The daughter of a long-dead and all-but-forgotten hero of the Texas Revolution unveiled a statue of her tragic father at a Galveston intersection on Oct. 20, 1938.
San Jacinto should have ensured him success and immortality, but Sidney Sherman knew only pain and disappointment. The most powerful politician of his day ruined his reputation, and three suspicious fires left a promising career in ashes. Yet his public ordeal paled in comparison to the private anguish of burying four children and a wife.
Sherman proudly admired the fruit of four years’ labor since leaving New York City in 1831. Nevertheless, the Cincinnati businessman was willing to risk everything to fight for freedom in a foreign land.
On March 6, 1836, Sherman and 50 volunteers from Ohio and Kentucky reached Gonzales, where reinforcements were supposed to be ready for an Alamo rescue mission. Finding no relief column waiting, the stunned officer refused to lead his men into certain annihilation.
Five days later, Gen. Sam Houston showed up and forged the chain of command that included Sherman as lieutenant colonel. When confirmation came that night of the massacre in San Antonio, the general gave the order for a full-scale retreat that Sherman and many others found hard to swallow.
At the Colorado River, the outspoken newcomer pleaded for permission to cross the tributary and surprise a Mexican force twice the size of his own contingent. Harsh words were exchanged after Houston pulled rank and insisted Sherman continue the withdrawal.
Word of the slaughter at Goliad sapped the already anemic morale of the rebels and set mutinous tongues to wagging. Sherman was the popular choice of the dispirited soldiers to replace their do-nothing general, a fact duly noted by Houston, who would always despise his would-be successor as a back-stabbing traitor.
As the two sides jockeyed for position the day before the climax at San Jacinto, Sherman proposed a preemptive strike against Santa Anna’s cannon. A rancorous debate ended with Houston giving his reluctant approval and the recently promoted colonel assembling a squad for the daring dash.
Coming under heavy fire from the Mexican lines, the horseback commandos pulled up short of their objective.
“What are they about?” shouted Houston. “I ordered a reconnoiter only!”
Sherman accused his superior of reneging on promised support, a charge the latter denied to his dying day.
While Houston scaled the political heights after the Revolution, twice serving as president of the Republic as well as senator and governor, Sherman suffered a personal apocalypse. In May 1852, an arsonist burned to the ground the sawmill that supplied his troubled railroad with crossties. The mysterious incident was only the beginning of a strange series of calamities.
Within the year, Sherman’s 18-month-old child died unexpectedly, and a second blaze destroyed the family home at Harrisburg. Sending his kin out of state, the head of the family took shelter in his railway office until that structure too went up in smoke.
At age 51, when he should have been looking forward to a secure retirement, Sherman started over from scratch as a hotel proprietor in Galveston. But his problems were far from over.
In his farewell address to the U.S. Senate in 1859, Houston launched into a scathing tirade against every enemy he had ever made. During this blistering attack, he produced a letter purportedly written by Sherman’s adjutant accusing him of cowardice at the Battle of San Jacinto.
Dazed by the patently false allegation, Sherman countered with his own clear recollection and testimonials from several eyewitnesses, but as far as most Texans were concerned, irreparable damage had been done. If Houston said Sherman was yellow, then yellow he was.
Only in Galveston did Sherman remain above reproach. In early 1861, he was asked to direct the defense of the island in the event of a northern invasion, a responsibility he relinquished that August to the incoming Confederate commander.
He sold his hotel and moved his family to the mainland. At the Battle of Galveston, when the Rebs freed the city from Union occupation, Lt. Sidney A. Sherman, his 19-year-old namesake, was among the gray-clad casualties.
Tragedy stalked poor old Sherman into his twilight years. The last of his sons perished in 1863 followed a few months later by his invalid wife. The yellow fever epidemic of 1867 claimed the husbands of two daughters, and in 1872 he lost a fourth child.
Finally, in August 1873, death came calling for Sherman, the sole surviving San Jacinto officer. In solemn tribute the Galveston News urged, “Let Texans follow this patriot to his grave and moisten the ashes of glory with the sweet tears of gratitude.”