History Friday: Two Brothers and the Twin Sisters

The two brothers were the McCulloch brothers, Ben and Henry – and the twin sisters were a pair of six-pound cannon, which were sent by the citizens of Cincinnati to Texas at the start of the Texas War for Independence. The good citizens of Cincinnati were persuaded to support the rebellious Texans, and so raised the funds to have a pair of cannon manufactured at a local foundry and shipped down the Mississippi to New Orleans, and from thence by coastal schooner to Galveston, where they were presented to the representatives of the harried and scattered government of the Republic of Texas sometime around early April, 1836. A resolutely determined settler in Texas, Dr. Charles Rice had arrived on the same schooner, accompanied by his family – including a pair of twin daughters. This was too charming a coincidence to pass unnoticed – that the schooner had arrived with two pairs of twins, and so the pair of Cincinnati-cast and paid-for 6-pounders were christened ‘The Twin Sisters.’ By the time that they caught up to Sam Houston’s expeditiously-retreating army, temporarily camped at Groce’s Landing on the Brazos, they would be the only cannon possessed by said army. (All other artillery pieces had been captured at the Alamo or after the defeat of the Goliad garrison at Coleto creek, or dumped in the Guadalupe at Gonzales to lighten the retreat).

The McCulloch brothers, Ben and Henry, were the scions of the adventurous frontier McCulloch family – a fearless and much respected one, numbering among their acquaintances a very much younger Sam Houston (when he was a school-teacher in Tennessee for a brief time) and Davy Crockett – a close neighbor, who tutored Ben in hunting and wilderness skills. Restless and tired of eking out a living as a farmer, Ben planned to join Crockett’s party of Tennessee friends on their jaunt to Texas on Christmas day of 1835. His brother Henry planned to tag along – but one thing and another – mostly the temptations of rich hunting grounds along the way delayed the McCulloch brothers. Ben convinced his brother to return to Tennessee, while he hurried to catch up to his friend Crockett. Which he did, at Nacogdoches early in January, but was immediately sidelined with a case of the measles which kept him bed-ridden for weeks. By the time he recovered, it was too late; Davy Crockett and his Tennessee friends had made it as far as the Alamo. Somewhere along the line of Sam Houston’s cat-and-mouse retreat into East Texas, Ben McCulloch joined an army … for the first but assuredly not for the last time.

In the fullness of time, the pair of six-pound cannon trundled along with Sam Houston’s strategically retreating army. At San Jacinto, they anchored the center of Houston’s center – two ranks of hastily-drilled and raggedly-clad soldiers methodically advancing on General Lopez de Santa Anna’s somnolent camp in the thin heat of an April afternoon. A scratch crew of volunteer cannoneers attended the Twin Sisters – including Ben McCulloch. They kept up a furious rate of fire, so much so that they ran out of cannon-balls. Not very much deterred, the two crews loaded the Sisters with whatever they could reach – scrap iron, broken glass and handfuls of musket balls.

After the San Jacinto victory, the treasured pair were eventually shipped to the various new capital cities of Texas and used now and again to fire at celebrations and observances. Henry McCulloch joined his brother in Texas, alternating bouts of professional surveying with fighting Indians, exploring, terms of elected office, and terms as US marshals. Ben McCulloch never married, but Henry McCulloch did, siring a dozen children with his wife, and one wonders how he ever found the time or the energy.

Eventually, following upon Annexation to the United States, the Twin Sisters were incorporated into the Federal arsenal and for reasons unknown, removed to New Orleans. In 1860, anticipating that Texas would secede, Ben McCulloch (whom one would never have expected to be that sentimental) asked Sam Houston, then governor of Texas – to get them back. Sam Houston, undeniably sentimental – asked for their return from New Orleans. And so the Twin Sisters returned – just as the Civil War began in earnest. One had been sold for scrap, the other to a private citizen but they were retrieved from the foundry and the owner, and adorned with memorial plaques, courtesy of the state legislature of Louisiana.

Ben McCulloch, having fought in four different wars with three different armies (five if one counts various campaigns against the Comanche) – fell in the battle at Pea Ridge the next year. His brother served loyally as the commander of frontier defenses in Texas throughout the war – alternatingly defending against Indian raids, and chasing after deserters and bushwhackers all along the frontier. In spite of his strenuous life he lived to a respected old age and died of more or less natural causes.

But what happened to the Twin Sisters? No one really knows for certain. They were used to defend Galveston in 1863. Rip Ford, as commander of the Cavalry of the West sent for them before his last-gasp campaign against the Union forces in the Rio Grande Valley. They were supposedly being stored in Austin late in the war, but no one can say if they ever arrived. Some accounts have them as being in a decayed and dangerous condition – more a hazard to their crews than to the enemy. Some say that they were buried secretly after the Confederate surrender – hidden away somewhere in the cities of Houston or Harrisburg, or perhaps dumped into deep water. It’s an enduring mystery – and some historians even wonder if the pair returned from Louisiana with all due ceremony in 1861 were the original Twin Sisters anyway.

(Cross-posted at my book-blog, www.celiahayes.com)

2 thoughts on “History Friday: Two Brothers and the Twin Sisters”

  1. Artillery, King of Battle, and cause of more enemy casualties than Infantry, Queen of Battle! Interesting story, S Mom.

    During a break from business travel a couple years ago, I toured the grounds of the Texas capitol. Wondered about the stories surrounding some of the cannon I saw. That, plus puzzling at the statues of Mexican leaders who harassed the early Texans, said statues gracing many parks near the capitol building.

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