The Texas Situation-1835
By October 1835, the Texians faced an ever growing threat from Mexican forces to initiate firm control over Texas. Due to the warlike atmosphere, committees of safety were assigned, Stephen F. Austin after his long detention in Mexico had returned and was named commander of the Texas forces. With General Cos’s Mexican army arrival in September and the subsequent Battle of Gonzales occurring on October 2nd, the news of the battle spread throughout Texas promulgating further war preparations William Francis “Picayune” Smith, a Brazos river trader located in the Tenoxtitlan area of Burleson County, was enlisted as a “secret agent” for the Texas cause. The mission was to raise funding for the forging and supply of two iron field pieces from the Friends of Texas supporters in Cincinnati. Departing mid October from Coles Settlement in Washington County, Francis Smith arrived in Cincinnati just prior to November 11. The Cincinnati Republican on the 11th announced, “Mr. Francis Smith was in this city, having resided in Texas about 13 years, and proposes to hold a meeting at the Court House on Thursday evening of November 12th.” The purpose of the meeting was to provide further information respecting Texas, “and then, if the meeting should be disposed to assist their brethren in Texas-such measures may be digested as may seem proper in so good a cause.”
The 1835 Cincinnati Response
After introduction Francis Smith provided the Texas situation via a long passionate speech, coming immediately to the point. “Gentlemen: I appear before you this evening, for the purpose of calling your attention to the present situation of your brethren in Texas, with the expectation that you will assist me in raising funds to purchase a pair of field pieces to take to Texas to assist in maintaining the rights and privileges you here enjoy….Texas stands alone, and will have it, or sink in the contest.” The Cincinnati leaders responded by approving resolutions to assist the Texian request, and then assigning key citizens in each ward to carry out objectives.
The cannons were forged and mounted by the Tatum brothers (Willis and Henry) at the Phoenix Foundry
Miles Greenwood, at his foundry, cast six barrels of eight ounce iron balls (grapes shot), and presented them as his donation.
The guns being cast and cooled were sent to fire engine manufacturers of Benjamin Chase and Jeffrey Seymour, for boring of the barrels, then returned to the Tatum brothers.
Committee members David T. Disney, William Curry, and Robert T. Lytle called upon Francis Cassat, a well known and established blacksmith and carriagemaker, to make carriages for the two guns. He moved quickly, the carriages rough but substantial, and well ironed, were on hand the morning of December 30, 1835, with carriages painted a bright red, and the wheels a stroke of blue. The six barrels of grape had already been shipped to the Tatum foundry, the cannon then mounted by Cassett and the Tatum brothers.
1836-The Texian Army, The Battle of San Jacinto, and the Twin Sisters
The cannon were finally shipped down the Mississippi to New Orleans. William Bryan, an agent of the Republic of Texas in New Orleans, took official possession of the guns on March 16, 1836. From New Orleans the guns were placed on the schooner Pennsylvania and taken to Brazoria. The cannons received the name "Twin Sisters" at Brazoria from the twin daughters of Dr. Charles Rice who by coincidence were on board the Pennsylvania when it arrived in Texas. After several unsuccessful attempts to get cannons to the Texas army under Sam Houston, which was retreating toward the Sabine before the forces of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, the Twins finally reached the army at their camp on the Brazos at Bernardo Plantation on April 11, 1836.. A thirty-man artillery "corps" was immediately formed to service the guns, the only artillery with the Texas army, and placed under the command of Lt. Col. James Clinton Neill.
Only nine days later the Twin Sisters saw their first action during a skirmish between the armies of Houston and Santa Anna on April 20. In this fight Neill was wounded, and command of the guns passed to George W. Hockley. The next day, April 21, 1836, saw the Battle of San Jacinto. That afternoon near the banks of Buffalo Bayou the Texas army struck at Santa Anna's unsuspecting troops. The guns via rawhide ropes were pulled with difficulty to within several hundred yard of the Mexican breastworks Their first shots were fired at a distance of 200 yards, and their fire was credited with helping to throw the Mexican force into confusion and significantly aiding the infantry attack. During this battle the Twins fired handfuls of homemade grape shot, as this was the only ammunition the Texans had for the guns.
In 1878, John M. Wade provided an account of the grape shot used:
“Arrived at Harrisburg, we found the place reduced to ashes, but finding some old tin and debris at a mill, we improvised grape and canister shot by filling ten cases with screw nuts and other small pieces of iron, and by cutting bar lead into pieces about ¾ of an inch in length and sewing them together into small bags of bedticking. On the 20th of April...the first shot was fired from the Twin Sisters, loaded with our home-made grape.”
