Antonio López de Santa Anna
The dominant figure in Mexican politics for much of the 19th century, Antonio López de Santa Anna left a legacy of disappointment and disaster by consistently placing his own self-interest above his duty to the nation.
Born in the state of Vera Cruz in 1794, Santa Anna embarked on his long career in the army at age 16 as a cadet. He fought for a time for the Spanish against Mexican independence, but along with many other army officers switched sides in 1821 to help install Augustin de Iturbide as head of state of an independent Mexico.
Mexico was a highly fractured and chaotic nation for much of its first century of independence, in no small part due to the machinations of men such as Santa Anna. In 1828 he used his military influence to lift the losing candidate into the presidency, being rewarded in turn with appointment as the highest-ranking general in the land. His reputation and influence were further strengthened by his critical role in defeating an 1829 Spanish effort to reconquer their former colony.
In 1833 Santa Anna was overwhelmingly elected President of Mexico. Unfortunately, what began as a promise to unite the nation soon deteriorated into chaos. From 1833 to 1855 Mexico had no fewer than thirty-six changes in presidency; Santa Anna himself directly ruled eleven times. He soon became bored in his first presidency, leaving the real work to his vice-president, who soon launched an ambitious reform of church, state and army. In 1835, when the proposed reforms infuriated vested interests in the army and church, Santa Anna seized the opportunity to reassert his authority, and led a military coup against his own government.
Santa Anna's repudiation of Mexico's 1824 constitution and substitution of a much more centralized and less democratic form of government was instrumental in sparking the Texas revolution, for it ultimately convinced both Anglo colonists and many Mexicans in Texas that they had nothing to gain by remaining under the Mexican government. When the revolution came in 1835, Santa Anna personally led the Mexican counter-attack, enforcing a "take-no-prisoners" policy at the Alamo and ordering the execution of those captured at Goliad. In the end, however, his over-confidence and tactical carelessness allowed Sam Houston to win a crushing victory at the battle of San Jacinto.
Although his failure to suppress the Texas revolution enormously discredited him, Santa Anna was able to reestablish much of his authority when he defeated a French invasion force at Vera Cruz in 1838. His personal heroism in battle, which resulted in having several horses shot out from under him and the loss of half of his left leg, became the basis of his subsequent effort to secure his power by creating a cult of personality around himself. In 1842 he arranged for an elaborate ceremony to dig up the remains of his leg, parade with it through Mexico City, and place it on a prominent monument for all to see.
The United States took advantage of Mexico's continuing internal turmoil in the Mexican-American war. As the supreme commander of Mexican forces, much of the blame for their crushing defeat fell on Santa Anna's shoulders. Nevertheless, he remained the most powerful individual in Mexico until 1853, when his sale of millions of acres in what is now southern Arizona and New Mexico to the United States united liberal opposition against him. He was soon deposed, and never again returned to political office. He died in 1876.
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.....no single instance was any man punished for a political offense....few dictators, in possession of absolute power for the same length of time, surrounded by the same circumstances, can say as much....he is not the sanguinary monster which some have supposed him to be---American Envoy to Mexico Waddy Thompson, 1846.
Antonio López de Santa Anna
Fought more battles than Napoleon and George Washington combined, eleven times President and Dictator of the second largest country in the world prior to 1836, captured and caused the loss of half of Mexican territory (one million square miles) beginning on the battlefield of San Jacinto in 1836, released to become President and Dictator of Mexico 7 times more over 40 more years, periodically exiled for a total of 20 years----
"......it is very true that I threw up my cap for liberty with great ardor, and perfect sincerity, but very soon found the folly of it. A hundred years to come my people will not be fit for liberty. They do not know what it is, unenlightened as they are, and under the influence of a Catholic clergy, a despotism is the proper government for them, but there is no reason why it should not be a wise and virtuous one."---Santa Anna in reply to former American envoy to Mexico Joel Poinsett after his capture by Texians 1836
"General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna died in this city on the 21st inst. However he may have been condemned by parties, his career formed a brilliant and important portion of the History of Mexico, and future historians will differ in their judgment of his merits. General Santa Anna outlived his usefulness and ambition, and died at the ripe age of eighty-four. Peace to his ashes"--Obituary Mexico City 1876
[Image: idealized portrait in full regalia from Hanighen's Santa Anna: Napoleon of the West, 1934]
The Handbook of Texas: Santa Anna was born at Jalapa, Vera Cruz, on February 21, 1794, the son of Antonio López de Santa Anna and Manuela Pérez de Lebrón. His family belonged to the criollo middle class, and his father served at one time as a subdelegate for the Spanish province of Vera Cruz. After a limited schooling the young Santa Anna worked for a merchant of Vera Cruz. In June 1810 he was appointed a cadet in the Fijo de Vera Cruz infantry regiment under the command of Joaquín de Arredondo. He spent the next five years battling insurgents and policing the Indian tribes of the Provincias Internas. Like most criollo officers in the Royalist army, he remained loyal to Spain for a number of years and fought against the movement for Mexican independence. He received his first wound, an Indian arrow in his left arm or hand, in 1811. In 1813 he served in Texas against the Gutiérrez/Magee expedition, and at the battle of Medina he was cited for bravery. In the aftermath of the rebellion the young officer witnessed Arredondo's fierce counterinsurgency policy of mass executions, and historians have speculated that Santa Anna modeled his policy and conduct in the Texas Revolution on his experience under Arredondo.
