The Battle of San Jacinto - The Siesta That Changed History
After being held for about three weeks as a prisoner of war, Santa Anna signed the peace treaty that dictated that the Mexican army leave the region, paving the way for the Republic of Texas to become an independent country – Henry Arthur McArdle, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the annals of military history, few battles have been as swift and decisive as the Battle of San Jacinto. This clash, which took place on April 21, 1836, was a pivotal moment in the Texas Revolution. It was a day when a combination of strategic brilliance and sheer luck led to an outcome that would forever alter the map of North America.

The story begins with General Antonio López de Santa Anna, the President of Mexico and commander of its forces. Santa Anna was a seasoned military leader, known for his ruthless tactics and iron-fisted rule. He had already crushed several uprisings and was determined to quash the Texan rebellion with similar force. Confident in his superiority, Santa Anna pursued Sam Houston’s Texan army across the plains of Texas, believing that it was only a matter of time before he would bring them to heel.

Sam Houston, on the other hand, was playing a different game. A veteran of the War of 1812 and former governor of Tennessee, Houston understood that direct confrontation with Santa Anna’s larger and better-equipped forces would be suicidal. Instead, he employed a strategy of retreating while gathering reinforcements and waiting for the right moment to strike. His patience paid off when he learned that Santa Anna had divided his forces, leaving himself vulnerable.

On April 20th, Houston’s scouts reported that Santa Anna had made camp near the banks of the San Jacinto River. The Mexican general believed he had cornered Houston and decided to rest his troops before delivering what he thought would be the final blow. Confident in their impending victory, Santa Anna’s men set up camp without taking significant defensive measures.

The following day, as the afternoon sun blazed overhead, Santa Anna decided to take a siesta—a customary nap during the hottest part of the day. His troops followed suit, unaware that Houston’s army was quietly advancing through the tall grass towards their camp. Houston had chosen this moment carefully; he knew that catching Santa Anna off guard could turn the tide in favor of Texas.

At around 4:30 PM, Houston gave the order to attack. With cries of Remember the Alamo! and Remember Goliad!—rallying cries born from previous massacres at Mexican hands—the Texan soldiers charged into Santa Anna’s camp. The surprise was complete; Mexican soldiers were caught entirely unprepared. Many were still asleep or lounging about when chaos erupted around them.

The battle lasted a mere 18 minutes but resulted in a decisive victory for Houston’s forces. The Mexicans were routed; hundreds were killed or captured while others fled in disarray. Among those captured was none other than General Santa Anna himself. Disguised as a common soldier, he attempted to escape but was recognized by his own men who saluted him as El Presidente when they saw him being led away by Texan soldiers.

Santa Anna’s capture marked not just a military defeat but also a political catastrophe for Mexico. Realizing his precarious position, he negotiated with Houston and agreed to sign treaties recognizing Texan independence in exchange for his life and safe passage back to Mexico City.

The Battle of San Jacinto stands out not just for its brevity but also for its far-reaching consequences. It effectively ended Mexican control over Texas and paved the way for its annexation by the United States nine years later—a move that would eventually lead to further conflict between Mexico and America.

Santa Anna’s blunder at San Jacinto serves as a stark reminder of how overconfidence and underestimation can lead to disastrous outcomes in warfare. His decision to rest without adequate security measures cost him an entire territory and altered the course of history.

For Sam Houston and his ragtag army, it was a moment of triumph born from patience, strategy, and seizing an opportunity when it presented itself. The victory at San Jacinto remains one of the most celebrated events in Texan history—a testament to what can be achieved even against seemingly insurmountable odds.

So next time you hear about someone taking an ill-timed nap or letting their guard down at a crucial moment, remember General Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto—the siesta that changed history forever.

Don Leith

By Don Leith

Retired from the real world. A love of research left over from my days on the debate team in college long ago led me to work on this website. Granted, not all these stories are "fun" or even "trivial" But they all are either weird, unusual or even extraordinary. Working on this website is "fun" in any case. Hope you enjoy it!