The Texas Revolution began in October 1835 with the battle of Gonzales and ended on April 21, 1836, with the battle of San Jacinto, but earlier clashes between government forces and frontier colonists make it impossible to set dogmatic limits in terms of military battles, cultural misunderstandings, and political differences that were a part of the revolution. The seeds of the conflict were planted during the last years of Spanish rule (1815–21) when Anglo Americans drifted across the Neutral Ground and the eastern bank of the Red River into Spanish territory, squatted on the land, and populated Spanish Texas. More alarming than these illegal residents, who only wanted to "settle and stay," were filibusters such as Philip Nolan, who commandeered portions of Spanish lands for personal gain and political capital. During the fading years of New Spain, its ruling council, the Cortes, worried about securing their far northern frontier and began to encourage foreign immigration to Texas, including Anglo American colonization. One who was eager to take advantage of a change in Spanish policy was Moses Austin, who received a commission from the Spanish governor of Texas to bring 300 families and establish a colony, thereby rebuilding some of his lost fortune associated with the Panic of 1819. Upon his death in 1821, his son and heir Stephen Fuller Austin fulfilled his father's vision and became the first empresario of Texas.
During this time the political situation in New Spain was unsettled due to nationalist movements and Napoleonic disturbances in Europe, ultimately resulting in the end of Spanish rule and the beginning of independence for Mexico. Amid the political chaos, changes by the new Mexican congress concerning immigration reflected their belief that colonization was essential to frontier defense and immigration by Europeans and Anglo Americans should be encouraged. The passage of the Imperial Colonization Law of 1823, although voided after the collapse of Augustin de Iturbíde's empire, left Austin's grant intact--the only one granted under this law. The Baron de Bastrop then began to issue land grants to Austin’s “Old Three Hundred” families as they became known.
The next year, on October 4, 1824, the Mexican congress formulated a new Mexican Constitution that emphasized a federal government, which appealed to the Texans, rather than a centralist one. The new legislature joined the two former Spanish provinces of Coahuila and Texas into one until the population of Texas was sufficient for a separate state. On March 24, 1825, the new state legislature of Coahuila and Texas passed the Colonization Act of 1825, providing generous terms to prospective colonists, setting off an immediate “Texas land rush." The majority of immigrants arrived into Mexican Texas largely from the southern United States, many with their slaves in tow. Most established farming communities and were peaceful, law-abiding citizens. As Anglo influence steadily increased during the 1820s, however, Mexican leaders held the conviction that the expansionist United States government was not above making use of the colonists to cause trouble in the hope of acquiring Texas by purchase or revolution. The recent Fredonian Rebellion in 1826 served as evidence for their growing suspicions of Anglo Americans. Led by Haden Edwards and Benjamin W. Edwards in East Texas, the rebels attempted to inaugurate a war for independence, proclaiming the Republic of Fredonia. The ill-fated movement disintegrated when faced with an overwhelming Mexican force. The next year suspicions aroused by the Fredonian Rebellion led to Manuel de Mier y Terán’s inspection of the province. He issued an alarming report, which asserted that Mexico’s hold on Texas was precarious. He found that Anglos heavily outnumbered Mexicans in areas east of San Antonio and were only nominally loyal to Mexico. Terán presciently concluded that Mexico must act immediately or “Texas could throw the whole nation into revolution.” As a result, the Mexican government acted by passing the Law of April 6, 1830. One provision was to forbid Anglo-American immigration and another was to prohibit the further introduction of slaves. Although the law angered most colonists, it only slowed immigration and the Peculiar Institution, but did not curb them.
Other provisions of the law, however, led to early disturbances in 1831–32 over issues of custom duties, land titles, and military authority over civilians. Confrontations between Mexican troops and Anglo colonists erupted at Anahuac and Velasco over these concerns, as well as the status of runaway slaves. In the Anahuac disturbances, the Anglo-American attack was led by John Austin and was precipitated by indiscretions by the commander, John (Juan) Davis Bradburn. Fighting also broke out at Velasco, where Col. Domingo de Ugartechea attempted to prevent reinforcements and artillery from sailing to Anahuac. Both he and the insurgents suffered severely (see VELASCO, BATTLE OF). The battle of Nacogdoches resulted in the Mexican garrison's evacuation after only nominal resistance; and Col. José Francisco Ruiz, a native of San Antonio, abandoned Fort Tenoxtitlán without being attacked.
