Part II – Battle of San Jacinto
Battle of San Jacinto (Texans moving right to left)
(Unless otherwise noted, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)
Today in Military History: April 21, 1836
On the morning of April 21, General Houston began making his plans. First, he sent "Deaf Smith" and 6 men westward along the road to New Washington. They were ordered to chop down and burn Vince's Bridge, located 8 miles to the west and the only open route of retreat which the Mexicans could use. Then, around noon, Houston held a council of war. Versions of the meeting favoring Houston say the majority of his officers favored waiting for Santa Anna's eventual assault. The conference dragged on for nearly two hours. Houston, however, decided in favor of his own surprise attack that afternoon, concerned that Santa Anna might use the extra time to concentrate his scattered army. Most of the assault would come over open ground, where the Texan infantry would be vulnerable to Mexican gunfire. Even riskier, Houston decided to outflank the Mexicans with his cavalry, which would stretch his troops even thinner. However, Santa Anna made a crucial mistake: during his army's afternoon siesta, he failed to post sentries or skirmishers around his camp. Santa Anna's failure to properly post lookouts proved fatal to his chances of victory.
By 3:30 pm, Houston had formed his men into battle lines for the impending assault, screened from Mexican view by trees and by a slight ridge that ran across the open prairie between the opposing armies. Houston then paused, waiting for word of the destruction of Vince's Bridge. An hour later, Deaf Smith rode into camp, confirming the destruction of the vital bridge. Houston then ordered his men to move forward.
General Houston personally led the infantry, posting the 2nd Volunteer Regiment of Colonel Sidney Sherman, together with Juan Sequin's men, on his far left. [Sequin had been at the Alamo, but was sent as a messenger to the Texas government, and therefore missed the final assault.] Colonel Edward Burleson's 1st Volunteer Regiment was next in line. In the center, two 6-pound brass smoothbore artillery pieces (donated by citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio) known as the 'Twin Sisters,' were wheeled forward. They were supported by four companies of infantry under Captain Henry Wax Karnes. Colonel Henry Millard's regiment of Texas regulars made up the right wing. To the extreme far right, 61 Texas cavalrymen – including some Texas Rangers – under Colonel Mirabeau B. Lamar planned to circle into the Mexicans' left flank.
Replicas of the "Twin Sisters" used by Texans at Battle of San Jacinto
(Currently on display at San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site)
The Texans stealthily marched through the high grass of the prairie between their camp and the Mexicans. Due to the lack of sentries of any kind, the rebels got to within a few dozen yards of the Mexican camp. At that point, a single fifer began playing a popular tune of the day, "Will you come to the bower I have shaded for you?" (although other accounts claim the musician was playing "Yankee Doodle). The "Twin Sisters" each fired a round of shrapnel (stated by one observer as small cannonballs, rocks, and pieces of bent horseshoes). The Texans then sprang from their cover, charging a makeshift barricade made of backpacks and baggage. As they advanced the rebels began shouting, "Remember the Alamo!" and "Remember Goliad!"
The Texans formed ranks and delivered a single volley into the confused and sleepy Mexicans milling about the camp. At this point, many of the rebels then threw themselves to the ground to avoid a returning Mexican volley. When no return blast came, one Tejano shouted for the Texans to get up and advance, because "Santa Anna's men are running!" The Texans then ran pell-mell and without much order into the Mexican camp. One of the Texan officers, Thomas Rusk, galloped along the front line of the rebels, shouting, "Don't stop…give 'em hell!"
Although some Mexican troops tried to resist the Texan advance, their commander was shot and killed, resulting in the total collapse of the Mexican army. The Mexicans' single artillery piece got off two shots, before the entire Mexican army panicked. All told, the actual fighting at San Jacinto lasted 18 minutes. However, the aftermath would be a different story…
The Texans then began to visit retribution upon the Mexicans, shooting, stabbing, and clubbing to death any Mexican they could lay their hands upon. Many Mexicans tried to surrender, crying out, "Me no Alamo! Me no Goliad!" hoping that statement would save their lives and stop the slaughter. Many of the Mexicans fled west, while other ran into the nearby marshes to drown. The massacre continued for another hour, until the Texans finally came to their senses.
"Surrender of Santa Anna" (1886), painting by William Huddle
(Deaf Smith is just to the right of the prone Houston, holding his hand to his ear)
The Mexican army was totally devastated, with 630 killed and 208 wounded. In addition to the wounded, a further 522 Mexican were taken prisoner. The Texans suffered a total of 9 men killed and 30 wounded, all in the first few minutes of the attack.
During the massacre after the battle, as Sam Houston tried to stop his men, he had two horses shot out from under him. The shot which killed his second horse also struck Houston in the left ankle. He was attended to, and spent the next few days convalescing.
During the confusion of the battle, Santa Anna disappeared. The next day, as the Texans searched for stragglers, a man in a Mexican private's uniform was found hiding in the high prairie grass near the battlefield. As he was brought to the Texan camp, a number of Mexican soldiers saluted him and called out, "El Presidente!" His cover blown, Santa Anna was taken to Sam Houston. Santa Anna agreed to withdraw his troops from Texas and return to Mexico. He further agreed to lobby the Mexican government to recognize the Republic of Texas.
However, Santa Anna was held as a prisoner of war for six months. During that time, his government disowned him and any agreement he might enter into – which Santa Anna knew full well would likely happen. During his captivity, he was sent to Washington, DC where he met President Andrew Jackson. In 1837, Santa Anna returned to Mexico in disgrace.
Footnote #1: Santa Anna ruled Mexico a total of five times, the last time from 1853-1855. He lived in exile in Cuba, the United States, Colombia, and St. Thomas until 1874, when a general amnesty was offered. Crippled and nearly blind from cataracts, Santa Anna lived in obscurity until his death in 1876.
Footnote #2: While living in exile in Staten Island, Santa Anna tried to sell the benefits of a substance named "chicle" as a substitute for rubber carriage tires. Although those efforts failed, his partner Thomas Adams was responsible for the rise of the chewing gum industry. Adams invented and marketed an early chewing gum he called "Chiclets."
Footnote #3: One of the few flags known to have been carried by Texan units at San Jacinto was this banner. It was flown by the men under Col. Sherman. It seems to have been inspired by imagery from the French Revolution.
Footnote #4: General Sam Houston was elected President of the Republic of Texas twice (1836-1838 and 1841-1844). After Texas was annexed by the United States, he served as a U.S. senator from 1846-1859. In 1859, Houston was elected the 7th governor of Texas. He served until March of 1861, when he refused to take the oath of office to the Confederacy. Houston died July 26, 1863 at the age of 70.
Statue of Sam Houston, near Huntsville, TX
(Statue is 67 feet tall; note person in foreground)
Footnote #5: The state of Texas constructed a 567.3-foot tall monument to the battle of San Jacinto, which was completed in 1939. At its summit is a 220-ton, 34-foot tall star. It is part of the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, about 25 miles east of downtown Houston.
San Jacinto Monument in LaPorte, TX
Footnote #6: Three U.S. Navy ships have borne the name of San Jacinto: the first was a screw frigate which saw action in the American Civil War; the second was a light aircraft carrier which served during World War II (and which former President George H.W. Bush served aboard); and a third is the current USS "San Jacinto" (CG-56), a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser commissioned in 1988 and still active. The "San Jacinto" fired the first shots of Operation Desert Storm, launching two Tomahawk cruise missiles. The vessel's motto is "Victory is Certain."
USS "San Jacinto" (CG-56)