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Park Pick: Cannonball Mystery

At San Jacinto Battleground, artifacts help tell the story.

By Walt Bailey

Did it happen this way? The Tex­ians came on at a rush, breaking ranks to get at the hapless Mexican soldiers who fumbled with their weapons and collided with one another in a vain effort to deploy for battle. The soldados soon dissolved in panic-stricken flight to the adjoining marshes. A Mexican artillery­man dropped an iron cannonball he had removed from an ammunition box and joined the stampede. His fate remains unknown.

Recently, Texas state parks archeologists asked my help as a park interpreter and historian to find the story behind an artifact. They’d been given a cannonball found somewhere near the marshes of the San Jacinto Battle­ground. Could it have come from the Battle of San Jacinto? If so, from which army? What type of cannon did each side use? What role did it possibly play in the battle?

San Jacinto

Did a cannonball found near the San Jacinto Battleground come from the battle? It’s an archeological question that may go unresolved, though there are clues. Learn more about the battle and Texas history at the San Jacinto site.

My research began with a relic of the Texians’ famous guns, the “Twin Sisters.” Could this ball have come from one of them?

Accounts from Mexican and Texian soldiers at San Jacinto describe the Twin Sisters as four-pounder cannons, guns that fired a ball just a little over 3 inches in diameter. This discovered ball was nearly 3½ inches in diameter and much corroded from its original size. The ball was also said to have been found very far from the last known firing position of the Twin Sisters, too far to have been shot from a Texas gun.

What if the ball had nothing to do with the Battle of San Jacinto? In one account by a Confederate soldier who served at an armory near the San Jacinto Battlefield, there was a reference to “batteries” that protected the armory. Could the ball have come from a Confederate cannon? Confederates did use six-pounder cannons, which fired a ball the same size as the artifact. But a battery used for coastal defense (as this one would have been) usually mounted much-heavier guns. In addition, our ball was supposedly found far from the likely location of the Confederate guns.

A definitive answer may always elude us. The truth is even more difficult to find because the ball was moved from its original location without being shown to an archeologist. The general area where the ball was found, its size and firsthand accounts of the battle suggest a third possibility: the ball came from the Mexican army and was dropped during the battle.

Mexican Col. Pedro Delgado wrote that a few days before the battle, “the flank companies” of the Mexican army “had commenced crossing the river with a six-pounder, commanded by Lieutenant Ignacio Arenal.” A casualty report completed just after the battle listed Lt. Arenal as one of the officers taken prisoner by the Texians at San Jacinto, providing evidence that the Mexicans used a cannon of the right caliber at San Jacinto.

Mystery solved? Judge for yourself by visiting the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. Admis­sion to the park is free, and the on-site San Jacinto Museum of History offers exhibits and a film about the battle. (Please remember that state law prohibits the use of metal detectors and the collection of any artifacts from the battleground.)

Each year, the site hosts a re-enactment of the battle with volunteers in uniforms like those worn by the two armies. Come learn about the battle as it comes to life before your eyes on April 26.

From Loop 610 in Houston, take Texas Highway 225 east for 11 miles. Exit Independence Parkway and continue north two miles. Turn right on Park Road 1836 to the entrance. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. For more park information, visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/sanjacintobattleground or call (281) 479-2431.

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