General Santa Anna’s Early Military Life

General Santa Anna | Courtesy of Wikipedia
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Young Santa Anna in the Military | Courtesy of Wikipedia

Santa Anna is one of the foremost figures in Mexico’s national history. His long life spanning eighty years was filled with important events and persons who influenced the history of Mexico for nearly a half of a century. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was born on February 21, 1794, in the province of Vera Cruz in eastern New Spain, now modern day Mexico.1 The last decade of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century was full of chaos and dynamic changes in the relationship between Spain and its colonies. During the independence movements from 1810 to 1824, many colonies revolted against the mother country. These uprisings in Spain’s colonies aided Napoleon’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. Santa Anna was born into this era of chaos, revolution, and almost continual warfare.2

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General Santa Anna is in the Presidency | Courtesy of WIkipedia

Santa Anna intermittently became the president of Mexico. He headed the nation on eleven occasions. It is important to understand his transition from the army to the presidency. Santa Anna developed an early interest in the military life. His keen interest in the military can be easily seen in his writings from one of his early journals; he wrote in his journal thoughts he had as a child, that the army was for him “the glorious carrier of arms, feeling in a true vocation.”3 His long journey in serving his nation began at the age of sixteen, on June 9, 1810, when he joined the Spanish army. He started as an infantry soldier, and transferred to the cavalry unit eventually. The cavalry units required more experienced and skilled soldiers. His commanders could easily see his talent for warfare and strategy. After a year of training, his first military mission took place in 1811, against rebels in Nuevo Santander. Santa Anna’s first direct action was capturing and executing the bandit leader. His commanders applauded him for his courageous action. Moreover, his most distinguished activity during his early military life occurred on May 10, 1812; while fighting with insurgents, he fought ferociously and his commander lauded Santa Anna’s courageousness and called him “dignified.”4 During his battles with rebels, he suffered several wounds, specifically a severe wound on his left arm. However, his wounds did not stop him. Santa Anna fought against rebels throughout his career in the military. His service in the army was even recognized by the Spanish King, and he was promoted to second-lieutenant.5 Young Santa Anna was being promoted rapidly. In a short amount of time, he became a captain. To the experienced eye, his heroism and sagacious leadership made him a promising candidate for the General position in the Army.

Santa Anna gained much prestige in 1829 when he fought against Spain’s attempt to reconquer Mexico. During this battle, he defeated the 2,700 Spanish soldiers under command of General Barradas. After this victory, Santa Anna became known as the Hero of Tampico. This glory significantly helped him to become the President in 1831. His turbulent political life started after these promotions in the army, in which he intermittently came to power eleven times.

Santa Anna became one of the foremost figures in Mexico’s history through his courage in the military and the feeling of serving for his nation.

  1.  Oakah Jones, Santa Anna (New York, Twayne Publishers 1968), 67.
  2. Jones, Santa Anna, 67.
  3. Jones, Santa Anna, 49.
  4. Wilfrid Hardy Callcott, Santa Anna: The Story of an Enigma Who Once Was Mexico (University of Oklahoma Press, 1936), 365.
  5. Skipper Steely, Santa Anna: prisoner of war in Texas (Wright Press, 1986), 73.
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36 Comments

  • I never liked Santa Ana because of what he did at the Alamo. However, after reading this article I have no choice but to respect him. It is amazing to me how fast he progressed through the army at such a young and inexperienced age. And the article did a good job of explaining how he did so with immense detail. The quotes were also very helpful and gave a personal touch to the article.

  • I was not familiar with Santa Anna’s early life, so this was an interesting article to read. I am only familiar with his life during the Texan revolution, so it was engaging to see that he had always wanted to be a general. I do wish that the article was a bit longer, but what was here did have a good amount of information. The article does a great job of telling his early life in a way that is interesting to read.

  • This definitely could have used some more storytelling and information, the story of Santa Ana is a good one. Of course this man was more of a leader of men at arms, than he was a stabilizing politician. His central power was not enough to keep the whole of Mexico content, and not necessarily under control. Having had to go to war was partly his fault for having such restrictive policies for business. He did have Mexico’s best interest at heart, just not the head to govern effectively.

  • This article was interesting because when i learned about Santa Anna and like most Texans, especially people from San Antonio, we learn about the Alamo and later his defeat that lead to Texas’ independence from Mexico. We never really learned about his exceptional and somewhat heroic early military service that allowed him to be well respected in Mexico which later helped become President in 1831.

  • I admire how this article was written. It progressed from his lowest rank to his ending all the while explaining how he was promoted. The fact that the ranks were even in the right order is something that really aided me in being able to understand what was written. The only thing that I find that was missing was when he became a general. It was stated that he seemed promising but the article lacked where he was promoted during his military career. Nonetheless, I’m thankful for the way the patriotism was worded. Great article.

  • I really enjoyed this article, I enjoy learning more about the history of Santa Anna and what Mexico was like in the past. I enjoy hearing the Battle of the Alamo, so it was nice to learn more about the Mexican general that was involved in the war, and get to know a more personal side of him and what he did besides fight in the war.

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