Such is Santa Anna, whether good or bad, what his country has made him.
From Mexico and Her Military Chieftains
by Fay Robinson, published 1847
[Image from El Presidente: A sketch of the life of General Santa Anna by Clarence Wharton, 1926] In regard to Don Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, we have as little positive information, as about any other of the Mexican military chieftains. Of his early history, we know nothing certainly---one account representing him as the son of a Spanish officer, and the other, as born of obscure parentage. In the sketch of the life of Iturbide, it has been seen how important a part in his dethronement was sustained by Santa Anna, of which it may not, however, be improper to make a recapitulation here. The road from Vera Cruz to Mexico, for some distance, is by the side of the sea, and then crosses a sandy desert, barren and sterile as can be imagined. It then passes close to a tranquil bay, the green ripples of the surface of which, after even so short an absence from the broad expanse of the gulf, seem grateful indeed, and then becomes lost amid the masses of a tropical forest, extending farther than the eye can reach. The traveler, even amid its natural arcades, hears the murmur of the ocean mingled with the whispering of the leaves, and, delighted, surrenders his ear to this harmony, which, if he travel in a Mexican coach (a litter or palanquin), lulls him to sleep; or, if on horseback, fills his mind with all the poetry with which the country around him is instinct. From time to time, he discovers through the thick undergrowth a herd of asses, or the brow of an untamed bull, which exhibits but for a moment his rugged form, and in an instant becomes lost in the impenetrable thicket. The traveler, who would be prompted by curiosity to ask to whom these herds belong, would be told they came from the hacienda of Mango de Clavo, and belong to General Santa Anna.
It is to this hacienda, a term which corresponds nearly with the English manor, that the man who, since 1821, has been the hero of all the revolutions of Mexico, has come, now conquered, now victorious, to seek repose from the misfortune of defeat or the turmoil of victory. There he has matured new plans, and changed his political antipathies into personal friendships; has meditated on schemes to overthrow those whom he has fostered, and to protect persons whom he had previously bitterly opposed. There he has lived retired, sometimes forgotten almost, until the arrival of one of those crises when men of genius make all things their own, and when his war-cry has been heard from one end of Mexico to another. To understand what will follow in this story of Santa Anna's life, it is necessary that the reader should remember that Mexico is now in the same condition in which England was under the Tudors, and that it cannot be estimated by the rules which we apply to the present history of the civilized world. Each Mexican general occupies the position of a feudal baron, and each department and command is, as it were, an apanage. Facts alone can describe the versatile character of Santa Anna; the aspirations of a man who, Richelieu-like, knows no such word as fail, who has found ruin in his victories and success in his defeats, who sports with his own life and fortune heedlessly as he does with that of others; who sheds blood in torrents, yet is not, except in the United States, thought cruel; and who understands the rash and impulsive nature of his compatriots well enough to dare all things without incurring the accusation of temerity.
Santa Anna must be about forty-five or forty-six years old; his stature is tall, and age has made no impression on him as yet. He is pale, has black eyes and raven hair, which curls over a brow lofty and expressive of daring. He has the air and manners of a gentleman, and a ready elocution, which fascinates all who can understand him in his native tongue, which he speaks with a purity rare in Mexico. He possesses an intuitive perception of character, and knows what springs of the human soul to touch to effect the wonderful combinations for which he is so famous. He appears for the first time in the history of Mexico in 1821. At this time, though very young, he commanded a body of insurgents, at the head of whom he took possession of Vera Cruz. After having been favored by the emperor Iturbide, whom he supported with all his power, he was summoned to appear before him to give an account of some act of grave insubordination. He was deprived of his command, a punishment which he richly deserved, yet by no means expected. He returned to Vera Cruz, placed himself at the head of the garrison, which was attached to him; and after a brief harangue, declared against the imperial authority and proclaimed Mexico an independent republic. General Echavarri was sent to oppose him, but, contrary to all expectation, joined him. The cities of Oaxaca, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, Queretaro, San Luis de Potosi, and Puebla, followed his example, and within one year after Santa Anna's dismission, Iturbide was dethroned. A few months after the installation of the new republic, the first champion of which he had been, Santa Anna revolted against the authority of congress. sdct
In 1828 Santa Anna was again governor of Vera Cruz, and a revolt was discovered in Mexico, in which he was thought to be an accomplice, and was therefore recalled to the capital. One who had disobeyed the brave and gallant Iturbide, was by no means likely to yield to the headless congress. Far from surrendering his command, which extended only over the city of Vera Cruz, Santa Anna usurped authority over the whole province, appealed to the faithful Vera Cruzanos, defeated the troops which were sent against him, and took possession of the castle of Perote. The congress declared Santa Anna an outlaw, and other troops were sent against him. Santa Anna did not, in his turn, declare the congress outlaws, but commenced against it one of those wars of skirmishes in which he has almost always been successful. In this campaign his constant attendant and companion was Arista. The soldiers of Santa Anna were all from the tierra caliente; men whose bodies, of the color of bronze, seem to suffer from exposure no more than that metal does. The vomito had no effect on them, while the forces of the government, from the tierra templada, died by hundreds; they were able to support hunger, fatigue, the hot air, and the broiling sun, with no sustenance frequently after a day's march, other than the fruits of the country and the excitement of a cigar. At the head of such men, Santa Anna laughed at pursuit by enemies who died by the wayside from fatigue. After a long campaign, he was, however, forced to leave Perote and retire towards Tehuacan and Camino de Oaxaca, in which city he fortified himself.
Followed up by a superior force, he was forced to retreat from house to house, from street to street, and finally to shut himself up with his party in the vast convent of Santo Domingo, which, like most other ecclesiastical buildings in Mexico, was protected by high walls with loop-holes, defended by a massive gate, and more than all, by the sanctity attached to it. He was under no apprehension of a storm, for no man in Mexico would lift, a hand against a consecrated building, and famine alone could force him to submit to his assailants. Santa Anna knew with whom he had to deal, and therefore, without paying any attention to his enemies, quietly laid himself down for his siesta (an indispensable in war or peace to a Mexican), in the coolest part of the convent. The leaguerers were less composed, but were also ready enough to take their chocolate and rest. On the next day the firing began, for though it would have been impious to injure the walls of the church, there was no objection to slaying the men who were behind them. The party of Santa Anna, protected by the walls, suffered little, while his enemies were mowed down by his deadly musketry. A day and night passed as the first twenty-four hours had done, except that the skilful Santa Anna had under the shelter of the night managed to drive into the court-yard of the convent, a large number of oxen, by the side of which, with their horses saddled, stood a large party of the hardy rancheros from the tierra caliente. A signal was silently given, each sprang on his steed, and the besieged, who it was fancied were satisfied with their success, threw wide the gates as was the custom in solemn processions. Instead, however, of the banners of the church, of chasubles and priests, the besiegers saw lancers with their red flags and dragoons with their yellow jackets. The towers, instead of displaying waving flags and ringing with peals of joy, were filled with soldiers, who fired into the ranks of the besiegers, who were on their part almost too much astonished to notice a detachment of the garrison of Santo Domingo dashing at full speed towards a neighboring convent, of which it immediately took possession. The commander of the government troops saw at once how grievous a fault he had committed by failing to take charge of this convent, from the towers of which he could have incommoded so much the besieged. He was forced at once to change his position, for he was between two fires, since Santa Anna's last maneuver. After a lapse of many days, during which Santa Anna, as was his wont, bided his time, and the government officer sought by all means to get the better of his wily antagonist, the latter cast his eyes on the belfry of the building last occupied, and then turning to his adjutant, said
"Unless I am mistaken, Don Cayetano, instead of those agile soldiers so busy in shooting us for three days past, I see monks in the towers. The long-beards cannot have joined Santa Anna!" "Senor, they must have done so, otherwise they could not have afforded to make such a detachment."
