Texas Revolution: Battle of San Jacinto

Sam Houston
Sam Houston, circa 1848-1850. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Battle of San Jacinto - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of San Jacinto was fought April 21, 1836 and was the decisive engagement of the Texas Revolution.

Armies & Commanders:

Republic of Texas

  • General Sam Houston
  • 800 men
  • 2 guns

Mexico

  • Antonio López de Santa Anna
  • 1,400 men
  • 1 gun

Background:

While Mexican President and General Antonio López de Santa Anna laid siege to the Alamo in early March 1836, Texan leaders gathered in Washington-on-the-Brazos to discuss independence.

  On March 2, a formal declaration was approved. In addition, Major General Sam Houston received an appointment as commander-in-chief of the Texan Army. Arriving in Gonzales, he commenced organizing the forces there to offer resistance to the Mexicans. Learning of the Alamo's fall late on March 13 (five days after its capture), he also received word that Santa Anna's men were advancing northeast and pushing deeper into Texas. Calling a council of war, Houston discussed the situation with his senior officers and, being out-numbered and out-gunned, decided to commence an immediate withdrawal towards the US border. This retreat forced the Texan government to abandon its capital at Washington-on-the-Brazos and flee to Galveston.

Santa Anna on the Move:

Houston's hasty departure from Gonzales proved fortuitous as Mexican troops entered the town on the morning of March 14. Having overwhelmed the Alamo on March 6, Santa Anna, who was eager to end the conflict, split his force in three, sending one column towards Galveston to capture the Texas government, a second back to secure his supply lines, and launched a pursuit Houston with the third.

While one column defeated and massacred a Texan force at Goliad in late March, another harried Houston's army. Having briefly swelled to around 1,400 men, the Texan force began to erode as morale sunk during the prolonged retreat. Additionally, concern arose in the ranks regarding Houston's willingness fight.

Concerned that his green troops would only be capable of fighting one major battle, Houston continued to avoid the enemy and was nearly removed by President David G. Burnet. On March 31, the Texans paused at Groce's Landing where they were able to take two weeks to train and re-supply. Having ridden north to join his lead columns, Santa Anna first conducted a failed endeavor to capture the Texan government before turning his attention to Houston's army. Having departed Groce's Landing, it had turned southeast and was moving in the direction of Harrisburg and Galveston.On April 19, his men spotted the Texas Army near the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou. Moving closer, they established a camp within 1,000 yards of Houston's position. Believing that he had the Texans trapped, Santa Anna elected to delay and postpone his attack until April 22. Reinforced by General Martín Perfecto de Cos, Santa Anna had 1,400 men to Houston's 800.

The Texans Prepare:

On April 20, the two armies skirmished and fought a minor cavalry action. The next morning, Houston called council of war. Though most of his officers believed they should wait for Santa Anna's assault, Houston decided to seize the initiative and attack first.

That afternoon, the Texans burned Vince's Bridge cutting off the most likely line of retreat for Mexicans. Screened by a slight ridge that ran across the field between the armies, the Texans formed for battle with the 1st Volunteer Regiment in the center, the 2nd Volunteer Regiment on the left, and the Texas Regulars on the right.

Houston Strikes:

Quickly and quietly advancing, Houston's men were screened by Colonel Mirabeau Lamar's cavalry on the far right. Not expecting a Texan attack, Santa Anna had neglected to post sentries outside of his camp, allowing the Texans to close without being detected. They were further aided by the fact that the time of the assault, 4:30 PM, coincided with the Mexican's afternoon siesta. Supported by two artillery pieces donated by the city of Cincinnati and known as the "Twin Sisters," the Texans surged forward yelling "Remember Goliad" and "Remember the Alamo."

A Surprise Victory:

Caught by surprise, the Mexicans were unable to mount an organized resistance as the Texans opened fire at close range. Pressing their attack, they quickly reduced the Mexicans to mob, forcing many to panic and flee. General Manuel Fernández Castrillón attempted to rally his troops but was shot before they could establish any resistance. The only organized defense was mounted by 400 men under General Juan Almonte, who were forced to surrender at the end of the battle. With his army disintegrating around him, Santa Anna fled the field. A complete victory for the Texans, the battle only lasted 18 minutes.

Aftermath:

The stunning victory at San Jacinto cost Houston's army a mere 9 killed and 26 wounded. Among the wounded was Houston himself, having been hit in the ankle. For Santa Anna, the casualties were much higher with 630 killed, 208 wounded, and 703 captured. The next day a search party was sent out to locate Santa Anna. In an attempt to avoid detection, he had exchanged his general's uniform for that of a private. When captured, he nearly escaped recognition until other prisoners began saluting him as "El Presidente."

The Battle of San Jacinto proved to be the decisive engagement of the Texas Revolution and effectively secured independence for the Republic of Texas. A prisoner of the Texans, Santa Anna was compelled to sign the Treaties of Velasco which called for the removal of Mexican troops from Texas soil, efforts to be made for Mexico to recognize Texas independence, and safe conduct for the president back to Veracruz. While Mexican troops did withdraw, the other elements of the treaties were not upheld and Santa Anna was held as a POW for six months and disowned by the Mexican government. Mexico did not officially recognize the loss of Texas until the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the Mexican-American War.

Selected Sources