Short Memoirs & Sketches from Old Texians
Young Perry Alsbury. 1858 letter to Congressman Jesse Grimes describing the burning of Vincent's bridge. San Antonio, January 14, 1858. Hon. Jesse Grimes: Dear Sir: In compliance with the promise I made you when at Austin the other day, I shall endeavor to perform a task, to me extremely delicate, if not difficult. Delicate, because of the great diversity of opinion respecting the incident of burning the bridge over Vince's Bayou on the morning of the 21st of April, 1836, the day or the memorable victory of San Jacinto. Although many years have rolled by since that event, the leading circumstances attending the incident are still fresh in my memory; and if I err in giving its details I feel assured that the error springs from the deficiency of my recollection but not from design.
On the morning of the 21st of April, 1836, Captain Carnes Cavalry Company, commonly called Deaf Smith's Spy Company, were drawn up in line on the edge of General Houston's position, as well as I recollect, we were between thirty and forty strong. The Mexican cavalry, whom we fought the evening before, at that moment were drawn up in line on the south of our position about six hundred yards distant. I think they were from sixty to eighty strong. They seemed to invite us again to combat; but prudence, in my humble opinion, dictated to our leaders a different course than to engage them at that moment. While sitting in our saddles, John Coker, my left file-leader, made the following remark and the suggestions following:
The proposition was seconded by the whole company, when Deaf Smith proposed to go and see the General and get his approval to the enterprise. Word for word of what passed between our leaders I am not able to repeat, except that Smith told us Houston asked him: "Can you do it without being cut to pieces by the Mexican cavalry?" Smith said that he replied to Houston: "Give me six men and I will try."
On Smith's return to our little party he stopped about the center, facing us, and in the saddle some questions were asked him, as: "What did the General say?" He made no answer then; but, after surveying us from right to left with an iron-like countenance, he said: "I want six men. I am going to burn the bridge. I want six men who are willing to follow me through, or perish in the attempt." There was silence for several moments, as six of us dropped out of the little line and volunteered to follow our favorite chief. But let me here do justice to the remainder of our companions-in-arms by saying and believing what I say, that there were scarcely a man of our spy company who would not have volunteered to follow Deaf Smith, had each and all been well-mounted. I will here mention the names of all who joined Deaf Smith in the enterprise; yet, before doing so, beg leave to state that I differ from the opinion of my old friend, "Uncle Jack Coker," as we called him, as to the name of one of the party, but, having the most implicit confidence in "Uncle Jack's" honesty I am willing to risk his statement and give the names as he has set them down: Deaf Smith, Denmore Bives, John Coker, Y. P. Alsbury, Rainwater, John Garner, Lapham, seven in all. We were compelled to pass within gunshot of the extreme left of the Mexican cavalry, who were drawn out, as stated, with their left wing reaching within gunshot of Buffalo Bayou, up which we had to go to reach the bridge, situated some eight or nine miles on the road leading to the Brazos. It being understood that we would maneuver so as to pass the Mexican horse, if possible, without a fight, the remainder of our company followed slowly, under a soldier's pledge, that, were we attacked by the cavalry, they would come to our assistance. Our main body maneuvered, with the feint of an engagement, so that we passed to the rear unmolested, some distance; when our comrades regained the camp, leaving the enemy to enjoy the belief that we were too cowardly to fight.
