The Shrines of Texas Liberty – Part I – Forgotten San Jacinto

Last Saturday my grand-daughter went to see the new Disney film BRAVE with her parents and had a wonderful time. This left my grand son at a loose end as at two years old he is too young to go to a movie – judging by his television habits while watching Veggie Tales  he would get right in front of the screen and dance – however he is not too young to begin learning his Texas history and so we took him to the San Jacinto monument to get him started and I am proud to report that he can say both “star” and “boat” now.

The monument’s west front viewed from the Texan’s position. It is larger than the Washington Monument and is a tribute to the many.

Because it is located so far from downtown and is the heart of the stretch of the Houston Ship Channel that is mainly occupied by refineries and tank farms it is seldom visited even though it is a symbol second only to the Alamo standing in tribute to those who made Texas independence possible. This view of the monument was taken from the bow of the battleship TEXAS which is permanently moored at the park in tribute to other Texans who have fought for liberty.

The battleship Texas [BB35] at her mooring at San Jacinto.

The park is bisected by the road that goes to the Lynchburg Ferry which has been in operation since 1822. The west side constitutes the initial park site and the Texan positions prior to the battle of San Jacinto while the east side includes the monument and the Mexican positions prior to the battle as well as most of the terrain of the battle itself. If you visit the park and spend one day going over the battleship and another going over the monument you will come away with a renewed appreciation of what generations of Texans have given to the nation. You should then take another day to go over all of the history there – what we have chosen to call FORGOTTEN SAN JACINTO.

Obelisk marking the grave of Benjamin Rice Brigham

The “original” San Jacinto monument was an obelisk marking the grave of Benjamin Rice Brigham who is given the epitaph on the east front of Dead on the field of Honor. There are three other inscribed panels which read:

West – This monument stands at the grave of Benjamin Rice Brigham who was mortally wounded April 21, 1836. Nearby rest Lemuel Stockton Blakely, John C. Hale, George A. Lamb, Dr. Wm. Junius Mottley, Mathias Cooper, Thomas Patton Fowle, Ashley R. Stephens who were also killed or mortally wounded in the battle at San Jacinto. Olwyn J. Trask died on Galveston Island on about May 20 from the effects of the wound he had received on the San Jacinto battlefield in the skirmish of April 20, 1836. This shaft was erected in 1881 by voluntary contribution of the citizens of Texas to forever mark the spot where these heroes sleep and to perpetuate a knowledge of their names and prowess.

North – TWO DAYS BEFORE THE BATTLE: This morning we are in preparation to meet Santa Anna. It is the only chance of saving Texas. From time to time I have looked for reinforcements in vain. We will only have about seven hundred men to march with besides the camp guard. We go to conquer. It is wisdom growing out of necessity to meet the enemy now every consideration enforces it. No previous occasion would justify it. The troops are in fine spirits and now is the time for action. We shall use our best efforts to fight the enemy to such advantage as will insure victory though the odds are greatly against us.
I leave the result in the hands of a wise God, and rely upon his providence.
My country will do justice to those who serve her. The rights for which we fight will be secured, and Texas free.     SAM HOUSTON

South – THE DAY AFTER THE BATTLE: The sun was sinking in the horizon as the battle commenced but at the close of the conflict, the sun of liberty and independence rose in Texas, never it is hoped to be obscured by the clouds of despotism. We have read of the deeds of chivalry, and perused with ardor the annals of war: we have contemplated with the highest emotions of sublimity, the loud roaring thunder,the desolating tornado, and the withering simoom of the desert but neither of these nor all inspired us with emotions like those on this occasion. There was a general cry which pervaded the ranks – REMEMBER THE ALAMO!, REMEMBER LaBAHIA! These words electrified all. Onward was the cry. The unerring aim and irresistible force of the Texan army could not be withstood.It was freemen fighting against the minions of tyranny and the result proved the inequality of such a contest. T. J. RUSK

The eastern area of the park contained several burial plots. Manuel Lorenzo Justiniano de Zavala y Sáenz, first vice president of the Republic of Texas and original owner of the impresario grant in southeast Texas that would become the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company, had an extensive family plot there as did the Mason family and the area had been used as a cemetery for the nearby town of San Jacinto. The first monument, carved by Ott in Galveston, was the result of efforts by  J. S. Sullivan of Richmond for placing a marker at the graves of the heroes of the battle. Money was raised by public subscription for the red granite obelisk which was unveiled in Galveston and placed at the grave of Benjamin Rice Brigham, the only grave then ascertainable.