During the revolutionary period Native American groups populated and controlled portions of Texas. Amounting to approximately 20,000, they far outnumbered the Anglo settlers and Tejanos—native-born Mexicans living in Texas. Pressure from Anglo settlements during the 1820s and 1830s led to encroachments on tribal lands and frequent raids by the Comanche and other bands. Some groups, such as the Cherokees, were active diplomatically with both Mexico and Anglo settlers and played both sides during the Texas Revolution. Rumors and evidence of collusion between the Cherokees and their Mexican allies led Texans to fear an Indian uprising or an alliance with Mexico. The Tonkawas, living along the Brazos and Colorado rivers, allied themselves with the Texans and served as guides and fighters against more hostile Indian groups. Other tribes, such as the Wichita, however, tried just to avoid entanglements with the developing crisis.
Amid disturbances in Texas, Antonio López de Santa Anna was leading a liberal revolution in Mexico against centralist President Anastacio Bustamante. The colonists who participated in these early events opposed violations of the Constitution of 1824 and declared that they were merely cooperating by expelling Bustamante's garrisons from Texas. Actually, the great mass of the colonists had no quarrel with Mexico or Mexicans. As a gesture of loyalty, they offered the Turtle Bayou Resolutions as explanation of their position, assuring authorities of their support of Federalist Santa Anna and the Constitution of 1824. They wanted no war with Mexico. Tranquility seemed restored when Federalist general José Antonio Mexía, learning of the troubles in Texas, arrived at the Brazos River with a regiment of 400 soldiers. With him was Stephen F. Austin, who had been in Mexico meeting with the state legislature in Saltillo. The empresario spent numerous hours en route, assuring Mexía that the colonists were not intent on rebellion. After enjoying appropriate hospitalities, Mexía sailed away without any bloodshed. One result of his visit was serious. It had compelled Austin to abandon his policy of aloofness from national party contests. The summer of 1832 closed with Santa Anna’s success in Mexico and all Mexican garrisons expelled from Texas except those at San Antonio and Goliad.
In 1832–33 the colonists decided to address their long-standing grievances by holding two meetings: the Convention of 1832 and the Convention of 1833. Earlier, in September 1823, congress had given the colonists certain tariff exemptions for seven years. When this liberal law expired in 1830, it became an issue in the disturbances of 1832. Both conventions adopted petitions asking for exemption of custom duties for another three years. Furthermore, they declared that Texas was able to maintain a stable state government and asked for the separation of Coahuila and Texas. The Convention of 1833 even went so far as to frame a constitution for the approval of congress. (see CONSTITUTION PROPOSED IN 1833). The Law of April 6, 1830, forbidding immigrants to settle adjacent to their native country, was particularly onerous to the Texans. Though this law was subsequently interpreted to permit continued settlement in the colonies of Austin and Green DeWitt, it remained a menace to the development of Texas. Both conventions petitioned for its repeal. Resolutions by the Convention of 1832 were never delivered, but Austin was chosen to present the petitions of 1833 to the proper authorities in Mexico City.
Arriving in Mexico City on July 13, 1833, Austin found that Santa Anna had taken over the national government and was elected president. Curiously, he left the government in the hands of Vice President Valentín Gómez Farías, a liberal Federalist. While Austin received a "kind and friendly” reception, Gómez Farías was suspicious of Texan intentions in Mexico. Aware that the second convention was illegal, Austin was able to utilize his considerable diplomatic contacts to shepherd the petitions properly through the Mexican bureaucracy. But the proposals languished, as they slowly worked their way through congress. Ultimately, both Santa Anna and congress repealed the immigration restrictions, held the tariff plea in abeyance, and urged the state government to grant Texas trial by jury; however, no action was taken on the petition for statehood. Frustrated about his failure to secure separation from Coahuila, Austin penned a letter in October to the ayuntamiento of San Antonio, recommending separate statehood without the approval of the national government. He then journeyed northward to return home. When the letter found its way back to Mexican authorities, Gómez Farías ordered Austin arrested and imprisoned in Mexico City from January 1834 to July 1835.
In his brief return to power in April 1834 Santa Anna initially pledged his continued support of the liberal reforms passed by the federal congress and state legislatures. However, Mexican authorities, powerful clerics, and wealthy hacendados remained suspicious of Texas intentions. In response to these concerns, Juan Nepomuceno Almonte spent the summer surveying conditions in Texas and filed a detailed report of the province. He estimated that the non-Indian population was 21,000, with a growing number of Anglo-American colonists. The settlements, he said, were prospering and the political situation in Texas showed no evidence of “unrest or disloyalty.” The recent reforms seemed to have reestablished calm in Texas. By the close of the year few observers considered that Texas stood on the verge of revolution.
