The Battle of San Jacinto by James W. Pohl

Every kid who has gone through elementary school in or around Houston has been to the San Jacinto Monument on a field trip (and skinned a knee going down the stairs of the Battleship Texas, the WWI and II era ship which some kids mistakenly thought helped Sam Houston win the battle of San Jacinto). This book, the 3rd book in TSHA’s (Texas State Historical Association) Fred Rider Cotten Popular History Series (list of the series here), provides a concise description of the events leading to “one of the most decisive battles of the world” and the battle itself.

The book starts with colonists from America settling in Texas, content to be Mexican citizens. Changes in the Mexican government, brought about by Santa Anna as he came into power, swayed many of these settlers against Mexico, including the influential Stephen F, Austin; Austin was imprisoned under false pretenses for two years in Mexico, and upon his release, he used his influence for revolution and against Mexico.

Early victories heartened the revolutionaries, but the massacre at Goliad and defeat at the Alamo by Santa Anna’s massive army put general Sam Houston and his smaller, undisciplined force retreating towards East Texas.

Dr. Pohl, a past President of the Texas State Historical Association, describes the retreat, Santa Anna’s splitting of his army into three groups to try and trap Houston’s army and Houston’s issues with his “mob” and the Government. Pohl also reviews theories about Houston’s decision process to keep his army away from one of Santa Anna’s armies, in spite of internal and external pressures. He describes Santa Anna, worried about his government at home because of the sudden death of his loyal Vice President, and unable to take a ship home due to the strength and position of the Texas Navy, decides to take the lead of a force of his own and capture the Texan government.

Both armies meet on the well documented San Jacinto battlefield. Dr. Pohl reviews what is known and what is speculated to have happened April 19-21. It is clear that the Texas forces, undisciplined and outnumbered, used the rage of remembrance of Goliad and The Alamo to defeat with heavy casualties this part of the Mexican Army. Dr. Pohl points out that this could have been only a tactical victory if not for the seemingly lucky capture of Santa Anna, who one month later signed a treaty. As Dr. Pohl writes:

Even though the Mexican government later declared the treaty null and void, by sparing Santa Anna and requiring his support, Sam Houston established not only a Texas de facto but also a Texas de jure.

This book has 17 historical black and white images to accompany the story of the Battle.

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