Soon after the hoods and frocks of the friars were distinguished every where on the azzotea, or roof of the convent, and the bells began to sound as if they rang for the deliverance of their house, or to make up for lost time. One monk especially seemed to excel his comrades in zeal and activity, and in his enthusiasm suffered his hood to fall off and discover for a moment a bright red moustache. The elevation of the tower prevented this from being observed. The general of the congress had observed what was going on, and immediately ordered the convent to be occupied. A regiment at once obeyed, and advanced with shouldered arms. Suddenly the monks let fall their gowns, and brilliant uniforms appeared in their place. A shower of balls fell on the advancing regiment, from both convents, the effects of which cross-fire decimated them before they could recover from their surprise. The position of Santa Anna, however, had become critical, for his finances were exhausted. Arista, who was the person with the red moustache, had contrived to join him, after an expedition to the neighboring mines of Oaxaca. "Tell me, Arista," he is represented to have said on this occasion, "how much money do you bring me?" "Not a peso!" replied he; "but I have brought the administrador, who protests he has not one rial!" Santa Anna bade him tell his muchachos (his boys) that he had no money; but promised them an increase of one-third of their pay, whenever he could get it. But chance just then came to the aid of Santa Anna. There was a report that Mexico had been the scene of another revolution. Besieged and besiegers rushed together, and called each other friends and brothers. The monks were restored to their convent, the administrador to his mines, and the soldiers of Santa Anna to the tierra caliente. He, too, returned to Manga de Clavo. This part only was sustained by him in the revolution which deposed Pedraza. He reaped much advantage from it, however, the command of the state of Vera Cruz being conferred on him immediately, and subsequently a seat in Pedraza's cabinet as minister of war, at that time a promotion which no one could have anticipated, or he have hoped. What followed in the next few years we have already referred to, and will therefore omit all that ensued until the arrival of that part of Santa Anna's career which established him as the man of the nation. sdct
The Mexican people had been so long free from the Spanish rule that they looked on a return of their old masters as impossible, until, in the summer of 1829, General Barradas landed at Tampico in command of an army of four thousand Spanish veterans. Santa Anna was not then at Vera Cruz, but in Mexico in charge of his bureau; he was no sooner informed of the landing of Barradas, than with seven hundred men in open boats he crossed the Bahia and landed at Tuspan, avoiding the Spanish vessels most dexterously in his hazardous voyage of seventy miles across the gulf. From Tuspan in canoes or perogues he crossed the lagoon of Jamaihua, and landed within three leagues of Tampico, which was then occupied by Barradas's forces, the general having gone on an expedition into the interior with three thousand men, and left one thousand to garrison the city. Santa Anna resolved on an immediate attack at daylight the next morning, August 1st, 1829, and after a contest of four hours the town capitulated. Scarcely had this occurred than General Barradas reappeared. Santa Anna was impeded from retreat by the river which intervened between him and the city, and it was evident nothing could save him but one of those stratagems which have so often decided the fate of armies, and which the mind of Santa Anna seems so peculiarly qualified for conceiving. By means of his agents he contrived to persuade Barradas that he was at the head of an overwhelming force; and the Spaniard, instead of an attack, entered into negotiations, with the understanding that while they were progressing, Santa Anna should retire into his own quarters. Santa Anna of course consented, and, with drums beating and banners waving, crossed the river and returned in safety. When Barradas learned how he had been duped, his mortification was extreme, but the mistake could not be remedied. The effect of this ruse was such that the Mexican army was not attacked until Santa Anna had been reinforced, and the Spaniard saw it would then be vain. Every night the Spaniard was attacked by his persevering foe; and on the 11th of September a vigorous assault was made on the fort at the bar, which forced the Spanish general into a capitulation, by which he laid down his arms and soon after sailed with the remnant of his force, twenty-two hundred men, to Havana. This was the last effort of Spain against Mexico, a convulsive effort which was near success in consequence of the wildness which had animated it, and against which it was impossible to provide.
As Mr. Thompson, the envoy of the United States, says, this defence of Santa Anna recalls to us the history of General Jackson's famous defence of New Orleans; the strong point of which was not, as has generally been supposed, the defence of the city behind the cotton bags, but the night attack on the British immediately after their landing amid the wind and the rain, which enabled the officers of engineers to throw up the breastworks which such men as it was the privilege of the American general to command, could defend against any force. One thing, however, is sure, the strategy of Santa Anna on that occasion was second to no feat of arms which has occurred on this continent, except the defence of New Orleans. The result of this affair was the promotion of Santa Anna. Guerrero was then president, a gallant man and soldier, but altogether incompetent for the administration of a civil government, and the people were generally dissatisfied with him. It would undeniably be treason of the blackest kind in the United States to raise the standard of disobedience to the constituted authorities of the country; but it may be doubted if in Mexico, just emerged from a civil war, where all was yet confused, circumstances did not at least excuse, if not justify the deposition of any one manifestly unable to administer the affairs of the nation. Though the opposition to Guerrero was general, Yucatan first threw down the gauntlet on the 4th of December, by seceding from the republic. General Bustamente soon after raised the standard of revolt, Santa Anna remaining apparently undecided at Vera Cruz, where he was suffered to command. The result was, that by the plan of Jalapa, Guerrero was deposed, and Bustamente assumed the presidency, apparently with the fall consent of all. For three years the republic was devastated by wars; and after remaining quiet for a short time, Guerrero took arms, but was defeated by Bravo at Chilpanzingo, on the 2d of January, 1831, and became a refugee. Thus situated, he went to Acapulco and embarked for Europe in a Genoese vessel, but was delivered by the captain, Picaluga, to the authorities of a neighboring port, Guatulco. He was thence removed to Oaxaca, tried by a military commission, and shot at Cuilapa, a town in the neighborhood. He is said to have been betrayed at the instance of Alaman, Bustamente's secretary of state, who paid the rascally Italian (a protege of Guerrero in his prosperity), in consideration of this treason, the sum of fifty thousand dollars.
