On April 21, 1836 General Sam Houston led 910 Texians to a decisive victory in the Battle of San Jacinto.
He had patiently led the Mexican forces East while he looked for exactly the right setting for battle against the larger and better-equipped Mexican forces led by General Santa Anna.
The Texians had been fortunate enough to capture some fresh food the day before and were comparatively well fed for the first time in weeks.
Before the Texian attack, General Houston had “Deaf” Smith take a small band and destroy the only bridge that could have provided an easy path for reinforcements – or retreat – for the Mexican army.
Once they had confirmation of the destruction of the bridge, the Texian forces quietly crossed the no man’s land separating the two armies.
Anger at the massacre at the Alamo and the murder of the captured Texian soldiers at Goliad energized the Texian forces.
An overconfident Santa Anna had failed to post sentries, so when the Texians were attacked the Mexican forces were taken completely by surprise.
Shouting “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!”, the Texians stormed the Mexican barricade, captured their cannon, and engaged in ruthless close-quarter and hand-to-hand combat. With no way to escape, the Mexican forces were quickly defeated. In 18 minutes, according to Houston’s official report, 630 Mexicans were killed, 208 wounded, and 730 taken prisoner. Nine Texians were killed or mortally wounded, and thirty were wounded less seriously.
Among those wounded was General Houston, his ankle shattered by a rifle ball. Santa Anna had slipped away during the battle, but was captured the next day, and agreed to terms that shortly later led to the treaties that guaranteed Texas’ independence from Mexico.
The Battle of San Jacinto was not only the key to Texas’ independence. It put a permanent end to the expansion of Santa Anna’s dictatorial rule. Had he not been stopped by the Texians, he quite likely could have expanded his territory into the United States and the entire world would look very different today.
So as we remember San Jacinto, and Goliad, and the Alamo today, we are reminded that:
- Fortunes can change quickly. The Texians had been in retreat for over a month – right up until the one battle that won the whole war.
- Actions have consequences. There is little question that the Mexican casualties would not have been nearly as high that day if any mercy had been shown by Santa Anna at the Alamo or at Goliad.
- It’s better to take the high ground. Houston’s men would have undoubtedly applauded his actions if he’d ordered a summary execution in San Jacinto for the General who ordered the murder of all the prisoners of war taken at Goliad. Instead, Houston negotiated for official recognition of Texas’ independence and an end to the war.