April 18, 1836
“Bring them here,” ordered Sam Houston, the general of the Texas revolution army. Erasmus “Deaf” Smith and Henry Karnes escorted the two Mexican prisoners towards Sam. They had been captured shortly after Sam and the Texas Revolution army had arrive in Harrisburg, the town that used to house the leaders of their newly declared independent republic. The small town was now smoldering in the wake of the Mexican Army under General Antonio López de Santa Anna.
“And what have these men told you?” Sam asked, looking at the enemy soldiers.
“This one says that Santa Anna himself is marching with only 700 men down the San Jacinto river,” Erasmus said, giving his prisoner a shove on the shoulder. “Says they are going to cut off our communications from the governing committee on Galveston Island. Ain’t that right?”
“That’s one thing in our favor,” said Sam, scratching his chin. “Santa Anna isn’t very familiar with the land up here. He won’t find a good crossing if he passes Lynch’s ferry. And with only 700 men, we could have a good chance at beating him.
“Leave me a detailed report of all you learned, Erasmus,” Sam continued. “That will be all, thank you.”
After the two men left, Houston considered the ramifications of this intelligence. The Mexican Army was more than 4,000 strong, and Sam had only about 800 healthy fighting men now. Patriotic zeal had grown his army to more than 1,200 right after the Alamo fell and Santa Anna murdered more than 400 army prisoners in Goliad. But Sam had avoided a direct battle with Santa Anna because he feared his green volunteers wouldn’t survive. That would destroy the whole revolution.
So he had marched east in retreat. He and his army had covered more than 160 miles in the last month. There were many deserters from Sam’s army and those that stayed complained about running away from the Mexicans, but it wasn’t until they got some space between their armies that Sam was able to start training his volunteer army. They still weren’t ready to take on the full army. That’s why this news was so exciting. Here he finally saw an opportunity to gain a meaningful victory.
So Sam moved his army down the San Jacinto river after Santa Anna. Before leaving, Sam spoke to his men.
“Brothers, we view ourselves on the eve of battle,” Sam said. The soldiers and officers gave him their undivided attention. “This morning we are in preparation to meet Santa Anna. He killed our men at the Alamo, and then massacred 425 men that surrendered to him in Goliad. Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad! We are the only chance to save Texas. We are nerved for the contest and must conquer or perish,” Sam paused and made eye contact with many of the soldiers in the ranks. “We must act now or abandon all hope.
With tense excitement the army continued south and crossed Buffalo Bayou, one of the last crossings before the land dropped into the Gulf of Mexico. They learned that Santa Anna had moved past Lynch’s Ferry, the last crossing east, so Sam knew Santa Anna would have to come back. On the afternoon of April 20, they set up camp under a grove of trees near Lynch’s Ferry.
They didn’t have to wait long. Only a few hours later, the Mexican army had arrived, and tested the Texan lines by advancing their cannon and soldiers toward the grove of trees. The Texans didn’t run, but returned fire sufficient to repel Santa Anna’s force. When the Mexicans started establishing their position on the other side of the field, less than 1200 yards away, the Texan cavalry initiated a light skirmish. Neither side was completely ready for a battle, so they retired to their camps and slept.
During the night, the Mexican army made two improvements to their situation. First they built a 5 foot high breast work out of baggage, trunks and saddle bags. Then they secured some reinforcements that arrived the next morning, April 21st, after an all night march. These reinforcements had crossed at Vince’s bridge, which was only 8 miles northwest of the Texans.
This second development caused Sam some concerns. Vince’s bridge was an easy connection to the battle field for the rest of Mexico’s army, which would be coming from the northwest. It would also serve as the best escape route for the Texans should the battle go wrong. But the threat of more reinforcements caused Sam to send Erasmus and six other men to burn Vince’s bridge.
Around 11 am, Sam conducted a council of war. And decided they needed to act now rather than wait to see if more reinforcements would arrive. Meanwhile the Mexican army was exhausted from their long marches and putting up breastworks. So Santa Anna allowed his army to take a nap.
A little after 4 pm, the Texans began the moving out towards the Mexicans. They moved quietly up the hill, pulling their cannons behind. When they were within 200 yards, they fired the cannon and started a full attack. They routed the Mexican army in a battle that only lasted 18 minutes. They captured 730 prisoners, but killed 630 soldiers and wounded another 208. While the Texan’s lost 9 soldiers and 30 others were wounded, including Sam.
Among the prisoners was Santa Anna, disguised as a common soldier. While many men wanted to kill him on the spot, Sam saw this as an opportunity to end the war. He was able to negotiate the end of Mexican occupation north of the Rio Grande river and eventually led to the recognition of Texas as an independent country.
Retreating for a month, and crossing hundreds of miles doesn’t sound like being proactive, but choosing your battles is still a choice. He knew his men weren’t ready, so he gave his army time and space to prepare. When the right opportunity came, he acted without delay. That allowed him to attack before the opposite forces grew too large for the Texan’s to handle. I don’t know if he was aware they would be sleeping, but sometimes providence will help your efforts when you choose to be proactive.
What is the next thing you need to do to achieve your vision? What are you waiting for? Is it a strategic pause or a fear induced paralysis? Give yourself a deadline to act, not to be acted upon.