The government of Bustamente was not, however, peaceful. General Alvarez and other chiefs maintained themselves in opposition during all 1831, and in 1832 another revolution was effected with greater bloodshed than those which had exalted Guerrero and Bustamente. On the 3d of January, supported by the garrisons of Vera Cruz and San Juan de Ulloa, Santa Anna declared against the existing government, an example soon followed by the commander of Tampico, General Moctezuma. To repress these demonstrations, General Calderon was sent by Bustamente with a large body of troops; and Santa Anna, on the 3d of March, was defeated at Talome, about six leagues from Vera Cruz, and afterwards besieged in the latter place. Before the summer, however, had passed away, Santa Anna was reinforced, and obliged Calderon to fall back, in consequence of which and the increasing demonstrations against the president, the latter was forced to come to terms and to consent to quit the country, and Pedraza declared to have been duly elected in 1828. Pedraza's presidency expired on the 31st of March, 1833, previous to which Santa Anna was chosen to succeed him, with Gomez Farias as his vice-president. In consequence of some difference between the congress and president, relative to the passage of laws abridging the power of the aristocracy and clergy, the former declared freedom of discussion was violated, (which in fact was really the case, Santa Anna having plainly intimated to it, that if it did not comply with his wishes, he would use force), and suspended its sessions, May 14th, 1834. Immediately on this, Santa Anna appealed to the people in a proclamation, to sustain peace and order, which he represented as threatened by the congress, and effected the pronunciamento of Cuernavaca, on the 25th of May, the object of which was the repeal of certain laws against the church, the banishment of certain individuals, and the reorganization of the government; until which was effected, Santa Anna was endowed almost with the powers of a dictator.
[Photo: An engraving in Juan Suárez y Navarro's Historia de México y del general Antonio López de Santa-Anna. Comprende los acontecimientos politicos que han tenido lugar en la nación, desde el año de 1821 hasta 1848, 1850]
A new congress met in 1835, nearly all its members coming with instructions from the people or the legislatures of the states, consenting that the form of the governments might be altered according to the will of the majority; and congress accordingly determined it had a right to alter the government in any point not affecting the maintenance of a republican system, the Roman Catholic church, the independence of the country, and the freedom of the press. The legislatures of a great many of the states had declared in favor of an alteration of the constitution. Yucatan, which had remained separate since 1829, became united, and declared itself ready to submit to the action of the congress. The state of Texas and Coahuila remained opposed to a change, but General Cos, the military commandant, summarily dispersed the legislature; and Zacatecas having declared against a change, Santa Anna marched against it in person, and by a bloody battle, on the 11th of May, reduced it to submission. There was elsewhere no opposition, except on the part of old Bravo, who had fought too long for the liberty of the country thus to see it frittered away. He long continued in arms in the south. Notwithstanding this opposition, Congress proceeded with its labors, and a constitution was formed annihilating the state governments, dissolving their legislatures, and uniting all the states into one government, whole and indivisible. Thus was formed the constitution of Mexico, which has produced all its later troubles, and is the present government of Mexico, pronounced by all, from its unwieldy character, probably the worst that ever existed. Its features are these: A president, selected for eight years; a house of deputies and a senate; the latter selected in the most complicated manner by electors thrice removed from the people; and a supreme court. It also embraces what is termed the supreme conservative power, with a veto on everything, composed of five members, and, in the words of the organic law responsible to God and public opinion alone.
