Today is the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, fought in 1836 near what is now the city named after Sam Houston, who led the Texan army that day in a fight that lasted only 18 minutes. About 630 Mexican soldiers and nine Texans died. The Texans (in those days often called Texians or Texicans) captured 730 soldiers, including Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the president of Mexico. Three weeks later he signed a peace treaty that led to Texan independence.
Neither the battlefield site itself nor the main road to it provides a sense of what it was like on April 21, 1836. The road to the battlefield goes past chemical and energy plants showing angular pipes. Smokestacks, valves, high voltage lines, and fuel tanks mix with a few palm trees and a rotten egg smell. The battlefield park itself, though, is tranquil, with a reflecting pool on one side, a rolling green meadow in the middle, and preserved marshlands on the other. A 570-foot-high monument known as the world’s tallest memorial column has an elevator that carries visitors to the top in 37 seconds and makes ears pop.
The day itself 178 years ago was neither high-tech nor tranquil: The Texans moved quickly and silently through high grass, then ran several dozen yards, surprising the slumbering Mexicans. Then came bloodletting. The Mexicans under Santa Anna’s ruthless command had killed and killed while marching across Texas, offering no quarter at the Alamo and executing 342 men who had surrendered at Goliad. The Texans at San Jacinto reciprocated, shouting, “Remember the Alamo” and “Remember Goliad.”
The monument’s inscription reads:
“Measured by its results, San Jacinto was one of the decisive battles of the world. The freedom of Texas from Mexico won here led to annexation and to the Mexican-American War, resulting in the acquisition by the United States of … almost one-third of the present area of the American Nation.”