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Sam Houston, Ashbel Smith & the Bayland Guards
John Britt-College Professor and Texas Historian

There is a story — a wonderful story — concerning Sam Houston Jr., the eldest child of the eight that Margaret Lea Houston would bear for her husband, General Sam Houston, the hero of San Jacinto. Sam Houston, as I am sure many of you know, was opposed to secession and was removed from the governor’s office by the Texas Secessionist Convention. Houston and his wife and children sought refuge in the small cabin Houston had built at Cedar Point near the mouth of Cedar Bayou in what is today Chambers County. Eighteen-year-old Sam Jr. arrived home from Bastrop where he had been living and began to talk of going off to war. Sam Jr. was a dutiful son and knew his father needed help on the farm, but he felt shackled by the tedium of rural life. Had old Sam forgotten that half a century earlier he had rebelled against the same sort of life and escaped — first to live among the Cherokees and then to the United States Army?

In July, Sam Jr., against his father’s wishes, went off to drill at Evergreen Plantation with Ashbel Smith’s newly formed Confederate company, the Bayland Guards.  Young Sam was infused with the martial spirit and returned to Cedar Point only to tell his parents that he would be going with the Bayland Guards to Galveston for further training. Old Sam warned his son that the name “Houston is not, nor will be a favorite name in the Confederacy.”  However, he was pleased that if his son insisted on going to war he would be under the command of his old friend doctor, now captain,  Ashbel Smith. Sam’s gift to his son was a new Confederate uniform; the boy’s mother gave him a Bible — a Bible that would save his life. Sam Houston, by the way, often made the trip across the bay to Galveston to watch his son and his fellow soldiers in the Bayland Guards drill.

Sam Jr. was not the only son of a president of the Republic of Texas to be mustered into the Bayland Guards.  The unit included two sons of Anson Jones: Samuel E. Jones and Charles Elliot Jones. What a strange and ironic coincidence that the son of the first elected president of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston, and the sons of the last president of the Republic, Anson Jones, would find themselves in the same Confederate Civil War company. Since Sam Houston and Anson Jones had been at one time political allies and were now enemies, I wonder, and this we will never know, how the boys got along.

As company C of the 2d Texas Regiment, the Bayland Guards eventually arrived in Tennessee to take part in the terrible battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862.  As one historian characterized it “Shiloh was the first great battle that came to characterized the war — massive armies thrown against each other with little regard for the number of causalities.” 

Over 20,000 men — approximately 10,000 on each side — would be wounded or killed at Shiloh — and Sam Houston Jr., was among the wounded and left to die on the battlefield. I might note that Charles Elliot, son of Anson Jones, was also a causality and would shortly die of his wounds. In fact, half of the Bayland Guards were either wounded or killed.

However, like his father severely wounded during the Creek War at the battle of Horseshoe Bend, young Sam refused to die. A Union chaplain  found the boy barely alive and discovered the Bible his mother had given him with the inscription “Margaret Lea Houston to her beloved son.” The chaplain asked young Sam if he was related to General Houston. “Yes, sir, I am his son.” The chaplain, long an admirer of General Houston, rescued the boy who regained his health and was sent to a Union prison camp. 

For five months Sam and Margret though their son had died at Shiloh.  But then, in a remarkable act of kindness, Anson Jones’ wife — who had been estranged from Margaret Houston because of their husbands’  political differences — forward a letter she had received from a friend to Margaret. The letter said Sam Jr., was alive and in a Union prison and would shortly be exchanged. In a few weeks he came home to Cedar Point, to surprise his mother who with a servant was planting flowers in her garden.

One source of this story claims that young Sam’s life was saved when a musket ball hit the metal jacket that covered the Bible his mother had given him. Another claims that the Union chaplain discovered the Bible in the boy’s knapsack — regardless of which is true, the Bible his mother gave him did indeed save the boy’s life. After the war Sam, Jr., studied medicine in Pennsylvania  and became a physician.  In the later part of his life he turned to his real love--writing.

But this is more than a tale about Sam Houston, Jr.  It is also the story of two remarkable men--General Sam Houston and Dr. Ashbel Smith--who despite differences over succession--remained friends until Houston’s death in Huntsville in 1863.   Ashbel Smith was born in Connecticut studied medicine at Yale, and shortly after arriving in Texas was instantly draw to General Houston.  The two shared a room during Houston’s first presidency of the republic in a two-room dog-trot cabin in the city of Houston, then the capital of the Republic,  that served as the president’s residence.  They would often talk late into the night, discussing philosophy and the great classics of western literature.  Houston came to value his new friend’s unique talents, and in 1838 sent him to negotiate a treaty with the Comanche Indians.  In the early 1840s Houston  posted Smith as the Texas Special Envoy to Europe where he negotiated treaties favorable to Texas with both England and France.  These were just a few of Smith’s accomplishments as a diplomat. 

Smith was an experienced soldier, participating  in both the war with Mexico and with the Confederacy in the Civil War.  After Shiloh, where he was wounded and cited for valor,  he served the Confederacy in several capacities, commanding one of the fortifications during the siege of Vicksburg, promoted  to colonel and later to brevetted brigadier general.  After the war he came home to successfully pursue his dream of establishing a Texas university and medical school.

As I stated earlier, despite their differences over the  succession issue, Smith’s and Houston’s friendship never wavered.  In 1863, when Sam Houston was dying in Huntsville, Smith made the arduous and dangerous journey to spend four days ministering to his old comrade--a remarkable act of friendship during these dark and terrible times.

So I’ll end on this note--the tale of a boy critically wounded at Shiloh whose life was saved by the Bible his mother gave him and the enduring friendship under the most taxing of circumstances of two giants of Texas history.

  • Barb Wooster, Baytonian
  • Anna Yowell, Tourism Coordinator
  • Sheree Cardwell, Tourism Marketing Specialist
  • Grey Scott, City of Baytown Human Resources Manager
  • John Britt, Historian & College Professor
  • 2017
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