- Archeological Confirmation of the Site of the Battle of Medina: A Research Note
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The August 18, 1813, Battle of Medina was initiated by a failed ambush attempt by the Republican Army of the North, which was followed by a pursuit of retreating Spanish royalist cavalry through four miles of the very sandy encinal de Medina (oak forest of Medina). Then, the republicans were surprised to come upon a line of temporary defensive breastworks protecting six hundred soldiers of a royalist infantry battalion only recently arrived from Spain, who stood their ground like seasoned veterans. The royalists were well fortified and prepared for battle with nine cannons, including some twelve-pounders. About one thousand republican infantry were caught in a partial enfilade by oblique royalist cannon fire from both flanks. A standing republican infantryman was killed about every six seconds during more than an hour of very close range combat in front of the royalist breastworks. The killing field during the Battle of Medina was there, and stretched from that spot along the road toward San Antonio de Béxar in the rout that followed. (Frontispiece)
The earliest recorded archeological evidence corroborating the location of the Medina battleground was in the 1815 diary of Juan Pedro Walker.2 During his travel from Béxar to Laredo, Walker observed skeletal remains of rebel dead from the “Campo de la Batalla de Medina” along the camino que cortaba route of a San Antonio de Béxar to Laredo Road, located west of Gallinas Creek, for a distance of about a league (about [End Page 57] 2 ½ miles) beginning a short distance north of the present-day Bexar/Atascosa County line. The southern terminus of the observed skeletal remains marked the location of the Medina battleground. The other observations of skeletal remains were mostly from those walking wounded who were killed by royalist cavalry as republicans attempted to flee along the road toward San Antonio de Béxar.
Analyses of available archival records and maps have documented the site of the August 18, 1813, Battle of Medina to be twenty-two miles south of San Antonio astride Old Pleasanton Road, the successor to the camino que cortaba route of the Béxar to Laredo Road, between present-day Bruce Road and the railroad overpass in northern Atascosa County.3 (Figure 1) The purpose of this research note is to document the archeological evidence confirming that Medina battle site.
The absolute archeological requirement for any location claimed to be the site of the Battle of Medina is evidence on the site of the mass burial in 1822 by Mexican Texas Governor José Félix Trespalacios of the skeletal remains of the hundreds of republican dead that had been left unburied on the battleground for nine years. The skeletal remains were buried with military honors near a large oak tree on the battleground, but the skulls were taken to a spot near the Medina River and buried under a pecan tree.4 José Antonio Navarro, a signer of the 1836 Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico, distinctly remembered seeing a wooden sign on an oak tree on the Medina battleground marking the site of burial of the republican dead. Almost certainly, the site of the mass burial in 1822 would have been very central to the location on the battleground of the skeletal remains. Historian John Henry Brown said that even as late as 1843 he had observed fragments of bones still lying about on the Medina battleground.5
Expert archeological opinion is that human bones buried in the battleground’s very sandy subsoil would not have survived intact for two centuries.6 Over that period of time the lightly acidic and oxygenated ground-water moving through the burial would have caused the bones to be completely dissolved. During dryer weather periods the calcium-enriched water within the burial would have moved toward the surface by capillary [End Page 58] attraction as water evaporated...