Runaway Scrape

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A map of Mexico, 1835–1846, showing administrative divisions.

The Runaway Scrape was the January–April 1836 flight from the Mexican army by the ad interim government of the new Republic of Texas, the Provisional Army of Texas and the civilian population. After Antonio López de Santa Anna abrogated the 1824 constitution of Mexico and established martial law in Coahuila y Tejas, the population resisted and declared their independence. Sam Houston had been appointed commander-in-chief of the Provisional Army of Texas before such an army actually existed; and as such, it was his responsibility to recruit and train a military force to defend the population against the encroaching military might under Santa Anna.

In what would be an event replayed from area to area, residents on the Gulf Coast and at San Antonio de Béxar began evacuating in January upon learning of the Mexican army's troop movements into their area. During early skirmishes some Texian soldiers surrendered believing they would become prisoners of war, but Santa Anna demanded their executions. The news of the Battle of the Alamo and the Goliad massacre instilled fear in the population and resulted in the mass exodus of the civilian population of Gonzales where the opening battle of the Texian revolution had begun, and where only days before the fall of the Alamo they had sent a militia to reinforce the defenders at the mission. The civilian refugees were accompanied by the newly forming provisional army, as Houston bought time to train soldiers and create a military structure that could go up against Santa Anna's larger forces. Houston's actions were viewed as cowardice by the ad interim government, as well as by some of his own troops. As Houston and the refugees from Gonzales escaped first to the Colorado River and then to the Brazos, evacuees from other areas trickled in and new militia groups arrived to join with Houston.

The towns of Gonzales and San Felipe de Austin were burned to keep them out of the hands of the Mexican army. Santa Anna was intent on eliminating the Republic's ad interim government, which went on the run from Washington-on-the-Brazos to Groce's Landing to Harrisburg and New Washington. The government officials eventually escaped to Galveston Island, and Santa Anna burned the towns of Harrisburg and New Washington when he failed to find them. Approximately five thousand terrified residents of New Washington fled from the Mexican army. After a little over a month of training the troops, Houston reached a crossroads where he ordered a portion of his troops to escort the fleeing refugees farther east while he took the main army southeast to engage the Mexican army. The subsequent Battle of San Jacinto resulted in the surrender of Santa Anna and the signing of the Treaties of Velasco.


Ad interim government[edit]

Sam Houston army recruitment proclamation December 12, 1835

In 1834, Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Anna shifted from a Federalist political ideology to creating a Centralist government and revoked the country's Constitution of 1824.[FN 1] That constitution had not only established Coahuila y Tejas[FN 2] as a new Mexican state, but had also provided for each state in Mexico to create its own local-level constitution.[3][4]After eliminating state-level governments Santa Anna had in effect created a dictatorship and put Coahuila y Tejas under the military rule of his brother-in-law Martín Perfecto de Cos.[5][6] When Santa Anna made Miguel Barragán temporary president, he also had Barragán install him as head of the military.[7] Intending to put down all rebellion in Coahuila y Tejas, he began amassing his army on November 28.[8] General Joaquín Ramírez y Sesma led the Vanguard of the Advance across the Rio Grande in December.[9]

Stephen F. Austin was commander of the existing unpaid volunteer Texian army, and at his urging[10] the Consultation of 1835 convened in San Felipe de Austin on November 3. Their creation of a provisional government based on the 1824 constitution[11] established the General Council as a legislative body with each municipality allotted one representative.[12] Henry Smith was elected governor without any clearly defined powers of the position.[13] Sam Houston was in attendance as the elected representative from Nacogdoches, and also served as commander of the Nacogdoches militia.[4] The Consultation approved the creation of the Provisional Army of Texas, a paid force of 2,500 troops. Houston was named commander-in-chief of the new army and issued a recruitment Proclamation on December 12.[FN 3][FN 4] Edward Burleson replaced Austin as commander of the volunteer army on December 1, but they disbanded on December 20.[18] Harrisburg was designated the seat of a deeply divided provisional government on December 30.[19] Most of the General Council wanted to remain part of Mexico, but with the restoration of the 1824 constitution. Governor Smith supported the opposing faction who advocated for complete independence.[20] Smith dissolved the General Council on January 10, 1836, but it was unclear if he had the power to do that. He was impeached on January 11. The power struggle effectively shut down the government.[21][20]

On December 10, the General Council called new elections to choose delegates to determine the fate of the region.[22] The Convention of 1836 met at Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 1.[23] The following day, the fifty-nine delegates signed the Texas Declaration of Independence.[23][24] An ad interim government was elected with David G. Burnet as president, Lorenzo de Zavala as vice president, Samuel P. Carson as secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson Rusk as secretary of war, Bailey Hardeman as secretary of the treasury, Robert Potter as secretary of the navy, and David Thomas as attorney general.[25] The Convention passed a resolution on March 4 expanding Houston's military authority to include "the land forces of the Texian army both Regular, Volunteer, and Militia."[16]

Battle of Gonzales[edit]

