Animosity between the Mexican government and the American settlers in Texas (who were called Texians) began with the Siete Leyes of 1835, when Mexican President and General Antonio López de Santa Anna Pérez de Lebrón abolished the Constitution of 1824 and proclaimed a new anti-federalist constitution in its place. Unrest soon followed throughout all of Mexico, and war began in Texas on October 2, 1835, with the Battle of Gonzales. Early Texian successes at La Bahia and San Antonio were soon met with crushing defeat at the same locations a few months later. Soon after, a Texian fort was overrun, and all save a few of the defenders were killed in the Battle of the Alamo.
The war ended at the Battle of San Jacinto (about 20 miles (32 km) east of modern day downtown Houston) where General Sam Houston led the Texian Army to victory in 18 minutes over a portion of the Mexican Army under Santa Anna, who was captured shortly after the battle. The conclusion of the war resulted in the creation of the Republic of Texas. The Republic was never recognized by the government of Mexico, and during its brief existence, it teetered between collapse and invasion from Mexico. Texas was annexed by the United States of America in 1845, and it was not until the Mexican-American War that the "Texan Question" was resolved.
The constitution was based on the constitution of the United States of America, but the Mexican constitution made Roman Catholicism the official, and only, religion of the country. Texas became part of a newly created state, Coahuila y Tejas. The new state covered the boundaries of Spanish Texas but did not include the area around El Paso, which belonged to the state of Chihuahua and the area of Laredo, Texas, which became part of Tamaulipas. The capital of Texas moved from San Antonio to Saltillo.The Eastern boundaries of Mexican Texas and the United States were the same as agreed in the Florida Purchase Treaty between Spain and the USA, ratified on February 22, 1821.
The new Mexican government was bankrupt from the War with Spain and had little money to devote to the military. Settlers were empowered to create their own militias to help control hostile Indian tribes. Texas faced raids from both the Apache and Comanche tribes, and with little military support the few settlers in the region needed help. In the hope that an influx of settlers could control the Indian raids, the government liberalized its immigration policies for the region for the first time, and settlers from the United States were permitted in the colonies for the first time.
At this time, about 3500 people lived in Texas, mostly congregated at San Antonio and La Bahia. Approximately 3420 land grant applications were submitted by immigrants and naturalized citizens, many of them Anglo-Americans. The first group of colonists, known as the Old Three Hundred, arrived in 1822 to settle an empresarial grant that had been given to Stephen F. Austin by the Spanish. Twenty-three other empresarios also brought immigrants to Texas. Of these, only one of the empresarios settled citizens from within Mexico; the others came primarily from the United States. Many of the Anglo settlers owned slaves.
By 1829, the political faction in control in Mexico City saw the American constituency falling to the opposition. To slow immigration, slavery was officially outlawed in Mexico. On April 6, 1830, Mexican president Anastasio Bustamante ordered Texas to comply with the emancipation proclamation or face military intervention. To circumvent the law, many Anglo colonists converted their slaves into indentured servants for life. Others simply called their slaves indentured servants without legally changing their status. By 1836, there were approximately 5,000 slaves in Texas.
President Anastasio Bustamante implemented several measures in 1830 to make immigration less desirable for Anglo-Americans. These measures followed the 1827 General Law of Expulsion whereby all foreign born people were exiled from Mexico. The General Law was targeted at Spaniards, but by 1830, Americans were specifically targeted by rescinding the property tax law, which had exempted immigrants from paying taxes for ten years, and further increasing tariffs on goods entering Mexico from the United States, causing their prices to rise. Finally, he prohibited further immigration to Texas from the United States, although Anglos would still be welcome in other parts of Mexico. The ban and other measures did not stop U.S. citizens from migrating to Texas by the thousands. By 1834, it was estimated that over 30,000 Anglos lived in Texas, compared to only 7800 of Spanish Heritage.
Austin eventually got the law repealed after three years of working with the Mexican government, but in the meantime military measures were enacted to enforce this law, which triggered an uprising in Anahuac, Texas. This was the first of what would be called the Anahuac Disturbances.
They believed a closer location for the capital would help to stem corruption and facilitate other matters of government. Some American immigrants and Mexican citizens were accustomed to the rights they had in the U.S. that they did not have in Mexico. For example, Mexico did not protect Freedom of Religion, instead requiring colonists to pledge their acceptance of Roman Catholicism; Mexican Law required a "tithe" paid to the Catholic Church.
Cotton was in high demand throughout Europe and most settlers wanted to raise cotton for big profits. But Mexico demanded that the settlers produce corn, grain, and beef and dictated which crops each settler would plant and harvest. Unlike in the states of the Southern United States where slavery was legal, the status of slaves in Mexico was ambiguous. Although Mexico had officially outlawed slavery, the government was widely tolerant of the holding of slaves, but not their sale. Slave traders were thus unhappy with the limitations imposed upon them. Although these many issues caused friction, they were not to incite the settlers to revolt as a whole.
In 1829, Santa Anna was Governor of Veracruz. Two years earlier, the Mexican Government had issued the General Law of Expulsion which exiled all Spaniards from Mexico. This meant that many of the most educated people in Mexico had to leave. Besides decimating the ranks of the Catholic clergy, many of the technocrats and teachers, needed to rebuild Mexico after the decade of draining war, also had to leave. Many went to Cuba and petitioned Spain to send another military force to Liberate Mexico. This force of about 3,500 soldiers occupied Tampico until dislodged by Santa Anna, who was, at that point, a Generalissimo. The Generalissimo was hailed as a national hero. Between 1829 and 1832, a series of Mexican presidents were killed in a series of coups. Santa Anna had a hand in each of these events. The Mexican Republic became heavily divided between two factions known as Conservatives, who were for a centralized monarchical government, and Liberals, who were for a democratic federal government. In the presidential elections of 1833, Santa Anna ran as a liberal and won. Soon after, Santa Anna retired to his hacienda, allowing Vice President Valentín Gómez Farías to run the country. The government initiated drastic liberal reforms, angering the Conservatives. Returning from his hacienda, Santa Anna renounced the government's policies and overthrew the presidency, forcing Gomez Farías and many of his supporters to flee Mexico for the United States. Santa Anna declared that Mexico was not ready for democracy, became an openly Conservative centralist, and appointed himself dictator.
Though disturbed by Santa Anna’s turn, Austin and the settlers had backed Santa Anna in his bid for power and now wanted to capitalize on it. Austin therefore traveled to Mexico City with a petition asking for separate statehood from Coahuila, a better judicial system, and the repeal of the April 6 law that had caused the First Anahuac and Velasco Disturbances (1832), among other things. They were all approved except for separate statehood. Despondent over not getting Texas separated from Coahuila, he wrote an angry letter to a friend, which seemed to encourage rebellion. Mexican officials intercepted the letter, and Austin was arrested for sedition. He spent 18 months in prison.
The number of American immigrants entering Texas quickly escalated. Santa Anna believed that the influx of American immigrants to Texas was part of a plot by the U.S. to take over the region. In 1834, because of perceived troubles within the Mexican government, Santa Anna went through a process of dissolving state legislatures, disarming state militias, and abolishing the Constitution of 1824. To make matters worse, he imprisoned some cotton plantation owners who refused to raise their assigned crops, which were intended to be redistributed within Mexico instead of being exported. Despite this, these actions triggered outrage throughout the nation of Mexico. The country then became divided between Centralists, who backed Santa Anna’s dictatorship, and Federalists, who wanted the Constitution of 1824 re-instituted. Santa Anna then ordered all illegal immigrant settlers out of Texas.
In the DeWitt Colony, a centralista Mexican soldier bludgeoned Texian settler Jesse McCoy with a musket in an altercation. At Gonzalez, Mexican military authorities demanded the recall of a small cannon from local militia. On September 20, General Cos landed at Copano with an advance force of about 300 soldiers bound for Goliad, San Antonio and San Felipe de Austin.
Austin was released in July, having never been formally charged with sedition, and was in Texas by August. Austin saw little choice but revolution. A consultation was scheduled for October to discuss possible formal plans to revolt, and Austin sanctioned it.
Before the consultation could happen, however, in accordance with Santa Anna’s nationwide call to disarm state militias, Colonel Domingo Ugartechea, who was stationed in San Antonio, ordered the Texians to return a cannon given to them by Mexico that was stationed in Gonzales. The Texians refused. Ugartechea sent Lieutenant Francisco Castañeda and 100 dragoons to retrieve it. When he arrived at the rain-swollen banks of the Guadalupe River near Gonzales, there were just eighteen Texians to oppose him. Unable to cross, Castañeda established a camp, and the Texians buried the cannon and called for volunteers. Two Texian militias answered the call. Colonel John Henry Moore was elected head of the combined revolutionary militias, and they dug up the cannon and mounted it on a pair of cartwheels. A Coushatta Native American entered Castañeda’s camp and informed him that the Texians had 140 men. Texians attacked early on October 2, 1835. The Battle of Gonzales ended with a Mexican withdrawal. Only one Texian was injured when he fell off his horse during the skirmish. On the same day, Cos and his contingent of soldiers arrived in Goliad.
After learning of the Texian victory, Cos made haste for Béxar. He left with the bulk of his soldiers on October 5, but because he was unable to find adequate transportation most of his supplies remained at La Bahía. Unaware of Cos's departure, on October 6 Texians in Matagorda decided to march on the Mexican garrison at Presidio La Bahía in goliad. They intended to kidnap Cos and, if possible, steal the estimated $50,000 that was rumored to accompany him. More men joined the march en route to Goliad, and the Texians arrived late on October 9. Early the following morning, they stormed the presidio, and the Mexican garrison surrendered after a 30-minute battle. One Texian was wounded, and estimates of Mexican casualties range from one to three soldiers killed and from three to seven wounded. Approximately 20 soldiers escaped. They warned the garrisons at Copano and Refugio of the advancing Texians; those garrisons abandoned their posts and joined the soldiers at Fort Lipantitlán, near San Patricio.
The Texians confiscated over $10,000 in food, blankets, clothing, and other provisions. For the next three months, the provisions were parceled out among companies in the Texian Army. Over the next several days, Texians continued to gather at La Bahia. Austin ordered that 100 men remain at Goliad, under the command of Captain Philip Dimmitt, while the rest should join the Texian Army in marching on Cos's troops in Béxar. Within days of his appointment, Dimmitt began advocating for an attack on Fort Lipantitlán, a makeshift fort on the west bank of the Nueces River along the Texas Gulf Coast, approximately north of San Patricio. Dimmitt believed that Texian control of Fort Lipantitlán would "secure the frontier, provide a vital station for defense, create instability among the centralists, and encourage Mexican federalists". The Mexican soldiers at Fort Lipantitlán intimidated the settlers in San Patricio, leaving them afraid to openly support the federalists who defied Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Anna.
On October 31, Dimmitt sent a group of men under Adjutant Ira Westover to take the fort. They arrived at Fort Lipantitlán late on November 3 and took the undermanned fort without firing a shot. The next day, the Texians dismantled the fort. As they prepared to return to Goliad, the remainder of the Mexican garrison, who had been out on patrol, approached. The Battle of Lipantitlán lasted only 30 minutes, and resulted in the retreat of the Mexican soldiers. Their departure left only one remaining group of Mexican soldiers in Texas, those under Cos at Béxar. The Texians controlled the Gulf Coast, so all communication with the Mexican interior would now be transferred overland. The long journey left Cos unable to quickly request or receive reinforcements or supplies.
Cos had learned that the Texian army was temporarily divided and sent Ugartechea and troops to engage Bowie and Fannin's men. The ensuing Battle of Concepción, which historian J.R. Edmondson describes as "the first major engagement of the Texas Revolution", was the last offensive against the Texians that Cos would order. Although historian Alwyn Barr believed that the battle "should have taught ... lessons on Mexican courage and the value of a good defensive position", historian Stephen Hardin believes that "the relative ease of the victory at Concepción instilled in the Texians a reliance on their long rifles and a contempt for their enemies".
The Texian volunteers had little or no experience as professional soldiers, and by early November many had begun to miss their homes. As the weather turned colder and rations grew smaller, many soldiers became sick, and groups of men began to leave, most without permission. On November 18, however, a group of volunteers from the United States, known as the New Orleans Greys, joined the Texian Army. Unlike the majority of the Texian volunteers, the Greys looked like soldiers, with uniforms, well-maintained rifles, adequate ammunition, and some semblance of discipline. The Greys, as well several companies of Texians who had arrived recently, were eager to face the Mexican Army directly. The Texian volunteers, however, were becoming discouraged with the siege. Within days Austin resigned his command to become a commissioner to the United States; Texians elected Edward Burleson as their new commander.
On November 26, Burleson received word that a Mexican pack train of mules and horses, accompanied by 50–100 Mexican soldiers, was within of Bexar. After a near mutiny, Burleson sent Bowie and William H. Jack with cavalry and infantry to intercept the supplies. In the subsequent skirmish, the Mexican forces were forced to retreat to San Antonio, leaving their cargo behind. To the disappointment of the Texians, the saddlebags contained only fodder for the horses; for this reason the battle was later known as the Grass Fight.
Although the victory briefly uplifted the Texian troops, morale continued to fall as the weather turned colder and the men grew bored. Burleson proposed that the army lift the siege and retreat to Goliad until spring. His war council was ambivalent until Colonel Ben Milam stood up and yelled "Who will go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?" Several hundred soldiers, including the New Orleans Greys, agreed to participate in the attack, which commenced on December 5. Milam and Colonel Frank W. Johnson led two columns of men into the city, and for the next few days they fought their way from house to house towards the fortified plazas where the Mexican soldiers waited. Milam was killed by a sharpshooter on December 7.
On December 9, Cos and the bulk of his men withdrew into the Alamo Mission on the outskits of Bexar. Cos presented a plan for a counterattack; cavalry officers belived that they would be surrounded by Texians and refused their orders. Possibly 175–soldiers from four of the cavalry companies left the mission and rode south. Sanchez Navarro said the troops were not deserting but misunderstood their orders and were withdrawing all the way to the Rio Grande. The following morning, Cos called Sanchez Navarro to the Alamo and gave him orders to "go save those brave men. ... Approach the enemy and obtain the best terms possible". On December 11, the Texians officially accepted Cos's surrender.
Under the terms of the surrender, Cos and his men would leave Texas and no longer fight against the Constitution of 1824. With his departure, there was no longer an organized garrison of Mexican troops in Texas, and many of the Texians believed that the war was over. Johnson described the battle as "the period put to our present war". resigned his leadership of the army on December 15 and returned to his home. Many of the men did likewise, and Johnson assumed command of the 400 soldiers who remained. Soon after, a new contingent of Texians and volunteers from the United States arrived with more heavy artillery. According to Barr, the large number of American volunteers "contributed to the Mexican view that Texan opposition stemmed from outside influences".
Santa Anna's arrival at Bexar on February 23 would mark the second time he had occupied the town, the first being in 1813 after the Battle of the Medina River, in which Santa Anna was engaged as a junior officer in the Spanish Army. In 1813, the anti-Royalist prisoners at San Antonio were massacred. Like at Zacatecas in 1835, ultimately, Santa Anna would give "no quarter" to those Texans barricaded inside the Alamo mission.
The defenders inside the Alamo awaited reinforcement. "At dawn on the first of March, Capt. Albert Martin, with 32 men (himself included) from Gonzales and DeWitt's Colony, passed the lines of Santa Anna and entered the walls of the Alamo, never more to leave them. These men, chiefly husbands and fathers, owning their own homes, voluntarily organized and passed through the lines of an enemy four to six thousand strong, to join 150 of their countrymen and neighbors, in a fortress doomed to destruction. No further reinforcement arrived.
The Alamo was defended by about 183-189 men under the command of William Barret Travis and Jim Bowie. Most of the Alamo defenders were white men of Spanish ancestry. Numerous sick and wounded from the siege of Bexar, perhaps raising the Texan military total to around 250, as well as non-combatants were also reported present afterwards. The Battle of the Alamo ended on March 6 after a 13 day siege in which all Texan combatants were killed. The alcalde of San Antonio reported cremation of 182 defenders' bodies; one defender's burial by a Mexican army relative was allowed. Santa Anna's army casualties have been estimated as about 600 - 1000 troops—the quoted number of Mexican soldiers killed varies greatly. The defense of the Alamo proved to be of no military consequence for the Texan cause, but its martyrs were soon hailed as heroes. The most important result during this time was the 1836 Convention signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico, on March 2.
Soon, Santa Anna divided his army and sent flying columns across Texas. The objective was to force a decisive battle over the Texan Army, now led by General Sam Houston.
At Goliad, Urrea's flying column caught Colonel James Fannin's force of about 300 men on the open prairie at a slight depression near Coleto Creek and made three charges at a heavy cost in Mexican casualties. Overnight, Urrea's forces surrounded the Texans, brought up cannon and reinforcements, and induced Fannin's surrender under terms the next day, March 20. About 342 of the Texan troops captured during the Goliad Campaign were executed a week later on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, under Santa Anna's direct orders, widely known as the Goliad Massacre.
Santa Anna's army, always on the heels of Houston, gave unrelenting chase. The town of Gonzales could not be defended by the Revolutionaries, so it was put to the torch. The same fate awaited Austin's colony of San Felipe. Despair grew among the ranks of Houston's men, and much animosity was aimed towards him. All that impeded Santa Anna's advance were the swollen rivers, which gave Houston a chance to rest and drill his army.
On April 20, both armies met at the San Jacinto River. Separating them was a large sloping ground with tall grass, which the Texans used as cover. Santa Anna, elated at finally having the Texas Army in front of him, waited for reinforcements, which were led by General Cos. On that same day, a skirmish was fought between the enemies, mostly cavalry, but nothing came of it.
To the dismay of the Texans, Cos arrived sooner than expected with 540 more troops, swelling Santa Anna's army to over 1,200 men. Angered by the loss of opportunity and by Houston's indeciseveness, the Texas Army demanded to make an attack. About 3:30 in the afternoon on April 21, after burning Vince's Bridge, the Texans surged forward, catching the Mexican army by surprise. Hours before the attack, Santa Anna had ordered his men to stand down, noting that the Texans would not attack his superior force. Also, his army had been stretched to the limit of endurance by the ongoing forced marches. His force was overwhelmed by Texians pushing into the Mexican camp. An 18-minute-long battle ensued, but soon the defenses crumbled and a massacre ensued.
Popular folk songs and legends hold that during the battle, Santa Anna was busy with and was distracted by a comely mixed race indentured servant, immortalized as The Yellow Rose of Texas.
Santa Anna's entire force of men was killed or captured by Sam Houston's heavily outnumbered army of Texans; only nine Texans died. This decisive battle resulted in Texas's independence from Mexico.
Santa Anna was captured when he could not cross the burned Vince's Bridge, and he was brought before Houston, who had been wounded in the ankle. Santa Anna agreed to end the campaign. General Vicente Filisola, noting the state of his tired and hungry army, marched back to Mexico, but not without protests from Urrea. Only Santa Anna had been defeated, not the Army of Operations, and Urrea felt that the campaign should continue, but Filisola disagreed.
Santa Anna re-emerged as a hero during the Pastry War in 1838. He was re-elected President, and soon after, he ordered an expedition led by General Adrian Woll into Texas, occupying San Antonio, but briefly. There were small clashes between the two states for several years afterward. The war between Texas and Mexico did not truly come to an end until the Mexican-American War of 1846. Spain never sent troops to contest Texas Independence.
Sam Houston's victory at San Jacinto would earn him the presidency of Republic of Texas. He later became a U.S. senator and governor of Texas. Stephen F. Austin, after a lost bid for Texas's presidency in 1836, was appointed Secretary of State but died shortly thereafter. Sam Houston eulogized Austin as the "Father of Texas". Later during the American Civil War, many Texans considered Houston the "Traitor to the Republic" for his efforts to keep Texas from seceding from the Union and his refusal to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederate States.
At the same time Texas declared independence, other Mexican states also decided to secede from Mexico and form their own republics. The state of Yucatán formed the Republic of Yucatán, which was recognized by Great Britain, and the states of Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas joined together to form the Republic of the Rio Grande. Several other states also went into open rebellion, including San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, Durango, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Jalisco and Zacatecas. All were upset with Santa Anna abolishing the 1824 Constitution, disbanding Congress, changing the structure of government from a federal structure to a centralized one, and the expulsion of the Spaniards. Texas, however, was the only territory to be successful in detaching itself from Mexico.