The Texas Revolution is best understood as an event that occurred
within a larger Mexican civil war. The following is a brief analysis
of the military campaigns from the revolt in Texas presented from both
The conflict can be broken down into four separate phases from the insurgent point of view.
The insurgent campaign opened on October 2, 1835, when colonists gathered at Gonzales prevented Centralist troops from retrieving a small cannon that had been given to the town for protection against raiding Indians. The success bolstered supporters of the revolt, who quickly captured Centralist strongholds at Goliad and Lipantitlan. By late October, the colonists had formed an ad hoc army (called the Army of the People) and had marched to San Antonio de Béxar and placed the Centralist garrison under siege. Despite victory over the Centralists in several fights outside the town, the colonists were hesitant to assault Béxar. The departure of some colonists who quit the army to return home was offset by the arrival of volunteers from the United States who had come from New Orleans. On December 5, the insurgents finally attacked the town and captured it after a five day battle. The Centralist garrison was paroled and allowed to leave Texas with the stipulation that they take no further part in the Centralist effort to suppress the re-institution of the Federal Constitution of 1824.
In November delegates had assembled in what was styled the Consultation, a meeting called to give direction to the colonists’ fight against the Centralists. Delegates officially stated that the purpose of the revolt was to re-institute the Federal Constitution of 1824. It was hoped that a united front could be formed with Federalists in other Mexican states, thereby creating a coalition to fight Santa Anna. The failure of General José Antonio Mexía’s expedition to seize Tampico, however, soured relations between Texans and other Mexican Federalists.
The Consultation attempted to prepare for the rebellion by creating a regular army. It appointed Sam Houston as commander-in-chief but denied him control of the volunteer armies already in the field. Thus, Houston was a commander without an army.
The Consultation also attempted to provide for a civil government by electing Henry Smith to the office of governor as well as electing men to serve in a advisory body called the General Council.
Second Phase: December 1835-February 1836
The unity that had existed in the first phase of the revolt evaporated as the insurgents began to argue among themselves over what course of action should next be pursued. A rift developed between Smith and the General Council in which the governor announced that he was disbanding the Council. In retaliation, the General Council announced that it had replaced Smith with Lieutenant Governor James W. Robinson. Thus, the insurgents had two competing civil governments that were at odds with one another.
The disunity extended to the military as well. Some expressed the opinion that the revolt had been won and that no further action was needed. Others contended that although the Centralists would certainly attempt to re-impose their control over Texas that the campaign would not resume until spring. Another faction called for the insurgents to continue the initiative gained through their early victories by carrying the war deeper into Mexico. Their objective was Matamoros, a city near the mouth of the Rio Grande that had a customhouse. The capture of Matamoros would place the insurgents in control of the customs and well as keep the war out Texas itself. This movement became known as the Matamoros Expedition.
Following the ejection of the Centralist garrison at San Antonio de Béxar, the insurgent government ordered a garrison to remain at the city. Its commander, James C. Neill, had received a commission as lieutenant colonel of the Texas Army from Sam Houston. At the end of December, however, Neill found that Frank W. Johnson and Dr. James Grant had recruited nearly 200 of his garrison for the Matamoros Expedition. Not only did Johnson and Grant strip Neill of men, they also took much of the clothing and equipment that had been stockpiled for his own command. Thus, the Matamoros Expedition greatly weakened the insurgents ability to defend Béxar should the Centralist return.
Third Phase: January 1836-February 1836
Attention turned toward the Matamoros Expedition. Both Governor Smith and the General Council tried to control the movement. Smith asked Houston to take charge, who in turn, asked James Bowie to assume command of the expedition. The General Council named Frank W. Johnson to lead the expedition. When Johnson declined the appointment, the Council appointed James W. Fannin to replace him. However, Johnson changed his mind as accepted the task. Thus, the expedition had three commanders: Bowie, Johnson, and Fannin. Houston visited the troops in the Goliad area and convinced many that the expedition was ill conceived. His effort dampened the movement but did not completely end it.
Governor Smith and Houston attempted to stabilize the revolt’s spin into chaos. Houston ordered Bowie to Béxar to survey the situation. Smith ordered Lieutenant Colonel Travis and 30 men to reinforce the garrison. Neill, who had been in the field since October, left to see his family as well as obtain supplies and recruits for his post. With no army to command, Houston was sent by Smith to make a treaty with the Cherokee Indians that would keep them from aiding the Centralists.
The desire of most insurgents had changed from re-institution of the Federal Constitution of 1824 to an outright separation from Mexico. Thus, the independence movement was growing stronger.
Fourth Phase: February-April 1836
The Centralists returned to Texas and found the insurgents divided and unprepared. General Antonio López de Santa Anna led a column of Centralist troops to San Antonio de Béxar. His goal was to recapture this important political center as well as make an example of the garrison by putting it to the sword. Another column, commanded by General José Urrea, advanced to Matamoros to meet the threat to that city. Once it had been secured, Urrea marched northward toward Goliad and the insurgents who had gathered in that area.
Béxar fell on March 6, 1836. The insurgents suffered other defeats as Urrea drove toward Goliad.
Delegates had assembled at Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 1 to decide on Texas’ political future. On March 2, the convention declared independence from Mexico and announced the formation of the Republic of Texas. The convention also reappointed Sam Houston commander of the army but extended his authority over all troops in the field. On March 6, Houston left the convention and headed for Gonzales to oversee the effort to reinforce the garrison trapped at the Alamo. He arrived on March 11 to learn that the Alamo had already fallen. He ordered a general retreat eastward, collecting men along the way.
Houston’s retreat coupled with the advance of the victorious Centralists started a mass exodus of civilians and government officials called the Runaway Scrape. Many feared that they would only find safety by reaching the Louisiana-Texas border and the protection of the United States.
By mid-April, Houston and his army were in the area of the present-day city that bears his name. On April 20, he learned that Santa Anna had advanced ahead of his army and was vulnerable. On April 21, he attacked the Centralist leader’s camp at San Jacinto and defeated him. Santa Anna escaped but was captured the following day. Although there were still Centralist forces in Texas, the dramatic results at the Battle of San Jacinto effectively ended the Centralist campaign to reclaim Texas.
The Texas Revolution: The Centralist Perspective
First Phase: May-December 1835
The Centralist effort to subdue Texas was part of a larger plan to suppress Federalist outbreaks in various Mexican states. In May, General Antonio López de Santa Anna led an army to Zacatecas. The Zacatecan state militia was defeated in a battle outside the capital city of Zacatecas. The Centralists next turned their attention toward Coahuila y Tejas, where discontent had been expressed at the state capital at Monclova and in the settlements of east Texas. That summer the Centralist government ordered the arrest of the governor and other dissidents. Santa Anna ordered General Martín Perfecto de Cos to reinforce the Centralist garrisons in Texas. By the time Cos arrived in early October 1835 the revolt had already broken out at Gonzales. He marched to San Antonio de Béxar but soon found himself under siege by insurgent forces. The Centralist forces at Béxar forces were defeated in battle and capitulated on December 10, 1835. The insurgents allowed Cos to evacuate his army from Texas. Thus, by the end of December, Texas had been cleared of Centralist troops.
An event occurred in Tamaulipas that was to have an effect on the way the Centralist campaign to reclaim Texas would be conducted. In November, a Mexican general who supported the Federalist cause (José Antonio Mexía) organized an expedition in New Orleans and led it to Tampico to help anti-Centralist forces thought to be operating in and around this important port city. He expedition was a disastrous failure—the Centralists easily defeated him and captured some of his men. The Centralist government declared that the attack had been carried out by pirates and ordered the prisoners executed. The Centralist government extended the policy of "no quarter" for foreign prisoners to the upcoming Texas campaign in a pronouncement called the Tornel Decree.
Second Phase: January-April 1836
Santa Anna organized the Centralist troops into two main columns for the campaign to reclaim Texas. He commanded one column that marched to San Antonio de Béxar. Another column, commanded by General José Urrea, marched first to Matamoros to suppress any Federalist support that may be in that region before advancing to Goliad. The objective of the Texas campaign was to retake Béxar and Goliad, both important political and strategic locations. Once the Centralists controlled Béxar and Goliad, they could fan out eastward and drive the insurgents before them. Catching and defeating the insurgents in the sweep appeared possible because news of Centralist victories spread panic through the settlements.
Santa Anna hoped for more than a military end to the revolt. In addition to reestablishing Centralist control over key locations, he also wanted to catch and punish the insurgent’s political leaders. Hearing that the new government had fled to Harrisburg, he raced ahead with only a portion of the troops at his command in order to catch the revolt’s leaders. He arrived too late to accomplish his task. His move, however, had placed him far away from his main army, leaving him vulnerable to an attack by insurgent forces in the area. On April 21, Santa Anna’s camp at San Jacinto was attacked by Texan forces under Sam Houston. The troops with Santa Anna were defeated and he was captured the following day while attempting to rejoin his main army. By holding as prisoner in the person of Santa Anna both the president of Mexico and the commander-and-chief of its armies, the officials of the newly formed Republic of Texas were able to extract the Treaty of Velasco in which he promised to grant Texas its independence.