Sam Houston

Sam Houston

Samuel Houston was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, on 2nd March, 1793. The family moved to Maryville, Tennessee, in 1807, where he was brought up by his widowed mother. In his youth he spent a lot of time with a group of Cherokees and learnt about their language and culture.

He joined the army and took part in the fighting against the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend, Alabama, on 28th March, 1814. Houston was an impressive soldier and under the command of Andrew Jackson reached the rank of second lieutenant. However, he resigned from the army in 1818 after being criticised for being too sympathetic to the plight of the Native Americans.

Houston studied law and opened up an office in Lebanon, Tennessee. Later that year he was elected district attorney at Nashville. In 1821 he was appointed Major General of Militia.

In 1823 Houston was elected to Congress and four years later became Governor of Tennessee. After a brief, unhappy marriage, Houston resigned as governor and went to like with the Cherokees. He made several trips to Washington to lobby for better treatment for Native Americans.

In April 1833 President Andrew Jackson asked Houston to go to Texas to negotiate with Native Americans in order to obtain the safe passage of American traders wanting to work in Mexican territory.

Houston gradually became involved in the campaign for against Mexican rule in Texas and in November, 1835, was elected Major General of the Texas Army. After the outbreak of the Texas Revolution Houston ordered his men to take San Antonio de Bexar. On 7th December a group of volunteers led by Ben Milam attacked the town. After the death of Milam James Bowie took over the leadership of the rebels. After two more days of fighting General Perfecto de Cos called for negotiations to take place. COs offered the rebels control of San Antonio de Bexar in exchange for his men being allowed to return to Mexico.

In January 1836 William Travis was given command of the regulars and James Bowie the volunteers based at San Antonio de Bexar. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and 7,000 Mexican troops arrived back in San Antonio on 23rd February, 1836. About 200 Texans took refuge in the fortified grounds of the Alamo. Bowie was struck down with typhoid and Travis eventually took over sole command of the fortress.

Houston signed the declaration of Texas independence on 2nd March, 1836. Two days later he was elected commander-in-chief of the army.

General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna now became determined to take the Alamo. He ordered the shelling of the fortress but the Texans refused to surrender. On 6th March the Mexican army stormed the fortress. During the battle 189 Texans were killed. This included William Travis, James Bowie and Davy Crockett. It is estimated that 1,500 Mexicans died during the fighting.

Houston and his small army retreated eastward following the fall of the Alamo. When Houston reached Buffalo Bayou he took up a defensive position by the River San Jacinto. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and his army of 1,500 men arrived across the prairie on 20th April. After coming under artillery fire the Mexicans moved back to some trees that provided them some protection from the Texans.

On 21st April 1836, Houston sent a small party of men under the leadership of Deaf Smith, to destroy Vince's Bridge and therefore cutting off the only means of escape. Edward Burleson, as commander of the First Regiment, led the attack on the Mexicans and organized resistance ended within 20 minutes. About 630 Mexicans were killed and 730 soldiers, including General Santa Anna, were captured. Texan casualties included 16 killed and 24 wounded.

Houston negotiated with Santa Anna who eventually agreed to withdraw all Mexican troops from Texas. On 22nd October, 1836, Houston became the first president of the Republic of Texas.

In 1845 Houston played an important role in the admission of Texas into the Union. He also served as a United States Senator from 1846 to 1859. Houston also became Governor of Texas but opposed secession from the Union and after the outbreak of the American Civil War attempted to get Texas to remain neutral. His attempts failed and Houston therefore retired to his farm at Huntsville.

Samuel Houston died at Huntsville, Texas, on 23rd July, 1863.

Primary Sources

(1) Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (1947)

Last spring the Germans had constructed huge tents in an open space in the Lager. For the whole of the good season each of them had catered for over 1,000 men: now the tents had been taken down, and an excess 2,000 guests crowded our huts. We old prisoners knew that the Germans did not like these irregularities and that something would soon happen to reduce our number.