When You Lose All Your Buddies

Josh Brodesky wrote a column in the San Antonio Express-News in July, 2017, when the talk about the Confederate memorial in San Antonio was reaching a fever pitch. Mr. Brodesky mentioned several times that the Confederates were fighting for slavery. Certainly, the point of the Confederate States of America was to extend slavery and protect it as an institution. But, did the Confederate soldiers fight to maintain slavery?

I served 12 months in Iraq during the war. We lost a half dozen soldiers. One I knew well. The others I barely knew. The one was enough. It was not just losing 1SGT Saenz. It was the ripple effect on men and women I cared deeply about. Good friends of mine were devastated by the loss of Carlos Saenz. I felt this tremendous concern for the soldiers who blamed themselves for his loss. One death had all these ripple effects on the entire military unit.

What happens when you lose buddies and friends everyday? What happens when you lose all your buddies? In war, your buddies are your family. At the Battle of Antietam in 1862, Hood’s Division saw its first large scale action. At about 8:30 a.m., the Division, which included Gen. Hood’s former Texas Brigade was committed to an assault.

Casualties

The First Texas Regiment, all of 211 soldiers, went out too far. They were too aggressive. It was a rookie mistake, even if one motivated by the right reasons. The regiment on the right and left did not keep up with the Texans. The flanks of the First Texas was exposed. It was raked by fire from three sides, though their battle lasted only about 30 minutes. 182 members of the First Texas fell that morning. No one survived from Co. F. One man survived in Co. A. Co. C could claim two survivors. Co. E had a whopping three survivors. The First Texas endured an 86% casualty rate in those 30 minutes, the highest casualty rate of any regiment in a single battle during the Civil War. Andrew and Alexander Erskine, two brothers from near Seguin, Texas, were there. Andrew fell. Alexander wrote to Andrew’s wife, Ann about his sorrow, but he knew her sorrow was surely greater. Ann’s brother had been killed earlier that year at the Second Battle of Manassas. Ann was left a widow, with a ranch, a farm, a ferry and a cotton gin and six sons ranging in age from 9 months to 13 years.

Capt. William Gaston lost his brother in the same battle. He wrote his father that he would find Robert’s body, or die in the effort. Many men were wounded and left behind. He explained to his father sorrowfully that they had to withdraw, leaving many men on the battlefield. He talked about possibly resigning his commission and coming home to Texas. But, in the end, Alexander Erskine and William Gaston transferred to Confederate units back home in Texas. They could have simply gone home to the farm. But, instead they soldiered on.

Susannah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade, (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), pp. 130-131.

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