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Texas | Columns | All Things Historical

THE BATTLE OF
SAN JACINTO

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.

The Battle of San Jacinto, which began with a skirmish on April 20, 1836, and ended with a full, if brief, battle the next day, determined the fate of an independent Texas. The losing general, Santa Anna, was captured and temporarily discredited; and the winning general, Sam Houston, though wounded, started on his way to the presidency of the Republic of Texas. And the drama took place in the southwestern corner of East Texas.

The campaign began on March 11 when Houston reached Gonzales on his way to assist the defenders of the Alamo. He found 374 men who had come on a similar mission, but they had waited in Gonzales for leadership. Houston surely provided that.

Houston learned that the men had not heard a signal cannon, fired at dawn each day at the Alamo, since March 6. He sent Deaf Smith down the San Antonio Road to investigate. Smith returned with Mrs. Almaron Dickinson, her infant daughter, and a servant, and from her Houston and others in Gonzales learned the fate of the 180-something defenders of the Alamo.

That began the San Jacinto Campaign, or a chase, if one looks at the history of it in a certain way. Houston knew his men were not sufficiently trained or equipped, not to mention sufficient in number, to fight the disciplined 5,000 to 6,000 Mexican soldiers then in Texas. So he moved eastward, and Santa followed. Forty-two days later, the commanders and their soldiers met on the plain of San Jacinto, approximately 200 miles from where they started.

It began with a skirmish in which Mexican troops would have killed Secretary of War Thomas J. Rusk, had he not been rescued by a private newly arrived from Georgia named Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar. Because of his gallantry in the effort, Lamar commanded the Texas cavalry the next day as a colonel.

The Texans spent the night of April 20 preparing to resume the battle the next morning, and were disappointed when Santa Anna did not attack them and Houston did not order an attack on the Mexican camp.

Santa Anna's delay resulted for the arrival during the evening of about 500 reinforcements, which had disturbed his camp all night. Houston's delay, many Texans thought, came from his fear to fight at all. Finally, about 4:30 in the afternoon, Houston assembled his men in two ranks and led them across the plain and into the Battle of San Jacinto. The battle proper lasted about eighteen minutes but carnage caused by "Remembering" the Alamo and Goliad lasted until dark.

The Battle of San Jacinto led to the Treaty of Velasco, signed on May 14, 1836, in which Santa Anna agreed to recognize the independence of Texas. And not just the independence of East Texas, where the victory was won, but as far as the Rio Grande flowed.

All Things Historical April 18-24, 2004
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.

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