The grave of Captain William Wood who commanded the Kentucky volunteers. “It is my desire that my body be buried on the battle grounds of San Jacinto and I request that my comrades in arms see to this —“ from the will of Captain Wood signed June 6, 1854

The Sate of Texas has marked other graves including those of Isaac L. Jacques – who came to Texas in October 1835, fought at San Jacinto in Captain Hugh McIntire’s company and died at Lynchburg August 6, 1836; Peter Jefferson Duncan – who participated in the capture of San Antonio in 1835 and served in the Texan army in 1836, he was born in New York in 1799 and died in Harris County, Texas in 1870; Freeman Wilkinson – a member of Captain Thomas H. McIntire’s company at San Jacinto, died at Lynchburg in 1839 and was buried near his comrades who fell in battle. Most of the graves are on the east side of De Zavala plaza which has three panels that tell the story of the development of the park:

The movement to set apart San Jacinto battleground as a patriotic shrine was begun in 1856 when a group of Texas veterans assembled here started a fund for a monument to the nine men who fell in the battle. In 1883 the State purchased the first ten acres.

From its organization in 1891, The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, became leaders in this work. They assisted in establishing the boundaries of the battlefield, placing granite boulders on significant sites, and induced the State legislature to appropriate money for buying and improving the land.

In 1936 the State and nation began the erection of the memorial shaft to honor all Texas heroes. In 1939 San Jacinto Chapter, Daughters of the Republic of Texas, acting as trustees for Texas veterans, erected the sun-dial, thus completing the work begun eighty-six years before.

One of the boulder markers placed by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas – this one is number 4 and marks the location of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar’s camp of Texans

In addition to the graves that predate the park, the boulders constitute the best means of taking a walking tour of the battlefield along with markers placed by the state – there are also a number of markers placed by others that enhance the appreciation of the site.  There is the Roster of Company 6; James Gillaspie – Captain, Matthew Finch – 1st Lieut., A. L. Harrison – 2nd Lieut., R. H. Chadduck – 1st Sgt., along with the names of all 32 privates [including the father of the man who would marry John Young’s oldest daughter] serving on that day in 1836. There is a monument to the pioneer Freemasons of Texas located in a grove of trees near the entrance to us battleship Texas and there is a monument to the “Twin Sisters” with the following inscription on the plaque between them: In grateful appreciation to the efforts of the citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio whose generous help extended here to our forefathers, struggling for freedom and justice, helped achieve a new dawn for free men at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. We, the descendants of those brave men, hereby dedicated replicas of the Twin Sisters from Cincinnati at San Jacinto on April 21, 1974 to rededicate ourselves to the responsible continuation of the freedom they  gained us. The Sons of the Republic of Texas

Monument to the “Twin Sisters”, two cannons donated to the Texans for use in their fight for liberty by the people of Cincinnati, Ohio saw their first service at San Jacinto and were put into service again – along with a number of the veterans of San Jacinto – during the War for Southern Independence including use during the Battle of Galveston when they were commanded by the son of one of the heroes of San Jacinto, Sidney Sherman. After the war the cannons were hidden to keep them from falling into the hands of the army of occupation and have never been seen since.

There is something about the sylvan settings of well manicured battlefields and memorial gardens that can make it difficult to imagine the terrible sacrifices that have occurred there. The east side of the park is like that, nestled on a bayou just south of the confluence of the river and the bayou, hidden among the bays and lakes that give on to Galveston Bay and no place is this truer than a quiet grove of trees near where Sam Houston received the surrender of Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón the general turned dictator who had put the garrison at the Alamo to the sword while the deguello played. Time may wash away blood and the smell of cordite but it only enhances memory. The inscription on the monument reads:

Beneath an oak tree that grew on this site General Antonio Lopez De Santa Anna President and Dictator of the Republic of Mexico was brought a captive April 22, 1836 Before General Sam Houston commander-in-chief of the Army of Texas who had been painfully wounded on the day previous in the Battle of San Jacinto.
Known to have been among the captors of Santa Anna were James Austin Sylvester, Joel Walter Robison, Joseph D. Vermillion, Alfred H. Miles, David Cole

It does not record the fact of his capture at Harrisburg where, trying to sneak away from defeat, he had changed clothes with a private but, in has vanity, still required those around him to be properly obsequious – sic semper tyrannis.

A shaded place for quiet and reflection on the Texan side of the field.

Once you cross Independence Parkway [which used to be Battleground Road before the politically correct rewrote the map] you have arrived on the grounds of the Monument and the location of the skirmishes and the battle. Texas has two seasons – winter, which lasts two weeks and can be severe enough that you have to bring your brass monkey in off the front porch and, summer which lasts the other fifty weeks and has three types of day, hot, hotter and too hot to breathe [for those who want to talk about “dry heat” the difference between Houston and San Antonio is the difference between a maxed out sauna and a blast furnace]. The base of the monument, which is four storeys high, has a frieze that is made up of eight panels telling the story of the Texas struggle for independence topped by bas-relief panels that form the base of the tower itself with illustrations of Texas. Since most will not take the time to read the panels we have reproduced their text here:

The early policies of Mexico toward her Texas colonists had been extremely liberal. Large grants of land were made to them, and no taxes or duties imposed. The relationship between the Texans and Mexicans was cordial. But, following a series of revolutions begun in 1829, unscrupulous rulers successively seized power in Mexico. Their unjust acts and despotic decrees led to revolution in Texas.

In June 1832, the colonists forced the Mexican authorities at Anahuac to release Wm. B. Travis and others for unjust imprisonment. The Battle of Velasco, June 26, and the Battle of Nacadoches, August 2, followed; In both the Texans were victorious. Stephen Fuller Austin, “Father of Texas,” was arrested January 3, 1834, and held in Mexico without trial until June 1835. The Texans formed an army, and on November 12, 1835, established a provisional government.

The first shot of the Revolution of 1835 – 36 was fired by the Texans at Gonzales, October 1, 1835, in resistance to a demand by Mexican soldiers for a small cannon held by the colonists. The Mexican garrison at Goliad fell October 9; The Battle of Conception was won by the Texans October 28. San Antonio was captured December 10, 1835 after five days of fighting in which the indomitable Benjamin R. Milam died a hero, and the Mexican army evacuated Texas.

Stephen F. Austin and his pioneers pictured in a bas-relief band above the frieze of the monument.

Texas declared her independence at Washington-on-the-Brazos March 2. For nearly two months her armies met disaster and defeat: Dr. James Grant’s men were killed on the Agua Dulce March 2; William Barret Travis and his men sacrificed their lives at the Alamo, March 6; William Ward was defeated at Refugio, March 14; Amon B. King’s men were executed near Refugio, March 16; and James Walker Fannin and his army were put to death near Goliad March 27, 1836.

On this field on April 21, 1836 the Army of Texas commanded by General Sam Houston and accompanied by the [Texas]Secretary of War, Thomas J. Rusk, attacked the larger invading army of Mexicans under general Santa Anna. The battle line from left to right was formed by Sidney Sherman’s regiment, Edward Burleson’s Regiment, the artillery command by George W. Hockley, Henry Millard’s infantry and the cavalry under Mirabeau B. Lamar. Sam Houston led the infantry charge.

Bowie and Fannin and Travis with the heroes of the Alamo pictured in a bas-relief band above the frieze of the monument.

With the battle cry, “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad” the Texans charged. The enemy, taken by surprise, rallied for a few minutes then fled in disorder. The Texans had asked no quarter and gave none. The slaughter was appalling, victory complete, and Texas free! On the following day General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, self-styled “Napoleon of the West” received from a generous foe the mercy he had denied Travis at the Alamo and Fannin at Goliad.

Citizens of Texas and immigrant soldiers in the Army of Texas at San Jacinto were natives of Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virgina, Austria, Canada, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal and Scotland.

Measured by its results, San Jacinto was one of the most decisive battles of the world. The freedom of Texas from Mexico won here led to annexation and to the Mexican War, resulting in the acquisition by the United States of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma almost one-third of the present area of the American nation, nearly a million square miles of territory, changed sovereignty.

Peggy’s Lake

The Mexicans had camped on the eastern shore of a peninsula near a source of water and just south of a ferry that could get them to the northern bank. The Texans had camped on the western shore of the same peninsula, near their source of water and with access to the ferry in case they had to escape again. Other than the element of surprise – and even that was relative – the only reason for their victory was a bravery fueled by a burning hatred for the enemy and a well founded fear of the consequences of defeat. As fortuitous as the victory was the capture of Santa Anna was more so since if he had been able to escape no doubt he would have reformed his army and defeated the Texans at some other engagement. As it was Texas was able to survive until annexation because of revolutions in the Yucatan and Cohilla, the latter – along with the Commanches of the Nueces strip, forming a geographic buffer for the Texans.

Make no mistake the Revolution of 1835 – 36 was justified. It was pursued with gallantry, bravery, elan and good fortune. Its victory created a nation that not even annexation could subsume that still exists in the hearts of its people today. San Jacinto is a grand monument to this and so much else.

The Lone Star of Texas atop the San Jacinto Monument looking west from Peggy’s Lake – all photos by the author.


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