Texas Independence Day (Día de la Independencia de Texas) celebrates the adoption of the Texas Declaration of Independence at Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 2, 1836. With this document signed by 59 people, settlers in Mexican Texas officially declared independence from Mexico and created the Republic of Texas (República de Tejas). It is an annual legal holiday in Texas. March 2 also marks Texas Flag Day and Sam Houston Day, although these are special observances rather than legal holidays. Texas Independence Day celebrations are held in many cities and towns throughout the state. The day is celebrated by festivals that include children’s activities, re-enactments, band music, and chili cook-offs. Other activities include story-telling sessions about how Texas won its independence from Mexico and became a republic during the nineteenth century. Some state government workers may choose to have a day off on Texas Independence Day as it is a partial staffing day. Many schools have classroom lessons and activities about the Texas Declaration of Independence during this time of the year.
I was born at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas, and am very proud of my heritage and the history of the region. Previous A Stamp A Day articles about Texas discussed:
- Sam Houston’s inauguration as the first Constitutional President of the Republic of Texas on October 22, 1836, portrayed by U.S. Scott #776 issued for the centenary of Texas independence on March 2, 1936;
- the establishment of a U.S. Army post on November 7, 1848, Fort Bliss headquartered at El Paso, Texas, illustrated with U.S. Scott #976 issued on the centenary of that event, November 7, 1948;
- the creation of the Post Office Department of the Republic of Texas on December 20, 1836, accompanied by a fantasy stamp produced by Philosateleian Post in 2015;
- and admission of Texas into the United States of America as the 28th state on December 29, 1845. with its attendant stamp being U.S. Scott #938 commemorating the centennial of Texas statehood on December 29, 1945.
The Texas Declaration of Independence was produced, literally, overnight. Its urgency was paramount, because while it was being prepared, the Alamo in San Antonio was under seige by Santa Anna’s army of Mexico. Since the start of the Texas Revolution in October 1835, many settlers in Mexican Texas had struggled with understanding what was the ultimate goal of the Revolution. Some believed that the goal should be total independence from Mexico, while others sought the reimplementation of the Mexican Constitution of 1824 (which offered greater freedoms than the centralist government declared in Mexico the prior year). To settle the issue, a convention was called for March 1836.
This convention differed from the previous Texas councils of 1832, 1833, and the 1835 Consultation. Many of the delegates to the 1836 convention were young men who had only recently arrived in Texas from the United States, in violation of the immigration ban of April, 1830, although many of them had participated in one of the battles in 1835. The only two known native Texans to sign are Francisco Antonio Ruiz and Jose Antonio Navarro. Most of the delegates were members of the War Party and were adamant that Texas must declare its independence from Mexico. Forty-one delegates arrived in Washington-on-the-Brazos on February 28.
Immediately upon the assemblage of the Convention of 1836 on March 1 with Richard Ellis as president, a committee of five of its delegates were appointed to draft a declaration of independence. The committee was led by George Childress and also included Edward Conrad, James Gaines, Bailey Hardeman, and Collin McKinney. The document was prepared in record time and the committee submitted its draft within a mere 24 hours, leading historians to speculate that Childress had written much of it before his arrival at the Convention.
The declaration was briefly reviewed, then adopted by the delegates of the convention the following day — March 2, 1836 — with no debate. Based primarily on the writings of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson, the declaration proclaimed that the Mexican government “ceased to protect the lives, liberty, and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived” and complained about “arbitrary acts of oppression and tyranny”. Throughout the declaration are numerous references to the United States laws, rights, and customs. Omitted from the declaration was the fact that the author and many of the signatories were occupying Texas illegally, and therefore had no legal rights in the government of Mexico. The declaration makes clear that the men were accustomed to the laws and privileges of the United States, and were unfamiliar with the language, religion, and traditions of the nation that they were rebelling against.
The declaration officially established the Republic of Texas.
Among others, the declaration mentions the following reasons for the separation:
- The 1824 Constitution of Mexico establishing a federal republic had been usurped and changed into a centralist military dictatorship by Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna.
- The Mexican government had invited settlers to Texas and promised them constitutional liberty and republican government, but then reneged on these guarantees.
- Texas was in union with the Mexican state of Coahuila as Coahuila y Tejas, with the capital in distant Saltillo, and thus the affairs of Texas were decided at a great distance from the province and in the Spanish language, which the immigrants called “an unknown tongue”.
