Antonio López de SantaAna

views updated May 23 2018

Antonio López de SantaAna

The Mexican general and statesman Antonio López de Santa Ana (1794-1876) was often called the "man who was Mexico." An unprincipled adventurer, he dominated Mexico for some 25 years, during which he served as president six times, switching parties and ideologies at will.

The Mexican struggle for independence was as bloody and destructive as any in the Western Hemisphere. The struggle, a bitter civil war, destroyed trade, farming, communications, and commerce. The ultimate victors, conservative churchman and soldiers, had no intention of sharing their power or wealth with their millions of poor countrymen, of either Indian or mixed blood.

The three decades following independence (1821) saw a continuation of civil war as the small ranchers and farmers of the north and west tried to break the economic, political, and social stranglehold of the colonial elites. Virtually the only beneficiary of this struggle was the United States, which violently seized over 50 percent of Mexico's territory. Gen. Antonio López de Santa Ana did not cause this tragic situation or Mexico's varied problems. A vain, pompous man with great leadership qualities, he only used the contemporary chaos to personal advantage. His very character epitomized one of the most unfortunate periods in Mexican history.

Early Career

Antonio López de Santa Ana was born in Jalapa, Veracruz. His family was Spanish and Caucasian. His father, a well-to-do Veracruz mortgage broker, had estates in Jalapa. When Santa Ana was 16, the family sent him to the military academy, from which he graduated in time to serve in the royalist army against the forces of independence. He fought against Miguel Hidalgo, the priest and original leader of the independence movement, in Texas and distinguished himself in battle. Apparently a gambling scandal delayed his promotion, and by 1821, despite a distinguished record in the Spanish army, Santa Ana had reached only the rank of captain. In that year he defected to the conservative but proindependence army of Gen. Agustín de Iturbide. The grateful rebels made him first a colonel and later a brigadier general.

Santa Ana did not remain loyal for long; he was one of the first to pronounce against Iturbide's empire, seizing the port of Veracruz in the name of the 1823 revolt which ended Iturbide's short-lived imperial experiment. In 1823 Santa Ana endorsed a republic but later admitted that a Jalapa lawyer had only briefly explained to him all that he knew about republicanism. He remained a political illiterate all his life, one year a rabid Jacobin liberal, the next a monarchist.

In the late 1820s the "republican" general Santa Ana served various Mexican governments as an officer first in Yucatän and later in Veracruz. In 1827 he was one of the principal supporters of the presidential bid of independence hero Vicente Guerrero. The same year at Tampico he took the surrender of a small yellow fever-ridden Spanish force from Cuba which had attempted to invade Mexico. Now the "hero of Tampico," he became an important figure in the chaotic world of Mexican politics. The liberal Congress elected him president, and he took office in 1833 with the determined anticlerical Valentín Gómez Farías his vice president.

Presidential Career

Santa Ana's first presidency never even got started. The newly elected president pleaded sick and remained on his hacienda, Magna de Clavo, in Veracruz, leaving Gómez Farías as provisional president. The latter attacked Church and military legal privileges and attempted to reduce the army's size. Santa Ana then posed as the champion of traditional interests and overthrew Gómez Farías. Calling himself "liberator of Mexico," he assumed a dictatorship, dismissed Congress, restored military and ecclesiastical prerogatives, and exiled the leading liberals.

The result was a period of confusion: revolts and counterrevolts, with Santa Ana resigning and again taking office. In 1836 he led a Mexican army into Texas, and after some initial successes his forces were annihilated by Sam Houston at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. Santa Ana, a prisoner of the Texans, signed the Treaty of Velasco, granting the withdrawal of Mexican troops and the "independence" of Texas. During a short sojourn as a prisoner in Washington, he conferred with President Andrew Jackson and returned to Mexico in February 1837.

While imprisoned in the United States, Santa Ana had been deposed by the conservative Congress, which had abrogated his agreement with the Texans and recalled former president Anastasio Bustamante. Still somehow a national hero, Santa Ana retired to Magna de Clavo for 18 months. In November 1838 he emerged to lead a Mexican force against a French squadron bombarding San Juan de Ulúa in the "pastry war." Caught in a cannonade, he lost a leg to the invaders, a sacrifice which apparently greatly increased his political appeal. He was now the "hero of Veracruz."

In 1839, faced with a liberal revolt, President Bustamante named Santa Ana interim president, a post which he held from March to July. In a period of further confusion and fiscal bankruptcy, Santa Ana doggedly maneuvered through various alliances. By October 1841 he had returned to Mexico City, where he was once again president of Mexico by virtue of a conservative junta. This time his government lasted until 1842. He raised revenue by taxation but spent lavishly on festivals and a private army. In March 1843 he again resumed the executive and ruled until July 1844. He apparently began to see the possibilities of a monarchy as the solution to Mexico's problems.

