The Civil War in Texas: An Exhibit from the Texas State Library and Archives

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1863: The Tide Turns - Part 2

Agony on the Frontier

In 1862, the troops that had been organized to defend the Texas frontier were converted to Confederate cavalry and transferred out of Texas. To replace them, the legislature created a new militia organization called the Frontier Regiment. Numbering nearly 1,000, the regiment occupied a string of 16 camps along the line of settlement, from the Red River to the Rio Grande.

The Frontier Regiment (renamed Texas State Troops in early 1863) remained funded by Texas despite repeated attempts by the state to get the Confederate government to take over responsibility for frontier defense in what the military called the “Northern Sub-District of Texas.” General Magruder would have loved to take control of the force—but only if he could transfer most of them to the forts he was building on the coast. This plan was unacceptable to Texas.

It didn’t take the Indians long to size up the weakness of this small, poorly supplied, and undisciplined force. In the spring and summer of 1863, Comanche and Kiowa raiders staged a series of successful raids against the frontier settlements. These raids included cattle rustling, a new innovation for the Indians, who took advantage of the demand for cattle from U.S. army contractors in Indian Territory and New Mexico.

Indians were not the only outlaws in northeast Texas. At least as far as Confederate authorities were concerned, a far greater problem was the deserters and draft dodgers who had taken refuge in the thicket country in Fannin, Hunt, Lamar, Hopkins, and present-day Delta counties. Henry McCulloch, the commander of the area, estimated that there were at least 1,000 deserters living in large camps in the thickets between Bonham, Dallas, and Gainesville.

McCulloch, all too aware of the agony the area had already suffered in Indian raids and in civil unrest during the Texas Troubles and the Great Gainesville Hanging, wanted to use persuasion to bring in the deserters and draft dodgers. But in October 1863, McCulloch had to contend with help of a kind that only added fuel to the fire. William Quantrill, the infamous Missouri raider, arrived in Texas straight from two heinous massacres in Kansas and set up camp near Sherman. Supposedly, Quantrill was to help McCulloch stop the cattle rustling and horse thieving from Indian Territory. General Kirby Smith, who once suggested that deserters should be “exterminated,” also thought that Quantrill might be just what was needed to scare the deserters out of the brush.

McCulloch didn’t agree, stating that “we cannot, as a Christian people, sanction a savage, inhuman warfare, in which men are to be shot down like dogs.” While Quantrill and his men hunted Comanches and fought among themselves (he would eventually be expelled from Texas), McCulloch painstakingly formed some of the deserters into a frontier service unit he called the “Brush Battalion.” If they would not serve the Confederacy in other theaters of the war, perhaps they could at least help restore the peace at home.

At year’s end, that goal looked further away than ever. The Comanches staged a major raid on Cooke and Montague counties, and this time, cattle rustling and horse thieving were the least of it. The Indians burned ten homes, killed a dozen people, and carried several women off into captivity. Once again the combined efforts of the state troops and the Confederates proved completely inadequate in preventing the attack or chasing down the raiders after it happened.

R.M. Gano to Francis R. Lubbock, August 1863Click on image for larger image and transcript.
Richard Montgomery Gano to Francis R. Lubbock, August 12, 1863
and Nathaniel Terry to Francis R. Lubbock, August 14, 1863 - These two letters discuss the organization of the 20th Brigade of the Texas State Troops. The Indian depredations were so frequent and bloody that it was difficult to organize the men before they took off to see to the protection of their own families.






W.J. Alexander to Jeremiah Y. Dashiell, July 1863Click on image for larger image and transcript.
W.J. Alexander to Jeremiah Y. Dashiell, July 29, 1863 - In this letter, Major W.J. Alexander of the Texas State Troops writes that deserters and renegades on the frontier had become so bold as to roam the countryside demanding meals from the citizenry.





Politics: Texas Stays the Course

As the Confederate cause grew less popular in 1863, so too did Governor Lubbock. The common people disliked his strict enforcement of the hated conscription laws. The planters were angry about military impressment of slaves. Confederate commander General Magruder had impressed hundreds of slaves into working on fortifications on the Texas coast, and some of them had died. The big planters to whom most of the slaves belonged wanted the rules to be relaxed so that their own overseers could accompany the slaves and make sure they were not abused or worked to death by the military. If Lubbock was such a great friend of Jefferson Davis, they reasoned, why couldn’t he get impressments put under state control?

The planters had better luck with the legislature, which favored their interests over Lubbock’s proposals in two key areas. The war had led to record cotton prices, which in turn led to planters giving up growing corn in favor of cotton. Lubbock worried about food shortages or even famine if the trend continued, but the legislature blocked his requests for restrictions on cotton cultivation. Similarly, Lubbock’s request for authorization to seize farm surpluses for aid to the ever-increasing number of indigent military families was also turned down. Humanitarian concerns aside, Lubbock knew that soldiers would desert and head for home if they heard their families were starving. But the rights of planters to sell to the highest bidder prevailed.

Lubbock decided not to run for reelection in 1863, choosing instead to join the Confederate army as a staff officer. A crowded field of candidates jostled to replace him. Eventually, the race narrowed to two major candidates. One was Thomas Jefferson Chambers, the old Texian who had made a surprisingly strong showing two years earlier. This time, Chambers was more anti-establishment than ever, appealing to those who wanted a return to an independent Texas. The Confederate candidate was Pendleton Murrah, a shy, frail 37-year-old Marshall attorney.

