SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS
1997-2006, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved
Flags of Texas Independence | Battle of San Jacinto

James Austin Sylvester
Hero and Flag Bearer of the Battle of San Jacinto, Capturer of "Napoleon of the West" Santa Anna

From the Cavalcade of Jackson County by I.T. Taylor

James SylvesterJames Austin Sylvester was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1807. After reaching manhood he moved to Kentucky. Captain Sidney Sherman raised a company of volunteers to aid Texas in her struggle for independence. James A. Sylvester joined this company of volunteers on December 18, 1835, at Newport, Kentucky. Captain Sherman's Company left Nacogdoches February 29, 1836, for Gonzales, but it seems that Sylvester had preceded them, for on January 10th he was commissioned a captain in the reserve army of the Texas Republic by Henry Smith at San Felipe de Austin. The original commission is in the Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas. They were given a farewell reception at the home of one of the leading citizens of Cincinnati the night before Colonel Sherman and his men left for Texas. At this reception the ladies of Newport presented the company of volunteers with a beautiful battle flag. The presentation was made by Mrs. Sherman herself. The flag was beautiful blue silk, bordered with gold fringe. In the center was painted a female figure representing the Goddess of Liberty and the words, "Liberty or Death." At about the end of the reception Ensign James Austin Sylvester asked the daughter of their host to give him some momento of the occasion to take with him as good luck. This beautiful girl removed her dainty white glove and said, "Here sir, is a gage of battle---let it be borne always in the foremost of the fight." The gallant Sylvester bowed low and replied, "I take it as a pledge of victory, and shall die before I surrender it to a foe." He placed this glove to the top of his standard. It remained on the staff pole throughout their journey to Texas, then to Gonzales, back across Texas and into the Battle of San Jacinto, where it was lost. It was never found.

March 12, 1836, Sherman's Volunteers were reorganized at Gonzales. Captain Sherman was elected colonel of the first regiment of Texas Volunteers. James Sylvester was made second sergeant and color bearer of the company. His service record may be seen in the State Archives at Austin. It is Comptroller's Military Services Record No. 1046. It is certified by Captain Wood that Sylvester enlisted December 18, 1835: was second sergeant and color bearer. It states that he participated in the engagement on April 20th and 21st and "was the individual who took the person of Santa Anna." It shows that he was honorably discharged June 18, 1836. General Sam Houston on August 3, 1836, at San Augustine presented Mr. Sylvester with a printed pamphlet, containing the names of the men who had fought at San Jacinto. On the back he wrote:

Presented to James A. Sylvester by General Sam Houston as a tribute of regard for his gallant and vigilant conduct first in the battle of San Jacinto and subsequently in the capture of Santa Anna, whose thanks were tendered by Santa Anna, in my presencc to Captain Sylvester, for his generous conduct towards him, when captured. (Signed) Sam Houston San Augustine 3rd Aug. 1836 The original manuscript is in the Rosenberg Library of Galveston. He was appointed captain by General Houston in August 3, 1836, when he presented him with the pamphlet and requested him to remain in the army until June, 1837.

Captain James Sylvester was the man who found and captured Santa Anna after the Battle of San Jacinto. Sylvester's own account of the capture of Santa Anna is as follows:

On the morning of the 22nd of April, 1836, news came into camp that a portion of our cavalry had surrounded Santa Anna and a number of his officers in a mot of timber some miles from our camp, and called for reinforcements in order to capture them. Col. Edward Burleson, commanding the First Regiment of Texas troops, called for volunteers, and mounting such horses as were under their control, they set out in search of the Mexican chief---after marching from the camp, near Lynch's Ferry to Vince's Bayou, where the bridge, but recently burned by Deaf Smith, impeded our further progress, and not knowing where our services were required, Col. Burleson called a parley. Some of the party were anxious to proceed by fording or swimming the bayou while others thought it useless to proceed farther after an ignis fatuus, when Col. Burleson ordered myself to take charge of such men as were disposed to return to camp and the others proceeded toward the Brazos in search of any Mexican stragglers that might be found.

The squad under my command proceeded back to camp. We left the main road and took down the bayou. We had not proceeded very far before some one of them proposed to skirt the timber in search of game. I took the straight direction promising to await their arrival at a certain point. After leaving the party, pursuing my course alone, I suddenly espied an object coming towards me, near a ravine. I immediately turned and made an effort to attract their attention. When I again looked for the object, it had vanished. Riding in the direction in which I had seen it, I came up to the figure of something covered with a Mexican blanket which proved to be Santa Anna. I ordered him to get up, which he did, very reluctantly and immediately took hold of my hand and kissed it several times, and asked for General Houston and seemed very solicitious to find out whether he had been killed in the battle the day previous. I replied assuring him that General Houston was only wounded, and was then in his camp. I then asked him who he was when he replied that he was nothing but a common soldier---I remarked the fineness of his shirt bosom---which he tried to conceal and told him he was no common soldier; if so he must be a thief. He seemed much disconcerted, but finally stated that he was an aide to General Lopez de Santa Anna---To affirm his assertion, he drew from his pocket an official note from General Urrea to General Santa Anna dated on the Brazos informing Santa Anna that he would be able to form a junction at or near Galveston and should immediately take up line of march to Velasco.

