Lone Star LifeTexas HistoryToday in Texas History: Texans Win Independence at the Battle of San Jacinto

Read Sam Houston's detailed account of the Battle of San Jacinto, where Texas independence was effectively secured after the capture of Santa Anna.
April 21, 2020
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184 years ago, the Texian Army led by General Sam Houston won the decisive battle in the Texas Revolution, securing their independence from Mexico.

Following the tragic losses at the Alamo and Goliad, Gen. Houston — at the location of the present-day city named after him — learned of a strategic opportunity to counter Mexican General Santa Anna’s forces near a crossing of the San Jacinto River.

A few days after the battle, Houston sent a report to the interim president of the Republic of Texas detailing the events that transpired.

The text of his letter, with edited paragraph breaks and punctuation, follows below.

“The Battle of San Jacinto,” painted in 1901 by Henry Arthur McArdle.
Sam Houston

Letter from Sam Houston: Head Quarters of the army, San Jacinto 25th April 1836

The Texan Tumbler

To his Excellency: D.G. Burnett, President of the Republic of Texas

Sir,

I regret extremely that my situation since the Battle of the 21st has been such as to prevent my rendering you my official report of the same previous to this time.

I have the honor to inform you that on the evening of the 18th [of April] after a forced march of fifty five miles, which was effected in two days and a half, the army arrived opposite Harrisburg.

That Evening a courier of the Enemy was taken from whom I learned that Gen. Santa Anna with one Division of his choice troops had marched in the direction of Lynch’s Ferry on the San Jacinto, burning Harrisburg as he passed down.

The Army was ordered to be in readiness to march early on the next morning.

The main body effected a crossing over Buffalo Bayou, below Harrisburg on the morning of the 19th, having left the Baggage, the sick, and a sufficient camp Guard in the rear.

We continued the march throughout the night, making but one halt in the prairie for a short time, and without refreshment.

At daylight we resumed the line of march, and in a short distance our Scouts encountered those of the Enemy, and we received information that Gen. Santa Anna was at New Washington and would that day take up his line of march for Anahuac, crossing at Lynch’s.

The Texian Army halted within half a mile of the Ferry in some timber, and were engaged in slaughtering beeves [cows], when the army of Gen. Santa Anna was discovered to be approaching in battle array, having been encamped at Clopper’s point eight miles below.

Disposition was immediately made of our forces, and preparation for his reception.

He took a position with his Infantry & Artillery in the center occupying an island of timber — his cavalry covering the left flank.

Their artillery then opened upon our Encampment, consisting of one double fortified medium brass twelve pounders.

Replicas of the “Twin Sister” cannons that were used in the battle and had been shipped in to Texas from Ohio.

The Infantry in columns advanced with the design of charging [our lines] but were repulsed by a discharge of grape and cannister from our artillery, consisting of two six pounders.

The Enemy had occupied a piece of timber within rifle shot of the left wing of our Army, from which an occassional interchange of small arms took place between the troops, until the Enemy withdrew to a position on the bank of the San Jacinto, about three quarters of a mile from our Encampment and commenced a fortification.

A short time before sunset our mounted men, about Eighty-five in number, under the special command of Col. Sherman, marched out for the purpose of reconoitering the Enemy.

Whilst advancing they received a volley from the left of the Enemy’s Infantry, and after a sharp rencountre with their cavalry, in which ours acted extremely well and performed some feats of daring chivalry, they retired in good order having had two men severely wounded, and several horses killed.

In the meantime, the Infantry under the command of Lieut. Col. Millard and Col. Burleson’s regiment, with the Artillery, had marched out for the purpose of covering the retreat of the Cavalry, if necessary.

All then fell back in good order to our Encampment about sunset, and remained without any ostensible action until the 21st at ½ past 3 o’clock, taking the first refreshment which they had enjoyed for two days.

Map of the Battleground at San Jacinto from Henderson K. Yoakum’s History of Texas. New York: Redfield, 1856.

The Enemy in the meantime, having extended the right flank of their Infantry so as to occupy the extreme points of a skirt of timber on the bank of the San Jacinto and secured their left by a fortification about 5 feet high, constructed of packs and Baggage, leaving an opening in the centre of the Breastwork in which their Artillery was placed.

Their Cavalry upon their left wing About 9 o’clock on the morning of the 21st the Enemy were reinforced by 500 choice troops under the command of Gen. Cos, increasing their effective force to upwards of 1500 men, while our aggregate force for the field numbered 783.

At ½ past 3 o’clock in the Evening, I ordered the officers of the Texian Army to parade their respective commands, having in the meantime ordered the Bridge on the only road communicating with the Brazos, distant 8 miles from our Encampment, to be destroyed, thus cutting off all possibility of escape.

[Our] troops paraded with alacrity and spirit, and were anxious for the contest. Their conscious disparity in numbers only seemed to increase their confidence, and heightened their anxiety for the conflict.

Our situation afforded us an opportunity of making the arrangements preparatory to the attack without exposing our designs to the Enemy.

The first Regiment commanded by Col. Burleson, was assigned the center. The second Regiment under the command of Col. Sherman, formed the left wing of the army. The artillery under the special command of Col. Geo. W. Hockley Inspector Gen’l was placed on the right of the first Regiment; and four companies of Infantry under the command of Lieut. Col. Henry Millard, sustained the artillery upon the right.

Our Cavalry, sixty one in number, commanded by Col. Mirabeau B. Lamar (whose gallant and daring conduct on the previous day had attracted the admiration of his comrades, and called [him to] that station) placed on our extreme right completed our line.

Our Cavalry was first dispatched to the front of the Enemy’s left, for the purpose of attracting their notice, whilst our extensive island of timber afforded us an opportunity of concentrating our forces and displaying from that point, agreeable to the previous design of the troops.

Every Evolution was performed with alacrity, the whole advancing rapidly in line, and through an open prairie, without any protection whatever for our men.

Reenactment of the Battle of San Jacinto. Photo from Texas State Parks.

The Artillery advanced and took station within two hundred yards of the Enemy’s Breastwork and commenced an effective fire with grape and cannister.

Col. Sherman, with his regiment having commenced the action upon our left wing, the whole line at the center and on the right, advancing in double quick time, sung the war cry “Remember the Alamo,” received the Enemy’s fire, and advanced within point blank shot before a piece was discharged from our lines.

Our line advanced without a halt, until they were in possession of the woodland and the Enemy’s breastwork.

The right wing of Burleson’s and the left of Millard’s taking possession of the breastwork, our artillery having gallantly charged up within 70 yards of the Enemy’s cannon, where it was taken by our troops.

The conflict lasted about 18 minutes from the time of close action, until we were in possession of the Enemy’s [encampment] taking [one] piece of cannon (loaded), 4 Stand of colors, all their camp equipage, stores, and Baggage.

Our cavalry had charged and routed that of the Enemy upon the right and given pursuit to the fugitives, which did not cease until they arrived at the bridge which I have mentioned before — Capt. Karnes, always among the foremost in danger, commanding the pursuers.

The conflict in the breastwork lasted but a few moments. Many of the troops encountered hand to hand, and not having the advantage of bayonets on our side, our riflemen used their pieces as war clubs, breaking many of them off at the breech.

The route commenced at ½ past 4, and the pursuit by the main army continued until twilight.

A guard was then left in charge of the Enemy’s Encampment, and our army returned with our killed and wounded.

In the Battle our loss was two killed and twenty three wounded, six of whom mortally.

The Enemy’s loss was 630 killed, among which was one General Officer, 4 Cols., 2 Lieut. Cols., 5 Captains, 12 Lieuts.

Wounded: 208 — of which were 5 Cols., 3 Lieut. cols., 2 Second Lieut. Cols., 7 Captains, 1 Cadet.

Santa Anna

Prisoners: 730 — President General Santa Anna, Gen. Cos, 4 Col. aids to Gen. Santa Anna, 6 Lieut. cols. the private Secretary of Gen. Santa Anna, and the Col. of the Guerrero batallion are included in the number.

Gen. Santa Anna was not taken until the 22nd, and Gen. Cos on yesterday.

Very few escaped. About 600 muskets, 300 Sabres, and 200 pistols have been collected since the action. Several hundred mules and Horses were taken, and near twelve thousand dollars in specie.

For several days previous to the action our troops were engaged in forced marching exposed to excessive rains, and the additional inconvenience of extremely bad roads, illy supplied with rations and clothing, yet amid every difficulty they bore up with cheerfulness and fortitude, and performed their marches with spirit and alacrity — there was no murmuring.

Previous to and during the action, my Staff evinced every disposition to be useful, and were actively engaged in their duties.

The San Jacinto Monument

In the action I am assured that they demeaned themselves in such manner as proved them worthy members of the army of San Jacinto.

Col. T. J. Rusk Secretary of war was on the field. For weeks, his services had been highly beneficial to the army. In battle, he was in the left wing where Col. Sherman’s command first encountered and drove the Enemy; he bore himself gallantly, and continued his efforts and activity, remaining with the pursuers, until resistance ceased.

I have the honor of transmitting herewith a list of all the officers and men who were engaged in the action, which I respectfully request may be published as an act of justice to the individuals.

For the Commanding Generals to attempt discrimination as to the conduct of those who commanded in the action, or those who were commanded would be impossible.

Our success in the action is conclusive proof of their daring intrepidity and valor; every officer and man proved himself worthy of the cause in which he battled, while the triumph received a luster from the humanity which characterized their conduct after victory and richly entitles them to the admiration and gratitude of their General.

Nor should we withhold the tribute of our grateful thanks from that Being who rules the destinies of nations and has in the time of [greatest] need enabled us to arrest a powerful invader whilst devastating our Country.

“Surrender of Santa Anna” painted by William Henry Huddle in 1886 and placed on display in the Texas State Capitol.

Digital records of the original document can be found through the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.