Santa Anna felt with these victories, the war was won. He began to make plans to return to Mexico and leave the mopping up to others. His commanders convinced him to remain with them through the final stages of the operation. Santa Anna divided his command into four columns to be led by Generals: Sesma, Filisola, Gaona, and Urrea. Italian born Filisola and his men were to act as a reserve and stay in the center, behind the others. Each of the other columns were to spread laterally from each other and proceed to the Sabine. General Urrea was to follow the coast. General Sesma was to keep in the middle and cross the Colorado River at Beasons' Crossing and thence to San Felipe before moving to the coast at Anahuac, and then on to the Sabine. General Gaona, the farthest west, was to proceed by crossing the Colorado at Bastrop, and then marching to Nacogdoches before moving to the Sabine. The columns were to burn everything they found in their path that belonged to the Texans and Americans.
Santa Anna never felt he was putting his army at risk by dividing them into the four columns. He knew the Texans only had about 800 armed men left and felt any one of the columns could defeat them. Couriers rode constantly between the columns, if any one column became engaged with a large Texan force the others would quickly deploy to assist. Santa Anna modified his order dividing the command, to include a meeting of general officers at San Felipe after all had crossed the San Bernard River.
Houston continued to retreat while buying time to train his men. He also continued to receive supplies from the Texas Navy. These supplies were destined for the Mexicans but were captured at sea by the Texas Navy and sent to Houston. Jeremiah Brown, like his brother William, commanded a ship of the Texas Navy. His ship was the Invincible. The Invincible captured an American ship, the Pocket, out of New Orleans. Like the Durango and Pelicano, the Pocket had a false manifest hiding the fact they were carrying contraband for Mexican forces. Also found on board were Thompson and O'Campo of the Correo Mejicano, and an Irishman named Hogan with a commission in the Mexican Navy as an Engineer in his possession. Hogan was 60 years old. Brown found plans for the ship to be used to land Mexican troops at Corpus Christi after she unloaded her cargo in Mexico.
Brown took his prize to Galveston, saw that the supplies were enroute to Houston's men and then sailed the Invincible to New Orleans. In New Orleans, the Invincible and her crew were arrested and impounded by the U.S. Navy pending an investigation of the Brown brother's attacks on U.S. ships. All charges were dropped within weeks with the help of the Texas agent in New Orleans, Irishman William Bryan.
Houston, with help from the Brown brothers and the Texas Navy, had fresh supplies. Not all the supplies were from captured Mexican stores. Thomas McKinney, Samuel May Williams, Robert McCustion, and William Bryan continued to convince others and give of their own money to buy supplies for the Texan cause. The mercantile firm of McKinney and Williams, more than any other source, underwrote the Texas Revolution. Texas could not raise money, but these two men through their commercial contacts in Charleston, Baltimore, Providence, Mobile, and New Orleans could and did for Texas. The Texas Navy, in particular, owed much of its existence to the trading company of Henry McKinney and Samuel May Williams. In recognition of this fact, Thomas F. McKinney was carried on the rolls of the Texas Navy as a Captain; and Samuel May Williams is known as "The Father of The Texas Navy."
On a smaller scale, history should take note that the first ship registered in the Texas Merchant Marine was a boat by Ephriam McClean. McClean was also active in other areas of the Texas Revolution. Years later he built the first lighthouse in San Francisco harbor.
Houston, early on, sought to buy time and look for his best chance. In November, he wrote one of his officers "Remember our maxim, it is better to do well late than never." Houston commented about the men and situation he found at Gonzales, "...the first principles of drill had not been taught to them." (They were) "without two days rations, many without arms, others without ammunition. We could have met the enemy and avenged some of our wrongs, but...it would have been madness to hazard a contest." "By falling back Texas can rally and defeat any force than can come against her."
.............................................................Sam Houston >
After Houston left Gonzales, he crossed the Colorado River about where La Grange is today. On March 21, General Sesma was on the west bank of the Colorado. For six days, the two combatants were camped within two miles of each other separated by the Colorado. Houston later reported, he gave some thought to attacking Sesma. Realizing Urrea and Gaona were in daily touch with Sesma and fearing an attack by the Texans would unite the Mexican forces, Houston decided instead to move on to the Brazos River and turn north. On the 28 of March, the Texas Army, such as it was, camped at San Felipe. Houston announced to his men they would withdraw farther to Groce's Plantation about 20 miles north. The plantation was surrounded on three sides by rain swollen streams and rivers that would allow them ample warning of any Mexican advance. Houston also knew the 160 foot steamer, Yellowstone, was at the plantation taking on cotton. The Yellowstone was being used by the firm of Williams and McKinney. It was actually owned by a U. S. merchant firm located in New Orleans and was therefore a boat under United States registry. The boat was captured by J. E. Ross.
Two of Houston's company commanders, Wiley Martin and Moseley Baker, refused to retreat any farther and said they would not take their companies to Groce's. They impudently asked to remain behind and guard the Brazos River crossings at Fort Bend (near present day Richmond) and San Felipe. Houston gave the order. Before leaving San Felipe, Houston set the former Capitol afire. At Groce's, Houston spent two weeks training his men. He attempted to instill discipline in the volunteer force both in drill and in camp. When four men were caught raping and robbing women refugees, Houston hung them for all to see.
Equipment and weapons were repaired at Groce's as Jared Groce had a well equipped blacksmith shop and other needed facilities on his plantation. Houston helped repair rifles when the blacksmiths had more than they could handle.
Santa Anna, in the meantime, arrived at San Felipe to find the town burned. The crossing at the Brazos River was covered by Moseley Baker and his men. After a scouting party reported that Thompson's Ferry at Fort Bend was similarly guarded (by Wiley Martin's Company), Santa Anna sent orders to Filisola, Urrea, and Gaona to join him at San Felipe for a united attack on the Texas Army. Santa Anna left Sesma and took 500 grenadiers and 50 dragoons to lead a scouting party south to find another crossing. On the night of April 10, Santa Anna and his men stopped at a tavern known as Mrs. Powell's (Powell is a Welsh name. The tavern was run by Elizabeth Powell). Santa Anna sent word back to San Felipe for the columns to join him at the tavern. On the 13, Sesma joined Santa Anna at Mrs. Powell's and advised him the other units had not yet reached San Felipe.
The crossing of the Brazos River by Houston and his men using the Yellowstone
While Santa Anna was waiting at Powell's tavern, Houston was making plans to leave Groce's. On the 11 of April, he received the Twin Sisters, two small cannon sent by the citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio. He placed Lieutenant Colonel James C. O'Neill in command of his new artillery. On the 12th, as Houston used the Yellowstone to ferry his men and supplies across the Brazos, he was visited by John Powell, the son of the tavern owner. John Powell was the first to bring the news that Santa Anna was still in Texas. John also told Houston that Santa Anna left the main army to lead the scouting party that came to the tavern. Young Powell told Houston that Santa Anna learned President Burnet and Vice President Zavala were at Harrisburg and that he personally planned to lead an attack to capture them. The fact that Santa Anna would separate himself from the main invading forces interested Houston.
Sam Houston promised the Yellowstone's officers he would make a document noting the fact they had nothing to do with the use of the ship to support the republican effort.
Detail of the Yellowstone as painted by George Caitlin on its maiden voyage from St. Louis in 1832
Captain John E. Ross was the captain of the Yellow Stone during its involvement with the Republic of Texas. Previously he was captain of the Cayuga in 1834. Lewis C. Ferguson was the Engineer. He later was captain of the Correo in 1838. Robert Hall, of Irish heritage, was a deckhand, later he was a Texas Ranger. John McKinney , M. M. McLain, and the fireman, William Cooke; and the cook, Benjamin Sherman were also members of the crew.
Ross stacked cotton bales high on the deck and so as to protect his boiler, engine and pilot house.
On April 11, 1836, Houston wrote to President David G. Burnet:
News has just arrived that the enemy are crossing at Thompson's below Fort Bend. I don't know so well about it - I will cross the river soon and meet the enemy on the east side of the river if they are really crossing below.
Houston used the Yellowstone to move his men, supplies and baggage across the river and released the Yellowstone on April 14, 1836. The Yellowstone then began to head down river. It was stopped several times by colonists flagging her down and who then boarded in hopes of leaving Texas or getting a ride to Galveston. At Thompson's Ferry, men from the units under Joaquin Sesma and Vincente Filisola began firing at the boat. Even an eight-pound cannon was brought to bear, all with little effect as the cotton-baled Yellowstone with it bell clanging just steamed on past the Mexicans. After clearing the Brazos River, the Yellowstone made for Galveston. The Yellowstone in going down the Brazos had the effect of freezing the Mexican columns as they did not know how many men were on board or where it might disembark them.