We moved rapidly, till reaching the mouth of the lane, on the north side of which was situated the double log-house before occupied by Mr. Vince, we filed off to the left so as to avoid an ambuscade, should the enemy be concealed within the dwelling. We threw down the fence where it joined Vince's Bayou, over which the bridge was built. One hundred and fifty yards more and we were at the bridge, over which Deaf Smith and myself passed, with the view of reconnoitering, leaving the remainder of our party to "strike fire," and make the necessary preparations for burning the bridge on our return. We had gone about half a mile when we noticed in the sandy soil the track of a carriage wheel. Smith, with a countenance of mixed rage and disappointment, exclaimed: "Santa Anna has made his escape! Here is his carriage track, going back, pulled by mules in a great hurry!" I proposed to him that we should gallop on, about one mile, to a difficult crossing of another bayou where we might get the honor of helping him to cross. He replied: "My orders are to burn the bridge and return as quick as possible." In a few minutes we were at the bridge, where we found our comrades prepared with fire and plenty of dry rails and wood. In a few minutes the bridge was in flames. If I recollect aright, it was built of cedar. Nothing of interest occurred till we reached the first deep, dry hollow, half or three-quarters of a mile above our camp, when an incident happened which goes to illustrate strongly the extraordinary sagacity of that masterly man, Deaf Smith. After ordering a halt, he observed: "I will ride up the high ground next to camp far enough to see whether any of the Mexican horsemen are near, so that we may avoid them." Our eyes were bent on our leader, as we suddenly saw him drop down on the mane of his horse and turn toward us. When up to us, the question was asked: "What news?" When, with an eye and a countenance I shall never forget, he said: "The prairie is filled with Mexican horse. I can not see how, or where they got their reenforcements from." Eyeing every man with the eye of a tiger, he asked: "What shall we do?" We told him: "You are our leader and we shall follow you, let your course be forward or back." "My orders are to return to camp; I will do it or die; but," eyeing every one of us with a scrutiny even painful, he said, "If there is one or more or you prefers making your escape, I now give you leave." We loved our leader almost as we did our country and replied to him again: "Lead on, we follow!" A change, I thought, then came over his countenance as I discovered his terrible eye moisten with a tear, He asked: "Are your arms all right?" He then added, "We will go down the dry hollow to where it joins the bayou, and then, in Indian file, run to the level above, which will bring us in about one hundred yards of the enemy's extreme left. When discovered by them we will raise the Texan yell and charge at full speed through their lines, They will, no doubt, kill me, my bogs, but by God, I will make an opening for the rest of you to pass." Such was the plan understood, and sir, I have heard men say that they could meet such scenes with cool indifference; but, sir, they are braver than I profess to be. Although I must say, and when I say it, do so with candor and truth, that not one of Smith's men but would have preferred the risk of death, rather than an ignominious, disgraceful desertion of the leader we all loved. But to conclude: When fairly on the level which commanded a partial view of both armies, we saw no Mexican cavalry; but knew, from the hearty laugh of our leader, that he had, as he boastingly said, put our fidelity to the test. For my part, I felt well satisfied that I had saved my credit for courage without having the work to do; and doubt not but my companions felt as I did.
I have thus in obedience to your wish and in accordance with my promise given you a plain, candid and continuous narrative of the facts and leading incidents attending the enterprise of burning the bridge; also, the testimony of Mr. John Coker, of Bexar county, authenticating the correctness of my account of the chief incident herein narrated. Mr. Coker is a man who, in the estimation of his acquaintances, is second to none in honesty of purpose, valor and patriotism. As what I have repeated to you, concerning this affair, is dictated at least by a clear conscience, if not a clear mind, I feel no reluctance in letting the world see it, if it suits your pleasure. If I have committed an error, or made a blunder in my detail of the chief incident that is believed to have insured the capture of Santa Anna, it will afford me great pleasure to correct either one or the other. Lest the belief just expressed may appear presumptuous I may state that the undersigned was one of the thirteen who followed the distinguished Santa Anna and the remnant of his staff cavalry back to the site of the bridge I had left in flames some three hours before.
Respectfully and truly yours, Y. P. Alsbury
I, John Coker, of the county of Bexar, State of Texas, have no hesitation in stating, that the material facts in the preceding narrative are correct. Signed this seventeenth day of January, 1858. John Coker sdct [From the Kemp Papers, Center for American History, University of Texas and reprinted by the San Jacinto Museum of History, Houston, Texas]
"I landed at Velasco January 28, 1836," said Mr. Benson, "and enlisted in Capt. Amasa Turner's Company Feb. 13, 1836, a received orders to go to San Antonio. This was before the fall of the Alamo. We started out on the Schooner Tamaulipas, intending to sail around to Corpus Christi and thence march to join the Texans at San Antonio. In going over the bar our vessel was wrecked. This stopped us. In March we were ordered to the main army under Houston at Beason's Ferry on the on the Colorado. Gen. Filisola, Santa Anna' s lieutenant, was on the opposite side of the river with an army. I remember Gen. Houston called for volunteers to make an attack on the Mexicans. Was with Houston in his retreat from the Colorado upon San Felipe de Austin. We experienced great hardships on the march from San Felipe up the Brazos. We had hardly anything to eat. On the last day of March wearied and thed out we struck the Brazos timber opposite Groce's plantation. We heard of Fannin's defeat. We crossed the Brazos on the Steamboat Yellowstone; there was a rise in the river. We camped in the Brazos Bottom near Groce's till the 13th of April when Gen. Houston began his march to Harrisburg where the enemy were. It was at Groce's that we received the two pieces of artillery given Texas by Cincinnati, called the Twin Sisters. They were of iron and, if my memory serves me right, were six pounders.
