1997-2008, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved.
Independence-Index | Battle of San Jacinto | Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna


General Santa Anna's Description
The Battle of San Jacinto, 1837

Reprinted from the part of Santa Anna's Manifesto, printed in Vera Cruz, 1837 that appeared in Memoirs for The History of the War in Texas by General Vicente Filisola, 1848, translated by Wallace Woolsey.

See also Memories of San Jacinto by Old Texians

With the division of General Don Jose Urrea, composed of more than thirteen hundred men, that of Don Joaquin Ramirez y Cesma with fourteen hundred, and that of Don Antonio Gaona with seven hundred, each one capable of doing battle with the rest of the enemy forces, I went with my Bexar group on the appointed day with my staff and an escort of thirty dragoons. The strength of these divisions I do not include here because of the loss of a part of my baggage in which were located these and other documents. On the third day I reached the Guadalupe River across from the burned out town of Gonzalez and caught up with the sapper battalion and the active one from Guadalajara under the command of Colonel Don Agustin Amat, both of which were on their way to reinforce the division of General Ramirez y Cesma.

Two days behind Lieutenant Colonel Don Pedro Ampudia was following with the permanent sapper artillery, sacks for dirt, munitions and foodstuffs for the division itself. Since the Guadalupe River was on a rise, it was not possible for troops and the train to cross in the brief time necessary, and a delay of three or four days was unavoidable. The information which General Ramirez y Cesma had sent on to me from the Colorado River as he faced the enemy, and which decided me to send the auxiliaries as I said in the answer, had me worried. Because of this I ordered Division General Don Vicente Filisola, whom I thought to be the best as my second since General Don Juan Andrade had been left in Bexar, to remain to expedite the crossing and for everything to continue under his immediate command to proceed with all possible speed. I hastened my march, and on the fifth I arrived at the Atascosito crossing of the river mentioned. On the other side I found the division of General Ramirez y Cesma, and he informed me that since the enemy had withdrawn towards the Brazos River it had been his good fortune to cross without any opposition. When I noticed that there was only one canoe, I ordered the permanent Aldama battalion under the direction of General Don Adrian Woll to construct rafts to facilitate the progress of the section that had remained with General Filisola.

Thinking that General Gaona was marching to San Felipe according to his reply from Bastrop, a town located on the east bank of the Colorado River, about thirty leagues west of San Felipe de Austin, and thinking also that General Urrea was on his way to the town of Brazoria, which is on the west bank of the Brazos River and twenty-five leagues to the south of San Felipe, I continued on the sixth with the division of General Cesma to San Bernard Creek, and on the seventh at dawn I arrived in San Felipe de Austin. This town, located on the west bank of the Brazos River, was no longer in existence because the enemy had burned it. They had interned the inhabitants as had been done in Gonzalez. Among the ruins an armed Anglo-American was arrested, and he stated that he belonged to a detachment of about one hundred fifty men located on the other side to protect the crossing. He said that the towns were burned to keep the supplies away from the Mexicans by orders of General Sam Houston, who was in a woods at Gross Pass, fifteen leagues distant from our left with only eight hundred men that he had left. His intention was to withdraw to the Trinity River if the Mexicans crossed the Brazos River.

When they had sighted our forces, they opened fire from a redoubt that protected them. I had a trench dug facing them and placed two six-caliber cannon which were fired upon constantly, without any mishap at all on our side. I immediately reconnoitered the river bank to the left and to the right up to two leagues distance looking for a crossing to surprise them during the night. But it was a fruitless search; the river is wide and deep and was on a rise, and not a canoe was to be found. The several rivers that cross that country present great obstacles for an expeditionary army. They carry a lot of water and have frequent rises in the spring caused by melting snows in the mountains and sudden rains, all of which cause considerable delav in movements. On the eighth I ordered the construction of two rafts (flatboats), for which it was necessary to bring logs from distant houses. Once work was in progress it was calculated that ten or twelve days were needed to finish them because of the scarcity of carpenters, and three or more days to get them to where they could be used. This loss of time seemed to me to be an irreparable evil since considering the situation of the army of the Republic the ending of the campaign before the rainy season was very important. General Filisola did not reach the Colorado River, and General Gaona did not say when he would do so. The situation of the enemy leader was not unknown to me. Since he was intimidated by the successive victories of our army, unnerved at the sight of their rapid movements on a terrain that naturally posed almost unconquerable obstacles, and suffering from desertions and scarcities that impelled them to seek safety in the retreat which they undertook, nothing was more fitting for us than to pursue them and defeat them before they could recoup their forces.