In 1835 Santa Anna returned to power for the final time. A political opportunist and chameleon, he now aligned himself with powerful opponents of reform, suddenly reputing liberalism and assuming absolute power. A new Centralist government, Siete Leyes, replaced the Constitution of 1824. Elections for a new congress were held, replacing liberal delegates with Centralist supporters of the church and army. Further, congress reduced local militias and dissolved state legislatures, which were replaced with military departments, ruled by a governor appointed by the president.
The overthrow of the liberal constitution and the reduction of states’ autonomy provoked revolts in several Mexican states. Zacatecas rebelled against the new regime, but Santa Anna brutally crushed it. In the Yucatán the people opposed the Centralist government and separated from Mexico until 1846. Monclova liberals denounced Santa Anna, refused to obey Centralist laws, and raised money by selling public lands to resist the Centralists. Along with these several states, Texas also expressed discontent over the violations of the Constitution of 1824 and this discontent ultimately led to outright rebellion.
The replacement of the federal government with one based on authoritarian principles, as well as Santa Anna’s plan to re-man the military posts, caused great alarm in Texas. The first contingent of soldiers arrived at Anahuac in January 1835 with orders to reestablish the custom house. In June a mail courier brought news that federal troops under Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cós had amassed large reinforcements and would soon strengthen the standing garrison at San Antonio. This information resulted in a march of armed volunteers against Anahuac led by William B. Travis. Capt. Antonio Tenorio and a small detachment of Mexican troops surrendered the post without a contest, and superficially, conditions in Texas appeared to return to the status quo. Numerous mass meetings condemned Travis’s actions, and through a committee they sent assurances to Cós of their loyalty to Mexico. In return Cós demanded the arrest of the troublemakers, including Lorenzo de Zavala, Francis White Johnson, Samuel Williams, Robert M. Williamson (known as “Three-Legged Willie”), and Travis. Cós further insisted that they be turned over to the military for trial. The colonists refused. Reports continued, however, that Santa Anna was bent upon military occupation of Texas, and a group of colonists published a call for the election of delegates to a convention, or consultation, to meet in October. 1835.
By early September 1835 Austin had returned from his long detention in Mexico. Blaming Mexico for the threat to peace and stability, he endorsed the Consultation called for October 15. He also accepted the chairmanship of the Central Committee of Safety at San Felipe, an advisory board to collect and distribute information. Never a radical, Austin effectively became the de facto leader of the Texas cause. From this time forward, only a spark was necessary to set off an explosion.
Before the Consultation could meet, General Cós determined that only military occupation would bring Texas under control. In his proclamation was the hint that he would drive “those ungrateful strangers” out of Texas. On September 20, 1835, Cós landed 500 men at Copano Bay. He formed his troops and then moved inland toward San Antonio, arriving on October 9. News of Cós’s movements and intentions led Austin to write that “WAR is our only resource.” He therefore called for the immediate formation of military units and to begin armed resistance.
The first armed clash between the Texians—Anglo residents of Mexican Texas—and Mexican forces occurred at Gonzales, located on the Guadalupe River. Due to rising tensions with the Texians, Col. Domingo de Ugartechea, Mexican commander of forces in San Antonio, dispatched a small regiment of soldiers to reclaim a cannon from the citizens of Gonzales. It had been presented, or at the least lent, to them in 1831 for defense against the Indians. Alcalde Andrew Ponton not only refused the demand, arguing that he had no authority to give it up, but also called for other Texans to help. Annoyed by Ponton’s refusal, Ugartechea then ordered Lt. Francisco de Castañeda and 100 dragoons to seize the cannon, forcibly if necessary. Arriving on the west bank of the river on September 29, Castañeda and his troops found the Guadalupe River too high to ford and ferry boats were unavailable. Shouting above the current, Castañeda repeated his demand for the disputed weapon. Meanwhile, about 160 Texas volunteers answered the call to arms and augmented the Gonzales defense composed of only eighteen men. Commanded by Pantera">John Henry Moore and Joseph W. E. Wallace, the Gonzales defenders stood their ground, placing the cannon on wheels and fashioning a homemade white banner with an image of the cannon with the words: “COME AND TAKE IT.” Crossing the swollen river on October 1, the Texians launched an attack the next morning on the Mexican camp and killed one. Outnumbered and without orders to fight, Castañeda retreated and returned empty-handed to San Antonio. Although just a skirmish, the battle of Gonzales is regarded as the first shots of the Texas Revolution (see GONZALES "COME AND TAKE IT" CANNON).