The first night of the march we camped at Donoho's place, Thence we marched to Mathew Burnet's place on Big Cypress above the place where Houston now stands. On the march Gen. Houston ordered two wagon loads of lead to be emptied and the lead burned, having other use for the wagons. On the 16th of April, well as I can recollect, we camped at the head of Little White Oak Bayou, and on the 18th opposite Harrisburg. That evening we captured a Mexican courier having in his possession Col. Travis' saddlebags. From papers found on it was discovered that Santa Anna designed crossing Buffalo Bayou. I was one of those put on guard. My captain, ascertaining the facts, called for me and said, "Benson, I am sorry to see you on guard. We are going to fight the Mexicans." I swore an oath and said I was going too. So the Captain got a man to take my place. Crossing Buffalo Bayou to the south side occupied by the enemy, we marched till 10 o'clock and got down to Earle's place. We had nothing to eat and it was cool misty weather. We were of course armed with the old style flintlock guns and it was difficult to keep powder in the pans and touch holes dry. - - - While in camp somebody accidentally fired off his gun. Gen. Houston was soon on the scene swearing by the Eternal that the next man who did so should be shot.
From this point we marched down to the grove in the edge of the prairie overlooking the spot which was in a day or two to be the scene of the battle of San Jacinto. Mr. Benson claims to have handled one of the guns known as the twin sisters and to have cast the shot (leaden) used in them, and which did such damage to the enemy before the grand assault was made on the Mexican lines. Regarding the wound of Gen. Houston, Mr. Benson claim it was done by his own men for the reason that, as he was charging on his horse between the two lines and in front of Texans, he was shot in the ankle next to the Texans. He says that at the beginning of the charge Houston, fearing the line would fall into confusion, hallooed at the top of his voice to the men to halt. But they would not listen and on they swept upon the enemy. Houston remarked, "I applaud your bravery but d--n your manners!" He says it was the men rather than Houston who in reality, won the battle of San Jacinto. sdct [Original in the Texas Archives, recorded in the Kemp Papers, Center for American History, University of Texas and reprinted by the San Jacinto Museum of History, Houston, Texas]
Jesse Billingsley. Account of the San Jacinto campaign from the Galveston News (Tri-Weekly, Galveston, Texas Saturday, September 19, 1857). Correspondence on the role of General Houston.
Among many others of those who participated in our early struggle, to whom we have applied for reliable information with a view to get at the truth of our past history, is Capt. Jesse Billingsley, who has kindly furnished us with the following narrative of the campaign and retreat immediately preceding the battle of San Jacinto. It will be seen that Capt. B. confines himself to a statement of such facts as came within his own observation, and having command of the first company raised to meet the enemy on that occasion, he naturally became acquainted with many facts unknown perhaps to officers higher in command. In his private note to us, Capt. B. Says: "A press of business has delayed my compliance with your request, but with the leading incidents attending Gen. Houston's retreat and the glorious struggle on San Jacinto, I am probably as well acquainted as any other man who participated in that campaign, for, as you will see from the accompanying communication, I commanded the first company enrolled to meet the foe. But with the minor details others may probably be better informed, as I kept no record of the passing events, which I now deeply regret, for a true history of our early struggle has not yet been laid before the public. But what I do state may be depended upon, as substantially correct, in every particular."
