On April 22, 1836, the day after the Battle of San Jacinto, modern Harris County near the city of Houston, Texian soldiers captured Santa Anna.
The day before, on April 21, Sam Houston’s rag tag army attacked Santa Anna’s larger army at about 3:30 in the afternoon. Santa Anna was asleep when the Texas soldiers launched the attack.
Santa Anna awoke to a chaotic scene of the Texans savagely routing his army. There was nothing to do to change the course of the battle. He chose to escape rather than die.
On the morning of April 22, Texian patrols still searched the countryside. One patrol, led by a Kentucky volunteer named James Sylvester, found Santa Anna hiding in the grass. He did not try to flee again. Stephen Harrigan wrote that Santa Anna displayed an instinctive arrogance when “he stood up from the grass and presumed to shake Sylvester’s hand.”
They asked if he had seen Santa Anna. He told them that Santa Anna was farther ahead and they marched him back to camp.
Major John Forbes saw one of the young Texans bringing Santa Anna into camp. Santa Anna stepped forward and said the words “Sam Houston” a couple of times, motioning to where the wounded general lay beneath a tree with a shattered ankle. He pulled out a paper and Forbes looked at it and understood. The salutation read, Don Lopez de Santa Anna.
Santa Anna was then marched to the command tent where Houston lay in pain beneath a large oak tree.
The Spanish officers among the prisoners attempted to keep the men quiet but soon across the camp the words, “El Presidente! El Presidente!” could be heard.
Forbes remembered that Houston lifted himself up on his elbow to see the prisoner. Forbes said, and this is a quote, “the prisoner immediately addressed him, telling him who he was and surrendering himself to him, a Prisoner of War. General Houston looked at him intensely but made no reply.”
Houston sent for interpreters and people to identify Santa Anna. The exact exchange of words between Houston and Santa Anna was not recorded.
Houston recalled that Santa Anna stated, “The conqueror of the Napoleon of the West is born to no common destiny, and he can afford to be generous to the vanquished.” Houston claimed to have replied, “You should have remembered that, sir, at the Alamo.” Santa Anna claimed that having to storm the Alamo allowed the slaughter and then added that he was acting on the orders of the government. Houston responded, “You are the government yourself, sir.”
The Texan soldiers crowding around wanted Santa Anna to be executed. Houston thought it wiser to keep Santa Anna alive. Days later Santa Anna would order the other branches of the Mexican army to retreat and he eventually signed two treaties.
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