Thursday, 21 April 2016

Repost: A Review of the Times of San Jacinto....the Battle that brought Texas her Independence

File:Vicente Filisola.jpg
General Vicente Filisola
     The gentleman pictured above was many things.   He was a Spaniard with an Italian name.  He was a veteran of the Napoleanic Wars, and a distinguished Spanish soldier.   He came to New Spain late in the colonial period and served during the transition from Spanish to Mexican control of that area which now would include all of Mexico, Central America, western Canada, and most of what would become the western half of the United States of America.    For a brief period during the rule of Emperor Agustin de Iturbide I of the Mexican Empire 1821 - 1823, General Vicente Filisola served his Emperor as Governor of Central America.
      The good General served only briefly, however, due to the overthrow of the Empire and the establishment of the Republic of Mexico in 1824.   He did provide for an orderly transition from Mexican control to local governance and order, and withdrew his Imperial Army back into Mexico and joined the re-organised Army as a brigadier.
      It is said that Filisola was probably the one who inspired Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna to think of himself as...."The Napoleon of the West"....because of Lopez de Santa Anna's fascination with Napoleon Bonaparte and the legends associated with that Corsican.   Filisola was one of the few people in anyones army who had officer level dealings on a Napoleonic field of battle.

    Vicente Filisola is important to Texans because he was one of those Generals immediately under the command of the all important, self-consumed, pompous Generalissimo Presidente Lopez de Santa Anna.    Along with Filisola, and Perfecto de Cos, the Presidente's brother-in-law, and old Castrillon, and Ramirez y Sesma....all Spaniards  by birth and world view, there was also Brigadier Jose' Urrea, the Indian Fighter, a Davy Crockett figure, at once both rough-cut, and aristocratic, and oddly one of only two  Mexican general officers fighting in the Texas War of Independence who were born Mexicans.
    The commander in chief Lopez de Santa Anna, and the lowest ranking general officer were Mexicans.   Lopez de Santa Anna had moved three large elements from all parts of the country from January up to mid-February to do battle against a crafty bunch of scrappers in a place called "nowhere" by some and Texas by others.   Urrea moved a third of the Army along the Texas Coast, aiming to unify with the main body of the Army around a place called San Jacinto.   Urrea also moved quickly, like an early form of blitzkrieg, although he had five major battles against Texian units numbering from 100 to 500 combatants in each case, and several significant skirmishes which tested his 2,400 effectives severely.   He is best remembered, however, as the Mexican general who left orders to deal fairly and well with the Texian Colonel Fannin and the 440 Texian prisoners, only to have his orders countermanded by the Generalissimo Presidente.   So while Urrea had moved up to Victoria del Rio Guadalupe a few miles from Goliad, his subordinate received orders underlining the existing orders from the High Command that all found holding arms against the government would be executed for treason.
     Here, El Gringo Viejo enters a well-documented but rather neglected fact about the the issues of personality, strategy, tactics, honour, and the business of war that the Mexicans were undergoing even as they were winning, fairly easily against the insurrectionists.  To wit:

General José Urrea
Gen. Jose' Urrea
     "I was unable, therefore, to carry out the good intentions dictated by my feelings, overcome by the difficult circumstances that surrounded me. I authorized the execution, of thirty adventurers taken prisoners, and setting free those who were colonists or Mexicans
     "These orders always seemed to me harsh, but they were the inevitable result of the barbarous and inhuman decree which declared outlaws those whom it wished to convert into citizens of the republic,  I wished to elude these orders as far as possible without compromising my personal responsibility.
      "They doubtlessly surrendered confident that Mexican generosity would not make their surrender useless, for under any other circumstances they would have sold their lives dearly, fighting to the last. I had due regard for the motives that induced them to surrender, and for this reason I used my influence with the general-in-chief to save them, if possible, from being butchered."

Diary of the Military Operations of the Division
which under the Command of General José Urrea
Campaigned in Texas February to March 1836
Translation from Carlos Casteñeda's The Mexican Side
 of the Texan Revolution (Some headings added by
 current editor, WLM)
For Biographies, Search 

Extract from the Diary of Col. Nicolás de la Portilla

Col. Nicolás de la Portilla

In a Letter Portilla to Urrea....."I feel much distressed at what has occurred here; a scene enacted in cold blood having passed before my eyes which has filled me with horror. All I can say is, that my duty as a soldier, and what I owe to my country, must be my guaranty...."
March 26. At seven in the evening I received orders from General Santa Anna by special messenger, instructing me to execute at once all prisoners taken by force of arms agreeable to the general orders on the subject. (I have the original order in my possession.) I kept the matter secret and no one knew of it except Col. Garay, to whom I communicated the order. At eight o'clock, on the same night, I received a communication from Gen. Urrea by special messenger in which among other things he says, "Treat the prisoners well, especially Fannin. Keep them busy rebuilding the town and erecting a fort. Feed them with the cattle you will receive from Refugio." What a cruel contrast in these opposite instructions! I spent a restless night. sdct
March 27. At daybreak, I decided to carry out the orders of the general-in-chief because I considered them superior. I assembled the whole garrison and ordered the prisoners, who were still sleeping, to be awaked. There were 445. (The eighty that had just been taken at Cópano and had, consequently, not borne arms against the government, were set aside.) The prisoners were divided into three groups and each was placed in charge of an adequate guard, the first under Agustin Alcerrica, the second under Capt. Luis Balderas, and the third under Capt. Antonio Ramírez. I gave instructions to these officers to carry out the orders of the supreme government and the general-in-chief. This was immediately done. There was a great contrast in the feelings of the officers and the men. Silence prevailed. Sad at heart I wrote to Gen. Urrea expressing my regret at having been concerned in so painful an affair. I also sent an official account of what I had done, to the general-in-chief. [Portilla to Urrea, Goliad, March 26 1836 and Portilla to Urrea, Goliad, March 27, 1836]

     El Gringo Viejo and many old timey Texans know these stories, but they are not well known any longer.   Newly arriving people with Mexican backgrounds assume they know all and newly arriving people from the United States and elsewhere have seen Davy Crockett on Disney or some variation, and are certain in their knowledge of the issues involved with the period from 1829 through 1846 and the Texas situation.
     This is not said with any particular arrogance.   It is known that what El Gringo Viejo knows from his own research is now useless information.  Nothing matters in the course of human conduct that cannot be compressed into a six-word phrase to put on a bumper sticker.   What is past is no longer prologue, but rather simply useless white-noise on the left side of the time line.
      But as an enemy the man pictured below is known among the old, last remaining Texans who know what Texas really was, as an honorable enemy....a good and patriotic man involved in a grisly profession.    Something like Rommel, perhaps.

Manuel Fernández Castrillón (?–1836)
Fought Texians both at the Battle of the Alamo

and at the Battle of San Jacinto

     Castrillon was Santa Anna's ally through much of their working relationship, but Castrillón often took exception to Santa Anna's decisions during the Texas Revolution. He opposed the hurried assault on the Alamo. Yet when he received his orders to lead the battle's first column of troops, he did so with expert efficiency.
A humane and honorable soldier, Castrillón also pleaded clemency on behalf of the seven Texian fighters who survived the Alamo siege. Castrillón's arguments for mercy were ignored, and the men were executed. Castrillón again stated his protest when Santa Anna ordered the execution of the Goliad prisoners.
Castrillón's compassion was a sign of kindness, not weakness. When the Texians roused Mexican forces from their afternoon siesta on 21 April 1836 at the Battle of San Jacinto, he was one of the few Mexican officers to stand his ground. 
His bravery was recorded in the memoirs of Texian second lieutentant Walter Paye Lane: 
"As we charged into them the General commanding the Tampico Battalion (their best troops) tried to rally his men, but could not. He drew himself up, faced us, and said in Spanish: 'I have been in forty battles and never showed my back; I am too old to do it now.' 
He continues: "Gen. Rusk hallooed to his men: 'don't shoot him,' and knocked up some to their guns; but others ran around and riddled him with balls. I was sorry for him. He was an old Castilian gentleman, Gen. Castrillo."
Honored on both sides of the Texas Revolution—except by Santa Anna, who blamed the loss at San Jacinto in part on Castrillón—he was even buried in the family graveyard of Lorenzo de Zavala, the vice-president of Texas.

     So, all these major footnotes are added into the blog in order to celebrate the victory tomorrow, the 21st day of April, 1836 of the Battle of San Jacinto.   Normally creditted to the efforts of Gen. Sam Houston, who truly was a bigger than life figure, the truth is that Houston was painfully wounded at the beginning of the battle, by a musket ball to the right foot.   It was Gen. Somervell, commanding, and the surprize rush of the limited cavalry of the Texian force of a bit fewer than 700 men.....attacking on a Sunday morning.   The head of the cavalry was Capt. Juan Seguin, an arch-enemy of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.   The resolve of the Texian force to gain Independence, avenge the atrocities of Goliad and the Alamo allowed the inferior force to pin into a peninsula surrounded by a snake infested bayou, and then essentially destroy the effective force of an Army of 2,500 with superior munitions, armament, artillery, cavalry, stores, and so forth.
     Going back to Gen. Vicente Filisola, it was he who took control of the Mexican Army as it withdrew from San Jacinto.   Lopez de Santa Anna remained under arrest and would later be tranferred to Washington D.C. as an oddity and war-trophy of sorts.   He had been the best general in the field, but also the one most prone to err through arrogance and hubris.   Some say his membership in the Mason Scottish Rite order saved him from a rough and ready gallows at San Jacinto, since Houston and Somervell were both brother Masons.
     Filisola was met with his columns by Urrea, who forced control from Filisola, and took command of the withdrawal.   The two men would argue and write accusations against one another, and each would write interesting, if self-serving accounts of their experiences during the War.   It is the opinion of El Gringo Viejo that Urrea was the better soldier and was truthful concerning his wishes for the good treatment of the Goliad prisoners of war.
      Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna blamed both of them for everything;  Urrea for arriving too late to San Jacinto, Filisola for not mucking through the mud with cannons and stores any faster (he actually moved 2,000 men, animals, and stores faster than Santa Anna had moved his Army away from San Antonio in pursuit of Houston's Army.)   Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was a lot like Obama in his ability to blame everything on everybody but himself.

Committed to the dull truth, which always seems to wind up being far more interesting than the false legends or any fiction.....El Gringo Viejo resigns the evening and promises to return to more tales that interest him, and he hopes, the OROGs everywhere.
El Gringo Viejo