Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Horse Marines

General John B. Magruder




Colonel Tom Green ordered his command to form a single line during a frosty December morning. “I want three hundred volunteers who are willing to die for Texas, and are ready to die now,” he thundered. The entire 5th Texas Cavalry Regiment volunteered by taking a step forward; the three hundred would have to be chosen by their officers. Their assignment, however, would not be carried out on the back of a horse, but on the deck of a converted steamboat.

Since October 1862, a Union flotilla, under Commander Charles Renshaw, occupied the port of Galveston while the 42nd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment occupied its streets. Lacking sufficient numbers to fully occupy the city, the 42nd bivouacked at the end of Kuhn’s Wharf at night and patrolled the streets during the day. Though dangerously isolated, with little room to maneuver, the flotilla’s heavy guns defended the wharf from any infantry assaults. The commander of the 42nd Massachusetts, Colonel Isaac Burrell, was assured his men could be evacuated in a few minutes if it became necessary.

Confederate General John B. Magruder, Commander of the Texas District, wanted to retake Galveston. Referred to as “Prince John” by his fellow officers for his extravagant lifestyle, Magruder gained early acclaim for his deceptive tactics at the Battle of Yorktown. So effective were Magruder’s theatrics that Union General George McClellan was convinced he was heavily outnumbered - he actually had more than a two to one advantage. As a result, the Union advance was delayed, buying precious time for Confederate forces to establish a defensive front on the outskirts of Richmond, the Confederate capital. Magruder’s fame took a hit after a badly coordinated attack on Malvern Hill. The enormous losses led to a major shakeup of General Robert E. Lee’s command. Now a scapegoat, Magruder was transferred to far away Texas.

Texans considered Magruder a fighter and welcomed him with a downtown parade in Houston. Colonel John S. “Rip” Ford declared Magruder’s arrival was worth the addition of 50,000 troops. Bolstered by the local support, he immediately sought troops to recapture Galveston. Donning civilian clothes, Magruder crossed over to Galveston Island at night for a firsthand look at Union activity. Based on his own observations and those of the island’s residents, he formulated his plan of attack. The problem was where find the troops to carry it out.

Manpower was low to nonexistent on the Texas home front, but not entirely unavailable. Worn but rested after a disastrous campaign in New Mexico, the 5th and 7th Texas cavalry regiments were about to be dispatched to Louisiana. Instead, Magruder rerouted them to Houston. Now he needed a navy.

Transplanted New Englander, “Commodore” Leon Smith, appropriated a pair of side-wheel steamers – the Bayou City and Neptune. Each was to be equipped with one to two heavy cannons and 150 sharpshooters. Ragged in appearance as well as discipline, the Texans were anxious to redeem themselves with a victory on Texas soil or water for that matter. Colonel Green requested command of the sharpshooters while Smith would command the cottonclads. To protect the sharpshooters, cotton bales were piled like sandbags along the decks. For an onboard assault, two makeshift gangplanks were mounted to be dropped after steaming into a Union gunboat. 

On New Year’s Eve 1862, Magruder assembled his land forces at Virginia Point. A railroad bridge was planked over to allow his command to cross over to Galveston. Because of the mules’ refusal to cross the narrow bridge, the artillery and wagons had to be pulled over by hand. After the Texans took up positions near Kuhn’s Wharf, Magruder himself fired a canon to signal the attack. “Now boys, I have done my best as a private, I will go and attend to that of General,” he declared. The Texans attempted to assault the wharf with ladders carried out into the harbor and placed on the deck above – they were too short. Naval gunfire prevented a direct frontal assault across the wharf’s deck. Magruder’s infantry fell back to barricaded positions in town. The outcome now depended on Leon Smith’s cottonclads.

