The Pride of Texas
The Texas army marched all day and all night.
On the morning of April 20, they reached the San Jacinto plain. Buffalo Bayou was on one side, a football field wide, and 30 feet deep?not wadeable. On the other side ran the San Jacinto River, and near the bottom of the dry land was a shallow mudhole known as Peggy’s Lake. Beyond that was marshlands. And the thick forest was greatly positioned. [see battlefield] They made their camp here in the trees, with their wagons and Colonel Neill’s artillery in the forest as well(Hoyt 149).
Three hours later Santa Anna arrived with his 650 men. The Texas government had escaped, but Santa Anna was confident of victory; he had reinforcements coming the next day and he knew that the Texas government’s connection with the Texas army had been severed. If Santa Anna won that day the war would be over. Santa Anna gave the order to pitch camp. He chose the land between Peggy Lake and the river, the only solid ground available to him. On his right was a thick forest and behind him was a dense marsh(Hoyt 150).
Colonel Delgado the artillery officer took one look at the site and shuddered. Any youngster could have done better in choosing a site. What ground did the Mexicans have for retreating in case of a catastrophe? When he cornered General Castrilli?n with the question. The general could only sympathize; Santa Anna’s arbitrary nature was well known(Hoyt 150).
A small skirmish broke out among some restless soldiers and the Mexican lancers. The Texans had two injured and several horses lost, but the Mexicans’ twelve-pound cannon, the Golden Standard, was stranded on the battlefield. The rest of the afternoon was quiet, except for occasional rifle fire from both sides. Seeing the Golden Standard abandoned on the field, Col. Sidney Sherman, commander of the Texas cavalry, asked permission to try to capture the gun. Permission was refused by General Houston, who knew and respected the strength of the Mexican lancers. Late in the afternoon, Sherman asked to make a cavalry reconnaissance into the field. Houston accepted, warning, however, that the Texas cavalry was to make no effort toward the gun. Shortly before sunset, the Texans set out, led by Colonel Sherman(Hoyt 150-151).
The Mexican cavalry advanced to rescue the Golden Standard. Sherman could not resist the temptation; as soon as he saw the enemy, he ordered a charge. But the lancers were too quick for them and a wild fight ensued. Seeing the Texas cavalry in trouble, Capt. Jesse Billingsley ordered his company of infantry into action. As they passed by General Houston, he ordered them back into line and they laughed at him(Hoyt 151).
Countermarch back to the safety of the timber! Houston repeated. Countermarch yourself! Shouted a soldier as they passed him. Shortly, every company was moving and Colonel Burleson was leading the charge. They drove the enemy back behind the breastworks and Colonel Sherman called his horseman to retreat to the Texas woods. But an inexperienced rider, Walter Lane, got into trouble. A Mexican lancer speared him in the shoulder and knocked him off his horse(151-152).
He fell like a dead man, but in a moment he was up and staggering toward the Texas line. He was surrounded by Mexican lancers ready to spear him again when Lamar rode up, drew his pistol, shot one lancer, and charged another. Henry Karnes rode up, pulled Lane up behind him, and sped off to safety. The Mexican cavalrymen, ever mindful of an act of valor, cheered. Lamar stopped, turned, and bowed to them in acknowledgment, and the Texans cheered(154).
General Houston was angry with his troops. Colonel Sherman had disobeyed orders. Two men had been wounded and several horses lost. But Houston could not discipline an entire regiment while in battle. The soldiers of the Texas Army gathered around their campfires that night and talked about attacking. Houston retired to his tent under a big oak tree and planned the Texas attack for the following day. He also gave orders that he was not to be disturbed; he had slept an average of three hours a night for the past two weeks(Hoyt 154).
The Mexicans withdrew to the position in front of Peggy Lake and began to protect it as best they could. The Mexican soldiers labored on their five-foot-high fortifications all afternoon and late into the night. And at dawn on the morning of April 21 the Mexicans expected an attack. None came. At 9:00, General C?s arrived at the Mexican camp with 540 men and a pack of mules; they had marched all night and crossed Vince’s Bridge at Lynches Ferry. The new arrivals were exhausted from their long march but they had to make camp; so the newcomers stacked arms, put up their tents, and lay down to rest. Santa Anna and his men were exhausted from their long night of efforts so they did the same(Hoyt 152).
