Santa Anna & Battle of the Alamo History

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Santa Anna
From Early Years to Battle of the Alamo to Final Chapter

Santa Anna History

Santa Anna
Antonio López de Santa Anna.jpg
Antonio López de Santa Anna

Antonio López de Santa Anna

In 1836, a small band of Texans fought the Mexican Army from inside an old mission chapel known as the Alamo. Texans fighting for independence from Mexico had seized the structure and sent Mexican troops away from San Antonio the previous December. Colonel James Bowie and Colonel William B. Travis commanded the small force defending the Alamo, including the famous backwoodsman Davy Crockett.

The Mexican army, led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna, had been ordered to recapture the Alamo and take no prisoners. On the morning of March 6, 1836, General Santa Anna recaptured the Alamo, ending the 13-day siege. An estimated 1,000 to 1,600 Mexican soldiers died in the battle. Of the official list of 189 Texan defenders, all were killed.
On April 21, 1836, Sam Houston, commander of the Texas Army, led 800 troops in a surprise attack on Santa Anna's 1,600 men. Shouting, "Remember the Alamo!" the Texas Army won the battle at San Jacinto in 18 minutes and secured Texas independence from Mexico. Texas remained independent for nearly 10 years, becoming a state in 1845. To date, because of the Battle of the Alamo (present-day San Antonio, Texas), Santa Anna has gained both notoriety and infamy.
Santa Anna

Santa Anna & Battle of the Alamo
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Santa Anna in a Mexican military uniform

Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón (21 February 1794 – 21 June 1876), often known as Santa Anna or López de Santa Anna and sometimes also "the Napoleon of the West," was a Mexican political leader, general, and president who greatly influenced early Mexican and Spanish politics and government. Santa Anna fought first against Mexican independence from Spain, then in support of it. Though not the first caudillo (military leader) of Mexico, he was among the earliest. He was general or president (or both concurrently) multiple times over a turbulent 40-year career; he was president on eleven non-consecutive occasions over a period of 22 years. A wealthy landowner, he built a firm political base in the major port city of Veracruz. He was the hero of the Army; he sought glory for himself and his army, and repeatedly rebuilt it after major losses. A brave soldier and a cunning politician, he so dominated his era that historians often call it the "Age of Santa Anna." However historians also report that he is "perhaps the principal inhabitant even today of Mexico's black pantheon of those who failed the nation."
Early Years
Santa Anna was born in Xalapa, Veracruz, Nueva España (New Spain), on February 21, 1794. He came from a respected Spanish colonial family; he and his parents, Antonio López de Santa Anna and Manuela Pérez de Lebrón, belonged to the criollo high class (criollos were persons of European descent but born in the Americas). His father served for a time as a sub-delegate for the Spanish province of Veracruz. Santa Anna's parents were wealthy enough to send their son to school.

In June 1810, the 16-year-old Santa Anna joined the Fijo de Veracruz infantry regiment as a cadet against the wishes of his parents, who wanted him to pursue a career in commerce.
Personal Life
Santa Anna was a devoted collector of Napoleonic artifacts, and adopted the nickname the "Napoleon of the West" after the Telegraph and Texas Register referred to him as such. His other nickname was "The Eagle."

Santa Anna married Inés García in 1825 and fathered four children: Guadalupe, María del Carmen, Manuel, and Antonio. One month after García's death in 1844, the 50-year-old Santa Anna married 15-year-old María Dolores de Tosta. The couple rarely lived together, with Tosta residing primarily in Mexico City and Santa Anna's political and military activities taking him around the country. They had no children, leading biographer Will Fowler to speculate that the marriage was either primarily platonic or that Tosta was infertile.

Several women claimed to have borne Santa Anna illegitimate children. In his will Santa Anna acknowledged and made provisions for four: Paula, María de la Merced, Petra, and José. Biographers have identified three more: Pedro López de Santa Anna, and Ángel and Augustina Rosa López de Santa Anna.

Santa Anna at the Alamo
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Santa Anna and the Battle of the Alamo.