With the fight at Gonzales, Texians, along with a sizeable number of Tejanos—prepared for war. But at this juncture, why did affairs in Texas lead to revolution? While the causes of the Texas Revolution are many and complex, historians and contemporaries on both sides have debated the question with varying interpretations. Some scholars assert that economic factors lay behind the revolt. Attracted by cheap land and speculative opportunities so close to their homeland, Anglo Americans promptly pushed across the U.S.-Mexico border and populated the frontier province of Mexican Texas. When Mexico moved to control immigration and enforce its laws, the Texians rebelled in an effort to protect their agricultural and commercial gains. Others trace the rebellion to a clash of cultures between Anglos and Mexicans, reinforcing racial stereotypes of morally-superior, Anglo-Texan settlers with democratic traditions triumphing over a despotic, degenerate Mexican race. Some interpretations place blame on the Texans, who willfully violated the terms of their land grants, as well as ignored the customs and laws of the country that granted them citizenship. Inevitably, their unlawful actions would bring retributions from Mexico. Another explanation places the responsibility for the revolution on the failure of Mexico to establish a stable government and the rise of the mercurial dictator Santa Anna. His turn away from liberal reform and toward centralism alarmed Texians about the future loss of self-government and freedom. Slavery has also been cited as an underlying cause of the revolution due to slaveowners’ concern with protecting their peculiar institution. Still others assign responsibility to a conspiracy by U.S. officials to seize Texas in order to annex the territory to the United States. While President Andrew Jackson at the time certainly wanted Texas and encouraged Sam Houston’s interests in the region, there is scant evidence of a planned conspiracy. More recently, some historians view the revolt within the larger context of the Spanish borderlands and the Mexican frontier. A larger civil war was occurring in Mexico when citizens of other Mexican states became discontented with the dismantling of Mexico’s federal republic and the loss of shared governance. Open rebellions therefore broke out in several Mexican states, including Texas. In the final analysis, the Texas Revolution resulted from a complex set of preconditions and “a spark that ignited them.” That spark was Santa Anna’s move toward centralism and dictatorship, as well as the impending military occupation of Texas.
Following the battle of Gonzales, the Texians soon realized that the insurgency could not be sustained without an army. As news of the outbreak of hostilities spread, volunteers joined the men at Gonzales, including Stephen F. Austin, who commanded the newly-formed Texan "army" (see REVOLUTIONARY ARMY). Meanwhile, a force of volunteers led by Capt. George M. Collingsworth attacked Goliad, a settlement and presidio on the road from Copano Bay to San Antonio. The capture of Goliad and its military supplies by the Texians eliminated the Centralist outpost as a threat and left Cós and his troops cut off from the coast.
On October 14, 1835, Austin and his forces, totaling about 300 men, began moving toward San Antonio, which was under the control of General Cós. Arriving on the outskirts of San Antonio on October 20, Austin secured his camp and waited for reinforcements. He later sent James Bowie and James W. Fannin, along with several companies of men, to stake out a solid defensive position on the San Antonio River not far from Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña Mission. On the following morning in the battle of Concepción the Texans defeated a combined force of Mexican foot and horse soldiers supported by artillery, with the Mexicans losing twenty-six men to the Texans’ one. Despite the victory, Texan officers postponed an assault on San Antoni and awaited supplies and artillery. On November 26 the Texans again faced the Mexicans at a skirmish known as the Grass Fight. Bowie was in command, but this time with Edward Burleson, who had assumed Austin's command when he was made commissioner to the United States by the provisional government. The Texans forced the Mexicans to retreat, killing fifty of them in the process, with only two Texans wounded. The climax of the siege of Béxar came on December 5. Learning that Burleson was considering withdrawal to Goliad, Benjamin R. Milam raised the defiant cry: "Who will go to San Antonio with old Ben Milam?" Three hundred volunteers answered the call. The attack was led by Frank (Francis W.) Johnson and joined by Juan N. Seguín and a company of Tejanos. After three days of house-to-house fighting, Milam fell, but San Antonio was the prize of the Texans. Cós hoisted a white flag and surrendered, giving up all the public property, arms, and supplies in the city. The terms of the cease-fire further required the Mexican commander and his men to retreat beyond the Rio Grande and promise never to oppose the reestablishment of the Constitution of 1824.