The Brazos River could not be crossed at San Felipe. In light of these circumstances I decided to reconnoiter up to ten or twelve leagues along the bank on the right, where I judged the flank was covered by General Urrea's division, which as I have indicated was on its way to Brazoria. Indeed I marched from San Felipe on the ninth with fifty grenadiers and chausseurs and fifty horses, leaving General Ramirez y Cesma with the rest of the division, which would momentarily reinforce that of General Gaona. After three days of painful marches and countermarches, on one of those days when I made on foot a day's march of five leagues, I took possession of Thompson's Pass, a beautiful flatboat and two canoes in spite of the efforts of a small detachment of the enemy. During this day the leaders, officers and troops conducted themselves with enthusiasm and bravery. Fortune smiled on us. General Ramirez y Cesma, in accordance with my orders, joined me on the thirteenth. General Gaona did not appear. By means of some colonists who appeared, one of them a Mexican, I found out that in the town of Harrisburg, twelve leagues distance, located on the right bank of the Buffalo Bayou, resided the well known government of Texas, Don Lorenzo Zavala and the other directors of the revolution, and their capture was certain if a few troops marched on them quickly. The news was important, and even more so the movement indicated, the success of which would disconcert completely the revolution. Without intrusting it to any one I tried to take advantage of the situation. I had transferred to the other side of the river the grenadiers and chausseurs with whom I had taken the pass, the permanent battalion of Matamoros, the dragoons of my escort, a well equipped six-caliber cannon and fifty boxes of gun cartridges and set out on the march for Harrisburg with this force on the fourteenth in the afternoon. I left General Ramirez y Cesma in Thompson with the other troops of his division and sealed instructions for General Filisola.

I entered Harrisburg on the fifteenth at night lighted by several houses that were burning, and we found only one Frenchman and two North Americans working in a print shop. They stated that the so called president, vice president and other ranking individuals had left at noon in a steamship for Galveston Island, whither were bound the families from those houses. They said that the fire that we saw was accidental, and they had not been able to put it out; also that the families had abandoned their houses on orders from General Houston, and that the latter was at Gross Pass with eight hundred men and two four-caliber cannon. Since the capture of the leaders of the revolution had been frustrated, and since I knew the whereabouts of the enemy and their strength, in order to combine my movements better, I ordered Colonel Don Juan N. Almonte with the fifty dragoons of my escort to reconnoiter as far as the pass at Lynchburg and New Washington. From that point the colonel informed me, among other things, that several colonists found in their houses all declared that General Houston was withdrawing in the direction of the Trinity River through the pass at Lynchburg. To prevent Houston's crossing and to destroy with one blow the armed forces and the hopes of the revolutionaries was something too important to allow the occasion to escape us. I conceived the plan of taking the pass at Lynchburg before his arrival and taking advantage of the terrain. My first instructions were confined to reinforcing the section that accompanied me, composed of one cannon, seven hundred foot soldiers and fifty horses, to the point that it was superior in number to the enemy, as it already was in discipline. I ordered General Filisola to suspend the movement of General Cos on the port of Velasco, which was included in my orders, and to send out at once under his command five hundred chosen foot soldiers to join me as quickly as possible. This order was delivered speedily by my aide de camp Acting Lieutenant Colonel Don Jose Maria Castillo y Iberri. "With Colonel Almonte tied up at Galveston Bay with the enemy boats that could be arriving, while at the same time it was necessary to assure the quantities of foodstuffs that he had managed to seize, I made a day's march to that point on the afternoon of the eighteenth. Upon my arrival there was sighted a schooner, which for lack of wind could not move. I tried to capture it and make use of it in due time on Galveston Island, but when Colonel Almonte had readied the boats and rafts that he had provided, a steamboat arrived and opened fire.

