall County historian, also mentioned Wells in a column she wrote in The Times many years ago.

"Remember the Alamo" became the battle cry for Texans fighting for their independence when they were a part of Mexico. The Alamo was a former Spanish mission where Texans lost a crucial battle while fighting for their independence from Mexico.

The Mexican army, led by the country's dictator Gen. Antonia Lopez de Santa Anna, annihilated the Texans, including such legends as Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, who have been immortalized in movies, books and music.

Santa Anna's forces outnumbered the Texan defenders and brutally killed most of the survivors, but the Alamo ironically eventually led to Mexico's defeat and independence for the Texans. Enraged Texans led by Sam Houston caught up with Santa Anna and defeated his army just a few weeks after the fall of the Alamo.

Texans had gathered for a showdown at the Alamo, a walled 3-acre compound in what is now San Antonio. Because Texas was populated mostly by American immigrants at the time, Texans appealed to Americans to come to their rescue. Wells was among those who answered the call with several other Georgians.

The Rev. Pierce Harris, the late renowned Methodist minister from Georgia, wrote about an incident involving Wells, the Hall County native: "Col. William Travis, commander of the fort, drew a line with his sword in the dirt of the Alamo and challenged every man who would fight with him unto death to step across the line. Tarpley Holland from Grimes County, Texas, was the first, and close back of him was William Wells from Hall County, Georgia, and they were quickly followed by every man in the Alamo with the exception of a French mercenary soldier."

The saying, "Draw a line in the sand," is said to have originated with Travis' challenge to the Alamo defenders.

Before the Battle of the Alamo, the Texans already had driven the Mexican military out of their territory, but expected another invasion. About 180 holed up in the Spanish mission to await reinforcements, including more weapons and ammunition that never came. While some slipped through Santa Anna's lines, other Texas soldiers failed to report for duty, and more volunteers and supplies couldn't get through.

That left the Alamo even more vulnerable. Santa Anna's some 1,500 troops knew that and played a waiting game at first. But on Feb. 23, 1836, the siege began. Texans had some artillery and answered barrages of cannon from the Mexicans. When they ran out of cannonballs, they used those the Mexicans had fired at them or anything metal they could find to improvise.

But moving closer by night, the Mexican troops soon were within rifle range of the Alamo.

Hand-to-hand fights within the walls of the complex followed, the brave Americans and Texans vowing to hold the fort. Outnumbered and out of ammunition, they used bayonets or swung their rifles at the invaders. They were soon overpowered, and Santa Anna followed through with his threat to take no prisoners except for a few women, children and slaves.

William Wells was among the last defenders to die. The Mexicans piled the bodies up and set them on fire.

Wells had migrated to Texas, probably with other Hall Countians, about 1830. He was born in Hall County Aug. 16, 1798, to Charles Wells and Sarah (Sally) Lewis Wells. Charles Wells was a lieutenant in the Tennessee Volunteers during the War of 1812.

William Wells' parents had married in Franklin County, Ga., in 1795. Hall County, officially formed in 1818, was a part of Franklin County at the time. The Wellses moved to Tennessee in 1805. Charles Wells apparently also had lived in Habersham County at one time.

William Wells' first wife, Jane Nichols, died. He married Nancy (Kelton) Craft in Hall County Jan. 17, 1827. Thirty-seven years old when he died in the Battle of the Alamo, he was the father of three children.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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