While the legislature was thus remodeling the constitution, occurred the Texas revolution. The country west of the Sabine had long since attracted the attention of the frontier population of the United States, masses of which were strewn in various parts of the country, having received grants of land, and been permitted to settle on certain conditions which the adoption of the new constitution violated. In December of 1835, a congress of nine persons assembled at Goliad, and declared themselves independent, which was followed by a more formal declaration in March, 1836, at Washington, Texas. A provisionary government was organized, and General Samuel Houston was appointed commander-in-chief. Hostilities had commenced immediately after the first declaration, between the Mexican garrisons and the settlers, and Santa Anna despatched General Cos to Monclova, the seat of government of Coahuila and Texas, with orders to humble that department, and immediately afterwards repaired to the city of Mexico. When General Cos had reached the seat of government he acted as if he expected no difficulty required the surrender to the president of the governor of the state and many eminent citizens, both of American and Spanish extraction, among whom was Lorenzo de Zavala, who had previously been governor of Mexico, and had been compelled to expatriate himself at the time of the plan of Jalapa. It may not be improper here to state, that Zavala identified his fortunes with those of Texas, the vice-president of which he became, and received the compliment of having one of the cruisers of the new republic called after him. He was a man of rare energy and great decision of character, and an ornament to his native province, Yucatan. Of course the requisition was not complied with. The legislature was dispersed, and the governor forced to escape. The rights of the state were thereby finally destroyed; and, to put the last finish to the military despotism, the arms of the American settlers were ordered to be surrendered. The people of Texas, however, were no hybrid men, but true Americans in feeling, and they determined to resist the invaders, and make good by the bow and spear the titles to the settlements they had made by virtue of the invitation and grants of the Mexican nation, which had yielded to them rights and assumed duties not to be revoked or laid aside at the will of either party to the contract.
Cos had already crossed the boundary of the state with an army of fifteen hundred men, and had entrenched himself at San Antonio de Bexar, a strong town on the river San Antonio, near where the twenty-second parallel of latitude crosses it. He sent forward a party under Colonel Castonedo to Gonzales, on the Guadalupe, which empties into the San Antonio, with an order for the people to surrender their heavy ordnance. They not only refused to do this, but collected a party of about one hundred men to attack him. They did attack Castonedo, and with such good will, that though he had twice as strong a force as they, he was defeated and compelled to fall back in the greatest haste on San Antonio de Bexar, or Bexar, as the Texans usually call it. The war now began, and the Texans determined not to be whipped without at least a show of resistance. A national convention was called, which gave its adhesion to the constitution of 1824, declared null by Santa Anna, and appealed to the people of tile other departments of the republic to stand by them in defence of constitutional liberty. As when the American congress appealed to the people of Ireland, Scotland, and England, this address was disregarded, and it became evident that arms alone could decide the controversy. A Texan general, named Burleson, was then before the walls of the Alamo, a fortress of Bexar, with six hundred Americans, awaiting the developments of time, when Milam, who had long been a prisoner in Mexico, made his appearance. Milam had effected his escape, and had gone through great difficulties in reaching them, so that when he joined the force of Burleson, and was told of the destruction of even the shadow of liberty in the republic, he had no difficulty in obtaining volunteers to the number of two hundred and sixteen men. With these he immediately marched from the Alamo to attack the principal defences, in which, as has been stated, was Cos, with fifteen hundred men. The scene subsequently enacted on a large scale in the streets of Monterey, then occurred in San Antonio de Bexar. The deadly western rifle and knife in the hands of such men, induced after five days of incessant strife a surrender of the garrison, which had lost more men than the besiegers numbered, with four hundred stand of arms, &c. The Texans, loss was small, but important for Milam had been killed. The news flies apace. Santa Anna soon heard of the defeat of Cos, and in the winter of 1836, crossed the Rio Grande with an army of ten thousand men, in the van of which was borne a red flag, a token that he intended to give no quarter. The advance proceeded to lay siege to the Alamo, in which was a Texan officer named Travis, with one hundred and forty-five men. Messengers were immediately despatched to the eastern part of Texas, to say that the fort was besieged, and appealing in these Spartan terms to his companions:
"The enemy have demanded me to surrender at discretion, otherwise the garrison is to be put to the sword. I have answered his summons with a cannonshot. Our flag still floats proudly from the walls. We shall never surrender or retreat. Liberty or death!" sdct
It is to be regretted that the Alamo was not evacuated, for any reinforcements which could have been sent would have been lost before Santa Anna's overwhelming force, and the place was by no means valuable as a military position. Travis resisted for six days, repulsing every attack, but at last Santa Anna arrived and assumed the command in person. For four days longer they held out, until at last their fire was almost silenced. Two attempts to scale the walls were repulsed, the Texans using the butts of their guns with great effect. The third attempt succeeded, though not without immense loss. No quarter was asked for and none offered; and when Santa Anna, after the capture, mustered his army, fifteen hundred had been killed, ten times the number of the Texans engaged. The pages of history record no, greater carnage, and from this time forever, Texas was separated from the United States of Mexico. In the defence of the Alamo fell Travis, Crockett, and Bowie; the latter, while on his bed unable to move, having been bayoneted by order of Santa Anna. The bodies of all the defenders were collected into a heap and burned. When Santa Anna declared himself dictator, Texas was not alone in her opposition to this usurpation, Coahuila and Zacatecas having united with her. The one, however, had been intimidated, and the other conquered, and the battle was evidently to be fought by Texas alone. When, therefore, Santa Anna, flushed by his success, was overrunning the whole country, there remained but one alternative; and, on the 2d of March, 1836, Texas declared itself independent.