- Political rights to which the settlers had previously been accustomed in the United States, such as the right to keep and bear arms and the right to trial by jury, were denied.
- No system of public education had been established.
- Attempts by the Mexican government to enforce import tariffs were called “piratical attacks” by “foreign desperadoes”.
- The settlers were not allowed freedom of religion. All legal settlers were required to convert to Catholicism.
Based upon the United States Declaration of Independence, the Texas Declaration also contains many memorable expressions of American political principles:
- “the right of trial by jury, that palladium of civil liberty, and only safe guarantee for the life, liberty, and property of the citizen.”
- “our arms … are essential to our defence, the rightful property of freemen, and formidable only to tyrannical governments.”
Sixty men signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Three of them were born in Mexico. Fifty-seven of the sixty moved to Texas from the United States. Ten of them had lived in Texas for more than six years, while one-quarter of them had been in the province for less than a year. This is significant, because it indicates that the majority of signatories had moved to Texas after the Law of April 6, 1830, banning immigration, had taken effect, meaning that the majority were legally citizens of the United States, occupying Texas illegally. Fifty-nine of these men were delegates to the Convention, and one was the Convention Secretary, Herbert S. Kimble, who was not a delegate.
The full text of the Texas Declaration of Independence follows:
Declaration of Independence
made by the
Delegates of the People of Texas
in General Convention
at the town of Washington
on the 2nd day of March 1836.
When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression.
When the Federal Republican Constitution of their country, which they have sworn to support, no longer has a substantial existence, and the whole nature of their government has been forcibly changed, without their consent, from a restricted federative republic, composed of sovereign states, to a consolidated central military despotism, in which every interest is disregarded but that of the army and the priesthood, both the eternal enemies of civil liberty, the everready minions of power, and the usual instruments of tyrants.
When, long after the spirit of the constitution has departed, moderation is at length so far lost by those in power, that even the semblance of freedom is removed, and the forms themselves of the constitution discontinued, and so far from their petitions and remonstrances being regarded, the agents who bear them are thrown into dungeons, and mercenary armies sent forth to force a new government upon them at the point of the bayonet.
When, in consequence of such acts of malfeasance and abdication on the part of the government, anarchy prevails, and civil society is dissolved into its original elements. In such a crisis, the first law of nature, the right of self-preservation, the inherent and inalienable rights of the people to appeal to first principles, and take their political affairs into their own hands in extreme cases, enjoins it as a right towards themselves, and a sacred obligation to their posterity, to abolish such government, and create another in its stead, calculated to rescue them from impending dangers, and to secure their future welfare and happiness.
Nations, as well as individuals, are amenable for their acts to the public opinion of mankind. A statement of a part of our grievances is therefore submitted to an impartial world, in justification of the hazardous but unavoidable step now taken, of severing our political connection with the Mexican people, and assuming an independent attitude among the nations of the earth.
The Mexican government, by its colonization laws, invited and induced the Anglo-American population of Texas to colonize its wilderness under the pledged faith of a written constitution, that they should continue to enjoy that constitutional liberty and republican government to which they had been habituated in the land of their birth, the United States of America.
In this expectation they have been cruelly disappointed, inasmuch as the Mexican nation has acquiesced in the late changes made in the government by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who having overturned the constitution of his country, now offers us the cruel alternative, either to abandon our homes, acquired by so many privations, or submit to the most intolerable of all tyranny, the combined despotism of the sword and the priesthood.
It has sacrificed our welfare to the state of Coahuila, by which our interests have been continually depressed through a jealous and partial course of legislation, carried on at a far distant seat of government, by a hostile majority, in an unknown tongue, and this too, notwithstanding we have petitioned in the humblest terms for the establishment of a separate state government, and have, in accordance with the provisions of the national constitution, presented to the general Congress a republican constitution, which was, without just cause, contemptuously rejected.
It incarcerated in a dungeon, for a long time, one of our citizens, for no other cause but a zealous endeavor to procure the acceptance of our constitution, and the establishment of a state government.
It has failed and refused to secure, on a firm basis, the right of trial by jury, that palladium of civil liberty, and only safe guarantee for the life, liberty, and property of the citizen.
It has failed to establish any public system of education, although possessed of almost boundless resources, (the public domain,) and although it is an axiom in political science, that unless a people are educated and enlightened, it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty, or the capacity for self government.