Following the victories of 1835, Texan fortunes took a decided turn for the worst. The Texan army was disintegrating and Sam Houston, appointed commander-in-chief, led a nonexistent “regular army.” The provisional government was also in anarchy, with delegates angrily disagreeing over what they were trying to accomplish: independence or restore the Constitution of 1824? While the Texans were arguing and debating, Santa Anna, in his role as generalissimo, declared that the Texas colonists were in rebellion and that he would personally lead an expedition against them. As he moved northward toward the Rio Grande, Santa Anna gathered additional soldiers, and by mid-February 1836, he had amassed a formidable force of more than 6,000 men. He was on a punitive expedition, conducted in much the same way as that against the Zacatecans. His plan was simple and direct: he would crush insurgency in Texas with the force of a hammer, treating all in arms against his government as mere pirates. The quelling of piracy, after all, required no mercy. The only hope was a new convention, called by the General Council, to meet on March 1, 1836, at Washington-on-the- Brazos, to debate independence, and if successful, frame a new constitution and select an interim government.
On February 16, 1836, the Mexican army, eventually growing to more than 8,000 troops, crossed the Rio Grande and moved toward San Antonio, a journey of about 150 miles. Unfortunately for Santa Anna's army, his logistical support was sparse. He apparently had hoped to supplement his supplies by living off the land, but the area south of San Antonio could not sustain him. Furthermore, the weather that spring was unusually cold and wet. Some of Santa Anna's troops, recruited from the Yucatán, died of hypothermia. Meanwhile, in San Antonio, the few Texans remaining retreated inside the confines of the mission San Antonio de Valero, in time known simply as the Alamo.
On February, 23, 1836, Santa Anna's advance force arrived in San Antonio and began preparations for a siege. Santa Anna ordered the raising of a red flag atop the San Fernando Church, signifying no quarter and demanded that the Texans surrender unconditionally. Travis replied with a cannon volley. For thirteen days, (February 23–March 6) the Texans held their position behind the inadequate defenses of the mission, while awaiting reinforcements. Travis sent an urgent plea for help to “the People of Texas and All Americans in the World…I shall never surrender or retreat…VICTORY or DEATH.” Juan Seguin and other scouts rode through the Mexican lines and carried messages for help. James Fannin, commander of a sizeable force of about 400 men at Goliad, started for San Antonio, but returned to his fort. A few others trickled in, including David Crockett with his Tennessee volunteers and Albert Martin with thirty-two men from Gonzales, who slipped over the Alamo walls on March 1. It soon became apparent that Santa Anna not only wanted San Antonio as a Mexican outpost, but also desired the utter destruction of the Texas defenders, whom he wanted to make an example.
The final assault on the Alamo occurred at dawn on March 6, 1836. Santa Anna, with approximately 1,800 men, chose to force the issue with a bloody attack, as the degüello played—a bugle call indicating no quarter to the enemy; all were to die. The Texans, surrounded and outnumbered by ten to one, were overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers. In bitter fighting, within about an hour, all of the defenders—Travis, Bowie, Crockett, Bonham, Tejanos Juan Abamillo and José Esparza and others--perished either in battle or by execution. Historians differ on the exact number of fallen Texans, from 182 to 189, even as high as 257. Mexican officer José Enrique de la Peña later claimed that David Crockett was captured and then executed by Santa Anna. The exact fate of Crockett’s death is still debated. Santa Anna lost some 600 of his men, or roughly a third of his assault force. Several Alamo noncombatants were spared. Among them were Susanna Wilkerson Dickinson, her small child Angelina, six Bexareñas, and Travis’s slave Joe, who watched the battle from a hiding place. The women were taken before Santa Anna for interrogation, received two silver pesos and a blanket, and released. Dickinson traveled to Gonzales to inform General Houston of the fate of the Alamo defenders. Joe also stood before Santa Anna, who questioned him about the rebel army, and then abruptly dismissed him under guard. Joe successfully evaded his imprisonment and escaped, joining Dickinson on the road to Gonzales. To be sure, the generalissimo was delighted, calling the battle “a small affair,” but little had been gained save the destruction of the mission, and that success could have come without the gory price. Furthermore, though the Alamo story initially struck fear in the hearts of the Texans, it subsequently led to a relentless thirst for vengeance.
Heroism and courage occurred on both sides of the battle of the Alamo. At the same time both sides should have avoided the fight. For Santa Anna it was not strategically important to his battle plans. San Antonio did not control land or water routes into Texas or even lines of communication. The Texan defense stood on a triangle; on the west was San Antonio, on the south was San Patricio, and on the northeast was La Bahía (Goliad). Militarily speaking, Goliad was the main prize for the self-styled Napoleon of the West. It held approximately 400 insurgents under the command of Fannin, while a divided command under Bowie and William B. Travis at the Alamo comprised only about 150 men, with some 30 more reinforcements. If Santa Anna had bypassed San Antonio and marched into the settlements to the east, he would have controlled the heavier populated areas, leaving few pockets of resistance, and saving precious time, critical supplies, and men’s lives. Further, by targeting the Alamo, he delayed his planned march eastward by several weeks, allowing Travis’s stand to become a cause to rally the Texans. Military considerations aside, the general was also determined to march on San Antonio, in part, because of the humiliation visited upon his family by the defeat of his son-in-law Cós, as well as a desire to restore control of an important center of Texan resistance and teach the insurgents a lesson.
