The Civil War in Texas: An Exhibit from the Texas State Library and Archives
Before the War 1860: Big Trouble Secession! 1861: Opening Act Dissent
1862: Fiery Trial 1863: The Tide Turns 1864: No Way Out End of the Ordeal Further Reading

1862: Fiery Trial

Francis R. Lubbock to Earl Van Dorn, February 1862

Here Governor Lubbock writes of the "impossibility" of raising as many troops as the Confederacy has requested.

The reality of the war hit Texas and the rest of the South hard in 1862. Early in the year, the Confederates lost two critical western forts, Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland. In March, Confederate forces were badly beaten at Pea Ridge, Arkansas. These Union victories cemented federal control of Missouri and gave the Yankees leverage to hammer a wedge between the western Confederacy and the rest of the South.

Some commanders on both sides believed that if the armies could only meet in one huge battle, the war could be decided. The Battle of Shiloh, fought in Mississippi in April 1862, showed the folly of that notion beyond a shadow of a doubt. The bloody toll was 23,000 casualties, more than the American Revolution, War of 1812, and Mexican War combined. For Texans, the losses included Albert Sidney Johnston, the Confederate commander at the battle and a famous veteran officer of the Texas army.

Just ten days after the disaster at Shiloh, the Confederate Congress passed the first conscription law in the South. All white men between the ages of 18 and 35 were ordered to report for military service.

Conscription

Draft petition for Alexander Schecke, April 1862

Draft exemption for John Vogle, December 1862
In addition to the exemptions provided by law, communities could petition for men to be exempted from the draft if they provided an irreplacable community service. This petition from Fayette Country requests an exemption for Alexander Schecke, a miller. This certificate shows that John Vogle, a waggoner, was exempted as a result of a petition by his Caldwell County neighbors.

The first Confederate conscription act came in April 1862, after the Battle of Shiloh made it clear that the war was not going to come to a quick end. The law called men ages 18 to 35 into service, with a raft of exemptions for government officials, railroad workers, clergymen, schoolteachers, and others. A draftee could also hire a substitute to serve in his place. Later in 1862, the Confederate Congress raised the draft age to 45 but added generous exemptions for slaveholders who owned more than 20 slaves.

Conscription met with immediate loathing in Texas and other Southern states, which considered the draft a violation of the states’ rights for which the Confederacy was supposedly founded. Because of the exemptions, some of the richest counties in Texas contributed the fewest men to the fighting. The burden fell heaviest on small farmers, whose departure for the war often left their families indigent. Texas state officials argued for an exemption for militiamen living in frontier counties where they were needed to defend against Indian attacks. This conflict was never resolved.

Conscription grew even more unpopular after December 1863, when the draft age was lowered to 17. The Texas legislature tried to shelter as many men as possible in the state forces by creating the Frontier Organization, which enrolled the men of frontier counties for defense purposes and made one-quarter of them active at any given time. Texas also reserved able-bodied men living elsewhere in Texas for state militia use.

During the crisis of the Red River campaign, General Magruder ordered the enrollment of the entire state militia into Confederate Service. Governor Murrah responded that it was not clear that Texas was the target of the Union move out of Louisiana and refused to turn the troops loose. Magruder, armed with a new conscription law that raised the upper end of the draft age to 50 and put some teeth in enforcement, told the governor he would take the men by force if he had to. Under pressure, Murrah finally conceded the point and allowed Confederate conscription officers to resume the draft in non-frontier counties.

Nevertheless, what one historian called “a weary mood of lawless apathy” hampered recruitment, and many men continued to resist the draft on an individual level, with some even going to Mexio to avoid service.

War on the Texas Coast

Philip C. Tucker to Francis R. Lubbock, October 1862

T.A. Harris to Francis R. Lubbock, October 1862

In this letter, Major Philip Tucker of Galveston briefs Governor Lubbock on the evacuation of civilians from Galveston and the desperate plight of those left behind. General T.A. Harris wrote to Lubbock in October 1862 detailing the consequences for defense of the Texas coast now that Galveston and Sabine Pass were in federal hands.

Tales of Confederate blockade runners are some of the most colorful stories of the Civil War. Historians estimate that the swift little ships penetrated the Union blockade of the Texas coast more than a thousand times during the course of the war, spiriting cotton out to Havana and returning with military goods such as iron, army blankets and clothing, and weapons, as well as consumer goods like needles and thread, coffee, and medicine.

