For additional information, Search Handbook of Texas Online
Accounts of the Capture of General Santa Anna at San Jacinto
Santa Anna's Captivity
When he [Santa Anna] approached Houston, the general was lying wounded under a large oak tree, standing on the bank of the bayou, and hanging as though decorated with great beards of grey moss. A short dialogue ensued, a son of de Zavala acting as interpretor. When he saw young de Zavala, he embraced him, and proclaimed himself his father's friend, though in fact the elder de Zavala was then a fugitive on Galveston Island, along with the remainder of the fleeing government, and would have no doubt been shot two days before, had his excellency laid hands on him. He threw himself on Houston's mercy, advising in a patronizing way that since Houston had conquered and captured the Napoleon of the West, he could afford to be merciful. To this Houston replied that Santa Anna had not shown any mercy at the Alamo or Goliad. He sought to justify himself by the refusal of the defenders of the Alamo to surrender, which made the storming of the place necessary, and invoked the act of congress against persons found in arms against the government as the excuse for Goliad. But General Houston replied, Fannin's men were surrendered under conditions which were violated. To this El Presidente replied in much warmth that if this were so, Urrea had deceived him, that this was the first he had heard of a conditional surrender, that he would look into it, and if found true, the most awful punishment would be meted out to Urrea. The ad interim government of Texas now assumed negotiations with the captive president, and pending them, he sent a dispatch to General Filisola to retire to Victoria, advising:
Two treaties were speedily concluded with him, known as the treaties of Velasco. An open treaty which provided:
The secret treaty provided:
These bargains arranged, El Presidente and his suite embarked on a schooner at the mouth of the Brazos on June 3, 1836, bound for Vera Cruz. He was quite happy at having traded these treaties for his life, and issued a felicitous farewell address to the Texas people. There was a tremendous sentiment in Texas at this time for his execution, and the provisional government had great difficulty in keeping a semblance of order, and carrying out its program with him, and it was with much relief that President Burnet and his advisers saw him on board the Invincible, which was to carry him home. A few hours before the schooner sailed, a vessel came into the Brazos from New Orleans, bearing a company of soldiers mustered in the States for the war in Texas. The news of the atrocities at the Alamo and Goliad had aroused great feeling in the States, and when San Jacinto's tidings were spread, there was a rush of adventurous persons who would participate in the war, and these newcomers determined that the Mexican President should be detained. They defied the provisional government, and boarded the Invincible before it could set sail, and forcibly took possession of El Presidente with the avowed purpose of having him tried and shot. He was taken up the Brazos river to the Phelps plantation, about 30 miles from Velasco, and kept there during the summer and autumn.
A rumor was spread that an attempt was to be made to effect his rescue, and indeed such a plan was in progress, and he was put in irons and chained to a live oak tree, which is still standing at the site of the Phelps home. His further confinement under these circumstances weighed so heavily upon him that he became melancholy, and attempted to poison himself, but Dr. Phelps managed to neutralize the effect of the poison, and saved him for a long and varied career. On one occasion, a band of ruffians came to the Phelps home to assassinate him, and Mrs. Phelps first pleaded with them and when they made an effort to harm him, she threw her arms about him, and by a mixture of courage and entreaty caused them to desist.
(Wharton, 1926, continued) While he [Santa Anna] was in confinement at the Phelps plantation, he was visited by a gentleman who bore him a message from Mr. Poinsett at his home in South Carolina. When Poinsett was minister to Mexico in 1824, he was a great apostle of republican ideas, and had a happy acquaintance with the young leader who had just overthrown the empire, and was the avowed champion of popular government.
To this very unkind message, El Presidente made this deliberate reply:
The first congress of the Republic of Texas assembled at Columbia on the Brazos in October, and the fate of the captive president was a great theme which was debated in both houses. The leaders in congress were loud for his life, and if the matter had been left to a vote, he would no doubt have lost. But General Houston, who had been elected President of Texas in September, 1836, was a man of great firmness, and had determined that to spare his life was the politic thing to do. Andrew Jackson, President of the United States, had written Houston, urging that he be released. In November, while the congressmen at Columbia were debating the fate of the "illustrious prisoner," President Houston cut the debate short by sending him to Washington with an escort. He was accompanied by Messrs. Hockley, Patton, Bee, and Almonte. Well mounted, the party left the Brazos on the 25th of November, 1836, and rode toward the Lynchburg crossing of the San Jacinto, and near the sunset hour on a November day they rode across the battlefield.
