Memorial to Hood’s Texas Brigade

There is a myth today that Confederate statues and memorials were intended more to commemorate white supremacy than lost loved ones. One can almost appreciate the myth, since so many of the memorials depict one Confederate general or another. But, in fairness, the statues were erected at a time when history was largely viewed as the history of “great men.” Prior to a few ground breaking books like Johnny Reb by Bell Irvin Wiley (LSU Press 1970), social histories were never done. The focus was always on the so-called great men, not the men who slogged through the mud or who bore the brunt of the decisions of the great men.

One of the few Confederate memorials to the average soldier is found in Austin, the memorial to Hood’s Texas Brigade. The memorial started around the turn of the twentieth century. As the veterans of the famed Hood’s Texas Brigade were aging, they talked about erecting a monument to their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their departed brothers. After exhaustive debates and years of fund raising, they agreed the memorial should feature an individual Confederate soldier and that it should make no reference to Jefferson Davis or the Confederate government. As former private, Joe Polley explained, it had to be about their sacrifices alone:

If a medallion of [Jefferson] Davis appears on the monument at all,

it is bound to have the central and most conspicuous place, and the

men and women who when we are dead and gone look at it, will accept

 it as a monument to Davis and the cause he represented, and never

give a thought to the brave men to whose memory alone it should be

dedicated.

The veterans of Hood’s Texas Brigade believed they were the best brigade in the Confederate army. They believed, with much justification, that they represented the best. For decades after the war, they collected their stories and history. Their goal as stated in 1872 was to “collect and perpetuate all incidents, anecdotes, history, and everything connected therewith.” By 1906, they were still working to finalize complete rosters of the original members of the brigade and their eventual fate. The memorial would represent the ultimate remembrance of their time together.

Hyperbole

So, it was perhaps surprising that at the unveiling of the monument in 1910, the speakers spoke inaccurately about the role of Southerners throughout American history. According to the speakers, a Southerner had won the War of 1812, the Mexican War in 1846 and was the author of the Monroe Doctrine. The members of Hood’s Texas Brigade rarely engaged in such hyperbole.

Joe Polley was himself a person of some controversy. He did not care for excessive ceremony. In a time when virtually every white man supported the Democratic party, Joe flirted with the Republican party. He was a well-known contributor to the Confederate Veteran magazine. Yet, he was anything but an apologist for the Southern cause. No doubt it helped that the Republican candidate for Texas governor was also a former Confederate veteran. But, Joe Polley supported the Republican in the next gubernatorial election. Joe, who lost a foot at the Battle of Darbytown, was more practical than demagogic. The memorial to Hood’s Texas Brigade reflects that same spirit of honest remembrance.

Source:

Susanah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), pp. 272-274.

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.

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.

He Served His Country Faithfully

Every successful army needs them, the dedicated few soldiers who will undergo any sacrifice to make the unit work. Audie Murphy said in his book, To Hell and Back, that every platoon needed three to four soldiers ready to kill without flinching. That is what he meant, that every military unit relied on those few who were very good at their craft and were ruthless in the execution of that craft.

Virginius “Jinny” Petty was one such soldier. At the Second Battle of Manassas, he was First Sergeant of Co. E, Fifth Texas Infantry Regiment. The Fifth Texas Infantry was known as  the “Bloody Fifth,” because of its high casualties at the Second Battle of Manassas. Jinny Petty was shot in the bowels and mortally wounded. Then as now, that was the worst wound, because death was certain and it would come slow. He was said to be the most dedicated man in Co. E. He had promised he would “go naked and eat dirt” before he would fall out of line on the march.

His messmate was W.H. McCalister. Mr. McCalister did not lie to 1SGT Petty’s family, as most soldiers did. He told the family that the First Sergeant died a slow death. “He suffered a great deal before he died,” W.H. wrote to the Petty’s family. But, his last request, wrote W.H., was to tell his friends that he “died for a good cause and that he was perfectly willing to die for he had served his country faithfully.” No soldier can hope for more than that.

Source:

Susannah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade, (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), p. 112.

Leadership in the Texas Brigade

Back in the 1980’s, back when I was a young Infantry Officer attending the Infantry Officer Basic Course, we had a course called “Leadership.” How do you teach leadership to a group of some 40 lieutenants? The IOBC cadre used the case method, the same method you see in Business school or law school. We looked at a wide variety of stories and examples from real life about good and bad leaders. There was no one ultimate answer to how to be a good leader. But, the point the IOBC cadre drove home with us was that in regard to United States soldiers, the best approach was egalitarian or democratic. Authoritarian leaders did not do so well in U.S. military history. The truism we arrived at was that we, as Infantry leaders, should always expect to explain to the soldiers why a given order made sense. Don’t just tell them. Expect that you will also need to explain to your soldiers why they must follow a given plan or order. We in the U.S. have a different tradition, when compared to Europe and other places.

