the Battle of San Jacinto lasted a mere eighteen minutes, it was the culmination
of six years of struggle. The struggle had its roots in the oppressive Mexican
Law of 1830 that banned American immigration, in the disturbances at Anahuac
and Velasco, in the arrest
and imprisonment of Stephen
F. Austin, and in the fighting
that began at Gonzales and the siege
of San Antonio and led to the slaughter
of the defenders at the Alamo and Goliad.
On March 2, 1836, the convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos
declared Texas independence. Four days after the declaration, word arrived from
Colonel William Barrett Travis of the Alamo’s
plight. Unaware that the Alamo had
already fallen, Sam Houston,
the newly appointed commander-in-chief of the Texas army, immediately left the
convention for Gonzales to take
command of the troops there and go to Travis’s aid.
rode into Gonzales on March
11, and that evening heard from two Tejanos recently arrived from San
Antonio that the Alamo had fallen
and that its gallant defenders had died fighting to the last man. The tragic news
was confirmed two days later by Susannah
Dickinson, wife of one of the defenders, who had been released by General
Santa Anna to spread fear and panic across Texas.
The dictator’s plan worked to perfection. Reports of the slaughter
at the Alamo terrified the people of Gonzales
and settlers throughout the area.
Panic stricken, the colonists believed
Santa Anna would sweep eastward with his well-trained army and kill every Texan
in his path. Thus began the frightened exodus known to Texas history as the “Runaway
Scrape.” The people hurriedly packed what possessions they could carry in
wagons, in carts, on horseback, and even on their backs, and fled for their lives
toward the safety of the Sabine
River and refuge in the United States. Knowing full well that his few green
troops were no match for Santa Anna’s veterans, Houston
evacuated Gonzales and burned
the town to the ground in the wake of his retreat.
Texans crossed the Colorado River and marched 20 miles down the east bank to Benjamin
Beason’s crossing near present-day Columbus,
where they pitched camp on March 20. Had they been a few miles further
south, the troops may well have heard the distant rumble of gunfire. On
March 19, Colonel James Walker Fannin was defeated at Coleto Creek by the forces
of General Jose Urrea. Fannin surrendered, and on Palm Sunday, March 27, 352 Texans
were marched out of the Presidio La Bahia at Goliad and cruelly executed at the
order of Santa Anna.
With the news of the massacre,
Houston’s men rose as one
and demanded an immediate attack on the Mexican army. How else could they hope
to avenge the loss of so many good friends and family at the Alamo
and now Goliad? Refusing
to justify his decision, Houston
ignored their demands and ordered a withdrawal to the Brazos. On March 28,
the army arrived at San
Felipe de Austin on the west bank of the river, then crossed over and marched
to the plantation of Jared Groce where they set up camp and drilled for two weeks.
Sam Houston’s men
were not alone when it came to urging him to fight. In mid-March, the ad interim
Texas government fled to Harrisburg from Washington-on-the-Brazos
when they learned of the Mexican army's approach. Interim President David G. Burnet
sent Houston a letter demanding
that he stop his retreat and fight. Burnet also sent the Secretary of War, Thomas
J. Rusk, to try and convince Houston to take a more aggressive course. Houston,
however, much to the frustration of his army and the government, also refused
this request and stuck to his original plan, which he continued to keep to himself.
Since Houston appeared unwilling
to put up a fight, Santa Anna decided to go after the Texas government. After
crossing the Brazos River at Fort Bend, near present-day Richmond,
on April 11, he headed down the road for Harrisburg with 700 men, unwisely
dividing the remainder of his forces so that he might move more rapidly. General
Urrea was at Matagorda
with 700 men, Colonel Gaona was between Bastrop
Felipe with 725 men, Colonel Sesma had 100 men at Fort Bend, and Colonel Filisola,
with nearly 1800 men, was somewhere between San
Felipe and Fort Bend.