How the campaign in Texas progressed is now well known, and more than a glance at some of its events is unnecessary. One event, however, deserves especial mention and reprobation. A number of volunteers commanded by Colonel Fanning surrendered to Urrea (whose notoriety is derived solely from his concern in this transaction, and his participation with Farias in a pronunciamento in 1840), with a written stipulation that they were to be treated as prisoners of war, and be permitted to embark at Coporo for the United States. By order of Santa Anna, this capitulation was violated, and the defenseless men were on their march made to halt and shot in cold blood. Santa Anna subsequently when in the United States was taken to task for this assassination by General Jackson, and stated to the American minister at Mexico, Mr. Thompson, that he thus accounted for it. The campaign was undertaken in obedience to an act of the Mexican congress, which ordered no quarter to be given, and that the terms allowed by Urrea were a violation of this law. The terms of capitulation would, however, have been observed, but that on the route to Coporo the prisoners became mutinous, and the officer in command asked for instructions how he should proceed. In this emergency, Santa Anna sent a copy of the act, and consequently all were shot but two surgeons, who were retained to attend on the Mexican invalids. This explanation could not possibly have satisfied General Jackson, for it has obvious feeble points. Imprimis, if General Urrea exceeded his power, he was responsible for it, but the capitulation should have been not the less observed; in the second place, Santa Anna had ten thousand men in Texas, and could have, furnished any guard needed. The world will ever continue to look on the transaction as a wholesale deliberate murder, for which he must account to history if not, to the kinsmen of his victims.
General Samuel Houston about this time commanded twelve hundred men, and was gradually retreating towards the eastern shore of Texas, whence but few men as yet had come. He wished to induce Santa Anna to separate his forces in two portions, and was confident that with the five hundred men be expected from the country on the Red river and Sabine, he could defeat him in detail and drive him from Texas. With this view he left the Colorado and crossed again the Brazos, a circumstance which dispirited his men. It happened, however, as he had designed. Santa Anna divided his forces, and with fifteen hundred men marched in person towards San Felipe. Small parties were left behind him, and Houston continued to retreat. Santa Anna was deceived and pushed on, leaving his heavy artillery behind him, without a doubt but thought that he would drive Houston across the Sabine. The latter concealed his forces until the Mexicans had crossed the Brazos and marched towards Harrisburg. Then Houston turned, marched at once towards Buffalo Bayou, and on the 19th of April came up with the enemy. The next day was passed in skirmishing, without any decided advantage on either side. The two armies became engaged on the 31st of April, where the Bayou discharges itself into the San Jacinto. How Santa Anna was beaten has always been a mystery; he had the advantage of position, and had his artillery, a portion of which had reached him, well posted. A person who served there, and who has had long experience in warfare, informed the author that he never saw a more unpromising yet a more resolute charge, than the one by the Texans headed by Houston on Santa Anna's forces. They rushed up the hill with their guns at a trail, until within about twenty five yards of the enemy, when they halted and delivered four distinct volleys with a precision which was frightful. The enemy's artillery were not idle, but delivered more than one fire with great coolness, which the Texans avoided by throwing themselves on their faces at the flash, and rising at the report with fearful yells to renew their fire. At length one company dashing forward went pell-mell over the Mexican position and captured the guns. The order for a charge was given by Houston, and his men rushed like a tempest on the enemy. All opposition was over. The slaughter at the Alamo and the massacre of Fanning were fearfully avenged by the death of seven hundred and twenty Mexicans, and the capture of six hundred more, among whom, sad to tell, was the redoubtable Santa Anna.
How Santa Anna was taken has been often described, and all accounts of it should be received with great allowance. Three persons have in the presence of the author avowed their participation in his capture, and each gave an entirely different location and detail to the event.
Accounts of the Capture of General Santa Anna at San Jacinto
Sion Record Bostick | Samuel Highsmith | Joel Walter Robison
James Austin Sylvester | James Tarleton
See also: Santa Anna's Captivity
Suffice it to say, he was taken; and, when brought before Houston, said, "Sir, yours is no common destiny; you have captured the Napoleon of the west," and immediately engagements were entered into which it was hoped would terminate the war. Before deciding, however, Houston called a council. Under no other circumstances would the Texans have treated with him and done aught but order Santa Anna to be shot by the quarter-guard for his slaughter of Fanning's men, but the certainty that Filasola, an accomplished Italian in the Mexican service, was marching towards them at the head of a force more numerous than theirs induced deliberation. It was determined, consequently that the president and the captured army should be released and permitted to return to Mexico. One clause of the then formed treaty stipulated,
"that the president Santa Anna, in his official character as chief of the Mexican nation, and the Generals Don Vicente Filasola, Don Jose Urrea, Don Joaquin Ramires de Sesma, and Don Antonio Guano, as chiefs of armies, do solemnly acknowledge, sanction, and ratify the full, entire, and perfect independence of Texas, with such boundaries as are hereafter set forth and agreed upon forthesame. And they do solemnly pledge themselves, with all their personal and official attributes, to procure, without delay, the final and complete ratification and confirmation of this agreement, and all the parts thereof, by the proper and legitimate government of Mexicoby the incorporation of the same into a solemn and perpetual treaty of amity and commerce, to be negotiated with that government at the city of Mexico, by ministers plenipotentiary, to be deputed by the government of Texas for this purpose."
Santa Anna was permitted to visit Washington city, and was sent home in a man-of-war at the expense of the people of the United States. It need not be said that Mexico violated every promise made to Houston, under the plea that Santa Anna was in duress, and therefore not competent to act. It is a matter of surprise that the Texans did not shoot Santa Anna, and it cannot be denied they would have been justified in doing so. They acted, however, more humanely, and thus giving him his life. There is a story told by an interesting French writer in relation to this circumstance, which is altogether too epigrammatic to be true. While the council of war discussed the disposition to be made of the captive president, an old man rose and said:
"We are at war with Mexico, and it is our duty to do all we can to injure her. Santa Anna has for a number of years tyrannized over his country, and nearly ruined it. Let us release him, he will return thither and in a few years Mexico will be too feeble to give us any trouble." sdct
It is probable that if Santa Anna had remained president after his return, this would have been the case. The difficulty with Texas was preceded by one, with Zacatecas, already briefly referred to. This state also was devoted to the federal system, and had at its capital five thousand persons determined to defend the constitution. Santa Anna marched against them in person. When he reached Zacatecas, it was arranged that General Andrade should pretend to be disaffected, and espouse the cause of the constitutionalists. The governor of the state being inexperienced in military affairs, willingly received him, and confided to him the command of the state troops. In a very short time Andrade marched his men outside the city and encamped in the plain, and at the same time detached his cavalry to some distance from the foot, whom he bade not to keep on the alert any longer, as he had no fear of an attack. The order was universally obeyed, except by the commander of the artillery, D'Harcourt, by birth a German, who still acted with all military precaution. Santa Anna, adroitly contrived to place himself between the forces of Zacatecas and the town, rendering their escape impossible, and commenced a fire on them. D'Harcourt fought manfully, and was near defeating him with his artillery. At last he was forced to give way, and the city was taken, when an indiscriminate massacre was ordered, in spite of the remonstrances of the Mexican officers. This beautiful city was thus nearly destroyed, and from it General Cos marched to Texas.
The constitution, it will be remembered, was completed during the absence of Santa Anna, who, while at the head of his army, was unable to assure those arrangements that would have secured him the control of the new government, which enured exclusively to the benefit of the last man whom he would have wished to benefit. After his expulsion in 1832, General Bustamente had been in Europe, it is not improbable in want, certainly in dependence. It is doubtful if Mexico possesses a purer man than him, against whom even his enemies have not been able to make one allegation of dishonesty or peculation. Though he had long been in office, his salary was small, and for several months undrawn; and he is said to have been so poor that he sold everything he possessed to pay his debts, including even his watch and cane, the latter of which was offered for sale to Mr. W. Thompson, during his mission to Mexico. This anecdote, as Mr. T. says, recalls to mind the stories of those days in ancient Rome, when her dictators were so poor as to require to be buried at the public expense. This is especially creditable to one who has been president of Mexico, where so little check is imposed either by law or reputation, on the desire and manner of becoming rich. Bustamente was at once aware that the government, as proposed to be administered, could not last; and had, in the early part of 1837, returned to Mexico. He was then elected president, and entered on his duties in May of that year.
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