Battle of Gonzales cannon

The Battle of Gonzales was the onset of a chain of events that led to what is known as the Runaway Scrape. It began in September 1835, when the Mexican government attempted to reclaim a bronze cannon that it had provided to Gonzales in 1831 to protect the town against Indian attacks. The first attempt by Corporal Casimiro De León resulted in De León's detachment being taken prisoners, and the cannon buried in a peach orchard.[26] Captain James C. Neill, with prior military service at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend under Andrew Jackson, was put in charge of the artillery after it was later dug up and wheel mounted.[27] When Lieutenant Francisco de Castañeda arrived accompanied by one hundred soldiers and made a second attempt at repossessing the cannon, Texians dared the Mexicans to "come and take it".[26] John Henry Moore led one hundred fifty Texian militia on October 2 in successfully repelling the Mexican troops. A "Come and Take It" flag was later fashioned by the women of Gonzales.[28] The cannon was moved to San Antonio de Béxar and became one of the artillery pieces used by the defenders of the Alamo.[FN 5]

The immediate result of the Texian victory at Gonzales was that two days later the number of volunteers had swelled to over three hundred who were determined to drive the Mexican army out of Texas.[30] A company of volunteers under George M. Collinsworth captured the Presidio La Bahía from the Mexicans on October 9 at the Battle of Goliad.[31] The Mexican government authorized war with the Texians on October 30.[32]On the banks of the Nueces River 3 miles (4.8 km) from San Patricio on November 4 during the Battle of Lipantitlán, volunteers under Ira Westover captured the fort from Mexican troops.[33]


By October 9, Cos had taken over San Antonio de Béxar.[32] Stephen F. Austin sent an advance scout troop of ninety men under James Bowie and James Fannin to observe the Mexican forces. While taking refuge at Mission Concepción on October 28, they repelled an attack by two hundred seventy five Mexicans under Domingo Ugartechea during the battle.[34][35] Austin continued to send troops to Béxar. Bowie was ordered on November 26 to attack a Mexican supply train alleged to be carrying a payroll. The resulting skirmish became known as the Grass Fight, after it was discovered that the only cargo was grass to feed the horses.[36] On December 5, James C. Neill began distracting Cos by firing artillery directly at the Alamo, while Benjamin Milam and Frank W. Johnson led several hundred volunteers in a surprise attack. The fighting at the Siege of Béxar continued until December 9 when Cos sent word he wanted to surrender. Cos and his army were sent back to Mexico, but would later unite with Santa Anna's forces.[37]

Approximately three hundred of the Texian garrison at Béxar departed on December 30 to join Frank W. Johnson and James Grant on the Matamoros Expedition, in a planned attack to seize the port for its financial resources.[38] Proponents of this campaign were hoping Mexican Federalists[FN 1] would oust Santa Anna and restore the 1824 constitution.[39][40] When Sesma crossed on the Rio Grande, residents of the Gulf Coast began fleeing the area in January 1836.[41] Santa Anna ordered General José de Urrea on February 16 to secure the Gulf Coast.[42][43] About 160 miles (260 km) north of Matamoros at San Patricio, Urrea's troops ambushed Johnson and members of the expedition on February 27 at the Battle of San Patricio. Sixteen Texians were killed, six escaped, and twenty-one were taken prisoner.[44][45] Urrea's troops then turned southwest by some 26 miles (42 km) to Agua Dulce Creek and on March 2 attacked a group of the expedition led by Grant, killing all but eleven, six of whom were taken prisoner. Five of the men escaped the Battle of Agua Dulce and joined Fannin who wanted to increase the defense force at Goliad.[46][47]

Main article: Battle of the Alamo

James C. Neill was promoted to lieutenant colonel during his participation in the Siege of Béxar,[27] and ten days later Houston placed him in charge of the Texian garrison in the city.[48] In January residents had begun evacuating ahead of Santa Anna's approaching forces.[42] Neill pleaded with Houston for replenishment of troops, supplies and weaponry. The departure of Texians who joined the Matamoros Expedition had left Neill with only about one hundred men. At that point Houston viewed Béxar as a military liability and did not want Santa Anna's advancing army gaining control of any remaining soldiers or artillery. He dispatched Bowie with instructions to remove the artillery, have the defenders abandon the Alamo mission and destroy it.[FN 6] Upon his January 19 arrival[21] and subsequent discussions with Neill, Bowie decided the mission was the right place to stop the Mexican army in its tracks. He stayed and began to help Neill prepare for the coming attack. Lt. Col. William B. Travis arrived with reinforcements on February 3.[51] When Neill was given leave to attend to family matters on February 11, Travis assumed command of the mission.[52][21] Bowie and Travis agreed on February 14 to share joint command of the mission. Santa Anna crossed the Rio Grande on February 16, and his army's assault on the Alamo began February 23.[43] Captain Juan Seguín left the mission on February 25, carrying a letter from Travis to Fannin at Goliad requesting more reinforcements.[53][54] In response to Travis' February 24 letter To the People of Texas, thirty-two militia volunteers formed the Gonzales Ranging Company of Mounted Volunteers and arrived at the Alamo on February 29.[FN 4]

If you execute your enemies, it saves you the trouble of having to forgive them.