The Texan escort rode ahead, and he and Almonte dropped behind as they came upon this familiar scene. No word was spoken while the five horsemen moved slowly over the hill slope and down toward the ferry. Just at sunset, they crossed the river, and in the lengthening shadows, El Presidente turned and cast a long meditative look at the scene of his greatest disaster. He did not want to go to New Orleans, for the Texan sentiment was so strong there that he feared for his life, and they rode through northern Louisiana to the Mississippi River, where they took a passing steamboat up the 'Mississippi to the Ohio, and up the latter river to Louisville, Ky., which place they reached on Christmas day, 1836. News that the Mexican president was passing through the country excited lively interest, and crowds were gathered at each stopping place for a look at him. Everywhere he was treated with the utmost courtesy and curiosity. The genial Almonte, who talked English perfectly, made himself a favorite with every group. Though many of the men shot at Goliad were from Kentucky, there was not the slightest indignity offered him anywhere in the State, and when the party stopped at Lexington, they were accorded marked attention, and many members of the Kentucky legislature came over from Frankfort to pay their respects.
As they went through Maryland, they stopped a day at Frederick, where a military court was in session, trying General Winfield Scott, of the United States army for alleged misconduct in the late Florida campaign, and El Presidente and General Scott were made acquainted, and exchanged greetings, and parted to meet another day. Lieutenant Hitchcock, who in May before had carried the news of San Jacinto to Washington, was an attendant at this court of inquiry, and wrote in his diary,
In Washington, he visited President Jackson, and as speedily as possible set sail for home. He was sent to Vera Cruz on the United States frigate Pioneer, as the guest of the American Navy, and in the latter days of February, he and his faithful Almonte, standing on the deck of the Pioneer, saw the sentinel outlines of Cofre de Perote, the first glimpse of his native land after an absence of an eventful year.
The real story of Santa Anna's trip to Washington has never been widely known. There was a determined fight in the American Congress, which convened in the autumn of 1836, upon the recognition of Texas' independence. Jackson's administration was coming to a close and he was to be succeeded the following March by Van Buren and the new administration was very conservative about the recognition of Texas, or any other act that would bring on war with Mexico. Houston, who became President of Texas in September, 1836, sent William H. Wharton, Minister to the United States, to negotiate for annexation. President Houston conceived that it would materially help the situation if Santa Anna would go in person to Washington and say to President Jackson that Mexico did not intend to make an effort to reconquer Texas. This would be an answer to the critics in Congress who were urging that the recognition of Texas would be considered an unfriendly act by Mexico. It was one of the conditions of Santa Anna's release that he should do this, and though he was authentically liberated when he left Texas under a military escort, in fact he was a quasi prisoner until he left Washington. He carried out his part of the bargain and in private conversations with President Jackson gave the message that he had been sent to deliver and this was a powerful aid to the recognition of Texas which was accomplished during the last hours of the Jackson administration. sdct
The most interesting chapter in Santa Anna's memoirs is his account of the Texas campaign. These memoirs were written nearly forty years after, and many of the details had escaped him, yet he is not faithful in his relation of major events. The following is an abstract of the 7th chapter of "My Memoirs, Written in My Last Exile":
I assembled and organized the expeditionary army of Texas at Saltillo. The filibusterers who believed that we would not return to Texas were greatly surprised at seeing us, and ran frightened to the Alamo. On that day, the fortress had a garrison of six hundred men, whose commander was named N. [W.] Travis, of great renown among the filibusterers. The so-called General, Samuel Houston, in a letter which I intercepted, said to the famous Travis:
The filibusterers defended themselves obstinately, and gave no sign of surrender, and died fighting. Not one was left alive, but among us they put out more than a thousand.
General Urrea completely defeated Col. Fancy [Fannin], who came out to meet him at Goliad with 1500 men. Urrea announced his triumph in a dispatch which ended: "Since the adventurers who entered Texas armed to further the revolution of the colonists are outside the law, the prisoners have been shot." General Sesma followed Houston's tracks and from the Colorado sent me a dispatch: "Nothing is happening. The filibusterer Houston, with his gang, is still on the other side of the river." The chief of the filibusterers, on hearing of the nearness of the Mexicans, disappeared. The campaign should come to an end before the spring floods, which made it necessary to advance rapidly. Between the enemy and me was the copious Brazos River, and five leagues beyond, in the little village of Arrisburg [Harrisburg], was located the government of the so-called Republic of Texas. I marched toward this place, with six companies of grenadiers, and a small cannon.
In one night we crossed the prairie, and were approaching the houses when a gun was accidently discharged, which aroused the dogs, and frightened the officials, who ran to hide themselves in a little steamer which as a precaution they had in the Arroyo del Bufalo, with engine fired. In the residence of I. Bonnen [David Burnet], the titular President of Texas, there was found correspondence from Houston, who was in low spirits. In one letter, he wrote: "My men are deserting in platoons, believing the cause lost. This obliges me to seek the protection on Galveston Island until a more opportune time. I will make use of the first vessel that enters the San Jacinto River." I immediately ordered Filisola, whom I had left at Thompson's Pass, on the Brazos, to march to me with all his strength. I had left him two written orders:
I was awaiting impatiently, when Cos arrived with 300 men. Seeing my orders disobeyed, and foreseeing disaster, I determined to countermarch the same day, and try Filisola, and receive reinforcements. But it was already late. The evil was done. The disobedient Filisola had sent me information from Mexico by one of his aides, who before reaching my camp was intercepted, and when put to torture, told all he knew. Houston was then advised of the superiority of his forces, and decided to attack. At 2 o'clock in the afternoon, April 21st, I had fallen to sleep in the shade of an oak, hoping that the heat would moderate, so that I could begin the march, when the filibusterers surprised my camp, with admirable skill. Imagine my surprise on opening my eyes, and finding myself surrounded by these people, threatening me with their rifles. The responsibility of Filisola was obvious, because he and only he had caused such a catastrophe by his criminal disobedience.
Samuel Houston treated me in a way that could not have been hoped for. His humane and generous conduct contrasted severely with that of Filisola. I have always recalled with emotions of gratitude how much I owed to this singular man, in the saddest moments of my life. Shortly afterward, Houston went to New Orleans for treatment, and left me in charge of a so-called general named Rox (Rusk). This wicked man was cruel to me, but when Houston returned, he characterized Rox's conduct as barbarous, and with touching words, bade me forget it. On taking leave of me, Houston said,
In that helpless state, and in despair of getting away from the filibusterers, any refusal seemed imprudent, and with good grace I complied with his wishes. He recounts his visit to Washington, and says President Jackson repeated:
I replied to him:
El Presidente landed at Vera Cruz on his return from Washington and the Texas campaign, February 23, 1837, after an absence of a little more than one year, and went direct to his plantation, where he announced his retirement from public life. He was received with every mark of respect, for his reverses seemed to have aroused more sympathy than censure among his fellow-countrymen, but he wisely sought a rest at Manga de Clavo, before venturing again into politics. When he went out in the Texas campaign, the year before, he had left General Barragan, his vice-president, as Chief Executive. Vice President Barragan died in March, 1836, while the Alamo was under siege, and Congress had named one Jose Corro Provisional President, pending Santa Anna's return, and this person was yet in authority when El Presidente came back. But while he was away, his old enemy, Bustamente, whom he had overthrown and sent into exile in 1832, had returned, and in June, 1837, while El Presidente was at his plantation, Bustamente was elected President of Mexico for a five-year term. El Presidente remained down on his plantation for the next two years, planning a repetition of his unseating of Bustamente. sdct
Now follows one of the, most painful---and revelatory periods in our hero's life. In Mexico, enthroned in splendor as President or galloping about in the revolutions he emerges only as a pamphlet character---a stout hero to his partisans, a virile monster to his enemies. His military position, his quondam political offices, cast about him even in temporary defeat a mantle of grandeur, however tawdry. Balloon-like from the lips of the stiff figure emerge the lush, formal proclamations, the only recorded expressions of his thoughts. But vicissitudes among sharp analytical foreigners bring sketches and side-views---another dimension to make understandable his curious character.
After the battle, the dead for some reason---probably the almost boyish joy of the conquerors who could think of little else save their miraculous victory---were left on the field to decompose. The stench was so offensive and quite evidently so unhygienic that some measure obviously had to be taken. Santa Anna, eager to extenuate his behavior at the Alamo, suggested that the bodies be burned, maintaining that he always employed this method of disposing of the dead. But the Texans avoided the difficulty by moving their camp about nine miles north. The defeated President had good reason to volunteer excuses for his past policies for he came to realize now the true danger of his position. Relatives and friends of the Alamo and Goliad victims were clamoring for his execution of the fifteen men who escaped from the Fannin massacre "each one" as Caro the secretary puts it, "became a tiger in his persecution of us." Efforts were made to induce Caro to relate the true story of Urrea's and Santa Anna's exchange of notes in regard to the executions. If he had not kept loyally silent, his master might have faced a firing squad. Meanwhile Zavala, the Texan Vice-President, appeared and when his distinguished countryman attempted to start a cordial conversation with him, he not only administered a chilling snub, but informed him that he might expect the supreme chastisement for his crimes.
