The giant monument in honor of the historic Battle of San Jacinto in East Texas is impressive from any angle. It is the world’s tallest memorial column at 567 feet. It wasn’t supposed to be taller than the Washington Monument but when they placed the 220-ton star on top, measuring 34 feet from point to point, it topped out at higher than its Washington, D.C. counterpart.
The monument is located on the Houston Ship Channel in the 1200-acre San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, which is also recognized as a National Historic Landmark. So, why all the fuss?
On the site of the monument, General Sam Houston and the Texian Army engaged and defeated General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s Mexican forces in a fight that lasted just 18 minutes. Volunteers had joined Houston’s army of Texas independence from many of the then United States and several foreign countries. His soldiers were itching for a fight, especially in light of the defeat at the Alamo and the wanton slaughter of Texian troops at the Battle of Goliad. But Houston kept backing up, avoiding a head-on confrontation with the Mexicans. His seeming hesitancy to fight rankled some of his officers and men, leading to a loss of respect and to widespread desertion.
George Washington experienced similar forced retreats and desertions during the War for United States Independence. I think both Houston and Washington knew they would have little, if any, hope for survival taking on superior forces in face-to-face all-out combat. They had to retreat and wait until conditions favored their chances for victory.
At the time, Santa Anna was not only the general in charge of the Mexican army but he was also the Mexican president. He made at least two fatal mistakes. First of all, in an attempt to outflank Houston’s outnumbered army, he separated his forces into three parts. Secondly, his failure to properly post sentries while camped proved fatal to his chances for victory.
Houston’s approximately 900 men were separated from Santa Anna’s 1400 men by slightly rising ground and trees so that neither army could see the other. Santa Anna didn’t have a clue about how close the Texians were. General Houston had his infantry and cavalry approach silently and then led his forces in a daring broad daylight charge.
Most of Santa Anna’s army consisted of professional soldiers trained to fight in ranks exchanging volleys with their opponents at the order of their officers. When they were taken by surprise they scattered in disarray. After firing the opening salvo, Houston’s soldiers expected a return volley from the Mexicans and hit the ground. One of Houston’s officers rallied the men, shouting “Don’t stop…give ‘em hell!” About 630 of the Mexican soldiers were killed and 730 were captured, while only nine Texians died, with 30 wounded.
In the heat of battle, Santa Anna shed his ornate uniform for that of a common soldier. He tried to conceal himself among those taken prisoner but he was saluted as “El Presidente” by other prisoners and was soon discovered. Houston spared his life so a treaty could be negotiated that would end the hostilities and cause a withdrawal from Texas of Santa Anna’s remaining columns.
Sam Houston became a national celebrity and the Texan’s rallying cries of “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!” became etched into Texas history and legend.
On the monument that commemorates that pivotal event is an inscription that reads:
“Measured by its results, San Jacinto was one of the decisive battles of the world. The freedom of Texas from Mexico won here led to annexation and to the Mexican-American War, resulting in the acquisition by the United States of 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.”
Patience and endurance are great qualities. A prophet languished in a sordid prison at the hands of persecutors. He lamented his plight to God who replied, “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.” (D&C 121:7-8)
John D. Hess commented that “Great men are said to have four things in common. They speak softly; have the capacity for hard work, a deep conviction for their cause, and a consuming belief in their ability to do it.”
“No road is too long to the man who advances deliberately and without undue haste,” said Jean de La Bruyere, “and no honors are too distant for the man who prepares himself for them with patience.”
I often wonder about those who in disgust walk away, giving up the task before the work is done. They miss out on being a part of some of history’s greatest achievements.