Magruder’s plan called for the cottonclads to attack after the assault on Kuhn’s Wharf got underway. It was hoped the assault would divert the Union flotilla away from Smith’s tiny fleet. A lookout on the Bayou City spotted the muzzle flashes and heard the intense gunfire – Smith ordered the cottonclads to attack. Their target was the revenue cutter U.S.S. Harriet Lane, a state of the art steamer used to pursue smugglers before the war. The Neptune stuck first by ramming into the Harriet Lane’s side. In the process, she suffered extensive damage to her bow followed by a canon shot from the Lane that caused her to sink. The fast thinking skipper headed the Neptune toward the nearby shallows. The onboard sharpshooters kept up an effective fire from the upper deck while the hull became submerged.

The Bayou City had better luck. The sharpshooters forced the Harriet Lane’s crew away from their guns and enabled the Bayou City to ram into the Lane. Green’s rebel-yelling marines poured out like ants onto the deck and overwhelmed the crew. The U.S.S. Owasco tried to help but couldn’t fire for fear of hitting their captured friends. The Lane’s colors were lowered and replaced with a white surrender flag. Smith boldly issued a demand for the surrender of the entire Union Flotilla.

Meanwhile, Commander Renshaw’s flagship, the U.S.S. Westfield, had ingloriously run aground during the battle and could not free herself. The captain of the U.S.S. Clifton, Captain Richard Law, rowed over on a small boat to the grounded Westfield. He told Renshaw about the Harriet Lane’s capture and Smith’s surrender demand. Law was afraid the captured guns on the Lane would be used on the flotilla. Not wishing the Westfield to be captured intact, Renshaw decided to blow up his flagship. After setting a fuse to the Westfield’s powder magazine, soaking the decks with flammable turpentine, and evacuating his crew to a nearby transport, Renshaw struck a match. The fuse proved defective when the Westfield blew up with Renshaw still onboard. Unsure of what to do next, Captain Law ordered the Union flotilla to steam back to New Orleans, leaving the 42nd Massachusetts and the Harriet Lane behind. Colonel Burrell surrendered his sword to General Richard Scurry, the commander of the infantry that attacked Kuhn’s Wharf. “Keep your sword colonel, a man who has done what you have deserves to wear it,” replied Scurry.

Despite all efforts to block or capture its harbor, Galveston remained in Confederate hands until the end of the war. Former Texas Governor and staunch Unionist, Sam Houston, penned a note of thanks to Magruder. “Thank you for driving from our soil a ruthless enemy. You have breathed new life into everything.” Further glory awaited Colonel Green in Louisiana, where his cavalry inflicted a string of humiliations on Union troops. His life ended tragically in 1864 at Blair’s Landing. While his troops sniped at Union naval vessels on the Red River, an ironclad’s lucky shot hit Green square on the head.



