A Dark Time for the Rebellion

IN MARCH OF 1836, things were not going well for the Texian revolutionaries. Having declared independence from the official Mexican government, they were now running from the Mexican army — and running out of time.

General Sam Houston’s men, their families uprooted and futures uncertain, were spoiling for a fight. On April 17th, their eastward retreat led them to a fateful fork in the road. One road led to Louisiana and possible refuge in the United States. The other led to Harrisburg and a showdown with General Santa Anna. The Texian army took the road to Harrisburg without objection from Houston.

The next day, Texian scouts intercepted a Mexican courier carrying letters that revealed that Santa Anna was at New Washington (present-day Morgan's Point), personally leading a vanguard of just 750 men that was separated from the rest of his army. Houston had been hoping for just such an opportunity. If Houston could force a confrontation now, before Santa Anna’s army could bring reinforcements, his Texians just might win the day.  

Houston reached White Oak Bayou that same day, where he learned that Santa Anna’s forces had just crossed the nearby bridge over Vince’s Bayou. On the 19th, Houston crossed Buffalo Bayou between Sims’ and Vince’s Bayous just outside of Harrisburg, leaving behind some 257 men who were too ill to fight to guard the baggage train. The army marched on till midnight, until they were too exhausted to continue.


“The army will cross and we will meet the enemy. Some of us may be killed and must be killed; but soldiers remember the Alamo! the Alamo! the Alamo!”

The next morning, April 20th, the Texians continued their forced march down the bayou toward Lynch’s Ferry. Whoever won the race to the ferry would get to choose the ground of the coming battle. The Texians won the race, arriving at the ferry before mid-morning and capturing one of Santa Anna’s supply boats. They then withdrew about a mile and encamped in a wooded area with their backs to Buffalo Bayou. Their left flank was protected from Mexican cavalry by marshland and the San Jacinto River; their front was concealed by a slight rise of ground covered by tall prairie grass. The Texian army numbered just 935 men.

Against All Odds


he Mexican army, numbering about 750 troops, arrived around noon on the 20th, marching in columns along the New Washington-Lynchburg road. Santa Anna ordered them to pitch camp, but the ground left to him was very vulnerable. The Mexicans could not see the rebels, but Santa Anna suspected the Texians were camped in the wooded grove. He ordered a probe of the enemy position. As they approached the Texas army hidden in the trees, a skirmish line was formed and advanced to make contact with the Texians. They were met with artillery fire from the Twin Sisters.

The Mexicans moved a large cannon up and returned fire on the smaller Sisters. But the furious response from the Twins convinced the Mexicans to withdraw their gun to a nearby copse of trees.

Colonel Sidney Sherman, leading the Second Regiment of Texas Volunteers, wanted to keep up the momentum and asked Houston the press the attack and maybe turn the Mexican retreat into a rout. Houston refused this request, but allowed Sherman to reconnoiter with his horseman, but warned him against engaging with the enemy.

Sherman charged the enemy as soon as he saw them, however. In the ensuing melee, Secretary of War Thomas Rusk was surrounded and nearly captured by enemy lancers. Private Mirabeau Lamar charged in on his stallion, knocking aside Mexicans and clearing an opening for Rusk to escape.

Houston was furious. He understood that the small numeric advantage he now held could be squandered by hot-spurs with “more zeal than discretion.” With many of his men in near-open mutiny over his perceived inability to lead, Houston kept his cool, stayed above the fray, and worked late into the night contemplating the next day’s action.

Thinking himself outnumbered, Santa Anna worked his men all night, building makeshift breastwork fortifications. Fearing a nighttime attack, he doubled the number of sentries.

(~Continued after the timeline.)

The Texians, led by Sidney Sherman, retreat after failing to capture a Mexican cannon on the eve of the battle

Colonel Sidney Sherman tried — and failed — to capture a Mexican cannon on the eve of the battle. Henry Karnes is seen here rescuing young Walter Lane, pulling the dismounted Irishman up onto his horse, while Lamar and Sherman provide covering fire.


March through the events before, during, and after the battle that lead to the birth of a new Texas Republic.

February 16, 1836

General Santa Anna with the Mexican Army crosses the Rio Grande, pushing northward in his campaign to suppress the Texian rebellion.