A Rare Description of the Cannon
Noted Judge W. P. Hamblen, one of the longest practicing attorneys in the City of Houston, in 1909, responded to a series of articles on the Twin Sisters, providing his knowledge, and the rarest of actual description of the cannon barrels forged in Cincinnati:
As to the “Twin Sisters”, this is all I know. In 1850, if I remember rightly, on the block of ground where the courthouse of Galveston now stands the two cannon called the “Twin Sisters” stood.
They were iron cannon, not the present pattern sloping from breech to the muzzle, but large beyond the trunnion suddenly becoming small to the muzzle. On the side was a plaque, I believe of brass, but I am not sure of that, upon which was an inscription as stated by Dr. Young, hence “Presented to the Republic of Texas by the Ladies of Cincinnati.”
The Harrisburg Buried Cannon
The most prolific story emerged in April 1893, shortly after a newspaper published a request by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) in an effort to discover the location of the famous Twin Sisters Cannon.
Dr. Henry North Graves provided his details to the Galveston Daily news reporter of the events that transpired:
After Lee’s surrender Walter L. Mann’s regiment, which had been stationed at Galveston Island, left the island. Dr. Graves was assigned to Company K of Mann’s regiment. At Harrisburg the soldiers were persuaded by General Magruder and Governor Pendleton Murrah to return to Galveston and hold for five days, the attempt was to reach special terms with the Union blockading boat the Penobscot. At the end of the fifth day only 75 soldiers remained, and as the attempt had failed, the soldiers returned to Harrisburg with Magruder and Murrah, and disbanded in early June of 1865.
Upon disembarking at the depot in Harrisburg, Graves and his close confederates noted among cannon that had been unloaded on the platform the baby guns which they recognized as the Twin Sisters. This motivated the confederate group to form a plan on that dark drizzling day the second week in June to ease their anguish over their loss. The confederates that took part were Dr. Henry North Graves, just 19 at the time, John Barnett, Ira Prewitt, Sol. J. Thomas, and Jack Taylor.
In the late 1880’s, one of the confederate soldiers searched for the cannon and was aided by a local Harrisburg ex confederate soldier, Francis Bailey. Afterward, the soldier wrote Bailey a letter providing details he had remembered and confirmed such.
The 1895 Site Search
In 1895, during the United Confederate Veterans reunion in Houston, three of the group, hence Dr. Graves, John Barnett, and Sol. J. Thomas reunited. They took sheets of paper, and each drew the situation as they had remembered with the identification trees, and the papers were compared they were found identical. Dr. Graves and John Barnett then visited the site and found three of the marker trees and two of the stones, but failed to locate the cannon. See attached article.
The 1920 Harrisburg Touring Car Episode
Dr. Graves returned in 1920 at the invitation of the Houston Chronicle to attend the United Confederate Veterans reunion in Houston. The Chronicle had also arranged a touring car to include in addition to the driver, Dr. Graves, well known writer and Vice President of the Texas Press Association Mamie Wynne Cox, and the mayor of Harrisburg, James Deady. After a brief tour of Harrisburg, the touring car arrived at the site of the old G.H. & H. Depot, which stood at the rail crossing of the original B.B.B. & C. railroad, Ms. Cox noting:
At length the lot of the Doctor Valentine old home was located, from this point and the depot Graves estimated that he could approximate the location at least within an acre; arrival at the depot invigorated the aging Dr. Graves, giving him the strength to tramp over rough ground and to recall distinguishing landmarks.
Mamie Wynne Cox published the 1920 touring car article in July of 1921, only after the passing of Dr. Graves in June, and some nine months after the October 1920 touring car episode.
She also noted that Doctor Graves had lived in hopes that the Texas legislature would make an appropriation for the search. She added that during the Thirty-Seventh legislature Senators McNealus, Murphy, and Wood introduced a resolution in the senate for the recovery of the “Twin Sisters” cannon. It was referred to the committee on finance; the vote was eight for and eleven against, the measure died in the committee room.
In 1899, Dr. Graves, realizing that he was the last survivor of the group that buried the cannon, wrote with a heavy heart:
“In our love for them and our State pride, hid them from the desecrating hands of the despoiler. We did for the little pets what at the time we would gladly have done to each of us - buried them from the face of their conquerors.”
Dr. Graves was always adamant that they had confirmed the Twin Sisters by sight and the inscription on the cannon, which read “Gift Guns From the Ladies of Cincinnati.”
The Error Introduced
This writer met with Treasures of Galveston Bay author Carroll Lewis in August of 2005. Carroll included a section in his book, originally published in 1966 on his knowledge of the confederate munitions barge sunk in Buffalo Bayou at the foot of Milam Street Bridge, and the Twin Sisters Cannon. The map published in his book (below), is typical of several others of the period.
Carroll searched passionately for the cannon, and resolved that they could not be found after several years. He made a serious plea that pick up the pursuit because of my love history and research skills, but at that time my plate was full of other historical pursuits. He knew though that something was wrong with the logic, it made no sense, and listed in his book the common attributes or “facts” as existed consistently at that time, hence:
The group rolled the cannons to the bayou
They took off the carriages and sank them (into the bayou)
They then rolled the barrels about 400 yards into the woods
And buried them in a shallow grave
Another attribute provided by Graves that was common knowledge was that the cannon lie within half a mile or so from the depot. Lewis was aware of this, but did not include in his book.
Carroll Lewis-Twin Sisters Map
There are two main issues here:
One cannot roll cannot barrels 400 yards through weeds and heavy brush without extreme difficulty. Cannon barrels have trunnions, which protrude from both sides of the barrel, and provide the mounting pivot point for the cannon barrels for the carriage.
The cannon barrels were remounted onto Civil War era carriages, which while having iron pieces, were largely made of wood, and would have difficulty on their own sinking out of sight
It appears that the consensus of “Twin Sisters” facts post 1938 onward came from Jesse Ziegler’s 1938 published book “Wave of the Gulf”. In the section addressing the Twin Sisters Cannon, he included an “extract” from the memoirs of Dr. H. Graves (pgs 263-264), and included general fundamentals of the confederate’s story, including the following details regarding the cannon:
Before burying the cannon, we took apart the woodwork and burned it
The carriages themselves we threw into the bayou
After which we rolled the cannons 400 yards into the woods
Then we buried the Twins in a single shallow grave
Dr. Graves, as confirmed by his grandson Jesse North Bigbee, who lived Dr. Graves in Dallas as Graves resided with his daughter in his later years, confirmed to the Houston post in 1965 that he left no papers behind.
Mamie Wynne Cox, in her 1936 article noted below, confirmed that in 1920, while standing next to the Galveston, Henderson, and Harrisburg railroad in Harrisburg, Dr. Graves gave her his papers and letters with the admonition, “Daughter, if the time comes when you can use these to interest patriotic Texans in recovering the little twins we buried, remember it is my cherished wish that they be recovered.”
Many of the “memoirs” statements and facts Ziegler published were very similar to Mamie Wynne Cox’s 1936 Centennial article Gift Guns from Cincinnati .., to wit:
They took the woodwork apart and burned it
The carriages were thrown into the bayou
Then they rolled the cannon 300-400 yards into the woods
They buried the little Twins in the same shallow grave
In fact, Ziegler’s content was in the same order as Cox’s. Mamie provided a summary of the story she had acquired from Dr. Graves through meeting him in Dallas in 1918, and she held many interesting conversations with Graves in this regards.
Both however, were incorrect.
Ziegler’s information, published and available in book form, and which adorned many libraries and book stores, became ready fodder and future basis of reference for the many years to follow.
The Researched Story
In early June 1865, five confederate soldiers stepped off the train from Galveston onto the G.H.&H. depot platform at Harrisburg, soldiers recently with Co. K of Col. Mann’s regiments. These soldiers were part of a larger group asked by General Magruder and Texas Governor Pendleton to remain in Galveston, to aide in ending the Union Blockade of the Galveston port. This having failed after a week, the remaining 75 soldiers rode the train with the General and Governor to Harrisburg, where they were to be paroled, along with the mass of other confederates.
While on the platform, the soldiers noticed a pile of cannon dumped alongside the track which had been transported from Galveston, by orders of Magruder on May 21, 1865, Upon closer observation, the group recognized two smaller cannon bearing nameplates with the inscription “Gift Guns from the Citizens of Cincinnati.” Recognizing these as the Twin Sisters cannon, and with vile feelings toward the north and extreme patriotic and loyalty commitment toward the southern confederate causes, resolved to bury the cannon so deep that no damn Yankee would ever uncover the precious relics.
