The President of Texas was Irishman David G. Burnet. The President of Mexico is Santa Anna. When Santa Anna left Mexico City to take the field and command of the Mexican army, he appointed as Acting President, Miguel Barragan, a man of Irish heritage. He is pictured in a drawing at the right. Captain Marcos Barragan was with General Santa Anna as he precipitously pursued Burnet and Zavala. It was Marcos Barragan that reconnoitered and fixed Houston's position approaching the Lynchburg Ferry for Santa Anna. Learning Houston's whereabouts, Santa Anna immediately sent orders to the rear for General Filisola to dispatch General Cós to join his unit with a column of 500 men. Santa Anna then left New Washington to face and destroy Houston and his rag tag army at the Lynchburg Ferry.
< David G. Burnet, of New Jersey, the President of
The Republic of Texas during the revolution
The stage was set for Houston to make his move, a move that resulted in the Battle of San Jacinto. Sam Houston was at San Jacinto by choice. He was at Irishman Donoho's (Donaghue's) farm, near present day Hempstead, when he learned of Santa Anna's column being so widely separated from the other major Mexican units. The time, Houston felt, was here and the place would be near. That evening, the Texan Army encamped at the Samuel McCurley place, where the Texas Army enjoyed the hospitality of that Irish family. Apparently, they made themselves a little too much at home. Alfred Kelso and William Burnett, later testified in a hearing in support of the McCurley's claim for some reimbursement for what the presence of 1100 hungry men did to their farm.
The McCurley farm was near Buffalo Bayou, about 12 miles north of Harrisburg. Three miles from the farm was a crossroads, known as Robert's Corner, that would take the army north to Robbin's Crossing at the Trinity. From there some said, Houston had as an option to proceed to Nacogdoches and there receive the protection of the United States Army.
In January, Lewis Cass the United States' Secretary of War sent Major General Edmund P. Gaines with a build up of troops to Fort Jesup at Natchitoches. He was told to keep any trouble fomenting - inside Texas and to use pressure to keep the Indians out of the fight.
General Gaines of the United States Army moved a large body of men from Fort Jesup to the Sabine. The official reason was to insure Indians incited by the Mexicans did not cross into the United States. Though there were Indians working with the Mexicans, they were for the most part, from and in south Texas. The U.S. knew early there was no serious Indian threat to the United States. General Gaines was clearly there to intimidate more than Indians. In a letter dated March 29, 1836, to the U.S. Secretary of War, General Gaines plainly stated he would assist the cause of Texas if given the opportunity:
...by crossing our supposed or imaginary national boundary, and meeting the savage marauders (Mexican or Indian) wherever they may be found...
The ranking general of the United States Army, Alexander Macomb was at Natchitoches on April 14, 1836. The United States had learned of Mexican plans to use Indians to attack settlements, particularly Nacogdoches. Chief Bowles told General Gaines' scout that General Cos had made him a Lieutenant Colonel for the campaign against the Texans. General Gaines sent notice to the Cherokee, Biloxi, Choctaw, Alabama, Caddo and others to ally with neither side in the Texas Revolution.
There is evidence to suggest some of Gaines' men "deserted" into Texas and joined the Texas Army and then were allowed to rejoin their units without a word, when the issue was settled!
In April, the President of the United States, Andy Jackson, supported General Gaines' request to order out militia from 5 states to support his orders. Gaines also had orders that allowed him to go into Texas as far as Nacogdoches. He did.
Sam Houston's other choice at the fork in the road at Robert's Corner led to Harrisburg. Only hours earlier, Santa Anna, frustrated in not capturing Burnet and Zavala, burned the city. The whole Texan Army could see the smoke and knew taking this road meant confronting the enemy at some point soon. There is some confusion over who selected the direction to turn that morning. Some said it was Houston, others said it was Rusk, acting as Secretary of War. Still others said it was the men themselves, who when they got to the crossroad found no leader there, and noting a pregnant pause or halt was called... then asked Abraham Roberts, whose home was at the fork, which road led to Harrisburg? Whereopon "..Some of the men at length moved forward on the Harrisburg Road, declaring that they would travel no other...they were followed by the whole army." They camped for the night at the home of Matthew Burnett on the road to Harrisburg.
