The Battle of Shiloh occurred on April 6 and 7, 1862. Many Texans fought there, many of whom died, including the Texan commander of Confederate forces at the battle, Albert Sidney Johnston. But one of the most wonderful stories of that terrible War Against Southern Independence was what happened to Sam Houston, Jr., the eldest son of Sam Houston.
Before you can truly understand the significance of the events that happened on that day, you have to go back in time to 1854. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was being hotly debated. It was designed to spread slavery to a much larger swath of the country than where it then existed. Over 3,000 clergymen from New England (over three-fourths of that region’s clergy) submitted a petition to the Congress opposing the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
Pro-slavery U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois rose on the Senate floor to say that the ministers “ought to be rebuked, and required to confine themselves to their vocation.” He went on to say that such action was “an attempt to establish a theocracy.”
Texas Senator Sam Houston rose to defend the liberty of the Northern clergy. He said:
“I certainly can see no more impropriety in ministers of the Gospel, in their vocation, memorializing [petitioning] Congress than politicians or other individuals. . . . Because they are ministers of the Gospel, they are not disfranchised of political rights and privileges and . . . they have a right to spread their opinions on the records of the nation. . . . The great Redeemer of the World enjoined duties upon mankind; and there is [also] the moral constitution from which we have derived all the excellent principles of our political Constitution – the great principles upon which our government, morally, socially, and religiously is founded. Then, sir, I do not think there is anything very derogatory to our institutions in the ministers of the Gospel expressing their opinions. They have a right to do it. No man can be a minister without first being a man. He has political rights; he has also the rights of a missionary of the Savior, and he is not disfranchised by his vocation. . . . He has a right to interpose his voice as one of its citizens against the adoption of any measure which he believes will injure the nation. . . . [Ministers] have the right to think it is morally wrong, politically wrong, civilly wrong, and socially wrong. . . . and if they denounce a measure in advance, it is what they have a right to do.”
Flash forward to 1861. Sam Houston was removed from the Governorship of Texas in a highly questionable legal maneuver. The reason was that he opposed secession from the Union, and if Texas was going to secede, he advocated going back to being an independent Republic. He did not favor joining the Confederacy, accurately predicting that doing so would suck Texas into a war that would be difficult to win.
Despite his father’s concerns, Sam Houston, Jr. joined up to serve in the war. Houston did not oppose that. He had served in his youth in the Creek Indian War under Andrew Jackson. In fact, Houston was wounded in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and left for dead, but survived, even though it left him with a wound that never fully healed. Before Sam Houston, Jr. left Texas, Sam Houston visited his unit and gave his son a Bible from his mother, inscribed, “Sam Houston, Jr., from his Mother, March 6, 1862.”
On the first day of the Battle of Shiloh, Sam Houston, Jr. was shot, but miraculously, the ball was stopped by the Bible that his mother had given him. That, in itself, is a wonderful story.
But the story of the second day was even more miraculous. Like his father before him, Sam Houston, Jr. was wounded so severely that he was left for dead on the battlefield. A Union chaplain was going over the battlefield trying to help those he could. He found Sam Houston, Jr. and opened his Bible, seeing the rifle ball, but more importantly, the inscription from his mother.
The Union chaplain had been one of those who signed the petition against the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and had heard about the speech that Sam Houston had made in defense of the clergy’s rights to speak and petition government. He examined Sam Houston, Jr., finding him alive, and got confirmation that he was Sam Houston’s son. He then got treatment for young Sam.
Sam Houston, Jr. thus survived, later to be returned to Texas in a prisoner exchange.