It has suffered the military commandants, stationed among us, to exercise arbitrary acts of oppression and tyrrany, thus trampling upon the most sacred rights of the citizens, and rendering the military superior to the civil power.
It has dissolved, by force of arms, the state Congress of Coahuila and Texas, and obliged our representatives to fly for their lives from the seat of government, thus depriving us of the fundamental political right of representation.
It has demanded the surrender of a number of our citizens, and ordered military detachments to seize and carry them into the Interior for trial, in contempt of the civil authorities, and in defiance of the laws and the constitution.
It has made piratical attacks upon our commerce, by commissioning foreign desperadoes, and authorizing them to seize our vessels, and convey the property of our citizens to far distant ports for confiscation.
It denies us the right of worshipping the Almighty according to the dictates of our own conscience, by the support of a national religion, calculated to promote the temporal interest of its human functionaries, rather than the glory of the true and living God.
It has demanded us to deliver up our arms, which are essential to our defence, the rightful property of freemen, and formidable only to tyrannical governments.
It has invaded our country both by sea and by land, with intent to lay waste our territory, and drive us from our homes; and has now a large mercenary army advancing, to carry on against us a war of extermination.
It has, through its emissaries, incited the merciless savage, with the tomahawk and scalping knife, to massacre the inhabitants of our defenseless frontiers.
It hath been, during the whole time of our connection with it, the contemptible sport and victim of successive military revolutions, and hath continually exhibited every characteristic of a weak, corrupt, and tyrranical government.
These, and other grievances, were patiently borne by the people of Texas, untill they reached that point at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue. We then took up arms in defence of the national constitution. We appealed to our Mexican brethren for assistance. Our appeal has been made in vain. Though months have elapsed, no sympathetic response has yet been heard from the Interior. We are, therefore, forced to the melancholy conclusion, that the Mexican people have acquiesced in the destruction of their liberty, and the substitution therfor of a military government; that they are unfit to be free, and incapable of self government.
The necessity of self-preservation, therefore, now decrees our eternal political separation.
We, therefore, the delegates with plenary powers of the people of Texas, in solemn convention assembled, appealing to a candid world for the necessities of our condition, do hereby resolve and declare, that our political connection with the Mexican nation has forever ended, and that the people of Texas do now constitute a free, Sovereign, and independent republic, and are fully invested with all the rights and attributes which properly belong to independent nations; and, conscious of the rectitude of our intentions, we fearlessly and confidently commit the issue to the decision of the Supreme arbiter of the destinies of nations.
Signers of the Texas Decl. of Ind.
Richard Ellis, President
of the Convention and Delegate
from Red River.
Charles B. Stewart
John S. D. Byrom
J. Antonio Navarro
Jesse B. Badgett
Wm D. Lacy
Lorenzo de Zavala
Stephen H. Everett
George W. Smyth
Wm. B. Scates
M. B. Menard
A. B. Hardin
J. W. Burton
Thos. J. Gazley
R. M. Coleman
Sterling C. Robertson
Geo. C. Childress
Thomas Jefferson Rusk
Chas. S. Taylor
John S. Roberts
Albert H. Latimer
Edwin O. Legrand
Stephen W. Blount
Wm. Clark, Jr.
Sydney O. Pennington
Wm. Carrol Crawford
Benj. Briggs Goodrich
G. W. Barnett
James G. Swisher
S. Rhoads Fisher
John W. Moore
John W. Bower
Saml. A. Maverick (from Bejar)
Sam P. Carson
J. B. Woods
H. S. Kimble, Secretary
Scott #2204 was released both in San Antonio and at Washington-on-the-Brazos Texas State Historical Park, Texas, on March 2, 1986, to commemorate the sesquicentennial (150 years) of Texas Independence. The San Antonio dedication ceremony was held outside the U.S. Postal Service’s downtown station, the city’s original main post office. It is just north of the Alamo, the mission-fortress which is the symbol of Texas’ historic struggle for freedom in 1836. Washington-on-the-Brazos is the site of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence. The 22-cent stamp was printed using the photogravure process by the American Bank Note Co. and issued in panes of fifty, perforated 11.
