Full Military Honors: Why Did General Santa Anna Bury His Leg?
Antonio López de Santa Anna was a controversial yet highly influential general who had earned the title of the “ Napoleon of the West.” The period in which he lived was also sometimes referred to as the “Age of Santa Anna.” He was also an eccentric Mexican president, often blamed in Mexico for the creation of the current borderline with the US. However, he is also remembered for one of the most bizarre burials seen in history… the burial of his amputated leg.
Early Life of Santa Anna
Santa Anna was born in Xalapa, capital of the Mexican state of Veracruz, on 21 February 1794. Santa Anna belonged to a reputed family, his father was a university graduate and by profession a lawyer. While his family was not very wealthy, they were middle-class.
The prosperity of the family began in Veracruz. Santa Anna wanted to make a career in the military field, and his decision was supported by his mother. The friendly relation of Santa Anna’s mother with the governor of Veracruz enabled him to secure a military appointment even when he was underage.
Antonio López de Santa Anna (Manuel Paris / Public Domain )
During his military career, he was involved in a number of wars, including the Mexican War of Independence and the Mexican-American war. In most cases, the military adventures of Santa Anna were unwise and risky. During his time, Mexico lost a significant portion of its territory.
Forced into Retirement
Following a particularly big defeat by the Texan revolutionaries, General Santa Anna was in disgrace. Losing a province to the Texans was considered to be quite bad.
However, the signing of the treaty by Santa Anna that led to the legitimization of Texan independence was even worse in the view of his countrymen. A defeat could have been forgiven by the Mexicans but not dishonor. The general was forced to retire after bringing disgrace to his country.
However, during the Pastry War of 1838 to 1839, Santa Anna got an opportunity to redeem his reputation. After Mexico declined to pay any compensation to the citizens of France for their property damage during unrest in Mexico City, the French sent out troops to Mexico.
Mexico was also hugely in debt to France. The French created a roadblock for the Mexican ports and captured Vera Cruz, which was the main powerbase of Santa Anna. Santa Anna was forced to come out of retirement and organize the defense of the city. However, it led to the wounding of Santa Anna’s leg by cannon fire . It also resulted in the amputation of his leg.
Santa Anna was quite fond of his leg. For that reason, in 1842, four years after the Vera Cruz battle, a diva-like moment came in his life. He decided to dig up his leg and rebury it with full honors, in military fashion.
It may seem a very illogical thing to do for most people, but for him it was a moment of pride. A full-fledged funeral ceremony was held for the burial of the amputated leg. It included cannon salvos and recitation of beautiful poems, long speeches, and prayers in honor of general Santa Anna. The amputated leg was then put inside a crystal vase and buried under a Santa Paula Cemetery monument. The monument was costly and huge.
Very strategically, Santa Anna used this publicity of the funeral in order to return to power, becoming Mexico’s president. He reminded people that he had to sacrifice his leg for his country. Santa Anna was even seen holding his prosthetic leg during the parades and waving it in the air to remind people of the sacrifice he made for the country.
Sadly, the patriotic sacrifice of Santa Anna was not enough to redeem him in the eyes of the public. He was still known to be a ruthless and incompetent president who stimulated social unrest in the country. An angry mob even dug up the limb of Santa Anna in 1844 and paraded it on the streets of Mexico City.
Legacy Of The Leg
In 1847, during the Mexican-American war, American troops took the prosthetic leg of Santa Anna. Santa Anna himself succeeded in escaping somehow by desperately escaping on a nearby horse. The infantry unit of the United States captured his cork leg, which was taken by the troop back to Illinois, where it is present to this day.
Troops capture Santa Anna’s leg (Edward Williams Clay / Public Domain )
Death of Santa Anna
After his defeat in the year 1848, Santa Anna left Mexico City and lived in exile from 1855 to 1874 in the United States , Cuba, Saint Thomas, and Colombia. In the later phase of his life, he was involved in a number of businesses and gambling with the hope of earning a good amount of money and become rich. He even became passionate about cockfighting and had many roosters enter into different competitions.
In 1865, Santa Anna tried to return to Mexico but was refused. But taking advantage of the general amnesty that was issued by Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, then President, he returned to Mexico in 1874.
By then, he had become almost blind and was crippled. He died on 21 June 1876 in Mexico City at the age of 82. Santa Anna was buried in Panteón del Tepeyac cemetery with military honors.
Currently, the leg of Santa Anna is showcased in the State Military Museum in Springfield.
However, a museum in Texas had made a petition to the White House to remove the leg from the State Military Museum as Santa Anna is considered to be one of the greatest enemies of the state. Santa Anna also remains a controversial figure in Mexico City to the present day.
Top Image: Gen. Santa Anna's prosthetic leg remains on display at the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield. (Lane Christiansen / Chicago Tribune)
By Bipin Dimri
Did you know General Santa Anna held a state funeral for his amputated leg? Available at: https://history.info/did-you-know/general-santa-anna-held-state-funeral-amputated-leg/
That Time Santa Anna Held a Funeral for His Amputated Leg. Available at: https://historythings.com/time-santa-anna-held-funeral-amputated-leg/
Meet the Mexican General Who Gave His Leg a Full State Burial. Available at: https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/mexico/articles/meet-the-mexican-general-who-gave-his-leg-a-full-state-burial/