General Houston told Deaf Smith to go make a count to see how many men Santa Anna had. So Smith picked up Walter Lane and they mounted their horses, rode around the Mexican camp, and stopped about 300 yards behind it. He was spotted from the camp, and soon bullets were flying by. Smith paid no attention, but went on with his count until a troop of Mexican cavalry came after them. He climbed on his horse again and they rode back to the Texas camp. Deaf Smith reported his findings; General Houston told him to go ahead and destroy Vince’s Bridge. Smith rounded up half a dozen riders and they set out on the five-mile ride to the bridge.
Around noon, the officers and soldiers began to grow visibly upset about not attacking yet. The officers demanded a council and General Houston accepted, although that was not what he wanted to do. The officers gathered and everyone had their turn to speak. They argued back and forth: Should they attack or should they wait in their superb defense position for the Mexicans to attack? General Houston took no position but let them argue. Finally they came to an standstill, and he dismissed the council with the conjecture that perhaps they ought to wait until the next day to attack. The apprehension of the men was so high that mutiny seemed to threaten. It was then that the general told the men to get their dinners, then he would lead them into battle(Hoyt 155).
The Texans were ready–rested, fed, their weapons primed, every nerve on edge. A soldier recalled: Around 20 or 30 campfires stood as many groups of men, all unwashed and unshaved, their long hair and beards matted, their clothes in tatters and plastered with mud. A more savage looking band could scarcely have been assembled. The sun was high and warm, the breeze was light; it was a good day(Nevin 133).
At 3:30 in the afternoon, while the Mexican camp still slept, General Houston mounted his white horse, Saracen. Then he formed his army into battle array. They set out across no-man’s land in three columns with the Twin Sisters, the Texans’ two famous cannons. Then formed a long line that extended across the field, two men deep. Every soldier carried a rifle or a musket with bayonet?and every man had a sword or a Bowie knife and two or three pistols stuck in his belt. The Twin Sisters were in the middle of the line; General Houston, on his white stallion, was in the center. Sword in hand, he waved the army forward. The men had been told to hold their fire, and for once they obeyed the order. The few musicians in the group struck the popular tune of the day, Will You Come to the Bower, a somewhat ribald tune for such a grim business(Knowles 46).
In the Mexican camp a bugler of the Matamoros battalion sounded the alarm, and his company fired their muskets. The Golden Standard shot a load of grapeshot at the Texas line. But in their hurry, they fired high. But it was already too late; the Texans were on them. When Houston’s army reached the edge of the rise in the middle of no-man’s-land, the Twin Sisters were swung around into position and fire. They were loaded with chopped horseshoes, and this improvised grapeshot tore through the Mexican ranks(Hoyt 156).
Colonel Delgado stood up on an empty ammunition crate behind the breastworks to survey the scene. He saw General Castrill?n on one side, shouting orders, Colonel Almonte on the other side, shouting orders. No one was listening. General Santa Anna emerged from his tent and he shouted at the men: Lie down! You will be hit! Other officers yelled, Commence firing! There was much confusion among troops. On the Texas side, after the first volley General Houston tried to get the riflemen to reload, but Secretary Rusk rode up. If we stop we are cut to pieces-don’t stop-Give them hell! The Texas Army surged forward over the breastworks, shouting, Remember the Alamo! Their rifles became clubs, and Bowie knives and pistols came out. Remember Goliad! they cried(Hoyt 156-157).
Frantically, the Mexican gunners worked the Golden Standard. They fired five times, and grapeshot and mine balls thinned the Texas ranks, but then the gunners were overwhelmed. A few of the Mexican musketeers and riflemen rushed to the breastworks and snapped off shots. They were aiming at General Houston and five bullets struck Saracen, almost killing him. Houston mounted another horse, but that one too fell because of the musket fire. A shot struck Houston in the Achilles tendon of his right foot, breaking his ankle. He got himself onto a third horse and remained on the field(Hoyt 157-158).
Eight miles away, Texas baggage guards had captured Captain Bachillar, a special courier for Santa Anna, the day before by Deaf Smith, and had him tied to a tree.
All of them were following the action. First came the deep bellow of the Golden Standard, then the popping of the Twin Sisters, and then the rattle of small arms. In the beginning moments the captain was quite lively, but then he sank into silence. Santa Anna is whipped, he said at last.
How do you know that?
Because I don’t hear the sound of his guns.(Hoyt 158)
Jimmie Curtis had his son-in-law, George Washington Cottle fall at the Alamo, and so had his brother-in-law, Thomas J. Jackson. Curtis clubbed his rifle and went tearing through the gap in the breastworks, breaking skulls to right and left. Colonel John Wharton tried to stop the slaughter. He saw Jimmie Curtis threatening a Mexican officer with a Bowie knife(Hoyt )158.
