Conditions for the Confederate army worsened as the war dragged on. By 1863, the Texas Brigade was in Tennessee. It was common to see soldiers barefoot, men with no pants and some with no coat. Robert Campbell recorded that in late 1863, he had but one pair of pants with only one leg. Sgt. D.H. Hamilton kept the split sides of his shoes together by tying the pieces to his feet. He and some of friends learned to make rough shoes out of simple rawhide. Malachiah Reeves received rawhide shoes like this from home during winter and was thrilled. It was, he recorded, better than being barefoot. These “shoes” became known in camp as “Longstreet’s moccasins” – named for their Corps Commander, Gen. James Longstreet.
Yet, they fought on. In my time in the U.S. Army, no one would stay in a conflict with that sort of support. Even in Iraq, where we received many packages and thoughts from home, we would sometimes wonder if the folks back home remembered us. If we had to rely on “Longstreet’s Moccasins,” we would surely have despaired of support from home. Yet, the December, 1863 Confederates soldiered on.
Or, did they? The Texas Brigade, until November, 1863, was immune from the desertion rates found in other Confederate units. Letters home and diaries reflected their sense of abandonment and rejection. The desertion rate did spike between November, 1863 and March, 1864. According to Dr. Ural, during the entire war, Hood’s Texas Brigade suffered 6% desertion rate. 34% of these desertions occurred between November, 1863 and March, 1864.
To be fair, the homes in Texas were not as threatened by Yankee invaders as the homes in Virginia or Mississippi, or other Southern states. The Federal troops had not penetrated deep into Texas and had simply not burned and stolen as much in that distant state. The letters home reflect that relative lack of concern for the safety of their families. But, the Texas Brigade returned to Virginia in the Spring of 1864. Their support increased. The quality of their leadership vastly improved, as well. In time of war, those things do matter. And, some 300 soldiers returned from furlough, unauthorized leave and sick leave. Many of the returning soldiers had received wounds in prior battles and were returning for more. Yes, in the end, they did soldier on, even when all they had was “Longstreet moccasins.”
Susannah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), pp. 198-201.