Episode 31 -The Runaway Scrape, the Battle of San Jacinto, and Independence
It’s the spring of 1836 and the Alamo has fallen, folks are scared, and many people have no idea what’s going to happen. As a result, what has become known as the Runaway Scrape is taking shape. But what was the Runaway Scrape and why isn’t it talked about? Many Texans aren’t exactly proud of the Runaway Scrape, because it was created by the Texas settlers who fled from their homes when Santa Anna began his drive into Texas starting in February of 1836. Now looking back in time, you can’t really blame the settlers for leaving, after all Santa Anna was determined to crush any semblance of independence or revolution.
If you look at a map of Texas it’s easy to see the first communities that were affected. Those where those who were in the south central portions of the state. This area centered around San Patricio, Refugio, and San Antonio. Those folks actually began to leave in mid January of 1836 when they heard that the Mexican army was gathering on the Rio Grande. Things intensified once Sam Houston arrived in Gonzales on March 11 and learned about the fall of the Alamo. At that time he decided to retreat inland and east towards the Colorado River, and he ordered all local inhabitants to accompany him.
Houston sent riders out from Gonzales to spread the news of the fall of the Alamo. Of course, upon hearing this news and knowing there was nothing between themselves and Santa Anna’s troops, people began to leave everything and make their way to safety. As a result, this became an extremely large scale evacuation and the temporary capital Washington-on-the-Brazos was deserted by March 17. By April 1 Richmond and settlements on both sides of the Brazos river were evacuated.
As Houston continued to retreat eastward towards the Sabine River he left every settlement between the Colorado and the Brazos defenseless. For their own safety, those settlers began making their way toward Louisiana or Galveston Island. East Texas areas of Nacogdoches and San Augustine ended up abandoned just before April 13.
One of the facts that often goes unreported about the flight was how because of the panic there was little or no preparation. There was also significant fear not only because of the Mexican army but also by the frontier Indians. The refugees traveled by any type of transportation they could find, or they walked. They experienced diseases, the weather was cold, wet, and many of them suffered from a lack of food. Added to the discomforts of travel and their fear were all kinds of diseases, intensified by cold, rain, and hunger. Many of them died and those who did were buried where they fell. The evacuation continued up to and until they received news of Houston’s victory in the battle of San Jacinto.
The battle of San Jacinto was the final battle of the Texas Revolution. Due to Sam Houston’s constant movement to the East, many Texans thought it would never take place. The army left Gonzales on March 13, 1836, crossed the Colorado River on the 17th, and then pitched camp near present day Columbus on the 20th. During the march Houston had been trying to recruit volunteers and with reinforcements from other groups, the army increased its about 1,200. While this was an improvement, scouts reported that there was close to 1325 Mexican troops west of the Colorado. Then on the 25th, they learned that Fannin had been defeated and his men slaughtered in Goliad. and at that point many of the men left to go join their families on the Runaway Scrape.
Houston was not deterred and led his troops to San Felipe de Austin by the 28th and by the 30th they arrived at the Jared E. Groce plantation on the Brazos River. At this time, interim President David G. Burnet ordered Houston to stop his retreat; Secretary of War Thomas J. Rusk urged him to be more decisive in his defense of Texas. Meanwhile Santa Anna decided to take control of the Texas coast and any of the seaports that were there. He crossed the Brazos River at present day Richmond on 11th of April and on the 15th, he arrived at Harrisburg with about 700 men.
Santa Anna ordered that Harrisburg be burned and then he started pursuing the Texas government who he thought were at New Washington or Morgan’s Point. When he arrived there on the 19th of April he found out that everyone had fled to Galveston. This caused the general to begin to march to Anahuac by way of Lynchburg. Meanwhile, on the 11th of April the Texans received the Twin Sisters, two cannons which were to play a pivotal role in the final battle. The army crossed the Brazos River on the Yellow Stone and on the 16th reached Spring Creek in present Harris County.
At this point, the army reached a crossroads. They could take the road leading to Louisiana and escape Santa Anna or they could head to Harrisburg. Remember now, that on the 16th, Santa Anna had ordered that the town of Harrisburg be burned to the ground. So when on the 17th, Houston decided to take the road to Harrisburg, his men were elated and ready to fight. On the 18th of April they reached White Oak Bayou, which is currently within the city limits of present-day Houston. While they camped there Houston learned that Santa Anna had traveled down the west side of the bayou and the San Jacinto River, and crossed using a bridge over Vince’s Bayou. This would play a role in the upcoming battle because the Mexicans would have to cross the same bridge to return, it would be their only avenue of escape..