Retreat Of the Texas Army previous to the Battle of San Jacinto
On the 28th of February, 1836, I had the honor of leaving Bastrop in command of the 1st company, in order to meet the invader of our country; our destination was the left bank of the Guadeloupe to form, as it were, a nucleus for the Texan Army. Arriving there on the second day, we learned, through Capt. Manchac, that the Alamo must inevitable fall on a certain day, being besieged, as was generally estimated by 8 or 10,000 men. On the arrival of Gen. Houston, (11th March) who had lately been appointed Commander-in-Chief of the patriot army by the Convention, thereby superseding Fannin of immortal memory, (who had been the choice of the army) the troops were ordered on the east bank of the river, and the following night having received intelligence from Colonel Travis's negro and Mrs. Dickenson (the only survivors) of the fall of the Alamo, Houston issued orders for a retreat eastward. This order, I, as Captain of the 1st Company, considering a very unadvised one, strongly objected to, asserting that we would be compelled to leave our horses, oxen, provisions (which the citizens of Bastrop had so generously furnished us with), in fact, all our camp equipage. Upon this, Gen. Houston came to me in person, and assured me that we would move only two miles or so, to a place more convenient for fighting, should an engagement ensue; and that, in the morning, we could have an opportunity to send back for what had been left behind: but to our astonishment, we were kept marching all night until about half an hour before day, when we rested on our arms until daybreak. About this time our ears were saluted with the noise of barrels of powder, spirits, &c, exploding in the burning of Gonzales. All the stores for the supply of the Army had been placed there, and our sudden retreat in the night left all the property and worse than this -- left all the families in the neighborhood at the mercy of our implacable enemy, none being aware of our sudden, and, to them, inexplicable move.
After a hurried repast we again took up our forced march, and were then destined to see a sight horrowing to our very souls -- a sight that beggars all description -- a sight I trust I may never see again -- families flying in terror from a foe well known as paying no regard to age or sex, striving to come up with those they regarded as defenders, but who, by their hurried midnight march, seemed about to leave them exposed to all they so much dreaded -- mothers carrying one, some two children, all flying in terror and agony, and nearly all on foot. There were no vehicles in the country, even if they had time to avail themselves of them (for at that day all had come to the country by water.) There were also rivers to cross; and, for tender females with children, that was almost impossible. Men were flying bareheaded in every direction, spreading terror and dismay all over the country -- houses and property of all kinds unprotected -- nay, they even left the tables spread out for the morning meal and fled leaving the food untasted. Onward they held their distracted course until they reached the left bank of the Colorado at Burnham's. Here the Army halted about two days, giving the families to cross. We then also crossed, and, bearing some distance down the river, camped in a cane brake almost inaccessible to the foe.
While encamped here, we learned from our spies and several prisoners we had taken, that Gen. Sesma was encamped on the opposite side of the river, not more than three miles from us, with force of about 700, or at most, 800 men, our force amounting, at this time to about 1300 strong, according to the statements of Maj. B. F. Smith, the acting Adjt. General. Upon receiving this information the Army earnestly besought Gen. Houston to come to an engagement. This Houston declined, and commenced making preparations, as it seemed, for a permanent camp, to the surprise of all, and truth compels me to add, to the disgust of many a galland soldier, as the apparent salvation of the country depended on the successful issue of an immediate engagement. Eventually, however, Gen. Houston determined to send Capt. Karnes across the river with one hundred and fifty troops, fifty of whom were mounted, with orders to station the foot in a ravine parallel to the route to the Mexican camp, then to proceed with the mounted force to draw out the enemy and retreat. The orders were obeyed. The Mexican fired a discharge of grape at the Tex'n cavalry, but did not advance. Karnes not deeming it prudent to march nearer against so large a force, recrossed the river without effecting anything. The General then determined to take up his line of march to the Brazos, assuring the Army that he would not pass over that river without coming to an engagement with the foe. After a hurried march he halted the army in the Brazos bottoms at a place inaccessible to the foe. While encamped here we learned that Santa Anna was bout to cross the river near San Felipe and that Capt. Mosley Baker, who commanded the Brazos troops (and gallant troops they were) was determined to oppose his passage. I, in common with others, earnestly entreated the General to give us permission to aid Baker, but he refused to the great grief of a large portion of the army. He then took up his line of march eastward, the army growing less and less every day, many leaving the ranks imagining that Houston would not come to an engagement with the enemy. And in truth, the majority were induced to remain and continue the retreat from unfounded statements made to them by Gen. Houston, to the effect that he was in receipt of letters from different States promising aid, &c., and that continuing our retreat, we would fall in with them. These statements, and the promise of finally coming to an engagement with the foe, could alone have induced men, situated as we were, to retreat from a foe inferior to numbers.
