Sunday, October 4, 2020

Santa Anna's Army

                                        Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna


The Texas Revolution is mostly known for the courageous deeds of Texas settlers resisting an autocratic Mexican government.  Less is known about the Mexican army they fought.  Collectively designated the “Mexican Army of Operations,” the 6,019 Mexican troops proved a tougher foe than most Texans originally thought.  With minimal food and water, they marched hundreds of miles in desert-like conditions through a territory plagued with hostile Native Americans and one of the worst winters to ever hit Northern Mexico.  In the end, incompetent leadership, politics, and poor logistical support led to the Army of Operations’ defeat.


The Mexican Army’s roots lie with its former colonial master, Spain.  After Mexico gained its independence, its army simply kept the tactics of their Spanish forebears.  During the 1830’s, Mexico’s military manuals were exact copies of Spanish manuals that were already dated in 1815.  Innovation was slow in coming, especially in a country where politics could change on a dime.  To make matters worse, government officials were often rife with corruption and shifted their loyalties according to the dictates of their status and income.  The two competing political parties in Mexico were the Centralists, who favored a strong, central government and Federalists, who favored strong, local state governments over the central government in Mexico City.  Straddling this political divide was Mexico’s charismatic leader, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.


Elected president in 1833, Santa Anna promised democratic reforms.  Instead, he reneged on those promises, establishing a more autocratic, central government instead.  Those who resisted were subject to arrest, imprisonment and execution.  A revolt by the Mexican state of Zacatecas was ruthlessly put down followed by 48 hours of pillaging that appalled the international community.  Texas colonists resisted as well, driving Mexican troops out of San Antonio and securing the city’s one fortified position - The Alamo.  Santa Anna was incensed by the Texans effrontery to his government, deciding to make an example of them.  To do so would require an army of several thousand that would have to be augmented by conscripts often forced to volunteer at gunpoint.   One of Santa Anna’s officers and one of his fiercest critics, Colonel Jose Enrique de la Pena, wrote The Army of Operations was “created by bayonets and now had to be upheld by them.” 


Santa Anna’s tactics were based primarily on his hero - Napoleon Bonaparte.  His officers knew that a thorough knowledge of Napoleon’s tactics was a fast tract toward advancement.  He referred to himself as the “The Napoleon of the West” with little regard for innovative tactics and methods outside the French emperor’s dogma.  Santa Anna’s second in command, the Italian-born General Vicente Filial wrote that Santa Anna would “listen to nothing which was not in accord with Napoleon’s ideas.” 


The Mexican Army consisted of three branches:


1.    The Permanent Troops - regular army infantry and cavalry troops on active duty.

2.    The Active Militia (Milicia Activa) - active, or partialy, active duty militia that included infantry and cavalry units.

3.    The Civic Militia (Milicia Civica) - reserve militia where any male between 18 and 40 could voluntarily enlist or be conscripted by force if necessary.  Used primarily for local police duties or national emergencies.


One branch of service that was sorely lacking in Mexico’s wars with Texas and later, the United States, was the Navy.  With a navy, large numbers of troops could have been dispersed on the Texas coast with greater ease than marching them hundreds of miles over difficult terrain.  In addition, it would have deprived Texas of its coastal ports, vital entry points for supplies and volunteers from the United States.


Since Mexico had no arms manufacturers, the infantry was armed with imported four foot long, British-made Brown Bess muskets.  The powder flash from the Brown Bess could burn the face of its user, forcing him to shut his eyes while firing.  A residue of gunpowder built up in the barrel that affected the musket’s firing, requiring frequent cleaning.  In some instances, the blockage was removed by simply urinating into the barrel.  To compensate for the musket’s inaccuracy, troops had to fire in concentrated volleys to hit their target, leaving thick clouds of smoke on the battlefield.  The bullet was a massive .753 caliber ball that could knock a man right off his feet.  A bayonet was affixed to its long barrel, making it an effective spear in close combat.   The cavalry was armed with British-made swords, single shot pistols and that most feared of Mexican weaponry, the lance. 


           Uniforms varied in color, especially during the period of Santa Anna.  The standard uniform of a Permanent infantryman included white pants and a blue jacket with red piping and a red collar with the regiment number on the collar.  White sashes and a white belt supported an ammunition pouch and bayonet holder.   Topping it off was a conical, visored shako adorned with a red plume and a brass plate of Mexico’s national symbol.  Some units wore all white pants and jackets, more suitable for the warmer summer months.  The cavalry wore red jackets with green breasts and collars.  Headgear was a metal helmet or wide-brimmed, white-banned hat.  Assisting the cavalry were state militias and rancheros from the Northern Mexico states.


Through the Catholic Church and private money lenders, Santa Anna financed and then assembled his army at San Luis Potosi in December 1865.  They began their march to San Antonio that same month. Napoleon was quoted as saying “an army marches on its stomach.”  Santa Anna seemed to have little regard for the stomachs of his own army.  Each man carried only one month of rations.  Food caches were established in advance of Santa Anna’s march but they often fell prey to marauding Comanches.  Forage parties and state government provisions had to make up for any food deficits.  Enlisted men were generally poor Indian peasants who were badly uniformed, ill fed and physically abused by officers who embezzled their pay.  Many could not speak Spanish and were more use to the jungle climate of Southern Mexico’s Yucatan Region than the desert regions of Northern Mexico.  The Army of Operations did not have an effective quartermaster corps nor a medical corps.  Instead, the families of the soldiers accompanied them on the march, providing food, medical attention and comfort along the way.  Referred to as Soldaderas, they became an increasing burden as Santa Anna marched north.  The doctors that were on hand were incompetent to the point of being outright “Quacks.”  Despite the doctors’ best efforts, hundreds died of disease and exposure as winter arrived in Northern Mexico.  A blizzard in 1836 dropped over a foot of snow on the line of march, subjecting many to frostbite.  Dead animals, discarded equipment, and broken down wagons lined the march.