Overthrown in 1844, Santa Ana again retreated to Veracruz. In 1845 the government captured him and exiled him to Cuba. He solicited aid from the United States, promising to amicably settle the Texas boundary dispute if he returned to power. Permitted to pass through the American blockade of the Mexican coast, he broke his promise and began to prepare Mexico for war. In December 1846 he became Mexico's president. In 1847 he once more led Mexican troops against American forces. The Mexicans, badly beaten owing in part to Santa Ana's incompetence and in part to internal quarrels, lost much valuable territory. In 1847, fleeing both his Yankee and Mexican enemies, the general took refuge on the British Island of Jamaica, but his incredible career had not yet closed. He spent 2 years in Venezuela, devoting his time to farming while Mexico sank further into chaos.

In 1853 the conservatives again seized power. Their leader, Lucas Alamán, sponsored Santa Ana as an interim president until a suitable monarch could be found. In April 1853 Santa Ana again returned as president of Mexico. But Alamán's constructive influence ended with his death in June, and Santa Ana continued to dissipate government funds. In April 1854 he signed the Gadsden Treaty, selling Arizona to the United States for $10 million. In August 1855 the liberals, led by Juan Álvarez, revolted against the increasingly corrupt regime. Santa Ana again fled. A decade later he attempted to stage yet another comeback during the European intervention, but he no longer had any following. He again went into exile but was allowed to return in 1873 to Mexico. No longer a danger, he lived out his last days in semipoverty, dying in Mexico City in June 1876.

Further Reading

Santa Ana's own account is The Eagle: The Autobiography of Santa Ana, edited by Ann Fears Crawford (trans. 1967). There is no definitive work on Santa Ana. The basic biography, although dated, is Wilfrid Hardy Callcott, Santa Ana (1936; repr. 1964); also useful is Callcott's general study Church and State in Mexico, 1822-1857 (1926). Oakah L. Jones, Santa Anna (1968), scholarly and well written, is not distinctly different from Callcott's account. Useful for a flavor of the times are the memoirs of Frances Erskine Calderón de la Barca, Life in Mexico (1843; new ed. 1966). The war with the United States and Santa Ana's role are best related in George Lockhart Rives, The United States and Mexico, 1821-1848 (2 vols., 1913; repr. 1969), and Justin H. Smith, The War with Mexico (2 vols., 1919). For life in Mexico during the war see José Fernando Ramírez, Mexico during the War with the United States, edited by Walter V. Scholes (trans. 1950). □

Santa Anna, Antonio Lopez De

views updated Jun 08 2018

Santa Anna, Antonio Lopez De (1794–1876), Mexican general and politician.An opportunist, Santa Anna shifted allegiance from party to party in Mexico. As dictator, his consolidation of power in 1835 prompted resistance in several Mexican regions, including Texas. Santa Anna took personal command of an army of 6,000 in early 1836. He made significant strategic and tactical errors in the campaign against the Texas War of Independence, which ultimately resulted in his defeat and capture at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Despite his slaughter of the defenders of the Battle of the Alamo, and the execution of those captured around Goliad, Santa Anna survived death threats and imprisonment. He returned to Mexico in time to lead resistance against the French in 1838, made a triumphal return from exile in 1846, and recruited an army of 25,000 to face the United States in the Mexican War.

Again, Santa Anna displayed more talent for rallying support and planning a campaign than for executing strategy. His only offensive of the war failed at the Battle of Buena Vista (1847), due mainly to superior U.S. artillery under Gen. Zachary Taylor.

He then implemented a plan to defend easternmost mountain passes, confining the enemy to unhealthy coastal areas. However, at Cerro Gordo (1847), Santa Anna failed to reinforce positions that were turned, resulting in a rout. He managed to collect a considerable force in retreat to Mexico City but was unable to inspire the confidence necessary for a strong resistance. Mexico City fell to Gen. Winfield Scott's army, and Santa Anna was exiled once more. He returned to rule as “perpetual dictator” from 1853 to 1855, when revolutionaries finally drove him from power.

Santa Anna's failure as a military commander resulted from a character susceptible to delusions of grandeur but lacking in trust sufficient to delegate details to sub ordinates.
[See also Mexican Revolution, U.S. Military Involvement in the.]


Antonio Santa Anna, Ann Fears Craw Ford, ed., The Eagle: The Autobiography of Santa Anna, 1988.

Paul D. Lack

San Jacinto, Battle of

views updated May 23 2018

San Jacinto, Battle of (1836).The Battle of San Ja cinto, fought near present‐day Galveston, Texas, on 21 April 1836, was shaped to a large degree by the mistakes of Mexican president and general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who after his costly victory at the Battle of the Alamo divided his remaining forces into four units. Driven by an incautious determination to capture the Texas government's leaders, his command pursued ahead of his army's other branches. He missed his political adversaries by a few hours on 19 April.

