1864: No Way Out
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.
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.
Page last modified: August 24, 2011