To transport their supplies, the Army of Operations relied on a train of two-wheeled carts pulled by oxen and the sturdy backs of pack mules.  The skills needed to drive mules made the mule drivers indispensable for Santa Anna’s march.  They had to be paid or else they would leave, taking their mules with them.  To add to the transport problem were the Comanches, who stole from the Mexicans’ horse and cattle herds.   The problem forced Santa Anna to dispatch a division to go after the Comanches.  Straggling soldiers faced an increased risk of being killed and scalped by Indians.


Despite the overwhelming hardships, Santa Anna’s troops accomplished their march and inflicted defeats on the Texans at The Alamo and Goliad.  Santa Anna enjoyed superior numbers, but made a fateful decision after capturing San Antonio - he divided his army.  The decision cost him at San Jacinto and forced his troops to retreat back to Mexico.  Nevertheless, the Mexican soldier proved a stalwart opponent dedicated to his country and supportive of its efforts to suppress revolting Texans.   

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Astounding Victory: The Davis Guard at Sabine Pass

                                                 Lt. Richard W. "Dick" Dowling

The Civil War produced a number of unlikely heroes on both sides.  One of the most unlikely was a twenty-five year old, auburn-haired Houston bartender with an engaging personality and a talent for artillery.   Like many of his fellow Irish immigrants, Richard W. “Dick” Dowling arrived in the United States with empty pockets and a burning ambition.  With just a sibling for a companion, he sought his fortune in Houston.  Luckily, he married a girl from a prominent Irish Houston family, Annie Odlum.  Annie’s father was Benjamin Odlum, a veteran of the Texas Revolution who held extensive land grants.  Dowling’s marriage helped raise him socially and financially within Houston’s growing Irish community.  His dashing looks and well-honed social graces made him a natural in the hospitality industry.  “The Shades,” the first bar he opened, was a big success.  In 1860, he sold it and opened “The Bank of Bacchus” directly across from the Harris County courthouse.  Houston lawyers and businessmen flocked to “The Bank,” enabling Dowling to start a bathing saloon and liquor importing business.  In his spare time, he created a very popular cocktail drink, “The Kiss Me Quick and Go.”  The recipe and origin of its curious name is not known.  In addition to providing drinks and billiards, “The Bank” served as a meeting hall for various military, political and social organizations, most notably the “Davis Guard” named after Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  The “Davies,” as they were called, were mostly Irish dockworkers with a penchant for fisticuffs, especially after they had a few.  One observer recalled, “They were men of mature years-very few were young-men of brawn and muscle, quiet in manner if treated right, but woe be to you if you offended one of them, you would hear from him in true Irish style.”

President Lincoln kept a wary eye on Texas and wanted an immediate Union presence in the Lone Star State.   The main reason was the worrisome presence of French troops in Mexico, who may decide to align Mexico with the Confederacy or reclaim territory lost during the Mexican War.  In addition, New England textile mills wanted to get their hands on East Texas cotton fields.  Lincoln stated to General Ulysses S. Grant, “I am greatly impressed with the importance of re-establishing the national authority in Western Texas as soon as possible.”  Based in New Orleans, Major General Nathaniel Banks dispatched an armada of four shallow draft gunboats and transport steamers filled with 4,000 troops to land ashore near Fort Griffin.  Under the command of General William B. Franklin, Union troops would capture the fort, cut off the rail line to Beaumont, and then proceed west to capture Houston and Galveston.

Numbering forty-seven men, the Guards were designated Company F, Texas Heavy Artillery.  Dick Dowling was commissioned the company’s lieutenant.  Far from the fighting east of the Sabine, they used their time drilling for any coastal incursions likely to come.  In time they became the best drilled heavy artillery unit in the Confederate Army.  Dowling and his men were assigned to an earthen fort of six guns named Fort Griffin near Sabine City, located at the mouth of the Sabine River.  Reinforced with railroad iron, the fort was ingeniously designed to provide a wide range of fire from the mouth of the river to just offshore from the fort, a 90 degree angle of deadly firepower.  Distance poles or markers were hammered into the river bottom to sight the guns.  One the eve of battle, Dowling told his men, “The Yankees are going to attack us and while I am personally in favor of sticking here and giving them a hot reception, I don’t feel like taking the responsibility of having you all killed or captured, so leave we shall do to you.”  One of the Guards replied, “Oh hell, Lieutenant, I’d rather fight than walk to Sabine City.”  Dowling enthusiastically responded, “That settles it. We’ll fight!”

