Let me preface this by asking the Texas State Historical Association to have its paid assassins kindly wipe their feet as they sneak into my house.
The conventional understanding of the Texas Revolution is that Texas was almost completely defeated after the disasters at the Alamo and Goliad. But then, suddenly, like an angel from heaven, Sam Houston descended to Earth and lo, he cast his furrowed brow upon Santa Anna, and smote his host upon the plain of San Jacinto with his fiery blade. Or something to that effect.
I won’t call into question the considerable risk and daring of the Battle of San Jacinto – it certainly ranks as a textbook example of taking disadvantages and turning them into strengths, as well as exploiting an enemy’s weaknesses. Tactically, San Jacinto remains as one of the most amazing battles in all of Texan history, if not western history overall.
I’ll go out on a limb here and say that San Jacinto was almost entirely irrelevant to the outcome of the Texan War for Independence.
But Santa Anna was captured, his entire army fleeing, captured, or dead, no? And he signed a surrender treaty! Again, largely irrelevant to the outcome of the entire war. As a prisoner, Santa Anna was simply a white elephant – anything he signed was automatically invalid. The chain of command passed to the mercenary Italian General Vincente Filisola, who was under no obligation to follow any orders from a captured superior. It is a longstanding rule in military history that a leader loses the ability to issue orders to his undefeated soldiers the moment he becomes a prisoner of war. Filisola knew this.
Will Fowler’s 2012 biography of Santa Anna goes to great lengths to show that Santa Anna expected Filisola to continue the war. Roughly 4,500 Mexican soldiers still remained in Texas, undefeated and angry at the losses sustained by their brothers in arms. Fowler analyzes Santa Anna’s letters to Filisola, and a careful reading between the lines shows that he was giving his next in command information about how to continue the war. But Filisola left Texas anyway. Why?
We now come to the first of the three real reasons why Texas won its War for Independence: Mud
Author Gregg Dimmick , in his 2006 bombshell book, revealed the real reason why Filisola retreated from Texas – and it had little to do with Santa Anna’s orders. The quick summary is that an enormous deluge fell upon the bulk of the remaining Mexican forces (in modern Wharton County) from April 21-May 9th, 1836. The rain was so heavy and constant that the entire army was barely able to escape with their lives – men had to try and sleep standing up! They left everything behind as it sank into the mud – wagons, shoes, tents, food, horses, and everything else. It took the army 9 days to march only 20 miles! Even before it was all over, Filisola knew that continuing the war from a fallback position in Texas itself was untenable. He retreated south beyond the Rio Grande.
Let’s pretend for a moment that Santa Anna had actually won the Battle of San Jacinto. Would it have changed the outcome that much?
Sam Houston is dead, the Texan Army is killed and scattered, Santa Anna has a new spring in his step. But he only has around 1,000 men with him. All remaining enemies have either fled north to Nacogdoches, where an American army has moved in (General Gaines sent them to look after Indian unrest…uh huh), or they have fled to Galveston Island to prepare to flee to America by boat. In neither case can Santa Anna do very much to end the war. His men are low on supplies, exhausted, and he can’t even afford to pay his officers, much less his enlisted men. When news of Filisola’s muddy disaster reaches him, Santa Anna can only do one thing: retreat back to Mexico. The Battle of San Jacinto is still irrelevant to the outcome of the war.
To save my skin from any future lynching attempts, I will candidly admit that San Jacinto could have easily resulted in the end of the war. Sam Houston could have simply placed a gun in Santa Anna’s face and pulled the trigger.
Coming soon: Part 2 – It’s the Economy, Stupid.