In the early morning on the nineteenth I ordered Captain Marcos Harragan with some dragoons to the pass at Lynchburg, about three leagues from New Washington, to observe and give me prompt notice of the arrival of Houston. On the twentieth at eight o'clock in the morning he came to me and informed me that Houston was arriving at Lynchburg. All the men of the section were happy to hear of the approach of the enemy and with the best of spirits continued the march that was already under way to that point. Upon my arrival Houston was in possession of a woods on the banks of Buffalo Bayou, whose waters join the San Jacinto River there and form a part of Galveston Bay. His situation made it necessary for him to fight or go into the water. My troops then showed so much enthusiasm that I entered battle against him. Although he answered our fire, we were not able to dislodge him from the woods. I tried to draw him out towards a hill that afforded us an advantageous position, water to the rear, a thick woods on the right down to the banks of the San Jacinto, a wide plain on the left and clear ground in front. When I executed this maneuver he slacked his cannon fire upon Captain Don Fernando Urriza. About one hundred horses came out of the woods throwing themselves boldly upon my escort in such fashion that they routed them for a moment and gravely wounded one of the dragoons. I ordered two companies of chasseurs out to meet them, and these were sufficient to put the enemy to flight back to the woods. Some foot soldiers had also come out, but they returned to the woods when they saw the cavalry withdraw.

It was about five o'clock in the afternoon, and the troops needed food and rest so he used the rest of the day in such indispensable tasks. The night was spent with vigilance, and I occupied myself with the best combination of forces and a parapet that would make the position of the cannon advantageous and that would conceal it. My position was this: three companies of picked men were guarding the woods to the right; the permanent battalion from Matamoros took battle formation in the center; and to the left the can non, protected by the cavalry and a column of companies of picked men under the command of Acting Lieutenant Colonel Don Santiago Luelmo, who stood in reserve. At nine o'clock in the morning on the twenty-first, in view of the enemy, General Cos arrived with four hundred men from the battalions of Aldama, Guerrero, Toluca and Guadalajara, having left the remaining one hundred under the command of Acting Colonel Don Mariano Garcia with the loads in bad shape, delayed near Harrisburg, and the incorporation of these troops was not carried out. At first glance I noted that my orders were not carried out with respect to the five hundred picked infantrymen that were mentioned specifically, for the major part of the force was composed of recruits that were distributed to the various detachments in San Luis Potosi and Saltillo. Such a serious error caused me at that moment the greatest displeasure since I considered inadequate the aid that I was awaiting impatiently, with which I was planning to deal a decisive blow considering the circumstances which made me superior to the enemy. In spite of everything I tried to take advantage of the favorable reaction that I noted on the men's faces with the arrival of General Cos. However, the latter explained that because of their forced march to arrive quickly the troops that he was bringing had not eaten or slept for twenty-four hours, and that while the equipment was arriving - which would be a matter of two or three hours they could eat and rest and thus be in good shape to fight. I followed this suggestion and consented for them to rest and eat.

In order to observe the enemy and to protect the pack trains indicated I located my escort in a good place, reinforcing it with thirty-two infantrymen mounted on officers' horses. It had not been an hour since this operation when General Cos came to me and asked in the name of Captain Don Miguel Aguirre who was commanding the escort that his troops be allowed to eat and to feed and water the horses since that had not been done since the day before. The compassionate tone with which they made these requests caused me to agree, but telling them that their needs satisfied quickly Captain Aguirre should return at once and occupy the position that he had. The fact that this was not done contributed to the enemy's element of surprise which they achieved. Since I was worn out from having spent the morning on horseback and had not slept the night before, I lay down in the shade of some trees while the troops were preparing their meals. I had them call General Don Manuel Fernandez Castrillon, who was acting as major general, and told him to guard the camp and to advise me of the least movement on the part of the enemy. I likewise charged him to awaken me as soon as the troops had finished eating because it was necessary to act decisively as soon as possible. Since weariness and lack of sleep produce drowsiness, I was sleeping soundly when I was awakened by commotion and firing. I noted at once that we were being attacked and that there was unexplained disorder. The enemy had surprised our advance posts. A party had routed the three companies of picked men who were guarding the woods on our right and had overpowered them, increasing the confusion with their sure fire. The rest of the enemy infantry was attacking the front line with their two cannon with the cavalry on the left.

