Early Texas Military History
by Bruce L. Brager
"Let me say that on every hand I heard that Texas is wanted here if but for the
moral effect of her fearful name."
-- John Marshall, Virginia citizen, 1862 
Introduction: Why Was Texas Interesting to Americans to Start With?
The end of the American Revolution established a new player in North America,
though it remained to be seen how major a player. By 1785, just about two years
after Independence was achieved, tensions were already rising between the
United States and Spain over the Florida border and navigation rights on the
Mississippi. This issue was settled by treaty in 1795.
Spain never felt fully in control of Louisiana, and was trying to return
Louisiana to France, the territory's ruler before 1762. Even having the
revolutionary-era French government in control of that territory would provide
a buffer between New Spain and the United States. Spain offered Louisiana back
to France in 1796 in exchange for Santo Domingo and some territory in Italy. A
treaty was actually signed, but the French government, the Directory, refused
to ratify the treaty.
Conditions had changed by 1800. Napoleon Bonaparte was firmly in charge in
France, ending 11 years of governmental instability. The French signed a treaty
with Spain on October 1, 1800. The treaty returned Louisiana to France,
specifying that what was being returned was what France had owned before, ". .
. as it had been prior to. . ." being given to Spain in 1762. The United
States was strongly opposed to transferring Louisiana from the control of a
weak Spanish government to a strong French government.
By 1803, Napoleon needed money for an expected resumption of warfare with
Britain. France had also been fighting a war in Haiti since 1793, trying to put
down a rebellion of Black slaves. This war was not going well, and Napoleon
wanted to end most French involvement in the Western Hemisphere. The United
States continued to have problems with Spanish control of Louisiana – they had
not yet actually surrendered control to France. In 1802, for instance,
the Spanish had ended the American right to store goods at New Orleans
while they were awaiting shipment overseas.
The next year the American government decided to end problems with Spain by
buying New Orleans and some nearby territory from France. This would give the
United States a clear outlet to the sea for Mississippi River traffic. When the
American representatives reached Paris, they were greeted by Napoleon's offer
to sell all of the Louisiana Territory for $15,000,000. Spain was unhappy when
an agreement was signed. The Spanish claimed, accurately, that Napoleon had
promised not to sell the Louisiana Territory without offering it back to Spain
first. The United States ignored the Spanish protest, declaring that was a
matter between Spain and France.
The transfer of Louisiana back to France, and its sale to the United States,
did not include the northern frontier territory of New Spain, called Tejas.
However, Tejas had never been a Spanish priority. "Explorations by Coronado and
others in the 1540's revealed no gold or silver to entice Spaniards from the
heart of New Spain, and the frontier rarely inched northeastward." Spanish
development of Texas was primarily aimed at staving off first French and then
American encroachment. They never took full advantage of the Texas colony,
and had trouble convincing their own people to move to the wild far north of
New Spain. Settlement efforts had included establishing a chain of fortified
missions in Texas, able to serve as churches while protecting those who
attended or worked for the particular church. The most famous of these missions
was originally known as Mission San Antonio de Valero, but was better known by
its nickname - the Alamo.
The War of 1812, particularly the overwhelming American victory at the Battle
of New Orleans in January 1815, secured the United States as a power on the
American continent, directly bordering on New Spain. This ended the danger from
the Indian tribes in the area, a danger partly stirred up by the Spanish to
deter American encroachment on Florida.
The American claim to Texas was formally given up in 1819, as part of the
treaty in which Spain ceded Florida to the United States. However, the idea
that Texas should belong to the United States remained in the back of the minds
of many Americans, among them Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston. An unexpected
but important result of the 1819 treaty was that by "securing" Spanish control
of Texas, the treaty confirmed the authority of the Spanish government to issue
valid land titles in Texas. American settlers felt more secure about seeing
themselves as having GTT, as some wrote on their doors, Gone to Texas.
The Mexican Wars of Independence
Mexican efforts to win independence from Spain began in 1810. The American
Revolution provided a good example for the Mexican revolutionaries. Ill-advised
British behavior towards its North American colonies seemed to have provided a
bad example for the Spanish government. The war was provoked by Spanish efforts
to secure its control over its increasingly independent-minded colony, and to
gain more financial benefits. Another theme of the "pre-history" of the 36th
Division is the idea of failing to learn from experience. Of course, this is
something which never happens in current government, or politics, or every day
Fighting in Mexico had pretty much ended by 1820, with Spain still firmly in
control. What was basically a second Mexican revolution broke out in 1821.
Former Mexican royalists and rebels co-operated this time, instead of fighting
each other. This revolution proved successful in about six months. Then the new
Mexican government made what, for them, was a mistake.
Enter Moses and Stephen Austin
The Spanish government, in 1820 near the end of its rule of Mexico,
commissioned two Americans, Moses Austin and his son Stephen, to recruit people
to come live in Tejas. One of the Spanish motivations, taken over by the
Mexicans when they become independent a year later, was to try to get some
control over illegal immigration from the United States. The first "wetbacks"
came over the Sabine River, the border with the United States, not over the Rio
Grande from Mexico. Moving west to seek a better economic life was part of
American tradition, and a major factor in westward expansion.
