Battle of San Jacinto

Summary

The Battle of San Jacinto, was fought on April 21, 1836, present day Harris County, Texas, was the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. Led by General Sam Houston, the Texas army defeated the Mexican army of General Antonio López de Santa Anna in a fight that lasted only 18 minutes. About 630 of the Mexican soldiers were killed and 730 captured, while only 9 Texans died.

Antonio López, the president of Mexico, was captured the next day and held as a prisoner of war. Three weeks later, he signed the peace treaty that dictated that the Mexican army leave the region, paving the way for the Republic of Texas to become an independent country. These treaties did not specifically recognize Texas as a sovereign nation, but stipulated that Antonio López was to make a start towards such recognition in Mexico City. Sam Houston became a national celebrity, the phrases “Remember Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!” became etched in Texas history and legend.

Colonization

During the early years of Mexican independence, numerous American immigrants had settled in Mexican Texas, then a part of the state of Coahuila y Texas, with the encouragement of the Mexican government.

Political turmoil and civil war

In 1835, they rebelled against the Mexican government of Antonio López because he abrogated the democratic constitution of 1824, dissolved the Congress of Mexico and state legislatures, and asserted dictatorial control over the nation. After capturing military posts and defeating Mexican army garrisons in the area, Texans drove the remaining Mexican forces from Texas after a siege and a major confrontation at San Antonio. Texans then formed a provisional government and drafted the Declaration of Independence.

Hundreds of volunteers from the United States headed to the nascent Republic of Texas to help in its quest for independence. Two full regiments of these volunteers were soon organized to augment the regular Texan army. Other volunteers (including Tejano and Texian settlers) organized into societies to defend places that might be targets for Mexican intervention.

Some of the American volunteers at San Jacinto included the Kentucky Rifles, a society created in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky by Sidney Sherman, and one of the few Texian militia units with formal uniforms. The New Orleans Greys, another society created in the United States, fought in the Battle of the Alamo, serving under a regular Texian Army officer, while two other Alabama societies (one each from Huntsville and Mobile) fought at Goliad.

Mexican Answer

In 1836, Antonio López led a force of about 6,000 Mexicans into what is now Texas to put down the insurrection. He first entered San Antonio de Béxar and, after a 13-day siege, defeated Texas forces on March 6, 1836 at the Alamo. The right wing of Antonio López”s offensive under General José de Urreader defeated, captured and executed the survivors of a second force near Goliad.

Antonio López ordered the Goliad prisoners to be executed on March 27, Palm Sunday. General Urrea resisted the orders, first and sent a special message to Antonio López to confirm the order, which Antonio López had upheld. After granting pardon to the prisoners of war who had surrendered, Urrea addressed the problem of how to execute more than 300 prisoners. To do so, those who were able to walk were informed that they were being taken under escort to a new location. As the prisoners were being led down the road in three columns, between two lines of guards, the Mexican soldiers opened fire. 303 Texan prisoners, 28 escaped, of which six were able to inform Sam Houston”s militia. Of the remaining 40 Texans who were unable to walk, of 39 were shot and killed in the fort. This execution of 342 prisoners of war became known as the Goliad Massacre. At the Battle of San Jacinto, both cries of “Remember Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!” were heard. The fort where the prisoners were executed, now in excellent repair, is the best example of a Mexican fort in the United States. It is called Presidio La Bahía and is near Goliad, Texas.

Texan Response

Soldiers and militiamen had again assembled at Gonzales. Colonel James Clinton Neill had taken over and begun organizing the troops. Houston soon came to the command of what was now the main Texan army taken over. Seeking a more defensible position, he slowly withdrew to the east. To President David G. Burnet, no admirer of Houston, Houston seemed willing to fight his pursuer, despite Burnet”s frequent orders to Houston to do so. Houston”s Texan colonists had booed as he passed, and his officers threatened the command to take advantage. Houston in response said he would shoot anyone who tried. Concerned that the Mexican army was closing in rapidly, Burnet and the Texas government abandoned the provisional capital at Washington-on-the-Brazos and moved to the Gulf of Mexico, reestablishing key government functions at Harrisburg and later at Galveston. In his wake, thousands of panicked settlers (both Tejano and Texian) fled in what became popularly known as the “Runaway Scrape.”

Houston initially went toward the Sabine River on the United States border, where a Federal army under General Edmund P. Gaines were assembled to protect Louisiana if Antonio Lopez decides to invade the United States. However, it soon turned into southeast Houston toward Harrisburg.

After the Battle of the Alamo, while still at Béxar, Antonio López had come up with his plan on three fronts, pursuing Houston”s army directly from the center, with flanks to the north and south. However, in mid-April, Antonio López abandoned the plan in an attempt to capture the fleeing Texas government at Morgan”s Point, about a half-day”s march following Lynch”s Ferry. Antonio López personally led a picket column of about 900 soldiers, but was unable to find the wanted leaders. On April 20, he then counter-marched the direction of Lynch”s Ferry, where Houston”s army was that morning, established a position in the woods near the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou. Antonio López began to set up camp and defenses on a lawn 914 m below the Texans” position.