Four Dead in Five Seconds

Marshal Dallas Stoudenmire



Far from Austin, El Paso was a town destined for lawlessness.  Between El Paso and Austin were six hundred miles of arid desert, rocky escarpments, soaring temperatures, rattlesnakes, and Comanches.  Fort Sill, the nearby U.S. Army post, protected residents from the Indians but not the vices brought in by the new railroads.  Like many western boomtowns, El Paso had more than its fair share of saloons, gambling halls and whore houses.  Arguments were often settled with fists and pistols instead of a presiding judge.  Since there was no city government, the local saloon served as a combination courthouse, land office, post office, and city hall.  As a result, the saloonkeeper became a power broker of sorts; he could shape local politics and help appoint friends to high places.
In 1873, El Paso was incorporated and elected its first mayor, a popular saloon owner named Ben Dowell.  Affectionately called "Uncle Ben" by the locals, Dowell was a staunch Secessionist and flew the Confederate flag from his saloon's rooftop; the first one to fly over El Paso.  He was forced to leave town when Union troops occupied El Paso, but later returned after the war.  After Dowell's death, the Manning brothers (Jim, Frank, and Felix "Doc") continued Dowell's business and opened other saloons as well.  The largest of their enterprises was the "Coliseum," a combination saloon and variety theater complete with flirtatious show girls used to solicit drinks.
A close friend of the Manning brothers was the town marshal, George Campbell.  He had the connections, but not the competency for such a role.  His assistant, Bill Johnson, was more suitable for the role of town drunk.  Campbell was the fifth marshal in eight months. His replacement would usher in a new era of law and order for Old El Paso.
Dallas Stoudenmire was a six-foot-two, 185 pound mass of attitude with the rare advantage of having two steady gun hands and two holsters to draw from.  His height made him a big target during the Civil War; he was wounded several times while serving in the 45th Alabama Infantry.  Two bullets would remain inside him for the rest of his life.  Stoudenmire later served three years as a Texas Ranger before becoming El Paso's new marshal.
On his first day, the new marshal revealed his short temper when he stopped by the city jail to get the keys from Bill Johnson.  The former deputy was too drunk to produce them on demand.  Stoudenmire grabbed Johnson by the ankles and held him upside down.  The keys were produced after a vigorous shaking that no doubt left Johnson dizzier than he was before the new marshal arrived.
Border ranches in the 1880's often restocked their herds at the expense of  Mexican ranches across the river.  Rustling was a quick way to get a lot of cattle without the hassle of round ups and negotiated payments.   The problem, however, was the response from the Mexican ranches;  seventy five heavily armed vaqueros rode into El Paso looking for two of their missing comrades and thirty rustled cattle.  The bodies of the missing Mexicans were found near the ranch of Johnny Hale, a well known rancher and cattle rustler.  The two had been looking for the rustled cattle and stumbled upon two of Hale's ranch hands herding them into his pasture.  County Constable Gus Krempkau arrested the ranch hands for murder.  Tensions rose among El Paso's white Americans who didn't like armed Mexicans crossing the border and the Hispanic residents who demanded immediate justice.  Fluent in Spanish, as well as English, Krempkau soothed tempers while a court of inquiry was held and the arrests were made.  The Mexican posse returned home to bury their two friends.  Unfortunately, matters didn't end there.
On the following day, April 14, 1881, Constable Krempkau entered an El Paso saloon to retrieve his rifle and pistol left there the night before.  Johnny Hale and George Campbell followed him in and confronted him over the arrests of Hale's ranch hands.  An intoxicated Hale grabbed one of Campbell's holstered pistols and shot Krempkau.  Campbell and Hale left through the front entrance. 
