Twin Sisters Rededication Address
August 19, 2001, San Jacinto Monument

by Charles M. Yates

One of my favorite sayings is that when you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you can be sure that he didn't get there by himself. So it was with the Texas Revolution and our fight for freedom. Popular Texas folklore would have us believe that a small band of stalwart colonists rose against the tyranny of a much larger nation and single handedly, through the righteousness of their cause, defeated the greatest military power on the North American continent at the time. This is only partially accurate in that the "stalwart colonists" did rise against a great power, but like their grandfathers before them in the American Revolution, the colonists needed outside help from a world power to win their freedom. Without the aid of the French fifty years before, the American Revolution would have faltered and died; without the aid of the Americans in 1835, Texas' revolution would have suffered the same fate.

Support given by the United States government to Texas was, by necessity, much more covert than that given by the French to the Americans. Fearing an open war with Mexico, the administration of President Andrew Jackson maintained a policy of neutrality and, through what has become known as the tactic of plausible denial, publicly denied any knowledge of or control over its citizens efforts in support of the rebel cause in Texas.

The Federal government's position of neutrality was not shared by a substantial number of its citizens or states. Alabama, Kentucky and Georgia sent volunteers to Texas equipped with military arms from the state's military arsenals. Men, money and equipment were solicited in loud and public ways throughout the United States. Newspapers published notices of public meetings to increase support for the Texas cause and the resulting resolutions, activities and plans were widely circulated. Indeed, one southern newspaper printed a notice that future issues might be delayed because all of the "printer's devils" had run off to Texas. Loud, boisterous parades were held to whip up excitement for helping friends and relations in Texas. Emissaries from Texas, including Stephen F. Austin, were traveling widely throughout the United States seeking support for the Texian cause. Many prominent community and national leaders attended these meetings, including members of Jackson's own administration.

We know that Santa Anna was receiving communications from his spies in the United States about these public displays of support. His ambassador in Washington complained bitterly about the failure of the U.S. government to do something to stop these activities. Santa Anna was also receiving very detailed shipping information from New Orleans, which included the type of goods being shipped, the ship's name, the Captain's name, the departure and arrival schedules and destinations. President Andrew Jackson was receiving the same type of information and in the same time frame. To say that either side was ignorant of even the smallest details of what was happening in the United States concerning support for the Texas Revolution is to ignore the reality of the times. Not only did the leaders of the United States and Mexico know what was transpiring, they both obtained the information with adequate time to act upon it.

Enter the citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio. While aid for Texas came from all over the United States, Europe and, indeed, Mexico, itself, the support provided by the citizens of Cincinnati was especially note worthy. Sidney Sherman, a Cincinnati resident at the time, organized a company of volunteers, just across the Ohio River in Newport, Kentucky, to travel to Texas and fight for Texas Independence. The arms, money and supplies for the Newport Volunteers were provided by contributions from the people of Cincinnati and surrounding communities. The cream of Cincinnati society feted the volunteers with parties and socials and had a special flag created for them to march under. This self-same flag later became known as the San Jacinto Battle Flag and presently hangs in the Senate chamber of the Texas State Capitol.

In mid November of 1835, at a meeting held in Cincinnati to try to find a suitable way to aid the Texian cause, the idea was agreed upon to commission the manufacture of two pieces of artillery to be donated to the Texian Army. It should be note that Mr. Nicholas Clopper who presided over that meeting was the brother-in-law of David G. Burnet, future president of the Republic of Texas. Clopper's son, Andrew, later served as a courier for President Burnet, during the San Jacinto campaign. Ties between the United States and Texas were numerous and strong.

By most accounts the cannon were manufactured at the Greenwood & Webb Iron Works in Cincinnati and departed Cincinnati by river boat in late February of 1836. Because the Jackson administration's official policy toward the revolt in Texas was one of thinly veiled neutrality, during their journey to Texas, the cannons were referred to as "hollow ware", the same shipping designation as glass ware and bottles. This, in order to further reinforce the position of plausible denial for the United States government and to provide a small bit of lite humor for the U.S. Customs officials along the way; all with a wink and a nod.

On March 16, 1836, ten days after the fall of the Alamo and nine days before Fannin and his men were massacred at Goliad, the two cannon were received by Texas' agent in New Orleans, William Bryan. He then transferred responsibility for the two cannon to Col. John A. Wharton who accompanied the two guns on their trip to Texas aboard the schooner Pennsylvania. Traveling with Col. Wharton on board ship was Dr. C. W. Rice, in route to serve in the Texas Navy. Accompanying Dr. Rice were his wife and twin daughters, Elizabeth and Eleanor. Upon arriving at the mouth of the Brazos River, and with the Rice family in attendance, the guns were delivered to Capt. Lewis Allen. During the presentation ceremony it was noted that the good Doctor's set of twins had delivered another set of twins. From this moment on the two cannon from Cincinnati were known as "The Twin Sisters".

Because of bad roads, a numerous and dangerous enemy and an ever moving Texas Army, the two cannon took a circuitous route to eventually find the Texas Army under command of Gen. Sam Houston at Groce's Plantation on the Brazos River. The date was April 11, 1836. After crossing to the east side of the Brazos River, Houston placed the cannon under the command of Lt. Col. James C. Neill and started the army's week long journey south to the plain of San Jacinto. The journey was not easy. That Spring had been exceedingly wet and cold and, at times, the men had to drag the cannons through deep mud by weary human muscle and sheer will power.