Santa Anna marches north

February 23, 1836

Santa Anna arrives in San Antonio de Béxar and lays siege to the Alamo. He demands the surrender of the garrison, threatening no quarter if the rebels don’t comply.  William B. Travis declares defiance with a cannon shot. A twelve-day siege ensues.

The Alamo in San Antonio de Bexar

March 2, 1836

The Texas Declaration of Independence is signed by 60 delegates at Washington-on-the-Brazos, near present-day Navasota; the Republic of Texas is born.

The_Texian_delegates gather at Washington-on-the-Brazos to declare Independence from Mexico.

March 6, 1836

1,800 Mexican troops storm the wall of the Alamo. All the Texian rebels are killed, including Col. James Bowie, Lt. Col. William B. Travis, and David Crocket. The Alamo falls; 189 settler-soldiers die in a struggle with approximately 2,400 Mexican soldiers. “Remember the Alamo!” would be a battle cry at San Jacinto.

Davy Crockett, hero of the Alamo.

“You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.”

David Crockett served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before leaving Tennessee to seek his fortune in Texas.

March 13, 1836

News of the fall of the Alamo reaches Gonzales and General Houston, spurring the hurried retreat of the settlers eastward — “The Runaway Scrape.”

Fearful citizens make a run for the U.S. border in the "Runaway Scrape."

March 19, 1836

After retreating from Goliad, Texian Colonel James Walker Fannin and his men maintain their position while surrounded near Coleto Creek; short on water, food, and ammunition, they surrender to General José de Urrea the next day.

Colonel James Fannin

March 27, 1836

On Palm Sunday, Colonel Fannin, Lieutenant Colonel William Ward, and 340 other Texian prisoners are shot, clubbed, or knifed to death by Mexican troops at Fort Defiance near Goliad, known today as the Presidio La Bahia. The infamous event soon became known as “The Goliad Massacre.” Vengeful rebels at San Jacinto were exhorted to “Remember Goliad!“ as well as the Alamo.

The Goliad garrison is marched out to be massacred by Santa Anna’s army.

March 28, 1836

A pair of six-pound guns, the Twin Sisters, arrive in Southeast Texas, a gift to the Texian revolutionaries from the people of Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Twin Sisters, a gift to Texas from the city of Cincinnatti.

April 16, 1836

The Fork in the Road — Houston’s ever-retreating army heads southeast toward Harrisburg, rather than towards Nacogdoches and the U.S.

The fork in the road.

The Battle

April 20th

9:00 a.m.

The Texian army reaches the Lynchburg Ferry, then pulls back 1/2 mile and sets up camp.

The Texian Army arrives at Lynchburg Ferry.


The Mexican army arrives, and forms a skirmish line which marches on the Texian camp; the Twin Sisters respond. Santa Anna brings up a cannon, El Volcán, which trades fire with the Texian guns.

“Mule of the Republic.”
Dr. Donald Frazier considers the mindset of the average Mexican soldier.

4:00 p.m.

Colonel Sherman leads volunteers from the cavalry in an attempt to capture the Mexican cannon, but retreats as Mexican infantry advance. Both sides retire.

Colonel Sidney Sherman

April 21st

9:00 a.m.

General Cos arrives, reinforcing the Mexican army with 500 troops. The men are exhausted from marching all night.

Exhausted reinforcements under General Cos arrive in the morning.

3:30 p.m.

The Texians under General Sam Houston advance silently on the Mexican encampment, hoping to surprise the enemy. A low spot in the terrain allows them to take the enemy unawares.

Mexican Siesta: History or Fiction?
Dr. Stephen L. Hardin examines the story of the Mexicans being surprised while on siesta.

4:30 p.m.

Mexican Colonel Pedro Delgado, in his account of the battle, notes: “No important incident took place until 4:30 p.m. At this fatal moment, the bugler on our right signaled the advance of the enemy upon that wing.”

The Texians charge the Mexican Army on the right.

5:00 p.m.

After about 18 minutes of intense fighting at or near the breastworks, the Mexicans retreat. The Texians pursue for more than an hour, driving them back to the water's edge. During sporadic fighting and evasive flight by the Mexican soldiers, approximately 630 are killed, all told.

The Maxican Army is routed and is chased in Peggy Lake

6:00 p.m.

Over 600 Mexican soldiers are allowed to surrender.

April 22nd

Late morning

Santa Anna is captured and brought into the Texian camp. Reluctantly, he agrees to the terms of a treaty requiring Mexican soldiers to evacuate Texas.

Santa Anna is found hiding in some tall grass and brought into the Texian camp

Showdown at San Jacinto

THE NEXT MORNING, General Martín Perfecto de Cos, with a reinforcement of 500 troops, arrived and was put into line between the north end of the breastworks and the bluff line along the marsh of San Jacinto Bay on the Mexican right. This increased the Mexican troops to about 1,250, while the Texians numbered 935.

To prevent further reinforcements and eliminate the possibility of escape, Houston ordered his chief scout, Erastus “Deaf” Smith, to destroy Vince’s Bridge, cutting off the road to Harrisburg. Both armies were now trapped on the peninsula.

When the anticipated nighttime attack failed to materialize, and when no attack came in the morning — or even at noon — Santa Anna ordered his men to stand down in the afternoon. The men, and indeed himself as well, were exhausted from the exertions of the previous night — spent either toiling on the defenses or on a forced march. The general supposed that the Texians were somewhat daunted by his now superior numbers and fortifications; if the Texians had not attacked by now, they were unlikely to do so until morning. Santa Anna retired to his tent, and many of the weary soldados likewise tried to get some rest.

This inattentiveness proved a devastating error that allowed the Texians to advance across the low ground, over a concealing ridgeline, and within closing range of the Mexican breastworks before being detected. This surprise was one of the major factors in the eventual Texas victory. 

The 2nd Regiment, under the command of Sidney Sherman, formed the left of the Texian line and, advancing through some trees along the top of the bluff, had proceeded slightly ahead of the rest of the Texas line.

The battle started there when Sherman's men hit the right of the Mexican line. Around 4:30 p.m., the Mexican soldiers — many of whom were still recovering from the previous night’s exertions — were stirred from their rest by a barrage from the Twin Sisters, followed by howling cries of vengeance. The Mexican camp was thrown into utmost confusion as the Texians swarmed the hastily-erected defenses.

Taken unawares, the Mexican army was never able to organize and the result was a complete and utter rout. “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” was the battle cry of the vengeful Texians, who pressed their advantage hard, driving the fleeing Mexicans into the marsh. The battle lasted only about eighteen minutes, but the slaughter lasted much longer. The fleeing Mexicans were chased right into Peggy Lake, where a great carnage was made, causing the waters of the lake to turn red. Here, men were shot mercilessly, or drowned in great numbers.


“Gentlemen, I appaud your bravery, but damn your manners.”


General Houston and some of his officers tried to stop the atrocities, but the raging Texians, many of whom knew someone who had been shown no mercy at the Alamo or at Goliad, would not be denied their bloody revenge.

Eighteen Minutes that Changed the World

Eighteen minutes was all it took for the Texians to take control of the Mexican camp. Mexican casualties were high: about 630 soldiers lost their lives. Another 600 were taken prisoner. Only six Texians were killed that day, with another six succumbing to mortal wounds in the months following the battle.

Sam Houston had two horses shot out from under him and was himself shot in the ankle. Santa Anna was found the next day hiding in the tall grass dressed as a common foot soldier. The defeated general was brought before Sam Houston and later agreed to leave Texas with the remnants of both his army and his dignity.

Santa Anna surrendurs to General Sam Houston.

Santa Anna surrenders to General Sam Houston.

The Effect

The Opening of the West

For Mexico, the defeat was the beginning of a downhill martial and political spiral that would result in the loss of nearly a million square miles of territory. For Texians, their victory led to annexation into the United States and the beginning of the Mexican-American War. In the end, the United States would gain not only Texas but also New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, California, Utah, and parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming.

As a result of the Battle of San Jacinto, over a quarter of what is now the United States of America changed ownership. It is one of the most decisive and consequential battles in the history of the United States and indeed, the Western world.


1846 map of the United States showing how Texas opened the way for westward expansion.

1846 map of the United States after the annexation of Texas.

Fate of Nations

THE PEOPLE AND EVENTS of early Texas have touched lives in all parts of the world. In North America, the Battle of San Jacinto meant a disheartening blow to the fledgling Mexican government. But for the victorious colonists, it created a new nation: the Republic of Texas. Moreover, Sam Houston's great victory opened nine territories in the West, and made possible the notion of “Manifest Destiny”.

In Europe, Texas caught the eyes and imaginations of each powerful empire. A number of parties held their breath as this region — and its vast and untapped natural resources and strategic location — wobbled between governments. And for the whole world it helped create the unique mélange of American culture.

One Day, Many Destinies

Learn how 18 minutes at San Jacinto impacted the rest of the world.

United StatesExpand

The Battle of San Jacinto expanded U.S. sovereignty — and spread its culture — to over a third of today’s contiguous states. After San Jacinto, Texas’s annexation in 1845, and the U.S.-Mexican War, the United States would gain almost a million square miles of territory. As a direct result of the victory at San Jacinto, the United States would fulfill its “manifest destiny” of stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In addition to Texas, it gained New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, California, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma.


For a decade after San Jacinto, Texas was a sovereign nation. Although Mexico could not initially accept the magnitude of its loss, Texas was formally recognized by many other nations including the United States, France, Great Britain, The Netherlands and Belgium. It even maintained its own navy. Texas was eventually annexed to the United States in 1845.


After failed attempts to regain territory with campaigns against both the Republic of Texas and the United States, Mexico conceded its loss. Free of the region’s financial and security burdens, the young nation would eventually recover — blazing its own trail to greatness. Mexican culture will forever be intertwined with that of its former colonies. Today, one of the world’s most unique cultures revolves around the San Jacinto Monument. 

Latin AmericaExpand

After President Polk’s annexation of Texas and the subsequent war, U.S. and European interests in Latin America grew both commercially and politically. Competition in the region between the United States and the United Kingdom led to the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty in 1850, which was negotiated to ensure a balance of power in anticipation of the proposed Inter-Oceanic Nicaraguan Canal — which was never built.


When Texas won its independence in 1836, it was the subject of much publicity in Germany. Texian land grant holders from the Fatherland wrote passionate, persuasive letters home that sparked imaginations and inspired future immigration to Texas. Overpopulation in rural Germany and the promise of boundless opportuny inherent in a new country led thousands of Germans to Texas after the Battle of San Jacinto. Adelsverein, a commercial group sponsored by the German government, led an organized migration of thousands to Texas in the late 1840s. Their presence has been prominent since. A stable, solid population of artisans and landowners, German immigrants quickly established tightly knit towns in the central part of the state. Today, Germany is ranked third in nations of origin for Texas immigrants.


Following the Battle of San Jacinto, Spain’s influence in North America dwindled dramatically. It had lost virtually all of its holdings in the continent to Mexico in 1821. After the Battle of San Jacinto, and the subsequent annexation of Texas, the United States used Texas to support numerous bases of operation to ensure Spanish defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898. When the smoke cleared, the Spanish-American War would lead to the Treaty of Paris. According to the terms of the treaty, Spain would concede its closest former Spanish colonies: Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. This would officially put an end to the Spanish empire in North America.

The United KingdomExpand

The War of 1812 lingered in the collective minds of both Great Britain and the United States. Wanting to keep pace with French business interests and ensure a steady supply of cotton should border disputes with United States get out of control, Great Britain immediately recognized Texas as a sovereign nation. But the British opposed Texas's annexation by the United States, wanting to quell the young nation’s westward expansion. They proposed that the Mexican government recognize Texas only on the condition that it would not accept annexation. Their efforts proved to expedite the annexation, however, as President Polk moved to block future British power in the region. With the evaporation of its martial influence in Texas after 1845, England successfully moved its Texas initiative to the realm of commerce — where it gained permanent power. Anglo-Texas ties remain strong due partly to mutual interests in the energy industry.


When Texas won independence, France recognized its sovereignty at once. In 1838, the French had grown tired of Mexico refusing to repay several debts owed to French citizens living in Mexico. French colonization in Texas had varying degrees of success. Frenchman Henri Castro brought about 2,000 settlers to Texas in the mid-1840s, and by the Civil War their numbers had swelled. The United States’s annexation of Texas ended French colonial dreams in the region, but many French descendants still live in the Lone Star State.