Designed by Don Adair of Richardson, Texas, it portrays the central portion of the Texas state flag (which was also the flag of the Republic of Texas from January 1839 until statehood). The white Lone Star on a blue field is at top left, which the flag’s broad red and white bands angled downward to the right. In silver, near the center of the stamp, is a spur believed to have belonged to defeated Mexican General Santa Anna. It was given to Sam Houston, Texas’ victorious commander and first president of the Republic. “USA 22” is printed in one line of white type at the top right of the vertically oriented stamp, and the wording “San Jacinto 1836” is printed in a single line of white type across the bottom, referring to the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution, fought on April 21, 1836, in present-day Harris County, Texas.
Led by General Sam Houston, the Texian Army engaged and defeated General Antonio López de Santa Anna’s Mexican army in a fight that lasted just 18 minutes. Santa Anna, the President of Mexico, was captured and surrendered the following day and held as a prisoner of war. Three weeks later, he signed the peace treaty that dictated that the Mexican army leave the region, paving the way for the Republic of Texas to become an independent country. These treaties did not specifically recognize Texas as a sovereign nation, but stipulated that Santa Anna was to lobby for such recognition in Mexico City. Sam Houston became a national celebrity, and the Texans’ rallying cries from events of the war, “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!,” became etched into Texan history and legend.
General Antonio López de Santa Anna was a proponent of governmental federalism when he helped oust Mexican president Anastasio Bustamante in December 1832. Upon his election as president in April 1833, Santa Anna switched his political ideology and began implementing centralist policies that increased the authoritarian powers of his office. His abrogation of the Constitution of 1824, correlating with his abolishing local-level authority over Mexico’s state of Coahuila y Tejas (Coahuila and Texas), became a flashpoint in the growing tensions between the central government and its Tejano and Anglo citizens in Texas. While in Mexico City awaiting a meeting with Santa Anna, Texian empresario Stephen F. Austin wrote to the Béxar ayuntamiento (city council) urging a break-away state. In response, the Mexican government kept him imprisoned for most of 1834.
Colonel Juan Almonte was appointed Director of Colonization in Texas, ostensibly to ease relations with the colonists and mitigate their anxieties about Austin’s imprisonment. He delivered promises of self-governance, and conveyed regrets that the Mexican congress deemed it constitutionally impossible for Texas to be a separate state. Behind the rhetoric, his covert mission was to identify the local power brokers, obstruct any plans for rebellion, and supply the Mexican government with data that would be of use in a military conflict. For nine months in 1834, under the guise of serving as a government liaison, Almonte traveled through Texas and compiled an all-encompassing intelligence report on the population and its environs, including an assessment of their resources and defense capabilities.
In consolidating his power base, Santa Anna installed General Martín Perfecto de Cos as the governing military authority over Texas in 1835. Cos established headquarters in San Antonio on October 9, triggering what became known as the Siege of Béxar. After two months of trying to repel the Texian forces, Cos raised a white flag on December 9, and signed surrender terms two days later. The surrender of Cos effectively removed the occupying Mexican army from Texas. Many believed the war was over, and volunteers began returning home.
In compliance with orders from Santa Anna, Mexico’s Minister of War José María Tornel issued his December 30 “Circular No. 5”, often referred to as the Tornel Decree, aimed at dealing with United States intervention in the uprising in Texas. It declared that foreigners who entered Mexico for the purpose of joining the rebellion were to be treated as “pirates”, to be put to death if captured. In adding “since they are not subjects of any nation at war with the republic nor do they militate under any recognized flag,” Tornel avoided declaring war on the United States.
The Mexican Army of Operations numbered 6,019 soldiers and was spread out over 300 miles (480 km) on its march to Béxar. General Joaquín Ramírez y Sesma was put in command of the Vanguard of the Advance that crossed into Texas. Santa Anna and his aide-de-camp Almonte forded the Rio Grande at Guerrero, Coahuila on February 16, 1836, with General José de Urrea and 500 more troops following the next day at Matamoros. Béxar was captured on February 23 and when the assault commenced, attempts at negotiation for surrender were initiated from inside the fortress. Travis sent Albert Martin to request a meeting with Almonte, who replied that he did not have the authority to speak for Santa Anna. Bowie dispatched Green B. Jameson with a letter, translated into Spanish by Juan Seguín, requesting a meeting with Santa Anna, who immediately refused. Santa Anna did, however, extend an offer of amnesty to Tejanos inside the fortress. Alamo non-combatant survivor Enrique Esparza said that most Tejanos left when Bowie advised them to take the offer.
Cos, in violation of his surrender terms, forded into Texas at Guerrero on February 26 to join with the main army at Béxar. Urrea proceeded to secure the Gulf Coast, and was victorious in two skirmishes with Texian detachments serving under Fannin at Goliad. On February 27 a foraging detachment under Frank W. Johnson at San Patricio was attacked by Urrea. Sixteen were killed, and 21 taken prisoner, but Johnson and four others escaped. Urrea sent a company to Agua Dulce searching for James Grant and Plácido Benavides who were leading a company of Anglos and Tejanos towards an invasion of Matamoros. The Mexicans set a trap, killing Grant and most of the company. Benavides and four others escaped, and six were taken prisoner.
The Convention of 1836 met at Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 1. The following day, Sam Houston’s 42nd birthday, the 59 delegates signed the Texas Declaration of Independence, and chose an ad interim government. When news of the declaration reached Goliad, Benavides informed Fannin that in spite of his opposition to Santa Anna, he was still loyal to Mexico and did not wish to help Texas break away. Fannin discharged him from his duties and sent him home. On March 4, Houston’s military authority was expanded to include “the land forces of the Texian army both Regular, Volunteer, and Militia.”
At 5 a.m. on March 6, the Mexican troops launched their final assault on the Alamo. The guns fell silent 90 minutes later; the Alamo had fallen. Survivors Susannah Dickinson, her daughter Angelina, Travis’ slave Joe, and Almonte’s cook Ben were spared by Santa Anna and sent to Gonzales, where Texian volunteers had been assembling.
The same day that Mexican troops departed Béxar, Houston arrived in Gonzales and informed the 374 volunteers (some without weapons) gathered there that Texas was now an independent republic. Just after 11 p.m. on March 13, Susanna Dickinson and Joe brought news that the Alamo garrison had been defeated and the Mexican army was marching towards Texian settlements. A hastily convened council of war voted to evacuate the area and retreat. The evacuation commenced at midnight and happened so quickly that many Texian scouts were unaware the army had moved on. Everything that could not be carried was burned, and the army’s only two cannons were thrown into the Guadalupe River. When Ramírez y Sesma reached Gonzales the morning of March 14, he found the buildings still smoldering.
Most citizens fled on foot, many carrying their small children. A cavalry company led by Seguín and Salvador Flores were assigned as rear guard to evacuate the more isolated ranches and protect the civilians from attacks by Mexican troops or Indians. The further the army retreated, the more civilians joined the flight. For both armies and the civilians, the pace was slow; torrential rains had flooded the rivers and turned the roads into mud pits.
As news of the Alamo’s fall spread, volunteer ranks swelled, reaching about 1,400 men on March 19. Houston learned of Fannin’s defeat on March 20 and realized his army was the last hope for an independent Texas. Concerned that his ill-trained and ill-disciplined force would only be good for one battle and aware that his men could easily be outflanked by Urrea’s forces, Houston continued to avoid engagement, to the immense displeasure of his troops. By March 28, the Texian army had retreated 120 miles (190 km) across the Navidad and Colorado Rivers. Many troops deserted; those who remained grumbled that their commander was a coward.
On March 31, Houston paused his men at Groce’s Landing, roughly 15 miles (24 km) north of San Felipe. Two companies that refused to retreat further than San Felipe were assigned to guard the crossings on the Brazos River. For the next two weeks, the Texians rested, recovered from illness, and, for the first time, began practicing military drills. While there, two cannons, known as the Twin Sisters, arrived from Cincinnati, Ohio. Interim Secretary of War Thomas Rusk joined the camp, with orders from President David G. Burnet to replace Houston if he refused to fight. Houston quickly persuaded Rusk that his plans were sound. Secretary of State Samuel P. Carson advised Houston to continue retreating all the way to the Sabine River, where more volunteers would likely flock from the United States and allow the army to counterattack. Unhappy with everyone involved, Burnet wrote to Houston: “The enemy are laughing you to scorn. You must fight them. You must retreat no further. The country expects you to fight. The salvation of the country depends on your doing so.” Complaints within the camp became so strong that Houston posted notices that anyone attempting to usurp his position would be court-martialed and shot.
