Less than a week after the disastrous defeat of Texas rebels at the Alamo, the newly commissioned Texan General Sam Houston begins a series of strategic retreats to buy time to train his ill-prepared army.
Revolutionary Texans had only formally announced their independence from Mexico 11 days earlier. On March 6, 1836, the separatists chose Sam Houston to be the commander-in-chief of the revolutionary army. Houston immediately departed for Gonzales, Texas, where the main force of the revolutionary army was stationed. When he arrived, he found that the Texan army consisted of 374 poorly dressed and ill-equipped men. Most had no guns or military experience, and they had only two days of rations.
Houston had little time to dwell on the situation, because he learned that the Mexican general Santa Anna was staging a siege of the Alamo in San Antonio. Before Houston could prepare his troops to rush to aid the defenders, however, word arrived that Santa Anna had wiped them out on March 6. Scouts reported that Santa Anna’s troops were heading east toward Gonzales. Unprepared to confront the Mexican army with his poorly trained force, Houston began a series of strategic retreats designed to give him enough time to whip his army into fighting shape.
Houston’s decision to retreat won him little but scorn from the Texas rebels. His troops and officers were eager to engage the Mexicans, and they chafed at Houston’s insistence on learning proper field maneuvers. Houston wisely continued to organize, train, and equip his troops so they would be prepared to meet Santa Anna’s army. Finally, after nearly a month of falling back, Houston ordered his men to turn around and head south to meet Santa Anna’s forces.
On April 21, Houston led his 783 troops in an attack on Santa Anna’s force of nearly twice that number near the confluence of Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto River. With the famous cry, “Remember the Alamo,” the Texans stormed the surprised Mexican forces. After a brief attempt at defense, the Mexican soldiers broke into a disorganized retreat, allowing the Texans to isolate and slaughter them. In a stunning victory, Houston’s army succeeded in killing or capturing nearly the entire Mexican force, including General Santa Anna, who was taken prisoner. Only two Texans were killed and 30 wounded.
Fearful of execution, Santa Anna signed an order calling for the immediate withdrawal of all Mexican troops from Texas soil. The Mexicans never again seriously threatened the independence of the Lone Star Republic.