- Get Involved
TEXAS REVOLUTION. The Texas Revolution began with the battle of Gonzales in October 1835 and ended with the battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836; but there were earlier clashes between official forces and groups of colonists, so that it is impossible to set dogmatic limits in speaking of military episodes alone, to say nothing of the development of social and political differences that were a part of the revolution.The seeds of these differences were planted in the national habits and experiences of Mexican rulers and Anglo-American occupants of Texas. Misunderstanding was aggravated in the minds of Mexicans by the conviction that the United States government was not above making use of the colonists to cause trouble in the hope of acquiring Texas by purchase or revolution. Military incidents occurred in 1826, 1832, and 1835 preceding the decisive movement in the fall of 1835. In 1826, Haden Edwards and Benjamin W. Edwards in East Texas attempted to inaugurate a war for independence (see FREDONIAN REBELLION) but were suppressed by Mexican soldiers supported by militia from Stephen F. Austin's colonies. A series of attacks in 1832 resulted in the withdrawal of Mexican garrisons from Anahuac, Velasco, Nacogdoches, and Tenoxtitlán. In the Anahuac disturbances, the Anglo-American attack was led by John Austin and was precipitated by indiscretions of the commander, John (Juan) Davis Bradburn.
Fighting was determined at Velasco, where Col. Domingo de Ugartechea was attempting to prevent reinforcements and artillery from sailing to Anahuac, and 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. Antonio López de Santa Anna was leading a revolution against President Anastacio Bustamante at the time of these disturbances in Texas, and the colonists who participated in them declared that they were cooperating with him by expelling Bustamante's garrisons from Texas. Actually, the great mass of the colonists had no quarrel with Mexico or Mexicans and adopted resolutions assuring the authorities of their loyalty-at least, they wanted no war with Mexico. Tranquillity seemed about restored on this basis when a seriocomic episode occurred at the mouth of the Brazos. Col. José Antonio Mexía sailed in with a regiment of Santanisto soldiers and inquired what was going on. With him was Stephen F. Austin, who had been in Mexico during the summer, and by Austin's advice it was decided to stand by the declaration of the insurgents for Santa Anna. After enjoying appropriate hospitalities, Mexía sailed away, but one result of his visit was serious: it had compelled Austin to abandon his policy of aloofness from national party contests. The summer closed with Santa Anna successful in Mexico and all garrisons expelled from Texas except those at San Antonio and Goliad.
The colonists held the Convention of 1832 and Convention of 1833 and asked for a number of privileges and reforms, of which three were the most important. (1) In September 1823, Congress had given the colonists certain tariff exemptions for seven years. This liberal law expired in 1830, and friction over the tariff was an element in the disturbances in 1832. Both conventions adopted petitions asking for extension of the tariff exemptions. (2) When the federal system was instituted in 1824, Congress united Coahuila and Texas as a single state, with the somewhat indefinite assurance that the union might be dissolved when Texas was qualified for statehood. Both conventions declared that Texas was able to maintain a state government and asked for separation. The Convention of 1833 went so far as to frame a constitution for the approval of Congress (see CONSTITUTION PROPOSED IN 1833). (3) Apprehension over heavy Anglo-American colonization led Congress to pass the Law of April 6, 1830, forbidding immigrants to settle in territory adjacent to their native country. 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, and the conventions petitioned for its repeal. Resolutions of the Convention of 1832 were never delivered; but Austin, elected to present the petitions of 1833, arrived in Mexico City in July. In brief, Congress repealed the immigration restriction of the law of April 6, 1830, held the tariff plea in abeyance, and took no action on the petition for statehood. On his way home, Austin was arrested at the instigation of Vice President Valentín Gómez Farías and held a prisoner in Mexico until July 1835.
Dissatisfaction over continued union with Coahuila was alleviated by state laws extending local self-government and granting Texas trial by jury and appellate courts. At the same time, however, Santa Anna's movements toward overthrowing the Constitution of 1824 and establishing virtual dictatorship aroused bitter opposition. Details of the Santa Anna program included remanning the military posts evacuated in 1832 and reorganizing the state government. The first contingent of soldiers arrived at Anahuac in January 1835, and some local friction soon developed. In June a mail courier brought news that federal troops had arrested the governor and that large reinforcements would soon strengthen the standing garrison at San Antonio. This information led to a march against Anahuac in which the volunteers were commanded by William B. Travis. Capt. Antonio Tenorio surrendered the post without a contest, and superficially conditions in Texas appeared to return to the status of 1832. Numerous mass meetings condemned Travis and adopted resolutions declaring loyalty to Mexico. Reports continued, however, that Santa Anna was bent upon military occupation of Texas, and a group of colonists published a call for election of delegates to a convention, or consultation, in October.
Austin, returned from his long detention in Mexico, gave his approval to the Consultation and was made chairman of a committee of safety and correspondence at San Felipe. The committee was regarded as a central advisory board to collect and distribute information. From this time forward, only a spark was necessary to set off an explosion. At Copano Bay, Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos landed at the head of 500 men, formed his troops, and moved on San Antonio. Austin's committee called for the immediate formation of military units to offer armed resistance. Cos announced his intention to punish those who led the uprising at Anahuac, and in his proclamation was the hint that he would drive the American settlers out of Texas. The day after Cos arrived in San Antonio on October 9, Texans seized Goliad, the location of a Mexican constabulary on the road from Copano to San Antonio. At the battle of Gonzales, what is regarded as the first shot in the Texas Revolution was fired. Because of growing unrest, the military commandant of Coahuila and Texas, Col. Domingo de Ugartechea, whose headquarters were also in San Antonio, demanded of the citizens of Gonzales the return of a cannon that had been presented, or at the least lent, to them in 1831 for defence against Indians (see GONZALES "COME AND TAKE IT" CANNON). Alcalde Andrew Ponton not only refused the demand but also called to other Texans for help. Annoyed by Ponton's refusal, Ugartechea sent about 100 dragoons under the command of Lt. Francisco Castañeda to seize the cannon, forcibly if necessary. Originally, only eighteen men constituted the Gonzales defense, but by October 2 the ranks had increased to about 160 volunteers. Commanded by John Henry Moore and Joseph W. E. Wallace, the Gonzales Texans stood their ground, and the dragoons returned empty-handed to San Antonio.
Austin, at this time in command of the newly formed Texan "army" (see REVOLUTIONARY ARMY) and in the Gonzales vicinity, realized that Texas had reached the point of no return. In early October he therefore led his command, all volunteers, toward San Antonio. Two others shared the command, James Bowie and James W. Fannin, Jr. On the night of October 27 Bowie, in general command, staked out a solid defensive position on the San Antonio River not far from Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepcíon 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 sixty men to the Texans' one. On November 26 the Texans again faced the Mexicans at the Grass Fight. Once again Bowie was in command, but this time with Edward Burleson, who assumed Austin's command, the latter having been made commissioner to the United States by the provisional government. The Texans forced the Mexicans to retreat, killing fifty of them in the process, while losing two men with another unaccounted for. The climax of the siege of Bexar came on December 5, when, 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?" and he and Frank (Francis W.) Johnson led 300 volunteers into the heart of the city. After three days of house-to-house fighting, Milam was dead and San Antonio was the prize of the Texans. Ironically, Cos's final stand was at the Alamo. Forced to surrender, the Mexican commander was compelled to take his troops beyond the Rio Grande.
Taking advantage of the fact that the Texan army was divided and disintegrating after its victories in 1835, Santa Anna, in his role as generalissimo, crossed the Rio Grande shortly after the new year. 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. At the beginning of his campaign, it seemed apparent that he would do just that, for Texan fortunes took a decided turn for the worse in early 1836. By March 2 the Convention of 1836, meeting at Washington-on-the-Brazos, formally voted for independence, though in view of Santa Anna's powerful force, such action might have been considered premature. The convention also appointed Sam Houston major general of the Texas army and commander of the forces at Gonzales. After crossing the Rio Grande with 6,000 troops, Santa Anna's command eventually grew to more than 8,000. It soon became apparent that his target was San Antonio and the Texans stationed there. In point of fact, he probably should have avoided that city, for it was not important to his success. 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 prize. It held approximately 500 insurgents under the command of Fannin, while a divided command under Bowie and William B. Travis at the Alamo comprised only 150 men, to which only some thirty more were soon added. The door to East Texas, with its heavy American population, Goliad, and Presidio La Bahía was its key. San Antonio, however, even reinforced, could not offer a real threat to Santa Anna or even to his line of communication. But military considerations aside, the general was determined to march on San Antonio, in part because of the humiliation visited upon his family through defeat of his son-in-law, Cos.
Unfortunately for Santa Anna's army, his logistical support was spare. 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 were drawn into the confines of San Antonio de Valero Mission, in time known simply as the Alamo. On February 23, Santa Anna's advance force arrived in San Antonio. For thirteen days the Texans held their position behind the inadequate defences of the mission, while waiting for reinforcements that never came. It soon became apparent that Santa Anna not only wanted San Antonio as a base for operations but also desired the utter destruction of the Texan defenders, whom he wanted to make an example. He chose to force the issue with a bloody assault, whereas in fact, his trenches and siege train could have handled the matter effectively. In the battle of the Alamo (March 6, 1836), the Texans were overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers. In bitter fighting all of the soldiers were killed, while some thirty Alamo noncombatants-women, children, and blacks-were spared. Santa Anna lost some 600 of his men, or roughly a third of his assault force. To be sure, the generalissimo was delighted, but little had been gained save the reduction of the place, 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.
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 by 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, the Texan commander at Goliad, 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 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 treeline 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 as 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 ordered the execution of the Texans, an order that was carried out on March 27 (see GOLIAD MASSACRE).
About the same time, Houston arrived in Gonzales and assumed command of an army of fewer than 400 men. Upon hearing of the fall of the Alamo from Susanna Dickinson, widow of Almeron Dickinson, Houston also learned that the Mexican army was pressing on to Gonzales. Aware of his precarious position, he decided to withdraw. Because of a lack of transport, he was forced to sink his cannons in the Guadalupe River. He burned the town to render it useless to Santa Anna and fell back to the northeast toward the Colorado River. The town's inhabitants contributed to the number of refugees already pouring northward and eastward from San Patricio, Refugio, and points in between. In time, they were joined by throngs from all over East Texas in what became known as the Runaway Scrape.
Upon the fall of the Alamo, Santa Anna assumed that the war was over, and 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. Ramirez y 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, Ramirez y Sesma, in torrid pursuit of Houston but at the head of only 800 men, reached the Colorado. 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 consequent quick reinforcement. Houston thought that he could not risk it, for if he lost, there would be nothing to stop Santa Anna from marching unimpeded across Texas. This last consideration became all the more important after March 2, the date on which the convention approved the Texas Declaration of Independence. 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, at some time not precisely known, Houston learned of Fannin's destruction, his withdrawal became a retreat, and he turned northward toward the Brazos River and Jared Groce's plantation. He went by way of San Felipe de Austin, which he torched. By now, Houston's disgruntled force had shrunk to no more than 800 men. Some allege that he 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 reinforcement. 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 the 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 stayed bad, 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, he 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 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 reinforcement, for he knew that Cos would soon join his adversary, Houston crossed and then destroyed Vince's Bridge. During the remainder of the campaign, the possibility of Mexican reinforcement was never far from his mind. The Texans reached Lynch's Ferry, at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou, first. On the banks of both bodies of water, was marshland flanked by heavy foliage, mostly live oak, spread laterally. In the tree line beside Buffalo Bayou Houston aligned his force on April 20. Later on the same day, Santa Anna's force, 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 await reinforcements, which arrived the following morning in the form of Cos's command. Meanwhile, Houston held his first council of war, wherein the merits of an offensive or a defensive battle were debated. On the afternoon of April 21, Houston ordered his small force of perhaps 900 men forward. Santa Anna's army, numbering somewhere around 1,300 men, was resting. Santa Anna had concluded that the Texans were on the defensive, and he had decided to attack them the next day. Because of this costly miscalculation, Houston surprised and completely overran the enemy; the battle took only eighteen minutes. Shouts of "Remember the Alamo!" and "Remember Goliad!" filled the air, and in this charged atmosphere the killing continued for an hour after the issue was resolved. Virtually the entire Mexican army was killed, scattered, or captured, including Santa Anna, who managed to escape but was captured the following day. In effect, the Mexicans lost everything, and the Texans, by comparison, lost nine men. On Houston's command, Santa Anna ordered his second-in-command, Gen. Vicente Filisola, to withdraw all his troops from Texas, and the order was obeyed. 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.
Photograph of Last reunion of Veterans of the 1836 Army of the Republic of Texas, held April 21, 1906 at Goliad by C. A. Major. Pictured are William Physick Zuber of Austin, John Washington Darlington of Taylor, Aca C. Hill of Oakville, Stephen Franklin Sparks of Rockport, L. T. Lawlor of Florence, and Alfonso Steele of Mexia. All of these men participated in the Battle of San Jacinto, as well as other battles. Courtesy of the Bee County Historical Commission, Beeville, Texas. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
The war was concluded by the two treaties of Velasco, one public, the other secret. 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 was 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 all the provisions of the public treaty without exception, as well as the enforcement of them. Santa Anna agreed, as was his perceived prerogative, since by destroying the Constitution of 1824 he had assumed authority over Mexican foreign policy. The remaining Mexican government refused to accept these terms, however. Nevertheless, Texas became not only a de facto state but also a de jure state in the eyes of many nations. See also GOLIAD CAMPAIGN OF 1835, GOLIAD CAMPAIGN OF 1836, REPUBLIC OF TEXAS.
Eugene C. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1925; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1949; New York: AMS Press, 1970). William C. Binkley, The Texas Revolution (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1952; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1979). Stephen L. Hardin, Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994). Marquis James, The Raven: A Biography of Sam Houston (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1929; rpts., New York: Paperback Library, 1967, Atlanta: Mockingbird Books, 1977). Paul D. Lack, The Texas Revolutionary Experience: A Political and Social History (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1992). James W. Pohl, The Battle of San Jacinto (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1989). James W. Pohl and Stephen L. Hardin, "The Military History of the Texas Revolution: An Overview," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 89 (January 1986). Ben H. Procter, The Battle of the Alamo (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1986). Antonio López de Santa Anna et al., The Mexican Side of the Texan Revolution, trans. Carlos E. Castañeda (Dallas: Turner, 1928; 2d ed., Austin: Graphic Ideas, 1970). David M. Vigness, The Revolutionary Decades: The Saga of Texas, 1810–1836 (Austin: Steck-Vaughn, 1965).
Image Use Disclaimer
All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.
For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml
If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Eugene C. Barker and James W. Pohl, "TEXAS REVOLUTION," accessed March 24, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qdt01.
Uploaded on August 7, 2010. Modified on March 30, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.