At On September 8, 1863, at 3:40 PM, the Union gunboat fleet entered the Sabine River and began shelling Fort Griffin, the Guards stayed behind the fort’s walls until the gunboats came closer.  The gunboat fleet consisted of a former Staten Island ferry boat, U. S. S. Clifton, the propeller driven steamer, U. S. S. Sachem, and two captured blockade runners, U. S. S. Arizona and U. S. S. Granite City.  Upon reaching the distance markers, the Sachem received a brutal pounding.  A well placed shot took out her boiler, leaving her, and much the crew, dead in the water.  The Clifton received the same treatment.  A shot took out her tiller ropes, leaving her without the ability to steer.  The well-drilled Guards fired one hundred seven times in thirty minutes - approximately one shot fired in just slightly over a minute.  Both vessels ran aground and were forced to surrender.  The Arizona and Granite City turned around the left the river.  Without gunboat protection, Franklin and his troops were was forced to retreat back to New Orleans in disgrace.  In a remarkable turn of events, a Union invasion force was bested by a Texas bartender and forty-seven Irish dockworkers.  Without suffering a single casualty, the Guards captured two shot up gunboats and three hundred prisoners. 

The Davis Guard became overnight heroes of the Confederacy, especially in the wake of Confederate defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg the previous summer.  Major General John Bankhead Magruder, the Commander of the Department of Texas, visited Fort Griffin shortly after the battle to personally extend his congratulations.  Each guard member received a medal made out of a stamped Mexican coin and supported by a green ribbon; the only medals awarded to Confederate troops during the Civil War.  

After the war, Dowling returned to Houston and “The Bank.”  The “Hero of Sabine Pass” became a local celebrity, drawing hundreds of customers to his establishment.  Union occupation soldiers flocked to “The Bank” to catch a glimpse of the legendary Dowling.  One Union officer jokingly paid Dowling for his drink with a captured Confederate bill.  Without hesitation, Dowling accepted it and even gave the officer change.  Dowling also engaged in numerous charitable activities in the Houston area.  Unfortunately, he fell victim to a yellow fever epidemic in 1867.  Before his untimely death at 29, he opened "The Bank" to suffering yellow fever victims, converting it into a hospital.

Today, the site of the Battle of Sabine Pass is memorialized with a stirring monument and historical markers outlining the battle.  The City of Sabine Pass was incorporated decades ago into present day Port Arthur.  No trace of the fort remains today.  A statue was erected in 1905 at Houston’s Hermann Park to honor Dowling but was recently removed, crated and stored in a Houston warehouse.   Port Arthur refuses to let the statue be relocated to the battlefield site.  Unless it’s sold to the highest bidder at auction, placed in a cemetery, or dispatched to a museum willing to accept it, don’t expect it to surface anytime soon. 

Out of sight, out of mind, so goes Texas history.     

Check out Edward T. Cotham Jr.’s fine book, “Sabine Pass, The Confederacy’s Thermopylae"

                                      Houston's Dowling Statue Before Removal

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Boone's Redemption

Major Hannibal H. Boone

Acting Master Thomas Lombard Peterson beheld a curious sight as he docked his gunboat, U. S. S. Diana.  A squad of Confederate cavalry, under a flag of truce, had escorted two women to be ferried across Berwick Bay into Union held territory.  The gunboat would be their transport.  In the past, Peterson’s encounters with Confederate troops had been at a comfortable distance, especially after he shelled them along the river bank.  Led by Major Hannibal H. Boone, this group of rebels appeared different - a hard-looking bunch dressed in nondescript, homespun uniforms and wide-brimmed hats adorned with single stars.  Their weapons consisted of shotguns, carbines, Colt revolvers and oversized Bowie knives.  They stared at him like hungry coyotes on a lame jackrabbit.  Unmoved at their presence, a brash Peterson couldn’t resist a verbal exchange.


“I have been under the impression, that when a man put on a military uniform, and donned the garb of a soldier, he intended to fight,” he stated.


Boone replied, “I have thought it that way myself.”


Peterson continued,”You Confederates don’t practice that.  I’ve been over several times to try you, but at the bursting of the first shell you all stampeded.”


Unimpressed, Boone asserted, “You have never stampeded me or my men yet.”


“You are a new man then, just come in?” Peterson inquired.


“Yes sir!  I have just come in today,” Boone answered.


Peterson continued badgering the major.  “Well, you mean to say that you are something better than you’ve had there before?”


“No sir, I mean to say nothing of the sort.  But I’ll tell you what I mean, and that is that you can’t stampede my men with one shell-nor a dozen shells-only that and nothing more,”  Boone quipped.


Peterson took the women on board, telling one of his officers he would “return soon and see if they fought as well as they talked.”


Overhearing him, the Major Boone shot back, “Come ahead! We’ll try and interest you.”


The Confederates returned to their camp, no doubt eager to face Patterson again on his return.      This time, the Union skipper would face a tougher foe eager for redemption.


In 1862, the 13th Texas Cavalry Battalion was organized by Colonel Edwin Waller upon his return from the New Mexico Campaign.  Still under Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley’s inept command, Waller followed him to the bayous of South Louisiana.  The 13th’s arrival did not get off to a glorious start.  At Bonnet Carre, on the Mississippi River, near New Orleans, seven regiments of Union troops, on four steamboats, trapped the Texans on three sides.  Their only escape was through a near impregnable swamp by foot, not horseback.  Humiliation ensued when Waller’s men were forced to abandon their horses and saddles to ecstatic Yankees or kill their mounts outright by slashing their throats.   After slogging miles through bayou country, Waller reassembled his men, now referred to as the “Cane Cart Cavalry” by their jeering Louisiana comrades. 


