The Alamo, under Travis and Bowie, had fallen. The defenders of Goliad had been massacred, after what their commander, Fannin, had thought was an honorable surrender.
The provisional government of Texas had met and declared independence from Mexico, after General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had refuted the Constitution of 1824 and set himself up as dictator. The Texas forces under Sam Houston, were in full retreat. Houston desperately tried to consolidate his resources and train his men into a semblance of an army. Santa Anna was in hot pursuit, determined to destroy those dedicated to a free Texas. Most of these were of Anglo descent, but many were Tejanos, of Spanish and Mexican Indian stock, some of whom had been in the area since the 1500s.
Santa Anna considered the fate of Mexico and his own personal fortunes inextricably bound together. The dictator, called "Tyrant" and "The Bastard," by Mexican and Anglo alike, could ill afford to allow any showing of independence on the part of the Texians, fearing that if he granted any requests, he would lose his iron-fisted control. To this end, he had ordered the disarmament of the Texas settlers in the fall of 1835. This resulted in the unthinkable act of defiance by inhabitants of Gonzales: They refused to turn in a small, antique Spanish field piece held to impress hostile Indians. They were likewise determined to hold their powder, shot and small arms. The settlers took a bed sheet and black paint and made a banner: A cannon tube, a single, five-pointed star, and the words, "COME AND TAKE IT." It may have been the first use of the Lone Star symbol on a Texas flag, and under this crude device, these recalcitrant individuals successfully repelled a Mexican force sent to confiscate the munitions.
Houston knew his enemy. He realized that he needed to capture Santa Anna and compel him to order Mexican forces out of Texas, because, in the long run, the larger, better disciplined armies would inevitably overcome the willing but unorganized Texians. Houston's awareness of the situation may have lacked strategic coherence, but at some point it became clear to him that tactically, he would have the upper hand if he could constrict the portion of the Mexican forces personally led by Santa Anna before they could join with other, stronger columns coming overland from Mexico.
San Jacinto Battle Flag
The small army had no field artillery for support, save for two small tubes donated by Ohioans, and which had been shipped through Galveston, lacking any sort of mounts. Makeshift carriages had been cobbled together while on the march, and these two little four-pounders, christened "The Twin Sisters," were ready for action that afternoon.
The history books tell the tale very eloquently: T. R. Fehrenbach, in his work, LONE STAR, gives the order of battle, and the commanders of the various units. There have been entire tomes written about The Battle (The capitalization is intentional) and the preceding events and the aftermath and the long term results. Read and learn of Lamar's sixty cavalry and Burleson's First Regiment and Hockley with the two little field pieces. And the rest . . . .
It was 4:00 p.m. In the bright sunlight, there was still some mist rising off the sluggish bayou. Houston, up on Saracen, made no memorable speech. Those nearby said he merely told them to hold their fire and make it count. He drew his sword and yelled, "Forward--Texas!”
The music screeched out, "Won't you come to the bow'r I have shaded for you?" The line surged forward and men bent their backs to moving the Twin Sisters over the moist, soft, soil. They went up the gentle rise and came into full view of the Mexican camp. There were shouts and a few musket shots by sentries, still hundreds of yards distant. At about this point, someone, probably Colonel Sidney Sherman, first screamed out, "Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!" Those around him took up the cry, and it swept the line, and seemed to overwhelm the gunfire.
The twenty-first of April, 1836. Four o'clock in the afternoon. The rag-tag, poorly outfitted, nearly unorganized Army of the new Republic of Texas, eight hundred strong, charged headlong into a fortified position held by twice their number of the finest military force in the Western Hemisphere - - - and whipped them to a fare-thee-well!
It is said the battle lasted eighteen minutes, but the slaughter went on for hours. Every Texian present had lost a relative or close friend or lodge brother in the past few months. Frustration and privation, fatigue and hunger, dedication and blood lust - - - All were vented for hours, until individuals began reckoning, "There's been enough killing for one day."
The butcher's bill:
Mexican dead 630
Wounded and prisoner 200
Unwounded prisoners 430
Texian killed or later died of wounds: 9
Wounded but surviving 25
The many prisoners taken, thankfully, included the Emperor-General, His Excellency Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Brought before Sam Houston, who was grievously wounded in the leg, Santa Anna readily agreed to sign orders that all Mexican military forces immediately withdraw from combat and return to Mexico, pending a formal treaty. The following month, at the Treaty of Velasco, the war ended, and Mexico, at least temporarily, recognized the Republic of Texas.
And the remainder of the story? In February, 1846, Texas was annexed by the United States, bringing in parts of present-day Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Colorado.
Texas after San Jacinto
Mexico, while disputing the border, had been grudgingly tolerant of the Texas Republic, but protested when the U. S. A. moved troops to the Rio Grande. The Mexican-American War ensued, a war indeed a story unto itself, and one which would not have been fought but for the Texian victory at San Jacinto. The Mexican War formally ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ratified in July, 1848. This resulted in the U. S. purchase of California, Nevada, Utah, parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Wyoming. In short, The Battle gave substance to the Manifest Destiny of the United States of America.
Territory ceded by Mexico to the USA
The Battle of San Jacinto has been described as one of the ten watershed battles of history, in long term results. Waterloo, Agincourt, Tours, Lepanto, Yorktown, Gettysburg, Stalingrad, Kursk-- Never to belittle the sacrifice of life or the suffering at any of these—— San Jacinto, with under nine hundred casualties total, ranks in significance with them.
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One must always wonder: At what point has a course of conduct inexorably begun? At what point might it have been stopped? Just ponder - -
If General Gage had decided NOT to seize the munitions at Lexington - - - -
If Santa Anna had NOT demanded that little gun at Gonzales - - - -
And, mainly, if either place had not been populated by FREE PEOPLE who cared more about their freedom than possibly getting hurt.
GOD BLESS TEXAS! GOD BLESS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! And may The Almighty forever bless and protect freedom-loving people everywhere.
--With due acknowledgment to T. R. Fehrenbach, Allen Damron, Tim Henderson, and others. - - - JPG