—General Antonio López de Santa Anna, February 1836[55]


Burning of Gonzales[edit]

Volunteer companies marched towards Gonzales, in response to both the Travis letter from the Alamo and Houston's recruitment pleas. Arriving on March 5 were two groups from the same general area of Texas. Captain Jesse Billingsley's volunteers had been organized near Mina,[56] The Mina company included Edward Burleson had who commanded the dissolved volunteer Texas army. William W. Hill's volunteers came from Washington County and the Colorado River area.[57]

En route to Goliad, Seguin met Colonel Francis L. Desauque who told him Fannin was already headed to the Alamo with reinforcements. Seguin sent the Travis letter on to Fannin who relayed back that he would be unable to reach the Alamo in time.[54] A newly formed all-Tejano company under Seguin was in Gonzales by the first week of March.[58] Also in Gonzales that week was a company whose volunteers hailed from mostly Austin and Washington counties, and were under the combined command of Robert McNutt, Thomas Rabb and Captain Moseley Baker.[59]

Sidney Sherman was a manufacturer from Newport, Kentucky who sold his business and raised a company of volunteers to join him in the Texian fight for independence. They were aided by funding from Cincinnati, Ohio residents who threw them a gala as they left for Texas. The women of Newport designed their company's "Liberty or Death" flag, which would be the only flag flown by Texians at the San Jacinto battle. The company's long journey took them by steamboat to Natchitoches, Louisiana, where they went by land to Nagadoches to Washington-on-the-Brazos and finally to Gonzales on March 6. The Cincinnati fund raising also enabled the casting of two cannons that the Texians took to San Jacinto.[60][61]

When the Alamo fell on March 6, James C. Neill was in Gonzales purchasing supplies and recruiting Alamo reinforcements. Seguin's company joined scouts led by Lt. William Smith and volunteered to accompany other men Neil had recruited. They encountered the Mexican army 18 miles (29 km) from the Alamo on March 7, and Neil's men turned back while Seguin's and William's moved forward.[62] Travis had pre-arranged a gun-fire signal every 15 minutes as long as anyone inside the mission remained alive. As Seguin and Smith neared the Alamo, only silence filled the air.[63] Two Tejano soldiers from Seguin's other detachment inside the Alamo showed up in Gonzales on March 11, telling of their escape and delivering news of the slaughter. Their stories were discounted; Houston, who had arrived that same day, denounced them as Mexican spies.[64] When Smith and Seguin returned with news of the silence over the mission, Houston could no longer deny the fate of the Alamo defenders. He dispatched orders to Fannin to abandon Goliad, blow up the fortress, and retreat to Victoria.[65]

Houston promptly began organizing the troops. All the troops gathering at Gonzales were put into the First Regiment under Burleson. A second regiment would later be formed when the army grew large enough.[66] Other volunteer groups began to join.[FN 4] Individual volunteers not already in another company were put under Captain William Hestor Patton.[67] Volunteers from Brazoria, Fort Bend and Matagorda counties organized in Gonzales on March 12 and elected Robert J. Calder as their leader.[68] Captain Philip Dimmitt in Victoria received an order written by Houston that same date to bring his unit to Gonzales.[69] Including scouts under Deaf Smith, Houston had three hundred seventy-four volunteers and their commanders in Gonzales on March 12.[70]

Santa Anna freed Susannah Dickinson, her infant daughter Angelina, Travis' slave Joe, and Mexican Colonel Juan Almonte's cook Ben and sent them to Gonzales, with dispatches from Almonte, to spread the news of the fall of the Alamo.[71] Scouts Deaf Smith, Henry Karnes and Robert Eden Handy encountered the survivors 20 miles (32 km) outside of Gonzales on March 13. Karnes rushed back to Gonzales, arriving at about 9 pm to give the dispatches to Houston. Almost immediately twenty-five volunteers deserted. Two hours later Smith and Handy escorted Dickinson and the others into the town. Wailing filled the air as the women of Gonzales learned that their husbands or sons were dead.[72][41]

There was not a soul left among the citizens of Gonzales who had not lost a father, husband, brother or son...That terrible massacre had, for a time, struck terror into every heart.

