Hispanics in the Confederate Army

In honor of Hispanic History Month, let’s talk about Hispanics and the Confederacy. Were there Hispanics in the Confederacy? Yes, there were. The highest ranking Mexican-American in the Confederacy was Santos Benavides. Santos rose to command the 33rd Texas Cavalry, known as Benavides’ Regiment. His ancestor founded the town of Laredo. His uncle served as Alcalde of the town while still under Mexican rule and later as mayor and state representative under the new Texas state government. Santos himself served as mayor prior to the war. Prior to the war, Santos led several campaigns against the Apaches and other Indians. The economy in Webb County, where Laredo was located, was ranching. Santos owned no slaves prior to the war. Indeed, there were no slaves in Webb County before the Civil War.

Santos’ biggest claim to fame was repelling the attempted Yankee incursion of Laredo in 1864. With just 44 Texas cavalrymen, he drove off 200 Texas Union soldiers under the command of the future Texas governor, Edmund Davis. During the war, Santos made it possible for the Confederacy to export cotton to Matamoros, Mexico. Matamoros was across the river from Brownsville. But, Brownsville was occupied by the Federals. Though always under-funded and lacking in food and supplies, the 33rd Texas cavalry never lost an engagement. Two of Santos’ brothers, Refugio and Cristobal, also served in the 33rd as captains.

See more about Col. Santos Benavides Texas State Historical Association here.

The Alamo Rifles

According to the Texas State Historical association, at least 2,500 Mexican Texans joined the Confederate army. Among those were Antonio Bustillos and Eugenio Navarro. They both enlisted in Capt. Samuel McAllister’s company, which became Co. K of the Sixth Texas Infantry Regiment. McCallister’s company was known as the “Alamo Rifles.” S.W. McAllister had been a city Alderman and Ranger before the war. In November, 1861, he wrote to the commander of the Texas military department saying it was hard to recruit Texans for Infantry service. They all wanted to go to war mounted.

Both Bustillos and Navarro enlisted in San Antonio in April, 1862. They joined a year after the initial patriotic rush to join. The Confederate Conscription Act of 1862 was passed on April 16, 1862. Bustillos joined on April 17, 1862, probably too soon to have been influenced by the act.

Before enlisting, Eugenio was a clerk, as was his father, Antonio. His father was not the famous Jose Antonio Navarro, who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Eugenio appears in the Confederate service records as “Eugene.” Eugenio was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and later to 1st Lieutenant. As part of the Sixth Texas Infantry, he served in the Army of Tennessee. He was captured at the Battle of Arkansas Post on Jan. 11, 1863. That battle occurred as part of the Vicksburg campaign led by Gen. John McClernand and Admiral David Porter. Eugenio was captured again at the Battle of Franklin. Eugenio’s family owned no slaves. There were 1,394 slaves in Bexar County in 1860. Bexar county was much larger in 1860 than its present borders.

After the war, Eugene Navarro served as City Clerk for San Antonio. He was described as a man of energy and as well-liked. He participated in July 4th celebrations. In 1869, at the conclusion of a town parade, Navarro read the Declaration of Independence at the popular park, San Pedro Springs.

Antonio Bustillos

Antonio Bustillos was probably the man known as Jose Antonio Martinez Bustillos. His father was known as Don Domingo Bustillos, In the 1850 census. Don Domingo owned $2,000 worth of real estate, which likely means he owned a ranch in Bexar County. Antonio was also captured at the Battle of Arkansas Post in Arkansas. He served the remainder of the war with the Sixth Texas Infantry and surrendered with the regiment in 1865. Antonio’s family owned no slaves.

It was said of the Alamo Rifles that they left San Antonio for the war with slightly less than 100 men. They came back to San Antonio after the war with less than 20 men.

Sources:

1850, 1860 U.S. census

Texas State Historical Assoc. online

San Antonio Express, June 25, 1869, p. 3, col. 1

San Antonio Express, Feb. 17, 1872, p. 2, col. 4

San Antonio Express, Feb. 9, 1902, p. 8, col. 1

Civil War Soldiers, North and South, Motivated by Patriotism

Why did the Southern and Northern soldiers fight? If we could survey both sides, what would be the results? We cannot survey those soldiers now. They are long gone. Dr. James McPherson, however, conducted a survey of sorts. In For Cause and Comrade by James McPherson (Oxford Univ. Press 1997), Dr. McPherson did the next best thing. He looked at personal letters and diaries of both Union and Confederate soldiers to ask the fundamental question, what motivated them to join, and then to remain in a very harsh military service.