The colonel hoisted a Mexican officer up behind him on his horse. Men, this Mexican is mine. Jimmie Curtis took aim and blasted the Mexican off the back of the horse, turned and walked away. Other soldiers had lost relatives in the Goliad Massacre and they now got back some of their own, slashing, bashing, and shooting every Mexican they encountered(Hoyt )158.
Colonel Delgado observed General Santa Anna. I saw His Excellency running about in the utmost excitement, wringing his hands, unable to give an order. Delgado’s last view of General Castrill?n was a heroic one; the general had recovered enough to mount an ammunition case, and arms folded, was glaring down at his enemies. His men called him to flee with them, but he refused. I have been in forty battles, he said, and I have never yet turned my back on the enemy. I am too old to change. Secretary Rusk tried to save the old general. He threw up several rifle barrels that were aiming at the general. But other Texans drew a bead on the general’s chest and riddled him with bullets(Hoyt 159,162).
Colonel Wharton tried again. They had done enough killing. He rode along the shore of Peggy Lake, where the Mexicans were floundering in the water and being mercilessly executed. Mi no Alamo. Mi no Goliad, one boy cried to a soldier on the bank. The Texan soldier took aim with his musket and shot the boy in the head(Hoyt 162).
Wharton ordered his men to cease fire. J.H.T. Dixon, one of the revenge-craven, replied: Colonel, if Jesus Christ were to come down from Heaven and order me to quit shooting Santanistas I wouldn’t do it, sir. And he stepped back, cocked his rifle, and pointed it at the colonel’s chest. Colonel Wharton reined his horse and rode away(Hoyt 162).
The battle lasted only 18 minutes, but the slaughter continued all afternoon. One brave captain summarized the attitude: You know how to take prisoners: Take them with the butt of your gun, club guns and?Remember the Alamo!, Remember Goliad! On the right of the Mexican camp, about a hundred yards from the tents, was a small grove of trees and a mudhole with a stream leading to Peggy Lake. The Mexicans fled the camp, heading for the grove and for Peggy Lake. Here the greatest carnage occurred. Having reached the lake, Colonel Almonte swam with one hand and held his sabre above his head with the other, urging his men to follow. At the lake and across the field Mexicans fell to their knees, asking for clemency: Mi no Alamo. Mi no Goliad, they said, clutching at their executioners, begging to surrender, begging for mercy. But there was no mercy this day(Hoyt 162).
Stephen Austin’s cousin, Sgt. Moses Bryan, encountered a young Mexican drummer boy lying on his face, both legs broken. One of the Texas soldiers pricked him with the point of a bayonet. The boy grasped the man around his legs and cried. Ave Mar?a pur?sima! Por Dios salva mi vida! (Hail Mary most pure! For God, save my life!) Sergeant Bryan begged the soldier to spare the boy. The man looked at me and put his hand on his pistol, Bryan recalled. I moved away, and just as I did so, he blew out the boy’s brains.(Hoyt 162-163)
Scores of Mexicans rushed to the lake and jumped in, jammed all together. Seeing the jam-up, the Texans positioned themselves on the bank. Pvt. William Foster Young recalled, I sat there on the shore and shot them until my ammunition ran out, then I turned to the butt of my musket and began knocking them in the head.(Hoyt 163)
Juan Seguin’s Tejanos were in the thick of it, shouting, Recuerda el Alamo! A Mexican officer recognized Tejano soldier Antonio Menchaca as an acquaintance and pleaded with him as a brother Mexican to intercede for his life. Menchaca looked at him coldly. No, damn you, he said, I’m not Mexican. I’m an American, and turning to his Texan comrades, he said, Shoot him!(Hoyt 163)
In the end, Colonel Almonte managed to round up 400 Mexicans to surrender to Secretary Rusk, who took personal charge of them and brought them to safety. In all there were 730 prisoners, 200 of them wounded, and 630 bodies. The Texas Army lost nine men. The Mexican death toll in this Battle of San Jacinto was higher than that of Texas in all the previous battles of the war. General Houston had pursued his strategy, he had chosen the time and place to fight, and he had won(Hoyt 163).
In spite of his wound, General Houston had remained in the saddle all during the battle and well after the senseless killing began. He finally felt weak from loss of blood and rode back across the field, accepting the cheers of his men and waving. He reached the big oak tree where he had slept the night before, tried to dismount, and collapsed. His men got him onto a blanket underneath the tree and called the surgeon(Hoyt 164).