Strategically, the defenders at the Alamo also should have withdrawn from the grounds of the mission San Antonio de Valero. Recognizing the weak position of the outpost, Sam Houston had ordered Col. James C. Neill, Alamo commander, to remove all military supplies, withdraw the garrison, and destroy the Alamo. There were too few soldiers to man such a long—nearly a quarter of a mile—perimeter against a force of more than several thousand. The mission walls, although strong, were never built to serve as a fort and could not withstand the Mexican artillery indefinitely. Further, there was no redoubt to command the entire fort and one wall was still incomplete. While appeals for reinforcements were received, for the most part they were futile. Despite the hopelessness of the conditions, Neill and Bowie recognized the symbolic importance of the Alamo and elected to stay, while Travis wrote: “We consider death preferable to disgrace which would be the result of giving up the Post which has been so dearly won.”
As news of the fall of the Alamo spread, the Runaway Scrape—a mass exodus of settlers ahead of the Mexican army—ensued. Largely a female event due to the absence of men who had joined the Texan army, thousands of civilians—men, women, children, and slaves—fled their homes and evacuated eastward toward the Sabine River. Hardships, suffering, epidemics, and loss took their toll on many along the way. The roads were choked with those fleeing for their lives; the rivers were swollen and impassable; and children were lost along the way. Once the hostilities ended and they could safely return to their homes, they found their homes plundered and burned, their property and crops destroyed.
Simultaneously with Santa Anna's progress, cutting across the Rio Grande at Matamoros was a smaller force under Gen. José de Urrea, a canny fighter and inspiring leader, who, though a Federalist, put his politics aside and delivered a devastating blow to the Texan heartland. Urrea captured San Patricio with a swift thrust that caught the Texans by surprise. This success was followed by another at the battle of Agua Dulce Creek, in which Dr. James Grant was defeated and killed. In short order, Urrea also descended upon Lt. Col. William Ward's party. But these actions, though significant in themselves, were incidental matters to Urrea, who was bound for Goliad. Fannin had gathered men to attack Matamoros, despite Houston's opposition. When he heard that Urrea already had consolidated that position, he changed his mind and fell back to Goliad. Houston had earlier ordered him to relieve the men at the Alamo, but by March 14 rescinded that order and issued a new one. Fannin was to proceed with his entire command to Victoria, where a linking of forces would occur. However, learning that Ward and Aaron King and all their men had been defeated by Urrea, Fannin vacillated between defending Goliad and retreating to Victoria. Finally, on March 19, he decided too late to leave Presidio La Bahía and move toward Houston. Urrea immediately set out in pursuit. Fannin, fearing the exhaustion of his men and animals, halted after a march of only six miles. The Texans were not far from Coleto Creek with its water and protective tree line when Urrea's cavalry appeared, blocked Fannin's path, and seized the creek. When Urrea's main body arrived, Fannin could only form a square and wait. The next morning Urrea received reinforcements, including artillery. As Mexican cannons leveled their guns on the Texans and the Mexican infantry formed attack columns, Fannin accepted the inevitable and asked for terms. He received what he, at least, regarded as an assurance that his army would be treated honorably as prisoners of war. The Texans were marched back to Goliad, imprisoned, and assured of their release. Upon hearing the terms of surrender, Santa Anna countermanded them and issued orders for their execution. On March 27 approximately 350 Texans were killed, while those who escaped took word of the massacre back east to Houston.
As the siege of the Alamo and the massacre at Goliad played out, fifty-eight delegates to a constitutional convention convened on March 1, 1836, at Washington-on-the-Brazos. The next day, March 2, those assembled declared Texas independence, including three Tejanos, Antonio Navarro, Lorenzo de Zavala, and José Francisco Ruiz. They also prepared a constitution for the new Republic of Texas. The document, adopted on March 17, created a federal form of government, composed of three branches of government, and guaranteed protection of slavery. They then chose leaders for an interim government until elections could be held. David G. Burnett was named interim president and Lorenzo de Zavala became vice president. The convention also took steps to address the emergency, naming Sam Houston as commander-in-chief with authority to raise a Texas army.