Santa Anna and a smaller force had remained in Béxar. After receiving word that the acting president, Miguel Barragán, had died, Santa Anna seriously considered returning to Mexico City to solidify his position. Fear that Urrea’s victories would position him as a political rival convinced Santa Anna to remain in Texas to personally oversee the final phase of the campaign. He left on March 29 to join Ramírez y Sesma, leaving only a small force to hold Béxar. At dawn on April 7, their combined force marched into San Felipe and captured a Texian soldier, who informed Santa Anna that the Texians planned to retreat further if the Mexican army crossed the Brazos River. Unable to cross the Brazos due to the small company of Texians barricaded at the river crossing, on April 14 a frustrated Santa Anna led a force of about 700 troops to capture the interim Texas government. Government officials fled mere hours before Mexican troops arrived in Harrisburgh (now Harrisburg, Houston) and Santa Anna sent Colonel Juan Almonte with 50 cavalry to intercept them in New Washington. Almonte arrived just as Burnet shoved off in a rowboat, bound for Galveston Island. Although the boat was still within range of their weapons, Almonte ordered his men to hold their fire so as not to endanger Burnet’s family.
At this point, Santa Anna believed the rebellion was in its final death throes. The Texian government had been forced off the mainland, with no way to communicate with its army, which had shown no interest in fighting. He determined to block the Texian army’s retreat and put a decisive end to the war. Almonte’s scouts incorrectly reported that Houston’s army was going to Lynchburg Crossing, on Buffalo Bayou, in preparation for joining the government in Galveston, so Santa Anna ordered Harrisburg burned and pressed on towards Lynchburg.
The Texian army had resumed their march eastward. On April 16, they came to a crossroads; one road led north towards Nacogdoches, the other went to Harrisburg. Without orders from Houston and with no discussion amongst themselves, the troops in the lead took the road to Harrisburg. They arrived on April 18, not long after the Mexican army’s departure. That same day, Deaf Smith and Henry Karnes captured a Mexican courier carrying intelligence on the locations and future plans of all of the Mexican troops in Texas. Realizing that Santa Anna had only a small force and was not far away, Houston gave a rousing speech to his men, exhorting them to “Remember the Alamo” and “Remember Goliad”. His army then raced towards Lynchburg. Out of concern that his men might not differentiate between Mexican soldiers and the Tejanos in Seguín’s company, Houston originally ordered Seguín and his men to remain in Harrisburg to guard those who were too ill to travel quickly. After loud protests from Seguín and Antonio Menchaca, the order was rescinded, provided the Tejanos wear a piece of cardboard in their hats to identify them as Texian soldiers.
The area along Buffalo Bayou had many thick oak groves, separated by marshes. This type of terrain was familiar to the Texians and quite alien to the Mexican soldiers. Houston’s army, comprising 900 men, reached Lynch’s Ferry mid-morning on April 20; Santa Anna’s 700-man force arrived a few hours later. The Texians made camp in a wooded area along the bank of Buffalo Bayou; while the location provided good cover and helped hide their full strength, it also left the Texians no room for retreat. Over the protests of several of his officers, Santa Anna chose to make camp in a vulnerable location, a plain near the San Jacinto River, bordered by woods on one side, marsh and lake on another. The two camps were approximately 500 yards (460 meters) apart, separated by a grassy area with a slight rise in the middle. Colonel Pedro Delgado later wrote that “the camping ground of His Excellency’s selection was in all respects, against military rules. Any youngster would have done better.”
Over the next several hours, two brief skirmishes occurred. Texians won the first, forcing a small group of dragoons and the Mexican artillery to withdraw. Mexican dragoons then forced the Texian cavalry to withdraw. In the melee, Rusk, on foot to reload his rifle, was almost captured by Mexican soldiers, but was rescued by newly arrived Texian volunteer Mirabeau B. Lamar. Over Houston’s objections, many infantrymen rushed onto the field. As the Texian cavalry fell back, Lamar remained behind to rescue another Texian who had been thrown from his horse; Mexican officers “reportedly applauded” his bravery. Houston was irate that the infantry had disobeyed his orders and given Santa Anna a better estimate of their strength; the men were equally upset that Houston had not allowed a full battle.
