As night fell on the
evening of April 19, 1836, Sam Houston's ragged army was moving along the
south bank of Buffalo Bayou toward Lynch's Ferry across the San Jacinto
River. Since abandoning Gonzales on March 11, Houston had retreated eastward,
pausing only twice to rest and train his troops. Officials in the interim
government and critics in his army had continually urged him to stand and
fight the advancing Mexican Army of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the
President of Mexico and the self-styled Napoleon of the West. Many Texans
called for Houston's removal as commander-in-chief for reasons of cowardice
in refusing to meet the enemy. Unmoved, Houston kept retreating, buying time
and looking for an advantageous opportunity. Recognition of the opportunity
came in the pre-dawn hours of April 19.
Houston arrived on Buffalo Bayou, opposite Harrisburg on April 18, finding
the town in smoldering ruins. Santa Anna had already been there. After
midnight that night, Houston learned from documents carried by a captured
Mexican courier that Santa Anna had set out for New Washington, on Galveston
Bay, in pursuit of the interim Texas government, and that he planned to
proceed to Lynch's Ferry. Houston realized that Santa Anna, in his relentless
pursuit, had isolated himself from the main body of his army, which was still
west of the Brazos River. The time to fight had come, but Houston must get to
Lynch's Ferry first. On the 19th, leaving the army's baggage and the sick
under guard, he crossed his troops to the south bank of Buffalo Bayou, turned
east across Vince's Bridge, and marched into the growing darkness of the
dying day toward the San Jacinto and destiny.
The dawn broke cold and gray on April 20. Houston's army continued eastward,
tramping through the mire left by heavy spring rains. An advance cavalry
guard arrived at Lynch's Ferry about midmorning and found a detail of
Mexicans guarding a flatboat filled with provisions. The Mexicans fled as the
Texans approached, abandoning the boat that Santa Anna had sent up the San
Jacinto River in anticipation of his arrival. The captured provisions were to
be welcomed by the starving Texans, who had lived for days on meager rations.
The remainder of the army soon arrived and set up camp in a stand of timber
skirting Buffalo Bayou about a mile from the ferry crossing. The troops were
deployed along the bayou for about 500 yards, behind a low rise along which
ran the road to the ferry. Two volunteer regiments of infantry guarded the
left, the regular infantry the right, and the cavalry deployed on the far
right flank. In the center, at the top of the rise, the artillery positioned
the Twin Sisters, a pair of six-pound cannons, recently received from the
citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio.
A recent recruit described the scene in the Texan camp:
Around 20 or 30 campfires stood as many groups of men: English, Irish, Scots,
Mexicans, French, Germans, Italians, Poles, Yankees, all unwashed and
unshaved, their long hair and beards and mustaches matted, their clothes in
tatters and plastered with mud. A more savage looking band could scarcely
have been assembled. Yet many were gentlemen, owners of large estates. Some
were distinguished for oratory, some in science, some in medicine. Many had
graced famous drawing rooms. Their guns were of every size and shape. They
numbered less than 800 men.
Houston quickly dispatched a small cavalry detail toward New Washington to
reconnoiter Santa Anna's position. They found the Mexican Army preparing to
leave the burned out town, skirmished briefly, and hastily retraced the eight
miles back to Lynch's. The Mexican Army was not far behind, arriving just
Santa Anna immediately attempted to draw the Texans into battle. He
positioned his single twelve-pound cannon, the Golden Standard in a grove of
trees 400 yards in advance of the Texan camp and commenced firing. Houston
responded with volleys from the Twin Sisters. A Mexican infantry company
advanced to the cover of another cluster of trees within rifle shot of the
Texan left flank. After a brief exchange of rifle fire, a shower of grapeshot
and broken horseshoes from the Twin Sisters drove the riflemen into retreat.
As the artillery cannonade continued sporadically into late afternoon, Santa
Anna began establishing his camp on a rise overlooking the marshes lining the
San Jacinto River, about three-fourths of a mile east of the Texan position.
