Texas History - The Only Sailor at San Jacinto

The Only Sailor at San Jacinto

Sam Cushing was only seventeen on April 21, 1836, but he had already seen a lot.

He had been a hand on a Boston fishing trawler, joined a band of smugglers making runs between Haiti and New Orleans, was imprisoned for smuggling and nearly executed, worked as a New Orleans bartender, and joined the Texas Navy, serving aboard the Liberty under Captain William Brown.

After refusing his captain’s order to flog the vessel’s cook, Cushing took French leave at Galveston, and with a companion, made his way to the camp of the Texian army near Harrisburg. There he shook the hand of General Houston and attached himself to the artillery.

A few days later he took part in the most decisive battle in the history of this continent.

Cushing wrote down his experiences in his seldom read memoir twenty years later. What follows is probably the least known account of the Battle of San Jacinto.

"Everything remained quiet during the night, and the morning of the 21st dawned upon us - the day that was to consummate the independence of Texas.

During the night, the bridge across the bayou had been cut away by a few of the scouts belonging to the army, by order of Gen. Houston. Not, however, until Santa Anna had received a reinforcement which increased his force to almost thrice our number; and thus matters remained until between three and four o’clock, when the order was given to parade without delay.

In a moment every man was in motion.

The various companies fell into line, and presently, emerging from the wood, directed our march to the camp of the enemy, from whom we were partially concealed by an intervening grove of timber. Making our way through the woods, our column deployed in line of battle in front of the hostile camp. The enemy, who seemed to have been lulled to security by our previous inaction, now appeared as if determined to make up for their apathy.

Upon the instant of our advance the clang of their trumpets and rattling of their drums fell with startling effect on my ears; for this being my first battlefield, I am free to confess I did not display the coolness of a veteran.

I experienced a depression of spirits, almost amounting to dread, from which I did not recover until the first discharge of our pieces restored me to a sense of the duty I was called upon to perform. This excitement soon left me, and I saw the line was complete, and the next instant the order was given for the whole to advance.

The details of this battle have become matter of history, and therefore I shall confine myself to what fell under my own observation. Our artillery occupied a gentle rise of ground, which enabled us to pour a murderous fire upon the enemy, who had already opened on us with both their artillery and musketry.

Our line, however, continued to advance without firing a musket. It was almost wonderful to see the admirable precision with which the ragamuffins maintained their ranks during their advance upon the enemy. Old Sam had declared that he could never get his men into a straight line before he formed them that afternoon.

Meanwhile, our little four-pounders vomited forth showers of destructive missiles, carrying havoc and death through the ranks of the enemy.

Previous to leaving our encampment, at the end of a short address in which General Houston declared his intention of fighting the enemy, the battle-cry of “Remember the Alamo!” had been given to the troops.

But to return. When within seventy yards of the enemy, the line was ordered to halt and fire, and immediately after, to fire at discretion. The effect of this fusillade was terrible. The Mexicans fell like grass before the scythe of the mower, while their answering fire was comparatively harmless, their balls whistling over our heads in showers.

\ 560x421.8666666666667

The Battle of San Jacinto - by Henry McArdle

While this fusillade was In progress, our guns were brought into line, and the infantry with leveled bayonets rushed forward upon the enemy. The charge resembled the onset of a host of demons, rather than that of men.

They precipitated themselves upon the appalled Mexicans with yells and shouts, like so many tigers, and above all might be heard the hoarse battle-cries, “Remember the Alamo! Labadie! Goliad! Crockett! Travis! Fannin!” while in many cases the Indian war-whoop was attempted with brilliant success.

Before this unearthly uproar, the panic-stricken Mexicans melted away like icicles in a hot sun. The flank of the Mexican line broke and fled at the commencement of the charge, while their center made a brief stand, their position being supported in the center by a small breastwork formed of bags of sand.

Behind this was planted their artillery, a fine brass nine-pounder, which, at the instant of its capture, was loaded to the muzzle, and was by our men turned upon the Guerreras (Guerrero Battalion), who still made a show of resistance.

This decided the day in our favor.

The enemy were now scattered and flying in every direction. But still the work of retribution went on, and amid the groans of the wounded and dying, which were enough to appall the stoutest heart, the fierce battle-cry still rang forth, and the unerring rifle and bayonet continued to swell the number of the slain.

Every effort was made by Houston to stay the horrid work, but in vain until the men, satiated with carnage, and meeting no farther resistance, ceased the work of death and returned to their ranks.

The whole affair had been brief, occupying but half an hour, but in this short space of time nearly seven hundred of the enemy bit the dust, and a larger number of prisoners, with their whole camp baggage, and military chest containing a large amount of money, fell into our possession.

Armed with my old musket and bayonet, and acting as one of the covering party to the artillery, I had fired seven rounds from my musket and had driven home the eighth charge, when I found, to my great perplexity, that I could not withdraw the ramrod from the barrel of the piece. I essayed a score of times to extricate it, but in vain and bringing my firelock to the shoulder, I moved on with the others, and got along very well, considering the circumstances, until the enemy’s line was broken, an event which was quickly followed by the greater part of our own in pursuit.

I started with the rest, and so closely did we hurry them along, that a party of about a dozen of the enemy, despairing of escape, turned upon us, and bringing their bayonets to the charge, advanced a couple of paces ; but their courage again forsook them, and as we were about to slacken our pace to fire, they, with three exceptions, threw down their arms and fled.

The three still continuing to advance, those of my companions whose guns were loaded raised their pieces to their shoulders. Without thinking of my unlucky ramrod, I did the same and fired.

I did not stop to witness the effect of my discharge. It was enough for me that I saw my trusty old musket describing through the air the course of a shell just projected from a mortar, while I indulged in an involuntary exhibition of grand and lofty tumbling, ending with a descent in the midst of a heap of dead Mexicans.

Being rather more frightened than hurt, I once more got upon my feet, and finding that the extent of my wounds was merely a lame shoulder, I determined to make a demonstration upon the enemy’s camp.

A large marquee (tent) close by me appeared to invite my attention, and upon entering it, the first object that met my gaze was an officer in the uniform of a colonel, stretched upon an iron camp bedstead. He was dead, but not yet cold.

The appearance of things gave evidence that he had anticipated a more pleasant occupation than he had met with, it was apparent that the Mexicans when attacked were just preparing their evening meals, the tables for supper being left ready spread for the accommodation of the victors.

Considering myself an irregular, and wounded at that, I did not take the trouble to return to camp until nightfall, by which time the prisoners were all gathered in, a portion of whom had to be driven from the grass by setting it on fire."

After the Texas revolution, Cushing ran a primitive restaurant in the woods near Houston, but soon grew bored, sold his land grants, and sought adventures in distant lands.

He visited England and France, worked cattle in South America and was pressed in to service in the Uruguayan Civil War. During that conflict he served on vessels of both sides and lost an arm in battle before being captured by the British.

Thinking him a British subject, he was sent to England to be tried and hung. He was ultimately able to prove he was an American and made his way back to the states.

He died in New Orleans in 1896.​​​​​​​


Texas Quote

"The Texas longhorn was bred not by man, but shaped by nature and man benefited."

  • J. Frank Dobie

What year did he return to the USA?

I’m a little surprised that he wasn’t involved in the Civil War in some way, given the date of his death.

Chris, as an admittedly amateur Texas history buff, I thoroughly enjoy your posts. What do you do for a living?

Life Insurance for Northwestern Mutual

History buff in General. Starting summer reading to try and read all J Frank Dobie’s writings.

1 Like

Went through a while battle and only shot eight times. Times have changed