The Texas Militia
The militia formally began in Texas almost at the same time as English speaking
settlers arrived. On February 18, 1823, the emperor of the newly independent
Mexico authorized Stephen Austin "to organize the colonists into a body of the
national militia, to preserve tranquility. . ." Soon after, Austin's militia
unit was authorized to ". . . make war on Indian tribes, who were hostile and
molested the settlement. . ." Austin's militia soon battled Indian raiding
parties. According to a study of the Texas militia, however, "Despite this
success Austin's militia remained small and imperfect, relying on mostly small
units recruited for the duration of an emergency."
This was the period in which a far better known competitor to the Texas militia
was formed. Volunteer "ranging" cavalry companies were established as separate
organizations from militia. They quickly became known as "Texas Rangers,"
though the name did not become formal until after the Civil War when it was
applied to the modern law enforcement organization. Stephen Austin formed the
first temporary ranger company in 1823, to protect his colony from Indian
(primarily Comanche) attack. Further companies were raised, for limited terms
of service, during the 1835-1836 Texas revolution from Mexico. Rangers fought
in the Mexican War and handled Texas frontier defense during the Civil War.
Settlers are Left Alone to Run Their Own Affairs
Particularly appealing to Americans who moved to Tejas was the fact that they
were generally left to run their own internal affairs. Tejanos, Texas settlers
of Mexican origin, also prefered the laissez-faire policy of the central
Mexican government. Many Mexicans, in the heart of that country, thought
that Texas was not worth Mexican attention, calling Texas "out of the
Despite major cultural differences between American immigrants and the
Mexicans, the Anglos tried to adjust. The earliest settlers, under Stephen
Austin, honestly tried to fit into Mexican society. "It would be a deplorable
misconception of the truth . . . to believe that [Stephen] Austin and his
settlers foresaw and desired [Texas revolution and independence] to say nothing
of having worked for them. Austin's success was due, in part, to his complete
and whole-hearted adoption of the obligations of a Mexican citizen."
Some modern historians have speculated that having Texas annexed to the United
States was always part of a “master plan,” rather than just the long term dream
of some American politicians. More likely, most immigrants to Texas just did
not think in such broad strategic terms.
However, by about 1830, the Mexican central government of the day agreed with
the radical American historians. The Mexicans became more interested in Texas
and more concerned that American immigration was creating a problem. An
abortive Texas revolution in 1826, which failed to win the support of the bulk
of the colonists, had already issued the Fredonia Declaration of Independence,
undiplomatically calling the Mexican government an "imbecile, faithless, and
despotic government, miscalled a Republic . . ." In 1828, Mexican
scientist-soldier General Manuel de Mier y Teran led an expedition to explore
and analyze conditions in Texas. The expedition reported on the poor conditions
in Texas, but also on the potential value to Mexico, and the danger from
American immigration. American educated Colonel Juan Almonte made a similar
trip to Texas in 1834. He concluded that it was urgent to send troops if Mexico
wanted to hold Texas.
Trouble soon started. Texas remained appealing to American immigrants, despite
an ineffective 1830 Mexican law banning immigration. Two years before Almonte's
1834 visit a tax collection dispute in Anahauc led to brief fighting. Despite
some relaxation in 1834, in an ironic parallel to the start of the American
Revolution, and to the Mexican's own revolution from Spain, attempts by the
Mexican government to more effectively collect taxes, as well as increase its
general control, were leading to problems. Texans complained, with some
justification, that the Mexican government was doing more than just seeking to
better control its territory, that it was ignoring the liberal constitution of
In 1834 another coup occurred and the Mexican government was overthrown. The
new president "announced in favor of federalism and the exercise of more local
authority," and seemed to be easing up on efforts to tighten central
control over Texas. By 1835 he had changed his mind and started supporting
increased centralization. Texans began to consider that Antonio Lopez de Santa
Anna might prove a problem.
The Texas War for Independence
In September 1835, the Mexican commander at San Antonio, Colonel Domingo de
Ugartechea, called upon the citizens of Gonzales to return a cannon they had
been lent earlier for defense against Indians. When the townspeople did not
comply, De Ugartechea sent a company of cavalry to take the cannon. Gonzales
was reinforced by Texans from nearby towns. "Come and take it" a banner hung
over the cannon read. On October 2, 1835, fighting broke out between the Texans
and the Mexican cavalry. After brief shooting, the Mexicans retreated back to
their headquarters at San Antonio de Bexar, and the fortress just outside of
town, the Alamo. The Texans followed. The cannon, which the Mexicans never got
back, would prove to be very expensive.
Stephen Austin, then serving as Chairman of the Texas Central Committee of
Safety, declared, "The people of Texas are informed that their fellow citizens
at Gonzales have been attacked - the war has commenced."