On the day after the battle, a party searching for Mexican prisoners picked up a man, but did not recognize in this ragged figure, in faded white linen trousers and an old trooper’s jacket, the supreme commander of the Mexican army. The Texas soldiers told him they were looking for General Santa Anna and asked if he knew where he was. His feet were bleeding from walking on them for so long and he collapsed. But one of the search party’s officers took pity on him and gave him a hand up, so he rode into camp on the back of his captor’s horse. As they came up to a band of prisoners, there were cries of El Presidente, El Presidente, and the secret was out. The patrol had captured Santa Anna. Unmasked, Santa Anna requested an audience with General Houston. They took him to the big oak tree. Houston looked up as the captive sat down. A crowd gathered, waiting for the sentence of death. They had been looking for Santa Anna since dawn. Now they had found him. Colonel Almonte was summoned as interpreter and Santa Anna approached in a lordly manner. I am General Antonio L?pez de Santa Anna, he said, President of Mexico and commander in chief of the Army of Operations. I put myself at the disposal of the brave General Houston. I wish to be treated as a general should be when a prisoner of war.(Hoyt 164-165,167)
Houston lifted himself up on one elbow.
Good afternoon, he said pleasantly. Ah, Santa Anna. Ah, indeed. Take a seat, general. I’m glad to see you. Santa Anna seated himself on a box. That man may consider himself born to no common destiny who has conquered the Napoleon of the West, he said. And now it remains for him to be generous with the vanquished.
You should have remembered that at the Alamo. Houston said.
What happened at the Alamo-I was only obeying the orders of my government, Santa Anna began. Houston lost his temper. You are the government of Mexico, Sir, he said. A dictator has no superior. What about the murders at Goliad?
Those were the responsibility of General Urrea, Santa Anna lied. And when I have the opportunity I shall have him executed. He should never have accepted the surrenders.(Hoyt 167-168)
The crowd around the two men was growing restless; to a man they wanted Santa Anna’s head. General Houston, however, was wiser than the crowd. He knew that General Urrea and General Filisola together had more than 3,500 Soldiers on Texas soil and that under the more competent leadership of the two, they might attack. He knew that he did not have the strength to fight another battle, and he wanted Texas to be free desperately. Santa Anna wanted to stay alive. Therefore it was time to bargain(Hoyt 168-169).
Santa Anna offered to remove all the Mexican troops from Texas if he were freed to return to Mexico. It’s not so simple as that, said General Houston. I have no authority to negotiate a peace. That is for the civil government to do.
Civil government, what is that? Surely the two parties who fought can arrive at an agreement.
I’m sorry, said Houston. I’m not empowered to negotiate. I can only offer you your life if you will order your troops across the Rio Grande.(Hoyt 168-169)
Santa Anna looked around him at the Texans who stood, muttering, blood in their eyes. All right, he said, I will order General Filisola to leave Texas. He sat down then and wrote a letter to dismiss all of Filisola’s troops back to Mexico. A Mexican express rider was sent to General Filisola with the orders(Hoyt 169).
Months later General Santa Anna was returned to Mexico, where he again assumed one man rule, but the infamy of having lost to Texas dogged him, and he proved an inept and corrupt leader. He eventually was ostracized so badly that he ended up in the Bahamas(Reavis 127).
Skipping ahead a century and a half, one will discover a great monument near the city of Houston. Where the Battle of San Jacinto is commemorated, one finds one of the most unusual memorial parks. The mighty monument in memory of the battle where Texas won independence towers 570 feet above San Jacinto State Park–built illegally higher than the Washington Monument. At its top is a huge star, the emblem of Texas(Carpenter 73-74). The land for the San Jacinto State Park was purchased through many different people and eventually reached the size of 420 acres (about 2/3 of a square mile). A commemorative sundial also was donated through the Daughters of the Republic of Texas(Muir 1-2). Another interesting observation is that their are monuments all around Texas commemorating the battle of San Jacinto. Such is the one in Dallas of the soldier Prospero Bernardi. The bust of Bernardi is on display at the Hall of State, Fair Park, Dallas. The bust is so all can remember the contribution he made to the war(Belfiglio 1).
And that’s what its all about. The contribution one makes to the effort. The author hopes the reader looks at the pride Texans have about them in a different light now. Then I will have made my contribution.