—John Milton Swisher, private in William W. Hill's volunteers.[73]
The Sam Houston Oak[FN 7] where the Provisional Army of Texas rested after the burning of Gonzales

Although civilian evacuations had begun in January for the Gulf Coast and San Antonio de Béxar, the Texian military was either on the offensive or standing firm until the smaller Gulf Coast skirmishes happened in February. The fate of the Alamo defenders was a much larger scale and changed everything, putting the ad interim government on the run. Houston was now facing a choice of whether or not to retreat to a safe place in which to train his new army, or to meet the enemy head-on immediately.[74] He was leery of trying to defend a fixed position – the debacle at the Alamo had shown that the new Texian government was unable to provide sufficient provisions or reinforcements to a fort.[75]

Houston called for a Council of War. The officers voted that the families should be ordered to leave, and the troops would cover the retreat. By midnight, less than an hour after Dickinson had arrived, the combined army and civilian population began a frantic move eastward,[74] leaving behind everything they could not immediately grab and transport. Much of the provisions and artillery were left behind, including two 24-pounder cannon.[76][74] Houston ordered Salvador Flores along with a company of Juan Seguin's men to form the rear guard to protect the fleeing families. Couriers were sent to other towns in Texas to warn that the Mexican army was advancing.[77]

The retreat took place so quickly that many of the Texian scouts did not realize it was taking place until after the town was evacuated.[78] Houston ordered Karnes to burn the town and everything in it so nothing would remain to benefit the Mexican troops. By dawn, the entire town was in ashes or flames.[79]

Volunteers from San Felipe de Austin who had been organized under Captain John Bird on March 5 to reinforce the men at the Alamo[80] had been en route to San Antonio de Béxar on March 13 when approximately 10 miles (16 km) east of Gonzales they encountered fleeing citizens and a courier from Sam Houston. Told of the Alamo's fall, Bird's men offered assistance to the fleeing citizens and joined Houston's army at Bartholomew D. McClure's plantation on the evening of March 14.[FN 7]

At Washington-on-the-Brazos, the delegates to the convention learned of the Alamo's fall on March 13.[84] The Republic's new ad-interim government was sworn in on March 17, with a department overseeing military spy operations, and adjourned the same day.[85]The government then fled to Groce's Landing where they stayed for several days before moving on to Harrisburg.[86][87]

Battles of Refugio and Coleto[edit]

Fannin delayed acting on Houston's March 11 orders to blow up the Presidio La Bahía fortress at Goliad and retreat to Victoria.[88] He felt the approach of Urrea's troops brought a greater urgency to local civilians, and he sent twenty-nine men under Captain Amon B. King to help evacuate nearby Refugio.[89] King's men took refuge in Mission Nuestra Señora de la Rosario when they were subsequently attacked by Urrea's forces. Fannin sent one hundred twenty reinforcements under William Ward, but the March 14 Battle of Refugio cost fifteen Texian lives.[90] Ward's men escaped, but King's men were captured and executed on March 16.[91]

Fannin began evacuating Presidio La Bahía on March 19. Poorly organized and under supplied, Fannin's strategy was to move heavy artillery to Coleto Creek in Goliad County. The estimated three hundred[92] troops were low on food and water, and the breakdown of a wagon allowed Urrea's men to overtake them. The Battle of Coleto ended in Fannin's surrender on March 20, with the understanding that he and his men would be prisoners of war at Goliad and eventually turned over to the United States.[92][93] Ward's men had been searching for Fannin's troops when they were attacked by Urrea on March 21. Survivors were marched to Goliad as prisoners.[94][95]

Colorado River crossings[edit]


The army was camped March 15–18 on the Lavaca River property of Williamson Daniels[96][97] where they were joined by a Brazoria area group of volunteers under Captain Peyton R. Splane,[98] which had merged with Joe Bennett's company at Moore's Fort just north of Burnam's Ferry.[99] Upon learning of the Texian army's flight, Santa Anna sent General Joaquín Ramírez y Sesma with seven hundred men to pursue Houston, and six hundred men under General Eugenio Tolsa as reinforcements. Finding only burned remains at Gonzales, Sesma marched his army toward the Colorado River.[100] Fleeing civilians accompanied Houston's army turning north at the Navidad River as they crossed to the east side of the Colorado River at Burnham's Crossing on March 18.[101][102]The ferry and trading post, as well as the family home of Jesse Burnam, were all burned on Houston's orders on March 17 to prevent Santa Anna's army from making the same crossing.[FN 8]

Beason's and DeWees[edit]

The companies under Sherman and Patton were ordered south by Houston on March 19 to protect DeWees Crossing,[109] while the next day Houston moved the main army 7 miles (11 km) north of DeWees to Beason's Crossing.[110] Sesma's battalion of approximately seven hundred twenty-five men and artillery camped on the opposite side of the Colorado, situated at a distance halfway between the two Texian camps.[109] To prevent Sesma's troops from using the William DeWees log cabin, Sherman ordered it burned.[111]

Additional Texian volunteer companies began arriving at both crossings. Beason's saw the arrival of three companies under Daniel Perry, Wyly Martin and Thomas W. McIntire, all organized in Fort Bend and Brazoria counties. Liberty County volunteers under William Mitchell reported for duty.[112] Joe Bennett's company at Beason's was ordered to DeWees.[113]Three Texas Rangers companies under William Ware, Stephen Townsend and William Turner Sadler reported at DeWees. Harry Teal's regular army from Nacogdoches initially reported at DeWees, but was subsequently ordered to Beason's.[114] DeWees also saw the arrival of the Nacogdoches Volunteers under Captain Leander Smith[115] and a battalion lead by Major John Forbes.[116]

