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San Jacinto and the Mystery of the Twin Sisters Cannons

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San Jacinto Day will be celebrated on Saturday and April 21st marks one of the most significant days in Texas history.  The Battle of San Jacinto lasted just 18 minutes and was the decisive battle in the Texas fight for Independence.  It’s hard to believe that 18 minutes changed the future of Texas, but the impact of San Jacinto can’t be denied.


Many San Jacinto veterans are buried at the Cemetery, men who sacrificed everything to fight for a better life for themselves and their families.  Edward Burleson who commanded the First Regiment at San Jacinto; James Sylvester and Joel Robison, two of the soldiers who captured Santa Anna; are just some of the heroes of San Jacinto who are honored at the Cemetery.  Oftentimes in our quest to remember our past we tend to focus on the major aspects and key figures of Texas Independence.  San Jacinto is no different. 


Walking on the grounds the other day following a funeral on Republic Hill, the headstone for Thomas Pliney Plaster struck me, “Who Manned One Of The Twin Sisters Cannons At The Battle Of San Jacinto.”  Perhaps one of the most curious and forgotten stories related to the Battle of San Jacinto revolves around the Twin Sisters cannons. 


During Texas Independence, official United States policy was to remain neutral.  Despite this policy, much of the United States watched the events in Texas very closely, many regiments formed around the country to join the fight against Santa Anna and the Mexican army.  Other freedom-minded American citizens raised funds to help aid the war.  In Cincinnati, Ohio, a group of eager citizens willing to do their part for Texas freedom acquired two cannons and sent them to Texas.  The cannons arrived in Galveston in April 1836.  Immediately upon their arrival, the cannons earned their famous moniker.  A doctor accompanied the cannons along with his twin daughters, someone remarked that there are two sets of twins stepping off the boat.  The simple observation earned the cannons their nickname, “Twin Sisters,” and their place in Texas history began.


Sam Houston received the Twin Sisters (replicas at San Jacinto Battlefield Park pictured below) just in time as he was retreating and regrouping along the Brazos River.  The Twin Sisters saw their first action on April 20th, when Houston and Santa Anna skirmished to a stand-still, each withdrawing.  Finally, a restless Texas Army was ready for battle on April 21st.  Houston and his forces led by Edward Burleson, Moseley Baker, and Sidney Sherman attacked the Mexican line.  The Twin Sisters were manned by 30 men including Thomas Pliney Plaster and the indomitable Ben McCulloch.  During the battle, the Twin Sisters performed admirably securing front lines with blow after blow.  When the cannon ran out of ammo they were loaded with whatever the Texans could get their hands on from musket balls to broken glass.


When the dust settled after San Jacinto, the real saga and story of the Twin Sisters begins.  The cannons were shipped to Austin and subsequently used in inaugurations and other celebratory ceremonies.  The Twin Sisters were presumably lost to history until 1860, when a former artilleryman remembered the cannons had been moved to New Orleans as part of the Federal arsenal.  Ben McCulloch, in anticipation of secession and wanting the cannons back on Texas soil, had Sam Houston petition for their return.  The cannons returned to Texas in April 1861.  The Civil War had just begun.


The Twin Sisters were used during the Battle of Galveston in 1863 and this is where the mystery begins.  The cannons disappeared, but were later reported to be in storage in Austin.  Colonel John “Rip” Ford was preparing to recapture the Rio Grande when the last mention of the Twin Sisters is found.  Ford ordered the cannons to San Antonio, but there is no account that can verify if the Twin Sisters ever made it or not.  To this day, nobody knows the exact fate of the Twin Sisters.  There are several theories as to what happened to them.  The most popular theory is they are buried in Houston somewhere. 


No matter the fate of the legendary Twin Sister cannons, they played an integral part in Texas Independence.  Among the many San Jacinto veterans buried at the Texas State Cemetery, two men, Thomas Pliney Plaster and Ben McCulloch both manned the lost cannons during San Jacinto.  Both men would go onto serve Texas, Plaster served in the First Legislature of the State of Texas.  McCulloch would distinguish himself in many ways following San Jacinto.  He participated in the Battle of Plum Creek.  During the Mexican-American War (pictured), he was General Zachary Taylor’s chief scout and became a national hero.  When the Civil War began, Jefferson Davis appointed him brigadier general and assigned him to Arkansas.  He suffered a fatal gunshot wound during the Battle of Pea Ridge. 


Calling an event or a person the most significant anything is never easy, you can always offend someone’s historical sensibilities.  However, the political, diplomatic, and military significance of the Battle of San Jacinto is hard to argue.  The Texans accomplished what they set out to achieve, freedom.  The Battle of San Jacinto will go down as the most decisive event in Texas history and the mystery of the Twin Sisters will live on.







- Jason Walker