During Mid-March, 1863, Union forces, under Major General Nathaniel Banks, had firm control over New Orleans and its surrounding suburbs.  Located in the Lafourche District, on the Atchafalaya River, Brashear City (now present day Morgan City) was their furthest, northwest point of occupation.  Union troops, under German-born Brigadier General Godfrey Weitzel, kept a wary eye on rebel cavalry patrolling outside his lines.  In addition to his troops, Weitzel had the help of steam-powered gunboats that patrolled Berwick Bay, Grand Lake, and the lower portions of the Atchafalaya River.   The gunboats’ large guns and menacing appearance had a terrifying effect on Confederate troops, who often fled instead of directly confronting them.  The Confederate Commander of Western Louisiana, Major General Richard Taylor, was contemptuous toward the gunboats, calling their actions “snipe-hunting with twelve-pounders.”   Anxious to launch offensive operations, with the ultimate goal of retaking New Orleans, he was dismayed at the fear his Louisiana cavalry had toward the gunboats.  Taylor wanted them captured and added to his small flotilla gathering on Grand Lake and Bayou Teche.  “When gunboats come up those small rivers,” he told his troops, “instead of running off, capture them!”  Writing to his cavalry officers, Taylor further stated, “If you cannot do it, I will send men who can.”  The men he sent were the 13th Texas Cavalry.  


Like many Union gunboats, the Diana was a former Confederate merchant steamer captured and then converted into a gunboat and transport for the Union Army.  Partially armored, the side-wheeler was useful in patrolling Louisiana’s narrow bayous and meandering rivers.  Like the other half dozen gunboats patrolling the Louisiana bayous, the Diana went beyond protecting Union troops and taking on Confederate vessels.  Using barges towed from his stern, Peterson would also relieve plantations of their sugar cane.  Like cotton, sugar was in big demand.  Money received for confiscated crops were divided between the Diana’s officers and sailors. 


Major Boone and his Texans watched the comings and goings of the Diana; they decided to lay a trap.  Anxious to take on the Texans, Peterson decided to depart from his normal patrol route by steaming up the Atchafalaya toward Pattersonville.  Sixty-nine volunteer, infantry sharpshooters were on board to provide additional firepower.  They would soon wish they stayed at their camp 


Twenty-nine year old, Tennessee native, Hannibal Honestus Boone, was a lawyer in Hempstead before the war.  He rose to the rank of major and became Waller’s second in command.  In time, Boone became a feared cavalryman, best avoided in a direct fight.  With the assistance of Texas’ famed Val Verde Battery and the Arizona Cavalry Battalion, Boone arrayed 300 men on both sides of the river hidden in the vegetation.  All were crack shots.  


The Diana never had a chance.  Cannon, rifle, and pistol fire riddled the gunboat, killing or wounding a quarter of the 120 men onboard.  Peterson was shot dead through the heart.  Damaged from the gunfire, the Diana could not escape.  After striking her colors, joyous Texans swam over to claim their prize.  They recoiled in horror upon seeing the blood and gore spattered across the deck and walls.  “Every berth was cut to splinters,” wrote a Union survivor.  “Chairs, tables, knives and forks, books, broken glass and china, shattered panels, blood-wet beds, and pools of gore-and the dead and wounded-were everywhere.”  Even six-shooters were used with great effect,” reported a Texas captain.


The 13th had their redemption and a gunboat for Taylor’s small flotilla.  The Diana served the Confederate side at the battles of Bisland and Irish Bend.  Running out of navigable waterways, before an advancing Union army, she was scuttled a month after her capture.   

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Woes of Lieutenant Flipper

Lt. Henry Flipper

Lt. Henry Flipper was the first African-American appointed to West Point.  In addition to the brutal discipline meted out at the U.S. Military Academy, Flipper would also suffer through years of racial prejudice in preparation for a military career.  Nothing in his training, however, would prepare him for his experience on the West Texas frontier. 

Henry Flipper was born a slave on March, 1856 in Thomasville, Georgia.  During Reconstruction, Republican Representative James C. Freeman, a former slave master, appointed Henry to attend West Point.  He managed to graduate and received a commission as a second lieutenant, one of a handful of Black commissioned officers.  Eager to serve, he was assigned to one of the four African-American “Buffalo Soldier” regiments in the U. S. Army.    Though it’s not known for sure, the “Buffalo Soldiers” likely got their name from the Cheyenne Indians because of their dark skin and curly hair.  

Flipper’s military career began at Fort Sill in the southwest part of the Indian Territory.  Having a flair for engineering, he drained a malaria ridden swamp by constructing an adjoining drainage ditch.  Known as “Flipper’s Ditch,” it’s still in operation today.  In desperate need of skilled officers, the commander of the “Buffalo Soldiers’” 10th Cavalry,  Colonel Benjamin Grierson, took notice of Henry and transferred him to the 10th Cavalry’s “A” company stationed at Fort Concho, Texas.  

After the Civil War, the U.S. Army was reduced in size to 50,000 men.  Many of them served as occupation troops in the post-war South or guarded the frontier against hostile Native Americans.  Now forced to seek paying jobs, former slaves sought employment in the U.S. Army.  Despite the pressing need for personnel to serve at remote frontier outposts, the organization of Black regiments was almost derailed from the start.  Few recruits were literate due to the stringent, pre-Civil War laws against educating slaves.  The horses they were provided were badly worn from Civil War service and hardly suitable for service of any kind.  Many White officers didn’t want to command African-Americans and were often openly hostile to their presence.  Colonel Benjamin Grierson was one of the rare exceptions; he took command of the 10th Cavalry Regiment upon the request of General Ulysses S. Grant.  

