Twin Sisters

By: Jeffrey William Hunt

Revised by: David Pomeroy and James Woodrick

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: December 7, 2017

On November 17, 1835, after Texas agent Francis Smith convinced the people of Cincinnati, Ohio, to aid the cause of the Texas Revolution, the Ohioans began raising funds to procure two cannons and their attendant equipment for Texas. Since the United States was taking an official stance of neutrality toward the rebellion in Texas, the citizens of Cincinnati referred to their cannon as "hollow ware." Two iron six pounders, were manufactured at the foundry of Hawkins and Tatum in Cincinnati and then shipped down the Mississippi to New Orleans. William Bryan , an agent of the Republic of Texas in New Orleans, took official possession of the guns on March 16, 1836. From New Orleans the guns were placed on the schooner Pennsylvania and taken to Brazoria. According to family tradition, the cannons received the name "Twin Sisters" at Brazoria from the twin daughters of Dr. Charles Rice who by coincidence were on board the Pennsylvania when it arrived in Texas and were asked to make a speech presenting the cannons to Texas. However, the first known use of the name was in a letter from President David G. Burnet to the Texas Committee in Cincinnati on July 22, 1836.

After several unsuccessful attempts to get cannons to the Texas army under Sam Houston, which was retreating toward the Sabine before the forces of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, the Twins finally reached the army at their camp on the Brazos at Bernardo Plantation on April 11, 1836. They were sent from Brazoria to Galveston on the Pennsylvania, then to the mainland aboard the schooner Flash, and to Harrisburg on the Ohio, where they were hauled by B. W. Breeding's oxen to Bernardo. A thirty-man artillery "corps" was immediately formed to service the guns, the only artillery with the Texas army, and placed under the command of Lt. Col. James Clinton Neill. Only nine days later the Twin Sisters saw their first action during a skirmish between the armies of Houston and Santa Anna on April 20. In this fight Neill was wounded, and command of the guns passed to George W. Hockley. The next day, April 21, 1836, saw the battle of San Jacinto and the securing of fame for the Twin Sisters. That afternoon near the banks of Buffalo Bayou the Texas army struck at Santa Anna's unsuspecting troops. The Twins were probably near the center of the Texans' line of battle and ten yards in advance of the infantry. Their first shots were fired at a distance of 200 yards, and their fire was credited with helping to throw the Mexican force into confusion and significantly aiding the infantry attack. During this battle the Twins fired handfuls of musket balls, broken glass, and horseshoes, as this was the only ammunition the Texans had for the guns. Among the crews serving the guns were several men who later made prominent names for themselves in Texas history, including Benjamin McCulloch, a future Confederate general who endeavored to bring the Twins back from oblivion in 1860. In 1840 the Twins were moved, along with other military stores, to Austin, where on April 21, 1841, they were fired in celebration of the fifth anniversary of the battle of San Jacinto. When Sam Houston was inaugurated as president of the republic that year, the Twins were fired as Houston kissed the Bible after taking the oath of office.

In 1842 the Twins were placed on the summit of President's Hill in Austin to defend the river crossing against an attack by Mexican troops that occupied San Antonio. They were inventoried in Austin in 1843, where they remained for another twenty years; reports of them being sent to Baton Rouge after Texas was annexed to the United States in 1845 were incorrect. Then came the election of Abraham Lincoln and the secession crisis. Even before Texas called the Secession Convention, men were beginning to think about preparing for war. McCulloch, recalling his service with the Twin Sisters at San Jacinto, thought that these guns should once again be on Texas soil. He wrote to Governor Houston informing him that he thought the Twins were located in Louisiana and should be returned to Texas. Houston agreed and wrote to the United States secretary of war asking for the return of the Twins. Before action could be taken on this matter, however, Texas had seceded from the Union. The Texas Secession Convention appointed a commission to ask Louisiana for the return of the Twin Sisters, but inquiries showed that the cannons had been sold to a foundry in Baton Rouge as scrap iron some years before. Instead of being the Twin Sisters, the cannons sent to Louisiana were two iron 6-pounders acquired by Thomas Jefferson Chambers for Texas in 1836. George Williamson, commissioner for Louisiana to the state of Texas, discovered that one of the guns was still at the foundry, although in poor condition, and that the other had been bought by a private citizen in Iberville Parish. Having found the cannons, Williamson asked the Louisiana legislature to purchase and repair them before presenting them to the state of Texas. The Louisianans passed an appropriation of $700 to "procure the guns, mount the same in a handsome manner," and forward them to Texas. The guns arrived on April 20, 1861, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the original firing of the Twins at San Jacinto.

The next report of the Twins was on November 30, 1863, when Maj. A. G. Dickinson, commander of the Confederate post at San Antonio, reported that they were in the rebel arsenal at Austin, although in very poor condition. On February 8, 1864, Lt. Walter W. Blow wrote to Col. John S. (Rip) Ford , who was preparing an expedition to recapture the Rio Grande from invading federal troops, that he was preparing to send the Twins to San Antonio so that they could accompany Ford's command. Blow's February 1864 report is the last official and certain mention of the Twin Sisters. Ford took six cannons to Brownsville, including two 6-pounders that were likely the Twins. They were present at the last battle of the Civil War at Palmito Ranch, and abandoned in Fort Brown after Ford learned of Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. The Twins were probably shipped back east by the Union Army and melted for scrap iron. There are various stories as to their fate at the end of the war. One of the most intriguing is that a group of Confederates led by Henry North Graves buried the guns to prevent their removal by Union forces in August 1865 in Harrisburg. The guns Graves buried were two 4-pounders unloaded from the schooner Cayuga on Galveston Island in 1836, acquired by the Galveston Artillery Company in 1843, and mistakenly believed to be the Twins. The two Chambers guns brought back from Louisiana in 1861 were erroneously reported as the Twins by M. A. Sweetman, who saw them in Houston's Market Square on July 30, 1865, and identified them by the brass carriage plaques installed in Louisiana. The guns were shipped east, where one of the carriage plaques was found in New York. The plaque was sent to Governor Pat Neff in 1924 and placed in the Mayborn Museum at Baylor University.

Galveston Daily News, November 14, 1909. Frank X. Tolbert, The Day of San Jacinto (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959; 2d ed., Austin: Pemberton Press, 1969). Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker, eds., The Writings of Sam Houston, 1813–1863 (8 vols., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1938–43; rpt., Austin and New York: Pemberton Press, 1970). E. W. Winkler, "The Twin Sisters Cannon, 1836–1865," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 21 (July 1917). Jesse A. Ziegler, Wave of the Gulf (San Antonio: Naylor, 1938). James V. Woodrick, Cannons of the Texas Revolution (San Bernadino: CreateSpace, 2015).

Time Periods:

  • Texas Revolution
  • Civil War

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jeffrey William Hunt Revised by David Pomeroy and James Woodrick, “Twin Sisters,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 24, 2021,

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December 7, 2017

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