Three Mexican scouts from Sesma's army were captured by Sherman's men on March 23 and sent to Beason's for interrogation. Sherman was eager to attack Sesma's troops, but Houston was not ready to order it done[117] and dispatched additional DeWees reinforcements, mostly from McNutt's company.[118] Peter Kerr arrived at DeWees on March 25, claiming to have been held prisoner by the Mexican army. Kerr had served under Fannin at Goliad and relayed the news of the Coleto Creek skirmish. When Sherman forwarded the report to Beason's,[119] Houston had suspicions of Kerr being a spy. He would later uncover what he believed was evidence of such.[120] However, on March 31 Houston announced Fannin's surrender.[121]

The Texian army was a force of eight hundred ten volunteers and staff by March 21,[122] but few had any military training and experience. Faced with past desertions, discipline flaws, and individual indecisiveness of volunteers in training, Houston knew they were not yet ready to engage the Mexican army. Compounding the situation were the civilian refugees dependent upon the army for their protection.[123] The news of Fannin's capture combined with his doubts about the readiness of the Texian army, caused Houston to order a retreat on March 26.[124] Some of the troops viewed the decision as cowardice with Sesma sitting just on the other side of the Colorado, and several hundred men deserted.[125]

...the only army in Texas is now present...There are but few of us, and if we are beaten, the fate of Texas is sealed. The salvation of the country depends upon the first battle had with the enemy. For this reason, I intend to retreat, if I am obliged to go even to the banks of the Sabine.

—Sam Houston[95]

Burning of San Felipe de Austin[edit]

The retreating Texian army stopped at San Felipe de Austin[126] March 28–29 to stock up on food and supplies.[127] Houston's plan to move the army north to Groce's Landing on the Brazos River was met with resistance from captains Wyly Martin and Moseley Baker whose units balked at further retreat. Houston reassigned Martin 25 miles (40 km) south to protect the Morton Ferry crossing at Fort Bend, and Baker was ordered to guard the river crossing at San Felipe de Austin.[128] Based on an erroneous scout report of approaching Mexican troops, Baker burned San Felipe de Austin to the ground on March 30.[129] When Baker claimed Houston had given him an order to do so, Houston denied it.[130] Houston's account was that the residents burned their own property to keep it out of the hands of the Mexican army.[121] San Felipe de Austin's residents did as those before them in escaping the Mexican army, and fled to the east.[129]

Goliad Massacre[edit]

Main article: Goliad massacre

The Goliad massacre took place on March 27. In spite of anything the Texian prisoners had been promised by Urrea, or anything they expected, Santa Anna ordered all prisoners executed. Urrea followed orders, although he personally disagreed with the need to do so.[131] Of the estimated three hundred seventy Texians being held, a few managed to escape the massacre. The remainder were shot, stabbed with bayonets and lances and clubbed with gun butts. Fannin was shot through the face and his gold watch stolen.[132] The dead were cremated on a pyre.[133]

Samuel G. Hardaway, a survivor of Major William Ward's group who had escaped the Battle of Refugio and re-joined Fannin at the Battle of Coleto, also managed to escape the Goliad massacre. As he fled Goliad, he was eventually joined by three other survivors of the massacre, Joseph Andrews, James P. Trezevant and M. K. Moses. Spies for the Texian army discovered the four men and took them to Baker's camp near San Felipe on April 2.[134] Several other survivors of the Goliad massacre were found on April 10 by Texian spies. Survivors Daniel Murphy, Thomas Kemp, Charles Shain, David Jones, William Brenan and Nat Hazen were taken to Houston at Groce's Landing where they enlisted to fight with Houston's army.[135]

Brazos River camp[edit]

Groce's Landing[edit]

News of approaching Mexican troops and Houston's retreat caused panic among the population in the counties of Washington, Sabine, Shelby and San Augustine. Amid the confusion of fleeing residents of those counties, two volunteer groups under captains William Kimbro and Benjamin Bryant arrived to join Houston on March 29. Kimbro was ordered to San Felipe to reinforce Baker's troops,[136] while Bryant's men remained with the main army.[137]

During a two-week period beginning March 31, the Texian army camped on the west side of the Brazos River in Austin County, near Groce's Landing also known as Groce's Ferry.[138] As Houston led his army north towards Groce's Landing, the unrelenting rainy weather swelled the Brazos and threatened flooding.[139] Groce's was transformed into a training camp for the troops.[140] Two men who encountered the army while assisting fleeing civilians enlisted at Groce's.[141] Patton received orders from Houston on April 3 to take twenty-five men back to the Colorado and attack a Mexican camp that spies William H. Smith and Henry Karnes reported as having one thousand troops.[142] Major Edwin Morehouse arrived with a New York battalion of recruits who were immediately assigned to assist Wyly Martin at Fort Bend.[143][144] Some displaced civilian women in the camp helped the army's efforts by sewing shirts for the soldiers.[145]

Houston learned of the Goliad massacre on April 3.[146] Unaware that Secretary of War Rusk was already en route to Groce's with orders from President Burnet to halt the army's retreat and engage the enemy,[146][147] he relayed the Goliad news by letter to Rusk.[148]

The enemy are laughing you to scorn. You must fight them. You must retreat no further. The country expects you to fight. The salvation of the country depends on your doing so.

