In November 1835, three months before Texas declared its independence from Mexico, war clouds had grown into a full rebellion and the citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, eager to lend support, began raising money to purchase two cannons for the looming battle. Since the United States remained neutral throughout the war, the two iron six-pounders were secretly shipped down the Mississippi River labeled “hollow ware.” Stories abound about how they actually reached Sam Houston’s volunteer army camped about seventy-five miles up the Brazos River from its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico.
Most accounts say the cannons traveled from New Orleans aboard the schooner Pennsylvania to Galveston where Dr. Charles Rice’s nine-year-old twin daughters Elizabeth and Eleanor were invited to be part of the official handing over of the cannons to Texas. Since the ceremony consisted of twins presenting the two cannons, the six-pounders became known as the “Twin Sisters.” The Pennsylvania continued to the mouth of the Brazos River and traveled inland about eighteen miles to Brazoria. Houston’s camp lay an additional sixty miles upriver. According to an account taken from General Houston’s correspondence and orders, worry over the terrible condition of the roads and concern that Santa Anna’s army might intercept the Twin Sisters resulted in the decision to ship the cannons back to Galveston. Over the next eleven days, the cannons moved through Galveston Bay and up Buffalo Bayou to Harrisburg (near present Houston). Then, horse-drawn ox-carts slogged through the rain, mud, and fiercely cold weather to General Houston’s campsite on the Brazos River.
As soon as the Twin Sisters arrived, nine men drew assignment to each cannon and the drilling and firing practice began as the Texan Army moved east along the same route the Twin Sisters had just covered.
Sam Houston’s army of about 900 men set up camp on April 20 in a thick growth of timber where Buffalo Bayou flowed into the San Jacinto River. The Twin Sisters spent the afternoon in their first combat dueling with Santa Anna’s Mexican cannons.
The following afternoon the Twin Sisters led the charge across the rise in the prairie toward Mexicans who, convinced the Texans would not dare attack, were enjoying their usual siesta. At 200 yards the two little cannons opened fire with the Texans’ only ammunition––musket balls, broken glass, and horseshoes. The battle cry of the Texans’ split the air with “Remember the Alamo, Remember Goliad.” In eighteen minutes the startled forces of Mexico’s superior army had been defeated. The carnage did not stop, however, as the Texans continued to use rifle butts and bayonets to kill the enemy in a furious retaliation for the brutal deaths of up to 275 Texans at the Alamo on March 6 and the massacre of nearly 350 at Goliad on March 27.
Although the Twin Sisters secured their place in history, their travels did not end at San Jacinto. After being moved to Austin, probably to help protect the frontier capital from Indian attack, the two cannons appeared again on April 21, 1841, when they were fired to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto. Later that year, as Sam Houston kissed the Bible at the conclusion of his inauguration for his second term as president of the Republic of Texas, the cannons roared to life in a salute to the new president and hero of the Battle of San Jacinto.
The Twin Sisters made no further public appearances and became part of the military property moved in 1845 to the federal arsenal at Baton Rouge, Louisiana when Texas joined the Union. However, when secession talk reached full tilt with the election in 1860 of Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin McCulloch who as a young man had served on the crew manning the Twin Sisters and was destined to become a general in the Confederate Army, sent a letter to then Governor Sam Houston asking him to bring the Twin Sisters back to their home in Texas.
In the years after the cannons reached Louisiana, the Twin Sisters had been sold as scrap iron to a foundry. An investigation found that one cannon remained at the foundry in poor condition and the other had been sold to a private individual. The Louisiana legislature purchased and repaired both cannons at a cost of $700 and returned them to Texas on April 20, 1861, the twenty-fifth anniversary of their first skirmish with the Mexicans at San Jacinto.
The Twin Sisters performed again on January 1, 1863, Battle of Galveston in which Confederate forces beat the Union Navy to regain control of Galveston Island. During that fight, Lt. Sidney A. Sherman, whose father had been one of the heroes at the Battle of San Jacinto, was killed while commanding one of the Twin Sisters.
Stories abound about what happened to the Twin Sisters after the Battle of Galveston. One account says they were sent to Colonel John “Rip” Ford in San Antonio as he began the march south to recapture the Rio Grande from federal troops, but no record exists of the cannons reaching San Antonio. Some veterans claim to have seen the Twin Sisters at various locations around the Harrisburg area of Houston. Another account credits several Confederate veterans, concerned the Twin Sisters would fall into the hands of the federal troops during Reconstruction, with burying the cannons in an area hugging Buffalo Bayou. For years, history buffs and the curious have searched without success for the burial site.
In 1985, two graduates of the University of Houston’s College of Technology supervised the construction of replicas of the Twin Sisters. They stand today on the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site waiting for a discovery that will return the original Twin Sisters to the location where they made Texas and world history.