Dr. McPherson reviewed the contemporary correspondence and diaries of some 647 Union soldiers and 429 Confederate soldiers. Dr. McPherson reviewed some 25,000 to 30,000 letters to prepare this study. For Cause, p. 183. Dr. McPherson is a well known Civil War historian. He received a Pulitzer for his book, Battle Cry of Freedom.

As a combat veteran I can attest that the willingness to endure hardship and danger is not an easy choice. As Dr. McPherson mentions, once the choice is first made, the typical combat soldier is forced to re-examine his choice at least two more times, once after his first battle and then again when/if he re-enlists. So, the average Confederate soldier had to choose to risk his life and the lives of his family (because life in a rural society without the men was extremely hard) about three times.

Motivated by Patriotism

According to Dr. McPherson’s study, 57% of Confederate soldiers espoused patriotic fervor for the South. That is, at the start of the war, their service was motivated by patriotism. After the South instituted conscription later in the war, that sense of patriotism only motivated 14% of soldiers.

Compare these numbers to the Union soldiers who enlisted before 1863 and the U.S. Conscription Act. Some 61% of those soldiers expressed a sense of patriotism as motivation early in the war. That numbers drops to 43% for Union soldiers who enlisted after conscription. That is, for Union soldiers joining the army after the beginning of the war, only 43% mentioned patriotism as a motivating factor.  For Cause, p. 102.

Motivated by the Slavery Issue

Some 20% of Confederate service members espoused pro-slavery views as a motivation for serving. For Cause, p. 110. When controlling for slave holding families, the author found that 33% of Confederates who came from slave-owning families expressed protecting slavery as a motivation for serving. While, among non-slave holding families, only 12% of Confederate soldiers expressed protecting slavery as a motivation for serving. But, even among those slave-holding soldiers, they preferred to talk about liberty, rights and the horrors of subjugation by the North. For Cause, p. 110.

The slavery issue is more complicated for Union soldiers. Opinion spiked considerably during the Fall, 1862 and Winter of 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation was first announced and then implemented. Pre-war professionals in their civilian occupation and officers generally were more likely to support the Proclamation. McPherson finds that overall 36% of Union soldiers supported the Proclamation, while 16% opposed it. McPherson’s sample is necessarily limited by the fact that persons most likely to write letters and diaries were the pre-war professionals and officers. He suggests the typical regiment was the 15th Iowa regiment which took a poll on the Emancipation Proclamation. Half the men endorsed it. 25% opposed it. 25% had no opinion. For Cause, pp. 123-124.

Avoiding Subjugation by the North

Many Southerners fought to avoid enslavement by the North. They believed the North sought to subjugate the South. For Cause, p. 21. Many enlisted to defend their home from the invading Yankees. For Cause, at p. 22.

John Mitchel, the Irish rebel and editor for a time of two Richmond newspapers during the war, insisted the North was seeking to subjugate the South as Great Britain had subjugated Ireland. The Republican party did evolve from the Know Nothing Party. Most Irish suspected the Republican party of harboring anti-Irish and anti-immigrant sentiment at the time.

Secession Resolutions

In assessing the motivation of the individual soldier, McPherson never discusses the secession resolutions issued by the few Southern states that did so. It is doubtful any soldier consider those resolutions in deciding whether to enlist or not.

Anecdotal Evidence

On May 18, 1865, one 1LT William T. Mumford went to the home of my ancestor’s aunt in New Orleans. Entertained by the ladies, likely, including my GGG grand-mother, the lieutenant spoke the words all veterans would like to utter when s/he first returns home, “we could not have received a warmer reception. . . . The New Orleans ladies shall long be remembered for their devoted patriotism.” My GG grandfather likely met his future wife that day.

Consider the persons likely present at that gathering. William Agar and his wife, Theresa. Their cousin, Dick Price, was a captain in the First Louisiana Heavy Artillery Regiment. This author’s ancestor, 1LT George P. Crane served in the same regiment, as did 1LT Mumford. Theresa was sister to Anastasia Crane Chism. The Crane/Chisms lived next door to the Agars. Living a block away was Theresa’s other sister, Katherine and her husband, Edward Rice. George P. Crane likely met his future wife, Katherine Judson, at this gathering. Katherine Judson was daughter to Mills Judson, a well-known and well-love merchant and banker in New Orleans. Mills was a native of Connecticut. Cyrus Chism, husband to Anastasia, was born in Maine.

