1997-2001, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved
Memories of San Jacinto | Battle of San Jacinto

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The San Jacinto Campaign
From the journal of Dr. Nicholas Labadie



While I was laboriously occupied in dressing the wounds of the prisoners (I think it was the third day after the battle), Mr. Sylvester, a young printer who had come out with Colonel Sherman from Cincinnati, appeared. His rifle on his left shoulder, he rode up with Joel W. Robinson conducting a prisoner. I was then engaged in dressing the arm of a lieutenant near the west line of the square in which the prisoners were confined. The sentinel, as usual, was about admitting the prisoner, who refused to come in; whereupon Mr. Sylvester called to me, "Doctor Labadie, what does this man want?" He desired me to interpret for his prisoner. And so I arose, and, addressing the man, told him in Spanish that this was the place where all prisoners were kept. He replied that he wanted to see General Houston. "Is he in camp?" said he. "Yes," I replied, "Mr. Sylvester, take this man to yonder oak tree [pointing toward the bayou] where General Houston lies." As he left, I observed that all the Mexican officers arose at once, and my little wounded lieutenant whispered to me, "Est el Presidente" ("He is the President").

At once I folded up my instruments and followed after them. Then I met Colonel Hockly calling me to come quickly, as I was wanted. Having arrived at the spot, I found Houston lying on his back; and on his left was the prisoner, sitting on a chest. He politely returned my salute, and I said to him, pointing, "This is General Houston---do you want anything of him?" He replied, "Tell General Houston that General Santa Anna stands before him a prisoner." Houston, having heard the words interpreted, appeared much surprised; and turning on his left side, he said, "General Santa Anna, in what condition do you surrender yourself?" "A prisoner of war," said he; and continued, "Whilst I was in the camino royal---the public highway---I met two of your soldiers, to whom I surrendered myself, a prisoner of war." "Well," said General Houston, "tell General Santa Anna that so long as he shall remain in the boundaries I shall allot him, I will be responsible for his life."

On hearing this, Santa Anna's countenance brightened up, and he said, "Tell General Houston that I am tired of blood and war, and have seen enough of this country to know that the two people cannot live under the same laws; and I am willing to treat with him as to the boundaries of the two countries." In reply, General Houston said, "Tell him, I cannot treat with him; but the cabinet that is in Galveston will make a treaty with him." By this time the crowd had increased till they pressed against Santa Anna and myself as we were sitting together on the chest, bending us forward. I had to request them to stand back, but then General Houston directed Colonel Hockley to order the guard to disperse the crowd. But the eagerness was so great to see Santa Anna that but few withdrew until the music began to play and the cry was heard calling the men to parade.

About this time Colonel Hockley came leading in young Zavalla to serve as interpreter in my place, as he spoke both languages well. Nearly all the officers were permitted to enter the square, among whom I observed Colonel Rusk, Captain Allen, Captain Heard, Dr. Phelps, Colonel Millard and others. As Santa Anna had proposed to treat for peace, Colonel Rusk said, "Filisola, I leanred, is coming and is near by, and we will have to give him battle." "No," said Santa Anna, "I will order him to return." "No,"said Rusk, "order him to deliver up himself and army as prisoners of war." "Ho!" said he. "He will not do it, he will not do it!" (Nodding his head up and down as he repeated the words.) "You have whipped me, I am your prisoner; but Filisola is not whipped. He will not surrender as a prisoner of war. You must whip him first. But if I give him orders to leave the limits of Texas, he will do it, he will do it."

It was then agreed he should issue the order. It was also suggested whether it would not be better to issue his order on official stamped paper. He remarked, "It would be better." Houston then requested Hockley to have the paper procured. Colonel Almonte was soon brought in; then men were dispatched to the battleground to bring back his belongings. Meantime, Santa Anna paid many compliments to Almonte, and flattered Houston in rather extravagant terms. At last, finding things to wear a rather favorable aspect, he began to extend his look upon the crowd, which he had not before done. He then inquired if Cos had escaped. When told he was a prisoner, he then asked after another, then another, and finally after Castrion. He was answered by Alsbury, "Castrion lies dead on the field." He bowed his head, paused, and said no more. By and by, a remark was made as to the manner he had treated the defenders of the Alamo. "It is," said he, "the fortune of war." Rusk said; "But how is it about Fanning at Goliad?" "Fanning," said he, "el vive" ("he lives"). At this time we had no certain knowledge of the fate of Fanning himself.

