18 Minutes To Victory
Each year, on March 2, Texans celebrate a uniquely Texan holiday—Texas Independence Day. It marks the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence at the Convention of 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos. And while March 2 is indeed the day Texans declared their independence, it was in fact the 18-minute battle that occurred several weeks later, on April 21, that cemented that declaration and established the Republic of Texas.
This year will mark the 178th anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, perhaps observed nowhere more closely than on the grounds of the San Jacinto Monument and San Jacinto Museum of History in La Porte, Texas. Hosted annually in late April, the San Jacinto Day Festival includes a reenactment of the battle, presented by hundreds of members of the San Jacinto Volunteers and other living history organizations from across Texas. The festival features a medicine show, archery lessons and presentations on Texas history by groups like the San Jacinto Descendants, Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and Sons of the Republic of Texas. Visitors can also tour the San Jacinto Monument, the tallest monument column in the world – surpassing even the Washington monument by 15 feet.
The festival brings to life the sounds, colors and emotions of the late afternoon of April 21, 1836, when General Sam Houston’s battle-weary soldiers waited, encamped in the woods at the convergence of the San Jacinto River and the Buffalo Bayou, some 1,000 yards away from the Mexican camp. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, confident he had the Texians outnumbered and cornered, relaxed his defenses, neglected to place sentries outside the camp, and delayed his planned attack by one day. This was just the opening General Houston needed.
As recalled by Texian soldier, James Washington Winters, on the afternoon of the 21st, General Houston “passed around among the men gathered at the camp fires and asked if we wanted to fight. We replied with a shout that we were most anxious to do so. Then Houston replied, 'Very well, get your dinners and I will lead you into the fight, and if you whip them every one of you shall be a captain.’"
Major George Bernard Erath described the anticipation of the soldiers, who were anxious to avenge the fall of the Alamo and the defeat at Goliad: “We would have fought the whole world then. We had been marched from the Guadalupe in a roundabout, zigzag way through swamps and bogs; we had lived part of the time on half-spoiled beef… standing guard twenty-four hours out of forty-eight; and not allowed to go to sleep even at the guard fire. General Houston made us a speech at Harrisburg…he promised us that we should have full satisfaction for all we had gone through; and he closed his address by saying let your war cry be ‘Remember the Alamo!’"
As described in The Battle of San Jacinto and the San Jacinto Campaign by Louis Wiltz Kemp and Edward W. Kilman, “At the command, ‘Advance’ the patriots, 910 strong, moved quickly out of the woods and over the rise, deploying. Bearded and ragged from forty days in the field, they were a fierce-looking band. But their long rifles were clean and well oiled.” A battle line formed from left to right beginning with General Sidney Sherman’s regiment, followed by Commander Edward Burleson’s regiment, the artillery under Commander George W. Hockley, the infantry under Henry Millard, and the cavalry under Colonel Mirabeau B. Lamar. Led by Sherman’s men, the line advanced on and surprised the much larger Mexican army, yelling “Remember the Alamo! Remember the Goliad!”
The attack was so successful that the battle lasted only 18 minutes, and the next day Santa Anna himself was captured. By this victory, Texians won the independence they had declared less than two months earlier.
Today, we celebrate the hard-fought victory of Texas’ first generation of veterans under General Sam Houston.I am proud of our state’s rich history of independence and success. And I’m reminded of the powerful words of our state song, “God bless you Texas! And keep you brave and strong, That you may grow in power and worth, Thro'out the ages long.”
This year’s San Jacinto Day Festival will be held on April 26. For more information, visit: www.sanjacinto-museum.org.