Although the evil had already been done, I thought that the situation could be quickly remedied. With the permanent Aldama battalion I had them reinforce the battle line which was made up of the Matamoros permanent battalion, and in a moment's time I organized an attack column under the command of Colonel Don Manuel Cespedes, made up of the Guerrero permanent battalion and detachments from Toluca and Guadalajara. This column together with that of Lieutenant Colonel Luelmo marched forward to contain the main thrust of the enemy. However, my efforts were in vain; the line was abandoned by the two battalions covering it in spite of the sustained fire from our cannon commanded by the brave Lieutenant Don Ignacio Arenal, and the two columns faded away with Colonel Cespedes wounded and Captain Luelmo dead. General Castrillon, who was running from one side to the other to reestablish order in our lines fell mortally wounded. The recruits formed platoons and encircled the older soldiers, and neither group made use of their arms. Meanwhile, the enemy was taking advantage of the opportunity and continued to charge rapidly with blood-curdling yells; in a few minutes they won the victory that could not even be imagined. With all hope lost and every man for himself, my desperation was as great as my danger when a servant of my aide de camp Colonel Don Juan Bringas with noble generosity presented me with his master's horse and insisted with urgent words that I save myself. I sought my escort, and two dragoons from it who were saddling up hastily said to me that their officers and companions were on the run. I remembered that General Filisola was sixteen leagues away at Thompson Pass, and without hesitating I tried to take that road through the enemy lines. They followed me, and after a league and a half, on a large creek where the bridge had been burned they caught up with me.

I lost my horse, and with difficulty I hid myself among some small pine trees. The approach of night gave me the chance to evade their vigilance, and the hope of rejoining my army and of vindicating the honor of our arms gave me courage to cross the creek through waist deep water and continue on foot. In an abandoned house I found clothing and replaced my own that was wet. At eleven o'clock on the morning of the twenty-second as I was crossing a broad clearing my pursuers caught up with me again, and this is the way that I fell into their hands. Because of the change of clothing they did not know me and asked if I had seen General Santa Anna. I answered that he had gone on ahead. This opportune event saved me from being assassinated as I learned later. As the commander in chief immediately makes observations concerning the reasons that according to him had contributed to the loss of the battle, placing the blame on General Filisola because he had not sent him the five hundred chosen men, we find ourselves in the necessity of stating here that although the phrasing is correct, the idea is not. General Filisola sent him the best troops, and in the army there were only recruits and improvised soldiers. If he had taken the best soldiers from the two battalions, it would have caused a multitude of disruptions. These would have had to change commanders and to fight by the side of people that they did not know. In the end they would have formed a mass that would have produced even worse results. Probably most of them would have deserted rather than do battle with the enemy. The obligation to set forth here the personal ideas of General Filisola, the true author of these memoirs, has made necessary the digression that we have just made. Let us return to Senor Santa Anna's account.

