The two iconic ambrotypes displayed in this case represent distinct moments from a milestone year in Texas history – 1861. Shortly after Abraham Lincoln was elected president in December 1860, pressure mounted in Texas to secede from the Union. Governor Sam Houston, opposed to secession, refused to take any action. Prominent Texans took matters into their own hands and delegates were elected to the Secession Convention where the motion passed with an overwhelming majority. It is possible that the photograph "Seven Men Who Voted Against Secession" could have been taken by William Bridgers, who operated a studio on Pecan (now Sixth) street in Austin. Bridgers is known to have taken pictures of several members of the Secession Convention.
Three days later, the convention appointed commissioners to meet with Major General David E. Twiggs, who was headquartered in San Antonio, to demand the U.S. arms, stores, and munitions under his control. In the event that Twiggs would offer resistance, Colonel Benjamin McCulloch was commissioned to take the place by force. On February 16, McCulloch posted his men on surrounding rooftops so as to command the buildings occupied by federal troops. It is possible that the image of the San Antonio Street Scene, Soledad Street depicts these preparations. At around 7:00 a.m., McCulloch demanded the surrender of the troops and they capitulated. After hours of negotiations, Twiggs agreed that the 160 U.S. soldiers in San Antonio would surrender all public property, estimated to be worth $1.3 million.
The scene has been positively identified as a view toward the north on Soledad Street in San Antonio. The building visible in the center is the Veramendi Palace. Nineteen men can be seen on its rooftop, suggesting that the event they were witnessing was of some import. On the right side are two men on horseback with brimmed hats. The man on the left is holding what appears to be a rifle. The man on the right is holding a flag or banner on a staff. A figure in motion can be seen under the sign "Paint Shop," with more in the center of the street. It is possible that this image was taken by William DeRyee. DeRyee is known to have accompanied McCulloch on his mission to San Antonio, and is also believed to have followed the Union troops out of town to their encampment at Las Moras Creek, along with another San Antonio-based artist and photographer, Carl Iwonski.
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The Secession Convention, composed of 174 elected delegates, met in Austin on February 1, 1861 to take a roll call vote on the issue of separation. Seventy delegates responded "aye" before the first nay vote. The spectators, only a small percentage of whom were Unionist, passionately verbalized their disapproval. Seven of the eight delegates who voted against the ordinance are in this photograph. Texas was the seventh state to secede and join the Confederate States of America.
The Secession Convention in Austin approved an ordinance of secession by a vote of 166 to eight on February 1, 1861. It is believed that this scene depicts the preparations for the surrender of government stores and about 2,500 federal troops stationed in Texas under the command of General David Emanuel Twiggs to the Confederate authorities led by Colonel Ben McCulloch on February 16, 1861. The building prominently visible in the center is the Veramendi Palace, which was demolished in 1909.