James H. Perry was a long time detractor of Sam Houston. Perry (unrelated to the Naval officer, Oliver Hazard Perry, as far as we can tell) was born in June of 1811 in New York. He had wanted to attend the US Military Academy at West Point but his appointment was not immediately secured. In the meantime, he studied law, began practicing as an attorney and also married. He was finally admitted to West Point in 1833 but resigned during his third year there and relocated to Texas.
Once in Texas, Perry volunteered for the young Texas army and eventually became an aide to Sam Houston. Perry, reportedly an ally of another Houston critic Robert Potter, interim secretary of the Texas navy, expressed his critical analysis of the readiness of the Texas army in a letter intercepted by Houston, for which Houston reprimanded Perry. A second incident reportedly occurred when Perry was accused of communicating with the Mexican Army in advance of the Battle of San Jacinto. It is unknown whether these accusations were ever formally pursued, but Perry was released prior to the battle and participated in the battle. After the Texas Revolution, Perry was commissioned as a colonel in the Texas army by interim president David G. Burnet and Perry also received headlight and bounty certificates awarded by the Republic of Texas to participants in the various battles including the Alamo, Goliad, San Jacinto and others. Perry’s image reportedly appears in the famous painting by William Henry Huddle of Sam Houston lying under a tree gesturing to the captured Santa Anna after the Battle of San Jacinto.
During the years in which the Republic of Texas existed, Perry left Texas and returned to his home state of New York where he attended a Methodist seminary and became a minister. In addition to serving as a pastor, Perry was a frequent lecturer in the mid 1840s. There was a lot of interest at the time in the recent events in Texas at the time and Perry’s subjects included his participation in the battles leading up to Texas independence from Mexico. Perry was publicly critical of Houston in his speeches. For a while Houston minimized and ignored Perry’s criticisms but eventually responded to them, including an 1859 speech to the members of the United States Senate.
Despite being widely regarded as a hero in Texas, Sam Houston had acquired many detractors and enemies. Some were critical of his lifestyle much of his life, which included being a heavy drinker, reportedly also being an opium user and his reputation for being a womanizer, before he married Margaret Lea. In addition, Houston was criticized by others serving in the Texas forces for his military decisions, including retreating when in their opinion he should have engaged the Mexican Army. In a speech chronicled by the New-York Tribune on November 24, 1842, Perry stated that although Houston was given credit for bravery and courage in the battle of San Jacinto, that he instead was pushed into the fight by the threat of his officers to leave. Perry said that the men under Houston had little confidence in him, that he was a drunken and brutal man. Perry reportedly also stated that Houston was sober for the battle only because he could not secure alcohol to drink. Perry allowed, however, that during the battle, Houston acted with personal, though not with moral, courage.
As far as we know, the two individuals never personally met to discuss their differences. Houston is said to have often dismissed such detractors by saying that he had so many critics that they would have to “get in line and wait his turn” as he reportedly once said to David Burnet.
When the Civil War began, Perry was serving as minister of the Pacific Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. He resigned his pastorate there and enlisted in the Union Army. He was commissioned as a colonel and put in command of the 48th Regiment of New York State Volunteers, nicknamed “Perry’s Saints,” which he helped organize. He died early in the war, reportedly of a heart attack, in June 1862 at Fort Pulaski, Georgia, a highly contested fort considered to be essential to the defense of the Georgia coastline. His remains were returned to New York and he was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
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