The Eighteen-Minute Battle
April 21, one hundred and seventy-four years ago, the Texian Army defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto in a historic fight that gained independence for the rebels and ultimately set the stage for statehood.
There have been an untold number of stories of the battle in movies, TV, and novels. Some are so filled with fabrication that I’m surprised the authors even set the story in Texas. Others are fairly close to what seems to be the general consensus of what took place.
After the adoption of the Texas Declaration of Independence, Houston left New Washington for Gonzales to take charge of the troops and go to Travis’ aid. There, on March 12, he learned of the fall of the Alamo.
Settlers fled east, but Houston and his small army remained to stave off Santa Anna.
Houston pulled up at the Colorado, waiting anxiously for Fannin to join him as ordered, but Fannin did not follow the orders. He was captured. On Palm Sunday, he and his men were executed.
On March 23 (some say the 25th), Houston learned of Fannin’s capture. On Palm Sunday, the 27th, Santa Anna executed and burned Fannin and his men. The four hundred men Houston counted on had vanished. The next day, he moved his army east once again, despite his men’s griping and complaining. They wanted to fight, not retreat.
For two weeks they camped on the Brazos until a mysterious message came to Houston that Santa Anna was to his south, heading his way. Houston moved out.
At this point, Santa Anna began making a series of mistakes that sealed his defeat. Hearing that President Burnet and his staff had moved to Harrisburg, he made the very mistake Wellington had prodded Napoleon into making. As Houston had gambled, the small dictator split his force three ways, and with 700 men, moved south.
Santa Anna pushed his men hard until 9:00 p.m., camped without water, pulled out early next morning, and hurried on. Anxious to reach Harrisburg, he took only a few men and raced ahead, riding into the village at midnight, but Burnet had moved his cabinet to Galveston.
He then received word came that Houston was heading for the Trinity. Santa Anna saw another chance to end the revolution in one stroke, ambush Houston at Lynch’s Ferry.
At the head of his 700 men, he raced to Lynch’s Ferry. In his enthusiasm, he ignored the sluggish waters of Buffalo Bayou on the left; San Jacinto estuary at the rear; and the marshes of Galveston Bay on the right. No room for maneuvering.
Leading 700 exhausted soldiers, Santa Anna arrived ahead of Houston.
Houston soon came up behind him.
On the twentieth, there were a couple skirmishes. One Texian was killed.
On the twenty-first, General Cos arrived with four hundred men, the second prong of the split, bringing the Mexican force to 1100 against Houston’s reported 783.
Houston knew the third prong with three thousand or so Mexican forces was coming. He ordered Vince’s Bridge destroyed, cutting off Mexican reinforcements and Mexican flight as well as Texian retreat. It was fight or die.
At four o’clock, Houston gave the charge. Eighteen minutes later it was over. They captured the Mexican general the next day.
But, what would have happened if Fannin had obeyed orders and joined Houston at the Colorado? What if Houston had not received that mysterious message on the Brazos? What if Santa Anna had not pursued Burnet? What if he hadn’t split his troops? What possessed him to camp where he did, a spot not even a shavetail lieutenant would have selected?
Reverse any of those decisions, and we might find ourselves in a completely different world today.