The Battle of San Jacinto was brief (less than a half-hour) and decisive. Santa Anna and his Mexican army were decisively defeated a few miles east of what is now Houston, Texas. It became known as Sam Houston’s “retreat to victory.”
It essentially cleared the way for Texas as an independent republic.
The Texans had recently declared independence (March 2, 1836) following a breakdown in a common government within Mexico 3 years before. Within 4 days (March 6) a magnificent historical stand at the old San Antonio mission, The Alamo, demonstrated that Texans would give it all for that independence.
Three weeks later under orders of Santa Anna to execute all American captives as pirates (since the U.S. was not at war with Mexico) approximately 430 Texans including the commander James Fannin were shot, clubbed, or knifed to death at Goliad, South of San Antonio.
At the bloody death count of Texans rose, so did the fury and ferocity of the Texans rise. Fighting and reprisal were now deep in their blood. Wounded wolves with bared fangs sprung.
But Sam Houston’s strategy was to retreat.
However, the strategy turned out to be sound when his “retreat to victory” seduced Santa Anna to drive his army far to the east of San Antonio (The Alamo) and Goliad (the Goliad massacre) away from Mexican supplies and reinforcements; and toward his San Jacinto “Waterloo”
Houston on the other hand retreated, gaining new volunteers along the way and keeping his initial (though limited) army intact while trying to resupply them. His greatest problem was in keeping up morale, as his men fiercely wanted to fight, supplies or no. They craved a fight to revenge the slaughters of Texans at both The Alamo and Goliad by the Napoleon of the west, Santa Anna. They were itching to fight and Houston nearly faced a mutiny (to fight the enemy!). Nevertheless, he stretched his “retreat” to the limit.
Finally, after Santa Anna crossed the Brazos River just west of Houston, General Houston slipped slightly South with his volunteers, destroyed the only bridge back to the west, and effectively had himself and Santa Anna enclosed in a small area along the San Jacinto River. Like two fighting cocks in a pen. A fight to the death loomed.
Instead of attacking early in the morning of April 21, Houston waited, allowing Santa Anna’s troops to consolidate and actually outnumber Houston’s (approximately 1300 Mexicans to 900 Texans), Houston waited until the afternoon because he suspected Santa Anna had decided his own men should rest. Consequently, the Mexican army lay in for a siesta. The 1300 were asleep.
Weary, but on fire with emotion, the unrested Texans attacked the sleeping enemy and within 20 minutes had killed almost half of the Mexican army and ultimately captured Santa Anna. The Texans had fewer than a dozen men killed. The first cry reportedly had been by Colonel Sidney Sherman: “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad! Remember the Alamo.” It had resounded throughout the Texan troops.
As it turned out, Texas’s war for independence did not end on that single day. However, Santa Anna had been captured by Houston (who was wounded, himself). The bargain was that in return for not being executed (which Houston’s army was clamoring for) Santa Anna would order all remaining Mexican troops to remain outside of San Antonia and ultimately withdraw south.
Eventually, under treaty, all Mexican troops and supporters moved south of the Rio Grande River. The Republic of Texas was effectively established and functioned until February of 1846 when it joined the then-Republican Union of the United States.
“Remember the Alamo!” The Texans remembered the Alamo that day at San Jacinto. And they have never forgotten.
Pray God, they never will.