LAWRENCEVILLE - It isn't every day that men clad in historic army attire gather on the grounds of the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse to honor past soldiers with a 10-gun salute and a cannon.
On Saturday, however, it happened. More than 50 Gwinnettians and a few Texans gathered to pay tribute and memorialize two Gwinnett soldiers who were killed in the Goliad Massacre 170 years ago when Mexican troops invaded Texas.
The two Gwinnett County soldiers honored were Capt. James C. Winn and Sgt. Anthony Bates, who gave their lives along with 340 volunteer soldiers who were killed - almost twice the number of soldiers killed at the Alamo.
Bates and Winn heard Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was invading Texas in 1836 and formed a volunteer company to back up Texan soldiers fighting the invasion, said Jim Brimberry, a local historian and Central Gwinnett High School teacher.
As the Mexican army marched through various towns in Texas, killing Americans along the way, they eventually surrounded Texan and Georgian soldiers who had retreated to an open prairie. Brimberry said after intense fighting between the Americans and the Mexicans, the Americans surrendered due to lack of ammunition and water.
"They were expected to be treated as POWs but instead were murdered," Brimberry said.
Bates, Winn and the other soldiers were escorted back to Goliad as prisoners and were later executed on the orders of Santa Anna.
"Records show that several of Santa Anna's officers appealed to the Mexican dictator not to kill defenseless prisoners, whom he instead considered to be criminals and pirates," Brimberry said.
The men of Goliad served as martyrs for the remaining U.S. forces. Three weeks later, the Texans sought their revenge. Inspired by cries of "Remember Goliad" and "Remember the Alamo," the outnumbered Texans won one of history's most decisive victories at the Battle of San Jacinto.
Remembering the brave
Kicking off the memorial, The Sons of the American Revolution, dressed in Civil War period clothing, marched in formation to the steady beat of a drum while United Daughters of the Confederacy member Debra Denard laid a large red flowered wreath by the soldiers' monument on the courthouse grounds. "The Yellow Rose of Texas," played by a violinist and guitarist, could be heard in the distance.
After Gwinnett County historian Marvin Worthy recounted the Goliad story and Brimberry read the original funeral address given by Gen. Thomas J. Rusk, the Sons of the American Revolution hoisted the Texas flag up the courthouse's flagpole.
Walker Chewning and Terry Manning, dressed in period clothing, solemnly paused while Luke Zamprelli performed taps on his trumpet, the Texas flag rippling in the breeze.
The Sons of the Confederate Veterans lined up after Manning and Chewning posted the colors and gave a 10-gun salute, followed by the firing of a cannon. Upon the third round of cannon firing and musketry firing salutes, a symphony of car alarms from the Lawrenceville square sounded, set off by the deep boom of the cannon.
Following the tribute, the crowd was invited inside the Gwinnett County Veterans War Memorial Museum, where Brimberry and Worthy shared historical details about the Georgian heroes.