Realizing that the Texans were almost equal in number to his own 1,000-man
force and had somehow obtained artillery, Santa Anna fortified his position
by ordering breastworks of pack saddles, trunks, and other baggage erected in
front of the camp. He had suddenly lost his normal advantage of overwhelming
numbers, and must now wait for reinforcements.
Shortly before sunset, Santa Anna ordered the Golden Standard withdrawn from
the field. At about the same time Houston sent a small cavalry detail to
survey the Mexican position. They encountered a Mexican unit deployed to
cover the artillery withdrawal and a heated skirmish ensued. The
undisciplined Texans fell back in confusion and disarray narrowly escaping
disaster with only one man mortally wounded. Private Mirabeau B. Lamar
displayed such heroics in rescuing unhorsed comrades during the foray that he
was promoted to colonel and given command of the Cavalry Company. As the sun
set, both armies settled into camp for the night.
It was a long night for both commanders. Houston ordered his men to eat and
rest, but he remained awake all night, as he often did. He faced a serious
dilemma; he had his enemy isolated with a nearly equal force, and he could
not let him escape. But his own army worried Houston - an army of
strong-willed individualists, filled with restless vengeance, and angered by
his orders of continued restraint. That they would fight, he could not doubt,
but the lack of discipline displayed in the cavalry skirmish that afternoon
indicated that once in battle the little training he had given them would be
for naught - they would be beyond his control.
Santa Anna, too, did not sleep, nor did he let his troops rest. He understood
his predicament, and he feared the ill-tempered mob of wild-eyed Texans, bent
on avenging his past actions at the Alamo and Goliad. Although better
equipped and more disciplined than his adversary, his army of peasants and
Indians had marched over a thousand miles exposed to the harshness of a late
Texas winter and an uncommonly wet spring. They were nearing exhaustion, but
this night they must remain awake and alert, for Santa Anna knew that his
enemy would attack at the day's first light.
Dawn of April 21 came, but Houston did not attack. Santa Anna began to relax.
In the Texan camp, Houston's troops arose early and busied themselves with
breakfast. They wanted to fight, but their commander still refused.
At 9:00 Santa Anna's prayers were answered, and his fears allayed. His
brother-in-law, General Martin Perfecto de Cos, arrived with 500
reinforcements, giving him an almost two-to-one numerical advantage. Tension
broke in the Mexican camp. Santa Anna ordered his army to eat and rest. He
was so confident that he did not even keep sentries posted. He knew the field
was his - the Texans would not dare attack such a superior force.
News of the arrival of more Mexican troops spread quickly through the Texan
camp, further agitating frustrations. Shortly thereafter, Houston sent
Erastus "Deaf" Smith and six others to destroy Vince's Bridge, in
an effort to delay possible further reinforcement. About noon, he assembled
his officers and held his first and only council of war.
The officers emerged from the meeting confused and disappointed, for nothing
had been resolved. But Houston knew that he could no longer hold his men in
check. He must let them fight - ill trained and outnumbered - against his
At 3:30 Houston called for a parade assembly, inspected the men, and deployed
them into a battle line. Colonel Sidney Sherman's volunteer infantry would
follow along the edge of the marshland and strike from the left, while
Colonel Lamar's cavalry would circle to the right to confront the Mexican
cavalry. Houston joined the main force of Colonel Edward Burleson's
volunteers, Colonel Henry Millard's regulars, and Colonel George W. Hockley's
artillery to launch a frontal attack against the breastworks. Just after 4:00
on that warm afternoon, with the sun at their backs, the Texans stepped
forward in a slow and silent advance toward the Mexican lines. Their only
advantage would be the element of surprise.