William Agar and Edward Rice were both commission merchants. They sold crops for the commission. They were heavily dependent on rice, sugar and some cotton crops. Cyrus Chism sold bags and ties, often for rice crops. Mills Judson was deeply involved in general New Orleans business. By the time of 1LT Mumford’s visit, all the men and their families had gained considerable wealth from the slave based economy. William Agar, Edward Rice, and the three sisters, Theresa, Anastasia and Katherine were Irish born. Everyone present for that gathering were looking at economic ruin. Everyone present were likely to lose everything they had gained. Yet, Mumford records in his diary no despair about the loss of slavery and the slave based economy. Instead, his one mention concerned the of the “patriotism” of the ladies.

Folks claim the Confederate memorials represent Jim Crow and an attempt to intimidate blacks. But, that was not the case in San Antonio. At the dedication of the confederate memorial, John H. Reagan spoke. Judge Reagan had been the Postmaster General of the Confederacy. After the war, he urged reconciliation between the North and the South. They called him the “Old Roman” for his efforts to make peace between the two regions. Later, he became the first head of the Railroad Commission in Texas and was noted for his opposition to the unbridled power of the railroad.

As McPherson explains, his study does not mean 57% of Confederate soldiers and 61% of Union soldiers were in fact motivated hy a sense of patriotism. This study does mean 57% of Confederate soldiers and 61% of Union soldiers expressed their motivation in letters or diaries. Unlike an actual survey, the sample pool is limited to persons who chose to express their motivation at the time.  

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.

July 4 in Vicksburg

For decades, Vicksburg, Mississippi did not celebrate July 4. In 1945, as part of a wave of patriotism washing across the country, they held a “Carnival of the Confederacy.”  That celebration lasted a couple of years. Then in 1947, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower spoke in Vicksburg on July 4. And still, July 4 remained a subdued holiday in Vicksburg, through the late 1990’s.

On July 4, 1863, Confederate Gen. John C. Pemberton surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. For 47 days, the small city of 5,000 endured the Yankee siege. Although reduced to eating rats and mules, the Confederates believed they could have held out another week. But, Gen. Pemberton, a native of Pennsylvania, believed Gen. Grant would offer better terms on July 4. Although from the North, Pemberton had sided with the Confederacy during the war. His two younger brothers both served in the Union army. But, the career US Army officer had married a woman from Virginia and had spent much of his career in the south.

The Civilians

The soldiers on both sides suffered during the siege. But, it was devastating for the civilians. Much of the town is situated atop hills and bluffs overlooking the Mississippi river. Vicksburg was a thriving river port before the war. The union army was dug in, in the low lying areas surrounding the town. So, as they were shooting up hill, it was inevitable that the town bore the brunt of shot and shell.

Mary Longborough, a resident of Vicksburg, kept a diary that was later published as My Cave Life in Vicksburg. Her eyewitness accounts attest to many poignant incidents that occurred during the siege of the city:

One afternoon, amid the rush and explosion of the shells, cries and screams arose—the screams of women amid the shrieks of the falling shells. The servant boy, George…found that a negro man had been buried alive within a cave, he being alone at that time. Workmen were instantly set to deliver him, if possible; but when found, the unfortunate man had evidently been dead some little time. His wife and relations were distressed beyond measure, and filled the air with their cries and groans.”

Unexploded Ordnance

The families pitched tents in the ravines for protection. One family and their Negro servant (to use the contemporary term) pitched a tent a few hundred yards from their house in one such ravine. In the morning, as young Lucy McRae woke, she watched as a spent artillery ball rolled into their tent. She screamed. Her mother shouted to Rice, the negro servant, to take down the tent. The mother, the various children and Rice dashed to a wooden bridge to get back to town. Rice dropped the tent. The mother dropped the basket with their meager provisions. They tried to stay beneath a dirt embankment. Jumping behind trees, fences, diving into trenches, shells exploding over their heads. The children were crying, the mother praying. They finally approached the Glass Bayou bridge, indicating the edge of town. A mortar shell landed on the far end of the bridge. Mother shouted, “run!” The children all ran to their cave, where they felt safer. Finding their home later, they saw it had been struck several times, but remained intact. A minie ball had creased William’s, the father of Lucy, whiskers while he sat in the hallway of the house, but he was otherwise unhurt. This was day 34 of the siege.