—David G. Burnet, ad interim president of the Republic of Texas[149]

Empowered to remove Houston from command and take over the army himself, Rusk's assessment after witnessing the training at Groce's, was that he fully believed Houston was following the correct plan of action.[148] Rusk and Houston formed the Second Regiment on April 8 to serve under Sherman, with Burleson retaining command of the First Regiment.[150][FN 9]

Yellowstone steamboat[edit]

The steamboat Yellowstone[145] under the command of Captain John Eautaw Ross was impressed into service for the Provisional Texas Army on April 2. When Dr. James Aeneas Phelps established a field hospital at Bernardo Plantation across the Brazos River from the Texian camp, the steamer ferried patients back and forth.[152]

Santa Anna joined with Sesma's troops on April 5, [153] and had them build flatboats to cross the Brazos.[154] Wyly Martin reported on April 8 that Mexican forces were headed for both Nacogdoches and Matagorda.[155] Houston reinforced Baker's post at San Felipe on April 9,[156] while Santa Anna began moving his troops southeast on April 10.[157]

The Texian army was transported by the Yellowstone over to the east side of the Brazos on April 12, where they set up camp at Bernardo Plantation.[158]After walking 50 miles (80 km) from Harrisburg, future president of the Republic Mirabeau B. Lamar arrived at Bernardo to enlist as a private in Houston's army and suggested using the steamer for guerilla warfare.[159][160]

Had it not been for its service, the enemy could never have been overtaken until they had reached the Sabine...use of the boat enabled me to cross the Brazos and save Texas.

—Sam Houston on the Yellowstone's contributions[161]

With Baker guarding the crossing at San Felipe, and Martin guarding the Morton Ferry crossing[162] at Ford Bend, Santa Anna opted on April 12 to cross the Brazos halfway between at Thompson's Ferry.[163] Sesma's men and artillery made the crossing the next day.[164] Ross successfully used cotton bales to protect the Yellowstone's cargo, and the Mexican army's numerous attempts at capturing the steamer were not successful.[164] Houston released the steamboat from service on April 14, and it continued to Galveston.[165]

Burning of Harrisburg[edit]

The ad interim government moved to Harrisburg on March 21, headquartered in the home of widow Jane Birdsall Harris.[166] In addition to pursuing Houston's troops, Santa Anna intended to stop the revolution by eliminating President Burnet and the entire cabinet.[167] Burnet and Vice President de Zavala left Harrisburg on April 13.[168] The Mexican army stopped en route April 15 at the Stafford's Point Plantation, burning the family's home before resuming their march.[169] Arriving at Harrisburg, three printers still at work on the Telegraph and Texas Register told them that everyone in the government had already departed and were on the steamboat Cayuga for New Washington. In a fit of anger, Santa Anna had the printers arrested and the printing presses tossed into Buffalo Bayou.[170][171] After three days of looting and seeking out information about the government, Santa Anna ordered the town burned on April 18.[172] He later tried to evade culpability by placing the blame for the destruction on Houston.[173][93][19]

The Twin Sisters artillery[edit]

Replicas of the Twin Sisters cannons at San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site

Two cannons cast November 1835 by Greenwood and Webb in Cincinnati, Ohio were funded entirely by the people of that city as a donation to the Texas Revolution. The idea had arisen as a suggestion from Robert F. Lytle, one of the businessmen who helped fund Sherman's Kentucky Riflemen.[174] Arriving in New Orleans after a lengthy trip from Ohio on the Mississippi River, the cannons were transported to the Gulf Coast aboard the Pennsylvania schooner. Nobody knows for certain why the cannons were named "Twin Sisters", but one theory is that the sobriquet resulted from twins Elizabeth and Eleanor Rice traveling aboard the Pennsylvania being selected to formally present the cannons upon their arrival at Galveston in April 1836.[175] The cannons were transferred to the steamboat Ohio and transported up the Brazos River.[176] A second story about the nickname is that Houston's men named them as such when the artillery pieces first arrived.[177][178]

Leander Smith had the responsibility of transporting the Twin Sisters from Harrisburg to Bernardo Plantation in Waller County. Along the way, Smith recruited thirty-five men into the army.[179][180] Lt. Col. James Neill was put in charge of the cannons once they arrived in camp.[181]}