A Texas army had to be organized. The process was democratic, with the men
voting on whom they wanted to have as officers. Stephen Austin, popular, with
no military experience (not always necessary in a campaign to be an officer)
but with diplomatic skills valuable for dealing with touchy Texans, was elected
Near the end of November, the Texans got word that the Mexican commanding
general in San Antonio, Martin Perfecto de Cos, had sent to Matamoros for the
payroll for his men. A Texan scout known as "Deaf" Smith spotted a returning
Mexican wagon train. Bowie and 100 volunteers charged. At the end of a running
skirmish, with roughly 17 Mexican and 5 Texan casualties, part of the train
made it back into San Antonio. Texans captured the rest - grass for feeding
horses in town. The incident has gone down in history as the "grass fight."
Many of the Texas troops departed in the next month, especially after Austin
and the rest of the officers cancelled a planned early November attack. Winter
was coming and many of the troops lacked clothing for the colder weather.
Mexican strength was also declining. But patrols and skirmishing continued.
Austin announced, on November 24, 1835, that he was leaving the army to
represent Texas in the United States. Edward Burleson was elected his
successor, inheriting a changed army, most of his men veterans of neither the
fighting at Gonzales nor at Concepcion. Burleson's troops included recent
arrivals from the United States. Cos, however, also received reinforcements,
450 untrained conscripts and 173 experienced troops.
Austin had cancelled another scheduled attack on November 22nd. Burleson,
however, thought his army large enough and ready to attack on December 4th.
This attack was cancelled at the last minute, due to fears of a security leak.
Some of his men were so disgusted they left camp. Others prepared to leave.
Burleson himself urged an orderly withdrawal to Goliad. Then a Mexican cavalry
officer rode out of San Antonio to surrender, and to describe the declining
morale among the Mexicans. The New Orleans Grays, a unit of newcomers, quickly
agreed to a fight -- this was a very democratic army. But it was not until Ben
Milam, a 47-year-old officer and "war dog" just back with the army, called out
"Who will go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio", that sufficient men were
available to launch a credible assault.
Milam planned the attack and led one of the assaulting wings when the army
moved at 5AM on December 5th, soon capturing some houses in town. After
sunrise, however, the Texans found themselves pinned down by Mexican fire. That
night the Texans dug trenches and prepared earthworks to provide protected
access to drinking water from the San Antonio River. The Mexicans also used the
night to bolster their defenses. The Texans made little progress the next day,
but the trench system was expanded. The principle development of December 7th
was that a Mexican sharpshooter killed Ben Milam.
On December 8, the Texans made good progress in house-to-house fighting that
day and most of the evening. By the afternoon of December 9, Cos felt that his
position was dangerous enough to make it necessary to withdraw into the Alamo
itself. His cavalry officers refused orders to counterattack that afternoon.
After a mass defection that evening, the Mexicans raised a white flag at 7 PM.
At two o'clock the next morning, the Mexicans surrendered.
Ironically, their capture of the Alamo proved dangerous to the Texans, and not
just for the damage done to the old mission during its capture by the Texans.
Three soon-to-be prominent leaders had not witnessed the Texan attack and
tenacious Mexican defense. Jim Bowie, co-commander at the Alamo, had led a
successful defense at Concepcion. He was assigned elsewhere during the Texan
attack on the Alamo, and ill and unable to command during its defense by the
Texans. William Travis had briefly left the army before the Texan attack and
did not see how well Mexican soldiers could fight.
The same was true of James Fannin, who would be captured at Goliad along with
almost 400 of his men. They all would fall, at least for a while, into the
dangerous trap of underestimating their enemies. This is a mistake other
commanders had made before, and would make again in the future.
William Travis, co-commander at the Alamo, was considered by some sources to be
particularly imbued with the romantic view of war, and of life in general. Some
historians credit this feeling among Southerners, in which Travis,
initially from South Carolina, was by no means unique, with excess
identification with characters in the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Gallant
resistance to overwhelming odds was one of Scott's themes. Gallantry is
admirable in warfare. But gallantry must have a reason and a motivation.
Gallantry should not be a motivation, for if it is it will be a distraction.
Sam Houston, nominal commander of all Texas forces, had ordered the Alamo
evacuated. Houston favored a guerrilla type war, the type also most feared by
the Mexicans. Houston did not want to lose manpower in dangerous set piece
actions. James Bowie, co-commander at the Alamo, had actually been sent
back by Houston with orders to evacuate the personnel and then destroy the
place. He decided to join Travis in defending the place.
Why didn't Santa Anna bypass the Alamo, a more militarily wise solution,
leaving perhaps one quarter of his force to blockade and starve out the
defenders? Perhaps he was jealous of at least one of his subordinate
commanders, General Jose Urrea, in charge of the southern column of the Mexican
force. A recent historian writes, "Throughout the Texas campaign [Urrea]
would demonstrate a fluid, deadly efficiency that would put to shame Santa
Anna's curious strategies."
General Martin Perfecto de Cos, who lost the First Battle of the Alamo, was
Santa Anna's brother-in-law. Santa Anna would not only be moving to crush
rebels against the central government, not only avenging Mexican national
honor. He would be avenging family honor.
This would have added to his desire to win a victory at the Alamo, and to be
willing to devote too much energy to one task of questionable value to his
overall strategy. Santa Anna was determined not just to neutralize or capture
the Alamo, but to do so spectacularly.
In reaching the Alamo Santa Anna had pulled off an epic march under very
difficult conditions. The suffering and endurance of his men should evoke the
admiration of even the most ardent pro-Texan. Santa Anna even had a good shot
at capturing the Alamo before the siege actually began. Advanced Mexican
forces, delayed by a rain-swollen river, got within five miles of San Antonio
before the Texan commanders recognized the dangers and withdrew into the Alamo.
Santa Anna then faced the problem of what to do about the Alamo. The Alamo was
already 100 years old, with walls damaged in the December 1835 siege. Artillery
would have had no problem in quickly punching through the walls. At most, 250
Texans were ever in the Alamo. Several thousand Mexican troops surrounded
the fortress. Santa Anna has a good chance to take the place by assault then,
particularly since he would not be concerned about taking casualties. He had
some concern about his army being attacked in the rear by possible Texian, as
they were called then, reinforcements. Santa Anna also wanted a spectacular
victory. However, he settled down for a siege and to wait for his heavy
artillery to arrive.
Twelve days later, however, with no significant change in the tactical
situation, and with the heavy guns still not on the scene, Santa Anna decided
to attack, to gain his spectacular victory. One theory is that he was motivated
by reports that the garrison was considering surrender. "The prospects of an
honorable surrender seemed to have alarmed Santa Anna." The actual battle
took about an hour. The attack, starting at the blackest part of the night and
ending just as the first signs of dawn appeared, bore very little resemblance
to the battles shown in Disney's Davy Crockett series or the John Wayne movie.
The Mexicans almost caught the Texans literally asleep. However, an overly
enthusiastic Mexican soldier yelled "Viva Santa Anna!" and started cheering,
and provoked counter cheering, that woke the Texans and let them get to their
The battle scene was almost pitch black as the Mexicans battered their way over
the walls, and then pushed the Texan survivors back into the Long Barracks,
next to the now more famous chapel. A Mexican veteran of the battle later
described the fighting.
"The sharp retort of the rifles, the whistling of the bullets, the groans of
the wounded, the cursing of the men, the sighs and anguished cries of the
dying, the arrogant harangues of the officers, the noise of the instruments of
war, and the inordinate shouts of the attackers, who climbed vigorously,
bewildered all. . . The shouting of those being attacked was no less loud and
from the beginning had pierced our ears with desperate, terrible cries of alarm
in a language we did not understand."
At one point, several Texans in the part of the Alamo complex known as the
"Long Barracks" raised a white flag. When Mexican troops entered the barracks,
they were fired on, though it is not known whether the white flag was an
intentional trick or some other men took advantage. The result was that the
Mexicans in the area were not in the mood to take prisoners.
A group of Texans, estimated at up to 75, escaped the Alamo and attempted to
flee to safety. They were run down and killed by the expert Mexican cavalry
Santa Anna had patrolling the area against just such an attempt. After the
battle ended, Santa Anna had the few Texas soldiers taken prisoner shot.
Several civilian family members were allowed to leave. Santa Anna was not
suddenly feeling merciful. He wanted the surviving family members to spread the
word to their fellow Texans of what would happen to anyone caught in active
Once the Alamo fell, Santa Anna took his time before going after Sam Houston
and the Texas Army. The first Mexican force did not even leave San Antonio
until March 11; five days after the Alamo fell. Most Mexican soldiers remained
in San Antonio for some time after that. Santa Anna was showing the ability to
first overestimate the enemy, by delaying in attack the Alamo, and then
underestimate them, by his leisurely pursuit.
Two weeks after the Alamo fell, a 400-man Texas garrison under James Fannin was
captured by Mexican cavalry under Jose Urrea. Largely from a lack of
decisiveness, Fannin had dangerously delayed carrying out Houston's orders to
withdraw in the face of a tough and able opponent. Most of the men captured at
Goliad, including Fannin, were executed by Santa Anna's orders. Both the Alamo
and Goliad become major inspirational rallying points for the Texas Revolution.
Goliad was not gallant resistance in the face of certain death – or probable
death, as the men of the Alamo might have thought relief was on the way. Goliad
was a botched withdrawal. The men at the Alamo, however, choose to stay and
fight, and in so doing became a national symbol of freedom, resisting to the
death overwhelming odds.
Houston had wanted the Alamo evacuated. From a purely military point of view,
this was the wise thing to do. But the military value of the Alamo was not the
"The result [at the Alamo] was foreseen by General Houston; but the martyrdom
that ensued was no less conspicuous, and the costly sacrifice which
immortalized the victims, Travis, Crockett, Bowie, and their heroic comrades,
was no less needed as a necessary factor in the final and grand consummation of
Texas liberty and independence."