Military Career
In 1810, the same year that Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla started Mexico’s first attempt to gain independence from Spain, Santa Anna joined the colonial Spanish Army under José Joaquín de Arredondo, who taught him much about treating Mexican nationalist rebels. In 1811, Santa Anna was wounded in the "left arm or hand" by an arrow during the campaign under Col. Arredondo in the town of Amoladeras, in the state of San Luis Potosí. In 1813, Santa Anna served in Texas against the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition, and at the Battle of Medina, in which he was cited for bravery. He was promoted quickly; he became a second lieutenant in February 1812 and first lieutenant before the end of that year. In the aftermath of the rebellion, the young officer witnessed Arredondo's fierce counter-insurgency policy of mass executions.
During the next few years, in which the war for independence reached a stalemate, Santa Anna erected villages for displaced citizens near the city of Veracruz. He also pursued gambling, a vice that would follow him all through his life.

In 1816, Santa Anna was promoted to captain. He conducted occasional campaigns to suppress Native Americans or to restore order after a tumult had begun. Spanish territory extended to present-day Oregon in the north and Panama in the south. It was a territory too vast for the Spanish Crown to control.

In 1821, Santa Anna declared his loyalty to El Libertador (The Liberator): the future Emperor of Mexico, Agustín de Iturbide. He rose to prominence by quickly driving Spanish forces out of the vital port city of Veracruz that same year. Iturbide rewarded him with the rank of general. Santa Anna exploited his situation for personal gain. He acquired a large hacienda and at the same time continued gambling.
Mexico, in 1821, enjoyed vast territory that stretched northward toward present-day Oregon, United States, and southward to present-day Costa Rica. The United States, meanwhile, had doubled its size with the Louisiana Purchase Agreement in 1803. The U.S. continued its controversial expansionist policies by defeating Mexico in 1848. During the progress of U.S. expansionism, commonly referred to Manifest Destiny, Mexico watched its territory shrink nearly fifty-percent.
The Era of Coups

Santa Anna was ambiguous in support of Iturbide, who was never popular and needed the military to maintain his power. Santa Anna’s usual habit was to ally with the wealthy and privileged, but his immediate concern was to be on the winning side in any battle. Switching allegiances never troubled him. Santa Anna declared himself retired, "unless my country needs me".

Growth of United States at the Expense of Mexico
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Territorial Evolution of Mexico Map : The Rise and Fall

(Mexico Territory Height to Decline Map) Territorial evolution of Mexico after independence in 1821, noting losses to the US in the north (red, white and orange colored), and territories annexed from (blue and red) and lost to (purple) Guatemala, the Yucatán Peninsula also annexed from Guatemala but later disputed by Mayan rebels.
In 1822 Santa Anna went over to the camp of military leaders supporting the plan to overthrow Iturbide. In December 1822, Santa Anna and General Guadalupe Victoria signed the Plan de Casa Mata to abolish the monarchy and transform Mexico into a republic. In May 1823, following Iturbide's resignation, Victoria became the first president of Mexico. Santa Anna's role in the overthrow of Iturbide gained support from other leaders, although they knew of his propensity for switching sides in an opportunistic manner.

By 1824, Vicente Guerrero appointed Santa Anna governor of the Mexican state of Yucatán. On his own initiative, Santa Anna prepared to invade Cuba, which remained under Spanish rule, but he possessed neither the funds nor sufficient support for such a venture.

In 1828, Santa Anna, Vicente Guerrero, Lorenzo de Zavala and other politicians staged a coup against the elected President Guadalupe Victoria. On 3 December 1828, the army shelled the National Palace; the election results were annulled and Guerrero took over as president.

In 1829, Spain made a final attempt to retake Mexico in Tampico with an invading force of 2,600 soldiers. Santa Anna marched against the Barradas Expedition with a much smaller force and defeated the Spaniards, many of whom were suffering from yellow fever. The defeat of the Spanish army not only increased Santa Anna’s popularity but also consolidated the independence of the new Mexican republic. Santa Anna was declared a hero. From then on, he styled himself "The Victor of Tampico" and "The Savior of the Motherland". His main act of self-promotion was to call himself "The Napoleon of the West".

In a December 1829 coup, Vice-President Anastasio Bustamante rebelled against President Guerrero, had him executed, and on 1 January 1830 assumed control of the presidency. In 1832 a rebellion started against Bustamante, intended to install Manuel Gómez Pedraza, whose election in 1828 recognized the rebels as legitimate. The rebels offered the command to Gen. Santa Anna. In August 1832, Bustamante temporarily appointed Melchor Múzquiz to the post of president. He moved against the rebels and defeated them at Gallinero. Forces from Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, and Puebla marched to meet the forces of Santa Anna, who were approaching the town of Puebla. After two more battles, Bustamante, Pedraza, and Santa Anna signed the Agreement of Zavaleta (21–23 December 1832) to install Pedraza as president. Bustamante went into exile. Santa Anna accompanied the new president on 3 Janunary 1833 and joined him in the capital.

Santa Anna and Mexico History Map
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Antonio López de Santa Anna

At the Pinnacle of Power
President Pedraza convened the Congress of Mexico, and it elected Santa Anna as president on 1 April 1833. President Santa Anna appointed Valentín Gómez Farías as Vice-President and largely left the governing of the nation to him. Farías began to implement liberal reforms, mostly aimed against the army and the Catholic Church, which was the state religion in Mexico. Such reforms as abolishing tithing as a legal obligation, and the seizure of church property and finances, caused concern among Mexican conservatives. In May 1834, Santa Anna ordered disarmament of the civic militia and suggested to Congress that they should abolish the controversial Ley del Caso, under which the liberals' opponents had been sent into exile.

The Plan of Cuernavaca, published on on 25 May 1834, called for repeal of the liberal reforms. On 12 June, Santa Anna dissolved Congress and announced his decision to adopt the Plan of Cuernavaca. Santa Anna formed a new Catholic, centralist, conservative government which replaced the 1824 constitution with the new constitutional document known as the "Siete Leyes" ("The Seven Laws") of 1835. Santa Anna dissolved the Congress and began centralizing power. The regime became a dictatorship backed by the military.

Several states openly rebelled against the changes: Coahuila y Tejas (the northern part of which would become the Republic of Texas), San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, Durango, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Yucatán, Jalisco, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas. Several of these states formed their own governments: the Republic of the Rio Grande, the Republic of Yucatan, and the Republic of Texas. Only the Texans defeated Santa Anna and retained their independence. Their fierce resistance was possibly fueled by reprisals Santa Anna committed against his defeated enemies. The New York Post editorialized that "had [Santa Anna] treated the vanquished with moderation and generosity, it would have been difficult if not impossible to awaken that general sympathy for the people of Texas which now impels so many adventurous and ardent spirits to throng to the aid of their brethren".

The Zacatecan militia, the largest and best supplied of the Mexican states, led by Francisco García, was well armed with .753 caliber British 'Brown Bess' muskets and Baker .61 rifles. Nonetheless, after two hours of combat on 12 May 1835, Santa Anna's "Army of Operations" defeated the Zacatecan militia and took almost 3,000 prisoners. Santa Anna allowed his army to loot Zacatecas for forty-eight hours. After defeating Zacatecas, he planned to move on to Coahuila y Tejas to quell the rebellion there, which was being supported by settlers from the United States (aka Texians).

Antonio López de Santa Anna and Texas Independance
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Santa Anna and Texas Revolution Map

Santa Anna and Republic of Texas Map
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Santa Anna and Mexican Cession Map

Texas Revolution
Like other states discontented with the central Mexican authorities, the Texas department of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas rebelled in late 1835 and declared itself independent on 2 March 1836.

Santa Anna and Texas Revolution Map
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Antonio López de Santa Anna

Santa Anna marched north to bring Texas back under Mexican control by a show of brute merciless force. His expedition posed challenges of manpower, logistics, supply, and strategy far beyond what he was prepared for, and it ended in disaster. To fund, organize and equip his army he relied, as he often did, on forcing wealthy men to provide loans. He recruited hastily, sweeping up many derelicts and ex-convicts, as well as Indians who could not understand Spanish commands. His army expected tropical weather and suffered from the cold as well as shortages of traditional foods. Stretching a supply line far longer than ever before, he lacked enough horses, mules, cattle and wagons, and thus had too little food and feed. The medical facilities were minimal. Morale sank as soldiers realized there were not enough chaplains to properly bury their bodies. Indians attacked stragglers; water sources were polluted and many men became sick. Because of his weak staff system Santa Anna was oblivious to the challenges, and was totally confident that a show of force and a few massacres (as at the Alamo and Goliad) would have the rebels begging for mercy.

On 6 March 1836, at the Battle of the Alamo, Santa Anna's forces killed 187–250 Texan defenders and later executed more than 342 Texan prisoners along with Texan general James Walker Fannin at the Goliad Massacre (27 March 1836) in a manner similar to the executions he witnessed of Mexican rebels in the 1810s as a young soldier. (See also: Battle of the Alamo and Battle of the Alamo: A History,)

The defeat at the Alamo however served its purpose buying time for General Sam Houston and his Texas forces. Houston and his soldiers defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto on 21 April 1836, with the Texan army shouting "Remember Goliad, Remember the Alamo!" The day after the battle, on 22 April, a small band of Texan forces led by James Sylvester captured Santa Anna, dressed in a dragoon private's uniform and hiding in a marsh. See The Texas Revolution or Texas War of Independence.

Acting Texas president David G. Burnet and Santa Anna signed the Treaties of Velasco: "in his official character as chief of the Mexican nation, he acknowledged the full, entire, and perfect Independence of the Republic of Texas." In exchange, Burnet and the Texas government guaranteed Santa Anna's life and transport to Veracruz. Back in Mexico City, however, a new government declared that Santa Anna was no longer president and that the treaty with Texas was null and void.

While captive in Texas, Joel Roberts Poinsett — U.S. minister to Mexico in 1824 — offered a harsh assessment of General Santa Anna's situation, stating:

Say to General Santa Anna that when I remember how ardent an advocate he was of liberty ten years ago, I have no sympathy for him now, that he has gotten what he deserves.

To this message, Santa Anna made the reply:

Say to Mr. Poinsett that it is very true that I threw up my cap for liberty with great ardor, and perfect sincerity, but very soon found the folly of it. A hundred years to come my people will not be fit for liberty. They do not know what it is, unenlightened as they are, and under the influence of a Catholic clergy, a despotism is the proper government for them, but there is no reason why it should not be a wise and virtuous one.

Santa Anna and Alamo History
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Santa Anna and the Battle of the Alamo. Ca. 1910. Library of Congress.

Redemption, Dictatorship, and Exile

After some time in exile in the United States, and after meeting with U.S. president Andrew Jackson in 1837, Santa Anna was allowed to return to Mexico aboard the USS Pioneer to retire to his hacienda in Veracruz, called Manga de Clavo.

Santa Anna & Battle of the Alamo
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Santa Anna at the Battle of the Alamo, San Antonio

In 1838, Santa Anna had a chance for redemption from the loss of Texas. After Mexico rejected French demands for financial compensation for losses suffered by French citizens, France sent forces that landed in Veracruz in the Pastry War. The Mexican government gave Santa Anna control of the army and ordered him to defend the nation by any means necessary. He engaged the French at Veracruz. During the Mexican retreat after a failed assault, Santa Anna was hit in the leg and hand by cannon fire. His shattered ankle required amputation of much of his leg, which he ordered buried with full military honors. Despite Mexico's final capitulation to French demands, Santa Anna used his war service to re-enter Mexican politics as a hero. He never allowed Mexico to forget him and his sacrifice in defending the fatherland.

Santa Anna famously used a prosthetic cork leg; during the Mexican-American War, it was captured and kept by American troops. The cork leg is displayed at the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield. The Mexican government has repeatedly asked for its return.

Soon after, as Anastasio Bustamante's presidency turned chaotic, supporters asked Santa Anna to take control of the provisional government. Santa Anna became president for the fifth time, taking over a nation with an empty treasury. The war with France had weakened Mexico, and the people were discontented. Also, a rebel army led by Generals José Urrea and José Antonio Mexía was marching towards the capital in opposition to Santa Anna. Commanding the army, Santa Anna crushed the rebellion in Puebla.
Santa Anna's rule this time was more dictatorial than during his first administration. Anti-Santanista newspapers were banned and dissidents jailed. In 1842, he directed a military expedition into Texas, which resulted in no gain, but persuaded more Texans of the potential benefits of annexation by the more powerful United States. Santa Anna was unable to control the congressional elections of 1842. The new congress was composed of men of principles who vigorously opposed the autocratic leader.

Santa Anna and Republic of Texas Map
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Santa Anna and Mexican Cession

Trying to restore the treasury, Santa Anna raised taxes, but this aroused resistance. Several Mexican states stopped dealing with the central government, and Yucatán and Laredo declared themselves independent republics. With resentment growing, Santa Anna stepped down from power. Fearing for his life, he tried to elude capture, but in January 1845 he was apprehended by a group of Indians near Xico, Veracruz. They turned him over to authorities, and Santa Anna was imprisoned. His life was spared, but the dictator was exiled to Cuba.
In 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico. Santa Anna, commanding Mexican forces, wrote to Mexico City saying he had no aspirations to the presidency, but would eagerly use his military experience to fight off the foreign invasion of Mexico as he had in the past. President Valentín Gómez Farías was desperate enough to accept the offer and allowed Santa Anna to return. Meanwhile, Santa Anna had secretly been dealing with representatives of the United States, pledging that if he were allowed back in Mexico through the U.S. naval blockades, he would work to sell all contested territory to the United States at a reasonable price. Once back in Mexico at the head of an army, Santa Anna reneged on both of these agreements. Santa Anna declared himself president again and unsuccessfully tried to fight off the United States invasion. (However, his actions did inspire the sea shanty "Santianna".) (See also: Mexican-American War Campaigns and Battles and Mexican-American War: Background, Campaigns, and Impact.)
Later Years
In 1851, Santa Anna went into exile in Kingston, Jamaica, and two years later, moved to Turbaco, Colombia. In April 1853, he was invited back by rebellious conservatives with whom he succeeded in re-taking the government. This administration was no more successful than his earlier ones. He funneled government funds to his own pockets, sold more territory to the United States (see Gadsden Purchase), and declared himself dictator-for-life with the title "Most Serene Highness". The Plan of Ayutla of 1854 removed Santa Anna from power.

Despite his generous payoffs to the military for loyalty, by 1855 even conservative allies had seen enough of Santa Anna. That year a group of liberals led by Benito Juárez and Ignacio Comonfort overthrew Santa Anna, and he fled back to Cuba. As the extent of his corruption became known, he was tried in absentia for treason; all his estates were confiscated by the government.

Map of Mexican-American Battlefields
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Map of Mexican-American Battles

US-Mexican War Map of Battles
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Mexican-American War Map with Battles

Santa Anna lived in exile in Cuba, the United States, Colombia, and St. Thomas. In 1869, 74-year-old Santa Anna was living in exile in Staten Island, New York. He was trying to raise money for an army to return and take over Mexico City. During his time in New York City, he is credited with bringing in the first shipments of chicle, the base of chewing gum. He failed to profit from this, since his plan was to use the chicle to replace rubber in carriage tires, which was tried without success. Thomas Adams, the American assigned to aid Santa Anna while he was in the United States, experimented with chicle in an attempt to use it as a substitute for rubber. He bought one ton of the substance from Santa Anna, but his experiments proved unsuccessful. Instead, Adams helped to found the chewing gum industry with a product that he called "Chiclets".

Santa Anna was a passionate fan of the sport of cockfighting. He would invite breeders from all over the world for matches and is known to have spent tens of thousands of dollars on prize roosters.

In 1874 he took advantage of a general amnesty and returned to Mexico. Crippled and almost blind from cataracts, he was ignored by the Mexican government at the anniversary of the Battle of Churubusco. Two years later, Santa Anna died in Mexico City on 21 June 1876 and was buried in Panteón del Tepeyac Cemetery.

(Sources and related reading below.)

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Sources: Library of Congress; National Archives; National Park Service; Chartrand, Rene, and Bill Younghusband. Santa Anna's Mexican Army 1821-48 (2004); Crawford, Ann F.; The Eagle: The Autobiography of Santa Anna; State House Press; Fowler, Will (2007), Santa Anna of Mexico, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press; Fowler, Will. Mexico in the Age of Proposals, 1821-1853 (1998); Fowler, Will. Tornel and Santa Anna: The Writer and the Caudillo, Mexico, 1795-1853 (2000); Hardin, Stephen, and Angus McBride. The Alamo 1836: Santa Anna's Texas Campaign (2001); Jackson, Jack. "Santa Anna's 1836 Campaign: Was It Directed Toward Ethnic Cleansing?" Journal of South Texas (March 2002); Jackson, Jack, and John Wheat. Almonte's Texas, Texas State Historical Assoc.; Lord, Walter (1961), A Time to Stand, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 0-8032-7902-7; Mabry, Donald J., “Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna”, 2 November 2008; Roberts, Randy & Olson, James S., A Line in the Sand: A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in Blood and Memory (2002); Santoni, Pedro; Mexicans at Arms-Puro Federalist and the Politics of War TCU Press; Scheina, Robert L. Santa Anna: A Curse Upon Mexico (2003); Suchlicki, Jaime. "Mexico: Montezuma to the Rise of Pan", Potomac Books: Washington DC, 1996.

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