Martin and Baker abandoned the river crossings and on April 14 and re-joined Houston's army which had marched from Bernardo to the Charles Donoho Plantation near present day Hempstead in Waller County.[182][183] As news spread of the Mexican army's movements, residents of Nacogdoches and San Augustine began to flee east towards the Sabine River. After refusals to continue with the army, Martin was ordered by Houston to accompany displaced families on their flight eastward. Hundreds of soldiers left the army to help their families. The main army parted from the refugees at this point,[184] and acting Secretary of War David Thomas[FN 9] advised Houston to move southward to secure Galveston Bay.[185] Houston, however, was getting conflicting advice from the cabinet members. President Burnet had sent Secretary of State Carson to Louisiana in hopes of getting the United States army and individual state militias involved in the Texas fight for independence. While he attempted to secure such involvement, Carson sent a dispatch to Houston on April 14 advising him to retreat all the way to the Louisiana-Texas border on the Sabine River, and bide his time before engaging the Mexican army.[186]

The Texian army camped on April 15 west of present day Tomball at Sam McCarley's homestead.[187][188] They departed the next morning[189] and 3 miles (4.8 km) east reached a crucial crossroads.[FN 10] One road led east to Nacogdoches and eventually the Sabine River, and the other road led southeast to Harrisburg. The army was concerned that Houston would continue the eastward retreat. Although Houston discussed his decision with no one, he led the army down the southeast road. Rusk ordered that a small group of volunteers be split from the army to secure Robbin's Ferry on the Trinity River.[192][193] Houston's troops stopped overnight on April 16 at the home of Matthew Burnet, and continued the next morning marching the 25 miles (40 km) southeast towards Harrisburg.[194][195]

With the refugee families being accorded a military escort eastward and Houston marching southeast, the retreat of the Provisional Army of Texas was over. On the march which would lead to San Jacinto, moving the heavy artillery across rain-soaked terrain slowed down the army's progress.[181] The army had previously been assisted in moving the Twin Sisters with oxen borrowed from refugee Pamela Martin when she believed the army was fleeing towards Nacogdoches. When she learned the army was headed towards Harrisburg and confrontation with the Mexican army, she took her oxen back.[196]There were twenty-six companies with the Texian army when they reached Harrisburg on April 18 and witnessed the destruction Santa Anna had left behind.[197][198]

New Washington[edit]

On orders of Santa Anna, Almonte went in pursuit of the ad interim government at New Washington. During their flight the Republic officials switched from steamer to ferry to skiff. On the final leg of the trip, Almonte finally had them in his sights. However, his refusal to fire because Mrs. Burnet and her children were visibly on the skiff enabled the government to escape.[199] New Washington was subsequently looted and burned by Mexican troops.[200] Local residents were alarmed the by Mexican army's destruction, and as many as five thousand civilians fled.[201] In addition to letting the government get away one more time, Almonte's spies had misread Houston's troop movements and Santa Anna was told that the Texian army was still retreating eastward, this time through Lynchburg.[202]


Main article: Battle of San Jacinto

In a troop movement that took all night on a makeshift raft, the Texian army crossed Buffalo Bayou at Lynchburg April 19 with nine hundred thirty men, leaving behind two hundred fifty-five others as guards or for reasons of illness.[203][204][205] The idea had been floated of leaving the Twin Sisters behind as protection, but Neill was adamant that the cannons be taken into the battle.[206] In an April 20 skirmish the day before the main battle Neill was severely wounded,[207] and George Hockley took command of the heavy artillery.[208] Estimates of the Mexican army troop strength on the day of the main battle range from 1,250 to 1,500.[209][210]

The Texians attacked in the afternoon of April 21 while Santa Anna was still under the misconception that Houston was actually retreating.[202] He had authorized his army time to relax and feed their horses, while he took a nap.[211] When Santa Anna was awakened by the attack, he immediately fled on horseback, and was later captured when Sergeant James Austin Sylvester found him hiding in the grass.[212] Houston's own account was that the battle lasted "about eighteen minutes,"[202] not including the apprehension of prisoners and confiscation of armaments.[213] When the Twin Sisters went up against the Mexican army's Golden Standard cannon, they performed so well that Hockley's unit was able to capture the Mexican cannon.[214][FN 11]

