The Battle of San Jacinto and the San Jacinto Campaign
THE BATTLE OF SAN JACINTO
THE BATTLE OF
SAN JACINTO CAMPAIGN
L. W. Kemp and Ed Kilman
L. W. KEMP and ED KILMAN
Printed in the United States of America
The Webb Printing Co., Inc., Houston
The Battle of San Jacinto
San Jacinto Campaign
San Jacinto, 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 AntonioLopez de Santa Anna, President and Dictator of Mexico and self-styled“Napoleon of the West,” with his proud army, andchanged the map of North America!
Here is a story that has thrilled Texans for more than a century... a story of desperate valor and high adventure; of grimhardship, tragedy and romance ... the story of the epochal battlethat established the independent Lone Star Republic, on April21, 1836, and indelibly inscribed the names of Texas patriots onhistory’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 preludein the oppressive Mexican edict of April 6, 1830, prohibiting furtheremigration of Anglo-Americans from the United States toTexas; 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 atGonzales, the capture of Goliad, the “Grass Fight,” and the siegeand capture of San Antonio ... all in 1835. The Texas Declarationof Independence at Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 2,1836, officially signalized the revolution.
RETREAT FROM GONZALES
Four days after the Declaration of Independence, news cameto the convention on the Brazos of the desperate plight of ColonelWilliam Barret Travis, under siege at the Alamo in San Antonio.Sam Houston, commander-in-chief of the Texas Army, left6Washington post-haste for Gonzales, to take command of thetroops there and go to the aid of Travis. He arrived there on the11th, and at about dark learned from two Mexicans who had justarrived from San Antonio that the Alamo had fallen and its 183brave defenders massacred. This was confirmed two days later byMrs. Almeron Dickinson who had been released by the Mexicansafter seeing her lieutenant husband killed in the old mission. Shewas trudging toward Gonzales with her babe in her arms whenthe Texas army scouts found her.
The reports of the Alamo slaughter terrified the people ofGonzales. They were panic-stricken by the general belief thatSanta Anna next would sweep eastward with his well-trainedarmy, in a drive to wipe the rebellious Texans from the face ofthe earth.
Then began the exodus of frantic colonists known to Texashistory as the “Runaway Scrape.” Men, women and childrenpacked what belongings they could take in wagons and carts,on horseback, or on their own backs, and fled their homes interror across the rain soaked country ... all moving eastwardtoward the Louisiana border to escape the wrath of the bloodthirstySanta Anna.
General Houston, realizing that his few hundred green troopswere no match for the well-drilled hordes from Mexico, evacuatedGonzales and had the rear guard put the town to the torch.The Texans crossed the Colorado River on the 17th at JesseBurnam’s, and camped there for two days. Then the army resumedits march down the east bank to Benjamin Beason’s crossing,some twenty miles below, near the present town of Columbus.Camp was pitched at Beason’s on the 20th.
Had the retreating column been fifty miles farther south,the troops might have heard the distant rumble and crackleof gunfire. On March 19, Colonel James Walker Fannin Jr.,commanding about 450 volunteers withdrawing from Goliadtoward Victoria, was defeated in battle on Coleto Creek byGeneral Jose Urrea’s forces of 1200 infantry and 700 cavalry.Fannin surrendered. On Palm Sunday, March 27, he and 352of his men were marched out on the roads near Goliad andbrutally shot down, by order of Santa Anna.
THE MEXICAN PURSUIT
Flushed with their Alamo victory, the Mexican forces werefollowing the colonists. Houston’s scouts reported that GeneralRamirez y Sesma and General Adrian Woll were on the westside of the Colorado with approximately 725 troops and GeneralEugenio Tolsa with 600. By this time recruits and reinforcementshad increased Houston’s army to a strength estimated ashigh as 1200.
The chilling news of Fannin’s defeat, reaching the Texas forceson March 25, impelled many to leave the ranks, to remove theirfamilies beyond the Sabine. Those remaining clamored for action,but Houston decided to continue his retreat. On the 26th, keepinghis own counsel, he marched his army five miles. On the 27ththe column reached the timbers of the Brazos River bottoms, andon the 28th arrived at San Felipe de Austin, on the west bank ofthe Brazos. On the 29th the army marched six miles up the riverin a driving rain, and camped on Mill Creek. On the 30th aftera fatiguing tramp of nine miles, the army reached a place acrossthe river from “Bernardo,” on one of the plantations of thewealthy Jared E. Groce, and there camped and drilled for nearlya fortnight.
When the ad interim Texas government at Washington-on-the-Brazoslearned of the Mexicans’ approach, in mid-March, it fledto Harrisburg. President David G. Burnet sent the commander-in-chief,a caustic note, prodding him to stop his retreat andfight. Secretary of War Thomas J. Rusk arrived at the campApril 4 at Burnet’s direction, to urge Houston to a more aggressivecourse.
Houston having shown no disposition to fight, Santa Annadecided to take possession of the coast and seaports, as a stepin his plan to round up the revolutionists. Crossing the Brazosat Fort Bend (now called Richmond) on the 11th, the Mexicangeneral proceeded on April 14 on the road to Harrisburg, takingwith him about 700 men and one twelve-pounder cannon. Urreawas at Matagorda with 1200 men; Gaona was somewhere betweenBastrop and San Felipe, with 725; Sesma, at Fort Bend,with about 1,000, and Vicente Filisola between San Felipe andFort Bend, with nearly 1800 men.
Route of Sam Houston’s army (line of crosses) from San Felipe toSan Jacinto, with stops at Groce’s, Donoho’s, McCurley’s, Burnett’s,White Oak Bayou (Houston), and Harrisburg.
Santa Anna arrived at Harrisburg on the 15th. There helearned that the Burnet government had gone down BuffaloBayou to New Washington (now Morgan’s Point), abouteighteen miles southeast. Burning Harrisburg, Santa Anna spedafter them. On the 19th when he arrived at New Washingtonhe learned that the Texas government had fled to Galveston.Santa Anna then set out for Anahuac, via Lynchburg.
THE ROAD TO SAN JACINTO
Meanwhile, on April 11th, the Texans at Groce’s received twosmall cannon, known to history as the “Twin Sisters,” a giftfrom citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio. Thus fortified, General Houston,after a consultation with Rusk, decided to move on to theeast side of the Brazos. The river being very high, the steamboat“Yellow Stone” and a yawl were used to ferry the armyhorses, cattle and baggage across. The movement began on the12th and was completed at 1 p.m. on the 13th.
On the 13th Houston ordered Major Wyly Martin, CaptainMoseley Baker, and other commanders of detachments assignedto delaying actions, to rejoin the main army at the house ofCharles Donoho, about three miles from Groce’s. At Donoho’sthe road from San Felipe to eastern Texas crossed the roadsouth from Groce’s.
On April 16 the army marched twelve miles to the home ofSamuel McCurley on Spring Creek, in present Harris county. Thecreek forms the boundary line between Harris and Montgomerycounties. Three miles beyond McCurley’s was the home of AbramRoberts at a settlement known as “New Kentucky.” At Roberts’two wagon trails crossed, one leading to Harrisburg and the otherto Robbins’ Ferry on the Trinity and on to the Sabine.
Many of his officers and men, as well as government officials,believed that Houston’s strategy was to lead the pursuing Mexicansto the Sabine River, the eastern border of Texas. There,it was known, were camped United States troops under GeneralPendleton Gaines, with whose help the Texans might turn ontheir foes and destroy them. However, on April 17, when Roberts’10place was reached, Houston took the Harrisburg road insteadof the one toward the Louisiana line, much to the gratificationof his men. They spent the night of the 17th near thehome of Matthew Burnett on Cypress Creek, twenty miles fromMcCurley’s. On April 18 the army marched twenty miles toWhite Oak Bayou in the Heights District of the present cityof Houston, and only about eight miles from Harrisburg—nowa part of Houston.
From two prisoners, captured by Erasmus “Deaf” Smith, thefamous Texas spy, Houston first learned that the Mexicans hadburned Harrisburg and had gone down the west side of the bayouand of San Jacinto River, and that Santa Anna in person wasin command. In his march downstream Santa Anna had beenforced to cross the bridge over Vince’s Bayou, a tributary ofBuffalo Bayou, then out of its banks. He would have to crossthe 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 getaction. And he admonished them to remember the massacres atSan Antonio and at Goliad.
“Remember the Alamo!” The soldiers took up the cry. “RememberGoliad!”
In a letter to Henry Raguet he said:
“This morning we are in preparation to meet Santa Anna.It is the only chance for saving Texas.”
In an address “To the People of Texas” he wrote:
“We view ourselves on the eve of battle. We are nervedfor the contest, and must conquer or perish.... We must actnow or abandon all hope.”
Houston’s force crossed Buffalo Bayou to the west side, nearthe home of Isaac Batterson, two and a half miles below Harrisburg,on the evening of the 19th. Some 248 men, mostly sickand non-effective, were left with the baggage at the camp oppositeHarrisburg. The march was continued until midnight.
ON THE EVE OF BATTLE
At dawn April 20 the Texans resumed their trek down the11bayou, to intercept the Mexicans. At Lynch’s ferry, near thejuncture of Buffalo Bayou and San Jacinto River, they captureda boat laden with supplies for Santa Anna. This probably wassome of the plunder of Harrisburg or New Washington. Ascertainingthat none of the enemy forces had crossed, the Texansdrew back about a mile on the Harrisburg road, and encampedin a skirt of timber protected by a rising ground.
That afternoon, Colonel Sidney Sherman with a small detachmentof cavalry engaged the enemy infantry, almost bringingon a general action. In the clash two Texans were wounded—oneof them, Olwyn J. Trask, mortally—and several horses werekilled. In this preliminary skirmish Mirabeau B. Lamar, a privatefrom Georgia (later President of the Republic of Texas),so distinguished himself that on the next day he was placed incommand of the cavalry.
Santa Anna’s blue-uniformed army made camp under thehigh ground overlooking a marsh, about three-fourths of amile from the Texas camp. They threw up breastworks oftrunks, baggage, pack-saddles and other equipment. Both sidesprepared for the expected conflict.
The Texans awoke to find Thursday, April 21, a clear fineday. Refreshed by a breakfast of bread made with flour fromthe captured supplies and meat from beeves slaughtered the daybefore, they were eager to attack the enemy. They could seeSanta Anna’s flags floating over the enemy camp, and heardthe Mexican bugle calls on the crisp morning air.
It was discovered at about nine o’clock that General MartinPerfecto de Cos had crossed Vince’s bridge, about eight milesbehind the Texans’ camp, with some 540 picked troops, swellingthe enemy forces to about 1265. General Houston ordered“Deaf” Smith and a detail to destroy the bridge and preventfurther enemy reinforcements. This also would prevent theretreat of either the Texans or the Mexicans toward Harrisburg.In dry weather Vince’s Bayou was about fifty feet wide andten feet deep, but the excessive April rains had made it severaltimes wider and deeper.
Map of San Jacinto battlefield, showing positions of Texas army andMexican army, and battle formation of Texas Infantry, Artillery