VICTORY AT SAN JACINTO
A Dark Time for the Rebellion
In March of 1836, things were not going well for Sam Houston’s Texas revolutionaries. Having declared independence from the official Mexican government, they were now running from the Mexican army — and running out of time.
Houston’s men, their families uprooted and futures uncertain, were ready to fight. On April 17th, their retreat led them to a fork in the road. One road led to Louisiana and possible refuge in the United States. The other led to Harrisburg and the edge of the coast. The Texian army took the road to Harrisburg without objections from Houston.
The next day, Houston reached White Oak Bayou, 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. Marching down the bayou, they captured one of Santa Anna’s supply boats.
Just miles away from Houston’s men, Santa Anna’s forces now numbered around 1,200. The Texans numbered 900. On April 20th, Sidney Sherman gave the Mexican army a quick jab with a small skirmish that quickly fizzled out. Both sides then camped for the night.
On the morning of April 21st, General Houston held a council of war. The majority of his officers voted to await Santa Anna’s attack in order to leverage their position. He let each man in the council plead his case. Then, he made a decision, which he kept to himself until that afternoon: they would attack.
Eighteen Minutes that Changed the World
Around 4:30 p.m., the Mexican soldiers awoke from their afternoon siestas to the smell of gunpowder and cries of vengeance. Flushed with victory from the siege of the Alamo, Santa Anna had failed to post sentries to monitor the Texians’ activities.
Eighteen minutes was all it took for the Texians to take control of the Mexican camp.
Over 600 Mexican soldiers were killed while more than 700 were allowed to surrender. Only nine Texians were killed or mortally wounded. 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 grass dressed as a common foot soldier.
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 in 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, almost a third 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.