The Runaway Scrape
The eastward retreat of the Texas Army after the fall of the Alamo, slowly
pursued by Santa Anna and the different segments of the Mexican Army, became
known at the time, and to history, as the "runaway scrape." Houston's enemies
thought he was scared to fight. His friends thought he was buying time, and
securing the survival of his army, until a realistic opportunity to attack the
Mexicans presented itself. Some historians have theorized a third
explanation. Houston's withdrawal towards the United States may have been
an effort to provoke the United States to intervene by actually starting a
fight between American and Mexican troops.
In March 1836, General Edmond Pendleton Gaines, Federal commander in Louisiana,
moved troops to the Louisiana border with Texas. Gaines reported to the United
States Secretary of War that President Jackson "has been pleased to direct my
immediate attention to the western frontier of the State of Louisiana in order
to preserve, if necessary, by force, the neutrality of the United States. . .
Should I find any disposition on the part of the Mexicans or their red allies
to menace our frontier, I cannot but deemed it to be my duty . . . to
anticipate their lawless movements, by crossing our supposed or imaginary
national boundary, and meeting [them] wherever they are to be found."
Gaines was announcing his intent to protect what he described as the
"neutrality" of the United States. He was prepared to pre-emptively enter
foreign territory, Texas, if he felt it necessary to preempt a possible Mexican
or Indian violation of American territory. The interesting question is how far
Gaines was willing to go into Texas. "Supposed or imaginary national boundary"
is an unusual phrase, even knowing that "imaginary" can mean how people see
something, not necessary the common modern meaning of unreal. No documentary
evidence has been found to decide the issue, but it may well be that Gaines not
only expected to intervene but was looking for a chance, with or without
President Jackson's approval, to intervene.
Houston appeared to be following a withdrawal path taking him towards Gaines'
troops. As to his plans, Houston said "I consulted none - I held no
councils of war - if I err, the blame is mine." His attack at San Jacinto,
whether he was retreating or carrying out a more subtle and complicated plan to
pull the United States into the war, took advantage of an unexpected, though
apparently hoped-for, opportunity.
Pursuing Houston, Santa Anna led a small advance column of his army. On April
21, 1836, this column was encamped on a peninsula near the San Jacinto River,
taking a mid-afternoon siesta, with no pickets. A Mexican veteran of the
campaign later wrote about the position Santa Anna had picked for his army:
"We had the enemy at our right, at long musket range. Our front, though level,
was exposed to the fire of the enemy, who could keep it up with impunity from
his exposed position. Retreat was easy for him on his rear and right, while our
own troops had no space for maneuvering. "
Whatever his ultimate plans had been, Houston recognized an opportunity when he
saw one. After conferring with his officers, Houston ordered an attack about
4:30 in the afternoon. The battle took about fifteen minutes to rout the
Mexican force. As Houston reported to the Texas government:
"For the Commanding General to attempt discrimination as to the conduct of
those who commanded in the action, or those who were commanded, would be
impossible. Our success in the action is conclusive proof of their daring
intrepidity and courage; every officer and man proved himself worthy of the
cause in which he battled, while the triumph received a lustre from the
humanity which characterized their conduct after victory, and richly entitles
them to the admiration and gratitude of their General."
The humanity part was questionable, considering how many Mexican troops were
killed while trying to surrender. But the Texan attack itself was quick, fierce
and effective, taking only about fifteen minutes. Santa Anna, personally
commanding the Mexican force, was captured after the battle and forced to sign
a treaty granting Texan independence and ordering Mexican forces to withdraw
from Texas, something he later denied: ". . . the retreat of General Filisola
[Santa Anna's second in command, who took over after the former was captured at
San Jacinto] could have had no other origin than a concept diametrically
opposed to mine."
Filisola later responded that "It is claimed that I gave blind obedience to the
commands of the general-in-chief after he become a prisoner" - such
commands clearly having been given. The more aggressive Urrea, and some other
commanders, urged Filisola to continue the fight, but Filisola felt that
state of the army and its distance from Mexico made it necessary to obey the
President's orders. San Jacinto was a significant victory, but the poor supply
situation of the Mexican army also played a role in the ending the Mexican
campaign against the Texas independence movement. However, though winning at
St. Jacinto may not have been what actually won the Texas War of Independence,
had the Texans lost there they likely would have lost the war.
Santa Anna (who would pop up again and again in Mexican history) was expert at
personal survival, and put his own interests above those of his
country. The treaty he signed granting Texas independence was
not recognized by the rest of the Mexican government, leading to considerable
border tension during the next decade.
"As soon as the then Interim President of Mexico, Mr. Jose Justo Corro,
received news of the defeat at San Jacinto, he ordered his Secretary of War. .
. to organize immediately a strong body of troops . . . and get them under way
as soon as possible, to reinforce the dispersed Army of Operations and to renew
the interrupted offensive." 
The Mexicans threw Santa Anna out of power. Recapturing Texas became a
major political issue in Mexico during this period. Fortunately for the Texans,
Mexico itself was going through a period of great instability, the Federalist
Wars (interestingly, disputes over central versus state power) in which
Santa Anna was only one major player. Mexico was able to stage raids into
Texas, which included again briefly capturing San Antonio. Texas considered a
major attack into Mexico, and actually staged raids into what is now New Mexico
and into Mexico itself.
The Texas Revolution was an example of the very human trait of failing to learn
proper lessons from experience - in this case making the very easy mistake
of learning the wrong lessons from success. A military study of the Texas
revolution warns us that, "[The Texas Revolution] left a legacy of valor that
has inspired Texan soldiers on battlefields all over the world. While
remembering the courage, however, one should also recall the disorganization,
the pettiness and the lust for power that required so much needless sacrifice.
Moreover, it should be acknowledged that the sacrifice was not all on one
side." Never underestimate your enemy is as important a principle as never
overestimate your enemy.
Texas settlers, mostly from the Old South, brought the American stereotype that
only a few dedicated and independent-minded men were needed to accomplish a
lot, even in war. "The American colonists of Mexican Texas were no strangers to
war: they were born to it. Most descended from America's first revolutionaries
and many had fought with Andrew Jackson in 1815 at New Orleans. . ." Some
Texans may have learned from the Battle of New Orleans, and Jackson's expert
choice of ground and placement of artillery – the likely winning elements in
Others thought élan and spirit were sufficient. Just look at the American
Revolution. (Benjamin Franklin's expert diplomacy, Washington's military
intelligence, and Baron von Steuban's training programs were forgotten.) The
romantic adventurism of Walter Scott's novels is credited with adding a mood,
making war romantic. The Ante-Bellum Southern character, so strong with the
Texas settlers, included a taste for quick action without regard for
consequences. These "Texas" characteristics, good and bad, were only
strengthened by their almost accidental victory at San Jacinto. Forgotten also
was Sam Houston's expert timing in attacking at San Jacinto, recognizing the
opportune moment to abandon his apparent plan to suck the Mexican Army into a
military confrontation with an American army on the border between Texas and
Slavery and Civil War
The Alamo and San Jacinto began a direct chain of events, leading ten years
later to Texas joining the United States, and almost immediately to war with
Mexico. Appropriately, Texas' admission was delayed by the issue of slavery.
Northern states opposed Texas coming in as a slave state. But Texas joined the
union in 1845, as a slave state, and war with Mexico followed. The American
victory in the Mexican War, 12 years after the Battle of San Jacinto, added
massive new territories to the United States. They provided huge new fuel for
the main unsolved domestic issue of the time, slavery. Simply – and many
problems simple to state can be highly dangerous to solve – would the new
territories permit slavery? Equally simply put, the problem was not solved.
A South Carolina planter wrote in 1859, "We are looking to some sudden turn of
fortune we know not what to rescue us from the doom we have not the courage to
avert." "Doom" meant fate in the 19th century. Today it means destruction.
The quotation works well with both definitions.
The military needs of the country, and of Texas, changed drastically in 1861,
from repelling foreign invasion to engaging in civil war. The two "national"
governments faced similar problems, how to meet massive military needs with
portions of the tiny regular army. Both sides eventually adopted conscription,
the first national draft laws in United States history, but such a drastic
measure was not feasible in 1861. A historian of the Civil War military command
structures summarizes the problems facing both armies.
"Both the Union and the Confederacy followed the same procedures in
establishing their military commands and recruiting the huge armies they
perceived as necessary for attack and defense. Both relied on new volunteer
forces, rather than on the ill-trained militia units, to provide the framework
for mobilization. Both central governments depended on the individual states to
play a crucial part in the creation and mobilization of the mass armies. This
was a natural, and indeed an essential, approach in view of the available
machinery of government. . . In their turn the states depended on a good deal
of local and individual entrepreneurship. . Notwithstanding the military
imperative and the issues at stake, politics had much to do with the raising of
the armies. This was natural in an era when people took their politics very
seriously. . ."
Texas geared up to join the Confederate war effort. After the firing on Fort
Sumter, Texas began full scale recruiting for civil war. Governor Sam Houston's
opposition to seccession had prevented such efforts before that. But the Texans
had removed Houston from office for refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to
Eventually Texas would send about 90,000 men into Confederate service,
though estimates vary. About 4,000 of these enlisted in the thirty-two
companies, from southeast and central Texas, (including one directly
recruited in Texas in 1862 by the Confederate government) that became
Hood's Brigade, the most famous ancestor claimed by the 36th Division. The
Confederate companies received cursory training in Texas, and a wide variety of
equipment and uniforms. Sharing Captain Martin's obvious enthusiasm, and with
little real preparation for war, the companies traveled to Richmond, Virginia.
A veteran of one Texas company described part of the journey: "On about the
eighth day out we reached Alexandria [Louisiana], with sore feet, and worn out.
We had marched something like two hundred miles over bad roads. This was a
character of exercise that very few men in the company knew anything about, but
during the next three years they were destined to know more about it. . ."
The story of Hood's Brigade takes us from Antietam (though they played some
role in earlier battles that year), to the close sidelines at Fredericksburg
and the far sidelines at Chancellorsville, to Gettysburg, west by railroad to
Chickamauga, back to Virginia to the Battle of the Wilderness and the rest of
Grant's bloody 40 Days Campaign, to the nearly year-long siege of Petersburg
and then to the final road to Appomattox.