The commander of Ft. Leavenworth was General William Hoffman who hated Blacks and their White officers.  He showed his contempt by assigning the 10th the most flood prone section of the fort.  After their tents flooded, many of them came down with pneumonia.   Not surprisingly, Grierson requested transfer to another post.  The 10th was transferred to Fort Riley, Kansas.  From there, they fanned out to remote postings in West Texas, New Mexico, and the Indian Territory.  Their job was to protect settlers and railroad workers from nomadic bands of Cheyenne, Apache, Kiowas, and Comanches.  Before the late 1870’s, most of the Native Americans in the Southwest were corralled in reservations where they were promised annuities and provisions from the U. S. Government.  The treaties that were supposed to keep them on the reservations were held up in Congress.  Feeling cheated, they left, getting their provisions by raiding farms and hunting buffalo.  Mounted on horses, they were always on the move and extremely elusive.  The Apaches, led by the brilliant Victorio, would cross into Mexico to elude the U.S. cavalry, knowing full well they couldn’t be pursued across an international border.  

Flipper was transferred to Fort Concho near present day San Angelo.  The commander of “A” company was Captain Nicholas M. Nolan, who took a liking to Flipper and taught him the rudiments of commanding cavalry.  Impressed with Flipper, Nolan invited him to dine with him at his quarters, a clear violation of military norms.  From there, Flipper’s career would take  a downward turn.  

It started during the 1880’s after Company “A” was transferred to Fort Elliott in the Texas Panhandle.   Located in the Western Panhandle, near the Oklahoma border, Fort Elliott was established to keep the Comanches from leaving their reservation in the Southwest Indian Territory.  Nearby was the town of Mobeetie; a community that owed its existence and growth to Fort Elliott.  Established in 1879, the town was a seedy collection of buffalo hunters that depended on the fort to protect them from the Comanches.   Things brightened up at the fort with the arrival of Nolan’s sister-in-law.  Being one of the few single females in the Texas Panhandle, Mollie Dwyer quickly attracted the attention of the fort’s unmarried officers.  Nolan’s new adjutant, Lt. Henry Flipper, became friends with Mollie and went horseback riding with her.   Needless to say, such behavior led to accusations of improprieties between Flipper and Dwyer.  A smear campaign against Flipper followed, likely started by those fellow officers Mollie rejected.  To make matters worse, troubles in Mobeetie almost cost him his life.  

Mobeetie, the first established town in the Texas Panhandle, held many opportunities for local businessmen and emerging ranchers.  Federal authorities in Dallas, however, took note of Mobeetie’s growth and the fact that no taxes were being collected nor licenses issued during  the town’s dealings with Fort Elliott.  Armed with a stack of unsigned warrants, Federal Marshal Colonel A. B. Norton and his deputies began arresting the town’s businessmen and government officials, practically depopulating the town.   Those arrested, including the county judge, were incarcerated at the fort before being tried in Dallas for tax evasion.  After a conversation with the judge, Captain Nolan ordered Flipper and two guards to transfer the prisoners to another fort in the Indian Territory, ostensibly to protect them from Norton.  The transfer took place at night without the knowledge of Marshal Norton; who was expecting a whooping fee for his multiple arrests.  Norton rode after the column and arrested Flipper and the two guards.  One of the guards escaped and informed Nolan of the arrests back at the fort.  Worried that his adjutant might be “shot while trying to escape,” Nolan gathered a detachment and pursued Norton.  Catching up with Marshal Norton’s column, Nolan declared the prisoners were now under his protection.  An uneasy journey of Buffalo Soldiers, Federal deputies and Mobeetie’s business community now made their way to Dallas for trial.  All the prisoners, including Flipper, were later acquitted and released

Serving with marked distinction during the Apache Wars, Flipper was assigned to Fort Davis in Southwest Texas.  Fort Davis’ commander, Colonel William R. Shafter, had it in for Flipper.  Shafter asked Flipper to keep the quartermaster safe in his quarters.  Within a few days, $2,000 were found missing from the safe.  Shafter arrested Flipper for embezzlement.  More than likely, Flipper was set-up.  In December 1881, a court-martial found him innocent but found him quilty of “conduct unbecoming an officer and gentlemen.”  Instead of embezzlement, Flipper’s relationship with Mollie Dwyer was used against him.  He was dismissed from the army.  Until his death in 1940, Flipper worked as an engineer and government advisor.  It wasn’t until 1999 that President Bill Clinton pardoned him. 

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Savage Gray Wall

Brigadier General John Gregg

Confederate Brigadier General John R. Gregg faced an insurmountable task.  With only a single brigade, he was ordered to patrol the approaches to Jackson, the state capital of Mississippi, and prevent the severing of the main supply line to Vicksburg, the Confederacy’s vital river port on the Mississippi.  Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee had landed south of Vicksburg at Bruinsburg, the starting point of Grant’s campaign to bypass Vicksburg’s river defenses and take the city from the east.  Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, the commander of Confederate forces in Mississippi, tried to fend off Grant at Port Gibson but was swatted aside by superior numbers.  Too make matters worse, a successful cavalry raid, led by Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson, diverted his attention from Grant’s landing, leaving his men widely dispersed to guard essential rail lines and too far to gather them for an effective defense.  Lacking sufficient cavalry, Pemberton was in the dark.  Numbering 12,000, the XVII Corps of Grant’s army, under Major General James B. McPherson, was marching toward the town of Raymond, several miles southwest of Jackson.  Based on initial reports he received from his scouts, Gregg was mistakenly convinced the corps marching toward him was a single smaller Union brigade.  That brigade, however, outnumbered him by almost three to one. 

