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Summary Article: San Jacinto, Battle of
from Encyclopedia of the Mexican-American War, The: A Political, Social, and Military History

Event Date: April 21, 1836

Battle between the Texas army led by its commander in chief, General Samuel Houston, and Mexican forces under president and general Antonio López de Santa Anna. The Battle of San Jacinto, fought in the vicinity of present-day Houston, Texas, near the confluence of Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto River on April 21, 1836, for all practical purposes secured Texan independence.

Following the Texan declaration of independence early in March 1836, Santa Anna won apparently decisive military victories at the Alamo in San Antonio and at Goliad. He hoped to end the campaign by capturing Texas government officials at Harrisburg. On April 14, separating some 700 men from his main force, the Mexican Army of Operations in Texas, Santa Anna set out for Harrisburg. His advance units arrived there near midnight on April 15, only to learn that the Texas government had fled. Three days later Santa Anna ordered Harrisburg put to the torch and moved to New Washington on the Gulf Coast. There he discovered that the Texas officials he sought had fled to Galveston Island.

Battle of San Jacinto, April 21, 1836

Republic of Texas


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Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna, shown here surrendering to generalissimo of Texan forces Sam Houston following the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. (Library of Congress)

Texas generalissimo Houston, meanwhile, learned from captured dispatches of Santa Anna's location and that his strike force was detached from the main body of the Mexican army. Houston, who had been retreating steadily before the superior Mexican forces since leaving Gonzales on March 13, moved swiftly to exploit the situation. On April 20, his men, some 900 in number, were positioned near Lynch's Ferry on the Lynchburg-Harrisburg Road, in position to block Santa Anna from joining his main force. That afternoon, minor artillery exchanges and cavalry skirmishes occurred between the two sides. Meanwhile, Santa Anna got word of his situation to General of Brigade Martín Perfecto de Cos, who joined him on the morning of April 21 with 600 men.

With Cos's men, Santa Anna now commanded some 1,260 troops. Believing that he had the advantage, Santa Anna chose to rest his army and attack the next day. Meanwhile, shortly before noon on the 21st, Houston held a council of war. Despite a majority opinion in favor of remaining on the defensive, Houston decided he must attack before additional Mexican reinforcements could arrive.

At about 4:30 p.m. Houston led his men in a charge against the Mexicans, the Texans shouting, “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!” Santa Anna's failure to post sentries around his camp during the traditional Mexican afternoon siesta and his decision to set up camp with a swamp to the rear proved fatal.

Houston's assault turned into fierce hand-to-hand combat lasting less than 20 minutes. The bloodshed continued for several hours more, however, with the Texans killing hundreds of panicked Mexican soldiers mired in the swamp surrounding Peggy Lake in retribution for the slaying of prisoners at the Alamo and Goliad. At the end of the battle, 630 Mexicans were dead and 730 captured, including 208 wounded. Surprisingly, the Texans suffered only 9 killed and 30 wounded, Houston among the latter. Santa Anna fled but was captured the next day.

San Jacinto was the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. On May 14, 1836, Santa Anna signed the Treaty of Velasco, agreeing to withdraw Mexican forces beyond the Rio Grande in exchange for his safe return to Mexico. His return was contingent on his lobbying for political recognition of the Texas Republic. Despite signing a treaty pledging recognition of an independent Texas, Santa Anna was held as a prisoner until November 20 before he returned in disgrace to Mexico in 1837. Mexico did not officially recognize Texan independence until the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War. Yet, for all intents and purposes, the Battle of San Jacinto freed Texas from Mexican control.

See also

Alamo, Battle of the; Cos, Martín Perfecto de; Goliad Massacre; Guadalupe Hidalgo, Treaty of; Houston, Samuel; Santa Anna, Antonio López de; Texas; Texas Republic; Velasco, Treaties of.

  • Hardin, Stephen L. Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution. University of Texas Press Austin, 1994.
  • Pohl, James W. The Battle of San Jacinto. Texas State Historical Association Austin, 1989.
  • Williams, Amelia W.; Eugene C. Barker, eds. The Writings of Sam Houston, 1813-1863. 8 vols. University of Texas Press Austin, 1938-1943.
  • Charles F. Howlett
    Spencer C. Tucker
    Copyright 2012 by Spencer C. Tucker

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