Turning to Major Allen, he said, "You look like a Mexican." "No," said Allen, "I am not; I was in Tampico with General Mexia." "Huh!" said Santa Anna. "Mexia was un grande stulto" ("a great fool"). Then, turning towards Dr. Phelps, he said, "You look like a Mexican!" As Dr. Phelps had some claim to royal blood, the remark caused him to blush; and he said very abruptly, "No, I never was---I am an American." My duties now calling me away, I returned to my wounded, nearly all of whom had been crossed over to Zavalla's, the place used as a hospital.


Santa Anna had not been recognized at once because of the disguise of his dress. He had on a glazed lether cap, a striped jacket (volunteer roundout), country-made coarse socks and a soldier's course white linen pants, bespattered with mud. His fine linen bosom shirt and sharp-pointed shoes were all that did not correspond with a common soldier's dress.


Mr. Sylvester related that he was with two others, scouting near Vince's Bayou, when, turning out from the road, some few deer were seen at a distance. "Boys," said one man, "Stop here till I get a shot at those bucks." Then, riding cautiously through the skirt of the timber, at a proper distance from the deer, he dismounted, tied his horse, and, keeping his eyes on the deer, crept cautiously toward them. All at once, he observed their heads and tails up, as usual when about to start, and suddenly they leaped off. As their heads were turned from him, he knew something else had caused their alarm. He returned, remounted his horse, and, beckoning to his companions to come up, he told them that something had frightened off the deer, and he would see what it was. Starting off, they soon came to the spot; when, after looking about, they finally discovered a man lying in the grass. Riding up to him, they ordered him to get up. Manifesting fatigue, he appeared unwilling to rise. One of them said, "Boys, I'll make him move!" leveling his gun at the same time.

"Don't shoot, don't shoot!" said the others; and getting down from his horse, one of them gave him a kick, saying, "Get up, get up!" The man then slowly arose. As none of them understood Spanish, they could not talk to him, but they saw plainly he was a Mexican officer, though entirely unknown to them. One of them gave him a horse to allow him to rest, while the other two rode by his side, till they got within half a mile of the camp, when he was made to dismount. The one who had walked on foot, now resuming his saddle, proceeded alone with the prisoner to the camp, the other two returned to scout through the prairie. It was thus that he was brought to the prisoner's square, as before stated, where I was employed with the wounded.


Up to this time it was supposed that Santa Anna had made his escape, and hence there was the less suspicion as to who he really was. Colonel Castrillo, of the cavalry, stated to me some time after at Liberty (where all the Mexican officers were guarded prisoners) that he had captured a large black stallion, belonging to Mr. Vince, when the army was crossing Vince's Bayou and on its way towards New Washington. He was riding his horse, on the 21st, when we made the unexpected attack on their camp. He said that Santa Anna was then standing by him, and seeing our rapid advance and his own inevitable defeat, he exclaimed, "The battle is lost!" "Whereupon," said Castrillo, "I dismounted, and Santa Anna, not having his horse ready, on account of the suddenness of the attack, I said to him, `My General, mount my horse and fly!' In an instant he was off."

It was supposed, therefore, by Castrillo, that he had made good his escape. No one but myself had probably known how he had escaped, as the above statement by Castrillo was made to me alone. Santa Anna's saddle was found on the battlefield; that on Vince's horse was not Santa Anna's, which is proof of the correctness of Castrillo's statement, Santa Anna was certainly not a backwoodsman. The horse during the night was probably permitted by his rider to take his own course (the rider not knowing which way to go); and he, naturally enough, went to Vince's, it being his home. But the bridge having been cut down by Deaf Smith, attempts were probably made to ford the bayou in other places, and in so doing the horse became bogged. While extricating himself, Santa Anna doubtless also got in the mud, which accounts for his appearance when found. However this may be, he certainly had very little knowledge of the country, for he might easily have headed the bayou, a distance of two miles, when his way would have been open to meet Filisola's army, then on its way to join him. This was done by the captain of his cavalry, who was first to bear the tidings of the defeat to Filisola's camp, by which the latter was induced to countermarch at once.