The shot brought Marshal Stoudenmire up from his chair at the nearby Globe Restaurant.  With both guns drawn, he burst out of the Globe's front doors and began firing at Campbell and Hale.  An innocent bystander named Ochoa was accidently killed from the marshal's fusillade.  Upon looking out from behind an adobe pillar, Hale was killed instantly by a bullet to the forehead.  Before dying, Krempkau managed to shoot Campbell in the wrist and foot.  Stoudenmire finished Campbell off with a shot to the stomach.  The brief but bloody gunfight would pass into legend as the "Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight."
Despite the accidental shooting of Ochoa, a coroner's jury found Stoudenmire innocent in the performance of his duties.  Three days later, Campbell's drunken sidekick, Bill Johnson, tried to ambush Stoudenmire as he made his evening rounds.  Fortified with whiskey, Johnson emerged from behind a brick pile bearing a shotgun.  He stumbled backwards and fired both rounds over the head of the marshal; who in turn drew both pistols and dispatched Johnson with a shot to the groin.
Each killing padded Stoudenmire's  growing reputation and made him a living legend.  El Paso's crime rate plummeted as word got around about his ill-tempered  gun hands.  Nevertheless, living legends often become living targets.  The powerful Manning Brothers, close friends and business associates of Hale, Johnson, and Campbell, had it in for him.  The following February brought things to a head.
Like his brother-in-law, Marshal Stoudenmire, restaurant proprietor Samuel "Doc" Cummings, had a consuming dislike of the Mannings and told everyone within earshot that Jim Manning needed to be killed.  During a night of heavy drinking, Cummings spotted Manning and invited him into the Coliseum for a drink, while in the same breath, telling him what a sorry, no count individual he was.  Like most western gunfights, alcohol induced tempers played a major role in what followed.   Pistols were drawn and Cummings was shot dead by Manning and one of the saloon employees.  Because of their overwhelming influence, no El Paso jury would convict a Manning;  Jim Manning was not even charged with Cummings' murder.
A  factional dispute between Stoudenmire supporters and Manning supporters emerged as a result.  To avoid open warfare, the two factions agreed to a truce published in a local newspaper.  Signed by Stoudenmire, the Manning brothers and four witnesses, the truce stated that the two sides would "hereby agree  that we will hereafter meet and pass each other on friendly terms, and that bygones shall be bygones, and that we shall never allude in the future to any past animosities that have existed between us."  The truce was as laughable as it was brief.  Stoudenmire couldn't shake off the death of his brother-in-law; he began to drink heavily and hurl invectives at the Mannings.
On May 29, 1882, Stoudenmire resigned then was immediately appointed U.S. deputy marshal for the Western District of Texas.  His temper and drinking grew worse each passing day; local residents were too afraid to approach him.  The Mannings were smart enough not to directly confront him after he challenged them to a gunfight right outside their saloon.  On September 18, 1882, "Doc" and Jim Manning attempted to call a second truce with the marshal in a neutral spot - a saloon not owned by them.  It didn't work.  After a heated argument, gunfire broke out between both sides.  Stoudenmire was killed by a shot to the head. 
As with the shooting of Samuel Cummings, the Mannings were acquitted by an El Paso jury for the murder of Stoudenmire.  His wife, Isabella, had his body shipped east to Columbus, Texas and buried at Alleyton Cemetery in Colorado County.  Despite his quick temper and drunken tirades, Dallas Stoudenmire is often credited with taming the streets of El Paso.   