Three years after leaving home, Company M of Hood's Texas brigade was still
walking. Early on the morning of April 9, 1865, the Texas Brigade was assigned
a position one mile from Appomattox Court House.
"We fought and marched seven days, reaching Appomattox Court House on April
9th, 1865. . . The Federals in great numbers surrounded us and surrender was
inevitable. Only six of the old company remained to surrender at Appomattox. .
. A few of the boys had returned home during the war maimed and crippled and a
few were in Federal prisons, but the great majority had been laid to rest in
The April 14th surrender ceremonies marked the formal end of Hood's Texas
Brigade, and the Army of Northern Virginia. The Brigade became legend. The men
still had to get home. The trip began with a twenty mile walk the next day
-- the old habit of long marches was hard to break: "During the war the Texans
fighting in Hood's Brigade earned a reputation as prolific foragers." The
brigade would also gain a reputation as one of the best brigades, if not the
best, in the Confederate Army. The reputation was earned the hard way.
- - -
This article is adapted from material which the writer should have been
included in his book cited just below. The Reconstruction environment in 1873,
when the 36th’s earliest “certified” ancestor, by the United States Army Center
of Military History was created, and when the book begins, was created by the
American Civil War and earlier years. More importantly, the 36th Division has
always claimed descent back to the Alamo. By doing so, it assumed the
responsibility of living up to the pre-1873 history, and pre-1873 becomes part
of its history.
In 2004 the 49th Armored Division was renamed the 36th Infantry Division, and
given the 36th’s lineage. The reborn 36th has men, and women, serving in
Afghanistan and Kosovo, and helped in rescue operations after 2005’s Hurricane
Rita. The tradition of service continues.
Bruce L. Brager
The Texas 36th Division: A History
Austin: Eakin Press, 2002.
This writer also highly recommends:
- Stephen L. Hardin, Texian Iliad, Austin: University of Texas
- James L. Haley, Sam Houston, Norman: University of Oklahoma
- Randy Roberts and James S. Olson, A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in
Blood and Memory. New York: The Free Press, 2001.
- Colonel Harold B. Simpson, Hood's Texas Brigade: Lee's Grenadier Guard
, Waco, Texas: Texian Press, 1970.
. From a letter written by John Marshall from Richmond, Virginia, on June 7,
1862. Quoted in Colonel Harold B. Simpson, Hood's Texas Brigade: Lee's
Grenadier Guard, Waco, Texas: Texian Press, 1970, page 41.
. Rupert Norval Richardson, Ernest Wallace, Adrian N. Anderson, Texas: The
Lone Star State, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: 1981, page 39.
. National Geographic Society, "The Making of America: Texas," maps and
text. Washington DC, March 1986.
. Ibid and Rupert Norval Richardson, Ernest Wallace, Adrian N. Anderson,
Texas: The Lone Star State, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: 1981. Pages 20-29.
. National Park Service, "San Antonio Missions" park map and guide.
. Treaties and Conventions Concluded Between the United States of America
and Other Powers, Since July 4, 1776, Washington, DC: Government Print Office,
1873. Page 795.
. Martin Van Buren to Joel Poinsett, August 25, 1829, Van Buren Papers,
Library of Congress. Andrew Jackson to Anthony Butler, October 10, 1829 October
10, 1829. John Spencer Bassett, editor, Correspondence of Andrew Jackson,
Washington DC: Carnegie Institute, 1926-1933, six volumes. Vol IV, page 81.
. H. P. N. Gammel, The Laws of Texas 1822-1897, Austin: Gammel's Book Store,
1902, Volume I, page 6.
. Ibid, I, 13.
. Alan Robert Purcell, The History of the Texas Militia: 1835-1903,
unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 1981, page 65.
. Ruben Rendon Lozano, with new material added by Mary Ann Noonan Guerra,
Viva Tejas, San Antonio: The Alamo Press, 1985 and 1986. Pages 1-4.
. Andrew Anthony Tijerina, "Tejanos and Texas: The Native Americans of
Texas, 1820-1850," Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 1977.
. Eugene C. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin, New York: Da Capo Press,
1968, page 522.
. "The Fredonian Declaration of Independence," December 21, 1826, published
. Jose Maria Sanchez, "A Trip to Texas in 1828," Southwestern Historical
Quarterly, Volume 29: Number 4, April 1926.
. Helen Willits Harris, "Almonte's Inspection of Texas," Southwestern
Historical Quarterly, Volume 41, Number 3. January 1938.
. Alwyn Barr, Texans in Revolt : The Battle for San Antonio, 1835, Austin :
University of Texas Press, 1990, page 2.
. Andrew Jackson Houston, Texas Independence, Houston: The Anson Jones
Press, 1938. Pages 64-65.
. John Jenkins, editor, Papers of the Texas Revolution: 1835-1836, Austin:
Presidial Press, 1973. 10 volumes. Volume III, pages 5-8. Barr, Pages 39-40.
. Herman Ehrenberg, With Milam and Fannin, Dallas: Tandy Publishing, 1935.