Throughout the revolt the Texas army faced manpower problems, frequently leaving the ranks of Houston’s forces short-handed. Not all Texans supported the insurgency against Mexico and often dodged military service or disserted. Referred to as “Tories,” they included prominent citizens and others who held financial ties to Mexico and hoped for a peaceful settlement. Despite a divided population, volunteers typically came from the ranks of Texians, Anglo-Americans from the United States; Tejanos such as Juan Seguin, who led the Tejano cavalry and fought at San Jacinto; and a few black Texans, who acted as spies for Houston. Many of the Anglo men who served were “citizen soldiers” who would fight in times of crisis and then return home to take care of their families and farms. During the chaotic Runaway Scrape, soldiers became concerned for the safety of their families and often left their posts to rejoin them. Men also “came and went” due to illness, reassignment, or frustration with the lack of adequate supplies and political wrangling. As a consequence, the Texas army was often numerically inferior on the battlefields. Both the defeats at the Alamo and Goliad resulted from too few recruits who were overwhelmed by superior enemy forces. While exact numbers of the strength of the armies are unknown, estimates place Houston’s army at about 1,200 during March–April, 1836, with 900 battle troops engaged at San Jacinto with an additional 250 as rear guard. Santa Anna’s massive force numbered approximately 6,000, which he divided among his generals, leaving the Mexican army at San Jacinto with about 1,300 and thus saving Houston from facing the full force of his attack.
Although noncombatants, women also did what they could to support the Texas army on or near the battlefields. Many replaced the men who had joined the army by running farms and plantations. Others such as Dilue Rose Harris melted lead in a pot to mold bullets for the army. Still others nursed the sick and wounded at the Alamo, such as María Andrea Castañon Villanueva (known as Madam Candelaria), while Pamelia Mann placed her oxen in service to the army.
With the fall of the Alamo, Santa Anna assumed that the war was over, and the news of Goliad only confirmed his view. It was necessary for his officers to convince him that the job was not yet finished; he still had to run down Houston and the remaining Texan forces. Finally accepting their remonstrations, he planned a three-pronged offensive through East Texas. Gen. Antonio Gaona was initially to take a northerly route via Bastrop toward Nacogdoches, but shortly thereafter Santa Anna ordered him instead to proceed from Bastrop toward San Felipe. Gen. Joaquín Ramírez y Sesma was also ordered to San Felipe, whence he would strike in an easterly direction with the probable destination of Anahuac. Sesma's troops were to act as the spearhead of the thrust. Finally, Urrea was to secure the right flank of these movements while maintaining a northerly route in the hope of joining the main forces should a mass formation be necessary. Houston was thus to be snared, his army crushed or captured, and the rebellion finished.
On March 20 Sesma, in torrid pursuit of Houston, but at the head of only 800 men, reached the Colorado River. Houston's army at this time probably outnumbered the Mexicans, but the Texas general refused to fight, for several reasons. He realized that although his army was patriotically motivated, it was poorly-trained. Furthermore, his enemy had artillery, and he did not. Finally, Santa Anna's plan allowed for rapid communication and consequently quick reinforcements. Houston believed that he could not risk it, for if he lost, there would be nothing to stop Santa Anna from marching unimpeded across Texas. In Houston's mind, nothing less was at stake than independent nationhood. Nevertheless, disappointed that he did not attack, a number of his troops began to question his leadership, and a discipline problem developed that lasted all the way to San Jacinto.
When Houston learned of Fannin's destruction, his withdrawal became a retreat, and he turned northward toward the Brazos River and Jared Groce's plantation. Houston went by way of San Felipe de Austin, which he torched. By now, his disgruntled force had shrunk to no more than 800 men. Some allege that Houston wanted to retreat as far as the Trinity River, others that he merely intended to teach his little army the fundamentals of the drill while waiting for reinforcements. In either event, captains Wyly Martin and Moseley Baker balked, claiming that they would fight the enemy on their own. Houston solved the problem by ordering these men and their followers to establish a rear guard to hold up a Mexican advance. But discontent came not only from the ranks, but from the government. Houston was strongly criticized by President David G. Burnet as well. In the meantime, Burnet and his cabinet fled New Washington, the most recent capital of the new government, for Harrisburg. Time passed slowly at Groce's plantation, but the troops did receive the rudiments of battlefield drill and formation. The weather remained terrible, and disease became a problem. In these troubles, Houston's command was buttressed by two loyal supporters, Col. Thomas J. Rusk and Col. Edward Burleson.