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"Avenge the Houston !"

U.S.S. Houston
 
 
 
Four U.S. Navy ships have carried the name Houston, but only one captures the spotlight and deservedly so.  During the few weeks after Pearl Harbor, the heavy cruiser U.S.S. Houston bore the brunt of  U.S. naval efforts in the South Pacific.  With no air support,  the Houston took on a vast Japanese armada and heroically went down swinging.
The 1,100 man cruiser was commissioned on June 17, 1930 and spent her years before the war with the U.S. Pacific Fleet. She  visited her namesake city only once before the war.  In February, 1942,  the Houston joined a combined Allied fleet based on the Java coast at Surabaya.   Things were not going well for the Allies; Singapore had fallen to the Japanese and an invasion of the Dutch East Indies was underway.  In a stunning display of naval air power, Japanese bombers sank the British battleships H.M.S. Repulse and H.M.S. Prince of Wales. The way was open for Japan to conquer all of the South Pacific.  The only obstacle was a tiny fleet of Australian, British, Dutch and U.S. warships.
Under the command of Dutch Rear Admiral Karl Doorman, the Allied fleet set out to engage a Japanese convoy invading Java.  Instead of one convoy, they encountered two covered by a naval force of three cruisers and fourteen destroyers.  Japanese warships were armed with the superior "Long Lance" or Type 93 torpedoes which they used with great success.  At the Battle of Java Sea, on February 27, 1942, the Allied fleet was reduced to just two cruisers, the Australian H.M.A.S. Perth and the Houston.  Doorman was killed when his flagship, the DeRuyter, was blown to bits by a torpedo.  So many reports emerged that the Houston was sunk that she was nicknamed "The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast."
The next day, the Perth and Houston steamed to Tanjung Priok near Jakarta.  There they received orders to steam west through the Sunda Strait, take on the Japanese invasion fleet, and escape into the Indian Ocean.  Through lack of intelligence, the two cruisers didn't know the Japanese had sealed off the strait; the Houston and Perth were heading toward their doom.  At midnight, they encountered a fleet of Japanese transports landing troops near Batavia. A point blank exchange of naval gun fire ensued in which two of the transports and a minesweeper were sunk.  On board one of the sinking transports was the commander of the Japanese invasion force, Lt. General Hitoshi Imamura.  He was forced to jump overboard and swim ashore.   Japanese cruisers and destroyers closed in on the Allied cruisers and sank both of them with torpedoes and shellfire.  The Houston's skipper, Captain Albert Rooks, was killed along with 693 crewmembers.  Commander Walter Winslow of the Houston recalled, "It seemed as though a sudden breeze picked up the Stars and Stripes and waved them in one last defiant gesture."  Captain Rooks was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
The survivors were picked up by the Japanese and sent to prison camps in Southeast Asia.  Not until after the war would all the details of the Houston's sinking and the fate of her crew be learned.  Only 291 survivors would make it back to the U.S. after the war.  Many of them had been forced to help build the "Death Railway" made infamous in the movie, "The Bridge on the River Kwai."  Actor William Holden played a survivor from the Houston.
 What happened three months latter was a massive, Texas size response to the Houston's sinking.  In an inspired recruiting drive,  navy recruiting officer Clarence C. Taylor attempted to recruit 1,000 men from the City of Houston to replace the lost crew of the Houston.  The response was electric.  Under the motto "Avenge the Houston," thousands jammed the streets of downtown Houston to watch the swearing-in of 1,400 men into the ranks of the U.S. Navy. 
Seventy two years later, in August, 2014, U.S. and Indonesian Navy divers discovered the wreck of the Houston in the Sea of Java.  As a gravesite for the Houston's crew, it has been respectfully placed off limits to any salvage or recreational diving.
Check out James D. Hornfischer's fine book, "Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the U.S.S. Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of her Survivors."


Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Long Funeral of Oliver Loving

Charles Goodnight
  
 
Until the turn of the 19th century, the most hazardous undertaking in Texas was driving cattle.  This entailed rounding up wild Longhorn cattle, driving them on horseback for hundreds of miles, and corralling them at a railhead or army fort. Indian attacks, stampeding cattle, rattlesnakes, cougars, bears, wolves, cattle rustlers, and an unpredictable weather pattern added to the trail herder's woes.  Death often meant an impromptu burial out in the middle of nowhere, far beyond the reach of any loved ones.  Life was indeed short for a Texas cowboy.

 
The most noted of all the great cattle drivers and indispensable sources for countless movie and TV scripts were Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving.  Known as the "King of the Texas Panhandle," Charles Goodnight pioneered the use of cattle drives before the railroads made them obsolete.  Born in 1836, in Macoupin County, Illinois, Goodnight later moved with his family to Milam County, Texas.  He worked as a jockey, a freighter and performed various plantation jobs, including the supervision of slave crews.  He became a scout for the Texas Rangers and discovered the Comanche camp where famed white captive, Cynthia Parker, was camping out with her Comanche husband, Peta Nocona.  During the Civil War, Goodnight served in a Confederate frontier regiment to help ward off Comanche raids.
Goodnight's first big cattle drive originated from Palo Pinto County and headed southwest toward an Indian reservation at Fort Sumner, New Mexico.  The Bosque Redondo Reservation was the brainchild of General James Carleton, who wanted to convert marauding Mescalero Apaches and Navajos into peaceful farmers.  This laughable experiment in forced cultural change was a disaster from the start.  Fights broke out between the Mescaleros and Navajos; longtime bitter rivals now forced to live on the same reservation.  There was no firewood to cook with and the water from the nearby Pecos River was full of alkaline - totally unsuitable to drink.  Unscrupulous army officers and contractors only made matters worse.  Bosque Redondo was later closed after being in operation for only five years.  Goodnight's beef was probably the only thing that kept the Native Americans from starving to death.  
Goodnight developed tactics for driving his immense herds to distant markets.  Because of the loud noise emitted from the cattle drive, Goodnight's trail hands used hand signals to communicate with each other during the drive.  He also invented the chuck wagon to feed his hungry crew and rouse them in the morning with hot coffee. Despite all the innovations, success was only assured by his best friend, Oliver Loving.

