Tidbits of Shelby County History
The Battle of San Jacinto

The month of March is known as Texas History Month were we celebrate the establishment of the Republic of Texas. Everyone who calls themselves a “Texan” know the history of the Alamo and “Remember Goliad”. These were just some of the events that will be share today in Tidbits.

The information was taken from an article written by the Sons of the Dewitt Colony, Texas in 1997-1998.

San Jacinto, the birthplace of Texas liberty! ….San Jacinto, one of the world’s decisive battles!....San Jacinto, where with cries of “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” Sam Houston and his ragged band of 910 pioneers routed Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, President and Dictator of Mexico and changed the map of North America.

Here is a story that has trilled Texans for more than a century (187 year), a story of desperate valor and high adventure; of grim hardship, tragedy and romance, the story of the battle that established the independent Lone Star Republic , on April 21, 1836, and indelibly inscribed the names of Texas patriots on history’s scroll of American immortals.

The actual battle of San Jacinto lasted less than twenty minutes, but it was in the making for six years. It had its prelude in the oppressive Mexican edict of April 6, 1830, prohibiting further emigration of Anglo-Americans from the United States to Texas; in the disturbance at Anahuac and in the battle of Velasco, in 1832; in the imprisonment of Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas”, in Mexico in 1834. Immediate preliminaries were the skirmish over a cannon at Gonzales; the capture of Goliad; the “Grass Fight”, and the siege and capture of San Antonio…all in 1836. The Texas Declaration of Independence at Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 2, 1836, officially signalized the revolution.

Four days after the Declaration of Independence, news came of the desperate plight of Colonel William Barrett Travis, under siege at the Alamo in San Antonio. Sam Houston left immediately to aid Travis. He arrived on the 11th , and at about dark, learned from two Mexicans who had just arrived from San Antonio that the Alamo had fallen and its 183 brave defenders massacred.  This was confirmed two days later by Mrs. Almeron Dickerson (Susannah). She was trudging toward Gonzales with her babe in her arms when the Texas Army scouts found her.

This report terrified the people of Gonzales. This was the beginning of the exodus of frantic colonist known to Texas history as the “Runaway Scape.” Men, women, and children packed what belongings they could take in wagons and carts, on horseback, or on their own backs, and fled their homes in the wrath of the bloodthirsty Santa Anna’s Army.

General Sam Houston, realizing that his few hundred green troops were no match for the well-drilled hordes from Mexico, evacuated Gonzales and had the rear guard put the town to the torch. The Texans crossed the Colorado River on the 17th at Jesse Burman’s and camped there for two days. On March 19, Colonel James Walker Fannin Jr., commanding about 450 volunteers withdrawing from Goliad toward Victoria, was defeated in battle on the Coleto Creek by General Jose’ Urrea’s forces of 1200 infantry and 700 cavalry. Fannin surrendered. On Palm Sunday, March 27th, he and 352 of his men were marched out on the roads near Goliad and brutally shot down, by order of Santa Anna.

Flushed with their Alamo victory, the Mexican forces were following the colonists. Houston’s scouts reported that General Ramirez y Sesma and General Adria Woll were on the west side of the Colorado with approximately 725 troops and General Eugenio Tolso with 600. By this time recruits had increased Houston’s army to a strength estimated as high as 1200. The chilling news of Fannin’s defeat, reaching Texas forces on March 25, impelled many to leave the ranks, to remove their families beyond the Sabine. Those remaining clamored for action, but Houston decided to continue his retreat. On the 26th, keeping his own counsel he marched his army five miles. On the 27th the column reached the timbers of the Brazos River bottoms, and on the 28th arrived at San Felipe de Austin, on the west bank of the Brazos. On the 29th the army marched six miles up the river in a driving rain, and camped on Mill Creek. On the 30th after a fatiguing tramp of nine miles, the army reached a place across the river from “Bernardo”, on one of the planations of the wealthy Jared E. Groce, and there camped and drilled for nearly a fortnight.

Santa Anna arrived at Harrisburg on the 15th of March. There he learned that the Burnet government had gone down Buffalo Bayou to New Washington, Santa Anna sped after them. On the 19th when he arrived at New Washington he learned that the new Texas government had fled to Galveston. Santa Anna then set out for Anahuac via Lynchburg.

Meanwhile, on April 11th, the Texans at Groce’s received two cannons, known to history as the “Twin Sisters,”a gift from citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio. Thus fortified, General Houston, after a consultation with Rush, decided to move on to the east side of the Brazos. The river being very high, the steamboat “Yellow Stone” and a yawl were used to ferry the army, horses, cattle and baggage across the river. The movement began on the 12th and was completed at 1pm on the 13th.

On April 16, the army marched twelve miles to the home of Samuel McCurley on Spring Creek, in present Harris County. The creeks formed the boundary line between Harris and Montgomery counties.

Many of his officers and men, as well as government officials, believed that Houston’s strategy was to lead the pursuing Mexicans to the Sabine River, the eastern border of Texas. There, it was known, were camped United States troops under General Pendleton Gaines. However, on April 17, when Roberts’ place was reached, Houston took the Harrisburg road instead of the one toward the Louisiana line, much to the gratification of his men. They spent the night on the 17th near the home of Matthew Burnett on Cypress Creek, twenty miles for McCurley’s. On April 18 the army marched twenty miles to White Oak Bayou in the Heights District of the present city of Houston, and only about eight miles from Harrisburg, now a part of Houston.