Upon hearing of Burnet's flight, Santa Anna also decided to move on Harrisburg. Because of this error he lost sight of his objective—Houston's army. In addition, this pursuit meant that he would be required to divide his force further. Nevertheless, Santa Anna decided on the chase and personally led the advancing force. When he arrived in Harrisburg, Santa Anna discovered that the Texas government had fled again, so he ordered Col. Juan N. Almonte ahead. Almonte nearly succeeded in capturing the escaping officials. By now, however, Houston was on the move again, this time to the east. At the fork between the road to Nacogdoches and that to Harrisburg, the army swung toward the latter, and the character of the campaign changed. Houston, who had been slow and deliberate in his manner, now became swift and animated, and his strike toward Harrisburg resembled a forced march. On the way, he intercepted Mexican couriers, from whom he learned the location and size of Santa Anna's force. Gathering his men around him, Houston eloquently addressed them and called upon them to “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!”
By now, both Houston and Santa Anna, on separate roads, were headed for Lynch's Ferry on the San Jacinto River. Still concerned about reinforcements, for he knew that General Cós would soon join his adversary, Houston crossed and then destroyed Vince's Bridge. During the remainder of the campaign, the possibility of Mexican reinforcements was never far from his mind. The Texans reached Lynch's Ferry, at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou. On the banks of both bodies of water was marshland, flanked by heavy foliage, mostly live oak, spread laterally. By this time Houston had received much-needed artillery, in the form of two six-pound cannons, the “Twin Sisters,” presented by the citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, in support of the Texan cause. On April 20 in the tree line beside Buffalo Bayou, Houston aligned his force. Later the same day, Santa Anna's army, surprised by the Texan presence, also arrived. In the late afternoon, there was a brief, but sharp clash, between elements of the two armies, but nothing serious developed. Apparently, Santa Anna decided to wait for reinforcements, which arrived the following morning in the form of Cós's command.
Meanwhile Houston held his first council of war, wherein the merits of an offensive or defensive battle were debated. Some were critical of Houston’s continual delays and retreat, while others suggested that he feared a fight. On the afternoon of April 21, Houston finally issued attack orders to his small force of around 900 men to face Santa Anna’ army, numbering approximately 1,300 men. Santa Anna had concluded that the Texans were on the defensive, and he permitted his troops to retire to their tents and rest in preparation for an offensive attack the next day. Because of this costly miscalculation, Houston surprised and completely overran the enemy. While the battle lasted only eighteen minutes, the killing continued until twilight, hours after the battle was over. Despite Houston’s order to end the slaughter and take prisoners, virtually the entire Mexican army was killed, scattered, or captured. In effect, the Mexicans lost everything, including 630 soldiers dead, 730 captured, and 280 wounded. The Texans, by comparison, lost 9 men with 34 wounded. Santa Anna, commander-in-chief and president of Mexico, managed to escape. He was found the next day and brought before General Houston, who was wounded and leaning against a tree. On Houston’s command Santa Anna ordered his second-in-command, General Vicente Filisola, to withdraw all his troops from Texas and never return. If the Mexican army had remained in Texas, it is probable that the war would have continued. Many Texans wanted Santa Anna’s life, but Houston, aware of the Mexican general’s value alive, spared him.
Two treaties of Velasco, one public, the other secret, officially concluded the revolt. The first was published as soon as possible, and its contents held conditions very favorable to Texas. By its terms, Texas independence was recognized, hostilities were ended, the Mexican army retired beyond the Rio Grande, confiscated property would be restored, and prisoners would be exchanged. The secret treaty agreed to Santa Anna's release in exchange for his promise that he would do all he could to secure within the Mexican government the provisions of the public treaty, as well as their enforcement. Santa Anna agreed, however, the remaining Mexican government refused to accept these terms.
The stunning victory at San Jacinto brought an immediate end to hostilities, independence for Texas, and the birth of the Republic of Texas. However, due to the brevity of the rebellion—about seven months—the Texas Revolution did not wrench apart for Texans the political and social order. Lacking any profound restructuring of society, some historians question whether it was a revolution at all, especially for those of Hispanic or African descent, as well as women. Further, in light of uprisings in several Mexican states at the time, the revolt and emergence of an independent Texas has been viewed by other scholars as actually part of a regional separatist movement. Whether revolution or evolution, Texas became not only a de facto state, but also a de jure state in the eyes of many nations. For the future, the Texas Revolution would hold wide-sweeping significance for the people of Texas, leading to a challenging, but brief experiment with nationhood, the Mexican War, annexation to the United States, and U.S. acquisition of almost one-third of the territory of the American Southwest.