We do know that the previous night at McCurley's farm, Houston began to develop a plan to fight the Mexican army in front of him.
After marching through the burned remnants of Harrisburg, the Texan army camped at noon the following day, the 18 of April, on Buffalo Bayou. Houston's scout leaders, Henry Karnes and Erastus "Deaf" Smith, captured an enemy courier, Captain Miguel Bachiller, carrying dispatches to and from General Filisola. From the dispatches Houston learned the "Napoleon of the West" himself was commanding the unit Houston was tracking. Filisola gave his position as at Fort Bend (Mrs. Powell's). Other Messages from Mexico City praised Santa Anna for his victories at the Alamo and Goliad. These last messages turned up the fire that burned in each Texan's heart. The fact the messages were carried in William Barrett Travis' saddle bags also fueled the rage that grew in each man as he heard the news. The dispatches also revealed Santa Anna had only about 600 men with him and that Cós was coming with 500-600 reinforcements. On April 19, 1836, Houston wrote a letter in which he stated:
It is wisdom growing out of necessity to meet the enemy now; every consideration enforces it, no previous occasion would justify it.
Houston had with him about 1100 men. Not all were healthy. General Sam Houston ordered 300 men to stay at the camp to protect the baggage and supplies. He placed Irishman Major Robert McNutt in command of this unit, and Lieutenant William McFarland, pictured to the left in later years, to assist. Among these 300 men, who were to also act as Houston's reserve force, were the walking wounded and many cases of measles and mumps. The other 800 men, Houston addressed in a short and forceful speech which he concluded by suggesting in the coming engagement with the enemy that their battle cry be "Remember the Alamo." He was followed by Secretary of War, Rusk, who suggested they add "Remember La Bahía." The men were very enthusiastic, making cheers and such, knowing they would at last fight; and, they would be fighting the man who personally ordered the Texans and Americans killed at the Alamo and at Goliad. The Texan Army then embarked upon rafts across Buffalo Bayou in order to be at Lynch's ferry before the Mexicans. This crossing took all day to accomplish. The army then marched until three o'clock in the morning of the 20th through the timber along Buffalo Bayou. When they emerged from the timber at about dawn to turn toward the ferry, they ran into some of the Mexican Army's stragglers. Houston had these men captured and then sent a calvary unit ahead to check the ferry crossing, which was now only a few miles away. When the calvary unit approached the ferry, they found Captain Barragan and some Dragoons. Shots were exchanged and the Texans took the position. Meanwhile, Houston saw smoke rising from the direction of New Washington and knew Santa Anna was burning the place. From those he captured, he learned Santa Anna planned to come to the ferry crossing. Captain Barragan reported to Santa Anna the Texans were at San Jacinto. The place got its name from Irishman Nathaniel Lynch, who planned to found another town there.
Famous painting by Seymour Thomas of Sam Houston pointing the way to the undulating plain at San Jacinto where the Texans would engage Santa Anna and his troops.
Panic swept Santa Anna when first he heard his stragglers were captured; he had no idea the Texans were so close. He rode very excitedly and un-general like down a narrow road knocking his men down with his horse announcing "The enemy is coming, the enemy is coming." He soon regained his composure, but not before his anxiety added to the mounting incidents that worked to the Texan's favor. He again sent Captain Barragan to scout Houston's position. He organized a march to San Jacinto to deny the Texans the use of the Lynchburg Ferry. His men camped on the Arthur McCormick ranch. By two o'clock in the afternoon of the 20th of April, the Mexicans were on the plain facing the Texan position. Months later in his report of the battle Santa Anna described his position:
"...I shut up the enemy in a low marshy angle of country where its retreat was cut off by Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto (River). Their left was opposed by our right protected by the woods on the bank of the bayou; their right covered by our six pounder and my cavalry; and I myself occupied the highest part of the terrain.