General Gaona, who did not join us promptly, and whose reason for delay I still do not know, prevented me from using double strength when I left Thompson Pass since I took only seven hundred infantrymen in order to leave General Ramirez y Cesma the necessary forces at that point. Thus, in order to have my forces superior to the enemy I asked for the reinforcements indicated of the five hundred picked men, which General Cos broke up leaving one hundred near Harrisburg to escort the equipment. I do not know why he was conducting this because I only ordered General Filisola to send fifty boxes of cartridges. General Cos was bringing a part of these munitions as well as the cash boxes of the troops which were supposed to remain at Thompson. Troops marching lightly and only as reinforcement requested urgently should not be assigned hindrances when it is known that a lot of baggage slows down movements. The reinforcement then was cut down by one fifth, and these one hundred men were in imminent danger, being saved only by luck. Finally, contributing considerably to this misfortune was the conduct of General Castrillon and the leaders and officers to whom was commended the guarding of the camp facing the enemy. I am sorry to have to deal with an individual who does not exist and upon whom I looked with esteem and others who are still living, but duty obliges me to relate the facts the way they were. I am well informed that during the time while I was asleep the said general was shaving, bathing and changing his clothes, and that he was engaged in conversation with the other individuals of my staff when the enemy was watching and surprised our advance guards, without having visited our line a single time. Following his example the other leaders and officers did the same thing, and thus part of the troops were asleep, and those who were awake were completely relaxed and gave the enemy the benefit of a more complete surprise than they would have had at midnight. It was easy for them to take possession of the woods to our right with one hundred men when the entrance was covered with three companies of picked men in greater number who put up no resistance. Hence the encouragement for the enemy to continue the attack and the confusion in our camp, increased by the fear with which our recruits were possessed to the extent that they prevented the older soldiers from using their arms so that they allowed themselves to be killed in cold blood. It is true that General Castrillon conducted himself with extraordinary bravery in the final moments, according to what is told, but his efforts were useless, and his remorse must not have been small before he breathed his last if he remembered the abandonment of his duty when he should have been carrying it out.

My position as commander in chief did not forbid me to rest, for no general is so prohibited, nor can he be, from succumbing to natural needs, particularly at the time and occasion when I did so, confident, as I had a right to be, that my orders would be carried out. The commander in chief cannot exercise the functions of his subordinate, of the officer, of the soldier; to every rank are assigned its respective duties and obligations. If the superior should not use as an excuse the faults of the lower rank, this has its exceptions, and one of these is certainly the case with which I am dealing for the reasons set forth. Perhaps an attempt has been made to blame me for the imprudence of not having marched with all my forces together, but doing so only with the small section as I did. However, in the first place it is necessary to point out in order to answer this objection that I left Thompson to execute the important operation of surprising and pinning down the directors of the revolution in a sudden blow over a short distance. Furthermore, that as soon as I discovered the withdrawal of the enemy to Lynchburg I asked for reinforcements in order to maintain superior numbers. And finally, that it brought no advantage at all to the army to execute the march on a single point, even with full force, because the only enemy that there was to fight after having been chased from all places was at the point and in the condition indicated. Since the direction that he had taken showed that he was withdrawing across the Trinity River, and so that there should remain no one to fire a shot from the Rio Grande to the Sabine it was necessary not just to worry the rearguard but to cut off his retreat and defeat him. Moving the entire army would have been contrary to that important plan which was deciding the question at a single blow. The slowness with which it would be necessary to do this because of the pack animals, baggage, etc., would allow the enemy to gain on us without our being able to overtake them because of the obstacles that have already been mentioned that the Texas terrain presents and the swift rivers that flood it. The forces under my command were superior in quality to the enemy; ours were provided with supplies and ammunition and in an advantageous position. Theirs less in numbers, cut off by Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto River, occupied an inferior position. They were without supplies, had been provoked to battle the day before receiving reinforcements and had not accepted. Under these circumstances who would have had the army move thus losing precious moments? Who would have doubted the victory?

I appeal to the impartial judgment of impartial men, and I am certain that far from saying as malice and envy have done that there was haste and lack of caution on my part, they will say that very exact calculations were made with foresight, correctness and care. If they did not produce victory as was to be expected, this did not depend upon the plan or upon the movements or actions of the commander in chief. Demonstrated as it is that solely the mistakes and lack of foresight of some of my subordinates and the carelessness of others caused the catastrophe at San Jacinto, I can only deplore the fact that I had any part in it, although this feeling is mitigated when I consider that I put forth the effort that was in my power, going beyond my obligation as commander in chief in order to serve well, and finding in my conduct no other excess than that of my zeal for the interests of my country which caused me to forget my own and to propose everything in order to assure those interests and to bring glory to the arms that had been intrusted to me. Fortune turned her back on me on the occasion when my efforts were to be crowned; with this these efforts have not been known, and I am deprived of the satisfaction of presenting to my nation new laurels.

Independence-Index | Battle of San Jacinto
1997-2008, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved.