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Texas | Columns | All Things Historical

San Jacinto Day

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.

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.

After the Consultation met in Washington-on-the Brazos early in March and proclaimed Texas independent of Mexican rule, its members once again asked Houston to lead their “army,” which did not then exist—he had to find one. Knowing of the action at the Alamo, he rode toward San Antonio and reached Gonzales on March 11. There he found 374 men, who, like himself, had come to aid the Alamo. Leaderless, they had neither gone on to San Antonio nor returned to their homes.

Houston provided the leadership. He formed the men into a semblance of military organization; for example, he made Sidney Sherman, who had arrived from Kentucky with 50 riflemen, commander of a regiment, and sent “Deaf” Smith down the road to San Antonio to find out what had happened there. Smith returned with Mrs. Almeron Dickinson, now the widow of the Alamo’s artillery commander, her child, and a slave, and from them learned the fate of the Alamo’s defenders. The terrible grief of the citizens of Gonzales—virtually every household had lost a loved one—and the shock of his soldiers convinced Houston that fighting then would be impossible. He ordered Gonzales torched and his men to march eastward, promising to fight at first opportunity. That promise required 43 days to fulfill, and at each possible battle site, more and more men became critical of Houston’s leadership; some thought him a coward. But his army grew in numbers, and after a training session on the Brazos, became stronger.

Santa Anna set out from San Antonio in pursuit of Houston’s army, but because his march was slowed by swollen streams and muddy roads, he could not catch up and bring the Texians to battle. Finally convinced that Houston’s army, like the civilians, would continue their flight to Louisiana, Santa Anna moved southward with only 500 men in an attempt to catch Interim President David Burnet at Harrisburg; he arrived in time to see Burnet and other officials flee to Galveston aboard the “Yellowstone.” When he turned back north on April 20, on the Plain of San Jacinto—named for the hyacinth—he found Houston’s army of 700 effectives.

The armies skirmished late in the afternoon of April 20, and a private from Georgia named Mirabeau B. Lamar performed so well that the next day he commanded the Texas cavalry as a colonel. During the night Santa Anna received 500 reinforcements, then spent the day awaiting the Texican’s attack. When none came, he allowed his men to rest. Houston spent the morning of April 21 in war council, his first of the campaign. At approximately 4:30 P.M. he advanced on the Mexican’s position, his men formed into two parallel lines. Their flag, a plain shield with a single, five-point star, fluttered in the wind as a drummer and fifer provided cadence with a popular song of the day, “Will You Come To The Bower I Have Shaded For You?” It was a song of seduction, especially for the Mexican armies. When close, Houston’s “Twin Sisters” cannon, sent by the citizens of Cincinnati, blew a hole in the Mexican’s lines and the Texicans poured through it, shouting, “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!” and they killed and maimed to vent their vengeance. The battle proper lasted approximately 18 minutes; the vengeance lasted until dark.

Houston suffered a near-fatal leg wound in the battle, so Secretary of War Thomas J. Rusk took command. Santa Anna escaped, but was captured the next day. Houston traveled to New Orleans for medical treatment and eventually became president of the Republic of Texas. In Houston’s absence, Santa Anna negotiated with President Burnet on the Treaty of Velasco, which recognized Texas’ independence. Of course, the rest of Mexico did not agree, and a state of war between the nations existed for a decade, then widened to one with the U.S. after Texas became a state. That war brought the southwestern quarter of North America under U.S. control.

San Jacinto Day, 172 years later. Fly the flag, “Remember the Alamo” for several reasons, and remember, too, that we are now all Texans and Americans.

© Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical April 14, 2008 column
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
(Distributed 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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