The Yellowstone saw war service for the Republic one more time on May 7, when it transported Houston and his prisoner Santa Anna, along with the government Santa Anna tried to extinguish, to Galveston Island.[FN 12] From there, the government and Santa Anna traveled to Velasco for the signing of the treaties.[217] Houston had suffered a serious wound during the battle,[218] and on May 28 boarded the schooner Flora for medical treatment in New Orleans.[219] Not until the news of the victory at San Jacinto spread throughout Texas did the refugees return to their homesteads and businesses, or whatever was left after the destruction caused by both armies.[41]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b In 19th century Mexico, Federalism was the empowerment of local governments, while Centralism sought to eliminate local political power and give it all to the national government. [1]
  2. ^ 193,600 square miles (501,000 km2), Mexican provinces of Coahuila and Texas.[2]
  3. ^ The Provisional Army of Texas consisted of three different categories of enlistees. The Regular Army was much like a modern-day army in its command structure, and had a two-year enlistment period. Permanent Volunteers ran a democratic structure allowing internal elections, and was for the duration of the war. The Volunteer Auxiliary was short-termed with an enlistment period of only six months.[14][15]
  4. ^ a b c Locally organized volunteer militias were initially separate from the Provisional Army of Texas and operated autonomously. Whether or not they were paid, or had supplies or uniforms, varied. Each had its own framework and elected leaders. They decided as a unit which battles they would fight. The Consultation only made Houston commander-in-chief of the paid provisional army he was to recruit and train. On March 4, 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos , the Convention also put the volunteer militias under Houston's command.[16][17]
  5. ^ While it is not certain what became of the cannon, Santa Anna ordered all brass and bronze artillery seized after the battle to be melted down.[29]
  6. ^ Historians disagree as to the clarity of Houston's orders. In a letter dated January 17, 1836, Houston's wording seems to leave the final decision to provisional Governor Henry Smith. "Colonel Bowie will leave here in a few hours for Bexar, with a detachment of from thirty to fifty men. I have ordered the fortifications in the town of Bexar to be demolished, and if you think well of it, I will remove all the cannon and other munitions of war to Gonzales and Copano, blow up the Alamo, and abandon the place, as it will be impossible to keep up the Station with volunteers." The fractious provisional government had impeached Smith on January 11.[49][50][20]
  7. ^ a b A historical plaque denotes the Sam Houston Oak in front of the Braches House, which itself is on the NRHP. [81][82][83]
  8. ^ The ferry and trading post had been built by Jesse Burnam in 1824, and had survived numerous attacks from Karankawa indians. Burnam later claimed Houston destroyed his property because of personal issues between the two, not because of any threat from the Mexican army.[103][104][105][106][107][108]
  9. ^ a b Attorney General David Thomas was named as acting Secretary of War when Rusk joined the army.[151]
  10. ^ In Texas history and in historical works on Sam Houston, this is referred to as "the fork in the road" where Houston stopped retreating and instead actively pursued Santa Anna. The site is now designated as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark and located in the present day Harris County city of Tomball.[190][191]
  11. ^ The final fate of the Twin Sisters cannons is unknown. After the Battle of San Jacinto, the cannons were sent to Austin, Texas to be used for ceremonial purposes. When the cannons were discovered to be in New Orleans, Sam Houston petitioned for their return to Texas at the onset of the Civil War. Their last known whereabouts was in 1863 at the Battle of Galveston. Replicas are on display at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site.[215]
  12. ^ Houston's agreement when he impressed the Yellowstone steamboat April 2 through April 14, was for Ross and the 17-man crew to receive at least 1/3 of a league of land (more for officers) as payment. The crew was not obligated to fight. When Stephen F. Austin died in December 1836, the Yellowstone transported his body to Brazoria County for burial. Nothing is known about the steamer after 1837.[216][161]


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  5. ^ Davis (2004), p. 143.
  6. ^ Todish et al. (1998), p. 121.
  7. ^ Davis (2004), p.200.
  8. ^ Todish et al. (1998), p. 125.
  9. ^ Todish et al. (1998), p. 34.
  10. ^ Todish et al. (1998), p. 23.
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  • Almonte, Juan Nepomuceno; Jackson, Jack; Wheat, John (2005). Almonte's Texas: Juan N. Almonte's 1834 Inspection, Secret Report & Role in the 1836 Campaign. Austin, Texas: Texas State Historical Association. ISBN 9780876112076. 
  • Awbrey, Betty Dooley; Dooley, Claude (2005). Why Stop?: A Guide to Texas Historical Roadside Markers. Taylor Trade Publishing. ISBN 9781589792432. 
  • Davis, William C (2004). Lone Star Rising: The Revolutionary Birth of the Texas Republic. Free Press. ISBN 9780684865102. 
  • Fischer, Ernest G. (1976). Robert Potter: Founder of the Texas Navy. Pelican Publishing Company. ISBN 9781589804739. 
  • Greene, A. C. (1998). Sketches from the Five States of Texas. Wardlaw Books. ISBN 978-0-89096-842-0. 
  • Haley, James L. (2002). Sam Houston. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 9780806136448. 
  • Hardin, Stpehen L. (1994). Texian Iliad-A Military History of the Texas Revolution. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0292730861. 
  • Hardin, Stephen; McBride, Angus (2001). The Alamo 1836: Santa Anna's Texas Campaign. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1841760902. 
  • Lack, Paul D. (1992). The Texas Revolutionary Experience: A Political and Social History 1835–1836. Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 0-89096-497-1. 
  • Moore, Stephen L. (2004). Eighteen Minutes: The Battle of San Jacinto and the Texas Independence Campaign. Republic of Texas Press. ISBN 1589070097. 
  • Todish, Timothy J.; Todish, Terry; Spring, Ted (1998). Alamo Sourcebook, 1836: A Comprehensive Guide to the Battle of the Alamo and the Texas Revolution. Austin, TX: Eakin Press. ISBN 9781571681522. 
  • Tucker, Dr. Spencer C. (2012). The Encyclopedia of the Mexican-American War [3 volumes]: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1851098538. 
  • Watts, Marie W. (2008). La Grange (Images of America: Texas). Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0738556369. 

External links[edit]