Toward dusk on a dark and drizzling day, five of their number dragged the Civil War caissons to the bayou and sunk these out of sight forever.
They returned to the depot, where under the cover of near darkness, dragged the cannon carriages 300-400 years into the woods, and buried these at the edge of some pines.
A shallow grave was dug, the ground being harder than expected and the men fatigued.
The barrels were removed from the carriages and rolled into the shallow grave, the grave then covered with the freshly dug dirt.
The Civil War carriages were then torn apart, the iron pieces and iron wheels from the Civil War carriage were carried to the nearby bayou and thrown into the water.
Limbs and brush were piled up over the grave, and burned along with the wooden carriages, to give the appearance of an abandoned campfire.
Four or five pine trees surrounding the cannon were “hacked” to carefully mark the spot.
They observed “stones” in the close area and nearby, thus to be referenced as an additional locating marker for the cannon’s burial site.
Henry North Graves, originally from Tennessee and the son of travelling preacher, was barely 19 years of age at the time.
The men faced treason for stealing and then destroying war armament, which became property of the federal government upon the south’s surrender. This ever present burden, along with hardening by the loss of war and the severe resentment towards the north, drove all to remain silent, including Dr. Graves’s colored servant Dan, who served with him the entire war and who aided in the cannons removal and burial.
But as time softens dispositions, with the solicitation by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in early April 1893 regarding the whereabouts of the Twin Sisters Cannon which did such effective service at the Battle of San Jacinto, Dr. Graves responded briefly in the Galveston Daily News while in Wichita, and was then interviewed at his home in Georgetown shortly after, to provide the initial composite details of the story.
Other Stories and Conjectures
Other stories of the Twin Sisters cannon circulated, most mere unfounded conjectures and rumors, hence, were thrown from the Galveston Wagon Bridge into the bay, left on the Battlefield at Palmito Ranch in May 1865,thrown down a well in Houston, etc. This included the conjecture that the cannon the confederates buried in Harrisburg were from the Cayuga, these old rusted 6 pounders separated from the vessel in 1836. In depth research, refuting both Palmito Ranch and Cayuga conjectures, are can be found via the link highlighted.
EXACTING THE LOCATION
Multiple site visits and surveys were completed at various times over several years, prior to the final rationalization. The location in general, where the original BBB&C and GH&H railroad tracks crossed are in the same location as they were in 1860. We stood at one time near the crossroads and were amazed at how little, in fact, time had changed the area since 1865, move a few tree ines and a few manmade items, and literally, it would have looked as if transported back 150 years previous.
As research was conducted throughout the years, a “parking lot” of possible “exacting facts” was story boarded. One by one these were put through stronger metrics and challenges, hypothesis changed to fit the growing number of increasingly probable “facts”, these corroborated by fact alignments, site surveys, topographical maps, and engineered plats, the exacting summary of “facts” are as follows:
The cannon were buried 100 yards north of the gate of the Dr. Valentine home (A very exacting fact)
Three of the hacked trees were found (aligns to the 1903 ROW plat which included the boundary line of the previously cleared trees cross confirming (1)
Two of the stones were found (this required years of rationalization to conclude what type of stone, where the stones originated, who placed the stones, and the purpose of the stones). The location of the close by stones were in very close proximity to (1) and (2) above
Once the location of the old Dr. Valentine home was found, Dr. Graves estimated he could approximate the location to within an acre. (non exacting but cross confirming)
These exacting facts corroborated the distance the cannons were pulled into the trees, and were in found in fact, very close.
Based upon the above and previous area excluding GPR surveys, the location is estimated to within a 50ft radius.
GPR for this site has its limitations, as the app. 3-3.5 clay and soil overburden from the previous bayou dredging spoils places this on the edge or cusp of this technologies capability.
Therefore, there are two future opportunities:
A) Blade off app 1 to 1.5ft depth at the site this, to clear surface level obstructions, thus placing the GPR technology to within reliable identification of the cannon burial depth
B) Investigate availability and costs for new state of the art drone subsurface 3D imaging technology, and employ this technology utilizing also balding the surface for a flat cleared area.
There are no buildings, slabs, or AG/ UG electrical or gas lines in the area, thus available for an unobstructed access. Site progress was halted in 2017 due to landowner approach confidence issues, and again in 2020 and 2021 due to pandemic related issues, this project will not continue site approach continuance until 2023 due to extension of pandemic related issues in 2022.