It was difficult for the Mexicans to see how many Texans there were because the Texans camped in a timber line that is today the cemetery grove beside the battleship Texas. The Mexicans where in full view of the Texans. "The tall plumes and the white uniforms of the infantry..the gaily accoutered cavalry" was impressive to view. It was apparent Santa Anna was going to attack. The Mexicans, with all their finery, marched right up to within 300 yards of the Texans. Santa Anna ordered the "Deguello" played. All the Texans could hear the music plainly and knew well what it meant. They remembered the Alamo and Goliad. The Texans withheld their fire, waiting for a more accurate shot from 80 yards or so. Soon the advance pickets of each force were firing at each other. At this juncture, Houston had Colonel Neill, commanding the artillery, fire the "twin sisters." The cannon, loaded with broken horse shoes and fired by powder supplied by the Captains Brown of the Texas Navy, brought the whole Mexican army to a halt. Santa Anna was unaware the Texans had artillery, and still not knowing the full strength of his enemy decided to halt the attack, regroup, and await General Cós and his reinforcements before proceeding. Colonel Neill was hurt during the day and replaced by Ben McCulloch. Tom Green became one of his gunners.
Houston is both praised and criticized for firing the cannon before the full brunt of the Texan rifleman could bring to bear that first volley of fire which would have dropped many a Mexican soldier. On the other hand, it stopped the attack giving the enemy reason to think and added to the series of events that would unfold the next day. For the rest of this day, the 20th, the Texan and Mexican artillery barked at one another.
At one point, the Welshman, Colonel Sidney Sherman, attempted to precipitate the battle by sallying forth with about 200 of his cavalry, but seeing he was not being supported, he withdrew after engaging with drawn sabres with the enemy.
The Mexicans were to the front about a quarter mile east of the Texans in a stand of trees. Today that position would be to the right of the monument about 500 yards as you looked from the Texan lines, and about 50 yards southeast from the monument. The Mexicans were building meager fortifications using what was at hand, and including their own equipment. Breastworks for the cannon included pack-saddles, sacks of hard bread, baggage, and such. It was more for looks than substance. If the Texans were going to attack, it would be at dawn; but it did not appear Santa Anna believed they would attack then. The last engagement between the two opposing armies were some calvary skirmishes by both sides. Sunset began a night with no sleep for either side. Each warily keeping one eye open. When at dawn, April 21, 1836, there was no Texan attack, Santa Anna relaxed somewhat. Texas tradition says Santa Anna had with him Emily Morgan, the "Yellow Rose of Texas" and some opium. Emily was a mulatto slave belonging to Captain Morgan, who because her beauty pleased Santa Anna, was taken along with the supplies found in Morgan's warehouse at New Washington. Emily and another slave who was taken with her, a young boy named Turner, did what they could to help the Texans. Emily kept Santa Anna occupied while Turner got valuable information into the hands of the Texans. For more detail on the Yellow Rose of Texas follow this link >
The Texans on the morning of the 21st ate a breakfast prepared by the wife of Thomas Hogan and some other women. The women loaded up a wagon with food and cooking utensils early that morning and went to the Texan camp to cook their boys a good breakfast.
When about 400 of General Cós' men entered Santa Anna's camp at about 9AM, everyone in the Mexican camp relaxed. Most of Houston's men thought the arrival of Cós' men was only a Mexican ruse, men Santa Anna had sent out from his own camp during the night. General Cós advised Santa Anna he had marched all through the night to get to Santa Anna's position and that his men were exhausted. Another 100 of his men were coming up several hours behind with wagons of supplies. Santa Anna was furious. He had specifically asked the reinforcements not be sent with an encumbering supply train. Santa Anna told Cós to place his men in a nearby grove, stack arms, and get some needed rest. They would need the rest because Santa Anna planned to attack the next day.
General Gaona was at Thompson's Crossing. General Urrea's units were in Brazoria and Columbia. General Filisola was still at Mrs. Powell's. His men were mired in mud, low in supplies and morale. They were hungry and food provisions were about to run out. Filisola was giving thought to turning south for supplies, or at the very least sending a unit back to Mexico to bring forward more supplies.