Believing Houston to be conquered, Antonio Lopez decided to rest his army on April 19 and attack on April 22.

On April 20, the Texan and Mexican patrols clashed in New Washington. Antonio Lopez knew that Houston was nearby and sent a scout into the woods to find his army. Colonel James C. Neill commanded the “twin sisters” during the battle and sent the Mexicans promptly into retreat, sparing the Texans from discovery. Neill was severely wounded when a bullet fragment caught in his hip. James C. Neill was then replaced by George Washington Hockley. Mexican Captain Urizza was also wounded.

On the afternoon of April 20, Colonel Sidney Sherman, accompanied by a detachment of cavalry, infantry engaged the Mexicans, almost bringing in some main action when they formed a counter-attack by the Mexican lancers. Captain Jesse Billingsley came to their aid and Colonel Burleson”s entire regiment promptly joined in. The Mexicans were repulsed and Houston called for the Texans to fall back. Two Texans were wounded, Walter P. Lane and Olwyn J. Trask (who died later), with several horses were also killed. Mirabeau B. Lamar, from Georgia (a future President of the Republic of Texas), performed so bravely, first saving Thomas J. Rusk and later Walter P. Lane (with the help of Henry Karnes), he was promoted to colonel and placed in command of the cavalry.

On the morning of April 21, Antonio López received about 500 reinforcements under General Martín Perfecto de Cos. His total force now approached 1,400 men. Antonio López posted Cos to his right, near the river, and posted his last artillery in the center, erecting a five-meter-high barricade of packs and baggage as hastily constructed protection for his infantry. He placed the veteran cavalry on his left flank and leaned back to plan the next day”s attack.

At noon on April 21, Houston held a council of war. Pro-Houston versions of the meeting say that most of its officers favored waiting for Antonio Lopez”s eventual attack. The conference remained for two hours. Houston, however, decided in favor of its own surprise attack that afternoon, worried that Antonio Lopez might use the extra time to concentrate his scattered army. More of the attack would come over open land, where the Texan infantry would be vulnerable to Mexican gunfire. Even riskier, Houston decided to flank the Mexicans with his cavalry, stretching his troops even thinner. However, Antonio Lopez made a fundamental mistake, during his army afternoon siesta, he failed to post sentries or skirmishers around his camp.

The 900-man Texas army was ready to engage the enemy. Houston, urged on by Secretary of War Thomas J. Rusk, who had picked up the militia to consult with Houston at President Burnet”s insistence, began the action. By 0330, Houston had formed his men into battle lines for the impending attack, displayed from Mexican view by trees and by a scout on the ridge running across the open prairie between the enemy armies. Antonio Lopez”s failure to properly post lookouts proved fatal to his chances of victory.

At 4:30 on April 21, scout Deaf Smith announced the firing of Vince”s bridge, which cut off the only route of reinforcement and retreat for both armies, without having to how to cross the water more than 10 feet deep. The Texans” main battle line advanced with their approach shown by the trees and rising ground. Emerging from the forest, the order to “advance” was given and the popular song “Will you come to the pavilion I”ve got shade for you?” began to play. General Houston personally led the infantry, posting Colonel Sidney Sherman”s 2nd Regiment of Volunteers along with Juan Seguín”s men in his left corner, with Colonel Edward Burleson”s 1st Regiment of Volunteers close in line. In the center, two small bronze (or iron) cannon without splines, artillery pieces (donated by citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio), known as the “twin sisters,” was carried forward under the command of Major George Washington Hockley. They were supported by four infantry societies under Capt. Henry Karnes. Colonel Henry Millard”s regiment of Texas frequenters composed from the right. For the far right, Texas had 61 cavalry in newly promoted Colonel Mirabeau B. Lamar planned to go on the left flank of the Mexicans.

The Texan militia moved quickly and silently across the tall grassy plain, and then, when they were only a few dozen yards away, across Antonio López”s camp, shouting “Remember Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!”, only stopping a few yards short of the Mexicans and opened fire. Manuel N. Flores is credited with taking the initiative for the charge against Antonio López”s army. Jose Maria Rodriguez states in his book, Memoirs of Early Texas, that during the charge, the Texans set fire to themselves and fell to the ground expecting a hail of hail from the Mexican camp, but Flores stood his ground and challenged the Texas Army to “stand up” and advance, for “Antonio López”s men are in execution!” Thomas Rusk also galloped up to the men shouting, “Don”t stop … give them hell!”