Throughout the night, Mexican troops worked to fortify their camp, creating breastworks out of everything they could find, including saddles and brush. At 9 a.m. on April 21, Cos arrived with 540 reinforcements, bringing the Mexican force to 1,200 men, which outnumbered the Texians. Cos’ men were raw recruits rather than experienced soldiers, and they had marched steadily for more than 24 hours, with no rest and no food. As the morning wore on with no Texian attack, Mexican officers lowered their guard. By afternoon, Santa Anna had given permission for Cos’ men to sleep; his own tired troops also took advantage of the time to rest, eat, and bathe.
Not long after the Mexican reinforcements arrived, Houston ordered Smith to destroy Vince’s Bridge, 5 miles (8.0 km) away, to slow down any further Mexican reinforcements. At 4 p.m. the Texians began creeping quietly through the tall grass, pulling the cannon behind them. The Texian cannon fired at 4:30, beginning the battle of San Jacinto. After a single volley, Texians broke ranks and swarmed over the Mexican breastworks to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Mexican soldiers were taken by surprise. Santa Anna, Castrillón, and Almonte yelled often conflicting orders, attempting to organize their men into some form of defense. Within 18 minutes, Mexican soldiers abandoned their campsite and fled for their lives. The killing lasted for hours.
Many Mexican soldiers retreated through the marsh to Peggy Lake. Texian riflemen stationed themselves on the banks and shot at anything that moved. Many Texian officers, including Houston and Rusk, attempted to stop the slaughter, but they were unable to gain control of the men. Texians continued to chant “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” while frightened Mexican infantry yelled “Me no Alamo!” and begged for mercy to no avail. In what historian Davis called “one of the most one-sided victories in history”, 650 Mexican soldiers were killed and 300 captured. Eleven Texians died, with 30 others, including Houston, wounded.
Although Santa Anna’s troops had been thoroughly vanquished, they did not represent the bulk of the Mexican army in Texas. An additional 4,000 troops remained under the commands of Urrea and General Vicente Filisola. Texians had won the battle due to mistakes made by Santa Anna, and Houston was well aware that his troops would have little hope of repeating their victory against Urrea or Filisola. As darkness fell, a large group of prisoners were led into camp. Houston initially mistook the group for Mexican reinforcements and shouted out that all was lost.
Santa Anna had escaped towards Vince’s Bridge. Finding the bridge destroyed, he hid in the marsh and was captured the following day. He was brought before Houston, who had been shot in the ankle and badly wounded. Texian soldiers gathered around, calling for the Mexican general’s immediate execution. Bargaining for his life, Santa Anna suggested that he order the remaining Mexican troops to stay away. In a letter to Filisola, who was now the senior Mexican official in Texas, Santa Anna wrote that “yesterday evening [we] had an unfortunate encounter” and ordered his troops to retreat to Béxar and await further instructions.
Urrea urged Filisola to continue the campaign. He was confident that he could challenge the Texian troops. According to Hardin, “Santa Anna had presented Mexico with one military disaster; Filisola did not wish to risk another.” Spring rains had ruined the ammunition and rendered the roads nearly impassable, with troops sinking to their knees in mud. The Mexican troops were soon out of food and began to fall ill from dysentery and other diseases. Their supply lines had broken down, leaving no hope of further reinforcements. Filisola later wrote that “Had the enemy met us under these cruel circumstances, on the only road that was left, no alternative remained but to die or surrender at discretion”.
For several weeks after San Jacinto, Santa Anna continued to negotiate with Houston, Rusk, and then Burnet. Santa Anna suggested two treaties, a public version of promises made between the two countries, and a private version that included Santa Anna’s personal agreements. The Treaties of Velasco required that all Mexican troops withdraw south of the Rio Grande and that all private property be respected and restored. Prisoners of war would be released unharmed and Santa Anna would be given immediate passage to Veracruz. He secretly promised to persuade the Mexican Congress to acknowledge the Republic of Texas and to recognize the Rio Grande as the border between the two countries.
When Urrea began marching south in mid-May, many families from San Patricio who had supported the Mexican army went with him. When Texian troops arrived in early June, they found only 20 families remaining. The area around San Patricio and Refugio suffered a “noticeable depopulation” in the Republic of Texas years. Although the treaty had specified that Urrea and Filisola would return any slaves their armies had sheltered, Urrea refused to comply. Many former slaves followed the army to Mexico, where they could be free. By late May, the Mexican troops had crossed the Nueces. Filisola fully expected that the defeat was temporary and that a second campaign would be launched to retake Texas.