Born on September 28, 1828, in Lawrence County, Alabama, John Gregg was destined to command.  Possessing a striking domed forehead, piercing eyes and a rough cut beard, Gregg was the stereotypical frontier warrior you respected on a battlefield.  As a lawyer in Freestone County, Texas, he was a leader in local affairs, ran a successful farm, served as a district judge, and was elected to the Texas Secession Convention.  After briefly serving in the provisional Confederate congress, he returned home to organize an infantry regiment.  The 7th Texas consisted of 746 men from ten East Texas counties.  Among his officers was a major who would later prove to be one of the best during the war - Hiram Granbury.  The 7th saw its first action at Fort Donelson where it was forced to surrender.  Disease decimated the 7th during its time in Northern prisons.  Gregg, along with the other senior officers at Fort Donelson, was imprisoned at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor.  His fiercely devoted wife, Mary, stayed with him.  He was exchanged after almost a year in captivity.  Promoted to Brigadier General, Gregg was given command of a brigade consisting of the 7th Texas, a light Missouri artillery battery and five Tennessee regiments.  Colonel Granbury now commanded the 7th.  Gregg’s brigade served in Vicksburg during the repulse of Sherman at Chickasaw Bluffs.  It was later transferred downriver to bolster the defense of Port Hudson in Louisiana.  Desperate for troops to stop Grant, Pemberton ordered Gregg to Raymond. 

To assist Gregg, Pemberton ordered Colonel Wirt Adams’ cavalry regiment to Raymond as well.   Adams regrettably misunderstood Pemberton’s order.  Instead of providing all of his cavalry to Gregg, Adams provided only the cavalrymen he had on hand at Raymond - a grand total of five.   Teenage scouts from the state militia were utilized but were woefully inexperienced in assessing troop strengths.  Unbeknownst to Gregg, he was facing a blue tidal wave.      

Confident in his ignorance, Gregg deployed his brigade just south of Raymond near Fourteen Mile Creek.  The 7th Texas was positioned on either side of the Utica Road.  The 3rd Tennessee was to the left of the 7th.  Gregg’s battle plan was to hit the Union center with the 7th Texas and 3rd Tennessee.  Captain Hiram Bledsoe’s Missouri battery was positioned behind them to provide artillery support.  The rest of the Tennessee regiments would attack McPherson’s right flank from the east.  The plan was sound if Gregg was taking on a single brigade or less; he hoped to bag the lot of them. 

Fortunately, McPherson was just as initially in the dark as Gregg.   A tangled mass of woods concealed Confederate troop numbers and made it difficult to march offroad to scout ahead.  On May 12, 1863, McPherson approached Raymond from the Utica Road.  After the 23rd Indiana Regiment crossed Fourteen Mile Creek, Bledsoe’s three-gun battery opened fire.  In full rebel yell mode, Texans and Tennesseans crashed into them.  Rifle volleys from the 7th cut down scores of the 20th Ohio at point blank range.  One Federal soldier noticed a Texas officer who stood more than ten yards away, calmly smoking his pipe, and emptying his revolver into the Union line.  The gunfire was so intense, the Confederates ran out of ammo and had to scavenge for cartridges from the dead and wounded.  Hand to hand combat ensued.  Lacking bayonets, the Texans used their rifle muskets as clubs.  Granbury later wrote:

“As my skirmishes neared the woods on the brow of the hill, the enemy commenced firing from their first line of infantry, posted near the base of the hill.  I ordered my regiment to advance in double-quick time.  The men obeyed with alacrity, and, when in view of the enemy, rushed forward with a shout.  So near were the enemy and so impetuous the charge, that my regiment could have bloodied a hundred bayonets had the men been supplied with that weapon.”

The 23rd Indiana and 20th Ohio fell back behind the creek.  Fortunately for them, the 8th Michigan Battery stopped the rebels in their tracks.   Gregg ordered his left flank to advance and take out that battery.  On the Confederate left, the 50th Tennessee’s commander, Lt. Colonel Thomas W. Beaumont, beheld a startling sight from his hilltop position, “On reconnoitering the position,” he recalled.  “I found the battery was supported by a line of infantry, which extended as far as I could see toward our right, their right resting in the woods which we were standing.”  In the face of such huge numbers, Gregg was under great risk of being overwhelmed before he could retreat.   Communication to his field officers had to be by courier, extremely difficult because of the dense, smoke-filled woods.   As a result, Gregg’s regiments would often find themselves isolated and fighting on their own. 

Unaware of the numbers they faced, the 10th/30th Consolidated Tennessee Regiment launched a daring infantry charge against the Union left flank, driving it back for six hundred yards.  After the flag bearer for the 7th Missouri Regiment was shot down, the Union troops began to cave but received timely reinforcement.  The best field officer in the XVII Corps, Major General John “Blackjack” Logan, rallied fleeing Union troops and sent them back into action.  The Tennesseans fell back to their original position then lied down on the ground to become less of a target.  During the battle, Gregg was informed through cavalry scouts and Union prisoners of the actual size of his adversary.  Outnumbered, outflanked and short of ammo, Gregg had little choice but to order a gradual withdrawal towards Jackson, leaving Raymond to the Yankees.  Incredibly, the 7th Texas held off an entire Union division, buying precious minutes for Gregg’s   withdrawal.  Having lost one of its cannons after the barrel burst, Bledsoe’s battery, along with reserve support from the 41st Tennessee, further slowed the Union advance.