I was satisfied at the time, that in his official capacity of aide, such a paper might have been retained by him. At this juncture a portion of my squad came up, and as near as I can now recall consisted of Messrs. Miles, Vermillion and Thompson. General Santa Anna, complaining very much of fatigue, asked to ride a part of the way into camp. I think Mr. Miles proposed to dismount and walk to a point of timber, while we, (with Santa Anna mounted on his horse), went around the head of the ravine. When we formed a junction, Mr. Miles requested him to dismount, but Santa Anna refused to do so unless I required it. I told him I had no control over the horse, and he would have to dismount, which he did. I then took him behind me and we all proceeded to camp. I left him with the camp guard. He was immediately recognized by his own soldiers who were then prisoners in our camp, and was sent to General Houston's headquarters. When I returned to camp (having been sent for by General Houston) I was ordered to report to headquarters in person. I proceeded to the place---a wide spreading oak---and on presenting myself to General Houston, General Santa Anna immediately arose and came forward, embraced me, and turning to General Houston and other officers returned me thanks for my kindness while escorting him to camp and told me I was his savior. The above is a brief synopsis of the capture of General Santa Anna, from the recollections of 36 years ago. There may be some inaccuracies, but in the main the facts set forth are true. Signed---Jas. A. Sylvester, late first sergeant Company 9, First Regiment, Texas Volunteers, New Orleans, La., December 7, 1872.

Mr. Sylvester on May 6, 1874, from his home in New Orleans to the Democratic Statesman Austin, Texas, states as follows:

Gentlemen: At the last celebration of the veterans of the Texas Revolution held in the city of Austin on the 21st April last I noticed comments in some of the Texas papers of a speech made by General J. B. Robinson at that celebration, as being the captor of General Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto in 1836. General Robinson was one of the party of---I think five, with myself that left the main body of men under General Ed Burleson at Vince's Bayou who with volunteers, was in pursuit of General Santa Anna and the stragglers of his army on the 22nd, the day after the battle. Proceeding back to our main camp on Buffalo Bayou we separated for the purpose of hunting. But neither Mr. Robinson or any of the party was within five hundred yards of me when General Santa Anna was captured by myself, they joined me in a few moments after General Santa Anna had surrendered. I have always awarded the same credit to them that I felt was due to myself. But you will find among the archives of the Texas Historical Society a full account of the capture as also what passed between General Santa Anna and myself in the presence of General Houston and nearly the whole of our little army, as also a complimentary card from General Sam Houston to the expression of thanks and gratitude from General Santa Anna himself to me, when captured. Probably many of the old Veterans have either forgotten me, or suppose me dead---as I left Texas in 1843 and have resided in this city ever since where I have had the pleasure of meeting many of my old comrades and friends, among whom I may be permitted to mention three of the heroes of that battle, viz: General Sam Houston, General T. J. Rusk and General S. Sherman who have gone to that land from whence no travellers return. The last named was my old and honored commander and friend. Make what use you please of this, as it is only intended to correct an historical error, and place myself in a proper light before the Veterans. Yours truly, (Signed) James A. Sylvester.

The men on the scouting party mentioned above by Captain James A. Sylvester were A. H. Miles, Sion R. Bostic, Joseph Vermillion, Joel W. Robinson [Joel Walter Robison], Charles P. Thompson. Captain Sylvester lived at Texana for a number of years, was county treasurer of Jackson County. He was a member of the Somervell Expedition in 1842 and enlisted from Texana, Jackson County. He moved to New Orleans in 1843 and remained there until his death April 9, 1882. [Sylvester is said to have traded his bounty land for service which is in current downtown Dallas for a mule--WLM] He was a printer and worked for the New Orleans Picayune for a great number of years. He never married. He was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery, New Orleans, Louisiana. His remains were removed from the Odd Fellows Cemetery at New Orleans on November 5, 1936, by the State of Texas and reinterred in the state cemetery at Austin, Texas. The nearest living relative is Mrs. Joseph A. Gannoway of Arkadelphia, Arkansas. The battle flag that Sylvester carried was the only colors carried by the Texans at San Jacinto. Some time after, when Colonel Sherman returned to Kentucky on a mission for the Republic of Texas, he carried with him the battle flag of San Jacinto and the following message:

War Department, Velasco, Texas, August 6, 1836 This stand of colors, presented by the ladies of Newport to Captain Sidney Sherman, is the same which triumphantly waved on the memoriable battlefield of San Jacinto, and is by this government presented to the lady of Colonel Sherman as a testimonial of his gallant conduct on that occasion. (Signed): A. Somervell. Approved: Secretary of War. David G. Burnet.

The flag is now mounted as a painting behind the Speaker's desk in the House of Representatives. It was presented to Texas by Mrs. Lucy Craig, a daughter of General Sherman, in 1896. It is the most highly prized relic of the State of Texas.


Flags of Texas Independence | Battle of San Jacinto
SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS
1997-2006, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved