by Tom G Glass
I did not know about the Battle of Medina until just a few years ago. What is mind boggling about that is that it was the bloodiest battle in Texas history, and yet very few know about it. The battle occurred on August 18, 1813.
The battle was a fascinating confluence of the extended fight for independence of Mexico from Spain with early extension of American power under the Monroe Doctrine.
The other fascinating part of this story is that this was the first time that Texas was an independent republic. The first Republic of Texas only lasted for 4 months from April 6, 1813 until the battle on August 18.
The whole independence attempt was kicked off by Jose Bernardo Gutierrez when he was commissioned to seek aid for the Mexican war for independence in Washington, D.C. He met with then Secretary of State, James Monroe. In a move smacking of plausible deniability and Mission Impossible, a U.S. Army Lieutenant, Augustus Magee, third in his class at West Point, resigned his commission in the Army and joined up with Gutierrez to recruit an army of frontiersmen to help Texas win its independence from Spain.
This Gutierrez-Magee expedition kicked off on August 8, 1812. The force captured Nacogdoches, then Trinidad on the Trinity River, then Goliad and the fort there, La Bahia. There was a lot of fighting at Goliad, but finally the force captured San Antonio and Texas declared independence from Spain and became an independent Republic on April 6, 1813.
But then, the empire struck back. Joaquin de Arredondo, the Spanish government leader of the area raised an army around 1,800 men and marched on San Antonio to take on an army of 1,400 made up of militia from San Antonio and surrounding area, the American frontiersmen, some Indians, and deserters from the Spanish Army.
Magee had died of fever during the invasion, so the commander of the republicans was led by a new general, Jose Alvarez de Toledo. Toledo wanted to ambush Arredondo on the way to San Antonio, so the battle was fought in Atascosa County south of San Antonio close to the Medina River in land that was very sandy with intermittent scrub oak.
The battle was a close run thing. At one point the republicans captured several batteries of the royalists and were flanking them, too. Arredondo had issued orders to retreat until a republican defector told him that the republicans were very tired and thirsty from fighting through the sand on the hot August day. But finally, the republicans broke, and it became a slaughter. Only 100 of the 1,400 republicans who went into battle survived. The royalists lost only 55.
The treatment of the people of San Antonio by Arredondo was horrendous. The remains of the republican dead were left to rot on the battlefield and remained there until Mexico finally won its independence in 1821. When the royalists marched into San Antonio after the battle, they pulled 327 local San Antonio men into the streets and shot them. They turned out their children into the streets without parents because the widows were put into a prison where they were repeatedly raped and beaten. Arredondo sent a force to chase down native Tejanos running away and gave them similar treatment when caught. And then they repeated the drill to a lesser extent in Nacogdoches.
This memory must have been burned into the survivors in San Antonio. Knowing this history makes me admire even greater the heroism of Juan Seguin and his Tejano fighters from San Antonio in the 1835-36 revolution, just 22 years later.
And there is one other mind-blowing revelation about this battle. There was a young officer in Arredondo’s royalist army that learned the brutal methods of Arredondo very well. That officer’s name was Santa Anna.