Friday, November 23, 2018

San Jacinto State Historic Site, La Porte, Texas

On this strip of coastal prairie in 1836, a volunteer army of Anglo-American settlers and Tejanos decisively defeated a larger Mexican army and won Texas its independence. This 1,200 acre historic site and monument commemorate their struggle and achievement. By preserving the San Jacinto Battleground, a portion of the natural heritage of coastal prairie, forests and marshlands was also preserved. The site of one of the most significant conflicts in American history does not look the same as it did when General Sam Houston's troops defeated the Mexican army under General Santa Anna.

Reflecting Pool

San Jacinto Monument

The design of the monument was the brainchild of architect Alfred C. Finn, engineer Robert J. Cummins, and Jesse H. Jones. Construction ran from 1936 to 1939. With continued support, the San Jacinto Museum of History Association has occupied the facility since its doors first opened. Its builder was the Warren S. Bellows Construction Company of Dallas and Houston. The monument building alone—apart from its great historical significance—is worth a trip to the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. At 570 feet, this Texas giant one of the finest examples of Moderne (Art Deco) architecture in the United States. The monument has been recognized as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The Monument stands 570 feet above the battleground as a memorial to the men who fought for Texas' independence. Built to commemorate the centennial of the battle, it is the tallest masonry structure in the world. The San Jacinto Monument is 570 feet tall (the Washington Monument is 555 feet tall). It is built of steel-reinforced concrete and is faced with fossilized Cordova cream shellstone.

The museum is located in the base of the monument, greeting visitors with bronze doors emblazoned with the six flags of Texas. The base is 125 feet square, with text panels highlighting significant events in history leading up to and resulting from the Texas Revolution.

The shaft itself is octagonal, 48 feet at its base, 30 feet at the observation level and 19 feet square at the base of its crowning jewel—a 220-ton star made from stone, steel and concrete. Despite the scale, danger and novelty of the project, not a single life was lost during its construction.

An inscription on the monument tells the story of the birth of Texas:

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.
The battle of San Jacinto is considered to be one of the decisive battles in American history. Texas won its independence and eventually became the 28th state in the American union. Annexation led to the Mexican War of 1846-1848, which resulted in the acquisition by the United States of California, Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Nevada, Colorado and Utah.

The 1,200 Mexican troops set up defenses near what is now the overlook at Santa Anna's Bayou, a quarter-mile east from the present-day San Jacinto Monument. When the Texans under Sam Houston approached the Mexican camp, they were protected by the tall grass and the low ridge that separated the two armies. When the Texans under Sidney Sherman charged the Mexican right flank, they came out of a grove of trees that lined the low bluff on the north. Most of the hardwoods are long gone, cut down for construction or fuel for early steamboats. But on April 21, 1836, these hardwood forests, bayous, marshes and rivers combined to create a deadly trap for the Mexican army and its leader. Houston used the natural landscape to his advantage in planning his attack. The landscape and topography were a deciding factor in the outcome of the battle.

Houston's 900 men, screened by a grove of large hardwood trees, camped along Buffalo Bayou for several hundred yards, just south of where the Battleship Texas is now berthed. The large open area near the San Jacinto Monument and reflecting pool was part of a long mile-wide prairie covered in grasses growing waist-high. The highest ground, on which the Monument now stands, shielded the Texan army from Santa Anna's forces.

Following the Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821) against Spain, Texas became a part of Mexico. Due to influx of immigrants from the United States, soon the Americans outnumbered the resident Mexicans in the region. In the 1830s, under President Santa Anna, the Mexican government shifted away from federalism and towards centralism. The 1824 Constitution of Mexico was repealed and a provisional centralist system was established. This angered the federalists in Texas leading to unrest in the region which the Mexican authorities blamed on the U.S. immigrants. In October 1835, Texians attacked the Mexican troops thus initiating the Texas Revolution.

Flag of the Republic of Texas 1836-1839
On March 6, 1836, a Mexican army led by Santa Anna recaptured the Alamo, located in present day city of San Antonio in Texas. The Alamo had been previously captured by the Texians and Santa Anna had vowed revenge and ordered his troops to take no prisoners. All 182 to 257 Texians involved in the Battle of the Alamo were killed but they did provide brave resistance before falling. Also, on March 27, the Goliad massacre took place in which around 350 Texian captives, who had surrendered at Battle of Coleto, were killed by the Mexican Army under orders from Santa Anna.