Houston knew he could not face the Mexican army in the open with undisciplined, untrained men. His was a wait and see attitude, waiting and looking for an opportunity to make a stand that the Texans could conceivably win. His men were of a different attitude; they wanted to fight yesterday, and every step backward went against their grain. Houston would have to pick the place and time soon. Men were beginning to desert rather than continue to be a part of the retreat. The men who remained with Houston were increasingly vocal in objecting to the continued withdrawal.
THE HUNT, THE CHASE, THE CATCH
After the Convention adjourned, and San Felipe set ablaze, President Burnet and Zavala, the Vice President, went to Harrisburg to get their families. Santa Anna, as noted, learned of this and made fast to catch them. Burnet made plans to leave Harrisburg aboard William Plunkett Harris' schooner Cayuga when he learned his family had safely moved on to New Washington (where Morgan's Point is today, on Galveston Bay just north of La Porte). Just as Burnet got on board the Cayuga, Santa Anna swept into the city. Burnet went on to New Washington. The Mexican army hastened behind him. Santa Anna sent Colonel Almonte with 50 cavalry ahead to New Washington.
Some of the Mexican units went to the Lynchburg Ferry. The ferry, by chance, was on the north shore. The Mexicans hailed Frances Lynch, wife of Nathaniel, to send it back over, or send a boat. She did neither. She gathered her children and a few provisions and joined the Runaway Scrape which only recently cleared through the ferry. In doing so, Mrs. Lynch saved Lynchburg from the Mexicans.
Santa Anna pushed on toward New Washington in hopes of catching the leaders of the Texas government. On the way, while passing by the William Vince plantation, he noticed an interesting horse. The horse known as "Old Whip" was a large, big boned half thoroughbred stallion which belonged to a Brown family. Santa Anna sent some soldiers to get the horse. Jimmy Brown, a boy of thirteen but large for his age, sought to intercede. He was struck by the flat side of a Mexican officer's sabre, and the Mexican took the horse to Santa Anna.
Burnet, meanwhile, at New Washington, placed his family in a rowboat with the help of Irishman Nathan Finney. Suddenly, a warning was sounded by scout Michael McCormick that the Mexicans were approaching. McCormick was able to encourage Burnet and his family to row out of reach. The Mexicans arrived and began to fire at the rowboat, but were stopped by an officer who noted there was a woman and child aboard the row boat. They rowed undisturbed to the waiting Cayuga, which took them to Galveston.
McCormick's parents were Irish born. He, and his mother, will be heard from again.
At New Washington, Almonte captured a large amount of supplies from Captain Morgan's warehouse. Santa Anna still trying to catch the Texas government leaders and wanting to protect Almonte's find, went on to New Washington with the rest of Sesma's column.
Santa Anna, in his haste to capture the leaders of Texas by joining with Sesma's column in the run to Harrisburg and then to New Washington, separated himself even farther from his other columns. In fact, without knowing it, he was ahead of Houston and his men. Houston's force was moving from the Brazos River toward the east.
Santa Anna's original three pronged sweep from San Antonio to the coast, where his units would consolidate and then turn north to the Sabine River, was now a three headed monster operation. This was caused by the roads and the weather. The Mexicans were also in need of supplies (recall the Mexican army was on half rations since Monclova). The supplies that were planned for the Mexican army were to come by sea, but the small Texas Navy saw to it they were never delivered, at least not to the Mexicans. Houston also played a part in making life difficult for the Mexicans; because he practiced a scorched earth withdrawal, leaving little for the Mexicans to find in the way of food. Houston observed the Matamoros Expedition could not succeed because the field of operations was too far for resupply from Texas. The Mexican army was learning the same lesson going the other way.
On the 19 of April, while at New Washington, Santa Anna again thinking things were effectively done in Texas and anxious to get back to Mexico City, negotiated with the captain of a German schooner that was docked nearby. He began to make arrangements for the ship to take him to Copano Bay. At Copano Bay he would transfer to the Mexican brig, El Bravo that would take him back to Mexico. Later that afternoon, a Texas Navy vessel attacked and burned the German schooner, changing any plans Santa Anna had for not meeting the Texans on the destined field of battle: the plain at San Jacinto.
As you have seen thus far, the Celts have been very much a part of the Texas Revolution. They are among its leaders, its heros, and its honored dead. If you have been surprised at the degree of the Celtic connection to this formative period of Texas, you will be amazed at the Celtic involvement in its most famous battle!