The Failed Leaders

Some leaders failed the Texas Brigade long before the war began. J.J. Archer, from Maryland, was appointed the first colonel of the Fifth Texas Infantry. He was not well-liked, partly because he was from Maryland – too close to “Yankeedom” said one soldier. But, the fact that he was not from Texas probably played a greater role. The lieutenant-colonel of the regiment faced even greater scrutiny. Frank Schaller, a German émigré, on paper had all the credentials. His grandfather and father served in the French army. He graduated from a military school in Germany and college in France. He served briefly in the Crimea. But, as one descendant explained, he was shy and lacked social skills. He was short, slim and high-strung. In early October, 1861, he rode into the Fifth Texas Infantry Regiment camp. He wore gold lace and stars on his uniform, amidst a regiment that prided itself on officers with well-worn boots and appreciated one officer who rode into battle with a pistol in one hand and a frying pan in the other. Upon seeing the elegant officer, one soldier asked “What is it? Is it a man, fish, or bird?” The last the men saw of Lieut-Col. Schaller, he was riding out of camp on his horse, the mane sheared and the tail cut off. And, the men laughed heartily at their prank. So much for one appointed officer.

John Bell Hood

John Bell Hood understood how this worked. He might be appointed, but he still had to earn the respect of his men. Not the first, but one of the best commanders of “Hood’s Texas Brigade,” he knew instinctively to treat the citizen-soldiers as equals, or as near equals. The Texans were difficult. They complained about some commanders and found ways to force them out. Not so with John Bell Hood. Gen. Hood was from Kentucky originally, but he had lived many years in Texas. He was a West Point graduate. So, he was “regular Army” when compared to the Texas volunteers. The Confederate army could elect their company grade officers, but regimental and above officers were appointed by the central government. So, the Texas Brigade did not ask for him. But, they took to him right away.

Pre-War Status

How did Gen. Hood succeed where others failed? He would say later that he devoted the entire winter quarters to show he valued his men, both as soldiers and for their pre-war status. Many men were persons of standing in their home communities, but were now just another soldier. In his way, Gen. Hood recognized they had a place of significance before the war. He made a distinct effort to make the junior officers better junior officers. He said later he lost no opportunity to “arouse” their pride and to impress upon them that they would be the best soldiers. That goal of being the best appealed to the brash Texans. He urged them to police themselves, to look out for soldiers not doing their best and to take steps to fix the problem.

The Why of an Order

Gen. Hood mentioned that his predecessors did not take the time to explain the “why” of a given order. They would just issue the order and expect instant obedience. Hood, on the other hand, would take the time to explain. For example, he had a rule that lights had to be out by ten o’clock at night. He explained to the Texans that in keeping a light on, the soldier would not just keep himself awake, but all the others in his tent or cabin. An army must have its sleep if it was to do well the next morning. The general insisted that officers had to explain the reason for orders, not simply issue the order.

One of the Texans would write years later that Gen. Hood knew much better than other officer how to lead volunteers, as opposed to leading regular soldiers. Then Col. Hood was well versed in human nature, said Joe Polley. He knew full well that volunteers would not accept the sort of restrictions regular soldiers would tolerate. He knew not to draw the “full reins of true military discipline.”

Source:

Susannah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade, (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), pp. 48-49, 79-80.

The British Military Observer

It is an old military tradition to send military observers to view a war in a distant country. We learn so much from wars in distant lands about the latest tactics and equipment. During the United States Civil War, Great Britain sent Col. Garnet Wolseley to observe the Confederate army. Col. Wolseley would later become the leading general of his age in the British army. He would retire as a Field Marshall.

Col. Wolseley frowned as he watched the First Texas Infantry Regiment march by. Even then, in 1862, as they retreated form the Battle of Antietam, most of the men were barefoot. They limped from the cuts and scrapes on their bare feet. Their lower legs were covered by briar scratches. The cuffs of their sleeves and pants were frayed and ragged. They had tossed their blankets away, because they were shredded by bullet holes.

Col. Wolseley noticed their complete lack of military bearing. But, Gen. Lee assured him, “The enemy never sees the backs of my Texans.”

No Footwear

The truth was the Confederacy could not support its troops. Even into November, 1862, 2,000 men in the Army of Northern Virginia lacked foot wear of any sort. Another 3,000 had shoes that would not last through Christmas. The flour that arrived into the stores of Hood’s Texas Brigade in November had worms an inch long. As the war dragged on, the supply situation grew worse, not better. Yet, these hardy, brave men fought on.

The men of the First Texas Regiment were inspected and found wanting. The Inspector General for the Army of Northern Virginia found their rifles in “very bad order” In modern parlance, we would say they failed the IG inspection. It is likely they simply had not cleaned their rifles adequately or lacked some parts. The Inspector General said the officers were derelict in their duty. But, Gen. Hood was not impressed. He knew his citizen soldiers may not look pretty, but they were combat effective. He ignored the report.

Contemporary observers insist the Southern soldier fought for slavery. It is true that slaves represented material investment to the South. But, if the Southern soldier fought solely for slavery, why did he endure such privation for nothing more than material gain? If he was fighting only to protect his investment, why did he fight with no shoes and socks? It was surely poor investment strategy to protect one’s investments in another human being by serving in an army that could not provide shoes and socks.

Source:

Susannah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade, (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), p. 136-137, 138.

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 (Guadalupe County) 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 to enlist?

County Clerk

Why did the 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 would later be 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. A system to simply recover bodies had not yet been created. 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.