On the morning of the 19th, Houston surveyed the situation and informed his troops that they would soon have the action they were calling for. He reminded them of the massacres at the Alamo in San Antonio and the garrison at Goliad. That evening his forces crossed Buffalo Bayou to the west side just about 2½ miles below Harrisburg. So here we are, things are coming to a head.
One fact rarely mentioned is that Sam Houston’s army was short almost 248 men, who had become sick and were unable to be counted on. So those men were left behind with the baggage at the camp which was situated opposite of Harrisburg. Houston marched his men until midnight, let them rest, and then resumed moving at dawn on the 20th. They continued to move down the bayou and then when they arrived at Lynch’s Ferry they were able to capture a boat that was full of supplies for Santa Anna. At that point, they fell back up the Harrisburg road and pitched camp in some timber that was actually in a shallow valley.
Sidney Sherman, who commanded a small detachment of cavalry encountered the Mexican infantry and almost started a major engagement. During the fighting Olwyns J. Trask was killed, another Texan was wounded, and several of their animals were killed. Mirabeau B. Lamar, a private, fought so well and stood out from everyone else that he was placed in command of the cavalry.
Meanwhile Santa Anna had camped under high ground that overlooked a marsh and was about ¾ of a mile from the Texas camp. His army quickly built breastworks of trunks, baggage, packsaddles, and other miscellaneous pieces of equipment. Both sides prepared for action.
On Thursday morning, April 21, the Texans were eager to attack. That morning the Texans heard that General Cos had crossed Vince’s bridge with approximately 540 troops and those reinforcements grew the Mexican forces to about 1,200. Houston ordered Erastus (Deaf) Smith, a Texas legend, to destroy the bridge. That action actually had two purposes, it prevented further enemy reinforcements from arriving and also served to prevent the retreat of either the Texans or the Mexicans towards Harrisburg.
Shortly before noon, Houston held a council of war with Edward Burleson, Sidney Sherman, Henry W. Millard, Alexander Somervell, Joseph L. Bennett, and Lysander Wells. The officers disagreed with two wanting to attack and others were in favor of waiting for Santa Anna to attack. Houston decided to attack and placed his forces in what was known as battle order about 3:30 in the afternoon. This was key, because it meant that the Mexican side would be quiet due to afternoon siesta. The Texans’ movements were screened by trees and the rising ground, and since Santa Anna had no lookouts posted the movements of the troops went unnoticed.
Edward Burleson’s regiment was placed in the center of the battle line, Sherman’s men were positioned on the left wing, George W. Hockley’s artillery was on Burleson’s right, Henry Millard’s infantry was on the right of the artillery, and the cavalry under Lamar on the extreme right. The Twin Sisters were wheeled into position, and the whole line, led by Sherman’s men, began the attack, crying out, “Remember the Alamo!” “Remember Goliad!” as they charged. The battle, which many consider to be one of epic proportions because of what took place after it only lasted around 18 minutes. When Houston filed his official report he listed 630 Mexicans killed and 730 taken prisoner. Due to the element of complete surprise the Texans had only nine of the 910 Texans were killed or mortally wounded, about 30 received minor wounds. Houston was one of those injured as his ankle was shattered by a musket ball. The Texans were able to capture a large supply of muskets, pistols, sabers, mules, horses, provisions, clothing, tents, and $12,000 in silver. During the battle itself Santa Anna disappeared into the brush or marsh and the Texas sent out search parties. On the morning of the 22nd a party that consisted of James A. Sylvester, Washington H. Secrest, Sion R. Bostick, and a Mr. Cole discovered a soldier hiding in the grass. Dressed in a common soldier’s uniform that was dirty and wet, the man was treated like all the other captives. It was only after that several other Mexican prisoners addressed him as “el presidente” was his identify realized.
The significance of the battle to Texans and indeed to the United States can be seen on one of the inscriptions on the exterior of the San Jacinto Monument 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 War, resulting in the acquisition by the United States of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Almost one-third of the present area of the American nation, nearly a million square miles of territory, changed sovereignty.”
And with the surrender of Santa Anna and the resulting treaty of Velasco, Texas was on its way to becoming a Republic, which didn’t officially take place until 1848 and I’ll tell you about that in the next episode.
And that’s going to do it for this episode.
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