We think of 1836 as the year when Texas won its independence from the Mexican dictator, Santa Anna, and it was…but trouble had been brewing for a long time. During the whole process, the Texians really only won two battles, but they were the ones that counted–the first one, and the last one.
You likely know that the Battle of San Jacinto was the last one where General Sam Houston’s volunteers took just 18 minutes to win one of the ten most decisive battles in history.
The first major battle was the Siege of Béxar (say: BAY har).
The seige took place in San Antonio, which was known at that time as San Antonio de Béxar. San Antonio was one of Mexico’s northernmost cities and an important stop on El Camino Real. After Mexico won their independence from Spain in 1821, San Antonio and all of Texas began to grow as both Hispanic and Anglo pioneers gained permission to settle the region.
But in 1833 Mexico chose a president, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who was hungry for power. He told the citizens they were not wise enough to be trusted with the democratic form of government they’d set up in 1824 after the revolution. He tossed out the Mexican Constitution of 1824 and made himself a dictator.
This made the people very angry, perhaps especially the Anglos in Texas who had had a taste of freedom back in the United States.
Santa Anna became rightfully worried that the people might be angry enough to rebel. Realizing the strategic importance of San Antonio de Béxar, he dispatched his brother-in-law, General Martín Perfecto de Cos, to bring the city under control. In September 1835, General Cos arrived in San Antonio and established a military headquarters there with the clear purpose of ending any ideas about rebellion and arresting anyone who seemed bent on stirring up trouble.
This did not go over well AT ALL with the Texians!
In October 1835, a volunteer army of both Hispanic and Anglo Mexican citizens under the command of Stephen F. Austin and Edward Burleson laid siege to the city. They held things tight for two months, but when a freezing norther blew in on November 20, the men began to consider withdrawing to Goliad for the winter. Then, on December 5, fresh troops followed Ben Milam to launch a surprise attack. During skirmishes over the next four days, the Mexicans suffered 150 casualties while the Texians lost only 30-35 men. Unfortunately, Ben Milam was killed on the second day, but his partner Edward Burleson accepted the surrender of General Cos and took possession of most of the Mexicans’ military equipment and weapons.
Because they had no way to keep prisoners, the Texians released General Cos and his men on their pledge not to continue to oppose the citizens’ rights guaranteed by the Mexican Constitution of 1824 and never to return to Texas looking for a fight. They even allowed the men to keep their rifles and enough ammunition to see them safely home.
But General Cos broke his pledge.
He returned to Texas just three months later, and he was most definitely looking for a fight!
Stay tuned to see what happened next…or read the “spoilers” here.