The army with only these two cannon arrived at San Jacinto on April 19 and the next day took part in an artillery duel with the lone cannon of the Mexican Army called the Golden Standard. During that artillery duel Lt. Col. Neill was severely wounded and evacuated to Lorenzo de Zavala's house across Buffalo Bayou. Command of the "Sisters" was then turned over to Houston's Chief of Staff, George Washington Hockley, who commanded them on April 21, 1836. The Twin Sisters were used with devastating effect during the battle that would lead to Texas' independence and, ultimately, the addition of a third more territory to the United States.

After the Battle of San Jacinto, the fate of the Twin Sisters starts to become faint. Some sources report that the cannon were transported to Austin and fired on the Capitol grounds on April 21, 1841, the fifth anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto. They were reportedly fired once again in December of 1841 at Sam Houston's inauguration ceremony as he became President of the Republic of Texas for a second time. In true Texas fashion, the cannon were fired at the same instant Houston kissed the Bible after taking the oath of office.

When Texas became a state in 1846, all military facilities and equipment, including the Twin Sisters, were turned over to the Federal government. The cannon were then transferred to the federal arsenal in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where they gathered dust for fifteen years. With the War of Northern Aggression looming on the horizon, a few people in Texas remembered the Twin Sisters and prevailed on then Gov. Sam Houston to ask the State of Louisiana for their return. The Louisiana Legislature agreed and appropriated $700 to "procure the guns, [and] mount the same in a handsome manner" and ship them to Texas. The cannon arrived in Texas on April 20, 1861, twenty five years to the day after their first firing.

By the time the "Twins" arrived in Texas, events had rapidly progressed. Texas had seceded from the Union and all eyes and efforts had turned to the "late unpleasantness". The cannon were now over twenty five years old and had seen some rough treatment and neglect. Most contemporary commentators mention the sad or almost useless condition of the cannon. By most accounts the two guns were in the Galveston area during the war, although there is some evidence they may have been in Austin or San Antonio at different times. The last official mention of the "Twin Sisters" was in a February 8, 1864 letter from Lt. Walter W. Blow to Col. John S. "Rip" Ford, that he was preparing to send the "Twins" to San Antonio in order that Ford would have them available for pending military operations. No record survives as to whether Blow sent the guns or Ford received them.

Since this last mention of the cannon, many stories and reminiscences have been published in books and newspapers by people who are certain they know the fate of the "Sisters". The most popular and prevailing legend holds that at the end of the Civil War a small group of Confederate soldiers recognized the cannon laying in an abandoned lot in Houston and buried the guns to keep them from falling into Federal hands. Over the years, this particular story has spurred fits and spurts of furious hole digging in the Houston area in an effort to locate the artillery. At times the hunt has taken on all the aspects of a Texas version of the search for the Holy Grail; replete with dragons, damsels in distress and noble knights errant. Perhaps one day, at a construction site somewhere in Texas, a dredge operator will notice an odd bit of metal sticking out of the mud and the Twin Sisters will once again see the light of day, but until that time they will remain lost to history.

Invariably, the question arises as to what the physical characteristics of the cannon were. What did they look like and what were their sizes? At the time, cannon were sized by the weight of the round iron ball they fired; thus a cannon was classified as a 6 pounder or 12 pounder or 18 pounder. With the absolute certainty that is the hallmark of any study of early Texas history, we can say, unequivocally, that the Twin Sisters were six pounders …. Or four pounders. We can also say that they were unquestionably made out of bronze … or possibly iron. However, we can say without a shadow of a doubt that they had a double trail carriage …that is, unless the carriage was constructed with a single trail … or, possibly, they may have just been lashed to an oak log.

In point of fact, we know very little about the specific physical characteristics of these individual cannon. There are several descriptions of the cannon left by people who actually saw or used them, but as is the case with multiple eyewitness accounts of the same event, they seldom agree on all points. Even the difference in caliber between a 4 pounder and a 6 pounder is less than a half inch and hence very easy to confuse. At the same time, the period between 1820 and 1840 was a transition period in American ordnance with evolutionary carriage and barrel structural changes being made on several different levels. These, combined with the lack of materiel on the frontier and the lack of written records, makes a detailed and completely accurate reproduction of the Twin Sisters almost impossible.

So what's the story of the two cannons we've come here to dedicate? Well, as part of a Sesquicentennial Celebration project, the Texas Army, under the command of General Carroll Lewis, and the University of Houston joined forces in 1985 to build two cannons which would accurately represent the best estimate of what the "Twin Sisters" might have looked like. These cannon are the result of that collaboration and were used in the San Jacinto Battle Reënactment in 1986. Afterward they were loaned to the San Jacinto Museum of History for display. After a few years on display in the museum, the natural rotation of exhibits and shrinking exhibit space caused them to be disassembled and stored away. At the 2001 battle reënactment the reënactors found it necessary to bring the cannons out of storage, reassemble and dust them off for service on the Plain of St. Hyacinth, once again. On April 21, 2001, 165 years to the day from Battle of San Jacinto and almost to the hour, the kith and kin of the original "Twin Sisters" roared across the battlefield to the delight of almost 20,000 spectators and participants.

Today, we have gathered here to rededicate these pieces of artillery to the Texian cause. In rededicating these two cannon we restate and reaffirm our appreciation and gratitude to our friends in the cause of liberty; to our compatriots in the fight for freedom. To those of our friends from Courtland, Alabama; New York City, New York; Macon, Georgia; New Orleans, Louisiana and a hundred other communities around the globe, but especially to our friends from Cincinnati, Ohio: We owe you an undying debt of gratitude for your contributions and sacrifices to our unique world.

We shall not forget.

God Bless Texas.

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