From two prisoners, captured by Erasmus “Deaf” Smith, the famous Texas spy, Houston first learned that the Mexicans had burned Harrisburg and had gone down the west side of the bayou and of San Jacinto River, and that Santa Anna in person was in command. In his march downstream Santa Anna had been forced to cross the bridge over Vince Bayou, a tributary of Buffalo Bayou, then out of its banks. He would have to cross the same bridge to return. Viewing this strategic situation on the morning of the 19th, Houston told his troops it looked as if they would soon get action. And he admonished them to remember the massacres at San Antonio and at Goliad. “Remember the Alamo!”“Remember Goliad!”The soldiers took up the cry.

Houston’s force crossed Buffalo Bayou to the west side, near the home of Isaac Batterson, two and a half miles below Harrisburg, on the evening of the 19th. Some 248 men, mostly sick and non-effective, were left with the baggage at the camp opposite Harrisburg. The march was continued until midnight.

At dawn April 20 the Texans resumed their trek down the bayou, to intercept the Mexicans. At Lynch’s ferry, near the juncture of Buffalo Bayou and San Jacinto River, they captured a boat laden with supplies for Santa Anna. This probably was some of the plunder of Harrisburg or New Washington. Ascertaining that none of the enemy forces had crossed, the Texans drew back about a mile on the Harrisburg Road and encamped in a skirt of timer protected by a rising ground.

Santa Anna’s blue-uniformed army made camp under the high ground overlooking a marsh, about three-fourth of a mile from the Texas camp. Both sides prepared for the expected conflict. The Texans awoke to find Thursday, April 21, a clear fine day. Refreshed by a breakfast of bread made with four from the captured supplies and meat from beeves slaughtered the day before, thy were eager to attach the enemy. They could see Santa Anna’s flags floating over the enemy camp, and heard the Mexicans bugle calls on the crisp morning air.

It was discovered at about 9 am that General Martin Perfecto de Cos had crossed Vince’s bridge, about eight mile behind the Texans’ camp, with some 540 picked troops, swelling the enemy forces to about 1265. General Houston ordered “Deaf” Smith and a detail to destroy the bridge and prevent further enemy reinforcements. This also would prevent the retreat of either the Texans or the Mexicans toward Harrisburg.

General Houston disposed his forces in battle order at about 3pm. Over on the Mexican side all was quiet; many of the Mexican soldiers were enjoying their customary siesta. The Texans’ movements were screened by the trees and the rising ground, and evidently Santa Anna had no lookouts posted. Big, shaggy and commanding his mud-stained unmilitary garb, the chieftain rode his horse up and down the  line. “Now hold your fire, men,” he warned in his deep voice, “until you get the order!”

At the command, the patriots, 910 strong, moved quickly out of the woods and over the rise. Bearded and ragged from forty days in the field, they were a fierce-looking band. But their long rifles were clean and well oiled.

As the troop advanced, “Deaf” Smith galloped up and told Houston, “Vince’s bridge had 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 east, and by the marshes and the bay to the east and southeast.

At close range, the two little cannon, drawn by rawhide thongs, were wheeled into position and belched their charges of iron slug into the enemy barricade. Everyone together 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. Mexicans fell by the scores under the impact of the savage assault.

General Manuel Fernandez Castrillon, 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 that battle was a slaughter. Men and horses, dead and dying. Blood reddened the water. General Houston tried to check the execution but the fury of his men was beyond restraint.

Some of the Mexicans cavalry tried to escape over Vince’s bridge, only to find that the bridge was gone. The Texans came up and poured a deadly fire into the Mexicans struggling in the flooded river. 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 had slept the previous night he fainted and slide from his horse into the arms of Major Hockley, his chief of staff.

As the crowning stroke of a glorious day, General Rusk presented to him a prisoner the Mexican general Don Juan Almonte, who had surrendered formally with about 400 men. The casualties according to Houston’s official report, numbered 630 Mexicans killed, 208 wounded, and 730 taken prisoner. As against this heavy score, only nine Texans were killed or mortally wounded, and thirty wounded less seriously. Most of their injuries came from the first scattered Mexican volley when the attackers stormed their barricade. The Texans captured a large supply of muskets, pistols, sabers, mules, horses, provisions, clothing, tents and paraphernalia, and $12,000 in silver.

Santa Anna had disappeared during the battle, and next day General Houston ordered a through search of the surrounding territory for him. In the afternoon Sergeant J.A. Sylvester, Joel W. Robison, Joseph D. Vermillon, Alfred H. Miles, and David Cole spotted a Mexican slipping through the woods toward Vince’s Bayou. They caught the fugitive trying to hide in the high grass. He wore a common soldier’s apparel round jacket, blue cotton pantaloons, skin cap and soldier’s shoes. They took the captive to camp, and on the way, Mexican prisoners recognized him and cried, “El Presidente!”Thus his identity was betrayed; it was indeed the dictator from below the Rio Grande. He was brought to General Houston, who lay under the headquarters oak, nursing his wounded foot. The Mexican President pompously announced “I am General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, and a prisoner of war at your disposition.” General Houston suffering with pain, received his coldly. He sent for Moses Austin Bryan and Lorenzo de Zavala Jr. to act as interpreters. Santa Anna cringed with fright as the excited Texas soldiers pressed around him, fearing mob violence. He pleaded for the treatment due a prisoner of war. He whined “you have captured the Napoleon of the West.” What claim have you to mercy?” Houston retorted,“when you showed none at the Alamo or at Goliad?” They talked for nearly two hours, using Bryan, de Zavala and Almonte as interpreters. In the end Santa Anna agreed to write an order commanding all Mexican troops to evacuate Texas. Later, treaties were signed at Velasco, looking to the adjustment of all differences and the recognition of Texas independence. Thus ended the revolution of 1836, with an eighteen-minute battle which established Texas as a free republic and opened the way for the United States to extend its boundaries to the Rio Grande on the southwest and to the Pacific on the west. Few military engagements in history have been more decisive or more far-reaching ultimate influence than the battle of San Jacinto.