Sword of San Jacinto

On April 21, 1836, following several weeks of much maligned retreat, General Sam Houston (1793-1853) led his ragtag Texas army in a bold attack against the Mexican force of Santa Anna. San Jacinto, a battle completed in less than an hour, won independence for Texas and assured Houston a place in state and national history. Yet De Bruhl’s biography makes plain that Houston’s significance extends far beyond one battle. He belongs among those nineteenth century America heroes who loom larger than life. As a youth, Houston read the ILIAD and, stirred by its heroic adventures, sought to live his life on a grand scale. Theatrical, flamboyant, and restless, Houston embraced the great historical movements of his time. Primarily a land speculator on the frontier, he was also a wanderer, an actor, a practicing lawyer, a politician, and a soldier.

He moved from Virginia to Tennessee to Texas, but returned to Washington as congressman from Tennessee and senator from Texas. A protege of Andrew Jackson, he distinguished himself in campaigns against the Indians and remained a loyal Jacksonian populist. Although he occasionally took bizarre positions in politics, his long-standing, though futile, support of Indian rights, his persistence in seeking statehood for Texas, his advocacy of the Union, and his warnings against secession mark him as farsighted and sagacious.

The simplicity of De Bruhl’s style, featuring short journalistic paragraphs and brief sentences, renders the life of a complex subject understandable and sympathetic. A delightful read, the biography treats Houston in depth, placing him within the historical milieu of nineteenth century America.