San Jacinto Day is celebrated each year on April 21st, and commemorates the Battle of San Jacinto. This is an official state holiday in Texas, and state offices are always closed on this day. A re-enactment takes place each year at the battlefield in Harris County, and alert visitors to the battlefield can still find bullets and other items left from the battle.
The Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836 was the last battle fought on land in the Texas Revolution in the quest for independence from Mexico. This ended a seven-month campaign of the Texan army, supplemented by soldiers from all parts of the United States, against General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, in a series of pitched battles and confrontations which had started with the Battle of Gonzales, on October 2nd, 1835 (now celebrated annually as "Come and Take It" Day).
Texas was originally settled by Native American tribes, and in fact gets its name from a Native American word, "Tejas," meaning "friend." After the Mexican war for independence from Spain, Texas was part of Coahuila y Texas, one of nineteen Mexican states. The Mexican Constitution of 1824 had established a representative federal government, and as Texas was very sparsely settled, the Constitution allowed a very liberal immigration policy from the United States. Because of this liberality, the settlers originally from the interior of Mexico were outnumbered by the immigrants from the United States by a large margin.
The Mexican Constitution of 1824 allowed Coahuila y Texas some other freedoms--particularly in the unending war with Native Americans over who really owned the land the settlers claimed, there was a necessity for local militias, because the war for independence from Spain had bankrupted the newly-formed Mexican government, and the army could not afford to send forces to defend the settlers. Therefore, citizens of Coahuila y Texas were allowed to own weapons and organize private militias.
All this was to change in 1833, when Santa Anna staged a coup and was elected President of Mexico by the Mexican congress. Santa Anna immediately began to concentrate power in a centralist government, and to exercise his power, began to restrict immigration from the United States to Texas, to impose abusive taxes, to dictate what crops individual settlers could grow, irrespective of what suited their land, and to impose customs duties on imports to Texas. What was even more disturbing, was Santa Anna's abolition of private militas, which left settlers with absolutely no defense against Native American attempts to retake their land from the settlers. The fed-up Texians began simply to ignore these laws, and Santa Anna was faced with a threat to his newly-acquired power, and felt impelled to respond.
After the Battle of Gonzales, Texians were in official revolt, and several critical battles were fought, including the Siege of Bexar, the Battle of Concepion, the Battle of Goliad and the Battle of the Alamo. Soon after the Battle of the Alamo, Texas declared independence from Mexico on March 2nd, now celebrated as Texas Independence Day, another official state holiday. Texans found that they could not defend their towns, and so began the "Runaway Scrape," where they fled towards the border, after putting their towns to the torch. It is estimated that tens of thousands of Texans were forced to flee their homes, and many thousands died from disease and guerrilla attacks. However, the Texan army was tired of running, and nine hundred men turned around to face Santa Anna's army. General Sam Houston had not given his consent, but he had no choice but the lead the army or lose control.
Finally, on April 20th, 1836, Sam Houston's army and the Mexican army, numbering about seven hundred soldiers, met at the San Jacinto river. Texans hid in the tall grass separating the armies, and there was a brief clash, mostly cavalry, between the two armies, but Santa Anna wanted a decisive defeat, and waited for reinforcements from General Cos, who arrived with 540 more soldiers. The Texans were getting impatient, and after burning Vince's Bridge, which would prevent either army from making an orderly retreat, and forced a standoff between them. The Texans were screened by trees and tall grass, and moved towards the Mexican army's position. Santa Anna, confident of his forces, had failed to post sentries during the Mexican army's afternoon siesta, and the Texans charged the Mexican army, stopping to fire when they were only a few yards away, shouting the battle cries, "Remember the Alamo!" and "Remember Goliad!" The battle lasted only eighteen minutes, and during the battle, nine Texans died, thirty were wounded, but Santa Anna's entire force was taken prisoner or killed (the final tally on the Mexican side was about 700 dead, 208 wounded, and 730 taken prisoner). Santa Anna escaped, but he was soon captured and held prisoner for six months, finally being sent home to Mexico in disgrace.
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The battleground of the Battle of San Jacinto has been turned into a memorial park, and has the world's tallest memorial column, which towers 570 feet above the battlefield. The inscription at the base of the monument reads:
The early policies of Mexico toward her Texas colonists had been extremely liberal. Large grants of land were made to them, and no taxes or duties imposed. The relationship between the Anglo-Americans and Mexicans was cordial. But, following a series of revolutions begun in 1829, unscrupulous rulers successively seized power in Mexico. Their unjust acts and despotic decrees led to the revolution in Texas.
In June, 1832, the colonists forced the Mexican authorities at Anahuac to release Wm. B. Travis and others from unjust imprisonment. The Battle of Velasco, June 26, and the Battle of Nacogdoches, August 2, followed; in both the Texans were victorious. Stephen Fuller Austin, "Father of Texas," was arrested January 3, 1834, and held in Mexico without trial until July, 1835. The Texans formed an army, and on November 12, 1835, established a provisional government.
The first shot of the Revolution of 1835-36 was fired by the Texans at Gonzales, October 2, 1835, in resistance to a demand by Mexican soldiers for a small cannon held by the colonists. The Mexican garrison at Goliad fell October 9; the Battle of Concepcion was won by the Texans, October 28. San Antonio was captured December 10, 1835 after five days of fighting in which the indomitable Benjamin R. Milam died a hero, and the Mexican Army evacuated Texas.
Texas declared her independence at Washington-on-the-Brazos March 2. For nearly two months her armies met disaster and defeat: Dr. James Grant's men were killed on the Aguadulce March 2; William Barret Travis and his men sacrificed their lives at the Alamo, March 6; William Ward was defeated at Refugio, March 14; Amos B. King's men were executed near Refugio, March 16; and James Walker Fannin and his army were put to death near Goliad March 27, 1836.
On this field on April 21, 1836 the Army of Texas commanded by General Sam Houston, and accompanied by the Secretary of War, Thomas J. Rusk, attacked the larger invading army of Mexicans under General Santa Anna. The battle line from left to right was formed by Sidney Sherman's regiment, Edward Burleson's regiment, the artillery commanded by George W. Hockley, Henry Millard's infantry and the cavalry under Mirabeau B. Lamar. Sam Houston led the infantry charge.
With the battle cry, "Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!" the Texans charged. The enemy taken by surprise, rallied for a few minutes then fled in disorder. The Texans had asked no quarter and gave none. The slaughter was appalling, victory complete, and Texas free! On the following day General Antonio Lopez De Santa Anna, self-styled "Napoleon of the West," received from a generous foe the mercy he had denied Travis at the Alamo and Fannin at Goliad.
Citizens of Texas and immigrant soldiers in the Army of Texas at San Jacinto were natives of Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Austria, Canada, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal and Scotland.
Measured by its results, San Jacinto was one of the decisive battles of the world. The freedom of Texas from Mexico won here led to annexation and to the Mexican-American War, resulting in the acquisition by the United States of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma. Almost one-third of the present area of the American Nation, nearly a million square miles of territory, changed sovereignty.
The San Jacinto Monument is a major Texas tourist attraction, and Texans are justifiably proud of their independence and love to celebrate their Texas history! So mark April 21st on your calendars and celebrate Texas history with us Texans!
1 Monument Circle, La Porte, TX 77571, USA