After seven hours of the most savage fighting imaginable, Gregg’s casualty figures numbered 820.  Union figures were less at 450.  The Texans and Tennesseans had fought nobly against overwhelming odds.  Raymond’s courthouse and churches became hospitals for both sides.  Gregg’s defensive stand had a profound effect on Grant; he would move on Jackson instead of proceeding northeast toward Vicksburg.  By taking Mississippi’s capital, he would remove any Confederate forces in his rear while he advanced toward his main objective.  Gregg joined with General Joseph Johnston’s 6,000 troops in Jackson.  Displaying a shocking lack of confidence and ineptitude, Johnston ordered a disastrous withdrawal.  On May 14, Jackson fell to Grant’s troops.  Vicksburg fell seven weeks later.  Destined for greater things, Gregg later commanded the famed Texas Brigade attached to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Texas Women on the Homefront

During the Civil War, Texas troops were known for their fortitude and fighting ability.  As with any army, its soldiers were only as good as the support they received back home.  Being largely a frontier state, industry, government bureaus and hard cash were severely lacking in Texas.  To make matters worse, a Union naval blockade cut off Texas ports from the outside.  For much of their support, the 70,000 Confederate Texas troops could count on only one thing — their wives, mothers and sweethearts. 

Before the war, women were literally the property of their husbands.  Unless you ran a boarding house or became a prostitute, very few paying jobs were available.  With the men gone - many times for good - women would have to take on roles long held by their male counterparts. “Be assured,” proclaimed Miss Sallie O. Smith of Marshall, Texas, “that in our bosoms burns a patriotism as lofty-a courage, in our appropriate sphere, as daring-and a heroism as chivalric, as that which nerves the brawniest arm which wields the battle-ax, and cleaves down the foe upon the field of carnage.”  She further exhorted that although the women they left behind would wield no weapons, “some Boadices, burning with Southern fire, shall leap from her retirement, and full panoplied, like Pallas from the head of Jupiter, shall brandish her saber and call, like avenging spirits from the deep, another hundred thousand heroines to avenge the wrongs of their brothers and their country.”  With talk like that, who would doubt any woman’s resolve?

At the beginning of the war, women were prime motivators for enlistment in the Confederate Army.  Dr. William Oakes of Waco, Texas wrote,  “The young ladies have entered into an agreement to refuse associating with or countenancing any unmarried man who does not volunteer in the war.”  Some ladies took it a step further.  According to Amelia Barr, “They would not eat with them, speak to them, or listen if spoken to.  They ignored all their personal necessities, or met them with constant tears and voiceless reproaches, and what man could bear his family weeping over him, as if he was already dead to their love and respect.”  The war was certainly hot for the men on the battlefront, but frosty cold on the home front if they didn’t serve in the Confederate Army.  However, the ladies’ sole means of support would now be miles away on a distant battlefield; a distance surmounted only by handwritten letters that took weeks to be delivered, if at all.  Most Texans thought it would all end in a very short time.  After a few battles, victory would be secured and the men would come home.  The four year long Civil War proved otherwise.

Ladies Aid Societies used their needles to make flags for local companies.  In a solemn ceremony, often held at the town square, the flags were presented to the commanding officers, in front of their assembled men, before marching or riding off to war.  As the war progressed, they became a cottage war industry making everything from uniforms to tents.  Blankets and quilts, a hallmark of Texas culture, got a huge production boost from the Civil War.  Lacking textile mills, cotton and wool cards were sold or issued across the state to women.  Using cards and spinning wheels, women produced cotton and wool threads to make badly needed fabrics.  Confederate uniforms were more often issued from home instead of a government supply depot.

Hospitals were considered off limits to women because of the horrendous sights, the foul odors and seeing men in a less dignified position.  The sheer number of casualties, along with a shortage of male labor, dictated otherwise.  From assisting in amputations to washing bed linen, women eagerly filled those roles.  Ladies Aid Societies also provided clothing, bandages and entertainment for the patients. Similar to the USO today, they provided music and short plays called tableaus.  Dances, fairs and barbecues were held by local woman volunteers help fund medical care.  

In East Texas, women had to assume the role of managing slave-worked farms and plantations.  Up to two hundred thousand slaves labored in Texas during the war.  Their numbers increased as slaveholders sent their slaves east to avoid the Union Army.  Women were forced to make decisions such as purchasing, management and punishment of their slaves.  Like their husbands, wives could be as cruel and domineering, especially with the help a zealous overseer.  As the war progressed, slaves were often worked harder to keep up with Confederate war demands as well as those demands on the plantation.  In many instances, however, slaves were treated like family members and worked closely with their women owners to maintain farms and households.

The Texas frontier, especially in Northwest Texas, offered greater challenges than the more settled region of East Texas.  The Victorian inspired customs of the genteel South took a back seat to a more pressing demand - survival.  Life on a frontier farm or ranch often forced women to work alongside their husbands instead of under them.  With their men off to war, they now performed farm chores alone.  Along with child care, plowing a field, milking a cow, shoeing a horse, and harvesting crops were now assumed by women.  Their biggest threat to their frontier homestead bliss was not the Union Army, but raiding Comanches and Kiowas.  Before the war, a quarter of the U. S. Army provided protection through a chain of forts.  After Texas seceded, the forts were abandoned.  Militia units offered minimal protection at best against the fast moving Comanches.  Without nearby protection, the Comanches attacked without warning, catching frontier families off guard.  Horses and arms were lacking since they were donated to the army.   Along with other families, they gathered or “forted up” in makeshift picket forts or former U. S. Army forts to fend off attacks.   One hundred or more of these picket forts dotted the frontier. 

