TEXAS HISTORY SERIES
The Battle of San Jacinto
Victory for the Texas Revolutionary Army Led by General Sam Houston
EVENTS LEADING TO THE BATTLE OF SAN JACINTO
Texas Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence passed by the Texans on November 7, 1835, announced that the Texan war against Mexico was intended to restore the Mexican Constitution of 1824, that had been overturned by the actions of President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, and to achieve separate Mexican statehood for Texas. The members of the Consultation had hoped to attract popular support for the Texan cause from the other Mexican states.
By the time the Convention of 1836 met at Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 1, 1836, being a part of Mexico was no longer acceptable. On the first day of the convention, Convention President Richard Ellis appointed George C. Childress, James Gaines, Edward Conrad, Collin McKinney, and Bailey Hardeman to a committee to draft a Declaration of Independence.
George Childress, the committee chairman, is generally accepted as the author of the Texas Declaration of Independence, with help from the other committee members. Since the six-page document was submitted for a vote of the whole convention on the following day, Childress probably already had a draft version of the document with him when he arrived. As the delegates worked, they received regular reports on the ongoing siege on the Alamo by the forces of Santa Anna's troops.
HISTORIC LETTER FROM WILLIAM B TRAVIS AT THE SEIGE OF THE ALAMO (February 24, 1836)
At the Alamo in San Antonio, then called Bejar, 150 Texas rebels led by William Barret Travis made their stand against Santa Anna's vastly superior Mexican army. On the second day of the siege, February 24, 1836, Travis called for reinforcements with this heroic message:
Little help came. Santa Anna's troops broke through on March 6. All of the defenders of the Alamo died.
This historic letter was carried from the Alamo by 30-year-old Captain Albert Martin, a native of Gonzales. The next day, en route to his hometown, Martin heard the distant rumble of artillery fire. At the first opportunity he stopped and added a postscript:
I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism, and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid with all dispatch. ...VICTORY OR DEATH.
Since the above was written I heard a very heavy Cannonade during the whole day. think there must have been an attack made upon the alamo. We were short of Ammunition when I left Hurry on all the men you can in haste...
When I left there was but 150 determined to do or die tomorrow I leave for Bejar with what men I can raise & will be there Monday [a?] at all events - -
Col Almonte is there the troops are under the Command of Gen. Seisma.
Martin arrived at Gonzales on the afternoon of the 25th. He passed the dispatch to Lancelot Smither, who had arrived from the Alamo the day before with an estimate of Mexican troop strength. Smither felt obliged to add his own emphatic note to the back of Travis' letter:
N. [B ?] I hope Every One will Rendevu at gonzales as soon as poseble as the Brave Solders are suffereing do not deglect the powder. is very scarce and should not be delad one moment
There is evidence that Smither extracted the essence of the letter and deposited this copy with Judge Andrew Ponton before he departed Gonzales. Ponton prepared other copies and forwarded these to Nacogdoches and other population centers in the province. One such copy existed in the C.H. Raguet Papers in Marshall and was reproduced in full by Amelia Williams in her "Critical Study of the Siege of the Alamo."
The Battle of San Jacinto
The battle of San Jacinto was the concluding military event of the Texas Revolution. On March 13, 1836, the revolutionary army under command of General Sam Houston began to retreat eastward from Gonzales. Houston's army crossed the Colorado River on March 17 and camped near present day Columbia on March 20. By this time, the size of the Texan army had increased to around 1,200 men. Sam Houston's scouts reported that approximately 1,300 Mexican troops were camped west of the Colorado.
On March 25 the Texans learned of James W. Fannin's defeat at Goliad, and many of the men left the army to join their families on the Runaway Scrape. Sam Houston led his troops to San Felipe de Austin by March 28 and by March 30 to the Jared E. Groce plantation on the Brazos River, where they camped and drilled for a fortnight.
Interium President of the Texas Republic, David G. Burnet, ordered Houston to stop his retreat; Secretary of War Thomas J. Rusk urged him to take a more decisive course.
Antonio López de Santa Anna decided to take possession of the Texas coast and seaports. With that object in view, he crossed the Brazos River at present Richmond on April 11 and on April 15, with some 700 men, arrived at Harrisburg. He burned Harrisburg and started in pursuit of the Texas government at New Washington or Morgan's Point, where he arrived on April 19 to find that the government had fled to Galveston. The Mexican general then set out for Anahuac by way of Lynchburg.
