Dick the Drummer at the Battle of San Jacinto

Dick the Drummer was a freed slave from New Orleans whose true name remains unknown. He served on General Sam
Houston’s staff during the Texas Revolution and participated in the decisive Battle of San Jacinto in April 1836 as a musician,
which armies employed to beat communication signals.  

A month before the battle, no one in the ill-trained Texas army knew how to beat morning reveille on the drum, so Houston
performed this task himself though Dick would later assume the duty, including the morning of April 21 when he awakened the
troops who would later that day engage the Mexican army at San Jacinto. That afternoon, he beat the signal for general parade
to assemble the troops for battle.  

Dick and five other musicians, another drummer and four fifers, marched near the center of the advancing Texas army. By
most accounts, they marched silently until they were within about 200 yards of the Mexican camp. When the enemy observed
the Texans and began firing, the musicians began playin gIrish poet
Thomas Moore’s “Will You Come to the Bower.” The battle
quickly escalated into a rout with the Texans slaughtering Mexicans attempting to flee through the marsh of Peggy Lake. The
Texan soldiers resisted efforts by officers to stop the massacre and take prisoners, and ignored the drummers beating the
signal for assembly.  

Dick later served as a drummer for the United States Army during the war with Mexico at the battles of Monterrey and Buena
Vista. He attended a memorial dinner for veterans of the Battle of San Jacinto in May 1850 at which he reportedly “seemed to
live his early days over again when witnessing the ceremonies of this joyous occasion.”

Contributed by L.W. Ledgerwood III, Sam Houston State University


  • George Bernard Erath, The Memoirs of Major George B. Erath, 1813-1891, reproduced in The Southwest Historical
    Quarterly 26/4 (Apr., 1923)
  • H.M. Henderson, “A Critical Analysis of the San Jacinto Campaign,” The Southwest Historical Quarterly 59/3 (Jan., 1956):
  • Steven L. Moore, Eighteen Minutes, The Battle of San Jacinto and the Texas Independence Campaign (Dallas: Republic
    of Texas Press, 2004)
  • Harold Schoen, “The Free Negro in the Republic of Texas, II,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 40/1 (July 1936):
  • Frank X. Tolbert, The Day of San Jacinto (Austin: The Pemberton Press, 1959)
Texas Black History Preservation Project
Documenting the Complete African American Experience in Texas -- "Know your history, know yourself"