21. September 2010 · Comments Off on 18 Minutes – Aftermath · Categories: Uncategorized

surrender at san jacinto

(Santa Anna, brought before Sam Houston, and his officers. Deaf Smith is at right, holding his hand to his ear.)

In 18 minutes it was all over: what little resistance there was put up by Santa Anna’s soldiers – ordinary soldiers, cavalry and all shattered like a glass ornament dropped onto a hard floor.  The elderly General Castrillion had led what little fight there was against the battle-maddened Texians spilling over the makeshift defenses, around the single 12-pound cannon, called “The Golden Standard.” When all appeared lost, and his subordinates begged him to flee with them, supposedly the General replied, “I’ve fought in forty battles and never turned my back, I’m not going to start now.” Castrillion had asked that six Texian survivors at the Alamo be spared, and protested the executions of the Goliad garrison – now, Thomas J. Rusk, acting officer and Secretary for War in the Texas cabinet fruitlessly pleaded with his infuriated soldiers to spare the old general – to no avail. Castrillion fell; the Mexican soldiers fled, only to be cornered by droves in the marshes and lakes around, trapped in mud and deep water. (Castrillion’s body was reclaimed by an old friend, Lorenzo De Zavala, a stalwart federalist who had joined the rebels to serve as interim Vice President of independent Texas, and buried on his own property nearby. De Zavala’s granddaughter Adina would later be instrumental in preserving the site of the Alamo chapel and the Long Barracks.)

It was also an extraordinary one-sided battle; seven hundred killed on the Mexican side, with two hundred wounded, and the remaining captured, against nine killed among the Texians, and thirty wounded, of which Sam Houston was one. A bullet had smashed through his ankle, killing his horse. In the aftermath of the battle, he lay on a pallet bed under a huge oak tree, no doubt fretting because General Santa Anna was nowhere to be found among the living or the corpses piled up along the edge of the marshes, or floating in Peggy’s Lake. Santa Anna’s napoleonically lavish tent and campaign furniture was there, his baggage and all  . . .  but of the man himself not a sign –  not until the following day, when detachments of Texians were sent out to round up any Mexican soldiers who had managed to make a better and longer run for safety. One of those patrols went as far as the ruins of Vince’s Bridge, where they intercepted a nervous and oddly subservient refugee who claimed to be an ordinary soldier, in a plain uniform coat and bedroom slippers. He did, however, have very fine studs on the front of his shirt, and when this was pointed out, he insisted that he was one of Santa Anna’s aides, and asked to be brought to General Houston.

The jig was up, as the scruffy fugitive in bedroom slippers was being brought into the Texian camp, and passed by a party of Mexican prisoners. The Mexican soldiers immediately (and perhaps with subtle malice) hailed him as ‘el Presidente.’ He was brought before General Houston, still lying on a pallet under the tree which served as his headquarters, and having his ankle seen to. It had been a near-run thing – a smashing victory, but only over a portion of the Mexican Army. In holding the person of El Presidente as prisoner, Houston had all the aces; he was probably too shrewd to even consider what some of his officers wanted to do, which was to hang the murderer of Goliad from the nearest tree – although he was not above gently needling the erstwhile Napoleon of the West regarding expecting a mercy in defeat that he was not prepared to extend the Texian defeated. Santa Anna was treated otherwise with consummate courtesy. Through him, Houston could gain everything he wanted for Texas – including independence, recognition, and the departure of the Mexican army – without fighting another battle. Santa Anna ordered his subordinate commander, General Filisola to withdraw from Texas, to release any Texian prisoners being held, and to do no further injury to any inhabitants of Texas that they might encounter. Filisola obeyed, although he was later much criticized – and Santa Anna himself would be on the outs with his own government for a while. Texas was, for all intents and purposes, independent.

The last Texian veteran of San Jacinto, Alfonso Steele, lived until 1913. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna would be ‘el presidente’ twice more, be exiled from Mexico twice, help invent chewing gum, and die of old age in 1876, outliving Sam Houston by thirteen years. Sam Houston would himself be president of independent Texas twice, as well as U.S. senator and governor. He resigned from his office as governor in 1861 rather than take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy.