The Texas Revolution: Santa Anna and The Alamo

Updated October 7, 2022 | Infoplease Staff
The Alamo
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Though the United States is proud of its independence and is ready to defend that status until the end, not all states have been free of the yoke of foreign influence until fairly recently.

One of these states is the Lone Star State of Texas, which underwent a series of grueling conflicts with Mexico, that ended up with not only many casualties on both sides, but also the independence of Texas.

Causes of the Texas Revolution

Amidst Mexico’s War of Independence, which began in 1810, a joint US-Mexican militia was sent to capture some key cities in Texas from the occupying Spanish Empire. They succeeded in 1813 and shortly afterward declared Texas an independent republic. Although Spanish forces quickly reclaimed the cities a few months later, the seed of an independent Texas had been planted and the concept of a successful armed uprising had been proved.

Fast forward to Mexico’s victory over Spain in their War of Independence and Texas automatically became part of Mexico in 1821, officially named ‘Coahuila Y Tejas’. Under Mexican rule, Texas was given only one seat in the state legislature, meaning it had very little influence over the decision-making in the country.

This angered Tejanos, the Mexican-born residents of Texas, who felt undervalued and powerless. In response, the Mexican government gave Texas more legal power and made San Antonio the state capital. This was another step on the road towards legitimizing Texas as its own free state.

In addition to this, the Mexican government feared that Texas was vulnerable to raids from Native American tribes due to its very low population. To solve this problem, they loosened local immigration laws, hoping to attract settlers who would deter attacks, which opened the door to a flood of Anglo-American migrants. By 1834, Anglos outnumbered Tejanos 3 to 1 and this caused religious tensions and a greater affinity with the USA.

This all came to a head in 1834 when Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, a Mexican general, led a revolution to remove the federalist leader of Mexico and install a centralized government, taking away any autonomy that Texas had. Like before, this greatly angered Texans, especially those who felt closer to the USA.

In response, Texians raised local militias to drive all Mexican forces from their lands. Santa Anna was anxious about the possibility of civil war and sent his own troops to Texas in order to try and stop any rebellion forming before it was too late. Now, with two sets of troops ready and willing to fight, the stage was set for a revolution.

Texas Revolution Timeline

1800s US map
Source: iStock

Now that the first rumblings of revolutionary action have been uncovered, let's take a closer look at each of the events that culminated in a turning point for the independence of Texas.

The First Disturbances

In September 1835, the Texas town of Gonzales became the first place to see combat between Santa Anna’s Mexican Army and Texan Militias. After the town’s residents refused to let Mexican troops confiscate their only cannon, the Mexican commander attempted to negotiate.

The townspeople stalled to allow more volunteers to travel and join their militia which sprung an attack on the Mexican force on October 2. After a small skirmish led by General Stephen Austin, the Mexicans retreated outnumbered. Two Mexican soldiers were killed, becoming the first casualties of the revolution.

A number of skirmishes also occurred along the Gulf Coast. The town of Goliad was taken by the Texians after a short skirmish on October 10, 1835, whilst Fort Lipantitlan further down the coast met the same fate onNovember 3. As a result, the entire Gulf Coast came under Texian control.

As Texas took the coast, General Austin led his troops to Bexar to engage the Mexican general Martin Perfecto de Cos. The 450-strong Texian Army quickly laid siege to Bexar on October 16 which contained 650 Mexicans.

Apart from an ill-judged skirmish outside of Bexar, which saw the Mexicans lose up to 75 men and Texas only two, the siege was uneventful. To stop troops from leaving due to boredom, Texian commanders decided to assault the town which eventually led to a Mexican surrender on December 9,1835.

Following these two campaigns, Mexico no longer had an organized garrison in Texas. By the end of 1835, Texian morale was high and many troops retired to their homes for the winter, believing the job was done.

The Regroup

After the rapid start of the revolution, a period of administrative reformation within Texas’ fragile leadership followed from November 1835 to February 1836. The council of elected delegates, also known as The Consultation, convened in November and voted to create a professional army led by Sam Houston.

Alongside this, they also wrestled with the issue of what they were fighting for. Some wanted full independence, others were happy to be part of Mexico if it returned to federalism. Much arguing and debate ensued throughout January and February, with council members being dismissed even though nobody knew who had the authority to do so.

A vote was called in February 1836 for a new convention to sort out the issue of independence. American settlers, who were more in favor of Texas’ independence, were given the same voting rights as long-time Texas residents. By this point, the rumor of Santa Anna’s brewing offensive was spreading and the conflict became framed as a race war; Anglos defending their land from marauding Mexican-Spaniards.

General Santa Anna: Caudillo

During the time of Texian internal disputes, General Santa Anna was gearing up for war. He resigned his position as president and took to creating a new army to lead for Mexico. Santa Anna was ruthless in his leadership, declaring that his troops should take no prisoners when fighting in Texas.

The new Mexican Army, at 6,019 troops strong, began marching for Texas in December 1835. Santa Anna was intent on retaking Bexar because it was severely undermanned. He also felt the need to restore his family’s honor, which his brother-in-law General Cos damaged upon surrendering. By February 24, after grueling marches through winter weather, Santa Anna and his men arrived at Bexar’s doorstep.

Remember the Alamo

Texian commanders realized that Bexar was too difficult to defend with their meager group of 100 soldiers. When word came of Mexico’s arrival, Colonels William B. Travis and James Bowie ordered a retreat to the nearby Alamo Mission buildings. For 13 days, 1,000 Mexicans besieged the Alamo whilst Travis begged the USA and Texas for reinforcements.

James Fannin was set to lead 300 voluntary reinforcements to the Alamo but turned back just a day into the march, meaning only 100 men made it to Travis. After attempts to negotiate a surrender were dismissed by Santa Anna, he ordered an assault on the Alamo on March 6.

The Texians were greatly outnumbered but fought hard on the Mission’s walls until they were forced to retreat to the Alamo’s chapel building. Here Texian soldiers, including the legendary Davy Crockett, either fought to the death or surrendered as the battle was won by Santa Anna’s men. Sticking to his policy, Santa Anna ordered the execution of all prisoners.

Despite the defeat, Travis had bought time for the new Convention to take place on March 1 and for the councilors to flee, as well as killing around 600 Mexicans. Santa Anna hoped that the slaughter and strength of numbers would destroy Texian morale and quell the rebellion.

Texas Convention of 1836

On 1st March 1836 in Washington-on-the-Brazos, the new Convention met to decide on the issue of independence. Within a day, the Convention passed the proposal for the Texas Declaration of Independence and began drafting a constitution for the Republic of Texas.

The Retreat

On 11th March, Santa Anna split his troops to advance North Eastwards and deal with the remaining Texian troops, as well as capture the newly founded government. Over the next month, troops and civilians led by Sam Houston conducted a mass retreat from Goliad to Groce’s Landing.

With a rearguard in place blocking Santa Anna’s pursuit over the Brazos River, the General ordered his men to ride to Harrisburg where Texas’ provisional government was located. Just as the soldiers arrived, the government officials managed to escape to Galveston Island.

After receiving an inaccurate scout report, Santa Anna then marched his troops to Lynchburg thinking he could cut off the Texas Army. Meanwhile, the Texians had reached Harrisburg and Sam Houston had learned that Santa Anna was on his way to Lynchburg with only a small number of troops.

This was the best opportunity for Texas to quickly turn the tables and perhaps end the war. Using the fall of the Alamo and Goliad massacre, Houston rallied his men, famously calling upon them to ‘remember the Alamo’ and ‘remember Goliad’ as fuel for the coming battle. With that, the Texas Army began marching to Lynchburg on April 16.

The Battle of San Jacinto

Both armies arrived at Lynch’s Ferry on April 20. Houston encamped on the South bank of Buffalo Bayou whilst Santa Anna chose a position 400 yards south on the West bank of the San Jacinto River. Houston used the forested terrain to hide the true size of his force which was 900 men compared to Santa Anna’s 700.

Multiple skirmishes occurred with both sides scoring small victories over one another, but Houston refrained from allowing a full-scale battle. The next day, General Cos arrived with a further 540 Mexican soldiers, however, they were all low quality and exhausted. Santa Anna’s men were also tired after their travels and, assuming the fighting was over for the day, allowed his men to sleep.

This proved a fatal error. At 4 pm, Texian soldiers began slowly advancing on the Mexican encampment and fired their cannons to officially start the Battle of San Jacinto. Fighting was fierce, up close, and incredibly one-sided in favor of Texas.

Soon, Mexican troops were routing en masse and Texian soldiers were executing revenge killings in retaliation for the Battle of the Alamo and Goliad. Houston tried to stop the massacre but could not control his men. In all, 650 Mexicans were killed and 300 captured.

Santa Anna attempted to escape but was caught the next morning and brought in front of Texian generals. In exchange for his free passage to Mexico, he negotiated the Treaties of Velasco. The treaty stipulated the complete withdrawal of Mexican troops beyond the Rio Grande and a pledge to persuade Mexico to recognize Texas as an independent republic.

Other Mexican generals such as Urrea wished to fight on but worsening weather and weak supply lines discouraged further advances from other Mexican generals. By June, the Mexican Army was on its way to the Southern border and out of Texas.

Effects of the Texas Revolution

Old artillery cannon
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In the immediate aftermath, Mexico plotted renewed attempts to take Texas back but they were repeatedly sidelined by internal conflicts and budgetary constraints. Santa Anna was disgraced and derided until he proved himself in future Mexican conflicts.

Sam Houston was elected the first president of Texas. The new Texas lawmakers protected the right to own slaves, removed the right to the land of Cherokee Native Americans, and rewarded veterans with land grants. Tejanos were also often forced from their homes and out of Texas.

On the international stage, the new Republic hastened the start of the Mexican-American war by worsening relations between the two countries. The USA had tacitly supported Texas in its independence and Texian residents voted in favor of annexation in order to become part of the USA. The following war ended with Mexico losing 55% of its territory and acknowledging Texas’ legitimacy.

Now the Texas revolution makes up a substantial part of the identity of the Lone Star State. Much like the USA on the whole, Texas has a distinct history of fighting off a more powerful and often oppressive power. Many cities in the state are named after key figures in the war and the San Jacinto Battlefields are preserved as a monument.

If reading about the story of Texas’ independence has piqued your interest, then why not continue on your journey through history to learn more about the Mexican-American War! And if you want to get to the bottom of some of the hauntings supposedly sparked by the deaths in these conflicts, check out the 22 Most Haunted Places in Texas.

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