Friday, April 20, 2007

The Battle of San Jacinto

The 21st of April marks the 171st annaversary of the Battle of San Jacinto. Included below is a short synopsis of the events that lead up to the battle and then the battle itself.

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, being run from their homes—and running out of time.

Since January 1836, Texas settlers had been abandoning their homes and the lives they’d created on the Texas frontier. Known as the Runaway Scrape, this retreat began as the Mexican government initiated military reoccupation of the newly settled land. The event was marked by sickness, freezing weather, hunger and panic among the citizenry.

But their main problem was the feared Napolean of the West, Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna. Realizing—perhaps a bit late—the strategic importance of controlling the Texas coastline and hoping to capture the Texas government, Santa Anna led his 700 men to Harrisburg on his way to the coast, burning the town.

On April 11th, the Texas army received its only artillery. The town of Cincinnati, Ohio, purchased a pair of six-pound guns manufactured in their home state and shipped them to New Orleans to help the Texians. Known as the Twin Sisters, they did not stay idle.

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 road led to Harrisburg and the edge of the coast. Houston's army marched down the road to Harrisburg without objections from Houston.

On the 18th, Houston reached White Oak Bayou, where he learned that Santa Anna’s nearby forces had just crossed the 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 1200. 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. General Houston 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.

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 Texans’ activities.

In eighteen minutes the Texians were in control of the Mexican camp.

The Mexican soldiers were far more trained in martial field tactics and strategy than their Texian opponents. But they were unable to organize under the feverish surprise attack. And the short-range unorthodox brawling of frontiersmen with long knives and clenched fists did not work in their favor.

Over 600 Mexican soldiers were killed, and over 700 were allowed to surrender; nine Texians were killed or mortally wounded. Sam Houston was shot in the ankle. Santa Anna was found the next day hiding in the grass and dressed as a common foot soldier.

For Mexico, the defeat was the beginning of a downhill martial and political spiral that would result into the loss of nearly a million square miles in territory. For the Texans, their victory led to annexation into the United States and the United States' war with Mexico. In the end, the United States would gain not only Texas but also New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, 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.

Maybe I will be allowed to retain my Texas citizenship for another year now.



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