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VINCE'S BRIDGE

VINCE'S BRIDGE. Controversy has surrounded Vince's Bridge since the battle of San Jacinto, when observers and participants gave conflicting accounts of the location and destruction of the bridge. Contemporary references to the "Vince Bridge" or to the bridge "on the bayou of that name" led to the confusion about which Vince (William or Allen) and which bayou (Vince’s or Sims) because of the adjoining lands of the two brothers and the close proximity of the two streams.  

William Vince acquired a league of land on the south side of Buffalo Bayou that straddled a bayou he named Vince’s Bayou. His brother, Allen Vince partnered with Moses Callahan on a league of land adjacent on the west side of William’s league. That land on the Callahan and Vince league, was bisected by a bayou known as Sims Bayou. But, Allen lived at William’s cabin with his siblings and never built on his property. It was William that built a bridge over Vince’s Bayou to facilitate accessing both sides of his property. Dilue Rose Harris wrote in her Reminiscence, based upon her father’s diary, dated May 1833, that “The Vince brothers, Allen, William, Robert, and Richard, lived at the bridge on Vince’s Bayou.” Returning from the Runaway Scrape she said in an entry dated April 30, 1836, “We met a Mrs. Brown who was living at William Vince’s when the Mexican army crossed the bridge.” There is no record that Callahan or Allen Vince built cabins, lived on their tract, or built a bridge over Sims Bayou. Records in 1835 and 1836 show that there was only a ferry at the crossing of Sims Bayou. 

Based upon the majority of primary narratives, early historians accepted Vince's Bayou on the William Vince survey as the site of the destroyed bridge. It was only later that some historians assumed that these primary references to Vince’s Bayou might be to the bayou on Allen Vince’s land instead of William’s. These historians made the wrongful assumption that the bridge was over Sims Bayou simply because Sims was the larger of the two bayous. Their focus was solely on the difficulty for re-enforcements to arrive and had nothing to do with the reason why the bridge was destroyed. In his official battle report, Gen. Sam Houston stated his purpose in ordering the bridge destroyed was for “cutting off all possibility of escape.” He said nothing about preventing possible re-enforcements from arriving. While others might have focused on the prevention of re-enforcements, Houston restated his purpose of only preventing escape in his 1859 U. S. Senate speech.  

Houston had originally crossed Buffalo Bayou below Sims Bayou before the battle, because he knew Sims was a difficult crossing. Not only was there no bridge over Sims Bayou, but the ferry had been removed earlier under orders from the Texian government. Then Houston crossed Vince’s Bayou on a small wooden bridge and realized that its destruction would create the perfect trap for those fleeing the battlefield. The approach to the bridge was on the road that was bounded by Buffalo Bayou on the right, Vince’s Bayou straight ahead, and Little Vince Bayou on the left. With the bridge over Vince’s Bayou destroyed, the fleeing Mexicans were forced into a bottleneck where they had to either try to swim the rain-swollen Vince’s Bayou, turn and fight, or surrender. As if Houston had anticipated and planned for, Santa Anna attempted to flee the battle with some of his officers and cavalry guard. The Texian cavalry gave hot pursuit and killed most along the road towards Harrisburg. At the burned bridge Santa Anna was forced to dismount and hid in the underbrush at dusk as he was afraid to cross what he described as “a large creek.” Most of those trying to swim across were shot by the Texians. The next morning Santa Anna was captured. Houston’s plan worked. 

A recent review of primary narratives and documents confirms the statements of the original historians that the bridge was located on Vince’s Bayou—on the survey of William Vince, and not on Sims Bayou—on the property of Allen Vince. Young Perry Alsbury, a member of both the party that destroyed the bridge and the party that pursued Santa Anna from the battlefield, stated the bridge was over Vince’s Bayou. Santa Anna was captured by James Sylvester after being delayed by the burned structure. Sylvester confirmed that the burned bridge had been over Vince’s Bayou. The idea for destroying the bridge has been credited to several participants, but mainly to Erastus (Deaf) Smith or to Gen. Sam Houston. In a speech given years later before the United States Congress, Houston credited himself with the idea. Houston's version was contradicted by Moseley Baker and others who declared that the idea was originally Deaf Smith’s to “burn the bridge over Vince’s bayou.” It is probable that Smith proposed the idea, that after some debate Houston authorized it, and that Smith and others attempted to cut the span with axes. Since witnesses after the battle related that the bridge was burned, it is also probable that Smith, with little time and few men, finally had to set fire to it. 

The strategic importance of Vince's Bridge is more easily explained by its location on Vince’s Bayou since its destruction meant that the escaping Mexicans would be funneled into a trap from which escape was impossible. It was a secondary benefit that any possible re-enforcements would be delayed because they would have to cross two rain-swollen bayous (Sims and Vince’s) instead of one. Santa Anna was trying to reach Gen. Vicente Filisola, his second-in-command, who had 2,500 troops nearby at Thompson’s Crossing on the Brazos River. The destruction of the bridge over Vince’s Bayou prevented Santa Anna from quickly escaping the immediate area and his capture resulted in the independence of Texas from Mexico.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Moseley Baker, letter to Sam Houston, October 5, 1844, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. George L. Charlton, "Vince's Bridge: Question Mark of the San Jacinto Campaign," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 68 (January 1965). James M. Day, comp., The Texas Almanac, 1857–1873: A Compendium of Texas History (Waco: Texian Press, 1967). Sam Houston Dixon and Louis Wiltz Kemp, The Heroes of San Jacinto (Houston: Anson Jones, 1932). C. David Pomeroy, Jr., "Reassessing the Location of Vince's Bridge: Critical Prelude to the Battle of San Jacinto," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 112 (April 2009). "Reminiscences of Mrs. Dilue Harris," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 4, 7 (October 1900, January 1901, January 1904). 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). James A. Sylvester, letter of December 7, 1872., James Austin Sylvester Papers, 1836–1883, 26-0375, Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library, Galveston.

C. David Pomeroy, Jr.

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Handbook of Texas Online, C. David Pomeroy, Jr., "Vince's Bridge," accessed November 20, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/rtv01.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on May 30, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.