In the Mexican camp, the scene was one of relaxation and confidence in the
safety of numerical superiority. Most of the troops slept, some were cooking
and eating, others playing cards, rifles were stacked, and Santa Anna was in
his tent. Suddenly a soldier noticed the advancing Texans and sounded the
The Texans had moved to within 200-300 yards of the barricades when the alarm
sounded. The Twin Sisters immediately boomed and the Texans charged, holding
their fire until within sixty yards of the Mexican line. Someone shouted
"Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!" At first a few, then all, joined
in that cry of vengeance. Houston's horse was shot from beneath him - he
mounted another. The fight was hand-to-hand combat at the breastworks.
Houston fell wounded, but he mounted yet again. Sherman swamped the left;
Lamar overwhelmed the cavalry on the right; Burleson and Millard overran the
breastworks and captured the Golden Standard. Within eighteen minutes all
organized resistance had collapsed.
The Mexican soldiers dropped their weapons and fled into the marshes toward
the San Jacinto, hoping to swim to safety. Colonel Juan Almonte valiantly
rallied a few of the disorganized troops, but his resistance swiftly
disappeared under the onslaught. Many terrified soldiers huddled together for
protection, signaling surrender, but were decimated by rifle butts wielded as
clubs and even the bayonets of their own discarded rifles. Others stumbled
and fell in the quagmire shouting "Me no Alamo! Me no Goliad!" For many, those were the last words of their lives.
Houston and many others, officers and soldiers alike, tried to stem the tide
of revenge, but failed.
Just before sunset, over two hours after the battle began, the killing
finally stopped. The shallow waters of the marshes ran crimson. Over 600
Mexican soldiers lay dead, with over 200 wounded. Texan casualties, in the
heated action, numbered only 8 (dead) and thirty (wounded).
The 700 surviving and unscathed Mexicans on the field were gathered and
placed under guard. A small number escaped, including Santa Anna. Once he
realized that his army was beaten, the Mexican president mounted a horse and
fled westward, seeking the safety of his remaining forces beyond the Brazos
The few men with medical experience began tending the wounded, first the
Texans, then the Mexicans, as best they could with meager supplies. Houston's
wound was more severe than anticipated. A rifle ball had shattered his ankle;
he would be crippled for several months. A field hospital was established at
Lorenzo de Zavala's plantation across Buffalo Bayou. All through the night, the
air was pierced by the agonizing wails of the wounded and the dying.
On the morning of the 22nd, the Texans buried their dead in their camp along
the bayou. Houston dispatched riders to notify the soldiers protecting
fleeing settlers to return, and sent scouts searching for escaped Mexicans,
especially Santa Anna. Houston knew that if his foe reached his 3,000-4,000
troops west of the Brazos that the war would continue. Before noon, a group
of scouts under Sergeant James Sylvester captured a Mexican private near
Vince's Bridge. Upon returning to camp, passing the prisoners' compound,
several surviving soldiers shouted "El presidente! El presidente!"
They had captured the Napoleon of the West.
Santa Anna was brought to Sam Houston, lying wounded beneath a live oak tree
at the edge of the bayou. The conquered dictator agreed to cease hostilities
and dispatched orders to his remaining field commanders to withdraw their
troops from Texas. The battle was won, independence secured, and the new
Republic of Texas joined the realm of nations.
The battle at San Jacinto helped to establish "The Republic of
Texas" that flourished for a decade. The Republic eventually added over
one million square miles of territory to the United States. From this vast territory came the states of Texas, New
Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and
San Jacinto (CG-56) was laid
down 24 July 1985 by Ingalls Shipbuilding, Pascagoula MS; launched 14
November 1986 and christened 24 January 1987 by her sponsor, Dr. Wendy Lee
Gramm, wife of Senator Phil Gramm of Texas. San Jacinto was commissioned on
23 January 1988 by then Vice President George Bush in Houston, Texas.
In the first eleven years
since her commissioning, San Jacinto won every major award for which she was
eligible. These included the Battenburg Cup, which recognized her as the best
ship in the Atlantic Fleet, and an unprecedented six consecutive Battle
Efficiency ("Battle E") Awards. She won and was a subsequent
runner-up in the Atlantic Fleet Golden Anchor competition recognizing her
superior quality of life and retention programs. Other unit awards included
the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, the Navy Unit Commendation, and the
Meritorious Unit Commendation.
San Jacinto distinguished
herself by a 1989 Mediterranean deployment where she provided the strike
warfare capability supporting the first Mediterranean aircraft carrier gap in
recent history. In August 1990, San Jacinto deployed with only five days
notice for Operation Desert Shield, where she served as Red Sea Battle Force
Air Warfare Commander and launched the first Tomahawk Cruise missiles ever
fired in combat during the opening salvos of OPERATION DESERT STORM. In 1992,
San Jacinto circumnavigated South America during UNITAS XXXIII, a
multi-national naval exercise. Many of the littoral warfare tactical
initiatives developed during UNITAS were later refined during BALTOPS '93
exercises when San Jacinto embarked the first-ever LAMPS SH-60B and SH-60F
San Jacinto deployed to the
Mediterranean and Red Sea in 1994 as part of the George Washington Battle
Group. During her 69 days in the Adriatic Sea, she enforced the "No-Fly
Zone" over Bosnia-Herzegovina and the UN sanctioned arms embargo. When
Saddam Hussein sent his forces once again towards Kuwait in October of that
year, San Jacinto responded rapidly, taking Tomahawk Strike station in the Red
Sea just as she had three years earlier.
In 1996, San Jacinto again
deployed to the Mediterranean and Red Seas as part of the USS George
Washington Battle Group. While there, she participated in joint operations
with the Russian Navy, and distinguished herself during rescue operations of
the merchant ship Saudi Hoffuf. She ended the deployment with her first
extended shipyard overhaul period.
In 1998, San Jacinto deployed
with the John C. Stennis (CVN-74) to the Arabian Gulf. Following a 16-day
transit, the San Jacinto served as the Air Warfare Commander for the John C
Stennis Battle Group and Regional Air Warfare Commander for the Arabian Gulf.
Additional taskings included as part of Operation Southern Watch and Maritime
Interdiction Operations in support of UN Resolutions and sanctions against
Iraq, defense of the Stennis as "Shotgun Cruiser", and a rescue at
sea of a Turkish merchant vessel.
Upon its return home, and with
the the Stennis’ move to the West Coast, the San Jacinto was reassigned to the
Harry S Truman (CVN-75) Battle Group. In its available inter-deployment time,
the San Jacinto went to New York City for Fleet Week ’99.
The guided missile cruiser San
Jacinto deployed in late November 2000, for six-months to the to the
Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Southern
Watch. Prior to that deployment, the cruiser took part in Joint Task Force
exercise 01-1 and NATO exercise Unified Spirit 2000. As the Air Warfare
Commander and only AEGIS cruiser in the Harry S Truman Battle Group, San
Jacinto used its SPY-1 Radar and command and control communications suite to
help maintain regional stability through the enforcement of the Iraqi
Southern ‘No-Fly’ zone and the conduct of Maritime Interception Operations in
the Northern Arabian Gulf. It returned to its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia
in late May 2001.
In December 2002,
SAN JACINTO deployed to the Mediterranean and Red Sea as the Air Defense
Commander (ADC) for Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and later during Operation Iraqi
Freedom to include the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Strike Group. As ADC,
San Jacinto was responsible for defending the ships of Task Force Sixty
against air or missile attack and management of air traffic within an
extremely confined area as two aircraft carriers conducted flight operations
around the clock. From March 15 to March 28, San Jacinto operated in the Red
Sea, supporting the Commander, United States Fifth Fleet. It was during her
Red Sea Operations that San Jacinto fired 29 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles
against targets in Iraq - the most missiles launched by any ship in the Red
Sea. The ship’s boarding teams conducted a series of inspections designed to
ensure that vessels were not involved in the support of Al Quaeda or other
terrorist organizations, and to deter other vessels from offering terrorists
safe haven or support.
The ship returned from
the extremely successful deployment May 23, 2003.