Primary Source Adventures
This Primary Source Adventure (PSA) will examine the events of the Texas Revolution. It will largely pass over the Alamo as that siege is already covered in another PSA available on this site, however, learners will gain an understanding of the major battles of the Texas Revolution.
Students will examine Santa Anna's attack on Zacatecas, Texas’s early victories at the Alamo, the Mexican counter offensive which resulted in Texas's losses at the Alamo and Goliad, and the Texans' victory at San Jacinto.
This PSA instructs learners in the general events of the Texas Revolution. They will have an understanding of the ebb and flow of the military campaign, along with general decisions by Santa Anna and Texas. Worksheet questions stem from a variety of learning styles so that each student has the opportunity to shine. Teachers may also modify and easily incorporate these worksheets into their predesigned lesson plans.
The web links provided will help each instructor prepare, research, and present interesting reputable sites during lectures.
by Vale Fitzpatrick
In April 1835 Santa Anna returned and took charge form Gómez Farías. He soon replaced the existing congress with a new body controlled by centralists and under his authority. Santa Anna then abolished the Constitution of 1824 and to abolished the states and replace their government with departments run by ayuntamientos whom he appointed. By October 1835 Santa Anna had assumed dictatorial control of the Mexican Government. These moves came as a surprise to Anglo Texans for whom Santa Anna had been seen as a long time defender of the Constitution of 1824 and federalist. However Anglo Texans quickly saw that Santa Anna had abandoned his previous allegiances and assumed the role of tyrant. He was now a serious threat to Texans.
Texans were not quite sure what to make of Santa Anna’s sudden embrace of dictatorial power. Texans were reluctant to view Santa Anna as a tyrannical aggressor given his previous defense of Republican ideals and the Constitution of 1824. However, after he brutally suppressed the Mexican state of Zacatecas there was no question to Texans that Santa Anna had assumed the mantle of a tyrant. Zacatecas’s Governor Francisco Garcia, an ardent republican, lead his state in resisting Santa Anna. Santa Anna moved quickly to crush any resistance to his rule. On 11 May 1834 at the battle of Guadalupe Plains Santa Anna decimated the Zacatecas army killing or capturing their entire army, afterward he implemented a brutal repression upon the state.
General Cos believed that only military occupation could bring Texas under control, but he also knew that Texans were likely to stubbornly resist. Colonel Comingo de Ugartechea, the commander of the garrison at San Antonio, claimed that Texans would arm even children to keep out Mexican troops. Colonel Ugartechea and General Cos called upon Texans to demonstrate their loyalty by arresting and presenting to Mexican authorities “troublemakers” such as: Samuel May Williams, Lorenzo de Zavala, William B. Travis, who would be tried in Military courts. Texans refused to cooperate. General Cos left Matamoros with 500 hundred soldiers on the 17 September to arrest these “troublemakers” and restore order to Texas.
Hostilities began in early October 1835, at Gonzales when Texan citizens refused to hand over their cannon fashioning a white banner with an image of the cannon embroidered with the words “Come and Take It.” While causalities were light only one or two Mexican soldiers were killed and one Texans suffered a bloody nose when he was thrown by his horse, it marked the point of no return as virtually all Texans and most Tejanos joined the war faction. Stephen F. Austin said they would “drive the military out of Texas and organize a government for this country.”
Texans scoured early victories at Gonzales, Goliad, and San Antonio. These early successes made Texans overconfident. The most impressive early victory was at San Antonio over General Cos and his garrison of 600 men. During the siege of Bexar upon discovering commander Burleson was considering withdrawal to Goliad for the winter Benjamin R. Milam raised the defiant cry, “who will go to San Antonio with old Ben Milam?” and led 300 volunteers into the heart of the city. After three days of urban combat General Cos’s army was forced to surrender ironically from the Alamo. Following the terms of surrender the Mexican General and his remaining men stripped of their weapons were allowed to withdrawal south of the Rio Grande.
The newly established Texas provisional government was paralyzed by internal quarreling and personality conflicts, managed to reorganize the military under the command of Sam Houston. Inexplicably, those volunteers already serving were not enrolled in the new army, thus initially Houston had no troops to command. General Houston tried to halt the doomed expedition to Matamoros and succeeded in convincing many men to abandon the venture especially when word of Santa Anna’s arrival in Texas spread.
