The Battle of San Jacinto
(an excerpt from The Soldiers of San Jacinto)
April 21, 1836
4:00 PM, April 21, 1836 — General Houston, atop a dappled gray, gives the order, “Trail arms! Foward!” Some 900 men, unwashed, underfed, caked with mud and dressed in rags, begin a long walk through knee-high grass. They have been pushed to the edge, run from their homes, their crops and houses burned. They don’t know whether their families have found safety. They've lost kin and good friends at the Alamo and at Goliad. They want a fight and are about to get it.
At the far left of this parade line is the Second Regiment of Volunteers, 330 men under Colonel Sherman. To their right, at the center of the Texian force, is Colonel Burleson’s First Volunteers, 386 men strong. Next are the 32 men of Colonel Hockley’s Artillery Corps. They man two iron canon, six-pounders called the Twin Sisters, gifts from the people of Cincinnati. To the right of the artillery are 92 men of the Regular Army under Lt. Colonel Millard. At the extreme right is the Cavalry, 62 mounted men commanded by Colonel Mirabeau Lamar, just yesterday a private. All advance in perfect silence.
4:30 PM — The Second Volunteers under Sherman, having traveled swiftly through the oaks on the Texian left, fire on the surprised men of General Cos’ command. The Battle of San Jacinto has begun. The Mexican forces return fire, but they are soon on the run. Sherman, leading the pursuit, is the first to shout, “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” The main body of the Texian forces crest a slight rise. They are 200 yards from the Mexican breastworks, a four foot barricade of cut brush, saddles and baggage. Houston, riding thirty yards in front of the First Regiment, orders, “To the charge! To the charge!” Musicians strike up a bawdy march on fife, drum and fiddle. General Castrillón directs his canon fire on Lamar’s advancing cavalry. The Twin Sisters, loaded with cut-up horse shoes, hail hot metal at the alarmed Mexican troops. A small force advances on the Texian artillery, but is repulsed.
4:35 PM — Havoc reigns on the enemy left as the Texian Cavalry attack their stunned counterparts with slashing sabers. Burleson’s First Volunteers are upon the breastworks engaging Matamoros Battalion. To their right Texian regulars assault Aldama Battalion with equal ferocity. Stampeding behind the lines, riderless Mexican horses bring terror to the breastworks defenders, who now believe they are being attacked from the rear. The Second Volunteers drive Cos’ panicked men rearward into Colonel Almonte’s Guerrero Regiment, pushing them all nearly two hundred yards.
4:40 PM — Almonte attempts to rally any men who can still be commanded, but it is too late. Matamoros and Aldama Battalions turn from defense of the breastworks in wild retreat. The First Volunteers and Texian Regulars are over the breastworks, pursuing with savage intent. The resistance at the Mexican canon position is overcome and the gun seized. Any Mexican cavalry able to mount up flee toward Harrisburg, Santa Anna among them.
4:45 PM — Sherman’s Second Volunteers chase Cos and Almonte’s men into a small bayou to the Texian left. The First Volunteers force Matamoros Battalion into the marsh at the rear of the Mexican position and into Peggy’s Lake. Some try to surrender, pleading for their lives, crying, “Me no Alamo! Me no la Bahia!” There is no mercy. Many Texians fire only once and don’t waste time to reload. They turn their rifles around and swing them as war clubs, breaking many off at the breach in the act of shattering a skull. The air is filled with the acrid smell of gun powder and the stench of feces as dying men void their bowels.
4:48 PM — The Battle of San Jacinto is over, but not the killing. Behind the Texians are the enemy dead. To their front, in marsh, lake and bayou, those Santanistas still living try in vain to escape or plead for their lives. The Texians calmly, but briskly reload, time and again. Each shot means the end for another of Soldado.
Sundown — A guard is set on the Mexican camp to keep the men from looting. The spoils are to be divided among them as war booty. Mexican soldiers who escaped the slaughter are being rounded up and marched to the oak stand on Buffalo Bayou from which the Texians set out barely two and a half hours ago. They will be held in a pen made of split logs, rope and anything else that lends itself to the job. The Texians wander back to camp, singly and in small groups. Some talk about deeds of the day, others sing songs, laugh and trade cheers across the prairie. Still others just walk, their thoughts their own until the end of their days.
If the Alamo is called Texas’ Thermopylae, then San Jacinto is her Agincourt. Of the Texian forces there are but seven killed. Twenty-nine are wounded, including General Houston, his ankle shattered by a copper ball from an escopeta. Of those wounded four will die. The Mexican dead number 630. The prisoners tally 730, of which 208 are wounded. The events of this day will mean perpetual freedom for Texas, as a republic for now, and in ten years as one of the United States. History will show that the soldiers of San Jacinto have set the keystone in the arch of Manifest Destiny.
This essay appears as the preface to The Soldiers of San Jacinto by J.
B. McDonald, a biographical study of the men who risked all so Texas
would be free. If you would like to have a copy for your personal
library, you can order it on this page. You might also consider donating a copy
a high school or college library, as they are budget strapped these