1864: No Way Out, continued
With the rank of lieutenant colonel, Hutchins was made chief of the Texas Cotton Bureau when it was established, on December 1, 1863. Its task was the heavy one of obtaining cotton, getting it to foreign markets, and bringing back arms and supplies for the Confederate Army.
Elected to the governorship as a pro-war secessionist, Pendleton Murrah might have been expected to follow in the footsteps of Francis R. Lubbock, who had always rushed to carry out orders from the Confederate government or military commanders. However, Texas commander John Magruder and his superior, Trans-Mississippi czar Kirby Smith, soon learned that behind Murrah’s mild manners lay a fierce Texas patriotism that didn’t always translate into cooperation.
The first clash between Murrah and Magruder came over the touchy issue of slave impressment. During the Red River campaign, Magruder impressed African Americans to fortify Shreveport and Alexandria and to complete a rail line between Shreveport and Marshall. Because of the nature of the emergency, most slave owners complied without much grumbling. But a few months later, when Magruder rounded up more blacks to work on fortifications of the coast and the capital at Austin, grumbling turned to outrage and a genuine fear of crop failure. As newspaperman E.H. Cushing noted dryly, “I wish Magruder could find enough to do with fighting the enemy.”
Lubbock had been derided by his critics as a Confederate errand boy. Murrah was determined to be treated as a partner. He presented Magruder with a long list of demands before Texas would comply with the impressment order, including a requirement that Magruder justify the projects in writing, and allow overseers to accompany the slaves and ensure that they were treated decently.
A second hot-button issue was cotton impressment. Here, too, Murrah represented a defiant Texas attitude that at times turned violent. In May 1864, three Confederate impressment officers were lynched in Lavaca County. Murrah and the legislature crafted a Texas “State Plan” for cotton that undercut Confederate impressment almost completely. Instead of being forced to accept worthless Confederate money for their cotton, planters could send their cotton to Mexico in state-owned wagons, keeping half the profits for themselves while being paid for the other half in state bonds. Besides protecting planter interests, the state benefited by using the cotton proceeds to pay off treasury debt caused by the collapse of the Confederate currency. When Kirby Smith found out that cotton money was going to service Texas debt instead of being funneled into the war effort, he was outraged.
The third main conflict between civilian and military authority came over the issue of civil liberties. In October 1863, General Magruder had arrested Hempstead physician Richard Peebles and four other Unionists for distributing a pamphlet calling for an end to the war. The five men were charged with treason and thrown in jail. They petitioned the Texas Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus. Justice George F. Moore ordered their release, writing that Magruder did not have the right to arrest someone just because he did not like what they said. However, in February 1864, the Confederate Congress suspended habeas corpus (something that Lincoln had also done in the North). Though Smith did not officially suspend habeas corpus in the Trans-Mississippi, he and Magruder proceeded to deport the men to Mexico over Texas protests.
In July 1864, Governor Murrah and General Smith met in Hempstead and seem to have come to a meeting of the minds. Murrah agreed to withdraw the state cotton plan, and he ceased to protest against Smith and Magruder’s dictates. The war was going badly, and Murrah himself had become seriously ill with tuberculosis. After this trip, he was never really a strong presence in Texas politics again.
Bringing in Union Men in Texas. From Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.
At the end of 1863, the legislature created a new unit for frontier defense called the Frontier Organization. The men serving in “the flop-eared militia” were exempt from Confederate conscription, a provision that greatly angered General Magruder and led to thousands showing up to enroll. To prevent the Frontier Organization from becoming a haven for draft dodgers, enrollment was limited only to those men who were permanent residents of a frontier county before July 1863. Further immigration into the frontier counties was prohibited for the duration of the war.
Henry McCulloch continued to command Confederate forces in the area. It was difficult to say whether Indians or deserters were a bigger problem for McCulloch and his men. McCulloch was increasingly outgunned by the emboldened deserters, and he estimated that at least 25 percent of the civilian population was aiding them. McCulloch simply didn’t have the manpower to arrest them (or shoot them, as General Magruder suggested). To add insult to injury, an outlaw even stole McCulloch’s horse.
McCulloch’s efforts to organize the deserters for Indian defense also went nowhere. The so-called Brush Battalion caused so many disturbances that the unit was disbanded by March 1864. McCulloch noted in disgust, “I have never been in a country where the people were so perfectly worthless and cowardly as here.” His own side wasn’t any better. Confederate raider William Quantrill finally tore it with McCulloch when his band shot up the town of Sherman. When McCulloch issued an order for Quantrill’s arrest, the raider hightailed it for the Red River, thus ridding McCulloch of at least one headache.
The frontier counties passed an uneasy spring and summer in 1864. Small Indian raids kept everyone on edge. Rumors that the Frontier Organization had been infiltrated by Unionists led to a number of arrests and threats of another mass hanging. In the end only one man was lynched, but the outbreak caused a number of Unionists to head for Mexico.
Confederate and local authorities continued their war against the deserters in the thickets, with sometimes deadly consequences. Local militia were prone to shooting deserters on sight rather than rounding them up to be escorted to a Houston prison. McCulloch threatened to court-martial anyone who killed a prisoner, saying, “I do not desire men shot after they throw down their arms and hold up their hands.”
In October, the Kiowas and Comanches launched a major attack into Young County that became known as the Elm Creek Raid. At least 12 people were killed and seven women and children were kidnapped. The Frontier Organization proved to be too small and ineffective to protect the settlers or to give chase to the Indians. After Elm Creek, the settlers spent most of their time in forts and organized their own patrols.
Page last modified: August 25, 2011