 Oliver Loving
Like Goodnight, Loving sought opportunity in Texas.  Born on December 12, 1812, in Hopkins County, Kentucky, he moved to the Republic of Texas with his wife and nine children. As part of the Peter's Colony, he received 640 acres in three Texas counties.  In 1857, he had a thousand acre ranch in Palo Pinto County along with a general store.  With the help of his son, Loving drove his cattle from Texas all the way to Illinois on the Shawnee Trail.  If that wasn't impressive enough, he drove a herd of 1,500 head to a mining camp in Denver, Colorado.  During the Civil War, he drove cattle for the Confederacy; a job for which he was still owed money after the war. 
After teaming up with Loving, Goodnight established the Goodnight-Loving Trail that started from Young County, Texas, headed southwest to the Pecos River, then north to Fort Sumner, Sante Fe and Denver.   Their main obstacles were the Comanches and their business partners, the Comancheros.  As the cattle business increased in New Mexico, so did the business of rustling them.  The Comancheros, native New Mexican's with little regard for Anglo Texans, became the middlemen for the Comanches and illicit cattle contractors in New Mexico and Arizona. 
Leaving the cattle drive, without the support off fellow trail hands, was hazardous to say the least.  During an 1868 cattle drive to Fort Sumner, Loving decided to leave the drive to bid for contracts in Santa Fe.  He promised Goodnight that he would only travel at night to avoid any Comanche war parties.  Accompanied by Bill Wilson, better known as "One-Armed" Bill, they set out in the evening darkness.  Anxious not miss the bidding, Loving made the fatal decision to press on during daylight hours.
Near the Guadalupe Mountains, a party of several hundred Comanches spotted them and gave chase.  After discarding their horses, they set up a defensive perimeter in a ditch near the Pecos River.  Armed with four six guns, a revolving six shot rifle, and a repeating Henry rifle, Loving and Wilson held off the approaching Comanches for hours.  Undeterred, the Comanches shot arrows into the air to rain them down on the surrounded pair.  Both of them hugged the side of the ditch to avoid being hit.  The arrows missed their mark, but not the bullets; Loving was wounded in the wrist and side.  Knowing full well the torture and death that awaited them, Loving decided to stay behind while Wilson attempted to escape the Comanche encirclement and reach Goodnight.  Wilson stripped down to his hat and long underwear, then slipped into the Pecos River at night.  With only one arm, he managed to swim past a Comanche warrior undetected.  Plagued by heat, thirst, malnourishment and bleeding feet, Wilson hiked back to Goodnight's cattle drive. 
For two days, Loving waited for Goodnight.  By now, the Comanches had probably ambushed Goodnight's herd and killed all of the trail hands; he decided to make his own escape.  After getting past the Comanches, he headed toward Fort Sumner.  An oxcart, driven by three Mexicans and an Anglo boy, found him semiconscious by the trail; he was half-dead from fever and loss of blood.  Loving was placed in the cart and taken to the army post at Fort Sumner. 
Goodnight found a crazed "One-Armed" Wilson emerging from a cave.  After discerning Loving’s predicament from Wilson’s senseless babbling, he went after his friend along with six of his crew.  Not finding him, Goodnight rode on to Fort Sumner where he learned of his survival.  Loving's side wound was healing nicely but his arm had developed gangrene.  Loving's arm was amputated, but the gangrene had spread.  For several days, Goodnight sat beside Loving's bed until he died.  Loving's dying wish was to be buried back in Texas.  Goodnight's crew constructed a crude metal casket of empty oil cans for the journey.  Loving's corpse was exhumed from a temporary grave and placed inside.  True to his legendary determination, Goodnight brought him back to Texas for burial at a Weatherford, Texas cemetery.
On July 26, 1870, Goodnight married Molly Dyer, his longtime sweetheart, who taught in a Weatherford schoolhouse.  He continued to drive cattle into New Mexico and Colorado.  In addition, he invested heavily in the development of Pueblo, Colorado and formed Colorado's first stock raisers' association in November, 1871.  Now referred to as Colonel Goodnight, he built a ranch near the Palo Duro Canyon where hostile Comanches once resided.  Affectionately dubbed Home Ranch, his first ranch house was a dugout, using abandoned Comanche lodge poles as rafters.  In 1878, he made his famous treaty with the legendary Comanche chief, Quanah Parker.  He would provide Parker with two beeves each day if the Comanches would leave his herds alone.  With his wife's encouragement, he also started a domestic buffalo herd. Sired by a bull named Old Sikes, he developed the "cattalo" by crossing bison with polled Angus cattle. Buffalo raised on Goodnight’s land would later be used to stock wildlife parks such as Yellowstone National Park.  To educate his ranch hands, he established Goodnight College in 1898.   Goodnight died in Phoenix, Arizona at the age of 93.  He was buried at the Goodnight Community Cemetery near his ranch.
The two best films concerning Texas cattle drives are “Red River” and the TV miniseries “Lonesome Dove.”  John Wayne’s character, Thomas Dunson, in “Red River” is similar in appearance to Oliver Loving.  The mini-series “Lonesome Dove” features two characters based on Charles Goodnight and Oliver loving: Woodrow Call, played by Tommy Lee Jones, and Augustus “Gus” McCrae, played by Robert Duval.  In my opinion, it really doesn’t get any better than this.  During the series, Gus McCrae dies from gangrene after an Indian arrow wounds him in the leg.  In dramatic fashion, Call takes his body back to Texas for burial.  It is doubtful Loving’s burial was as arduous a task.
 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Defeat by Thirst