Emboldened by his numerical advantage, Texas Gen. Sam Houston and his 900 men at last turned toward the enemy's advance units and began skirmishing on 20 April. The encamped Mexican forces, trapped by a swamp to their rear, had been reinforced to twice their previous numbers and were lulled into unpreparedness by that and the lateness of the hour. Houston's order of battle in the late afternoon the next day was a thin line, supported by artillery in the middle and cavalry on its right. The assault turned into a mad rush of hand‐to‐hand combat; the engagement lasted for fewer than twenty minutes, followed by several hours of individualized killing dominated by revenge‐seeking Texans. Santa Anna was captured, along with about half of his force of over 1,300. Houston and thirty others in the army were wounded; only nine of the Texans died in battle.

San Jacinto became a turning point when the Mexican president's retreat orders were obeyed by his next in command. It proved to be the decisive battle of the Texas revolution (San Jacinto Day is a Texas holiday) as the captured Santa Anna signed a treaty pledging recognition of an independent Texas.
[See also Mexican Revolution, U.S. Military Involvement in the.]

Paul D. Lack

San Jacinto, Battle of

views updated Jun 27 2018

San Jacinto, Battle of

Battle of San Jacinto (21 April 1836), the final military action of the Texas Revolution. On 13 March 1836 the Texan forces under General Sam Houston began a retreat eastward to Louisiana, joined by hundreds of families dispossessed by the advancing Mexican army. The retreat continued until 17 April, when General Houston ordered a movement to meet the enemy. Two days later, the Texans arrived at Buffalo Bayou, where the Mexican army under President Antonio López de Santa Anna intended to pass en route to the coast. On 20 April the Texan cavalry fought a brief skirmish with Santa Anna's advance guard, while the main body of the Mexican army encamped on the plains between Buffalo Bayou and San Jacinto Bay. On the morning of 21 April the Mexican army was reinforced, and General Houston ordered the destruction of Vince's Bridge, preventing the further reinforcement or retreat of either army. That afternoon, while the Mexicans were taking their siesta, the Texans attacked. The conflict lasted only eighteen minutes but resulted in the decimation of the Mexican force and the capture of Santa Anna. Moreover, the battle secured Texas independence and nearly a million square miles of territory.

See alsoHouston, Sam; Santa Anna, Antonio López de.


Frank X. Tolbert, The Day of San Jacinto (1959).

James W. Pohl, The Battle of San Jacinto (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Brands, H. W. Lone Star Nation: How a Ragged Army of Volunteers Won the Battle for Texas Independence, and Changed America. New York: Doubleday, 2004.

Hardin, Stephen L. Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution, 1835–1836. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.

Moore, Stephen L. Eighteen Minutes: The Battle of San Jacinto and the Texas Independence Campaign. Dallas: Republic of Texas Press: Distributed by National Book Network, 2004.

Vázquez, Josefina Zoraida, and Andreas Reichstein. De la rebelión de Texas a la guerra del 47. México D.F.: Nueva Imagen, 1994.

                                      Michael R. Green

San Jacinto, Battle of

views updated May 29 2018


SAN JACINTO, BATTLE OF (21 April 1836). On 11 March 1836, five days after the defeat of the Texas revolutionaries at the Alamo, General Sam Houston retreated with 374 men from Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna's advance. Houston recruited as he retreated, while Santa Anna divided his army in pursuit. On 20 April, Houston's force, now 800 strong, intercepted Santa Anna's force of about 1,200 men at Lynch's Ferry, which crossed the San Jacinto River. Destroying a bridge protecting his own as well as the Mexicans' avenue of retreat, Houston attacked. Santa Anna's surprise was complete. A thinly held barricade was quickly overrun, and organized resistance ended within twenty minutes.

The rest was slaughter. Texas figures on enemy casualties—630 killed, 208 wounded, 730 prisoners—are inexact, the total reflecting more men than Santa Anna probably would have had on the field. Texan losses were 16 killed, 24 wounded, including Houston. Santa Anna, a prisoner, signed armistice terms under which the other divisions of his army immediately evacuated Texas.


De Bruhl, Marshall. Sword of San Jacinto: A Life of Sam Houston. New York: Random House, 1993.

Pohl, James W. The Battle of San Jacinto. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1989.

Williams, John H. Sam Houston: A Biography of the Father of Texas. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

MarquisJames/a. r.

See alsoAlamo, Siege of the ; "Remember the Alamo."

Santa Anna, Antonio López de

views updated May 29 2018

Santa Anna, Antonio López de (1794–1876) Mexican general and dictator. He was the dominant political figure in Mexico from 1823 to 1855, sometimes as president, sometimes unofficially as the result of a coup. In 1836, Santa Anna led the forces that captured the Alamo but failed to subdue the rebellion in Texas. He regained power following gallant action against a French raid on Vera Cruz (1838). After his failure in the Mexican War (1846–48), he went into exile. He returned to power in 1853, but was overthrown in 1855.

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