Still Learning About San Jacinto
Over a century of Texas school children learned about the Battle of San Jacinto, Sam Houston and the glorious 18 minute battle that established the Republic of Texas. The interesting truth is that we know more about the battle today than at any time since the participants themselves trodded that marsh and prairie at the mouth of Buffalo Bayou, and it is a rich and complex story.
Texans largely received a one-sided version of the Texas Revolution, and somewhat understandable. The records in Mexico were not often explored by earlier historians. Part of that was due to simple disdain for what was viewed as the losing side of the story, and part can be attributed to difficulties accessing some Mexican records. The Mexican military archives were especially impervious for American researchers for many decades. The widespread mistrust of the United States within Mexico dates, of course, from the 1830s and 40s, when almost half of their country was taken from them. In just the last few years, however, thousands of Mexican military documents have been placed online, an amazing boon to Texas historians.
Gregg Dimmick, a Wharton pediatrician and largely self-taught historian, has poured over those pages and will be releasing two volumes on the Mexican military in 1835 and 1836. The years of work have made Dimmick the leading authority on the Mexican military during the conflict in Texas, but the good doctor does not limit himself to the scholarly side. On multiple occasions, he has organized a team of metal detectorists who worked in conjunction with archaeologists to uncover evidence that changes our understanding of the events of the Texas Revolution.
First it was a spring deluge that turned the prairies of Wharton County into “el mar de lodo”, the Sea of Mud that swallowed up most of the equipment belonging to the surviving portion of the Centralist Mexican Army. Dimmick followed the written trail from the Mexico City archive to unearth the biggest Texas Revolution artifact find in history. The same pairing of digging both on the page and in the ground has clarified San Jacinto battle details, too. Within the last decade, historians have confirmed that there was an organized, but unsuccessful, Mexican counterattack in which Col. Manuel Cespedes led units against the charging Texians.
A remarkable buried cache of bullets, belt buckles and cartridge boxes found in a straight line at a site away from the main battlefield illuminated the story of Col. Juan Almonte who organized an en masse surrender of over 200 Mexican soldiers even as the Texians pursued and slaughtered their fleeing comrades by the score.
The Heritage Society has recently released San Jacinto, the seventh movie-length title in the acclaimed Birth of Texas documentary series. It presents the full story of the road to the battle, the events of April 21, 1836 and the aftermath, all told by the top Texas historians on the subject. History lovers may find all the Birth of Texas titles on DVD at https://www.heritagesociety.org/dvds