When Mexican authorities received word of Santa Anna’s defeat at San Jacinto, flags across the country were lowered to half staff and draped in mourning. Denouncing any agreements signed by a prisoner, Mexican authorities refused to recognize the Republic of Texas. Filisola was derided for leading the retreat and quickly replaced by Urrea. Within months, Urrea gathered 6,000 troops in Matamoros, poised to reconquer Texas. His army was redirected to address continued federalist rebellions in other regions.
Most in Texas assumed the Mexican army would return quickly. So many American volunteers flocked to the Texian army in the months after the victory at San Jacinto that the Texian government was unable to maintain an accurate list of enlistments. Out of caution, Béxar remained under martial law throughout 1836. Rusk ordered that all Tejanos in the area between the Guadalupe and Nueces Rivers migrate either to east Texas or to Mexico. Some residents who refused to comply were forcibly removed. New Anglo settlers moved in and used threats and legal maneuvering to take over the land once owned by Tejanos. Over the next several years, hundreds of Tejano families resettled in Mexico.
For years, Mexican authorities used the reconquering of Texas as an excuse for implementing new taxes and making the army the budgetary priority of the impoverished nation. Only sporadic skirmishes resulted. Larger expeditions were postponed as military funding was consistently diverted to other rebellions, out of fear that those regions would ally with Texas and further fragment the country. The northern Mexican states, the focus of the Matamoros Expedition, briefly launched an independent Republic of the Rio Grande in 1839. The same year, the Mexican Congress considered a law to declare it treasonous to speak positively of Texas. In June 1843, leaders of the two nations declared an armistice.
On June 1, Santa Anna boarded a ship to travel back to Mexico. For the next two days, crowds of soldiers, many of whom had arrived that week from the United States, gathered to demand his execution. Lamar, by now promoted to Secretary of War, gave a speech insisting that “Mobs must not intimidate the government. We want no French Revolution in Texas!”, but on June 4 soldiers seized Santa Anna and put him under military arrest. Burnet called for elections to ratify the constitution and elect a Congress, the sixth set of leaders for Texas in a twelve-month period. Voters overwhelmingly chose Houston the first president, ratified the constitution drawn up by the Convention of 1836, and approved a resolution to request annexation to the United States. Houston issued an executive order sending Santa Anna to Washington, D.C., and from there he was soon sent home.
During his absence, Santa Anna had been deposed. Upon his arrival, the Mexican press wasted no time in attacking him for his cruelty towards those executed at Goliad. In May 1837, Santa Anna requested an inquiry into the event. The judge determined the inquiry was only for fact-finding and took no action; press attacks in both Mexico and the United States continued. Santa Anna was disgraced until the following year, when he became a hero of the Pastry War.
Although the Texian interim governments had vowed to eventually compensate citizens for goods that were impressed during the war efforts, for the most part livestock and horses were not returned. Veterans were guaranteed land bounties; in 1879, surviving Texian veterans who served more than three months from October 1, 1835 through January 1, 1837 were guaranteed an additional 1,280 acres (520 ha) in public lands. Over 1.3 million acres (559 thousand ha) of land were granted; some of this was in Greer County, which was later determined to be part of Oklahoma.
When Republic President Burnet unknowingly escaped death at New Washington, Almonte had found him by following courier Mike McCormick, whose widowed mother Peggy was the owner of the land on which the battle was subsequently fought. Although she sought financial restitution from the Republic of Texas for loss of livestock and other goods during the battle, McCormick died without recompense. Decades after her death, the state of Texas purchased part of her acreage for a commemoration site.
The San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. The site includes the 570-foot tall (170 meters) San Jacinto Monument, which was erected by the Public Works Administration. Authorized April 21, 1936 and dedicated April 21, 1939, the 220-ton monument cost $1.5 million (equivalent to $25.83 million in 2015). The site hosts a San Jacinto Day festival and battle re-enactment each year in April.
Both the Texas Navy and the United States Navy have commissioned ships named after the Battle of San Jacinto: the Texan schooner San Jacinto and three ships named USS San Jacinto. There has been one civilian passenger ship named SS San Jacinto.
When the veteran battleship USS Texas was decommissioned in 1948 and made into a museum ship, it was decided to give her a permanent new anchorage near the San Jacinto Monument, at San Jacinto State Park. Her arrival from Baltimore, where she was decommissioned, was carefully timed for April 21, 1948 — the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto.