"The Battle of the Brazos"

Sam Houston's First Battlefield Selection

In the Texas War for Independence

by Kameron K. Searle

Sam Houston Quote Reported by J. H. Kuykendall 

He then said, "My friends, I am told that evil disposed persons have reported that I am going to march you to the Redlands.  This is false.  I am going to march you into the Brazos bottom near Groce's, to a position where you can whip the enemy ten to one, and where we can get an abundant supply of corn from Lake creek."

J. H. Kuykendall Quoting General Sam Houston

From "The San Jacinto Campaign" by Eugene C. Barker

Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association,

Volume IV, No. 4, p. 300 

 

Mirabeau B. Lamar to His Brother

I leave in the morning for the army: a dreadful Battle is to be fought in three or four days on the Brazos, decisive of the fate of Texas; I shall of course have to be in it...Houston's army has retreated from the Colorado to the Brazos: the Mexican army is in San Felipe, ours is 20 miles from them; they will come together in a few days, I shall reach Houston day after tomorrow, a distance from this place about 50 miles.

From Letter Written by Mirabeau B. Lamar to his Brother

Harrisburg, Texas 

April 10, 1836

 

   This web page has only recently begun construction. Be sure to bookmark this page and check back regularly.  Last updated January 25, 2012. As always, my research is being made available to other researchers before final publication in order to make the information available for historical research of this period in the Texas Revolution.  My goal is the most historically accurate Texas history possible for the students of Texas history. KKS

"The Battle of the Brazos"

   Most histories of the Texas Revolution describe the time spent by the Texas army at Groce's plantation as merely an opportunity for General Sam Houston to try and whip his rag-tag accumulation of volunteers (mostly farmers and frontiersmen) into something resembling an army.  Houston spent the longest part of the San Jacinto Campaign (about two weeks) at Groce's plantation.  This and other important facts surrounding Houston's presence at Groce's have been mostly overlooked for more than 100 years.  A review of primary sources and early historical accounts would suggest something much more important than training the Texas army almost occurred there.

   This article is about a battle that never took place - "The Battle of the Brazos."  While researching the history of the early Texas settlement known as the Lake Creek Settlement, the author ran across a statement made by Sam Houston which was later reported by J. H. Kuykendall.  This quote has caused the author to re-think what he thought he knew about the Sam Houston's military strategy during the Texas Revolution prior to the Battle of San Jacinto.  It appears the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution almost happened along the Brazos River and not upon the field of San Jacinto.  This was Sam Houston's intention and many Texans in late March and early April of 1836 believed the decisive battle between the Texians and the Mexicans would occur on the Brazos.

 

1836 Recollections of J. H. Kuykendall

   J. H. Kuykendall, a soldier in the army of the Republic of Texas was with Sam Houston during his tactical retreat from Gonzales in 1836.  J. H. Kuykendall provided the following quote from Sam Houston:

He then said, "My friends, I am told that evil disposed persons have reported that I am going to march you to the Redlands.  This is false.  I am going to march you into the Brazos bottom near Groce's, to a position where you can whip the enemy ten to one, and where we can get an abundant supply of corn from Lake creek."

   J. H. Kuykendall, "Recollections of the Campaign," quoted in Eugene C. Barker's article "The San Jacinto Campaign,"  Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association, Volume IV, p. 300.  

 

Quote from an Express from Sam Houston Dated March 31, 1836

Sam Houston - Niles Weekly Register

FROM TEXAS

Copy of an express from Samuel Houston, commander-in-chief of the Texian army.

Headquarters, west of the Brasos, March 31, 1836

To the people east of Brasos:

   My encampment is preparing on the west of the Brasos, where I shall wait for some supplies and reinforcements.  My intention never has been to cross the Brasos, and the false reports spread are by men who have basely deserted the army of Texas.

...We will whip them soon.

 

   See the Niles Weekly Register, Baltimore, May 7, 1836, Volume [complete this site] Here Houston states emphatically that "My intention never has been to cross the Brasos."

   In The Papers of the Texas Revolution 1835-1836, Volume 5, page 253, item # 2495, John H. Jenkins general editor, Presidial Press, Austin 1973, we find the entire text of Sam Houston's message to the People of Texas transcribed.

   To get some idea of the location of the Texas army camp on the west bank of the Brazos River, see this link prepared by Texas historian David Pomeroy  http://earlytexashistory.com/Tx1836/camp13.html .

[2495]

[HOUSTON to the PEOPLE]

Headquarters West of the Brazos 31st March, 1836

To the people East of the Brazos

   My encampment is preparing on the West of the Brazos, where I shall wait for some supplies and reinforcements.  My intention never has been to cross the Brazos; and the false reports spread are by men who have basely deserted the army of Texas.

   Let men from the East pass on to the army and cross over at Groces.  If men will unite with the present force we can defeat and capture the enemy.  The army of the enemy has been represented at 10 to 30,000 men, when indeed it never has exceeded 3 or 4,000 in Texas.

   And the force that attacked Fannin was only 1,500, but he had only 320 men.  They fought in the prairie where they had no water, and where they surrendered to him.  The enemy cavalry are not numerous, as stated and their infantry are men pressed into service, and convicts from prisons.  Their army is encumbered by women and children.  Let the men of the East come to our aid and bring all deserters with them.  Aid from the United States is landing on our coast.  Capt. Brown with one of our vessels has taken a Mexican vessel with 420 barrels of flour, 300 kegs of powder, and other supplies for the army.

   My spies report this morning that the observations made by them last night could discover nothing of the enemy for ten miles beyond Bayou St. Bernard, twenty-five miles beyond San Felipe.

   The citizens of San Felipe, when they heard it rumored that the enemy had crossed the Colorado, immediately set fire to their own houses and reduced the place to ashes.  Let the people not be any longer in dread of danger, if the men will turn out like men.

Sam Houston Commander in Chief

   P.S.  My spies have just returned and report the enemy in a few miles of San Felipe, 800 or 1,000 men only, and only 30 cavalry.  We will whip them soon.

S.H. (4 o'clock, March 31st.)

 

   The post script of the letter advises us that the Mexicans are now "in a few miles of San Felipe."  Houston advises that it was never his intention to cross the Brazos and he tells men coming to the army to pass over at Groce's.  The last line of the letter states Houston's clear intention when he writes, "We will whip them soon."  He is drawing the reinforcements to him at Groce's on the west side of the Brazos with intention of fighting soon.  Houston has stopped retreating and is waiting for Santa Anna to come to him for battle.

 

 

The Mexican Army Arrives in San Felipe

   By April 7, 1836, the advance of Mexican army arrived in San Felipe de Austin.  Sam Houston provided this information to his troops in Army Orders  dated April 7, 1836.

 

[2620]

[HOUSTON ARMY ORDERS]

Headquarters of the Army, Camp West of Brazos, April 7, 1836

Army Orders

The advance of the enemy is at San Felipe.  The moment for which we have waited with anxiety and interest, is fast approaching.  The victims of the Alamo, and the names of those who were murdered at Goliad, call for cool, deliberate vengeance.  Strict discipline, order, and subordination, will insure us the victory

The army will be in readiness at a moment's warning.  The field officers have the immediate  execution of this order in charge for their respective commands.

Sam Houston Commander-in-Chief

    See Papers of Texas Revolution, Volume 5, page 360, item 2620.

April 10, 1836 - Mirabeau B. Lamar to His Brother, Jefferson Lamar

Lamar to His Brother - A Decisive Battle Is To Be Fought

Texas State Library and Archives

Mirabeau B. Lamar Papers #351

 

Harrisburg 10th April 1836

Dear Brother

   I leave in the morning for the army: a dreadful Battle is to be fought in three or four days on the Brazos, decisive of the fate of Texas; I shall of course have to be in it.

 

Houston's army has retreated from the Colorado to the Brazos: the Mexican army is in San Felipe, ours is 20 miles from them; they will come together in a few days, I shall reach Houston day after tomorrow, a distance from this place about 50 miles.

 

Latest From Texas

LATEST FROM TEXAS

   The Louisiana Advertiser of April 23rd brings us the following:

   We learn by a gentleman of the name of Slaughter, who came passenger in the steamer Privateer, from Natchitoches, (and only five days from Texas,) that General Houston is at present encamped on the west side of the Brazos, opposite the plantation of Leonard Gross, in a well timbered bottom, and in a position to conquer 10,000 of the enemy; besides, he can be supplied with provisions and stores by steamboats.  At present the steamer Yellow Stone is engaged in that way.  Santa Anna is at San Antonio, and our informant confidently asserts that the whole of his force in Texas does not exceed 2500 men.  The only reason General Houston does not attack him is the want of arms and ammunition, and his being wholly destitute of artillery.  Santa Anna's advance guard, consisting of 230 men were within 25 miles of Houston's encampment; and it was the General's intention to cut them off, for which purpose he is pressing all the horses within reach, and had about 500 when Mr. Slaughter left.

    See The Mercury, New York, Thursday, May 12, 1836, Volume VIII, Number 19, Page 2. Here Slaughter makes a report very similar to J. H. Kuykendall.  J. H. Kuykendall stated that Houston said, "I am going to march you into the Brazos bottom near Groce's, to a position where you can whip the enemy ten to on." Slaughter reported that Houston was "encamped on the west side of the Brazos, opposite the plantation of Leonard Gross, in a well timbered bottom, and in a position to conquer 10,000 of the enemy."

 

Many Joined Texas Army at Groce's

   Many troops joined Houston's army at Groce's. Not just Mirabeau B. Lamar. Many of the volunteers from the Lake Creek Settlement joined Sam Houston's army at Groce's. Give examples.

 

Waiting on the Twin Sisters

   Upon his arrival at San Felipe, Houston had no artillery.  One of the things that Houston was doing on the west bank of the Brazos was waiting for two artillery pieces.  

 

Why "The Battle of the Brazos" Did not Happen

   The Battle of the Brazos did not occur for at least two important reasons:

  1. The Weather [compounded outbreak of by measles]
  2. Santa Anna Did Not Follow Houston and the Texian Army North.

 

An 1837 Historical Account

   At least one very early historical account of the Texas Revolution records the activities of Houston at Groce's in accord with the primary sources cited in this article.

1837 Article

The position now chosen by Gen. Houston, was on the west bank of the Brazos, about twenty miles above the town of San Felipe. He threw up some slight fortifications about his camp, such as time and means would permit, and waited the advance and attack of the enemy...

   See History of South America and Mexico by Senator John Milton Niles and L. T. Pease, published in 1837, page 344.

 

Time Line

  • March 6, 1836 - Not knowing the Alamo had already fallen, Sam Houston leaves the Convention at Washington to assist the defenders of the Alamo.
  • Sam Houston arrives in Gonzalez
  • Sam Houston receives the news that the Alamo has fallen.
  • Sam Houston begins his tactical retreat towards the east.
  • Sam Houston arrives in San Felipe.

Outline Notes

Sam Houston and Texas army arrives in San Felipe.

Not defensible

Has town burned.

Destroys/burns ferry.  This is not a step you take if you intend to cross the river.  This is key and very similar to what he did at San Jacinto later with Vince's bridge.  He cut off his men's means of escape and forced Santa Anna to stay on the same side of the river with Houston and the Texas army.

Poisons well.

Heads north to Groce's Plantation.

We have read for years that he did this to train his army which he did.  But he was training them for a fight he thought would come much earlier and happen on the west side of the Brazos near Groce's.

All Santa Anna had to do to fight Sam Houston was go north along the Brazos.

Houston's army was trapped on the west side of the Brazos river now that Houston had had the ferry destroyed.

Shepperd watches the town of San Felipe burn from east side of the river with the soldiers Houston stationed on the east died of the river.

What does Henderson Yoakum say about the period.

 

 

Houston's horse and army across only after Santa Anna heads south and Yellowstone arrives.

Similarities between San Jacinto and Houston's battle plan on the Brazos.

Houston destroyed the bridge at

 

Similarities of Battle of horseshoe Bend, San Jacinto and Battle plan for the Brazos.

Destroyed Ferry

Destroyed Bridge

Backed up against Talhosa

Backed up against the San Jacinto

Backed up against the Brazos.

 

[When did Santa anna turn south?]

Ten to one" Houston was going to fight the Mexicans in the heavily treed river bottom ala Indian style.

Sam Houston

April 3, 1836

From The Papers of the Texas Revolution 1835-1836, Jenkins, Presidial Press, Austin, 1973,

p.311

 

[2557]

[HOUSTON ORDER]

 

Head Quarters, Camp on Brazos

3rd April, 1836

Orders

Mr. J. Groce will take charge of a Grey Stallion now on the opposite side of the river, and hold him subject to the orders of the Commr in Chief of the Army - by order.

Sam Houston

Commr. In Chief

Geo. W. Hockley

Inspr. Genl.

See

 

The Yellowstone did not begin ferrying the army across until April 12, 1836.