Saturday, April 21, 2007


For the occasion, I present this "Guest blog." The essay was originally published on The Firing Line forum on 21 APR 2001. It is reprinted here with the specific permission of the writer, an amateur Texas historian.
Texas, 1836 The Alamo, under Travis and Bowie, had fallen. The defenders of Goliad had been massacred, after what their commander, Fannin, had thought was an honorable surrender. The provisional government of Texas had met and declared independence from Mexico, after General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana had refuted the Mexican Constitution of 1824 and set himself up as dictator. The Texas forces under Sam Houston, were in full retreat. Houston desperately tried to consolidate his resources and train his men into some semblance of an army. Santa Ana was in hot pursuit, determined to destroy those dedicated to a free Texas. Most of these were of Anglo descent, but many were of Spanish and Mexican Indian stock, some of whom had been in the area since the 1500s. Santa Ana considered the fate of Mexico and his own personal fortunes inextricably bound together. The dictator, called "Tyrant" and "The Bastard," by Mexican and Anglo alike, could ill afford to allow any show of independence on the part of the Texians, fearing that if he granted any requests, he would lose his iron-fisted control. To this end, he had ordered the disarmament of the Texas settlers in the fall of 1835. This resulted in an unthinkable act of defiance by inhabitants of Gonzales, when they refused to turn in a small, antique Spanish field piece held to impress hostile Indians. They likewise were determined to hold their powder, shot and small arms. The settlers took a bed sheet and made a banner: A cannon tube, a single, five-pointed star, and the words, COME AND TAKE IT . It was likely the first use of the Lone Star on a Texas flag, and under the banner, these recalcitrant individuals successfully repelled a Mexican force sent to confiscate the munitions. This symbolic defeat, combined with the truly significant expulsion of the Mexican garrison at San Antonio de Bexar by Texians, put the Tyrant on notice. It clearly sprouted the seeds of Texas Independence.Houston knew his enemy. He realized that he needed to capture Santa Ana and compel him to order Mexican forces out of Texas, because, in the long run, the larger, better disciplined armies would inevitably overcome the willing but unorganized Texians. Houston's awareness of the situation may have lacked strategic coherence, but at some point it became clear to him that tactically, he would have the upper hand if he could constrict the portion of the Mexican forces personally led by Santa Ana before they could join with other, stronger columns coming overland from Mexico.To this end, Houston led his rag-tag army to the area bounded by the confluence of the Brazos and San Jacinto Rivers, and Buffalo Bayou. On 20 April 1836, both forces arrived upon the plain of San Jacinto. The low, marshy area became an island when Houston sent Deaf Smith and his scouts to destroy Vince's Bridge. Some say the wood was too green, or too wet, to burn properly. Others say Smith decided to chop down the bridge, to keep from alerting the nearby Mexican forces by the smoke. In any case, this robbed Santa Ana's forces of a valuable withdrawal route. Houston had planned to allow his little army, probably numbering fewer than 800, but certainly well under one thousand, a period of rest and "organization," after the lengthy chase. The battle plans called for an attack on the 22nd, but sentiment was for immediate attack, and Houston determined to strike while morale and the blood lust was high. It mattered not that they were seriously outnumbered. The actual numbers of the enemy are in dispute, even today. Probably 1,500 Mexican troops. Possibly as many as 2,500 had arrived. But if they were as few as 800, these were organized, blooded, veteran troops. Few were recruits. Most had been blooded at Zacatecas and at Bexar and at dozens of battles in the internal strife of Mexico. Say what you will about the Tyrant or the government of Mexico, the typical veteran Mexican soldado was tough, a good fighter, and, by the standards of the day, pretty well equipped and organized. Even had the numbers been equal, the Texians would have faced a daunting task.The Texian settlers, whatever their origins, seem to have been long on guitars, banjos and mandolins, and quite short on instruments of martial music. There was no bugle, no trumpet, and not a bagpipe in the crowd. There was a German with a fife, and a Negro freeman had a drum. Two other musicians came forward, probably with flutes or fifes. The four knew no military or patriotic music in common. Houston soon had them practicing a popular air of the day, an off-color little ditty called, "Come to the Bower."The small army had no field artillery for support, save for two small tubes donated by Ohioans, and which had been shipped through Galveston, lacking any sort of mounts. Makeshift carriages had been cobbled together while on the march, and these two little four-pounders, christened "The Twin Sisters," were ready for action that afternoon. The history books tell the tale very eloquently: T. R. Fehrenbach, in his work, LONE STAR, gives the order of battle, and the commanders of the various units. There have been entire tomes written about the Battle (The capitalization is intentional) and the preceding events and the aftermath and the long term results. Read and learn of Lamar's sixty cavalry and Burleson's First Regiment and Hockley with the two little field pieces. And the rest . . . . It was 4:00 p.m. In the bright sunlight, there was still some mist rising off the sluggish bayou. Houston, up on Saracen, made no memorable speech. Those nearby said he merely told them to hold their fire and make it count. He drew his sword and yelled, "Forward--Texas!"The music screeched out, "Won't you come to the bow'r I have shaded for you?" The line surged forward and men bent their backs to moving the Twin Sisters over the moist, soft, soil. They went up the gentle rise and came into full view of the Mexican camp. There were shouts and a few musket shots by sentries, still hundreds of yards distant. At about this point, someone, probably Colonel Sidney Sherman, first screamed out, "Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!" Those around him took up the cry, and it swept the line, and seemed to overwhelm the gunfire.The twenty-first of April, 1836. Four o'clock in the afternoon. The rag-tag, poorly outfitted, nearly unorganized Army of the new Republic of Texas, eight hundred strong, charged headlong into a fortified position held by twice their number of the finest military force in the Western Hemisphere - - - and whipped them to a fare-thee well!It is said the battle lasted eighteen minutes, but the slaughter lasted for hours. Every Texian present had lost a relative or close friend or lodge brother in the past few months. Frustration and privation, fatigue and hunger, dedication and blood lust - - - All were vented for hours, until individuals began reckoning, "There's been enough killing for one day." The butcher's bill: Mexican dead 630Wounded and prisoner 200Unwounded prisoners 430Texian killed and died of wounds later: 9Wounded but surviving 25The many prisoners taken, thankfully, included Emperor-General, His Excellency Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana. Brought before Sam Houston, grievously wounded in the leg, Santa Ana readily agreed to sign orders that all Mexican military forces withdraw from combat, pending a formal treaty. The following month, at the Treaty of Velasco, the war ended, and Mexico, at least temporarily, recognized the Republic of Texas. And the remainder of the story? In February, 1846, Texas was annexed by the United States, bringing in parts of present-day Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado. Mexico, while disputing the border, had been grudgingly tolerant of the Texas Republic, but protested when the U. S. A. moved troops to the Rio Grande. The Mexican American War ensued, a war indeed a story unto itself, but one which would not have been fought but for the Texas victory at San Jacinto. The Mexican War formally ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ratified in July, 1848. This resulted in the U. S. purchase of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, and part of Colorado. In short, the Battle gave substance to the Manifest Destiny of the United States.The Battle of San Jacinto has been described as one of the ten watershed battles of history, in long term results. Waterloo, Agincourt, Tours, Lepanto, Yorktown, Gettysburg, Stalingrad, Kursk--Not to disparage the sacrifice of life or the suffering at any of them— San Jacinto, with under nine hundred casualties total, ranks in significance with these.
* * * * * *One always wonders at what point a course of conduct has inexorably begun, and at what point it might have been stopped. If General Gage had just decided NOT to seize the munitions at Lexington - - - - If Santa Ana had NOT demanded the little gun at Gonzales - - - - And, mainly, if either place had not been populated by FREE PEOPLE who cared more about their freedom than possibly getting hurt

And may God bless and protect freedom-loving people everywhere.
--With due acknowledgment to T. R. Fehrenbach, Allen Damron, Tim Henderson, and others.
- - Best regards, Johnny
The entire thread is decent reading, for those interested in Texas history:


phlegmfatale said...

Fantastic essay, Johnny - well done! Today is a good day!

Anonymous said...


i'm gonna go read that thread on thefiringline.


lainy said...

Holly, you really know Texas history. I remember some of what we were taught in Tx. history, but you know lots more.

Thanks for the lesson.

HollyB said...

Lainy, All compliments for this blog go to my Dearly Beloved. He wrote this one. I know my Texas History, but he knows it even better.
I will pass along your enjoyment.

Memphis Steve said...

I can't even see the word San Jacinto without hearing the Peter Gabriel song in my head.

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