Last weekend, I took a road trip to a spot in Texas that is hallowed ground: The San Jacinto Battle Ground State Historic Site near Houston.
It’s the site of the April 21, 1836, Battle of San Jacinto, where Sam Houston and his Texian army defeated Santa Anna’s Mexican army, winning independence for Texas.
A re-enactment is held at the battlefield every year, around the anniversary of the decisive battle. Dozens of re-enactors dress up in period garb, looking like Texans of old with muskets, brown hats and chanting “Remember the Alamo, Remember Goliad!”
On the other side, re-enactors dress up in colorful, blue and red, Napoleonic-era uniforms as soldiers from the Mexican army of the time.
All things considered, the Mexican army should have wiped out the Texan — or Texian army, as it was called then.
In the month before San Jacinto, the Mexicans had defeated one group of Texas fighters at the Alamo and executed another 300 at Goliad.
But at San Jacinto, the main Texian army — about 800 men — took a stand against a Mexican force that had recently been divided as it scoured the state for the rebellious Texans.
As luck would have it, that well-trained Mexican force, with about 1,200 soldiers, also contained Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Mexico’s president and military leader.
Houston kept his army hidden in the trees before the final attack, preventing the Mexican side from getting an accurate count of the Texian force.
The night before the main battle, the Mexicans slept with their guns in battle positions, and were ready if the attack came at dawn. If Houston had attacked at that time, Texas likely would have lost the battle.
Instead, the attack came later in the afternoon. The Mexicans had let their guard down. They didn’t see the Texan army emerging from the trees.
The battle lasted 18 minutes. Only eight Texians died. The Mexicans were slaughtered. Santa Anna was captured, and in exchange for his life, gave up Texas. The battle’s outcome led to Texas becoming a country, and later the Mexican-American War, where the U.S. picked up New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California and parts of Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.
But without San Jacinto, who knows what would have happened? The borders may have looked completely different.
Many of the cities we know now, and even Fort Hood, might have never come to be.
Jacob Brooks, a former Army tanker, is the city editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. Contact him at email@example.com or (254) 501-7468.