Battle of the Alamo
On March 2, 1836, the interim government of Texas, signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. During this convention, Samuel “Sam” Houston was selected Commander-in-Chief of the Texian forces and it was he who would lead them at the Battle of San Jacinto. Sam Houston was an American military leader and politician who had served in the War of 1812 against Great Britain and also as the Governor of Tennessee. The cruelty of Santa Anna and heroic resistance of the Texian forces at the Battle of the Alamo inspired many Texians to join the army and by March 19 volunteer ranks swelled to around 1,400 men.

Sam Houston
The survivors of the Alamo brought news that the Mexican army was marching towards Texian settlements. This led to the Runaway Scrape in which the army, interim government of Texas and much of the civilian population fled eastward to avoid the Mexican troops. As Sam Houston and his army retreated along with the civilians, he learned about the defeat of the Texian forces led by James Fannin at the Battle of Coleto. He thus knew that his army was the last hope for the success of the Texas Revolution and the independence of Texas.

Sam Houston was aware that his ill trained force was capable for only one good battle and thus he continued to avoid engagement as his army retreated. Many in his ranks wanted to get involved in combat and thought he was a coward. Meanwhile, Santa Anna left only a small force to hold the Alamo and marched to capture the interim Texas government but his effort came a few hours after the Texian officials had escaped. With the Texas government forced off the mainland, Santa Anna believed it was an ideal opportunity to put a decisive end to the revolution and became determined to block the Texian army’s retreat.

Santa Anna
On April 18, a Mexican courier, who was carrying intelligence on the locations and future plans of all the Mexican troops, was captured by the Texians. Sam Houston thus came to know that Santa Anna was not far away and was commanding only a small force. He gave a rousing speech to his men, urging them to “Remember the Alamo” and “Remember Goliad”. His unit then raced towards Santa Anna’s force and on April 20, the two camps were around 500 yards apart. The site was along the San Jacinto River, near present-day Houston, Texas. The terrain, which had many thick oak groves separated by marshes, was more suited to the Texians than the alien Mexicans.

On the morning of 21st April, 540 Mexican reinforcements arrived taking the number of men under Santa Anna to more than 1,300. The Mexican force now outnumbered the Texian unit, whose strength was around 900. Not long after the Mexican reinforcements arrived, Sam Houston ordered his men to destroy Vince’s Bridge, which was located 5 miles (8.0 km) away. The measure was taken to slow down any further reinforcements from joining the Mexican ranks.

Battle of San Jacinto
Around 4 p.m. on April 21, the Texian force began to creep quietly through the tall grass towards the Mexican unit. The first Texian cannon were fired at 4:30 initiating the Battle of San Jacinto. In a surprise attack, the Texian soldiers broke ranks and swarmed over the Mexicans shouting Remember the Alamo! The battle lasted for just 18 minutes after which the Mexican soldiers abandoned their campsite and fled for their lives. In what has been called “one of the most one-sided victories in history”, 650 Mexican soldiers were killed and 300 captured. In comparison only 11 Texians died while 30 others, including Houston, were wounded.

Surrender of Santa Anna
Santa Anna escaped towards Vince’s Bridge during the battle. However, as the bridge was destroyed, he hid in the marsh and was captured the following day. Although the Texian soldiers demanded his immediate execution, more was to be gained from negotiation. After weeks of negotiations, in the middle of May, Santa Anna signed a peace treaty, which in exchange for his freedom, dictated the Mexican army to leave Texas; and he also secretly promised to persuade the Mexican Congress to acknowledge the independence of Texas. Success in the Battle of San Jacinto thus ensured the success of the Texas Revolution.

Intermittent conflicts between Texas and Mexico continued in the 1840s till the Republic of Texas was incorporated into the United States as the 28th state on December 29, 1845. The San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. It includes the San Jacinto Monument, which was built in 1939. April 21 is celebrated as San Jacinto Day and it is an official holiday in the State of Texas. An annual festival, which includes a re-enactment of the battle, is held at the site of the Battle of San Jacinto during the celebration.

No comments:

Post a Comment