Friday, December 28, 2012

New Terry's Texas Rangers Exhibit

                                            Side Arms of Captain John G. Walker

On December 17, 1861, Colonel Benjamin Franklin Terry trained his binoculars on Kentucky's Green River; a pontoon bridge had just been constructed.  “This could be a prelude to a Union advance,” he thought.  “It had to be taken out.”  Running through Central Kentucky, the Confederate front was threadbare at best.  General Albert Sidney Johnston relied heavily on his mobile forces to observe and counter enemy activity along his line; a task the 8th Texas Cavalry or Terry's Texas Rangers would in time become well suited for.
Just north of the Green River, the 32nd Indiana Infantry Regiment under Colonel August Willich guarded the bridge.  Consisting entirely of German immigrants, the 32nd took their orders in German and were trained in Prussian infantry tactics. 
Before immigrating to the United States, Willich was a revolutionary in Germany and an early proponent of Karl Marx’s budding Communist movement.  He served with distinction in the Union Army until severely wounded at the Battle of Resaca during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign.  Willich served in various military posts until he retired as a Major General in October, 1865.
Terry planned to lure Willich’s regiment across the bridge using a small decoy force then charge and surround them with his main cavalry force.  It would be the Texans first charge and one of the first cavalry versus infantry encounters of the war.  The 32nd took the bait and followed the decoys across the bridge.  Borrowing a tactic from the Battle of Waterloo, they fell into a hollow square formation to hold off the charge.  Nevertheless, the firepower from the Texans pistols and shotguns forced them to retreat across the river but not before exacting a tragic toll.  Colonel Terry was felled with a bullet to the head.  One of his officers, Captain John G. Walker, was severely wounded in the arm. 
Walker's tenure with the Rangers wouldn't last a full year.  If suffering through the horrors of Shiloh wasn't bad enough, his arm wound never heal properly.  Months in the saddle also wore on him and finally led to his resignation.  For the rest of the war, he served as the provost marshal of Orange County, Texas.  He never regained the full use of his arm.
The Texas Civil War Museum is currently displaying the side arms, hat and saddle rosette of Lt. Colonel Walker.  The most prominent item is Walker’s Colt revolver, the most popular pistol of the Civil War.  The Rangers were more than proficient in its use and absolute terrors with it at a dead gallop.  Because of the difficulty in loading on horseback, Texas cavalrymen carried up to five revolvers at the ready to sustain a constant rate of fire.  Walker’s Bowie knife was also a popular accoutrement among Texans but was seldom used in combat, serving more instead as a cutting tool.  The Lone Star patterned rosette is clear evidence of the owner’s home state.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Devil Dog

                                                                 Lt. Jack Lummus

"Don't stop now, keep going!"
For members of Company E, 27th Marines, those words brought out every ounce of rage within; their lieutenant was down!  Studded with concrete pill boxes and hidden snipers, the Japanese line seemed impenetrable.  Nevertheless, the marines broke through, taking out enemy positions left and right until they reached their objective, the northern coast of Iwo Jima.  First Lieutenant Jack Lummus would not witness their victory, but his spirit sustained their drive.  
Born on October 22, 1915, Jack Lummus grew up during the Depression on a cotton farm in Ennis, Texas.  A tight family budget wouldn't allow him to graduate from Ennis High School; the costs of a graduation robe and senior portrait were too high.  He got his high school diploma instead from Texas Military College on a sports scholarship.  After receiving a full scholarship from Baylor, he excelled in both baseball and football, obtaining all Southwest Conference honors in both.
Before Jack became a teenager, the Japanese officer that would end his life was learning cavalry tactics at Fort Bliss in El Paso.    Tadamichi Kuribayashi was serving as a deputy military attaché in Washington D.C..  For two years, he traveled across the U.S. studying American industry and military science.  In 1931, he concluded his experiences in a letter to his wife.  "The United States is the last country in the world Japan should fight," he wrote.
Before he left Baylor, Lummus signed contracts to play football for the NFL's New York Giants and minor league baseball for the Wichita Falls Spudders of the West Texas-New Mexico League (this league included such colorful names as the Roswell Sunshiners, the Lubbock Hubbers, the Big Spring Barons,  the Amarillo Gold Sox, and my personal favorite, the Borger Gassers).  He only played in twenty six games with the Spudders before being called up for active duty by the U.S. Army Air Corps.  During flight training, his wing clipped a fence post while taxing down the runway, thus damaging the plane and flunking him out of flight school.  Apparently, they weren't too forgiving back then if you wrecked a plane during training.
 He next played tight end for the New York Giants at the whopping salary of $100 a month.  During the 1941 NFL Championship game, the Chicago Bears defeated the Giants 38 to 9.  It would be the last game of Lummus' pro career.  Shortly afterwards, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve; the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor two weeks earlier.
Lummus' athletic ability made him a natural fit for the Marine Corps.  He attended officers training school at Quantico, Virginia, played for the Marines' Devil Dogs baseball team,  and was a member of the elite special operations unit, the Marine Raiders (similar in concept to today's Navy Seals).  Upon graduation, he received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant.  In February 1945, his unit landed on the volcanic shores of Iwo Jima.
Iwo Jima (Japanese for sulphur island) is part of the Volcanic Islands, 750 miles south of Tokyo. The "South Pacific" charm didn't exist here. There were no palm trees, no half clad hula dancers, and no Bali Hai.  The largely uninhabitable terrain resembled a lunar landscape with smelly sulphuric mists rising from the ground.  The soft, ash laden, volcanic soil made it extremely difficult to dig foxholes or drive vehicles on.  The landing beach would resemble a vast salvage yard because vehicles had no traction in the very fine soil.  Iwo Jima was only good for fertilizer, air strips, and graveyards.
For the U.S., Iwo Jima would provide an ideal base for B-29 heavy bombers.  Its close proximity to the Japanese mainland (about 3 hours flight time) would allow them to step up their bombing raids and provide them with the added luxury of fighter escorts.  In addition, it would deny the Japanese another fighter base to intercept U.S. bombers in route to  Japan and a forward post to warn of incoming enemy attack.
The Japanese knew Iwo Jima was a likely target and took every step possible to make it invulnerable.  After all, it was the first piece of sacred Japanese soil to be invaded.  Unlike the other Far East countries, Japan had never been invaded successfully by a foreign power.  General Kuribayashi, Iwo Jima's commandant, constructed an extensive network of underground tunnels to service every inch of the island.  Pill boxes and bunkers were cleverly placed to produce a lethal crossfire for advancing U.S. forces.  To preserve his manpower as long as possible, he forbade the use of suicidal  banzai charges, a staple of Japanese combat tactics.  The defensive strategy was simple: kill as many Americans as possible and delay the eventual invasion of the Japanese home islands.   Japan's dwindling navy and air force assured the defenders there would be no reinforcements.  You were there to fight and die. 
Aerial and naval bombardment did nothing to soften Iwo Jima for invasion.  The Japanese defenders waited until the shelling ceased and the marines came ashore.  When they started moving inland, the slaughter began.  From perfectly concealed positions, machine guns, artillery, and giant spigot mortars opened up with devastating effect.  One Lieutenant Colonel recalled, "You could've held up a cigarette and lit it on the stuff going by,  I knew immediately we were in for one hell of a time." You never saw a live Japanese soldier; they were too well dug in. It was like you were fighting the ground itself.   Gunfire was useless.  Flamethrowers, grenades, and extreme valor were the only effective weapons the marines had.
 The night brought its own horrors.  The Japanese would crawl out of their tunnels and attack the marines in their foxholes.  If you left your foxhole, there was the likely danger of being shot by your jittery buddies next door who mistook you for the enemy.  If things weren't bad enough, the Japanese would call out in English for medical corpsmen then shoot them when they approached.
Lummus survived the initial beach landings, witnessed Mt. Suribachi's fall, and helped secure the main airfields.  Kuribayashi slowly fell back to the rugged northern point of the 8 square mile island.  It was there he would make his last stand.  Supplies and ammunition were running out, but not their resolve.  Iwo Jima was the only battle where U.S. casualties outnumbered Japan's.  According to the ancient Samurai Code of Bushido, surrender was considered a  shameful act of cowardice; you either died in combat or committed suicide.  Only 216 of the 22,060 Japanese on Iwo Jima were captured.
                                                           Flag Raising on Mt. Suribachi

It was into this last desperate stronghold that Lt. Lummus led E company.  In succession, Lummus took out three pillboxes by firing into their apertures with his carbine then tossing in grenades.  The concussion from a Japanese grenade knocked him off his feet.  Undaunted, the advance continued while a second grenade tore a gaping wound in Lummus' shoulder.  Incredibly, he took out a foxhole before stepping on a land mine.  The blast tore off both his legs, leaving mere stumps to stand on.  Propped up by an elbow, the ash covered torso presented a ghastly sight only made agreeable by Lummus' stirring words of encouragement.  He was taken to a field hospital where he told Dr. Thomas Brown, "Well Doc, the New York Giants lost a mighty good end today."  Lt. Jack Lummus died on March 8, 1945 at the age of 29. He was awarded posthumously the Medal of Honor and reinterred at Myrtle Cemetery in Ennis. Appropriately, an intermediate school in Ennis was named Jack Lummus Intermediate School in his honor.
The body of General Kurybayashi was never found.
Check out these three fine movies on the Battle of Iwo Jima:
The classic "The Sands of Iwo Jima" starring John Wayne.
Clint Eastwood's two highly acclaimed films: "Flags of Our Fathers" for the American view and "Letters From Iwo Jima" for the Japanese view. 
To see what the Marines were up against during World War II, check out the great HBO mini-series "The Pacific."  Very gruesome, intense stuff.  Not for kids and the faint of heart.
For more details on the life of Jack Lummus and his family, take a look at the impressive website

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Texas Civil War Museum Receives Donated National Confederate Flag

The Texas Civil War Museum received its first donated flag, a Confederate national flag.  This 2nd national flag or “Stainless Banner” had once been in the possession of Lieutenant Henry Lillibridge, a quartermaster for the 178th Ohio infantry regiment. His descendant, Elizabeth Wood, gave the flag to the UDC’s Oran M. Roberts Chapter in Houston. The UDC (United Daughters of the Confederacy) in turn donated it to the museum. As a quartermaster, Lillibridge was in charge of confiscating rebel property in Tennessee and North Carolina. 

A late comer to the war, the 178th Ohio was assigned to defend Murfreesboro, TN during General John Bell Hood’s 1864 advance into Tennessee. Most of their fighting was with guerillas who tried to sabotage the railroad tracks. One guerilla, John Seal, was captured and executed. After Hood’s crushing defeat at Nashville, the 178th was sent to North Carolina to bolster Sherman’s advance. After the war, they performed occupation duty in Charlotte, NC.

During the war, flags were highly valued trophies. The loss of a regimental flag was the ultimate disgrace for both sides. To prevent confiscation, it was not uncommon for captured Confederate units to hide flags in their clothing, tear them into small pieces for easy concealment then sew them back together later, or bury them in the ground. The flag of the 4th Texas infantry regiment was once buried on the banks of Austin's Barton Springs.  National flags, like this one, were taken down from public buildings and replaced with Union ones if the city was occupied by Federal troops.

The “Stainless Banner” replaced the 1st national flag or "Stars and Bars."  Because of its red, white and blue pattern, the "Stars and Bars" was easily mistaken for a Union flag on the battlefield. The “Stainless Banner” was adopted to end the confusion. This flag consists of a Confederate battle flag in the upper left corner and a field of white covering the rest of the flag. The thirteen stars represent the thirteen Confederate states. Missouri and Kentucky were included even though they didn’t actually secede; they had Confederate governments in exile. A noticeable problem with the flag was its resemblance to a flag of truce; something that might send a mixed message.
In addition, the stainless white field was easily soiled. As a solution, a 3rd national flag was adopted in March 1865 that featured the “Stainless Banner” with a red border on its right side that covered the width of the flag. The controversial Confederate battle flag or rebel flag was used by military and naval units. Many people today assume the battle flag was the Confederate national flag, but it wasn’t.

The donated flag will be conserved by Textile Preservation Associates of Ranson, West Virginia. For decades, the flag was stored in a small metal box, leaving severe  creases from being folded. A specialized humidification process will be used to restore the flag’s pliability after its lengthy folded storage. A low pressure vacuum is used next to clean the flag without damaging the fabric. Afterwards, the flag is mounted on stabiltex to preserve the fibers and placed in an airtight frame for viewing.

Here are the three Confederate National Flags:


1st National (“Stars and Bars”) Flag
March, 1861 – May, 1863

2nd National (‘Stainless Banner”) Flag
May 1863 – March 1865

3rd National Flag
Since March 1865

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sul Ross' Texas Hold'em

Colonel Lawrence Sullivan Ross

Colonel Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross saw the blue wave coming and was stunned in his tracks. His fellow Texans of the 1st Texas Legion and General John C. Moore’s badly depleted Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi regiments were engulfed like beachfront condos during a hurricane. General Dabney Maury screamed at Ross and his fellow officers, “Run for your lives!” Ross’ only hope now was to pull his troops back across the Davis Bridge and take up positions on a nearby ridge. The remnants of Moore’s brigade became intermingled with Ross’ men, causing more confusion and more captives. Confederate General Earl Van Dorn’s Army of West Tennessee, as well as Ross himself, was in grave danger of being overtaken. It was now up to Ross; he had to hold off thousands of Federal troops with only a few hundred exhausted men.

Lawrence Sullivan Ross was born on September 27, 1838 in Bentonsport, Iowa. Anxious for a warmer climate, his family migrated to the Republic of Texas. They later founded present day Waco where he attended Baylor University and later Florence Wesleyan University in Northern Alabama. The Ross family found warmer weather, cheaper land, and the dreaded Comanches.

After he graduated, he joined the Texas Rangers. In 1860, at the Battle of Pease River, he captured Cynthia Ann Parker, the white mother of famed Comanche war chief, Quanah Parker. Ross also gunned down Parker’s Comanche father, Peta Nocona. His reputation as an Indian fighter soared afterwards.

Leading a company of Indian scouts for the U.S. Cavalry, Ross encountered a Comanche encampment near present day Rush Springs, Oklahoma. The Comanche chief, Buffalo Hump, had led a number of devastating raids into Texas and was a prime target for reprisal. In the ensuing fight, Ross was hit in the shoulder by an arrow and shot in the chest with a carbine. He had to be carried from the battle site on a mule drawn litter. Riddled with infection, he survived but would suffer from the effects for the rest of his life.

After Texas seceded, he joined the Confederate Army and became a major in the 6th Texas Cavalry. Impressed with Ross’ Indian fighter skills, former Texas Ranger General Benjamin McCulloch sent him on several scouting missions within the Union lines near Springfield, Missouri.

At the Battle of Pea Ridge, the 6th Texas served under the incompetent hand of Major General Earl Van Dorn. The poorly coordinated battle was a disaster for Confederate aspirations west of the Mississippi. To his credit, Van Dorn gave one of the more artful excuses for losing a battle. “I was not defeated, but only foiled in my intentions.” An accomplished skirt chaser (he was called “the terror of ugly husbands”), he was later shot in the back of the head by Dr. James Peters; his hot young wife Jesse was having an affair with Van Dorn.

In full retreat and destitute, Ross was forced to send his regiment's horses back to Texas for lack of forage. The 6th Texas Cavalry was now an infantry regiment on foot. Van Dorn took his ill-fated army across the Mississippi River but just missed the Battle of Shiloh.

To assist the Confederate Army of Tennessee while it invaded Kentucky, Van Dorn was charged with keeping the Union Army of the Tennessee occupied in Northern Mississippi. Joining forces with Sterling Price’s Missourians, he decided to attack the heavily fortified railroad junction of Corinth. Met with heavy artillery fire and stout fortifications, Van Dorn failed to dislodge the Union defenders. At Battery Robinett, the 2nd Texas Brigade was decimated along with its commander, Colonel William P. Rodgers, who wore an immense iron vest that failed to protect him from the hail of bullets. Sul Ross almost met the same fate as Rodgers but lost his horse instead.

Van Dorn ordered a retreat west to Ripley, Mississippi; a route that would take his army across the Hatchie River. The Union commander, General Ulysses S. Grant, sent troops under Stephen Hurlbut from Bolivar, Tennessee to cut off Van Dorn’s retreat. From the East, General Rosecrans was ordered to pursue him from Corinth. Fortunately for Van Dorn, Rosecrans was slow in taking up the pursuit. Nevertheless, Grant was confident he had his man in the bag.

The bag had an opening, but it depended on how fast Van Dorn could get across the Hatchie. As elements of Van Dorn’s command crossed the Davis Bridge, they encountered Hurlbut’s troops. Colonel Wirt Adams’ Mississippi cavalry managed to delay the Union attack for a short time. Union General Edward Ord (My God! Who was this guy's barber?) arrived on the scene and assumed command of Hurlbut’s forces. Sensing a decisive victory, Ord’s blood was up and he pressed his troops hard to attack; he even struck one officer with the flat of his sword for falling back to realign his men. Illinois troops crossed the narrow bridge where they became pinned down between the bridge and Ross’ position on the ridge. Ord himself became a casualty after canister shot hit him in the leg, knocking him from his horse.

Major General Edward Ord

Things got worse as more and more Union troops crossed the bridge.  Ord's command became a tangled blue mass as they filed into the confined and overcrowded area at the base of the ridge; they were sitting ducks.  Texas and Arkansas troops mowed them down with brutal efficiency. One Union sergeant assumed command of his company after all the officers were killed and he buckled on his dead captain's sword belt.  “We would allow them to approach until we could see the white of their eyes,” recalled Colonel Ras Stirman. “Then without exposing ourselves in the least, we would pour volley after volley into them, cutting them down like grass. I never saw such slaughter in my life.”

For six hours, a Union force four times the size of their opponent’s was held back; Van Dorn made his escape further downriver at Crum’s Bridge. Ross lost only 7 killed and 22 wounded.  Ord lost 570.

Ross survived the war and fathered eight children. Undoubtedly the most popular man in Texas during the late 1800’s, he later became the Sheriff of McLennan County, a state senator, the first Commander of the Texas Division of the United Confederate Veterans, and a two term Governor of Texas.

Ross' most notable achievements came during his tenure as the first President of Texas A&M University. Because of his extreme popularity and Confederate veteran support, A&M's enrollment soared. Like a doting father, Ross made himself accessible to his students and would personally discuss their performance with each of them. Many of the Aggie traditions we are familiar with today were started while he was president. Here are just a few:

· The highly acclaimed Marching Texas Aggie Band.

· The Aggie Ring.

· The first football game between Texas A&M and the University of Texas.

· The school newspaper “The Battalion.”

· The first Silver Taps Ceremony was held for Ross after his death.

Sul Ross Statue at Texas A&M University

After his death in 1891, the entire Texas A&M student body accompanied his body back to Waco. A bronze statue of him was erected on campus.  To this day students place pennies at the base for good luck during exams. In 1920, Ross was honored by having a college at the Big Bend town of Alpine (Sul Ross State University) named after him. Gig Em !


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Monument Honors Fallen Texans in Virginia

For the honored dead of the elite Texas Brigade, a well kept grave with a tombstone was a rarity.  Usually it was a shallow pit and a scrap of wood.  In Winchester, Virginia, six members of the 1st and 5th Texas Infantry were fortunate to be buried in marked graves.  Time and Mother Nature, however, are wearing down the tombstones to the point they could no longer be read.

A solution to this vexing problem was suggested by Miss Kassidi Woodlock, President of the Texas Division of the Children of the Confederacy.  For her President’s project, she coordinated the funding for an impressive monument to honor the six fallen Texans.  Money was raised through the efforts of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Children of the Confederacy, and Hood’s Texas Brigade Association.

On July 22, 2012, the monument was unveiled in Winchester.  The six names are inscribed on a granite surface of light gray.  The good Virginians of the UDC and SCV Turner Ashby Chapters provided refreshments and a color guard.  The Joyner Sisters provided the music.  It’s true greatness when Southerners from the former Confederate states can get together for events like this.  Thank you Kassidi!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Big 50

Army scout and buffalo hunter Billy Dixon didn’t like what he was hearing.  While loading his wagon, he could hear the low rumble of hoof beats in the distant prairie.  His friend Bat Masterson grew nervous, “What the hell is that?”  

“I don’t know,” said Dixon, “but I don’t like it.”

 Suddenly the hoof beats gave way to Indian war whoops.  Masterson, Dodge City’s famed marshal, fled to the nearby saloon with Dixon right behind him.

Ike and Shorty Shadler weren’t as lucky.  Cut off from the nearby trading post, they tried to hide beneath a canvas tarp in the back of their wagon.  When one of the Indians pulled back the tarp, he was met by a rifle blast to the upper body.  Both brothers were quickly overwhelmed with bullets, arrows and scalping knives.  The brothers’ Labrador tried to defend them but met the same fate.  Impressed with the dog’s courage, the Indians scalped the Labrador.

At dawn on June 27, 1874, a band of over two hundred Comanches, Cheyenne, Kiowas and Arapahos descended on the trading post of Adobe Wells in the Texas Panhandle.  They were led by the last of the great Comanche war chiefs, Quanah Parker.  The son of an Anglo mom, Cynthia Parker, and a Comanche father, Peta Nocona, Parker had a long standing score to settle with the white Texans that killed his father, held his mom captive, and were slaughtering all the buffalo, an integral part of Plains Indian culture. 
                                                                       Quanah Parker
Adobe Wells existed for one purpose, the hunting, skinning and shipping of buffalo hides.  From 1871 to 1874, the once vast buffalo herds of the Great Plains were being wiped out.  The last great herds were in the Texas Panhandle.  Filthy, hard drinking, foul mouthed buffalo hunters arrived to finish the job they started in the upper plains of Kansas and Nebraska.  For the Comanches, Adobe Wells was a threat to their very existence.

To bolster his attack, Quanah brought along a popular medicine man called Isa-tai, whose name literally translates into “Coyote Vagina.”  I can’t imagine what a name like that implies and I’m not sure I want to.  Deluded by his own sleight of hand magic tricks and over the top claims, Isa-tai convinced many Comanches that he could make them bullet proof against the white man’s guns.  Before the end of the day, many of Quanah’s warriors would come to regret their faith in “Coyote Vagina’s” big medicine.

Luckily, the buffalo hunters that resided at the sod built village were up and about.  The local bartender, James Hanrahan, had been tipped off earlier about a possible attack by traders who were in contact with the Comanches.  To prevent a panic, he kept the hunters busy repairing a ridgepole that held up his tavern’s roof.  After they finished their task, he gave them all free drinks.  Drinks at 5:00 AM in the morning? These guys were really tough.  When the attack came, they were ready.  They had more than enough ammo and each possessed the most powerful firearm of the Old West, the Sharp’s 50 caliber buffalo rifle, better known as the “Big 50.”

Popular on both sides during the Civil War, Sharps rifles were noted for their accuracy and reliability.  The word “sharpshooter” comes from one who possessed and was proficient with a Sharp’s rifle.  Berdan’s Sharpshooters, a Union regiment of marksmen, obtained immortal fame for their skills with the Sharp’s rifle.  Despite its reliability, it was one thing to shoot a human, but quite another when it came to buffaloes.  Their thick hides and massive size made them difficult to bring down.  Buffalo hunters needed more fire power for a quicker kill.

In response, Sharps developed a rifle with a 34 inch octagonal barrel and a huge 50 caliber cartridge to fill it.  The “Big 50’s” awesome firepower could take out a 2,000 pound buffalo at 1,000 yards.  Against humans and in the hands of experienced marksmen, the results were devastating.  
                                                 The Sharp's 50 Caliber Buffalo Rifle

Twenty eight men and one woman barricaded themselves within two stores and a saloon.  The two foot sod walls offered excellent protection.  In addition, sod doesn’t burn, which took away that mode of attack from the Indians.  The Indians could only surround the post and pick off the inhabitants, something that was difficult to do against raw meat-eating buffalo hunters.  The “Big 50’s” began dropping Quanah’s band like the buffaloes they were intended for.  Indians who fell back to what they considered a safe distance suddenly became casualties of the rifles astonishing range (three quarters of a mile distant).

By four o’clock in the evening the attack winded down.  Isa-tai, covered with a yellow war paint to project his magic, witnessed first- hand the end of his magic and influence.  One of the Cheyenne whipped Isa-tai in the face with a leather quirt.  He asked, “What’s matter your medicine?  You have polecat medicine.”  As if to put an exclamation point on the buffalo hunters’ dominance, Dixon shot a warrior from a mile away, the most famous single shot in the history of the Old West.

Indian losses totaled around 15 while the hunters lost 4; one by accident after he discharged his rifle into his head after his wife handed it to him.  For the Comanches, it was another marker on the road to defeat.                                                                                               
Billy Dixon

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Lion of the Rio Grande

Let’s face it!  Most of us know little about the role Hispanics played in America’s bloodiest conflict.  We think of them as mere bystanders who could care less about the Gringos’ big fight.  After all, there was little slavery in the Southwest and the recent War with Mexico left them feeling more like conquered subjects rather than U.S. citizens.  However, there was one very notable exception, a former Tejano mayor named Santos Benavides. 
                                                        Santos Benavides

The Laredo native was born in 1823 to an affluent family whose ancestry included Laredo’s founder, Thomas Sanchez.  When Texas was under Mexican rule, Benavidez was a strong backer of the Federalists during their decades- long struggle with the Centralists in Mexico City.   Isolated in a remote stretch of Northern Mexico, he believed Laredo was best served by a decentralized, regional government.  Because of his belief, it’s not surprising Benavides was attracted to the states rights doctrine of the Confederacy. 

After Texas seceded, Benavides was commissioned a captain in the Texas 33rd Cavalry and assigned the task of patrolling the Rio Grande Valley; a job he was highly suited for.  Because of his ties to the region, Benavides maintained an effective network of spies, informants and scouts on both sides of the border.  Eventually, he became colonel of the regiment, the highest ranking Hispanic during the war.  Mexican governors, with mounting problems of their own, negotiated with him, befriended him or simply looked the other way if he crossed their borders.  Vital cotton shipments from Laredo to Matamoros (see “The Mexico Connection” posting) were often guarded by Benavides’ men.
                                                            Juan Cortina

Benavides' main adversary was a Mexican rancher, politician and outlaw named Juan Cortina.  Owner of a large ranch near Brownsville, Cortina fought against the U.S. during the Mexican War.  He hated the Anglo Texas politicians who tried to take his land and exploit poor Hispanics.  In one instance, he shot Brownsville’s town marshal for pistol whipping a former ranch hand of his.  Prior to the Civil War, Cortina supporters occupied Brownsville until driven off by the U.S. Cavalry and local militia.  When Federal forces invaded South Texas in 1863, Cortina sided with them and offered his services to Union General Nathaniel Banks.  To this day, his legacy fuels debate. Was Cortina a glorious hero of the downtrodden or an opportunistic outlaw thug?   

In April 1861, Hispanic residents in Zapata County revolted against Confederate authority.  With Cortina’s support, they marched on the village of Carrizo.   At Henry Redmond’s Ranch outside the village, Benavides’ Tejano cavalry plowed into Cortina’s men, routing them into the Rio Grande.  In a note to the Confederate command, he showed his ruthless side.  “I particularly ordered my men not to arrest any of the bandits, but to kill them all,” Benavides reported. “Consequently, I have no prisoners.” As a reward, the Governor of Texas presented him with an engraved pistol.

This led to an ongoing border conflict between the Confederate Benavidez in Texas and the Union supporting Cortina in Mexico.   If provoked, Benavides did not hesitate to pursue his adversaries across the border and attack them wherever they camped.  An example was Octaviano Zapata, a Mexican bandit who received U.S Consulate support from Matamoros.  After attacking Confederate supply trains and displaying a U.S. flag in the process, he thought he was safe in Mexico.  He didn’t count on Benavides tracking him down. In 1863, near the Mexican town of Mier, Benavides surprised the Zapatista camp and brutally dispersed them.  All of Zapata’s lieutenants were killed.  Zapata, firing his pistol to the end, had his head caved in with a rifle butt.

In March 19, 1864, a detachment of 200 Texas Unionists set out to attack Laredo from the Mexico side of the border.  Benavides was sick in bed when warned of their approach.  Half dead from illness, he arose from his bed and quickly gathered forty two of his men and a handful of locals to act as snipers.  Laredo’s streets were barricaded with cotton bales.  For three hours, he held off repeated Union assaults.  Benavides exclaimed, “As it is, I have to fight to the last; though hardly able to stand I shall die fighting.  I won’t retreat, no matter what force the Yankees have-I know I can depend on my boys.”  At nightfall, the Union force retreated with no casualties on the Confederate side.

After the war, Benavides served three successive terms in the Texas Legislature.  In 1884, he was appointed the Texas delegate to the World Cotton Exposition.  He remained a rancher and political force until his death in 1891.  Benavides' guarding presence was vital to the defense of Texas during the Civil War.  As the war progressed, he made Federal invasion more daunting and more doubtful of success.  Today, his contributions are honored by the Laredo school that bears his name, Colonel Santos Benavides Elementary School.  Go Broncos !

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Light Gray Apaches

Life in Utopia, Texas was not always like the town’s name. This remote Hill Country community was far from the long established towns in East Texas, an easy target for outlaws and Indian war parties.   Thirteen year old Frank Buckelew knew something about war parties.  In 1866, his father was killed by a war party two miles from his home.  Now orphaned, Frank and his two sisters moved in with their uncle.  While out in the pasture tending to his uncle’s oxen, he and his friend Morris were startled by two steers racing by; something had spooked them.  Deciding speed was the better part of curiosity, he and Morris took off for his uncle’s house.  A band of Indians emerged from the nearby woods and gave chase.  Morris got away, but Frank didn’t.  A warrior caught up with Frank and held a drawn bow and arrow to his head.  The war party roughly subdued their captive and took him to their village.  Frank’s youth probably saved him from an imminent death.  It didn’t save him from a severe beating.  Frank was stripped of his clothing then whipped with cat’s claw vines by the village’s children and women.  The worst of it came when he had to walk through a long gauntlet of taunts, clubs, leather whips, sticks, and punches.  Dazed and bruised, he was painted, dressed in Indian garb, and had his ears pierced by an elderly woman.  He was now an initiated member of the tribe.  A tribe referred to in history and today as the Lipan Apaches.   

The Lipan Apaches were part of an array of Apache tribes that extended from Arizona to Central Texas.  The word Lipan means “Light Gray People” because the Lipans believed each point of the compass was represented by a color. White represented north and black represented east.  Since the Lipans migrated from the North (white) to the East (black) the colors became mixed into light gray, hence the name Lipan. 

The Lipans belonged to the Eastern band of Apaches that consisted of the Jicarilla, Kiowa-Apache and Lipan Apache.  Attracted to the vast buffalo herds in the Southern Plains, they entered Texas in the 1600’s.   Despite the Lipans’ initial interest, Spanish missionaries tried to convert them, but to no avail.

 What the Lipans really wanted from the missions was protection from a shared enemy: the Comanches.  Masters of horse warfare, the Comanches were unstoppable in the 1700’S and early 1800’s.  They slowly pushed the Lipans into Mexico and Southwest Texas.  Because of their semi-sedentary lifestyle from raising crops, Lipan villages were isolated, tempting targets for the Comanches. It was little wonder Lipans served as scouts and auxiliary troops for the Texas Rangers.  One Lipan chief, Flacco, became a colonel in the Republic of Texas Army.

The Lipans lived in scattered bands that shared a common language and culture.  There was no tribal head chief, only the loosely held position of band chief.  Anyone could lead a raid or a hunt as long as he had the followers to carry it out.  In time, they gave up on raising crops and became more nomadic like their Plains Indian neighbors.  They took to the horse and hunted buffalo.  In addition to buffalo, their diet consisted of deer, antelope, the agave plant, and a coarse flour obtained from the Sotol bulb.  The astonishing thing about Apaches is how they could find sustenance in the most barren, desolate regions of the Southwest.  In the desert, they ruled!

Like most Plains Indians, they wore breech cloths during the summer and buckskin shirts in the winter.  Males shaved the left side of their heads while letting the right side grow to shoulder-length.  They tied their hair into braided ponytails and decorated them with feathers. Lipans lived in teepees and wikiups with a smoke hole at top for lighting fires inside.

 Marriages were carried out after a lengthy courtship with the prospective wife and her family.  The groom had to give a horse, weapons and deer skins as gifts for the daughter’s hand.  It’s sort of like buying your future in-laws a new pickup before you married their daughter.  Unless the daughter looked like Taylor Swift, I doubt many young men today would go for that.  Also, once you married into that family, you were obligated to provide for that family until they released you, even if your wife died.  In that case, you had to marry a sister or cousin.  If the husband died, the wife would shave off her hair, wound herself, and weep for days on end.  I doubt my wife would shave her head upon my demise.  She would just plant me and throw away my underwear.

Apaches of all bands had a morbid fear of ghosts.  When someone in the village died, the elderly had to prepare it for burial so the young folks wouldn’t be contaminated by the dead person’s spirit.  Along with their personal possessions, the corpse was carried on its horse to the burial site.  Upon arrival, it was buried with its possessions and the horse was killed over the gravesite.  After the burial, the relatives took an alternate route back to the village to confuse any newly risen ghosts that might follow them home.

Smallpox, Comanches and the U.S. Cavalry took a frightful toll.  The Mexican Army considered them a nuisance and went out of their way to eradicate them.  Texas settlers complained of Lipan raids from across the Mexican border.  In 1873, six companies of the 4th U.S. Cavalry attacked Lipan camps in Coahuila, Mexico.  Their chief, Costalites, was captured and taken to San Antonio.  He was imprisoned in a filthy corral serving as a prison camp but later escaped.  Costalites was found dead 13 miles from San Antonio.  Many of the remaining Lipans joined the Mescalero Apaches on their New Mexico reservation.  The few left in Texas, like most Texas tribes, were forcibly moved to Southwest Oklahoma.

White captives, like Frank, were usually given the task of caring for the horses.  He was also about to fall prey to an arranged marriage.  After a year, Frank decided he had enough and escaped.  He later became a Methodist preacher.  Frank Buckelew died in 1931.

For decades, it was thought the Lipans had disappeared, assimilated by other tribes and the general Hispanic population.  That changed as more and more Lipan descendants became aware and better informed of their ancestry.  In 2009, the Lipan Apaches became a state recognized tribe based in McAllen.  A rich culture brought back into the Texas fabric.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Texas UDC Unveils Civil War Anniversary Monument

On a windy Saturday, May 5, 2012, a 20 foot monument was unveiled in front of the Texas Civil War Museum.  Constructed by Schlitzberger & Daughters Monument Company of Houston, the monument commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and honors the sacrifice of Texans and their families.  The unveiling ceremony was performed by the Texas Division of the UDC (United Daughters of the Confederacy).  Music was provided by the Buttermilk Junction Band and the UDC’s Texas Belles.  The SCV 3rd Brigade Color Guard presented the colors before the dedication.  
Under Betty Mann, construction was financed through private and public donations in eighteen months.  The monument was carried by flat bed truck upon completion and hoisted on to its site by crane.  Inspired by the San Jacinto monument, the anniversary monument features a 5-point star on top of a 15 ft. granite obelisk.  Epitomizing the Southern woman’s sense of duty, selected biblical passages grace each side of the base.  Among the inscribed passages are:
I have fought the Good Fight.
I have finished the race.
I have kept the faith.
(II Timothy 4:7)

Strength and home are her clothing and she shall rejoice in the time to come.
(Proverbs 31:25)

Sherri Davis provided solid research for the inscriptions while Jamie Crump Davis, President of the Texas Division of the UDC, designed the monument.  “It’s a small way to show our appreciation for the sacrifice our ancestors made.  The focus of the monument is duty,” said Mrs. Davis.   Robert E. Lee’s inscribed quote on the obelisk states it best, “Do your duty in all things.  You cannot do more.  You should not wish to do less.” 
Granite benches are provided for those who care to pause and reflect on our nation’s greatest tragedy. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Mexico Connection

                                          Richard King and Mifflin Kenedy

In December, 1863, a detachment of eighty Federal cavalrymen set out on a hundred mile trek north from Brownsville.  A portion of the detachment included members of the 1st and 2nd Texas Union Cavalry, Texans who opposed the Confederacy and had sided with the Union.  Their objective was a ranch just off the southern coast of Texas near Corpus Christi.  On December 23, they galloped through the front gate.  The owner, Richard King, was warned three days earlier.  Thinking his pregnant wife, Henrietta, and their four children would be safer if he left the ranch; King placed them under the care of a faithful hand, Francisco Alvarado.  Under the command of Captain James Speed, the troopers ransacked the ranch house in front of Henrietta and shot Francisco dead.  Speed warned the father in law, Hiram Chamberlain: “You tell King that if one bale of cotton is carried away from here or burned, I will hold him responsible with his life.” After rustling some of King’s cattle for their trip back, they left.   Speed’s warning would only elicit defiance.  “They were worse afraid than the ladies of the house,” King sneered after learning of the attack.  He continued his operations that would make him one of the wealthiest men in Texas and a legend in the cattle industry, smuggling cotton through Mexico for Confederate arms.

Because of the Union naval blockade off the Gulf coast, the Confederacy sought alternative sources for arms and supplies.  Mexico, a neutral foreign country with a long border, became a prime source.  For the Trans-Mississippi states of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana, this took on a note of desperation after the Mississippi River was captured by Union forces.  To purchase supplies, cotton was the only medium of exchange readily available and outside of gold, the only one accepted by foreign suppliers. 

The problem was getting the cotton there.  Texas had a small rail network that went only as far south as Alleyton, fifty miles west from Houston.  Wagons carried the cotton from there to Brownsville, a month-long trip over semi-arid terrain with little sustenance for mules and oxen.  Because of bandits and Comanche war parties, armed outriders accompanied the wagon trains.  The King Ranch served as a depot (some would say an oasis) on the wagons’ tortuous trail.  After reaching Brownsville, the cotton was ferried across the Rio Grande to Matamoros.  From there it was carried east by river steamer and wagon to Bagdad, a seedy, ramshackle boomtown near the mouth of the Rio Grande.  A Texas pastor decried Bagdad as “a veritable Babel, a Babylon, a whirlpool of business, pleasure, and sin. A common laborer could easily gain from five to six dollars per day, while a man who owned a skiff or a lighter could make from twenty to forty dollars.  The saloon and hotel keepers were reaping an abundant harvest.  The Gulf, for three or four miles out, was literally a forest of masts.”

Those masts belonged to European and American ships. Inspired by greed, some Northern ship owners buried their loyalties and shipped munitions out of Union states.  Munitions destined for Texas!  In one of the Civil War’s strangest episodes, the New York ship, “Alfred H. Partridge,” was overtaken by the Confederate raider, “Clarence.”  Bound for Matamoros, the ship was carrying arms for the Confederacy.  Upon learning of the ship’s destination, the “Clarence’s” skipper released the “Alfred H. Partridge” under a $5,000 bonded promise to deliver its cargo to the “loyal citizens of the Confederate States.”

Because of the shallow waters off the Mexican coast, steamboats brought the cotton out from Bagdad to the ships.  They returned with arms and supplies.  Most of the steamboats were owned by two former New Yorkers, Mifflin Kenedy and cattle rancher Richard King.  Formed in 1850, M. Kenedy and Co. had a monopoly on steamboat operations from Brownsville to the mouth of the Rio Grande.  To prevent seizure by Union warships, the partners placed their boats under Mexican registry.  The Federal Navy could only watch as steamboat after steamboat brought in supplies and ammo in exchange for cotton. 

To smooth things over in Mexico, Monterrey resident and Confederate representative J.A. Quintero established or tried to establish relations with Mexico’s corrupt border governors.  Santiago Vidaurri, Governor of both Nuevo Leon and Coahuila, controlled a major portion of the cotton routes in Mexico.  Realizing the economic opportunities, Vidaurri was more than anxious to establish friendly relations with the Confederacy.  Friendly relations, however, couldn’t stave off export and import duties imposed on the outbound cotton and inbound military supplies, not to mention the storage fees, transport fees, outright bribes, and extorted tariffs from border warlords who sometimes seized the shipments.

Another important figure in the cotton trade was Confederate Major Simeon Hart, the Trans-Mississippi Department’s purchasing agent.  An El Paso native with a Mexican wife, Hart had extensive connections in Mexico. Hart’s palatial home eventually became El Paso’s famed La Hacienda Cafe.  Unfortunately, it’s closed.  It was Hart that helped supply Texas’ ill-fated expedition into New Mexico.  While working every branch of his network to get arms, Hart would sometimes impress civilian cotton bales to pay for needed supplies, causing a huge uproar among Texas planters.

Eventually, President Lincoln had to act.  As a further inducement, France occupied Mexico after President Benito Juarez suspended foreign debt payments.  Afraid of a possible alliance with the Confederacy, Lincoln felt a Union presence on the Rio Grande would deter any French meddling.  In November, 1863, ten thousand Union troops under General Nathaniel Banks landed near Brownsville and occupied the city.  Hundreds of cotton bales were put to the torch to prevent their use by Federal forces.