Meanwhile, the Texans took possession of the Twin Sisters (cannons) on April 11, 1836 and with the cannon as extra fortification, crossed the Brazos River on the Yellow Stone. On April 16, the army reached Spring Creek in present day Harris County. On April 17 Houston took the road to Harrisburg instead of the road to Louisiana and on April 18, reached White Oak Bayou at a site within the present city limits of Houston. There he learned that Santa Anna had gone down the west side of the bayou and across the San Jacinto River (using the bridge over Vince's Bayou). The Mexicans would have to cross the same bridge to return.
Viewing this strategic situation on the morning of April 19, Houston told his troops that it looked as if they would soon get action and reminded them to remember the massacres at San Antonio and at Goliad. On the evening of April 19, Houston's army crossed Buffalo Bayou to the west side 2˝ miles below Harrisburg. Some 248 men, mostly sick and ineffective, were left with the baggage at the camp opposite Harrisburg. The march was continued until midnight.
At dawn on April 20, the Texans resumed their trek down the bayou and at Lynch's Ferry captured a boat laden with supplies for Santa Anna. They then drew back about a mile on the Harrisburg road and encamped in a skirt of timber protected by a rising ground. That afternoon, Sidney Sherman with a small detachment of cavalry engaged the enemy infantry, almost bringing on a general action. In the clash Olwyns J. Trask was mortally wounded, one other Texan was wounded, and several horses were killed.
Mirabeau B. Lamar, a private, so distinguished himself that on the next day he was placed in command of the cavalry.
Santa Anna made camp under the high ground overlooking a marsh about three-fourths of a mile from the Texas camp and threw up breastworks of trunks, baggage, packsaddles, and other equipment. Both sides prepared for the conflict.
On Thursday morning, April 21, the Texans were eager to attack. About nine o'clock they learned that Martín Perfecto de Cos had crossed Vince's bridge with about 540 troops and had swelled the enemy forces to about 1,200.
Houston ordered Erastus (Deaf) Smith to destroy the bridge and prevent further enemy reinforcements. The move would prevent the retreat of either the Texans or the Mexicans towards Harrisburg.
Shortly before noon, Houston held a council of war with his officers, Edward Burleson, Sidney Sherman, Henry W. Millard, Alexander Somervell, Joseph L. Bennett, and Lysander Wells. Two of the officers suggested attacking the enemy in his position; the others favored waiting Santa Anna's attack. Houston withheld his own views at the council but later, after having formed his plan of battle had it approved by Rusk. Houston disposed his forces in battle order about 3:30 in the afternoon while all was quiet on the Mexican side during the afternoon siesta.
The Texans' movements were screened by trees and the rising ground, and evidently Santa Anna had no lookouts posted. The battle line was formed with Edward Burleson's regiment in the center, Sherman's on the left wing, the artillery under George W. Hockley on Burleson's right, the infantry under Henry Millard on the right of the artillery, and the cavalry under Lamar on the extreme right.
The Twin Sisters were wheeled into position, and the whole line, led by Sherman's men, sprang forward on the run with the cry, "Remember the Alamo!" "Remember Goliad!" The battle lasted but eighteen minutes.
According to Houston's official report, the casualties were 630 Mexicans killed and 730 taken prisoner. Against this, only nine of the 910 Texans were killed or mortally wounded and thirty were wounded less seriously. Houston's ankle was shattered by a rifle ball. The Texans captured a large supply of muskets, pistols, sabers, mules, horses, provisions, clothing, tents, and $12,000 in silver.
Santa Anna disappeared during the battle and search parties were sent out on the morning of April 22. On search party that included James A. Sylvester, Washington H. Secrest, Sion R. Bostick, and a Mr. Cole discovered Santa Anna hiding in the grass. He was dirty and wet and dressed like a common soldier. The search party did not recognize him until he was addressed as "el presidente" by other Mexican prisoners.
One of the eight inscriptions on the exterior base of the San Jacinto Monument reads: "Measured by its results, San Jacinto was one of the decisive battles of the world.
The freedom of Texas from Mexico won here led to annexation and to the Mexican War, resulting in the acquisition by the United States of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Almost one-third of the present area of the American nation, nearly a million square miles of territory, changed sovereignty."
Stephen L. Hardin, Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994). James W. Pohl, The Battle of San Jacinto (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1989). "Reminiscences of Mrs. Dilue Harris," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 4, 7 (October 1900, January 1901, January 1904). Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker, eds., The Writings of Sam Houston, 1813-1863 (8 vols., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1938-43; rpt., Austin and New York: Pemberton Press, 1970).
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