However, with the magnanimous Houston covering him with his protection and Rusk, the Minister of War, happy over his success in getting Santa Anna to order Filisola's retreat and eager for more concessions, His Excellency caught at the drifting straw of hope. As he later put it,
The proposition he referred to came from the zealous Rusk and stipulated that Texan independence should be recognized and the boundaries of the new republic should reach to the Rio Grande. Also, indemnities were to be paid to Texans for lives and properties lost, all prisoners to be exchanged, the Mexicans to leave the country and the United States to act as intermediary and referee to see that all these provisions be observed. Santa Anna should be held as an hostage until these terms should be fulfilled. Otherwise---execution. Harsh demands, but obviously open to modification and Santa Anna, scenting a chance to barter and haggle, brightened up. The party which had dealt with the retreating Filisola had come back bringing with them the Mexican General Woll who pretended that he wished to negotiate further about matters, but whose real purpose was to spy on the condition of the Texans. Houston, divining this and intending that the Mexican forces should not know the real nature and extent of the Texan strength, held him as a prisoner, just as he was about to return to his army. sdct
But the negotiations went on and there was to follow an opportunity for Santa Anna to gain time and to give full scope to his ability at parleys. For on the 5th of May it was deemed best for the distinguished captive to go on board the steamship Yellowstone together with Houston, Rusk, Burnet and the whole Texan Government, and travel to Galveston Island. Finding accommodations bad there, they repaired to Velasco, principal port of the new Republic, a better stage for the diplomatic drama. One of the passengers gave a very good picture of him on this voyage---a revealing character sketch:
Well he might, for it was Houston who stood as a protector between Santa Anna and the bloodthirsty horde yelling for vengeance. His protection of the Mexican President and his support of the treaties which Rusk was drawing up seems to have been an attitude representing a combination of generosity and policy. It is perhaps improbable that he placed much reliance on Santa Anna's promises to recognize Texan independence or his power to enforce such measures if he could do anything about them. More likely is it that the shrewd old Indian fighter deemed it silly to kill this famous man and so to draw down on the young republic European and American censure when there was a bare possibility that some bargain might be made out of the preservation of his life. Rusk drafted two treaties, one a severe and drastic document for public consumption, the other a secret one which Santa Anna was to sign and stand by. The first required that hostilities should cease, that the Mexicans should retire beyond the Rio Grande, that property taken should be returned (a modification of the indemnity demand which undoubtedly Santa Anna had gained in the parleys). More important in the eyes of the suspicious Texans who would peruse this treaty, Santa Anna should agree not to take up arms against the Texans in the future and should be sent to Vera Cruz "as soon as may be thought proper."
The secret treaty which the illustrious prisoner was to sign made no mention of property but required the Mexicans to retire beyond the Rio Grande. Other provisions reveal how much the sharp Mexican had obtained in concessions from his captors. Instead of recognizing the new Republic, Santa Anna was to "prepare" things in the cabinet at Mexico for the reception of a Texan mission to negotiate a treaty. But most important of all for the impatient captive, "The present return of General Santa Anna to Vera Cruz being indispensable for the purpose of effecting his solemn engagements, the Government of Texas will provide for his immediate embarkation for said port."
But at this point our hero overstepped himself. Having regained some of his old confidence and nourishing this on the fuss which Rusk and other officials were making to get him to sign, he became insolent and balked at placing the signature to the secret treaty, alleging that his word of honor and good faith were sufficient. This produced uproar in the Texan cabinet and instead of impressing them as Santa Anna had meant, it made them all very angry at the troublesome captive and strengthened the proponents of execution. Seeing how matters lay, His Excellency yielded and affixed his florid rubric to the document. But he had lost the good will of most of his protectors. Together with Nuñez, Almonte and Caro, he was now lodged not in the state-rooms of the steamboat but in a small room in Velasco with a sentinel outside whose presence suggested, under the circumstances, less detention than protection from mob violence. For it was only after the utmost difficulty that the moderates prevailed and made arrangements to place him on a ship in the harbor, the Invincible, preparatory to sending him to Vera Cruz. But on the morning of June 1st, just as he was to be taken on board, the soldiery rebelled and Rusk had to devote several hours to pacifying them. In the afternoon a storm came up---ominous threat of what was to follow---and Santa Anna was hurriedly taken on board, aided by Zavala who had by this time begun to have his troubles with the Texans and was then about to be ousted as Vice-President. Perhaps mindful of this situation he became conciliatory towards his former enemy and aided him in his plans. On board the Invincible our hero, his impressionable soul moved, dictated a premature proclamation to the Texans expressing gratitude:
Next page 5 Captivity by Hanighen (continued)
SONS OF DEWITT