That was the siege for the civilians. Today, the Vicksburg July 4 celebration is larger celebration, but these sorts of memories endure.

See a picture of the cave homes here.

Source:

A.A. Hoehling, Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege (Penn.: Stackpole Books 1996), p. 193-195.

Shooting at the Catholic Church

The siege of Vicksburg lasted 47 days. The Union forces had a clear view of the town established at the top of the hills above the Mississippi River. By Day 42 of the siege, the  Federals knew the daily habits of the town folk. The town generally avoided church. Because, church services would expose folks to enemy shot and shell. But, on the 42nd day of the siege, June 28, 1863, the Catholics wanted to attend Mass. Vicksburg, being a busy river port, had a healthy Irish population.

For reasons unknown, perhaps simple boredom, the Federals trained a battery of Parrott guns on the church early that morning. The Parrott guns were the rifled cannon pieces, more accurate than the traditional guns. The Union forces may have simply observed an unusually large number of persons in the streets. In any event, they opened up on the congregation. Several persons were struck by shrapnel. No one was killed. But, Michael Donovan, an elderly and respected member of the city, sustained lacerations to his arms as he emerged from the church. A shell penetrated the church, but miraculously did not detonate.

Source:

A.A. Hoehling, Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege (Penn.: Stackpole Books 1996), p. 237-238.

Women on the Home Front

So, how was it at home during the Civil War? In Texas, the women and children were hurting. In Lavaca County, during the winter of 1864-1865, the home front saw a complete lack of firewood. In a time, when wood for stoves and home fires was essential, there was none to be had. Inflation was high. Food was short. The state of Texas set up distribution offices for families of soldiers to receive rations. The Lavaca County distribution office said they could not make a distribution, so a group of women walked in, pistol in hand and insisted they receive their rations. The women got their rations. Lavaca County is about mid-way between San Antonio and Houston.

A bad storm hit the community and knocked down the Baptist church. In the middle of the night, women and older children went to the remains and pulled out shards of wood for fire. A male guard was there to stop them. But, the women told him there were enough women there to “whip him, so he had as well say nothing.” He laughed and said he liked their “spunk.” The women replied they would tie him hand and foot if he interfered with them.

The Mill

In the same part of Texas, some of the poor women went to a miller and asked him for a small portion of whatever he was preparing for the wealthier families. He refused. Some of the women then guarded him with their weapons, while other women filled their sacks. As one woman said years later, “Be assured that it was the women that protected themselves in this war and not the men.”

As hard as living conditions were back home, one historian says that of the hundreds of letters between the families and their soldiers in the Texas Brigade, only a few letters encouraged their loved ones to quit the war and come home. As stated elsewhere on this blog, the men of the Texas Brigade were patriotic enough to travel 1000 miles on their own dime to enlist in Virginia. It appears their families were equally patriotic. In the 1860 census, Lavaca County had some 5700 white persons and some 1600 slaves. The economy at the time was more Southern than Western. But, still, one would expect wholesale desertions if the men were only fighting to own another man.

Source:

Susannah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade, (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), pp. 243-245

Gen. Lee to the Rear

In the annals of warfare, it was extraordinary. There is no record of this happening to Julius Caesar, Hannibal or Napoleon. In May 1864, in the Battle of the Wilderness, Gen. Robert E. Lee tried to lead the charge of the Texas Brigade. Commanding generals do not typically attempt to lead a charge themselves. They should have more concerns than one portion of a larger battle. Yet, when the Texas Brigade moved up to block a penetration by Union General Winfield Scott’s forces, Lee knew the moment was dire. He knew that the Confederates were being pressed in ways they had never been pressed. He wanted to be sure the charge succeeded.

Drive These People Back

Gen. Lee cheered as the Texans moved into position to plug the gap created by Gen. Scott. The Corps Commander, Gen. Longstreet planned to move one brigade into the gap, followed by a second brigade and then a third. When the Texans first arrived, Gen. Lee urged them, “We must drive these people back.” A man not given to frequent displays of emotion already showed more emotion than his soldiers were used to. “The Texans always drive them,” he added.  The commander of the Texas Brigade, Gen. Gregg, told his men, “The eye of Gen. Lee is on you.” The Texans responded with cheers. With a shout of “Forward,” the Texans and Arkansans started forward with a yell.