Others were not as fortunate.  The 1864 Elm Creek Raid in Young County led to deaths of two women, a local doctor and a black slave.  Susan Durgan tried to hold off raiding Comanches with a shotgun but failed.  She was killed with a tomahawk blow to the head.  One women, her two grandchildren, and the wife and children of a slave were kidnapped by the Comanches.  Many families abandoned their homesteads altogether and headed east for a secure environment.

Some women assumed male roles completely without the burden of a domineering husband.  Sarah Jane Newman Scull, better known as Sally Scull, trailed herds of wild horses from Mexico to New Orleans and ox carts laden with cotton from South Texas to Matamoros for the Confederacy.  A Texas version of “Calamity Jane,” she swore mightily, supported a pair of revolvers and fought off five husbands who were usually old enough to be her father.  Sally’s business acumen could be as fearsome as her sidearms.  After running into a freighter who owed her money, she grabbed an ax and threatened to “chop the god damn front wheels off every god damn wagon you got.”  One European tourist wrote, “She can handle a revolver and Bowie-knife like the most reckless and skillful man; she appears at dances (fandangos) thus armed, and has shot several men at merry-makings.  Obviously, those fandangos weren’t always that merry.

Despite the absence of their men, Texas women adjusted their lifestyles to survive their state’s most tumultuous period and protect their families.  Sometimes at the expense of their own lives. 

Check out the book, “Women in Civil War Texas” edited by Deborah M. Liles and Angela Boswell.  It’s published by the University of North Texas Press in Denton, Texas.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Bad Sheriff

Sheriff A. J. Royal

In western movies, sheriffs are often portrayed as rigid disciples of law and order.  They were the one person the public could trust above all others — a bulwark against lawlessness and incivility.  Reality, however, sometimes paints a different picture.  In the town of Fort Stockton, Texas, Sheriff Andrew Jackson Royal was not the most civil of law enforcement officials.  Possessing a firm hand, he was often mistaken for a tough, no nonsense sheriff with little tolerance for bad guys.  Actually, he was just plain mean, with little tolerance for anyone.

Born on November 25, 1855, in Lee County, Alabama, Royal grew up in a family of five daughters and one son.   Royal later made his way to Fort Worth where he worked for the railroad.  In 1879, he married a young lady with the intriguing name of Naomi Obedience Christmas.  Whether or not that was her actual name or a working girl moniker has not been determined.   After their marriage, Royal moved to Junction City, Texas where he started a ranch and operated a saloon.  It was there that he began his dark decent; one of his employees was found murdered.  To avoid arrest, he moved his family of six daughters and one son to Pecos County.  Again, he started a ranch and established a saloon near Fort Stockton.   As owner of the “Gray Mule Saloon,”  Royal shot and killed another employee — obviously not a boss you want to start an argument with. 

In 1892, Royal managed to get elected the Sheriff of Pecos County.  The town citizenry became polarized into those who supported Royal and those who didn’t.  Employing a deputy of similar deportment, Barney Riggs, he terrorized those citizens and officials who didn’t support him.  In one instance, he almost beat a man to death over a stolen watermelon.  A grand jury, largely made up of Royal’s cronies, indicted Judge O. W. Williams for failure to pay a city occupation tax.   Another was indicted for fornication; a charge that didn’t hold up because the girl involved was also fornicating with a member of the grand jury.  Some just disappeared without a trace.  As the months went by, Royal only got meaner, especially after he had a few.

Royal’s main rivals were two brothers, Frank and James Rooney, local merchants, and County Clerk W. P. Matthews.  The three of them supported R. P. Neighbors in the coming 1892 election for sheriff.  Hopefully, Neighbors would replace Royal, but not before Royal tried to take out Matthews and the Rooney brothers.  Intoxicated in his saloon, Royal heard that they were at Koehler’s store.  Threatening to “wipe them out,” he pulled out his pistol and walked over to the store to confront them.  James Rooney confronted Sheriff Royal with a shotgun.  Both exchanged shots but no one was hit.  Royal had the store surrounded by his cronies and deputies.  When the Rooney brothers and Matthews refused to come out, Royal threatened to burn them out; they filed out and surrendered.  Needless to say, they were thrown in jail, along with a number of anti-Royal residents. 

As tensions in Fort Stockton began to elevate, the Texas Rangers were called to the scene.  Company D of the Texas Rangers rode into town, where a recent sheriff election was on the verge of becoming an all out feud between Royal and Neighbors supporters.  To intimidate voters, Royal had posted armed men at the polling places.  It didn’t take the Rangers long to figure out Sheriff Royal was less than appropriate for his position.  Texas Ranger Sergeant Carl Kirchner stated, “Royal was a very overbearing and dangerous man when under the influence of liquor.  Almost the entire county seems to be against him.”  Skeptical of his reelection chances, Royal looked to the Hispanic population for support.  Unable to speak Spanish, he released one of his prisoners who could.  Victor Ochoa was allowed to escape provided he would campaign for Royal.  It didn’t work.  Royal lost the election to Neighbors.  On November 21, 1894, before Neigbors took office, Royal was assassinated by a shotgun blast to the neck.  The mystery of his murder was never solved, not that anyone really cared.