Pages 1-13. Vincente Filisola, Memoirs for the History of the War in Texas,
Austin: Eakin Press, 1986-1987. Volume II, pages 58, 69-73.
. Austin Star Gazette, September 1, 1849, for the oldest report of this
incident. Consensus from my general source material seems to be that this
incident took place, but Milam's words might have differed.
. Rollin G. Osterweis, Romanticism and Nationalism in the Old South,
Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1964. Pages 41-43. Jeff Long, Duel of Eagles, New
York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1990. Pages 35-36. Long's book is rather
revisionist, but also points the way to many useful sources.
. M. K. Wisehart, Sam Houston: American Giant, Washington, DC: Robert B.
Luce, 1962. Page 153.
. General information on General Jose Urrea comes from a research paper
located in the DRT archives, "Jose Urrea: Research Paper, presented to Dr.
William Pool, Southwest Texas State Teachers College, History Department," by
John Mang, July 1960.
. Jeff Long, Duel of Eagles, New York: William Morrow and Company, 1990.
. William C. Davis, Three Roads to the Alamo, New York: HarperCollins,
Publishers, 1998, pages 730-731.
. Stephen L. Hardin, Texian Illiad, Austin: University of Texas Press,
1994, Page 137.
. Jose Enrique de la Pena, With Santa Anna in Texas: A Personal Narrative
of the Revolution, translated and edited by Carmen Perry, College Station:
Texas A&M University Press, 1975, pages 47-51.
. See "A Reservoir of Spiritual Power," pages 53-86, in Edward Linenthal,
Sacred Ground: Americans and their Battlefields," Urbana and Chicago:
University of Illinois Press, 1991, for an interesting discussion of the Alamo,
and several other sites, as examples of the "process of veneration, defilement,
and redefinition that have characterized public attitudes toward America's most
famous battlefields. . ."
. William Carney Crane, Life and Selected Literary Remains of San Houston
of Texas, Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1972 reprint of 1884
edition. Page 63.
. Most recently in James L. Haley, Sam Houston, Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press, 2002, pages 128-142.
. Quoted Haley, 157.
. Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy,
1833-1845, New York: Harper and Row, 1984. Pages 357-361.
. Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker, editors, The Writings of Sam
Houston: 1812-1863, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1938-1943. Volume I,
. Pedro Delgado, Mexican Account of the Battle of San Jacinto, Deepwater,
Texas: W. C. Day, 1919, page 9
. The Battle of San Jacinto, Report of Major-General Sam Houston to His
Excellency D. G. Burnet, President of the Republic of Texas, April 25, 1836.
. The Mexican Side of the Texas Revolution, "Manifesto which General
Antonio Lopez de Santa-Anna addresses to his fellow citizens relative to his
operations during the Texas Campaign and his capture, page 35.
. "Representation Addressed to the Supreme Government" by General Vicente
Filisola, The Mexican Side of the Texas Revolution, page 175.
. Long, 325,226. De la Pena, 161, 178, 134-140.
. Gen. Miguel A. Sanchez Lamego, The Second Mexican-Texas War: 1841-1843,
Hillsboro, Texas: A Hill Junior College Monograph, No-7, 1972. Page 1.
. Sanchez Lamego, page 3.
. Stephen L. Hardin, Texian Iliad, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994,
. Hardin, page 5.
. David Flavel Jamison, letter of September 23, 1859 published in
Charleston Daily Courier, November 3, 1859.
. Archer Jones, Civil War Command and Strategy, New York: The Free Press,
1992, pages 3-4.
. Ralph A. Wooster, "Texas in the Southern War for Independence," Pages
71-85, Joseph P. Dawson, editor, The Texas Military Experience, College
Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 1995, cited page 74.
. Colonel Harold B. Simpson, Hood's Texas Brigade: Lee's Grenadier Guard,
Waco, Texas: Texian Press, 1970, page 9.
. D. H. Hamilton, History of Company M, First Texas Volunteer Infantry,
Waco, Texas: W. M. Morrison, 1962, pages 9-10.
. D. H. Hamilton, Sergeant, Company M, 1st Texas, V.I.C.S.A., History of
Company M, First Texas Volunteer Infantry, Hood's Brigade, Longstreet's Corps,
Army of the Confederate States of America, (no publisher or city listed), 1925,
page 20. This is likely an earlier edition of the work cited in endnote 4.
. D. H. Hamilton, 1925, page 69.
. Robert James Lowry, Diary, edited by John E. Hamer, Alexandria: Virginia,
privately printed, 1965, page 32. Lowry quotes cited in Simpson, Lee's
. Simpson, page 37. See also Harold B. Simpson, "Foraging with Hood's
Brigade," Texana, Volume 1, Number 3, Summer 1963, pages 258-276.
- - -
Copyright © 2006 Bruce L. Brager.
Written by Bruce L. Brager. If you have questions or comments on this
article, please contact Bruce L. Brager at:
About the author:
Bruce Brager is a writer specializing in military history, defense and foreign
policy. He is the author of ten published books and over fifty
Published online: 02/26/2006.