Houston told his scouts to burn the bridge across Vince's Bayou (several miles west of their position, in what is now Pasadena, Texas about one half mile west of the traffic circle in front of the south entrance to the Washburn tunnel under Buffalo Bayou /Houston Ship Channel). One of those sent was George Duncan Hancock. His mother was the former Rachel Ryan.
Houston held his first and only council of war about noon. When the meeting was over, the men and commanders still did not know, if or when, Houston intended to attack. Houston knew the men wanted to fight, and were ready to fight. At 3:30PM, Houston called for a parade assembly. He inspected the ranks and then deployed them in a battle line. Colonel Sidney Sherman's infantry would advance along the shore of the marshland to the north. That would be just north of the reflecting pool and monument as it stands today. This position would bring Sherman onto the Mexican left flank as you faced the Mexican front. The Texan Cavalry would circle south and swing in from the right flank. This meant roughly following the park road, that is today south of the monument, running west to east. General Houston led the main unit stretched in a long battle line passing right, along the southern edge of where the reflecting pool is now and stretched out to the south over 900 yards, two men deep. They marched straight ahead and veered slightly left into the main position of the Mexicans. The sun was behind them and in the eyes of the Mexican's. The twin sisters followed along the main unit. Houston had with him three musicians that were with the army, two of whom were Irishmen, Daniel Davis and his son, George Washington Davis. George Washington Davis is pictured below. Houston had the musicians play a song that was popular with the men, Irishman Thomas Moore's, "Will You Come To The Bower." The men were singing the words to this Irish love song as they advanced:
Will you come to the bow'r I have shaded for you?
I've decked it with roses all spangled with dew.
Will you, will you, will you come to the bow'r?
Will you come to the bow'r I have shaded for you?
There under the bow'r on roses you'll lie
A blush on your cheek but a smile in your eye!
Davis family tradition has it that Houston agreed to this particularly non-military tune so as to deceive any vigilant Mexicans into thinking the Texan movements were only drilling.
As I think of the Texas charge that day, I am reminded of somewhat more descriptive prose:
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,...
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder'd
In the Mexican camp, it was decided there would be little action that day. General Cós' troops were getting all the rest they could. The other troops, after a restless, sleepless night, decided to do the same. Those soldiers not sleeping were occupied in eating, cooking, or in other camp matters. Rifles were stacked, cartridge belts were on the ground. Although the area is described as a plain, it did, and still does, have subtle rolling elevations that, from time to time, hid the advancing Texans and muffled their noise. It was not until the Texans were within 250 yards of the Mexican lines before the alarm was sounded. A bugler blew for all he was worth. Sherman hit the north flank first and it rolled right up (the Mexicans evacuated their position). It was the Welshman Sherman who first cried "Remember the Alamo, Remember Goliad" as the Texans pushed forward their advantage over an army that out numbered them.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
while horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them...
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honor the charge they made!
From Alfred Lord Tennyson's
The Charge of the Light Brigade
The cavalry on the south completely overwhelmed that side of the flank. The twin sisters were pouring grapeshot into the middle, just ahead of the advancing, charging Texan riflemen. Now, all the Texans picked up the cry "Remember the Alamo, Remember Goliad." Houston had a horse shot out from beneath him. No sooner had he mounted another when that horse was also shot from under him and he was wounded in the ankle.
The entire question was decided in eighteen minutes! The Mexican army was in a route and the Texans were just picking them off as they became immobilized in the marshes, water, and briars that surrounded the battlefield. When tempers calmed, there were 600 Mexican soldiers dead, scattered all over the area, and 200 wounded. There were 700 Mexican prisoners. Nine Texans died and 14 were wounded! The frontiersmen and hastily trained, on the run, settlers defeated an organized, well trained and disciplined larger, Mexican force. Many believe the Battle of San Jacinto to be one of the greatest victories in military history!
The Battle of San Jacinto by Irishman Henry Arthur McArdle
For additional maps of the battle use this link >