Colonel Delgado of the Mexican army gave this report of the battle:

"His Excellency, Santa Anna, and his staff were asleep; the greater number of his men were also sleeping; our line was composed of musket stacks---our cavalry riding bareback to and from water. I stepped upon some ammunition boxes, the better to observe the enemy, and saw their formation was a mere line and in one rank, greatly extended. In their center waved the Texas flag. [This was the famous battleflag presented to Colonel Sherman's company by the ladies of Newport, Kentucky, bearing a figure symbolizing the Goddess of Liberty, and the motto, `Liberty or Death!' It was the only flag used by the Texans at San Jacinto. It now rests in the capitol at Austin.] On both wings they had two light cannon, well manned. Their cavalry was opposite our front, overlapping our left. In this array they advanced resolutely upon our camp, yelling furiously, and with a fire of grape, musket and rifle. The utmost confusion prevailed on our side. Generals shouted first on one hand and then another. Colonel Almonte was giving futile orders; some cried out to commence firing, others to lie down to avoid grape shot. Among the latter was His Excellency, General Santa Anna. Already, men were flying in small groups, terrified, and endeavoring to shelter themselves behind large trees.  Meeting no resistance, the Texans dashed lightning-like upon our camp, and their unpleasant noises and clamor were heard in close proximity. Then I saw His Excellency running about in the utmost excitement, wringing his hands and unable to give an order. General Castrillo was stretched on the ground with a wound in the leg; Colonel Trevino was killed; and Colonel Aguirre severely injured. The enemy had now reached the ordnance train and everything being lost, I went."

DISTRESSING DEATH OF DR. MOTT [Dr. William Junious Mottley]

Although there were some twenty-three of our men lying wounded on the floor of the hospital, of which Dr. Phelps was surgeon, yet for three days none of them had had their wounds dressed a second time, except for four or five who had been attended by their regular surgeon. Dr. Anson Jones, who was attending on Dr. Mott, desired my presence, and I readily assented. Poor Mott, I never can forget him! It was but a few days I before, while awaiting our chance to cross the bayou on our first arrival opposite Harrisburgh, that I saw young Mott reclining his head on Rusk's shoulder while seated on the bank. It reminded me of an affectionate son lying on the bosom of a father. Mott was rarely ever out of sight of the one in whom he reposed all his hopes. Colonel Rusk appeared equally attached to him.

As I entered the little room where he lay, he cast on me one of those looks of deep distress that too often speak of despondency to the physician. Extending my hand to him I felt his tremulous grasp, as he said, "Doctor, I am a gone case." Alas! what could I say? Dr. Jones was by him, doing all that could be done to allay his sufferings, but all was in vain. He had been shot through the abdomen, and his bowels were so much lacerated that mortification was now taking place, this being the third day. He was begging constantly for drink, but nothing could remain on his stomach. "O God!" he said. "Do stop my vomiting!" "My friend," said I, "your time is come! God above can help you, for we cannot." "Must I die?" he said. "It is your lot now to part from us; but what have you to dread?" "Nothing, nothing, nothing!" said he. The scene was too painful---I turned away. He scarcely spoke after, and died that night.


Next I saw Mr. Trask lying on the floor with his thigh broken, he having been wounded on the 20th. As I shook hands with him, he remarked that his sufferings were hourly increasing. When I stated to him my firm belief that he had a copper ball in his leg that caused his suffering, he said, "As the cannon fired, I felt my thigh painful, but can't say whether it is of copper." Passing from one to another, I encouraged them all I could. Those whose friends had come for them were greatly cheered at the prospect of being at home in a few days. Those who had friends in Texas were daily being called upon by them, and the number of patients in the hospital was fast diminishing; and it was fortunate, for we had nothing fit to give them. Beef tea and hard biscuit, brought up by Colonel Morgan, was all we had for them, and that without salt. [Death of Trask]


The boat that brought us these supplies appeared in sight, I believe, on the 23rd; and when the smoke was seen at a distance, we were all anxious to know what it was, though we had very little doubt it was sent by the government from Galveston with supplies and reinforcements. The steamer arrived at the landing with some thirty resolute looking men, mostly strangers. Colonel James Morgan was the commander, assisted by Prior Bryant. They had expected to have to fight their way through the enemy, and the sides of the boat were therefore piled up with cotton bales for protection. The men were completely armed cap--pie, and would, doubtless, have made a good fight; but they had heard of our victory at New Washington, where Colonel Morgan witnessed the sad sight of his town in smoldering ruins. This steamer returned immediately, and brought up the colonists, together with more provisions.


The wounded having been removed to Zavalla's Point, my duties required me also to cross over, and there I found destitution on all sides. I stated to Colonel Hockley the necessity of providing bandages, salves, etc., as there was nothing of the kind on hand. While I was searching a pile of plunder taken from the battlefield, taking some sheets for bandages, some young man examining the Mexican pistols accidentally touched the trigger of one of them, causing it to discharge a ball which grazed the chin of Colonel Handy and entered his left arm while he sat writing and taking inventory of the articles. He fell, though not dangerously wounded; and the burning wad, falling on some cartridges, caused over twenty cartridge boxes to explode, scattering the fragments in every direction. I seized a bucket on the bank of the bayou close by and, filling it with water, dashed it over the burning combustible and stopped any further explosion.

After further examination of the plunder, I found a good supply of beeswax and tallow, which served my purpose, for the time, for making salves. The amount of plunder taken from the Mexicans was immense. It included several hundred horses and mules, six hundred muskets, three hundred sabers, two hundred pistols and nearly $12,000 in specie. Among the staff loss by the Mexican army there were killed; one general, four colonels, two lieutenant-colonels, five captains and twelve lieutenants; wounded: five colonels, three lieutenant-colonels and two second-lieutenant-colonels, seven captains and one cadet; prisoners: President-General Santa Anna, General Cos, four colonels, aides to Santa Anna, and the colonel of the Guerrero Battalion. General Cos was not captured until April 24th. It was decided the $12,000 was to be distributed among the captors. The blankets, saddles, horses, pistols and muskets etc., were sold at auction, but I do not know what became of the proceeds. Colonel Lamar was the highest bidder for Santa Anna's saddle, his bid I believe, being $300. It was richly mounted with silver. Some friends of General Sam Houston claimed it for him but Lamar insisted on his right to his purchase, contending also that he had done as much as Houston to secure victory. I understand that $3,000 were voted to the navy.


One day Dr. Phelps, being about to leave for his place on the Brazos, requested me to take charge of some eight or nine of the wounded, thus adding to my labors. Among others, he pointed out to me a Mexican officer wounded on the 20th, on whom Dr. Cooper had been attending. Learning that this officer had been present at the storming of the Alamo, I desired him to give me a statement of the facts connected with that event, which had happened but a few weeks before, and about which our information was vague and uncertain. He first made some inquiries of the details of the battle of the 21st, the number of killed, wounded, etc., asking the names of the Mexican officers that had been taken prisoners and had been killed.

"Is General Castrion alive?" said he. "No," said I, "his body has been identified on the battlefield, his breast and both arms pierced with balls." "Poor Castrion," said he, the tears coming into his eyes, "he was a good man. Can you have him buried? He was opposed to Santa Anna exposing himself as he did, by going in advance of his main army; but Santa Anna would not listen to him. When you opened on us on the twentieth, I was in the act of putting my foot in the stirrup, when a slugshot struck my hip, tearing off the flesh, as you see. Santa Anna was near me, but paid no regard to me, as Castrion was then warning him of our probable defeat. Although young, Castrion was best general in our army. And as regards the slaughter of the Alamo, Castrillo was opposed to putting the men to death."

"One night, past midnight, when Santa Anna and Castrion were planning an assault, Santa Anna declared that none should survive. It was then inevitable that the fort could hold out but little longer, and Castrion was persuading the commander to spare the lives of the men. Santa Anna was holding in his hand the leg of a chicken which he was eating, and holding it up, he said, `What are the lives of soldiers than of so many chickens? I tell you, the Alamo must fall, and my orders must be obeyed at all hazards. If our soldiers are driven back, the next line in their rear must force those before them forward, and compel them to scale the walls, cost what it may."

"I was then acting as Santa Anna's secretary, and ranked as colonel. My name is Urissa. After eating, Santa Anna directed me to write out his orders, to the effect that all companies should be brought out early, declaring that he would take his breakfast in the fort the next morning. His orders were dispatched, and I retired. I soon after heard the opening fire. By daybreak our soldiers had made a breach, and I understand the garrison had all been killed. At about eight o'clock I went into the fort, and saw Santa Anna walking to and fro. As I bowed, he said to me, pointing to the dead, `These are the chickens. Much blood has been shed; but the battle is over; it was but a small affair.' "As I was surveying the dreadful scene before us, I observed Castrion coming out of the quarters leading a venerable-looking old man by the hand; he was tall, his face was red, and he stooped forward as he walked. The President stopped abruptly when Castrion, leaving his prisoner, advanced some four or five paces towards us and, with a graceful bow, said, `My General, I have spared the life of this venerable old man, and taken him prisoner.'"

"Raising his head, Santa Anna replied, `What right have you to disobey my orders? I want no prisoners?'; and, waving his hand to a file of soldiers, he said, `Soldiers, shoot that man!' and almost instantly he fell, pierced with a volley of balls." Castrion turned aside with tears in his eyes, and my heart was too full to speak. So that was why there was not a man left! Even a cat that was soon after seen running through the fort was shot, as the soldier exclaimed, 'It is not a cat, but an American.'" "What was that old man's name?" said I. "I believe," said he, "they called him `Coket."'

At that time we knew very little of David Crockett passing through Nacogdoches in the month of February to join the army, with some fifteen others. But I have never since had any doubt but Urissa's account gave the fate of Crockett truly. This statement was made some four or five days after the battle of the 21st, and Urissa could have had no motive to misrepresent the facts.


Dr. Phelps having left, I was now left alone to attend the wounded, and poor Trask again desired me not to abandon him. "Doctor," he said, "I resign myself into your hands. You advised me, the other day, to have my leg cut off, but Doctor Phelps thought there was no necessity for it, yet I am daily wasting away, and must soon die if you cannot give me relief." I again advised him to have his leg amputated, as I believed there was a copper ball lodged in it. Next day, I mounted my horse to go for amputating instruments. The camp had now been removed to Harrisburgh, and most of the surgeons had dispersed, and the case of instruments was also gone. I mentioned this state of things to General Rusk; but as we heard soon after that three of Trask's friends had come to take him away, Rusk gave me orders, in writing, to follow the prisoners to Galveston, taking with me as many of the wounded as the boat would carry, and to report myself to Colonel Morgan.

Returning across the bayou at once, to prepare for the duties now assigned me, I was just in time to see Trask placed on board the steamer, in charge of his friends. I urged on them the necessity of speedy amputation, and calling on the captain of the Mexican artillery, proved by him that all the grape they fired were four-ounce copper balls. I wrote a note to the surgeon in Galveston not to delay the amputation. Trask was as brave a man as we had, but was sadly neglected. After some three weeks of suffering, a consultation finally decided it was too late to perform the operation of amputation. After his death, the copper ball was found in his right knee. Thus was lost a noble and brave young man. His father, in New York, having heard of his son's wound, arrived in Galveston only a few days after his death.


In obedience to the orders given me by General Rusk, to report to Galveston with the prisoners, I set out, proceeding by way of Anahuac, to see my family, as I was permitted to do, two weeks being allowed me for that purpose. My wife and two children had, with all the other families, fled for safety towards the Sabine; but having reached the Neches at Beaumont, they found that river had overflowed its banks, and they were unable to proceed farther. Some three hundred families were there collected together, and the ground where they encamped, being wet and muddy, caused much sickness, and dysentery, measles and whooping cough spread among them all, carrying away many children as well as some grown persons. My two children did not escape.

The news of our victory was received among them with many demonstrations of rejoicing and thankfulness to God for our deliverance. And reaching my house, I found my wife had returned with others, and had only been able to find a few pieces of bacon left. My premises had been pillaged by the passers-by for food, and my cattle had been killed. All that could be found to subsist upon was a few pieces of bacon and the milk of the few cows left. The nearest place where food could be had was Galveston, and there all the stores had been broken up for the army; but after a while, Colonel Morgan sent up some little bread and flour, to be distributed to those who had none. Deprived of all wholesome food, pains again returned worse than ever, and for one week I lost all consciousness. On recovering, I found my hearing departed---I was deaf. This privation, caused by exposure in that campaign, has continued ever since, with only occasional partial relief, and I pray God it may not be worse.

Colonel Morgan, hearing of my sickness, the loss of my child (a son), burning of one of my houses, etc., wrote me a kind letter, desiring me to remain at home till my strength was recruited, and to await further orders. This was the last of my campaign. My pay and discharge, amounting to about $300, I sold for $24, in order to relieve my pressing wants. My horse, worth $150, was taken while I was on duty, and used afterwards as a government horse. Two other horses were taken from my place while I was absent by men who said they had orders from President Burnet to take them, but they would show no authority; and when they left, they rode to the east. Because of my opposition to Bradburn, while employed as a surgeon to the garrison, he refused to sign my claim for services; thereby I lost $1,100. My loss, jointly with Charles Wilcox, for supplies we furnished the troops to enable them to leave the country, amounted to $3,000. No compensation has ever been made me for any of these losses. During my residence of over twenty-six years in Texas, the government has passed through three transitions, and I have been a citizen under five flags. But of these private losses I make no complaint. I merely mention them to illustrate the condition of the country, as hundreds of others were, doubtless, similarly situated. These things are now among the reminiscences of the past.

I give you this memorial of facts and occurrences my own knowledge in order to contribute my mite to that most active and decisive mass of materials from living witnesses, enabling the future historian to furnish a true and impartial history of the country.

1997-2001, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved