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The Portal to Texas History

Primary Source Adventures

The Battle of San Jacinto

Various learning activities are available to help teachers bring history to life. This Primary Source Adventure (PSA) details the pivotal point of the Texas Revolution: The Battle of San Jacinto. Without this victory, the Texas Revolution would have failed. The primary sources used in this PSA will give the learner an understanding of this pivotal battle.  Further, it gives a brief glimpse of two men who served in Houston’s army.

    To explore this battle, excerpts are taken from Jesse A. Ziegler’s When Texas Was Young; David, Woodman Jr.’s Guide to Texas Emigrants; a land grant; maps of the San Jacinto battle-ground; and letters, including one from Santa Anna ordering the retreat of the Mexican Army. The slide show comes to life with sound effects and audio clips of highlighted documents!

    Worksheet questions stem from a variety of learning styles so that each student has the opportunity to shine. Students will find themselves drawing a map, working on a math problem, and answering questions by following the Slide Show. Extra credit sheets are provided for teachers to utilize, encouraging analysis and information hunts. Teachers may also modify and easily incorporate these worksheets into their predesigned lesson plans.

    These learning activities are designed to help teachers provide engaging activities for a mixed-level classroom. These worksheets highlight unique primary sources and are perfect for inclusion, extra credit, or gifted and talented students.

    Working together helps students brainstorm, explore, and learn important social skills. These activities present an outstanding way for students to enhance their learning experience. Compare & Contrast asks students to evaluate excerpts from primary sources and identify the similarities and differences between two private accounts of the Battle of San Jacinto.

    Students are always willing to work on something a little different. Vocabulary games, word jumbles, and a crossword puzzle each help students build their knowledge of terms and fun facts about this critical battle in Texas history.

    The web links provided will help each instructor prepare, research, and present interesting reputable sites during lectures. There are sites listed to help learners make connections between the past and the present by taking a look into contemporary immigration through multimedia experiences and Tejano musical influences.

The Battle of San Jacinto

by Vale Fitzpatrick

Texans saw Santa Anna as a tyrannical aggressor; their view was confirmed when he brutally suppressed the state of Zacatecas.  General Cos and force was sent to Texas to arrest Travis, Williams, Zavala, and other “troublemakers,” and he quickly occupied San Antonio.  Hostilities began in early October 1835, at Gonzales when Texans refused to hand over their cannon. Texans secured early victories at Gonzales, Goliad, and San Antonio.  Early success made Texans overconfident, with the newly established provisional government paralyzed by internal quarreling reorganized 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. 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.

At the beginning of February 1836, Texan military forces amounted to nearly one hundred men stationed at the Alamo, slightly over four hundred men under the command of Fannin at Goliad and about 60 troops at San Patricio.  Santa Anna’s army suffered greatly crossing the northern Mexican desert, however he arrived in Texas with around 1,800 infantry and 21 cannons. On February 17, 1836, General José Urrea crossed into Texas with a force of 550 cavalry moving along the Gulf Coast, while General Goano moved in a sweeping arc north toward Bastrop. Santa Anna reached Bexar on February 23, 1836, and the siege lasted until March 6th when Mexican forces stormed the fortress. All defenders were slain at the cost of around 600 Mexican casualties.  In addition to weakening Santa Anna’s force the delay of two weeks allowed the Convention that met on March 1, 1836, to declare independence and organize a provisional government of Texas. Finally 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 incompetent leadership, was caught in the open and after a short fight they surrendered and Santa Anna ordered them executed.

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The Texas convention remained in session until  March 17, 1836, and wrote a constitution for the 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 hands of Sam Houston.

After the massacre at the Alamo, Houston began to retreat as defending a fixed position against the Mexican army meant certain defeat.  His strategy in falling back was to buy time, train his men, and await the proper time to attack.  Initially he hoped to unite with Fannin’s force, and 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’s response was blunt, stating he had had kept his army together under difficult circumstances and with God would yet save Texas.  

On April 16, 1836, word came that a Mexican force of fewer than one thousand men crossed the Brazos and were headed toward Harrisburg. The Texas army covered 55 miles in two and half days through the rain.  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 who carried dispatches detailing that Santa Anna was leading the force that passed through Harrisburg.  Houston seized 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.  Force marching his men through the night of April 19-20th, 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 only two cannons in the army) in clear view. To reach the ferry on the San Jacinto or attack, Santa Anna’s army would have to cross an open prairie to assault Houston’s men.

At 2:00 pm on April 20th, 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 was in danger of being overrun by Mexican Lancers and called for infantry support, and once again without order, one regiment began to move 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 command of the cavalry.  After that brief action both armies settled in for the night.

On the morning of April 21st, 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.  Houston ordered Erastus “Deaf” Smith to destroy the bridge to prevent further Mexican reinforcements.  General Houston called a war council with his top officers:  Edward Burleson, Sidney Sherman, Henry W. Millard, Alexander Somervell, Joseph L. Bennett, and Lysander Wells. Several officers wanted to attack the Mexican army in its defensive position, but the majority wanted to wait for Santa Anna to attack.  After the council Houston formed up his men.  Sidney Sherman commanded the left flank Edward Burleson the center and Henry Millard the right flank, with the “Twin Sisters” placed just right of Burleson’s unit.

At 3:30 pm the Texans began to advance while the artillery was moved to within 200 yards of the Mexican line. The Texans were ordered to advance with as little noise as possible, and ordered to hold fire until point blank range.   The Mexican army was caught off-guard as they had spent the night erecting breastworks and were exhausted. Most Mexican soldiers and commanders were asleep or resting with stacked arms when the Texans attacked. What  fire the Mexican troops were able to deliver was inaccurate and often went over the Texans heads. At twenty yards the Texans gave one concentrated volley and charged with battle cries of “Remember the Alamo and Remember Goliad.”  In brutal hand to hand combat the Texans decimated the Mexican army with rifle butt, bayonet, and knife.  In eighteen minutes the battle was over, and 630 Mexicans had been killed and 730 captured.  Only nine Texans were killed and thirty were wounded. Houston was one of the wounded, and a rifle ball had shattered his ankle. The Texans captured a vast quantity of munitions, provisions, and $12,000 in Mexican silver. However, initially Santa Anna was not among those captured, and if he escaped he would return at the head of another army and could still defeat the rebellion. On April 22nd, a search party captured Santa Anna dressed as a common solider, and the Texans did not recognize him until other prisoners called him El Presdidente.  He was brought before Houston, who refused the demands of some Texans to execute Santa Anna, as Houston knew a live Santa Anna was of considerable value. 

Houston forced Santa Anna to sign an armistice and to order the retreat of the remaining Mexican armies. While the battle of San Jacinto was a significant victory it did not guarantee the safety of the Texas Republic, but it did guarantee the nascent republic would exist to face tomorrow.