Immediately, the men noticed Gen. Lee was moving with them. Capt. Bedell noticed the general advancing with them well into the enemy fire. Dozens would later insist they were there and they held the reins of Traveller, pulling Lee back to the rear. Traveller was the name of Lee’s horse, named after Gen. Washington’s horse during the American revolution. Gen. Washington was Gen. Lee’s step-grandfather.

Jumping the Chain Command

Capt. Bedell had been wounded twice in prior battles. He was one of the original recruits into Co. “L” of the Texas Brigade. Co. L came from Galveston. Capt. Bedell implored Lee to stop. Gen. Lee responded, “I want to lead the Texas Brigade in this charge.” From commander to his men, bypassing three or four layers of command was unusual in itself. But, the overall commander was negotiating with his men. He could have simply told them to shut up and let him do his job. But, he was negotiating, asking them to let him do what he thought he needed to do ensure success.

It is hard for civilians to understand this remarkable military relationship during war. There is an unspoken understanding that each person, male or female, will do his/her best at all times to ensure success of the military unit. In this instance, the Commanding General was asking his men to let him do what he believed he had to do to plug this gap. His men were telling him, “no.”

The tender feeling in that moment cannot be overstated. They were also saying the possibility of losing Gen. Lee was too high a price to pay for the success of one charge. That is an extraordinary honor, a gesture rarely extended to army commanders.

Charge Hell Itself

Other soldiers joined in. “You will get killed dad[d]y.” “We won’t go forward until you go back,” said another. One soldier watching this unheard of display remarked years later, “I would charge hell itself for that old man.” One soldier in a friendly way kicked at Traveller, saying, “Get out of the Wilderness with General Lee, you old looney!” That alone would merit court martial in today’s army.

The general finally turned toward the rear, as the Texas Brigade surged forward into the fire. Dozens of Texans fell. But, Gen. Lee lived.

Arthur Wellesly, the Duke of Wellington, was equally adept at forecasting moves and counter-moves by the enemy. He was also generally well-liked by his troops. But, his soldiers never expressed similar sentiments, as Lee’s men did him.

Source:

Susannah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade (LSU Press 2017), pp. 212-213.

The Emancipation Proclamation

While in camp, when the men of the Texas Brigade had time to write home, they would ask about the slaves back home. They would ask their family member “to say hello to the Negroes.” If the soldier had a “Negro” with him, he would write home how the enslaved American was doing in camp. Many of the men or their family back home owned some slaves. So, the modern reader might expect some resentment of the Emancipation Proclamation. Pres. Lincoln issued the proclamation on January 1, 1863, he announced his intention to issue the proclamation soon after the Battle of Antietam in September, 1862.

In letters of the men and families of the Texas Brigade, they mentioned the Proclamation not much. To the extent they did, it was more about the war possibly ending soon. The men noted to the folks back home that the Union soldiers they talked to were not happy to learn they were now fighting for the “for the freedom of the black.” One soldier wrote home that Indiana and Illinois were considering seceding themselves because of the Proclamation. That belief was probably based on news reports of the time, which were not always accurate. In any event, we now know that no such secession ever happened in those two Northern states.

Union Generals

Brig-Gen. John Gibbon recorded in his memoirs that generals in the Union Army were usually picked for command positions based not on military ability, but based on their views of slavery. For much of the Civil War, the Union Army, he recalled decades after the war, preferred persons who viewed slavery favorably. That is probably less a reflection on slavery and more on generals preferring persons with less zealous personalities. Abolitionists tended to be very zealous. In the 1860’s, as today, senior officers avoid zealots.

Another Texas Brigade soldier reported to the folks back home in Texas that he had passed through Virginia and had spoken with a group of 60 Federal prisoners. They were not happy to hear about the Proclamation. They said they were still willing to fight for the union, but not for the black man. The Texas soldiers believed the Emancipation Proclamation would help bring the war to a close. One soldier optimistically predicted the war would not last another six months. They believed the western states would rebel at fighting to end slavery. At the time, states west of Pennsylvania were considered “western.” We now know there were some mutinies among Federal units. But, by and large, the Union soldiers fought on.  

What is missing from these letters, whether written by soldiers or by the family, was a concern or resentment about the Proclamation. Either the soldiers did not see the Presidential order as close enough to their daily lives, or more likely, while they cared for blacks on an individual basis, for the black man as a whole, they just did not give him much thought, for good or ill.