Having but scanty clothing and many of us without shoes, and our property gone, we were naturally eager for the fight, knowing that nothing but victory could save us, end the chance of that was diminishing every day and feeling that we must soon give out; and to crown the whole, our confidence in Gen. Houston's intention of coming to an engagement, was becoming weaker every day. There false statements could therefore alone have induced the majority of us to follow Houston's retreating policy as long as we did. But all things have an end, and then it transpired on the line of march that when we should come to a certain part of our route where the road parted in the right and left; (the right leading to Harrisburg, where we would in all probability meet the foe, and the left leading to Nacogdoches away from the enemy) that the army would be ordered to take the left hand road, so great became the excitement among the Captains commanding companies, that many of us signed an agreement to support each other and take the road leading in the direction of the foe, whatever the order might be. The vanguard under the command of Capt. W. Martin, took the Nacogdoches road and never came up with the army any more. True to our engagement, we took the road leading in the direction of the foe, and after a toilsome march encamped not far from Harrisburg, on the opposite side of the bayou. From an intercepted courier of Gen. Santa Anna's, we learned that Santa Anna was encamped near Harrisburg, having burned the city. Our men now became so eager to fight, that Gen. Houston found his retreating policy must give way before the united voice of the army for in plain terms they declared that fight they would. One effort more he did make: he issued the strange order that about 400 men should remain in camp; to guard what? an old baggage wagon; doubtless imagining that thus weakened, we never would venture to cross such a streat, as we had no boat suitable for carrying horses over, and would be compelled, if we made the attempt, to extricate them by means of ropes. But if such was his idea, he was doomed to be disappointed. No difficulty could now restrain the long pent up ardor of our gallant band. Water and fire combined could scarecely have deterred them then. They crossed, but on arriving at Santa Anna's Camp, found that he had set out for the junction of San Jacinto and Buffalo Bayou, and, lest he should get in the advance, the army marched all night and a short time before day we rested on our arms. At day break we resumed our march, and after marching some distance, commenced making some preparations for breakfast. But learning that Santa Anna was pushing on to the ferry, we immediately dropped the preparations for breakfast, seized our arms and hastened on. We had just fairly struck camp when Santa Anna came up and (to do him justice as a soldier ought) in a gallant manner opened a smart fire with artillery -- We promptly replied, when finding we were likely to gain the advantage, he withdrew his forces to the adjacent bank of the San Jacinto -- one wing of his army being thus protect - and the other stretching out into the prairie and commenced fortifying about three-fourths of a mile from our camp. We now made some preparation for taking refreshment (for the first time since leaving the upper encampment near Harrisburg) Some time during the day, Sherman was sent out, as we presumed, by order of Gen. Houston, to bring on an engagement; seeing him under a heavy fire and receiving no orders from Gen. Houston to go to his support, I determined to go voluntarily and accordingly led out the first Company of the first Regiment, to which I was attached, and was immediately followed by the entire Regiment, under command of its gallant leader, Col. Burleson. On passing the place where Gen. Houston and his Aide-de-Camp were standing he ordered us to countermarch. This order the men treated with derision, requesting him to countermarch himself, if he desired it, and steadily held on their way to the support of Col. Sherman, and succeeded in driving the enemy behind their breastworks. Gen. Houston, however, kept back the second Regiment, and thus prevented us bringing on a general engagement, which, in the then state of things, would have been synonymous with victory, and that without any aid from Gen. Houston. But finding ourselves unsupported, we deemed it prudent to retire to our camp for better concert of action -- Many now became convinced that Houston would not fight, consequently I was not surprised at receiving, on my return to camp, from the hands of Capt. M. Baker, (a tried and gallant soldier) a paper setting forth the convictions of many of the most experienced officers of the army, that Houston did not intend to fight, but that his object was to procrastinate until Santa Anna would receive such reinforcements, as would render it an act of madness to engage with him with the small force now at our command. This conviction he assured me was also endorsed by John A. Wharton who was afterwards called "The keenest blade on San Jacinto." And further, in this same instrument of writing, the officers entered into a solemn engagement to fight the enemy on the next day, General or no General!
During that night, Santa Anna was reinforced by Col. Kos' division, as we learned early next day. As the day wore on, Gen. Houston still procrastinating, finally called a council of war. After finding all unanimously determined to fight, he repeatedly asked Col. Burleson if his men fight. -- The Col. again and again assured him that he knew his men and that they would fight! At last, losing patience at the repeated insinuations as to the courage of his gallant regiment, he emphatically declared that if there was a coward in his regiment he would shoot him down. Gen. Houston, however, still continued to assert that raw militia like ours, could not be depended on in an engagement with such regular and well disciplined soldiers as Santa Anna commanded. But finding the officers and men all determined to fight, he finally proposed to build a floating bridge across the stream, in order to retreat, if necessary. Now, no idea could be more repugnant to our men than that of retreating or preparing any way for a retreat: for well they knew the ruthless and merciless foe they had to deal with, and they were fully determined to cut their way through the enemy -- to conquer or die. The day was wearing apace; the men were growing more and more excited, when finding that in my capacity of officer in charge of the guard, I was likely to receive no order from Gen. Houston to dismiss the various guards, in order that they might join their companies and prepare for the coming strife, I (on my own authority, and in consequence of my agreement with several of my brothers officers, on the previous day,) relieved them for that purpose. Almost immediately afterwards, I learned, to my inexpressible joy, that Gen. Houston had at length agreed to fight. The companies were paraded in battle order, and marched out in gallant array, under command of Gen. Houston. Then, gallantly did they redeem their noble pledge, to conquer or to die. In vain did Santa Anna's disciplined veterans endeavor to sustain the assault of our gallant army, as with the cry of "Remember the Alamo!" "Remember Fannin and Goliad!" they rushed to the charge. The resistless onslaught of our patriot soldiers was too much even for them to withstand, well tried though they had been, on many a tented field. They fled, and now, on the very eve of victory, was heard the command of Gen. Houston, (who had been wounded during the engagement) ordering the Texas troops to cease firing and give over the pursuit, exclaiming, "glory enough for one day!" But Gen. Rusk dashed among the men, and crying, "No, it is not enough, while the enemy is in sight" cheered on the troops in pursuit of the flying foe. Well and truly did they respond to his encouraging voice. The hour, so long delayed, had at length come, for vengeance and the memory of unnumbered wrongs urged each patriot arm to avenge the wrongs with a determination deadly sure. Down, and down forever, went the baneful meteor of Mexican despotism; and then up rose the fair star of Texas Liberty, destined never to pale or dim. On that day was born a nation of freemen. Who was instrumental, mainly instrumental, in producing so glorious an event, let a discerning world say.
Jesse Billingsley to Col. Sidney Sherman. Cedar Creek, Bastrop County Texas September 27th 1859. Col. Sidney Sherman
Dear Old Friend: I designed trying to make some remarks this winter upon General Houston' s valedictory, in which he attempts to vindicate the truth of history; that attempt to answer that part of his speech commencing with the retreat of the army from Gonzales to the fighting of the Battle of San Jacinto, and I now call upon you for certificates as you were an eyewitness of the campaign of 1836.
1st. Houston says that he gave up all his public wagons at Gonzales to help the families off in advance of the Army. Please certify how many public wagons that he had at Gonzales and how many he gave to the families. Also certify whether or not that all the families had left in advance of our Army. Also certify if you heard of the poisoned liquor that Houston spoke of. Please certify what you know about T. J. Rusk being Secretary of War, when he came to the Army. Houston denies that he was Secretary of War. Certify what you know about Rusk ordering Houston to take the Harrisburg Road and fall in with the Enemy. Please state all that you know about Captain Wily Martain leaving the Army. Please state whether he took the Nacogdoches road as Capt. of the vanguard of our Army. Houston says that he dismisssed him for his refractory conduct. Please state what place Rusk came to our Army. Please state how many men was left at what was called the upper encampment near Harrisburg and how many public wagons were there. Please state if Houston crossed over in the first boat or not. Please state who was the cause of calling the Council of War at our camp near the battleground; state at what time it was called and how many Councils were called before the battle was fought. Please state who was in the Councils and who presided over them. State if Rusk was at that time Secretary of War. Please state if those who composed the different Councils were opposed to fighting, all or any of them and who they were. State what you know about the Junior officers Council and who presided over it. Please state who it was that wanted to build a floating bridge across the San Jacinto. Please state if you believe that the Army was opposed to attacking Santa Anna on the 20th or 21st and also if you believe that Rusk was opposed to fighting at the time that we did fight.
I see in your defense that you quote from a short sketch of the Campaign that I wrote some years since; if you have a copy please send it to me. If you have a copy of pamphlet styled "Houston Displayed, or Who Won the Battle of San Jacinto", please send it to me. It contains charges and specifications against Houston upon which John A. Wharton drew a Bill of Impeachment. Please send me a copy of the Galveston Almanac as soon as soon as it comes from the press.
It seems hard to trouble an old friend with answering so very many questions, but if you will read Houston's speech closely you will see the propriety of it. I can answer those questions myself but I want additional proof and as you are the only field officer now living that I know of, I sincerely hope the you will answer them at your earliest convenience. I have written a long letter to the Hon. David G. Burnet and addressed him at Oaklin, Lavaca County. Please inform me if that is where he lives. Should you ever come through this country, you will do me a great kindness coming to my home and letting me have the honor of dividing my meat and bread with you and if I should have the good fortune to be in Galveston, I will call upon you. So no more, but remain
Ever your old friend, Jesse Billingsley.
Sherman to Billingsley in answer to above:
Question 1st. I do not recollect how many wagons there were at Gonzales. I know of none that was given up to families; some I think were left for the want of horses.
2nd. I know nothing about poisoned liquors, except that I heard Genl. Houston say at the time we heard the explosion at Peach Creek, that the liquors were poisoned.
3rd. Genl. Rusk was Secy. of War at the time he came to the Army and was so acknowledged by Genl. Houston, as he expressed much regret to me in not being made aware of the approach to the Army of the Secty. of War, that he might be received with the honors due his rank.
4th. Genl. Houston told me that Rusk had given him orders to take the Harrisburg road, and he was bound to obey him as his superior officer and requested me to inform my regiment to that effect. (See my pamphlet).
5th. I know nothing as regards Capt. Martin except report -- namely, that he had been ordered to the Trinity to stop all troops from advancing further west than that stream.
5th. Rusk joined the Army in the Brazos bottoms opposite of Grocus [Groces].
6th. I think from 300 to 350 men were left at the upper camp opposite of Harrisburg.
7th. Houston did not cross over Buffalo Bayou in the first boat nor until a large number of troops had crossed.
8th. I do not know who suggested the Council of War. I knew nothing of it previous to my being summoned to attend.
9th. The council was composed of Field officers only. Genl. H. presided. (See my reply to Genl. H. San Jacinto speech).
10th. They were not opposed to fighting, either one of the councils. It was merely a question whether we should attack them behind their works, or give them a reasonable time to attack us. I recollect that Major Wells was for attacking immediately, the balance of us were in favor of waiting a reasonable time for the enemy to attack, but all were determined to fight that day.
11th. Rusk was Secty. of War at the time the council was held and afterwards.
12th. I do not know of any one wishing a bridge built, - that question was not mooted in Council. I heard afterwards that Genl. Houston took some steps to ascertain the possibility of constructing one across Buffalo Bayou - not the San Jacinto. (See Capt. John Duncan's letter in my defense.)
13th. I know the army was not averse to attacking the enemy on the 20th and 21st - but on the contrary were anxious to do so.
14th. I do not believe Rusk was opposed to fighting.
