Lights, Camera, Action:
Re-enacting One of the Most Important Battles
in World History

By C. David Pomeroy, Jr.

Important historical events always happen somewhere else. That's what most people think. When asked about Texas history, even most Texans immediately reply, "The Alamo." Yet, tucked away among the petrochemical industries along the Houston Ship Channel east of Houston is the San Jacinto Battlefield, where one of the most important battles in world history took place.

The battle at San Jacinto was responsible for the change in sovereignty of approximately one million square miles of land. Mexico lost land to the Republic of Texas and more land over a boundary dispute that led to the Mexican War of 1845. As a subsequent result of those events, nearly a third of the land mass of the present day lower forty-eight states of the United States came into the Union from Mexico and completed the United States' westward expansion to the Pacific Ocean. Because of the size of the ultimate transfer of land, that little eighteen minute fight is considered one of the most significant battles in world history.

Independence is a universal goal. Texas Independence is but one chapter in that history which began in the American colonies in 1776. The French followed with their revolution in 1789. The Spanish colonies began their revolt in 1810 when Mexico declared its independence. Central and South American colonies revolted in the 1820s. That struggle for independence and personal freedom continues to this day.

Although Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1810, it took her twelve years to achieve that independence. And it took several decades to get the process right. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna fought for independence and supported the first president of the Republic of Mexico. When that president sought to establish an absolute monarchy, Santa Anna helped depose him. Several years later Santa Anna was elected president. Like his predecessor, he then turned away from democracy and effectively declared himself dictator. The democratic Constitution of 1824 was thrown out and several provinces revolted. Santa Anna led the Mexican Federal Army to suppress the revolt in the state of Zacatecas. The sacrifices of the rebels at the Battle of Guadalupe have been lost in the pages of history because Santa Anna annihilated the resistance.

Then Santa Anna turned his attention to the rebellion in Texas. With overwhelming and brutal force, the Mexican Army crushed resistance at the Alamo and at Goliad. However, the over-confident General was caught by surprise on the afternoon of April 21, 1836, when the untrained rebels for the Texian cause, shouting "Remember the Alamo, Remember Goliad," stormed the breastworks at San Jacinto. The battle lasted approximately eighteen minutes, and the Texians won. Were it not for that victory, the sacrifices made at the Alamo and Goliad would not be remembered. History is always written by the victor.

The lessons of history are lost unless they are taught, studied and understood. The challenge today is to offer a venue for learning that is attractive to the public, and in particular, to children. The re-enactment of the Battle of San Jacinto each April provides both a visual and a tactile opportunity for learning. The official Commemorative Ceremony is held each year on the anniversary of the battle, April 21st. In previous years, San Jacinto Day was an official State holiday. Businesses and schools closed, and families and students attended the ceremony, listened to great orators and heard the Official Battle Report written by General San Houston. In recent years San Jacinto Day has been crowded off of the calendar in favor of other holidays, and the crowds visiting the ceremony have dwindled. To give the public an opportunity to learn more about San Jacinto, in 1991 the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department sponsored a re-enactment put on by the San Antonio Living History Association (SALHA) and the Crossroads of Texas Living History Association. Ninety-one participants entertained and educated approximately 1,000 visitors. To coordinate future events, the San Jacinto Volunteers was organized and now presents the battle re-enactment usually on the Saturday after April 21st of each year. SALHA and Crossroads continue to provide re-enactors. Jerry Tubbs began as a volunteer in 1998 and took over coordination in 2000. Under his leadership, the program has improved each year. San Jacinto Day fell on a Saturday in 2001, and both the official Commemorative Program and the Battle re-enactment were held as one event. The success was overwhelming and the partnership of the San Jacinto Volunteers, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, the San Jacinto Museum of History and the San Jacinto Battleground Historical Advisory Board proved to be the magical ingredient. On Saturday, April 22, 2006, approximately 25,000 spectators witnessed the re-enactment, visited the camps, conversed with volunteers and enjoyed the all-day festival nearby.