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

1864: No Way Out

Texas Transformed by War

C.G. Wood to J.E. McCord, October 1863

In this letter, a member of the Frontier Regiment writes of being separated from his wife and seven children for 18 months. C.G. Wood pleads to be allowed to go home, noting that his family is "nearly out of bread - no meat."

Justus W. Ferris to Pendleton Murrah, February 1864

Judge Justus W. Ferris writes of the shortage of clothing, bread, and manpower in Waxahachie and asks that the community be allowed to retain a shoemaker and enough men to bring forth a corn crop.

By the end of 1863, the great majority of adult white male Texans were away from home, serving either in the Confederate army or in various state military forces. At least 65,000 Texans served in the war, more than 10 percent of the entire population of the state. Of all American wars, only World War II saw a higher percentage of the population mobilized than the Civil War.

Women took on the responsibilities of their husbands. They managed farms and plantations and took over jobs ranging from teaching to cotton freighting to keep their family businesses going. Women made bandages and bed linens and operated hospitals and sick wards for wounded soldiers returning from the war. Women also took the lead in providing indigent families of soldiers with food, clothing, and other assistance.

The obvious marks of war lay lighter upon Texas than other southern states like Virginia, Tennessee, or Georgia. There were no major battles fought in Texas, and most Texans never laid eyes on the enemy. Nonetheless, as the war dragged on, no Texas household was untouched.

Shortages were the most obvious disruption to the everyday lives of Texans. The blockade had cut off treasured imports such as medicine, pins and needles, and candles. Newspapers gradually dwindled away for lack of paper. Manufactured goods such as clothing, shoes, and salt were going directly to the troops, while civilians patched, made do, and went without. Wartime diaries talk frequently about the yearning for coffee and experiments in making substitutes.

T.P. Debor to Governor Murrah, March 1864

Dr. T.P. Debor of Clarksville, a friend of Governor Murrah, writes to him for a permit to take cotton to the border to sell for medicine. Debor writes, "You know that I am in favor of supplying the army with medicines &c. but the people must have some too."

Affidavit on the taking of cotton by women, October 1864

Patriotism and cooperation gave way to desperation and lawlessness as the war dragged on. In the fall of 1864, there were several incidents in which groups of women stormed cotton depositories and seized bales, presumably to sell to private smugglers for cash.

Taxes spiraled upwards during the war. At first citizens were asked to contribute voluntarily to financing the war; for example, Freestone County asked its citizens to contribute 10 percent of their bacon, beef, and produce to the cause. But war expenses, plus hospital care for sick and wounded men returning home from the battles, proved too great for voluntary charity to absorb. To pay for it all, the counties were forced to impose new property and poll taxes. New state taxes included an income tax on merchants, fees on professional services, and a tax on distilling.

As the war dragged on, it became more difficult to maintain a semblance of normal life. Different burdens fell on different parts of the state. Many farmers who lived near railroads and Confederate supply centers were ruined as Confederate impressment officers stripped them of slaves, livestock, wagons, and crops. Houstonians shared their city with crowds of refugees from Galveston, Arkansas, and Louisiana. With few men around to hunt, Travis County was so overrun by birds, squirrels, and deer that the harvest was in danger, and the county had to make an emergency civilian distribution of powder and lead.

As the war entered its last year, the misery became widespread. At least two-thirds of Texas schoolhouses had closed their doors. Though basic staples such as pork and cornbread never failed, malnutrition and associated diseases such as diarrhea were on the rise, especially among the indigent wives and children of soldiers.

In some areas, outlaws ran wild. Bandits took over the Hill Country roads between Austin and Fredericksburg; Houston suffered through a wave of burglaries. Citizens struck back with vigilante justice. Fourteen people were strung up in Weatherford County, and a number of others in Parker and Gillespie counties. In Tyler, a mob stormed the courthouse and lynched four bandits.

The deteriorating conditions in Texas and other states had a direct effect on the Confederacy’s ability to continue the war. When soldiers heard about the conditions their families were facing, they deserted their posts and headed for home.

Not Everyone Suffered

Anton R. Roessler to Governor Murrah, March 1864

Anton Roessler, the chief draftsman at the state arsenal in Austin, reports that a wagonmaker was taking wheels intended for gun carriages and selling them for profit. Roessler, a Hungarian immigrant, salvaged valuable fossils and maps from being destroyed when the state's geological survey was converted to a percussion-cap factory.

John G. Walker to Pendleton Murrah, October 24, 1864

As Confederate money became worthless, several sheriffs in Texas became involved in schemes in which they arrested African Americans on the charge of being runaways, and then held them in jail until their owners paid a fine in hard currency.

The war was the making of fortunes for some individuals, especially those smart enough to invest in gold, Mexican silver dollars, or land. Sugar miller James Hawkins of Matagorda County was just one example of the breed. Hawkins purchased cotton from his neighbors at seven cents a pound and resold it at Brownsville for sixty cents. He used the proceeds to build up his land holdings from 800 acres to almost 50,000 acres. After the war, Hawkins became rich raising crops and cattle with convict labor.

More importantly, the war was the making of some Texas cities. Marshall, the unofficial capital of the Trans-Mississippi, became the financial hub of the cotton trade. There, wheeler-dealer planters and merchants worked with exiled Confederate officers, government officials, and gamblers and speculators of all stripes. Dallas, a supply depot for the Confederacy, grew from a burg of 775 to a bustling commercial center of more than 3,000. San Antonio became the northern terminus of the cotton trade with Mexico; most of the 320,000 bales of cotton shipped out of Texas during the war passed though its streets. By June 1864 the town levied a tax on each bale to pay for road and bridge construction and to remove the abandoned corpses of overworked draft animals from the streets.

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Page last modified: August 24, 2011