(Signed) C. S. Sherman
Burnet to Billingsley
Galveston, Oct. 24th 1859,
I address you by the special request of our mutual friend Genl. Sherman. His time is so incessantly occupied just now that it is impossible for him to do more than hastily respond to your interrogatoried -- his answers you will find enclosed herewith. And beside this I wish to say a word or two to you -- That Gen. Houston's last Senatorial speech is a tissue of shameless misrepresentations. I presume no respectable officer or soldier engaged in the Campaign of 1836 will venture to deny -- that they ought to be corrected and the truth presented before the public is equally incontrovertible. The history of our late revolution has never yet been fairly and truthfully published - it is high time something of the kind was done or time itself will sanctify the many falsehoods that have issued from the press under the title of "Sam Houston and His Republic" and "Life of Gen. Sam Houston" and some other equally fulsome and ridiculous publications. I have made a small effort in this direction in the "Compendium of History" which you will find in the forthcoming Almanac. I prepared it under some disadvantages, having collected but few materials to sustain my statements. I believe I am generally correct and at least intended to be so. You have been in the army throughout the campaign, will detect any errors I may have committed. If there are any of importance, will you be good enough to inform me of them and of the truth in relation to them. If I have done injustice to anyone I would gladly acknowledge it and give the true version of the relative facts. If my life is spared, it is possible I may prepare the historical compend for the Almanac of 1861 -- but whether or not, I can correct the errors of the one now in press, through the Galveston News and it may be transferred to the next Almanac. There are many little points in the events of '36 that are still unexplained and I think it is the duty of every survivor of that interesting period to put on record such fact as may be within his own knowledge and are of sufficient importance to be noted.
There is one little transaction which I have never heard explained -- it has figured in several publications and sounds pleasantly in Houston's last speech in the U. S. Senate, but the authority is somewhat equivocal. I allude to "the blind woman with six children at the Navadad". Major Hare (?) of the Colorado once made remarks in relation to this event but I cannot now lay my hand upon his letter and it was not a full account of the matter. Can you learn anything in detail from Parson Kinney (or Kinnsy), who I understand assisted the distressed family in escaping from the enemy. I would be pleased to get an authorized and minute account of that affair. A it now stands before the public it reflects credit on the conduct of the General and if the statements be true, in all conscience, let him have the credit in its fullest sense -- but statements from himself are not always reliable.
The "Compendium" was finished and out of my hands before Gen. Sherman had received the many certificates contained in his pamphlet -- if I had had them, I could have made a more satisfactory article, but it had to go with all its imperfections, as it was printed in New York and therefore I had no access to the manuscript afterwards. In your letter to Gen. Sherman, you say you had written a long letter to me and directed it to Oakland, Lavaca County. I regret not having received it -- Oakland was the little home style of my late residence in Harris Cy., near the San Jacinto. This letter may be at Col. Turner's Postoffice which is styled Oakland -- but I should suppose the Colonel, an old friend, would have forwarded it to me. Well, it is time for me to close - your patience will tire in the reading of my long epistle.
Very respectfully yours etc. (Signed) David G. Burnet
Sherman to Billingsley
Galveston, Jany 2, 1860
I requested Judge Burnet some time since to say to you that I would endeavor to find a copy of your account of the Campaign of 1836 and send it to you, but I find it impossible to procure one. I have it, but it is, like many other such documents which I value, pasted in a scrap-book and I cannot cut - without taking out an important article on the other side of the sheet. I trust you will be able to find it in the hands of some one who keeps a file of the News. You say you intend showing up "Old Sam" in his true colors before the Legislature adjourns. I most heartily wish you all success; you are so will posted, I know you can do it. I am not done with Houston yet. If I am not mistaken, he will hear from me, through a channel which he little dreams of. He was under the impression, when he made his speech in the U. S. Senate, he was beyond my reach, but time will show whether he was or not. Permit me, Captain, to ask you to look into the merits of the case of my old friend Genl. L. Combs, of Kentucky, and if you can, after examining it, find it consistent with your ideas of justice to aid him in getting his claim through the Legislature, it would make me extremely happy. The General at an early day, and up to the present time, has been a true friend to Texas, and I would like to see justice done him. In great haste, I remain,
Truly you friend, C. S. Sherman sdct