Union forces slowed the cotton trade but didn’t completely stop it; the cotton routes were simply moved west to Eagle Pass and Laredo.  Banks simply didn’t have the manpower to cover the entire length of the Rio Grande.  In addition, South Texas had an ally in Union Army Chief of Staff Henry Halleck who felt the invasion was too difficult to maintain in far off South Texas and wouldn’t accomplish anything.  Instead, he favored an expedition up the Red River in Louisiana and entrance into East Texas via Shreveport.  New England politicians, such a Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew, wanted East Texas cotton for their states’ idle textile mills.  Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant had the final word on the matter; he ordered Banks to leave five months after he landed.  What forces remained in Brownsville were shoved off the mainland by Colonel John S. (Rip) Ford’s “Cavalry of the West.”  For the remainder of the war, Texas was Union free and the cotton trade continued.  The Union maintained a presence on Brazos Santiago, a five mile stretch of sand in the Gulf near the mouth of the Rio Grande.

Despite their best efforts, the Confederacy still couldn’t obtain enough arms to outfit all their troops.  Some units in Arkansas and the Indian Territory had no arms whatsoever; the demand greatly exceeded the supply.  After the Confederacy fell, the cotton trade collapsed.  As a show of strength to the French, U.S. troops, under General Phil Sheridan, were rushed into the border region.  Bagdad, which once had a wartime population of 15,000, was totally abandoned by 1880.  No structures stand today, just beach umbrellas, volleyball nets and vendor huts selling Coronas.  It is now a popular beach named appropriately Playa Bagdad.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"I'm gonna get you for nothing."

“If you don’t surrender, I’ll charge you with the Texas Rangers under the black flag.”
[General Nathan Bedford Forrest to the 9th Michigan Infantry on July 13, 1862 at Murfreesboro, TN] 

The 9th Michigan quickly surrendered.

Few Confederate units could generate more fear among Union troops than the 8th Texas Cavalry Regiment, better known as Terry’s Texas Rangers.  Armed with shotguns, Colt revolvers and Bowie knives, the Rangers charged and shot their way into Texas legend.  One Union officer wrote, “The Rangers are as quick as lightning.  They ride like Arabs, shoot like archers at the mark, and fight like devils.  They rode upon bayonets as if they were charging a commissary department, are wholly without fear themselves, and no respecter of a wish to surrender.” 
                                                           General Alexander Shannon
In July 1864, a special detachment of thirty Rangers was formed as a reconnaissance and commando unit.   Their mission was to conduct raids and gather intelligence on Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee.  Led by Colonel Alexander May Shannon, they killed over fifty Federal troops and captured over one hundred. 

Their first objective was to reconnoiter a Union battery outside of Atlanta.  The scouts, disguised in Federal uniforms, completed their mission.  As a reward, each of them stole a horse from a Union stable.  Over the final months of the war, the Scouts gathered intelligence on Sherman’s army and fended off Union cavalry raids.  Of all their activities, their most noted was executing Union foragers or "bummers” in Georgia and the Carolinas.  Enraged over the ransacked homes of destitute Southerners, the Scouts often shot “bummers” and left their corpses by the road as a warning.  In one instance, twenty one were discovered with their throats slashed.  Others had the words “Death to all Foragers” carved into their bodies.  

As the dead “bummers” piled up, Union cavalry commander Judson Kilpatrick offered a $ 5,000 reward for the capture of Shannon.  When Shannon heard about the reward, he replied, “I want to thank you for the signal honor, but I’m going to go you one better. I’m gonna get you for nothing.” 
                                                              General H. Kilpatrick                         
Like a Turkish pasha, Kilpatrick had a passion for lavish meals, musical serenades, and prostitutes; he kept one named “Charley” in his headquarters tent and had her wear a Federal uniform as a disguise.   Because of his penchant for getting men killed in reckless charges, he was referred to as “Kill-Cavalry” instead of Kilpatrick.  His career took a serious dip when he authorized an ill-fated cavalry raid against Richmond, Virginia in March, 1864.  The raid’s commander, Colonel Ulrich Dahlgren, was killed.  As a result of the raid’s failure and ensuing controversy (papers found on Dahlgren’s body called for the execution of Jefferson Davis and his cabinet), he was transferred to the Western command of General William T. Sherman.  Kilpatrick’s cavalry gained everlasting notoriety for burning and looting property during "Sherman’s March." 
Kilpatrick’s nemesis, Alexander Shannon, had actually voted against secession before the war.  Nevertheless, he volunteered for Confederate service and raised a cavalry company.  Gaining a solid reputation for bravery, he quickly rose to the rank of captain in the 8th Texas Cavalry.   

At dawn on March 9, 1865, Shannon almost made good on his offer.  Near Fayetteville, North Carolina, Confederate troopers under General Wade Hampton approached Kilpatrick’s camp.  Shannon’s men took out the guards.  When the Union bugler blew “Reveille,” the Confederate cavalry blew in.  Complete pandemonium broke out as Union troopers, in various stages of dress, ran about like jackrabbits in a grass fire.  Clad in his long johns, Kilpatrick emerged from his tent and was confronted by a Confederate cavalryman.  In breathless excitement, the Confederate asked, “Which one is General Kilpatrick !”  Kilpatrick cleverly pointed to a distant Union trooper.  “There he goes. The one on the black horse,” he replied.  The cavalryman rode off and Kilpatrick ran off into the woods to avoid capture.  His current paramour, Marie Boozer, hid his battle flag under her dress.  Kilpatrick lost his sword and wardrobe, but the flag and mistress were saved.

The Rangers never surrendered before the end of the war, but made their way home in small undetected groups.  Shannon became a successful businessman in Galveston.  He proposed the building of the famous seawall to protect the city from hurricanes.  He died in 1906 and is buried in the Episcopal Cemetery in Galveston.