By early February 1836 Texan military forces amounted to nearly one hundred men stationed at the Alamo, slightly more than four hundred men at Goliad under the command of Fannin, and about 60 troops at San Patricio. Santa Anna’s army suffered greatly crossing the northern Mexican desert, despite those loses he arrived in Texas with approximately 1,800 infantry and 21 cannons. On 17 February 1836 General José Urrea with a force 550 cavalry crossed into Texas moved along the Gulf Coast. While General Goano advanced in a sweeping arc north toward Bastrop. Santa Anna reached San Antonio de Bexar on 23 February 1836 and laid siege to the Alamo, which lasted until 6 March when Mexican forces stormed the fortress. All Texans defenders were slain at the cost of an estimated 600 Mexican casualties. In addition to weakening Santa Anna’s force the delay of two weeks allowed the Texas convention that meet on 1 March 1836 to declare independence and organize a provisional government of Texas. The destruction of the Alamo galvanized Texans behind the revolution and increased support of the Texan cause in the United States. Fannin’s command at Goliad, due to his incompetent and indecisive leadership, was caught in the open and after a short fight surrendered and Santa Anna ordered them executed.
The Texas convention remained in session until the 17 March 1836 and succeeded in crafting a constitution for the fledgling Republic of Texas. Before adjourning, the convention chose leaders of an interim government to operate until regular elections could be held. However the future of the Texas Republic rested in the leadership of Sam Houston.
After the massacre at the Alamo Houston retreated as defending a fixed position against the Mexican army meant certain defeat. His strategy in continually falling back was to buy time. Time train his men, and await the proper moment to attack. Initially he hoped to unite with Fannin’s force, when informed of the massacre Houston became depressed. Houston’s continued retreat angered his troops, fellow commanders, and interim president David G. Burnet who demanded Houston fight and not retreat further. Houston response was blunt stating he had had kept his army together under difficult circumstances and “with God would yet save Texas.”
On 16 April 1836 word came that a Mexican force of fewer than one thousand men had crossed the Brazos and were headed toward Harrisburg. The Texas army covered 55 miles in two and half days through rain and mud. The Mexican force lead by Santa Anna reached Harrisburg three days earlier though the Texas government had fled. The Mexican force burned Harrisburg and moved to New Washington in an attempt to capture the government. Shortly after Houston’s force reached Harrisburg they captured three Mexican couriers carrying dispatches relating that Santa Anna was leading the force that passed through Harrisburg. Houston had the opportunity he had long hoped for. He left 250 men who were too sick to travel, and rushed to head off Santa Anna’s army. Forced marching his men through the night of April 19-20, Houston reached Lynch’s Ferry on the San Jacinto River the morning before the Mexican army arrived. The Texan army made camp in the trees lining Buffalo Bayou and placed the “Twin Sisters” (the two and only cannon in the army) clear view. To reach the ferry on the San Jacinto or attack the texas army Santa Anna’s forces would have to cross an open prairie to assault Houston’s men in the tree line supported by two cannon.
Around 2:00pm on 20 April, Mexican scouts observed the cannon and determined the Texans dispositions. A brief artillery duel ensued as Santa Anna brought up one cannon. After an inconclusive action Santa Anna withdrew to the south three quarters of a mile. Several Texans lead by Sidney Sherman demanded an immediate attack to mollify them Houston authorized the mounted riflemen to reconnoiter the field. As was typical Sherman and his Texans ignored their orders and charged Mexican cavalry. Sherman’s force was in danger of being overrun by Mexican Lancers and he called for infantry support, once again without orders one Texas regiment moved forward. However, Sherman’s unit was able to withdrawal thanks to the heroic actions of Mirabeau B. Lamar, a recently arrived Georgia immigrant. Upon his return to the line Houston gave Sherman a severe dressing down and promoted Lamar to Colonel and gave him command of the cavalry. After that brief action both armies settled in for the night.
On the morning of the 21st of April despite the eagerness of his army to attack immediately Houston held back. Around mid-morning General Martín Perfecto de Cos arrived with 550 men bringing Santa Anna’s force to about 1,200 compared to the 900 men in Houston’s army. The protests against Houston’s inaction began again with renewed vigor. He ordered Erastus (deaf) Smith to destroy the bridge to prevent further Mexican reinforcements. General Houston convened a war council with his top officers: Edward Burleson, Sidney Sherman, Henry W. Millard, Alexander Somervell, Joseph L. Bennett, and Lysander Wells. Several officer wanted to attack the Mexican army in its defensive position, the majority however wanted to wait for Santa Anna to attack trusting in the superiority of their defense. The surprise of the Texan attack devastated the Mexican army. Even more advantageous Texans captured Santa Anna forcing him to agree to peace terms recognizes the existence of an independent of Texas.