The Texians achieved it in complete surprise. A daring attack in broad daylight, their success can be attributed, in good part, to the relaxation of Antonio López”s vigilance, due to the superior number of forces he now possessed. Antonio López”s army consisted mainly of professional soldiers, but they were trained to fight in the ranks, exchanging hailstorms with their opponents. The Mexicans were ill-prepared and unarmed at the time of the sudden attack. Most were sleeping with their soldaderas (i.e. wives and female soldiers), worn out from building fortifications. Some were gathering firewood, and the cavalry without saddles were walking to fetch water. Not everyone was aware; Colonel Delgado was worried about laxity, and General Manuel Fernández Castrillón, who at the Alamo had tried to save a small group of Texan defenders, desperately tried to mount an organized resistance, but was soon shot down and killed. His troops fled in panic, and Antonio López”s defense quickly collapsed.

Hundreds of demoralized and confused Mexican soldiers were routed, with many being driven into the swamps along the river to drown. The Texans pursued the fleeing enemies, Deaf Smith shouting “take prisoners like Meskins do!”, In reference to the burning of bodies after the Alamo and the mass murder of the Texians at Goliad. Some of the Mexican cavalry fell into the flooded stream at Vince”s Bridge, but they were shot while fighting in the water. Houston tried to restrain his men, but was ignored. General Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, commanded what remained of the organized Mexican resistance, soon formally surrendered his remaining 400 men to Rusk. The rest of Antonio López”s once proud army had disintegrated into chaos. From the moment of the first charge, the battle was a massacre, “terrible to behold,” with most of the Texan casualties arriving in the first few minutes of battle from the first Mexican hail.

During the short but furious fight, Houston was shot in the left ankle, two of his horses were killed under his feet, and Antonio López escaped. The fight itself lasted 18 minutes, but the slaughter of the Mexicans continued for “another hour or so.” The Texan militia had won an impressive victory, killing about 700 Mexican soldiers, wounding 208, and taking 730 prisoners, including Antonio López (the Texans did not know that they had captured Antonio López, until one of the prisoners called him El Presidente), while the Texans had 9 dead and 30 wounded.

Antonio Lopez disappeared during the battle and discovered evading, shedding his ornate uniform for that of an ordinary soldier. The search party consisting of James A. Sylvester, Washington H. Secrest, Sion R. Bostick, and Mr. Cole was dispatched the next morning. When surrounded in the tall grass and forced to surrender, Antonio Lopez was initially thought to be an ordinary soldier. However, when other prisoners called him El Presidente por, his true identity was discovered by the Texans. Houston spared his life, preferring to negotiate an end to hostilities in general and the withdrawal of the remaining Mexicans from Antonio López.

On May 14, 1836, Antonio López signed the Treaty of Velasco, in which he agreed to withdraw his troops from Texas soil and, in exchange for safe conduct back to Mexico, there is entry and recognition of the new republic. There were two treaties, a private treaty and a public treaty. In the direct settlement, Antonio López undertook to try to convince Mexico to recognize Texas” independence, in exchange for an escort back to Mexico. However, safe passage never materialized; Antonio López went for six months as a prisoner of war (during which time his government disowned him and any deal he could enter into that he knew full well would happen) and finally taken to Washington, D.C. There, he met with President Andrew Jackson, before finally returning in disgrace to Mexico in early 1837. The independent Republic of Texas received diplomatic recognition from the United States, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Republic of Yucatán. Even after the Republic had joined the United States in 1845, Mexico still retained claims on Texas until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War in 1848.

It was reported that when campaigning, Antonio López would send advisors to gather the most beautiful women for his pleasure. According to legend, he was “amused” by a mulatto woman named Emily Morgan at the time of the opening hail. The song entitled “The Yellow Rose of Texas” was later written about the role of the supposed Emily Morgan in the battle. No major source evidence corroborates this story, however, and it is now rejected by historians.

Today, the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site honors the battle that includes the San Jacinto Monument, the world”s tallest memorial column, 170 m. The park is located in La Porte, about 40 km southeast of downtown Houston. The monument contains an inscription, part of which reads:

“Measured by its results, San Jacinto was one of the world”s decisive battles. The freedom Texas won here from Mexico led to annexation and the Mexican-American War, resulting in the United States acquiring the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Nearly one-third of the current area of the American nation, nearly one million square miles of territory, changed sovereignty.”

Both the Texas Navy and the United States Navy commissioned ships named after the Battle of San Jacinto: The Texas Schooner San Jacinto and three ships named USS San Jacinto.

An annual San Jacinto Day festival and historical re-enactment is held in April at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site.

The annual celebration of the party in San Antonio with three grand parades, banquets, and numerous other events, commemorates San Jacinto”s victory and Texas independence.

Alfonso Steele, to whom a park on the road is dedicated in Limestone County, is generally credited as being the last remaining Texan survivor of the battle. He died on July 8, 1911.

In September 2001, Park Road 1836, connecting the battlefield road (formerly Texas State Highway 134) to the San Jacinto Monument Grounds near Houston, was renamed in honor of Juan Seguín and Interstate 610

In the 20th century, the state of Texas erected several monuments and roadside landmarks to mark the way and militia camps from Houston as it marched to San Jacinto.

Sources

  1. Batalha de San Jacinto
  2. Battle of San Jacinto
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