Though some look at the Battle of the Alamo as a total tragedy for the people of Texas, it actually played a vital role in the Texians success. Their courageous sacrifice bought Sam Houston valuable time to prepare for the role he and the troops he led would play in San Jacinto.
The Convention of 1836 was held at the Texas capitol located at Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 2nd. It ended without the delegates’ knowledge of the defeat Texas had suffered during the Battle of the Alamo. As a result, a call went out for individuals to march to San Antonio and relieve those serving at the Alamo. General Sam Houston impressed upon the convention delegates to remain in the capitol and continue their work to create a new constitution for Texas. He was now the sole commander of the Texian troops and made his way to Gonzales to meet up with the 400 volunteers who awaited his arrival prior to departing for San Antonio.
Within hours of Houston’s arrival in Gonzales, two men entered the camp and brought him news regarding the Alamo. After learning all Texians had been slain, Houston feared a panic would soon erupt, so he had the two men arrested and charged with being spies. They were later released when Susannah Dickinson, the Alamo’s only adult Anglo survivor, reached Gonzales and confirmed the report the two men brought him. Houston now ordered the area to be evacuated and the army to retreat. The Runaway Scrape which followed sent the new government and most of the Texians east.
Though the Texians had taken out a good number of Mexicans at the Alamo, the troops led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna still outnumbered them by six to one. Believing the Alamo outcome capable of quelling future resistance toward his troops, Santa Anna pressed on towards his next target. Little did he know, the news had exactly the opposite effect. As word spread of the Alamo’s fall, volunteers came out of the woodwork, causing Houston’s army to swell in number.
When Santa Anna learned of Houston’s retreat, he knew he must move quickly; otherwise Houston would be able to muster a larger army. Thus, he divided the Mexican soldiers into three different groups. The first numbered approximately 1,000 and was sent southwards to restore order in the area’s towns and villages. Another 800 troops traveled northward towards present-day Bastrop in an effort to stop Houston’s army during their eastward retreat.
Santa Anna himself led the remaining 700 men and later joined up with the troops headed north. Believing the Texians now to be cornered, Santa Anna chose to give his troops a short respite. They made camp on April 19th and would rest two days, then attack on April 22nd.
Sensing Houston was nearby, Santa Anna sent out patrols to find him. These patrols stumbled upon their Texian counterparts at New Washington. Soon the Mexicans came under attack by the Twin Sisters and beat a hasty retreat without discovering the exact whereabouts of Houston’s troops.
As the sun set over southeast Texas on April 20, 1836, no one could have envisioned the dramatic event on the horizon which would later fill the history books. When dawn broke on the 21st, General Sam Houston and his rag-tag army were camped at the mouth of the San Jacinto River. Approximately 900 Texians now prepared to attack Santa Anna’s troops.
During the morning hours of April 21st, General Houston conducted a council of war. The majority of officers in attendance voted to wait for Santa Anna to attack. By doing so, they felt it would help leverage their position. After receiving their feedback, Houston made his decision to attack and revealed it to his officers that afternoon.
Somewhere around 4:30 p.m., Santa Anna’s men were camped near Lynchburg Ferry. Flushed with victory from the Alamo battle, the Mexicans became a bit lazy with security and failed to post sentries. While enjoying their afternoon siesta, the Mexican troops were suddenly awakened as the Texian soldiers arrived, shouting, “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!” as their battle cry.
The Texians needed no more than 18 minutes to subdue the Mexicans. In the process, General Houston had two horses shot out from under him and received a bullet in the ankle, with nine Texians killed. On the Mexican side, 630 soldiers died and 700 surrendered.
The following day, several Mexicans were captured and brought to Sam Houston. Unknown to him at the time, among those captured was Santa Anna himself. Dressed in the uniform of a common foot soldier, the general’s identity was revealed when numerous Mexican prisoners began to shout, “El Presidente! El Presidente!” Santa Anna was held as a prisoner of war and signed a peace treaty three weeks later. The Mexican army was forced to leave the region and the Republic of Texas became an independent nation.
After his capture, Santa Anna told Houston, “That man may consider himself born to no common destiny who has conquered the Napoleon of the West. And now it remains for him to be generous to the vanquished.” Houston looked at the captured leader and replied, “You should have remembered that at the Alamo!”
The Mexican defeat at the Battle of San Jacinto eventually resulted in the loss of approximately one million square miles of land from Mexican control. The subsequent annexation of Texas by the United States added the land area which later became the states of Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California; along with a portion of Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Wyoming.
The ripple effect of the Battle of San Jacinto radiated out far beyond the border of the United States. The birth of the new nation, now known as the Republic of Texas, caught the eyes of the powerful nations in Europe and helped to create the distinctive mélange of American culture. Texas would remain a sovereign nation for 10 years prior to being annexed by the United States in 1845. With the annexation, the border of the United States now stretched from coast to coast.
Following the annexation of Texas during President Polk’s administration, the eyes of Europe and the United States centered on Latin America. Soon the US and Great Britain were involved in the political and commercial growth of the region, leading up to the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty in 1850. The two nations composed the treaty in an effort to ensure a balance of power, anticipating the creation of the Inter-Oceanic Nicaraguan Canal – which was never built.
Texas had paid a high price to claim victory at the Battle of San Jacinto. The 13-day siege which was the Battle of the Alamo took place between February 23 and March 6, 1836 and resulted in the deaths of all the Texas defenders; among them Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett and William Travis.
Despite the immense loss of life, those who fought and died at the Alamo bought Sam Houston the time he needed to prepare for his confrontation with Santa Anna. The conflict at San Jacinto was the most decisive battle in Western military history, in addition to the history of the United States and indeed the Western world.
Dedicated on April 21, 1939, the San Jacinto Monument memorializes the heroes of the Battle of San Jacinto, along with all others who helped to bring about Texas independence. A 570-foot shaft topped by a 34-foot star, the monument symbolizes the Lone Star Republic. The building incorporates a number of innovative engineering features not common during the period of time in which it was built. The American Society of Civil Engineers recognized the technology with the prestigious designation of State and National Historic Structure. Listed as the tallest stone column memorial structure in the world, the San Jacinto Monument stands 15 feet taller than the Washington Monument in Washington, DC.