San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site

History

Before that fateful day

Old postcard showing battleship in the foreground, monument in the rear.Early Americans occupied this area for thousands of years. Traces of them are scarce, due to coastal conditions and changes to the landscape.

During the 1820s and 1830s, settlers established homesteads around Galveston Bay, each with a few dozen to a few thousand acres. They eked out a living as farmers and ranchers. These settlers were citizens of Mexico, as this was Mexican territory.

Towns sprouted at significant coastal and river ports, including Harrisburg to the southwest of the park. Travelers crossed the San Jacinto River to the northeast via the Lynchburg Ferry, or Lynch’s Ferry.

Rebellion

In the fall of 1835, however, Texas settlers were no longer happy with being citizens of Mexico. President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had established himself as dictator. Texans (both Anglo-American and Tejano) resisted his rule. Armed rebels drove the Mexican army from Texas by December 1835.

General Santa Anna would not stand for this. He marched 6,000 soldiers north to reclaim Texas and quell the rebellion, showing no mercy. By mid-March, he seemed close to success. The Alamo fell on March 6; Texas troops at Goliad surrendered two weeks later.

General Sam Houston led the Texas army in a retreat. His troops were eager to engage the Mexican army. But the general was worried about confronting the larger, better-trained Mexican forces.

Then Santa Anna divided his army to pursue different targets.

Opportunity

With the Mexican army divided, Houston saw his chance. He set up camp near Lynch’s Ferry on April 20. The Mexican general and his (now) smaller force followed, and established a camp about 3/4 mile away. A series of skirmishes and cannon fire erupted that afternoon.

Another 500 Mexican troops arrived the next morning. General Santa Anna let down his guard, and allowed his exhausted soldiers to eat and rest.

Houston knew he would not have a better opportunity. At 3:30 that afternoon, he assembled his troops and laid out his battle plan. It was time for his 750 eager soldiers to take the fight to Santa Anna’s 1,200 troops.

Surprise

Reenactors dressed as Mexican soldiers.

Screened by trees and rising ground, Houston’s forces advanced in three prongs. At about 4:30, the Texians swarmed into the Mexican camp, shouting “Remember the Alamo” and “Remember Goliad!”

The Mexican army was caught unawares, and the battle ended 18 minutes later. The Texans killed over 600 Mexican soldiers and captured most of the rest. Nine Texans died in the battle.

General Santa Anna escaped, disguised as a private. Texian troops captured him the next day, and brought him before the wounded General Houston. Houston forced the Mexican president to sign a treaty that would recognize Texas’ independence. That treaty opened the gate for America’s westward expansion.

Hallowed ground

1920 battleground picnic on bulkhead.jpg
People rode a ferry over to the battleground for picnics and fishing. Circa 1920; photo copyright F. J. Schlueter (Houston)

The 1,200-acre San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site is a National Historic Landmark. It has three units: 

  • The developed park (about 500 acres) was acquired in parcels from 1899 to the 1930s. This area holds the monument and pool, battleground and picnic sites, Battleship Texas, and other facilities. The monument was completed in 1939. Battleship Texas arrived here in 1948.
  • The marsh unit (300 acres) lies to the north of the developed park area.
  • The forest unit (about 200 acres) provides a buffer between the park and the petrochemical plants on the south side of the park.

For more information on the history of this area:


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