When Santa Anna arrived at Harrisburg on April
15, he learned that the Burnet government had fled down Buffalo Bayou to New
Washington (now Morgan’s
Point). Burning Harrisburg to the ground in anger and frustration, the dictator
hurriedly followed, but when he reached New Washington on April 19, he discovered
the government had once again fled, this time toward Galveston.
Santa Anna then set out for Anahuac
by way of Lynchburg, but his advance elements got there just in time to see the
government officials sail away.
Houston was determined he would not fight a battle until he reached ground
of his own choosing. He moved his army across the Brazos and headed east, burning
farms and crops as he went. There were few towns and supply centers between San
Antonio and the eastern settlements, and when the Mexicans’ food and ammunition
ran low, Houston intended
to make sure it would be impossible for them to secure more. This strategy failed
to satisfy the Texans, and they continued to grumble their displeasure as the
army marched eastward.
April 17, the Texas army reached a settlement known as “New
Kentucky” where two wagon trails crossed; one trail led to Harrisburg and
the other toward the Sabine
River. Most of Houston’s
officers and men had come to think of him as too timid to fight, and they believed
he would lead the army toward the Sabine,
where United States troops under the command of General Pendelton Gaines waited
to hopefully bail the Texans out if it became necessary. However, much to the
satisfaction of these non-believers, Houston
moved the column down the Harrisburg road.
From two prisoners captured by scout Deaf
Smith on April 18, Houston
learned that the Mexicans had burned Harrisburg and were following the west bank
of the San Jacinto River. He also heard that Santa Anna himself commanded the
column, and more importantly, that the Mexicans had been forced by high water
to cross the bridge over Vince’s Bayou and would have to cross the same bridge
on their return. After considering the situation, Houston told the Texans they
would soon see action and to “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!"
Jacinto Battle Ground Map
dawn on April 20, the Texans resumed their march, hoping to arrive at Lynch’s
Ferry before Santa Anna. Houston
sent an advance party to the ferry, and they found it guarded by only a few Mexican
soldiers. The Mexicans fled at the sight of the Texans and left behind a flatboat
loaded with provisions that were most likely taken as plunder from Harrisburg.
Capturing the provisions was fortunate because the Texans had little supply of
The Texans set up camp along a stretch of rising ground that
ran parallel to the bayou and was protected by a skirt of timber. The “Twin
Sisters”, two cannons that were a gift from the citizens of Cincinnati, were
placed in the center under Colonel Neill. The first regiment of riflemen commanded
by Colonel Burleson camped on the right, and the second regiment under Colonel
Sherman set up on the left. The cavalry was camped in the center at the rear of
the infantry. The Mexican camp stood less than a mile from the Texas camp. A marsh
spread out to the Mexicans' rear, and a temporary breastwork of trunks, baggage,
and other equipment protected their front.
That afternoon, a small detachment
of cavalry commanded by Colonel Sidney Sherman skirmished with some Mexican infantry.
In the clash, which almost brought the opponents to open battle, two Texans were
wounded, one severely and one mortally, and several horses were killed. Mexican
casualties were much heavier. Mirabeau Lamar, a private from Georgia and later
President of the Republic of Texas, distinguished himself in the fighting and
was placed in command of the Texas cavalry on the eve of the battle.
of San Jacinto Painting 1895 by Henry Arthur McArdle|
Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
morning of Thursday, April 21, dawned bright and clear. Refreshed from
a good night’s rest and a breakfast of bread made with flour captured from the
Mexicans and meat from freshly slaughtered cattle, the Texans were more than eager
to launch an attack. They could see the Mexican flags waving in the freshening
morning breeze and hear the mournful notes of the enemy’s bugle calls.
About 9 A.M., Deaf
Smith and his scouts discovered that, during the early morning, General Cos
had crossed Vince’s bridge with nearly 600 troops, increasing Santa Anna’s strength
to more than 1200. In response, Houston
to destroy the bridge. The bridge’s destruction would not only prevent Santa Anna
from receiving further reinforcements, but also make it impossible for either
the Texans or the Mexicans to retreat toward Harrisburg. Normally, Vince’s Bayou
was about 50 feet wide and ten feet deep, but heavy April rains had swollen it
to a much more daunting obstacle.
After his battle plan was approved by
Secretary of War Rusk, Houston
formed the Texas army for battle around 3:30 in the afternoon. The Texans’ movements
were screened from the Mexican position by trees and the rising ground that stretched
between the positions. All was quiet on the Mexican side during the afternoon
siesta, and Santa Anna had neglected to post any lookouts. The Texans formed their
line of battle with Burleson’s regiment in the center, Sherman’s regiment on the
left, the artillery, including the “Twin
Sisters,” under George Hockley on the right, and the infantry under Henry
Millard to the right of the artillery. The cavalry under the command of Mirabeau
Lamar formed on the extreme right.
Sam Houston’s command, a battle line 910 strong advanced silently out of the
woods and swept up and over the long rise. Bearded, dirty, and ragged the Texans
may have been, but their long rifles were clean and well oiled, and their features
were set with grim determination. The few musicians piped “Will you come to the
Bower,” a popular love ballad of the day, the men bending low as if preparing
to face a strong wind. As the troops advanced, Deaf
Smith galloped up and informed Houston
that Vince’s Bridge had been destroyed. The word spread quickly. There would be
no retreat. It was victory or death.
the range to the Mexican lines closed, the “Twin
Sisters” moved up and opened fire, sending a blistering load of grapeshot
boiling into the enemy barricade. With the roaring blast of the cannons, the Texans
surged forward as one man, screaming “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember
Goliad!” Blazing away with their long rifles at nearly point blank range,
they stormed over the makeshift Mexican barricade, emptied their pistols, and
then went at the Mexicans hand-to-hand, using their rifles as clubs and slashing
right and left with their deadly long knives. The terrified Mexicans either fell
where they stood or ran in panic from the savage fury of the Texas assault.|
pleas of “Me no Alamo!” and “Me no Goliad!” echoed across the battlefield,
but there would be no mercy tendered this day. The enraged Texans quickly reloaded
their long rifles and went after the fleeing Mexicans, shooting, clubbing, or
stabbing to death any man they could catch. The terrorized Mexicans fled into
the boggy marshes at the rear of their position, but the bloodthirsty Texans followed
them even there, determined to kill every last man. The water ran red with the
blood of the slain. General Houston,
his ankle shattered by a Mexican musket ball, did his best to call a halt to the
senseless killing, but the fury of the Texans knew no bounds and the massacre
Sheer exhaustion finally brought an end to the slaughter, and
Sam Houston rode slowly from
the field of victory. At the foot of the oak tree where he had slept the previous
night, the commander of the Texas army slid off his horse and collapsed into the
arms of his chief of staff, Major Hockley. According to the official report of
the battle, 630 Mexican soldiers were killed, 208 wounded, and 730 taken prisoner.
Balanced against this terrible toll, the Texans suffered only nine killed, most
of them in the initial Mexican volley, and thirty wounded. In addition, the Texans
captured a large supply of weapons, ample stocks of supplies, and $12,000 in silver.
of Santa Anna” 1886 painting by William Huddle|
to Sam Houston’s disgust,
General Santa Anna had disappeared during the battle. The following morning Houston
ordered a search of the surrounding area. That afternoon, Sergeant J. A. Sylvester
took note of a Mexican running toward Vince’s Bayou. He caught the man hiding
in some high grass. The prisoner was dressed in a common soldier’s uniform, but
when Sylvester took him to the camp, the other prisoners recognized him and cried,
Santa Anna was brought to General
Houston, who was still lying under the same oak tree nursing his wounded ankle.
Houston made it plain that
he held no like for the dictator, and the Texas soldiers crowded around him growling
angry threats. Terrified, Santa Anna whined, “You can afford to be generous,
you have captured the Napoleon of the West.” Houston retorted angrily, “What
claim have you to mercy, when you showed none at the Alamo or at Goliad?”
The two men sparred verbally for nearly two hours, but in the end Santa Anna agreed
to write an order commanding all Mexican troops to evacuate Texas.
Later, Santa Anna signed the treaties
of Velasco, one open to public scrutiny and one executed in secret, which
recognized Texas independence. In eighteen glorious minutes, Sam
Houston and his fellow Texans won a remarkable victory, establishing Texas
as an independent republic and opening the door for United States expansion southwest
to the Rio Grande and all the way west to the Pacific Ocean. Few battles in history
have been more decisive or have had more far-reaching consequences than the Battle
of San Jacinto.
April 1, 2012 Column
for "The Battle of San Jacinto"
Battle of San Jacinto - Related Articles
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Battle of San Jacinto April 21, 1836 by Murray Montgomery Battle
of San Jacinto by Archie P. McDonald ("All Things Historical")San
Jacinto Day by Archie P. McDonald ("All Things Historical"
News of the fall of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, and the execution of
Texians captured at Goliad three weeks later, produced the terrible Runaway Scrape,
a mad flight of refugees who scrambled eastward to escape a similar fate at the
hand of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s armies. In the midst of these troubles,
one man, Sam Houston, rode west...Baker
Talk by Mike Cox ("Texas Tales")
"In modern times,
battles begin with precision air strikes. In the 19th century, battles began with
stirring speeches. Sometime in the early 1900s, the Beeville Picayune published
the talk Captain Mosley Baker supposedly gave to the men of his company at San
Jacinto on April 21, 1836..."
Top Ten Facts About The Construction of The San Jacinto Monument San
Jacinto Monument by Mike Cox ("Texas Tales")
people think the towering star-topped limestone monument, built during the Texas
Centennial in 1936, is the only San Jacinto monument. Actually, it’s only the
(Alphonso) Steele - Last Texas survivor of the battle of San Jacinto, and
a State Park dedicated to himThe
Last Hero by Bob Bowman ("All Things Historical" )
last surviving veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, lies in
an almost forgotten cemetery in deep East TexasA
Frenchman at San Jacinto by Bob Bowman
Charles Cronea, a Jean Lafitte
pirate who fought at the Battle of San Jacinto.
Treaty of Velasco by Archie P. McDonald ("All Things Historical"
General Sam Houston, and later Interim President David G. Burnett, chose
negotiation instead of revenge for the massacres at the Alamo and Goliad. Twin
Sisters by Mike Cox ("Texas Tales")
The most famous pieces
of artillery in Texas historySmiths
at San Jacinto by Mike Cox ("Texas Tales")
Enoch K. Smith
may have been the 17th Smith who took part in the Battle of San Jacinto.More
Texas History Columns
by Jeffery Robenalt - Order Here >|
for "The Battle of San Jacinto"
| Davis, William
C. (2004), Lone Star Rising: The Revolutionary Birth of the Texas Republic,
Free Press, ISBN 0-684-86510-6.Fehrenbach,
T.R. (2000), Lone Star: A History of Texas and Texans, Cambridge: Da Capo
Press, ISBN 306-80942-7.Groneman,
Bill (1998), Battlefields of Texas, Plano, TX: Republic of Texas Press,
ISBN 97815566225110. Hardin,
Stephen L. (1994), Texian Illiad - A Military History of the Texas Revolution,
Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, ISBN 0292730861. Kemp,
L.W. "San Jacinto, Battle of," Handbook of Texas Online, (http//www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qes03),
January 8, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association. Maher,
Ramona; Gammell, Stephen; Rohr, John A. (1974), The Glory Horse: The Battle
of San Jacinto and Texas in 1836, Coward, McCann, & Geoghegan, ISBN 9780698202945.
L. (2004), Eighteen Minutes: The Battle of San Jacinto and the Texas Independence
Campaign, Rowan & Littlefield, ISBN 9781589070097. Todish,
Timothy J. ; Todish, Terry; Spring, Ted (1998), Alamo Sourcebook, 1836: A Comprehensive
Guide to the Battle of the Alamo and the Texas Revolution, Austin, TX, Eakin
Press, ISBN 9781571681522.|
|Book Hotel Here
by Jeffery Robenalt