Pendleton MurrahPendleton Murrah's tuberculosis derailed his plans to serve in the Confederate Army, but his advocacy for East Texas cotton planters catapulted the relatively unknown lawyer to the governorship.

Image of Pendleton Murrah: Prints and Photographs Collection, 1981/57-33.

By the time of the election, the Confederates had lost Vicksburg and Port Hudson. The Trans-Mississippi was now virtually cut off from the rest of the Confederacy, and the situation was truly dire. The Arizona Territory had been lost. Missouri could contribute only guerrilla fighters and a government living in exile in Marshall, Texas. Louisiana was destitute, defenseless, and overrun with invading federals. Arkansas and the Indian Territory were lawless and under the control of neither side. Only Texas bore much resemblance to the state it had been before the war. All informed Texans realized that the war was going wrong, and that the brunt of responsibility for the Trans-Mississippi would fall on their shoulders.

As a relative unknown, Murrah was untainted by past controversies, and his quiet persona appealed to people looking for the right man to lead them through a wartime landscape that looked increasingly bleak. Though Chambers bettered his vote totals from 1861, Murrah won the race with 60 percent of the vote.

In a special session held before Murrah took office, Lubbock and the legislature grappled with the harsh realities of Texas’ perilous situation. A new law cracked down on Unionism and dissent by redefining treason as any act that tended to aid the enemy, regardless of whether the accused was in actual contact with the enemy. The law was aimed at speculators and deserters but was sweepingly interpreted to go so far as to include simple verbal statements against serving the Confederacy, even those made in a private conversation.

The biggest political issue was cotton. The Confederate commander of the Trans-Mississippi theater, General Kirby Smith, had been given near-dictatorial powers by Richmond to rebuild the western Confederacy and continue the war regardless of what was happening in the east. To do that, Smith needed cash, and Confederate money was nearly worthless. Furious at the way that private speculators were making fortunes off cotton while the troops went wanting for food, clothing, and ammunition, Smith began to impress Texas cotton, forcing planters to accept Confederate money and certificates and take the cotton directly to military depots. Smith also impressed teamsters and their livestock and equipment into the cause to get the cotton to Mexico.

In the past, the Texas Military Board had impressed cotton but never on the same scale as Smith. To deal with planter outrage, the legislature established the Texas Cotton Office, which it promised would direct the Confederacy’s cotton buying efforts in a manner that would be fair both to the planters and the military. Planters would be paid in land warrants. The stage was set for a serious confrontation between state and national authority.

P.L. Burquor to Francis R. Lubbock, September 1863Click on image for larger image and transcript.
P.L. Burquor to Francis R. Lubbock, September 8, 1863 - Governor Lubbock received hundreds of letters from individuals and communities asking for draft exemptions for skilled men such as blacksmiths, millers, and physicians. San Antonio Mayor P.L. Burquor begged Lubbock not to draft the last remaining policeman in the city.





W.W. Whitby to Pendleton Murrah, December 1863Click on image for larger image and transcript.
W.W. Whitby to Governor Pendleton Murrah, December 28, 1863 - By the end of 1863, the officer in charge of enrolling men in the militia for Atascosa County reported such violent resistance to the draft that he was unable to do his duty.







African-American Life

In 1860, Texas had a population of 182,000 African Americans, almost all of whom were enslaved. During the war, the slave population in Texas grew by 30,000, as slaves were sent for safekeeping from Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Many blacks arrived with their owners. Others were simply kidnapped by slave runners, especially from chaotic Louisiana.

These unfortunate refugees often found themselves with new owners. Many Texas slaveholders increased their holdings during the war, buying up slaves from slave runners or desperate owners at bargain prices. These slaveholders believed that even if the South lost, they would be offered monetary compensation to free their slaves. The African Americans were like money in the bank, a much better investment than Confederate currency.

Most blacks in Texas had little opportunity to help the Union cause or hasten their own freedom. In fact, many African-American men were impressed into Confederate service. They were never armed as soldiers, but they labored on coastal defenses and helped build railroad lines and highways (or tear them up to prevent their use by the enemy). Other blacks worked in manufacturing; for example, several hundred African Americans worked at the Chappell Hill Manufacturing Company in Jacksonville, an industrial complex that included an ironworks, sawmill, brickyard, and store.

As the war began to go badly for the Confederacy, life for the slaves grew increasingly scary. General Magruder issued an order that no African American should be allowed to remain within riding distance of Union troops, for fear they would escape and work for the Union against the Confederacy. If owners refused to evacuate the slaves, Confederate troops had orders to seize them or even shoot them rather than let them fall into enemy hands, though apparently this order was never carried out.

The slaves in Texas were officially freed on June 19, 1865, when the United States military took over Texas. Today, this date is celebrated with great festivity as the Juneteenth holiday. But at the time, African Americans found little to celebrate. The economic ruin at the end of the war meant that most were already on their own, having been discarded by their owners. As the African Americans began their new lives, they were all too aware that their struggle for freedom was only beginning.

J.L. McMeans to Francis R. Lubbock, June 1863Click on image for larger image and transcript.
J.L. McMeans to Francis R. Lubbock, June 22, 1863
- The salt works in Palestine manufactured salt for the Confederacy and civilians. In this letter, the owner, who is seeking a draft exemption, explains that he employs 25 "Negro fellows" and "know not what to do with them if you cause the boiling of salt-water to stop."



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