Nevertheless, by the beginning of 1862 the Union blockade of Galveston was becoming noticeably more effective. The blockade runners could not even come close to meeting the state’s needs for imports or exports. As a result, most of the cotton trade moved south of the border. Matamoros boomed overnight into a major cotton trading port, and Galveston started to wither.

In May 1862, Captain Henry Eagle, the commander of the U.S.S. Santee, issued a demand for the surrender of Galveston. In preparation for battle, Paul Hébert, the Confederate military commander of Texas, ordered the evacuation of civilians from the city. Many citizens had nowhere to go. They crowded into shantytowns in Houston that were already bursting with those fleeing the war in Louisiana.

Hébert also ordered the evacuation of the town’s livestock, supplies, and cannon to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. He knew the city’s defenses were “useless braggadocio,” and would not hold against a sustained bombardment. But as it turned out, Eagle could not follow through on his threat. His crew was badly ill with scurvy, and he was forced to abandon the blockade and sail for Boston. Those who remained in Galveston were left with their lonely wharves and deserted streets, knowing that their city was a target but not knowing when a real attack might come.

Elsewhere on the coast, Union forces were taking action. In August, a five-ship Union flotilla bombarded Corpus Christi. Confederate defenders under Major Alfred Hobby, a local secessionist who owned a general store in Refugio County, occupied old earthworks built by Zachary Taylor during the Mexican War and managed to repel the attack.

In September, three Union vessels under Lieutenant Frederick Crocker bombarded Fort Sabine at Sabine Pass, the waterway between Texas and Louisiana. The fort had been built by local residents, including many slaves, and was garrisoned by the town’s militiamen. This time the federals were more successful. They destroyed the fort, then entered the town and burned the sawmill, railroad bridge, and depot.

A yellow fever outbreak affected both sides, and the Union troops did not attempt to occupy the town. But the next month, Crocker came ashore again, this time to burn Confederate barracks and stables. Confederates checked Crocker from further advances into Texas with the hasty construction of Fort Grigsby. The mud-and-log fort was well situated overlooking the Neches River and served its purpose until Fort Griffin and Fort Manhassett could be completed to give Sabine Pass and Beaumont a more permanent defense.

In the meantime, Galveston’s turn had come at last. On October 4, four federal warships under Commander William B. Renshaw sailed into Galveston Harbor. Meeting fire from Fort Point, which guarded the harbor’s entrance, they opened fire and quickly disabled the Confederate artillery. Later they discovered that the little fort had only had one operational gun; the rest were just painted logs. Renshaw met with a Confederate representative and told him that he would either “hoist the United States flag over the city of Galveston or over its ashes.”

Galveston was defenseless. A despondent Galvestonian confided to his diary that talk of resisting the Yankees had been “all gas.” After a four-day truce to allow the remaining civilians to be evacuated, the city was surrendered.

Paul Hébert

Paul Hébert

Paul Hébert, Courtesy Generals of the American Civil War.

Paul Octave Hébert (1818-1880) was a native Louisianan who graduated first in his class at West Point in 1840. Hébert spent only five years in the army before resigning to become chief engineer for the state of Louisiana, but he returned to service during the Mexican War. Promoted to colonel for his valor at the Battle of Molino del Rey, he nonetheless left the army at the end of the war and returned to his native state, where he became a wealthy sugar planter. He served as governor of Louisiana from 1852-1856.

When Louisiana seceded, Hébert became a brigadier general in the state militia, then was appointed by Jefferson Davis to take over the Department of Texas. Hébert recognized the overriding need to defend the Texas coast and established his headquarters at Galveston. The aristocratic Hébert alienated many Texans when he put the state under martial law in May 1862 and appointed provost marshals accountable only to himself. This order was later overruled by Jefferson Davis. As Thomas North, author of a war memoir called Five Years in Texas recalled, “He preferred red-top boots and a greased rat-tail moustache to the use of good practical sense.”

In August 1862, Davis, appalled by the vigilante outbreak in Gainesville and recognizing Hébert’s ineffectiveness, transferred the general to a backwater command in North Louisiana. After the war, Hébert again took up the post of Louisiana’s state engineer and supervised the construction of the Mississippi River levees.

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Page last modified: August 23, 2011