Friday, April 20, 2007

April 21, 1836

".........waving his hat and shouting 'San Jacinto! San Jacinto! The Mexicans are whipped and Santa Anna a prisoner.' The scene that followed beggars description. People embraced, laughed and wept and prayed, all in one breath. As the moon rose over the vast flower-decked prairie, the soft southern wind carried peace to tired hearts and grateful slumber. As battles go, San Jacinto was but a skirmish; but with what mighty consequences! The lives and the liberty of a few hundred pioneers at stake and an empire won! Look to it, you Texans of today, with happy homes, mid fields of smiling plenty, that the blood of the Alamo, Goliad, and San Jacinto sealed forever. Texas, one and indivisible!"

~ Ms. Kate Scurry Terrell, describing the scene among refugee families on the Sabine River.

On this date, one hundred and seventy one years ago, the Republic of Texas won its independence from Mexico. They won it while outnumbered by their enemy.

For most Americans, and I'd bet most Texans, too, the Battle of the Alamo was the pivotal battle in the war for Texan Independence. But, of course, it was a loss, and all the defenders of the Alamo were killed in the battle or executed afterward. The Alamo served merely as a diversion, and a way to slow down the march of General Santa Anna while the Texan forces gathered to fight him off.

Shortly after the Alamo came the Goliad Massacre. Santa Anna's right wing, under the command of General Jose Urrea, moved on the Texan forces at Goliad. The dithering of Colonel James Fannin kept his Texas forces from retreating from Goliad before the arrival of General Urrea's forces. He strengthened the defenses of the city of Goliad, but was ordered by Sam Houston to retreat, to save his forces. Fannin waited too long, and upon leaving the city, and burning his excess supplies he found himself surrounded on the prairie six miles from the city. This was the Battle of Coleto Creek.

Fannin's men fought well, killing or wounding nearly 200 of Urrea's forces. But Fannin saw that he was simply badly outnumbered, nearly out of water, and surrendered his 342 men to Urrea. They were marched back to Goliad on the 20th of March.

Wikipedia relates:
"On March 26, 1836, at 7 p.m., Portilla received orders from Santa Anna in triplicate to execute the prisoners. At around 8 a.m. on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, Colonel Jose Nicolas de la Portilla, commander at Goliad, had the 342 Texians marched out of Fort Defiance into three columns on the Bexar Road, San Patricio Road and the Victoria Road. Urrea wrote [that he]: '...wished to elude these orders as far as possible without compromising my personal responsibility'.

Once the columns reached their selected location, the Mexican soldados formed into two ranks on one side of the captives. The defenseless and unarmed Texians were then fired upon point-blank a few hundred yards from the fort. The wounded and dying were then clubbed and stabbed. Those who survived the initial volley were run down by the Mexican cavalry. Fannin's men wounded in the Battle of Coleto were shot or bayoneted where they lay. Colonel Fannin was the last to be executed, after seeing his men butchered. Their bodies were stacked into piles and burned. There were twenty-eight Texians who did manage to escape by feigning death and other means."

Sam Houston moved the main Texan Army eastward away from Santa Anna, despite the politicians urging him to turn and fight. Heading southeast Houston eventually halted at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou. Behind his forces, up a low rise, was a wooded area. Ahead beyond the eventual site of Santa Anna's camp was a large marshy area. The Texans numbered around 800+ men, the Mexicans under Santa Anna numbered around 1,400 men. On April 20th, 1836, Santa Anna's army erected 5-foot high barricades of baggage to protect his infantry, placed his cavalry on the left and General Cos's reinforcement force on the right, and settled down to plan his attack. He would rest his army on the 21st and attack the cornered Texans on the 22nd.

The Battlefield of San Jacinto

The morning of the 21st of April was a clear, fine day. Houston's officers argued that they should wait for Santa Anna to attack and defend the high ground. Houston thought that better of that and decided to surprise the Mexicans by attacking them!

Disposing his forces in battle order, Houston began moving them toward the Mexican line at 3:30 in the afternoon. The Mexican lines were quiet as they were enjoying their siesta. Screened by the trees, the Texans advanced quietly as Houston ordered them, "Now hold your fire, men, until you get the order!"

The Battle of San Jacinto says:
"At the command, 'Advance,' the patriots, 910 strong, moved quickly out of the woods and over the rise, deploying. Bearded and ragged from forty days in the field, they were a fierce-looking band. But their long rifles were clean and well oiled. Only one company, Captain William Wood's "Kentucky Rifles," wore uniforms.

Silently and tensely the Texas battle line swept across the prairie and swale that was No Man's land, the men bending low. A soldier's fife piped up with "Will You Come to the Bower,"' a popular tune of the day. That was the only music of the battle. [Several veterans of the battle said the tune played was "Yankee Doodle."] As the, troops advanced, "Deaf" Smith galloped up and told Houston, "Vince's bridge has been cut down." The General announced it to the men. Now both armies were cut off from retreat in all directions but one, by a roughly circular moat formed by Vince's and Buffalo Bayous to the west and north, San Jacinto River to the north and cast, and by the marshes and the bay to the east and southeast.

Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Detail from painting (completed 1898) by Harry Arthur McArdle (1836-1908)

that hangs in the Texas State Capitol building.

At close range, the two little cannon [donated by citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, and known as the "Twin Sisters"], drawn by rawhide thongs, were wheeled into position and belched their charges of iron slugs into the enemy barricade. Then the whole line, led by Sherman's men, sprang forward on the run, yelling, 'Remember the Alamo!' 'Remember Goliad!' All together they opened fire, blazing away practically point-blank at the surprised and panic-stricken Mexicans. They stormed over the breastworks, seized the enemy's artillery, and joined in hand-to-hand combat, emptying their pistols, swinging their guns as clubs, slashing right and left with their knives. Mexicans fell by the scores under the impact of the savage assault.

General Manuel Fernández Castrillón, a brave Mexican, tried to rally the swarthy Latins, but he was killed and his men became crazed with fright. Many threw down their guns and ran; many wailed, 'Me no Alamo!' 'Me no Goliad!' But their pleas won no mercy. The enraged revolutionists reloaded and chased after the stampeding enemy, shooting them, stabbing them, clubbing them to death. From the moment of the first collision the battle was a slaughter, frightful to behold. The fugitives ran in wild terror over the prairie and into the boggy marshes, but the avengers of the Alamo and Goliad followed and slew them, or drove them into the waters to drown. Men and horses, dead and dying, in the morass in the rear and right of the Mexican camp, formed a bridge for the pursuing Texans. Blood reddened the water. General Houston tried to check the execution but the fury of his men was beyond restraint.

Some of the Mexican cavalry tried to escape over Vince's bridge, only to find that the bridge was gone. In desperation, some of the flying horsemen spurred their mounts down the steep bank; some dismounted and plunged into the swollen stream. The Texans came up and poured a deadly fire into the welter of Mexicans struggling with the flood. Escape was virtually impossible. General Houston rode slowly from the field of victory, his ankle shattered by a rifle ball. At the foot of the oak where he bad slept the previous night be fainted and slid from his horse into the arms of Major Hockley, his chief of staff."

Santa Anna escaped, but the Texans had won. The eighteen minute battle saw 9 Texans killed, 26 wounded. The Mexicans had 630 killed, 208 wounded, and 730 captured.

Again, from Wikipedia:"During the battle, Santa Anna disappeared and a search party consisting of James A. Sylvester, Washington H. Secrest, Sion R. Bostick, and a Mr. Cole was sent out the next morning. When discovered, he had shed his ornate general's uniform, and when surrounded and compelled to surrender, he was initially thought to be a common soldier. However, when grouped with other captured soldiers, he was enthusiastically saluted as "El Presidente," revealing his true identity to the Texans. Houston spared his life, preferring to negotiate an end to the overall hostilities and the withdrawal from Texas of Santa Anna's remaining columns.

On May 14, Santa Anna signed the Treaties of Velasco, in which he agreed to withdraw his troops from Texan soil and, in exchange for safe conduct back to Mexico, lobby there for recognition of the new republic. However, the safe passage never materialized; Santa Anna was held for six months as a prisoner of war (during which time his government disowned him and any agreement he might enter into) and finally taken to Washington, D.C. There he met with President Andrew Jackson, before finally returning in disgrace to Mexico in early 1837. By then, however, Texan independence was a fait accompli, although Mexico did not officially recognize it until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848."

Some legends say that Santa Anna was found, dressed in women's clothing, but that is simply the silly propoganda of the time. What is true is that the dictator of Mexico had been defeated by his outnumbered enemy, and forced to order his armies out of Texas. What is true is that the Battle of San Jacinto made Sam Houston a hero and a household name throughout the United States. Texan Independence was won by Texans, not by Americans. Texan Independence was sought by Texans, not by Americans. That may explain some of the swelled-chest braggadocio of Texans. Their forefathers earned it!

One hundred and seventy one years ago.

Inspired by Patrick's post, "The shot heard around the world". Thanks, man!


WomanHonorThyself said...

according to la belongs to Mexico!!

benning said...

La Raza ... grrrrr! Racist idiots! Grrrr!

Hiya, Angel!

Gayle said...

If you lived where I live you would think it still belonged to Mexico!

Wonderful post, Benning. Thank you. So many people don't understand how this land was won and the sacrifices that have been made for them to enjoy their present life style. I don't think they even teach this much in school anymore, but they did teach it when my daughter was in school, probably because she went to school in Texas. :)

camojack said...

Gonna write a book about it? Y'know, some fictionalized account in an historic framework, like.

To my way of thinking, we should finish the job; lots of Mexicans wanna live in the U.S. anyway...

Anonymous said...

Actually, I have a novel (2/3 done, in a box somewhere) that uses Goliad as a pivotal plot point ... pity I've never finished it ... One day I'll have to go back and edit the bejeebers out of it and get the thing submitted ...

Nice to hear about Texan history ... being married to one and having given birth to 2, Texas history has a special place in my heart.

Nice post.

Brooke said...

Don't mess with Texas!

Great bit of history, Benning!

Jack Steiner said...

Good post.