Sources:

Susannah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), pp. 143-144

Allen C. Guelzo, “Meade’s Council of War,” Civil War Monitor, Winter, 2018, p. 75 (citing Gibbon, Personal Recollections of the Civil War (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1928), p. 21-22, 242).

The Soldiers of Guadalupe County, Texas

Why did Confederate soldiers serve? Were they fighting for slavery? We cannot survey the Confederates from 1861-1865. But many letters and diaries remain. In some ways, letters and diaries are more accurate than an actual survey. One soldier, Andrew Erskine, was older than many soldiers. He was 36 years old when he enlisted in 1862. He joined long after the initial patriotic rush in 1861. But, he too felt a sense of patriotism. Andrew traveled all the way from Seguin, Texas (near San Antonio) to Richmond, Virginia to join the Fourth Texas Infantry Regiment, part of the Texas Brigade (soon to become famous as “Hood’s Texas Brigade”). Andrew traveled with his brother, Alexander, who was 33 years old himself, and some two dozen others from Seguin, Texas. The two brothers traveled with neighbors and cousins to join the war effort. They paid their own way, simply so they could join the army in Virginia. They believed Virginia to be the likely scene of the significant battles. How right they were.

Not all in their party reached Richmond. One member of their group, R. R. Harriot, dropped off in New Orleans, apparently lured by the sights. How many soldiers today would travel at their own expense to Afghanistan or Iraq to enlist?

Guadalupe County Clerk

Why did the Erskine brothers come? They came from a middle class family in Seguin, Texas. Andrew was the County Clerk for Guadalupe County in 1860. His brother, Alexander, was a farmer in 1860. Neither man owned slaves. In 1860, there were some 1700 slaves in Guadalupe County. 202 persons owned other human beings. Of those 202, 28 percent owned one slave, while another 20 percent owned 2-4 slaves. Neither Erskine brother owned a slave. Alexander had owned slaves as recently as 1857, but he owned no slaves afterward. Ann, Andrew’s wife, would later inherit some eight slaves in 1863.

Patriotism

Andrew Erskine was motivated by patriotism. It would have shamed him to be drafted, and if he joined, he wanted to serve with his family and neighbors, with people he knew. Probably reflecting an extended discussion with his wife, he explained in a letter to Ann: “You know I left you and my sweet darling boys and my comfortable home because I deemed it my duty, and because I thought the public expected me to go. I was too proud to remain at home when everybody in the country able to bear arms had left to go in defense of the bleeding and suffering country.”

He added, “I am acting as all good patriots should act and that although it may seem to you hard that I should leave you and my little boys alone, remember that no one could say hereafter to my children, ‘Your father did not aid in gaining the independence of the Southern Confederacy.” Ann’s brother was also in Andrew’s Company D. Alexander was a graduate of the University of Virginia. Certainly, both brothers had choices other than to enlist. Ann had just given birth in January 1862. Their two year old son had recently drowned in the Guadalupe River. Yet, on they came, at their own expense.

Battle of Antietam Creek

In September, 1862, Andrew Erskine was killed in the days after the Battle of Antietam Creek. Alexander was wounded in his left arm and twice in his side. Alexander wrote home that Andrew was shot in the temple while making a “terrible” charge on the enemy. Alexander explained to Ann, Andrew’s wife, that he had been too wounded to procure Andrew’s body. But, their commander had assured him that Andrew would be buried. That was no small promise. In those days, many bodies were left on the battlefield due to the exigencies of war. The Southerners had no system by which to recover bodies, as the North did. Ann’s brother, Thomas I. Johnson, had also been killed in August, 1862 at the Second Battle of Bull Run. He too had served in Hood’s Texas Brigade among his friends and family. Andrew’s father had died back home in Guadalupe County in May, 1862, after a recent cattle drive to New Orleans.

Ann was mother to six sons, aged nine months to thirteen years old. She now had to operate a grist mill, a cotton gin, a ferry, an inn, a farm and a ranch largely on her own. After the war, Alexander remained in Seguin and was active in the Confederate soldier’s association.

Sources:

Hood’s Texas Brigade, Susannah J. Ural (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), p. 87, 130-131

Slave Transactions in Guadalupe County, Texas, Mark Gretchen (Janaway Publ., Inc. 2009) pp. 37, 38, 227, 241, 260.

The Texas Brigade Soldiered On

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.

Desertion Rates

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.”

Source:

Susannah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), pp. 198-201.