The Battle of San Jacinto, fought on April 21, 1836, in present-day Harris County, Texas, was the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. Led by General Sam Houston, the Texian army engaged and soundly defeated the Mexican army of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna in a fight which lasted less than a half hour.
In the thick of the fight was one Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar. While in his mid twenties, Lamar spent several years as the personal secretary of Governor George M. Troup, of Laurens County, Georgia. Lamar worked side by side with the governor in his quarters at the capital in Milledgeville as well as Troup’s less than palatial mansion Valdosta on the Old River Road, southeast of Dublin.
Lamar was born in Louisville, Georgia, then Georgia’s capital. As he advanced through the rudiments of a liberal education, it appeared that he was destined for a literary career. After several years as the governor’s secretary, Lamar joined the westward exodus. He chose the lovely Tabitha Jordan of Twiggs County as his bride and set out for the burgeoning Chattahoochee River metropolis of Columbus.
With Troup’s influence and powerful support, Lamar founded the Columbus Enquirer newspaper and was elected to a seat in the Georgia senate. After his young wife’s tragic death, Lamar took a leave to travel and write poetry. After two failed congressional campaigns, Lamar, seeking a new start, moved to Texas along with Col. James Fannin of Twiggs County. The two Middle Georgians originally set out to collect information for a planned publication of a history of Texas.
Fate had other things planned for Lamar, Fannin and thousands of other Americans who sought a new and prosperous life in the seemingly endless expanse of Texas. As the political winds of independence from Mexico began to swirl, Lamar joined the Texian army at Groce’s Point. Inspired to fight by the devastating battle of the Alamo and the brutal massacre of most of Fannin’s surrendered command at Goliad, Lamar realized why he was sent to Texas.
“Dear Brother, I leave this morning for the army. A dreadful battle is to be fought in three to four days on the Brazos, decisive of the fate of Texas. I shall of course have to be in it,” wrote Mirabeau Lamar to his brother J.J. Lamar on April 10, 1836.
Lamar’s commanders took notice of his high degree of organizational skill and military leadership. In the hours before the Battle of San Jacinto, Thomas Jefferson Rusk and Walter Lane were hopelessly surrounded by the Mexican army. Lamar leaped into action and rescued the men from capture and certain death. The Texians cheered Lamar as did some of his Mexican opponents. The writer, turned soldier, was breveted a colonel in the Texian army on the eve of the greatest victory in the war of independence.
The Texian infantry rushed forward while Lamar kept his cavalry in reserve in the rear. Lamar’s men did manage to rescue a helpless fellow soldier who had been thrown to the ground from his horse within killing range of the enemy.
During the night of the 20th and the early morning hours of the 21st, Santa Anna’s Mexican forces hastily constructed entrenchments and breastworks for an expected all out attack on the following day. During the lull, the Mexican army received 540 reinforcements to bring their total, less than effective, force to 1200 men. These new, untrained men had just endured a forced march for nearly an entire day.
Sam Houston, the leader of the Texas independence fighters, did not launch the morning attack as Santa Anna had expected. Houston (left) waited and waited. The tired Mexicans fell into a state of sheer exhaustion. As the afternoon wore on, many fell into a deep siesta - that is until late in the afternoon.
At 4:30 p.m., the Texian artillery launched an opening volley. The infantry rushed out of the cover of the tall grasses and ran head long into the Mexican breastworks. Total chaos ensued.
Santa Anna and his commanders futilely tried to rally their troops. Within 20 minutes, 18 minutes to be somewhat exact, the Mexican soldiers deserted their positions and ran for their lives.
The killing continued. As a large number of Mexicans fled the marsh near Peggy Lake, Texian sharpshooters shot an every thing that moved. The victorious Texian officers tried to stop the slaughter. But, most of their men, incited by their anguished memories of the massacres at the Alamo and Goliad, began to chant, “Remember the Alamo!”
The tally of Mexican casualties amounted to 650 killed (54%) and 300 captured (25%.) Only seven independence fighters lost their lives. Thirty more, including General Houston, were wounded.
During the night, Gen. Houston feared a counterattack by 4000 Mexican troops under the command of generals Urrea and Filisola. That attack never came.
By the first week of May, Texas President David G. Burnet named Col. Lamar as his Secretary of War. By June, Secretary Lamar was promoted once again, this time to a major general and given the title of Commander in Chief. Lamar’s military service came to a screeching halt when many of his troops attempted to veto his appointment.
During the fall elections, Lamar was elected as Vice President of the Republic of Texas. While he was in office, Lamar continued his studies of Texas history. With the endorsement of President Sam Houston, Lamar was the favorite to win the presidential election of 1838. His election was clinched after the other two candidates, Peter W. Grayson and James Collingsworth, killed themselves during the campaign.
Lamar’s policies cost him the admiration and support of Texas voters. He served only one term. Lamar chose to do what he did best. And, that was to travel, explore and to write.
`During the Mexican-American War of 1846, Lamar joined the U.S. Army under the command future President Zachary Taylor, distinguishing himself during the Battle of Monterrey. President Lamar died in 1859 after serving terms as a United States Ambassador to Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Mirabeau Lamar came to Texas to write a history of that Mexican territory. At the end of the day, 180 years ago today and for two more decades, Lamar found himself personally being an important part of the most important early chapters of the history of the Lone Star State.