AUCTION 23

 
 

Very Rare Unrecorded Broadside

Sam Houston’s Last Blast on the Battle of San Jacinto

 
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185. HOUSTON, Samuel. Speech of Gen. Sam Houston, of Texas, Refuting Calumnies Produced and Circulated against his Character as Commander-in-Chief of the Army of Texas. Delivered in the Senate of the United States, February 28, 1859. [Washington, D.C., 1859]. Folio broadside (56.5 x 45.2 cm), printed in six columns. Bottom torn with loss of small amount of text, minor losses at some folds, right side trimmed with small loss, a few scattered stains, professionally backed. No other copies recorded in this rare format.

     Unrecorded broadside printing of Sam Houston’s second Battle of San Jacinto, in which he adamantly denies as false the vicious defamations leveled against his conduct at San Jacinto. The text first appeared in the Congressional Globe (Part 2, February 1859, pp. 1433-1438), and also as a fourteen-page pamphlet (of which nine copies are located by OCLC). The text was published in The Writings of Sam Houston 1813-1863 (Vol. VII, pp. 306-336) and in William Carey Crane’s, Life and Select Literary Remains of Sam Houston, pp. 578-599. Eberstadt, Texas 162:411 (pamphlet format): “Important, detailed account of the Battle of San Jacinto.”

     Sam Houston delivered this heartfelt and indignant speech as his last volley at the end of his term as Texas’ Senator to Washington, D.C. He states:

My object, on this occasion, will be to show the true state of facts connected with that campaign, and with the wars of Texas. It is a subject which I had hoped would never again come under review, particularly my having had any connection with it. I had desired that it would cease forever, so far as I was concerned, and that I should never be placed in a position in which I should seem to be fighting my battles over again. They have not been so numerous, or so illustrious, that I should recall them with any more pleasure than that which arises from having rendered yeoman service to my country, and rendered every duty that patriotism demanded.

     Houston then presents a history of events in Texas in 1835, commencing with the hasty organization of the Texas Army to repel an invading Mexican army he “was satisfied would advance upon Texas.” He reviews the early weeks of the Texas Revolution, including his countermanded orders to abandon and blow up the Alamo, which he deemed indefensible. Houston states his interpretation of the fall of the Alamo speaking of himself in third person as the Commander and Major-General (as he does throughout all but the prologue of this text):

The council on the 7th of January, passed an edict creating Fannin and Johnson military agents, and investing them with all power of the country, to impress property, receive troops, command them, appoint subordinates throughout the country, and effectively supersede the Commander-in-chief in his authority. As I said before, he was ordered to repair to Copano. He did so. While at Goliad, he sent an order to Colonel Neill, who was in command of the Alamo, to blow up that place and fall back to Gonzalez, making that a defensive position, which was supposed to be the furthest boundary the enemy would ever reach. This was on the 17th of January. That order was secretly superseded by the council; and Colonel Travis, having relieved Colonel Neill, did not blow up the Alamo, and retreat with such articles as were necessary for the defense of the country; but remained in possession from the 17th of January until the last of February, when the Alamo was invested by the force of Santa Anna. Surrounded there, and cut off from all succor, the consequence was they were destroyed; they fell victims to the ruthless feelings of Santa Anna, by the contrivance of the council, and in violation of the plans of the Major-General for the defense of the country.

     Houston relates the defeats that followed at Goliad and elsewhere, like the falling of the dominoes in his military strategy which had been countermanded by his detractors and enemies. He was then requested to reassume control of the Texas Army, and speaking again in third-person Houston opines: “He was to produce a nation; he was to defend a people; he was to command the resources the country, and he must give character to the army. He had, sir, two aides-de-camp, one captain, and a youth. This was his escort in marching to the headquarters of the army, as it was called. The provisional government had become extinct, self-combustion had taken place, and it was utterly consumed.” He states that Fannin violated his orders to fall back from Goliad and declares:

Under these circumstances, the confirmation of the fall of the Alamo reached the general. Was it policy to give battle there against an overwhelming force, flushed with victory and the massacre of the Alamo? Was it wisdom in him to put upon the hazard of a die three hundred seventy-four men, in the condition in which his troops were, against ten thousand choice, victorious troops of Mexico, backed by a nation of eight million people, when he had only to rely upon the voluntary casualties that might exist to sustain him.... Though the news of the fall of the Alamo arrived at eight or nine o’clock at night, that night, by eleven o’clock, the Commander-in-chief had everything in readiness to march, though panic raged, and frenzy seized upon many; and though it took all his personal influence to resist the panic and bring them to composure, with all the encouragement he could use, he succeeded.

     After the Goliad Massacre, Houston determined that “an overwhelming force would soon be upon him” and he “knew that one battle must be decisive of the fate of Texas.” In wonderful detail, Houston describes the San Jacinto campaign and all the obstacles that he and his little army overcame, including the rise of the Brazos River, the hijacking of the Yellow Stone, marching through the quagmire of Harrisburg, the lack of munitions, etc., etc. The latter was somewhat ameliorated by “two small six-pounders, presented by the magnanimity of the people of Cincinnati, and subsequently called the ‘twin sisters,’ [which] were the first pieces of artillery that were used in Texas.” (Houston seems to have forgotten that the Alamo had the largest artillery park west of the Mississippi and was used to devastating effect.) Houston explains that for cartridges and balls they used old horseshoes and pieces of iron that had to be cut up. An inspired ingenuity possessed Houston that cannot be attributed totally to good fortune. For instance, Houston reports herein on spy extraordinaire Erastus “Deaf” Smith (see Handbook of Texas Online), who despite being deaf, managed to capture the buckskin wallet containing Filisola’s dispatches to Santa Anna. That was one of the pivotal achievements due to Deaf Smith.

     Houston’s blow-by-blow narrative includes an account of violation of his field orders by Sidney Sherman (Handbook of Texas Online) and others and continual questioning of his strategy, all of which Houston ignored. Taking note of the divisiveness of his companions in arms, Houston took matters in his own hands, such as secretly sending out Deaf Smith with concealed axes to chop down Vince’s bridge, effectively destroying the only means of retreat by the Mexican Army from the field of San Jacinto. Houston remarks: “The idea that the bridge would be cut down was never thought of by anyone but the general himself, until he ordered it to be done, and then only by Smith and his comrade. It would have made the army polemic if it had been known.... there was no alternative but victory or death. The general who counsels will find that in the ‘multitude of counsel there is confusion.’”

     Even before the rousing victory at the Battle of San Jacinto, Houston and his conduct during the Texas campaign were not without controversy. Before the battle Houston complained bitterly that “mutiny and sedition were rife” and tasked two of his loyal spies, Deaf Smith and Henry Karnes, to investigate his discontented staff. Karnes reported that one of Houston’s aides, Colonel James Hazzard Perry (Handbook of Texas), who resigned from West Point, had written a letter to Robert Potter (Handbook of Texas) on April 1836, charging that Houston “do eat opium to excess” (a charge even more negative than Houston’s cognomen of “Big Drunk”). Perry deplored the state of unpreparedness of the Texas Army, attributing it to Sam Houston most of all. This and other accusations, such as spying for the Mexicans, resulted in Perry’s limited arrest, although Houston forgave him, allowing Perry to fight at San Jacinto.

     Perry never tired of lambasting Houston. After leaving Texas and becoming a Methodist minister in Connecticut in 1838, Perry took his hypercritical Anti-Sam show on the road in 1843 and 1844 to popular acclaim. The turning point for Houston was Perry’s lecture series against him beginning in February 1859 in New York. Perry’s caustic lecture in New York in 1859 proclaimed that the victory at San Jacinto was achieved “in spite of Houston” and that “the wreath that now encircles his brow as the hero of that battle has not in it one green leaf.” Houston received a letter from “a respectable gentleman in New York” warning him of Reverend Perry’s “burning disgrace.” As a side note, North Carolinian Robert Potter, the recipient of Perry’s letter, was another GTT-man, who in a rage of jealousy in North Carolina castrated his wife’s cousin and another man in 1831. Cheating at cards or some such other unacceptable gambling behavior in 1835 only added to Potter’s troubles and led him to seek a new beginning in Texas, where he signed the Declaration of Independence, saw action at San Jacinto, entered a “dubious” marriage, and was murdered in 1842 during the Regulator-Moderator War by a Regulator. Potter did good service for Texas, though he remained an Anti-Sam man. Regarding the association of Perry and Potter, Houston states in the broadside: “[Potter] acknowledged himself [Perry’s] spy and pimp upon the general, and they were a most worthy pair.”

     Houston’s powerful broadside is his rebuttal on a national scale to the charges of Perry and many others. In addition to the little detractors, Houston had to contend with some of the Big Boys. President David G. Burnet, who had already retreated from the battlefield before Houston commenced his military strategy at the Battle of San Jacinto, cajoled Houston in a letter carried to him by Thomas Rusk: “The enemy is laughing you to scorn. You must retreat no more.” Rusk was loyal to Houston, whereupon some of the malcontent officers accused Rusk of having “fallen under the God damned old Cherokee blackguard’s spell.”

     The rest is history, but the controversy surrounding Sam Houston never abated, and in fact, over time intensified. Among the more vitriolic impugnments against Houston was a work entitled Houston Displayed; or, Who Won the Battle of San Jacinto? (Velasco, 1837, republished 1841; Streeter 190), which was characterized thus by an article in the July 29, 1841, issue of the Weekly Houstonian:

Our surmise in relation to its character was correct. It proves to be a republication of that vilest production which has ever disgraced the Texian press entitled ‘Houston displayed, or who won the battle of San Jacinto?’ It was originally published at Velasco in the spring of 1837, and was at that time considered, even by the enemies of Gen. Houston, such a tissue of falsehoods and misrepresentations that it had no influence whatever upon the public mind, and even those concerned in its publication became ashamed of it. No wonder then that its republication should be attended with such secrecy, as it does really appear to us a matter to be ashamed of.

Interesting to note is that the publisher of Houston Displayed was Algernon P. Thompson (Handbook of Texas Online), who came to Texas with Perry. Both were captured as suspected pirates in the Bahamas by the British, thrown into prison in Nassau, and released to go on to New Orleans and finally to Texas, arriving in time to participate in the Battle of San Jacinto.

     Subsequent defamations of Houston of special note include Dr. N.D. Labadie’s scathing account of Houston in the 1859 Texas Almanac. In this broadside Houston dismisses Labadie’s accusations and even gives us a bit of bibliographical background on the Texas Almanac: “It is strange that such a mass of this work should be produced. I perceive that no less than twenty-five thousand copies of it are to be circulated in the character of a book. It would be rather imposing, bound in cloth or leather, but in paper it is not so very important; but still there is something very ostensible about it.”

     Small wonder that Houston felt the need to clear the decks and unleash his raptor side. “He addressed the Senate, saying that within a few days his political life would terminate and that, as he had posterity to inherit his good name, he wished to vindicate his character from the attacks.... He gave a step-by-step version of his conduct in the Texas war...documented with letters from Rusk, Joseph L. Bennett, Philip Martin, and Ben McCulloch, all soldiers who had fought with him” (Clifford Hopewell, Sam Houston, Man of Destiny, p. 346). According to Llerna B. Friend (Sam Houston: The Great Designer, Austin: University of Texas, 1954, p. 267):

To Houston all criticism was intensely personal, and he had determined, at least as early as the publication of the 1857 Texas Almanac, that before he left Washington he would make one more defense against his enemies’ attacks, a defense that would guarantee the capital’s last impression of him as the hero of San Jacinto. Willard Richardson, in that first issue of his Almanac, had published a biography of General Rusk, probably written by Sidney Sherman, which gave Rusk credit for the victory at San Jacinto: “It was the mission of Rusk to win laurels on that day and for other men to wear them.” The 1858 issue of the Almanac had contained a running account of the history of Texas begun in the first issue and had given a narrative of the battle written by Dr. N.D. Labadie, which asserted that San Jacinto was won “almost against the will of the Commander.”

When Houston learned of the Labadie article, he wrote Stuart of the Galveston Civilian and Gazette that the account was utterly unfounded in truth and that he would ignore it for its attack on the conduct of John Forbes at San Jacinto. Forbes sued Labadie for libel and involved the Galveston News as publisher of the Almanac; Houston was later to work on the brief in the case. On February 28, 1859, four days before the “termination of his political life,” Houston declared that he deemed it due to himself, to the truth of history, and to his posterity to vindicate himself “against uncalled-for charges and unjustifiable defamation.” Beginning with the Declaration of Texas Independence, he recounted his version of his Fabian retreat across Texas, documenting it with letters from Rusk, Joseph L. Bennett, Philip Martin, and Ben McCulloch, Houston’s final remarks indicated he meant his “Refutation” speech to be his valedictory. He closed it with a statement of his confidence in the ability of the Senate to harmonize on national subjects and so cement the Union.

     This broadside contains an abundant measure of fascinating minutiae, such as the divvying up of the spoils of war following the victory of the Texans over Santa Anna at San Jacinto, all the more interesting because Houston was Commander-in-chief at that important battle. Whether thoughtful history or naked Texas pride, Clarence Wharton in his book San Jacinto: The Sixteenth Decisive Battle (1930) declares: “Measured by its results, San Jacinto was one of the decisive battles of the world. The freedom of Texas from Mexico won here led to annexation and to the Mexican-American War, resulting in the acquisition by the United States of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Almost one-third of the present area of the American Nation, nearly a million square miles of territory, changed sovereignty.”

($5,000-10,000)

Sold. Hammer: $5,000.00; Price Realized: $6,125.00

Auction 23 Abstracts

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