 
John R. Baylor
 
 
Major Lynde was in a quandary.  Rebel Texans were gathering in overwhelming numbers to attack his command at Ft. Fillmore, a lightly fortified post on the Rio Grande River in New Mexico Territory.  The only alternative was to evacuate at night and try to reach the nearest Union fort one hundred fifty miles away to the northeast.  Such a trek would require a full canteen of water, or so you would think.  Lynde's men thought they had something better.
After Texas seceded in February 1861, General Earl Van Dorn, Commander of the Confederate Army in Texas, ordered Lt. Colonel John R. Baylor to occupy Ft. Bliss in El Paso and defend Confederate held forts in West Texas.  These forts had been built by the U.S. Army to protect settlers and guard stagecoach routes against Indian attacks.  When the Civil War began, a number of these frontier forts were abandoned as U.S. troops surrendered or headed back north.   On July 3, 1861, Baylor's 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles reached Ft. Bliss.  Concerned about a Federal incursion from New Mexico Territory, Baylor decided to move against Ft. Fillmore, just up the Rio Grande from El Paso.  He set out with three hundred men.
John R. Baylor had a consuming hatred for Native Americans, especially Comanches, and felt a firm hand, as opposed to signed treaties, was the only way to deal with them.  As the son of an army surgeon, Baylor witnessed firsthand the tragic results of frontier life.  He later settled in Texas and became a prominent rancher, lawyer, and single term member of the Texas House of Representatives.  After a Comanche reservation was established on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, Baylor was appointed the Indian agent; a worse agent couldn't have been appointed.  He quarreled incessantly with his supervisor, Robert Simpson Neighbours, who wanted to protect the Comanches from an indifferent U.S. Cavalry and angry settlers bent on killing any Indian they could lay their hands on.  Baylor accused the reservation Comanches of providing aid and comfort to non-reservation Comanches still raiding  nearby settlements.  In 1857, he was dismissed, but that didn't stop him from stirring up settlers and forming vigilante groups to attack the reservation.  He even established an anti-Indian newspaper, "The White Man."  Things got so bad, Neighbors was forced to move the reservation to the Indian Territory.  He became a marked man for his efforts and was later assassinated.
The southern half of New Mexico Territory was an area plagued with constant Apache raids.  The Apaches were determined to drive out every white man in the Southwest.  Feeling unprotected and abandoned by the territorial capital in Santa Fe, the residents of Mesilla turned toward the Confederacy for support.  Many of the residents were Southern transplants, who controlled the politics and local economy.  It's not surprising they warmly welcomed Baylor's men.
The nearby Union garrison, at Fort Fillmore, would not be as accommodating.  The Union commander,  Major Isaac Lynde, decided to attack Baylor before he could advance on him.  Leading three hundred eighty men and two small mountain howitzers, the 58 year old Vermont native tried to force Baylor out of Mesilla.  Upon reaching the outskirts, he demanded Baylor's surrender.  Baylor replied, "If you wish the town and my forces, come and take them."   The Texans took up positions behind a stout adobe wall and Mesilla's rooftops.  Hampered by a dense cornfield and loose sand, Lynde's attack fell apart at the start.  Armed mostly with double- barreled shotguns, Baylor's men poured a deadly fire on Lynde's disjointed advance while Mesilla's residents cheered them on.  Lynde's aggressive spirit also fell apart with the loss of nine men.  He retreated back to the fort and made a half-hearted  attempt to fortify it with sandbags.  Hearing from a spy that Baylor was going to be reinforced with more men and artillery from El Paso, Lynde  decided to evacuate Ft. Fillmore.  The evacuation would require a daunting  trek to across the vast New Mexico desert and Organ Mountains to Ft. Stanton.  To fortify their resolve, Lynde's men helped themselves to the fort's supply of medicinal whiskey.  They filled their canteens with the stuff before heading off into the night.
Relief would come from the mountain springs, which were much further away than Lynde expected.  His men began dropping by the wayside from the effects of soaring desert heat, overwhelming thirst and whiskey filled canteens.  Seeing their dust trails from Mesilla, Baylor set off in pursuit. For him, it was a simple matter of scooping up staggering, thirst crazed stragglers without firing a shot.  Needless to say, Lynde was forced to surrender.  He was paroled then later discharged for abandoning his post.
Baylor set up a Confederate government with himself as governor in Mesilla.  He declared the southern half of New Mexico Territory to be the Confederate Territory of Arizona.  The new territory stretched from Mesilla to Tuscon in present day Arizona.  Almost immediately, the new Confederate governor was hit by a wave of Apache raids; ranches were burned, people were killed, and livestock was stolen on a daily basis.  Criticism of the new governor mounted steadily in the local newspapers;  something the thin-skinned Baylor couldn't abide.  After a critical piece appeared in the "Mesilla Times," he sought out the editor, Robert P. Kelly, and shot him in the face.  Severely wounded, Kelley died a few weeks later.
Baylor's frustrations with the Apaches grew by the minute.  Frustration led to extermination as the only viable solution.  Written orders were issued to his rangers to kill all adult Indians and sell their children to defray the costs.  Such orders horrified the Confederate Congress and President Jefferson Davis who sought peace with the Native Americans.  Baylor was removed from office and his commission was revoked.
The Confederate Territory of Arizona lasted just short of a year.  It was to be the only territory held by the Confederacy outside of state boundaries.   After the Confederate setback at Glorietta Pass, the Texans were forced to retreat back into their home state.  At the Battle of Galveston, where many of the New Mexico veterans fought, John R. Baylor fought as a private in the Confederate Army.

 
 
 
 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Comanche Rising


 
 
They subjugated the Aztecs. They massacred the Incas.  Gold and precious stones flowed like tap water into Spanish coffers.  The New World, it seemed, was easy pickings for the mighty Spanish Conquistadors.  Superior firearms, along with superior European tactics, could overcome any tribe of godless savages. 

So they thought.

Since the late 1600's, the Comanches dominated West Texas.  Superior horsemanship gave them an unprecedented advantage over their adversaries.  Fearing the Comanches growing dominance, the Lipan Apaches of South Central Texas needed a powerful ally.  The Spaniards were their best prospect.  In 1757, Franciscan monks established the Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba near present day Menard, Texas.  Having expressed an interest in Christianity, the Apaches convinced the missionaries that they wanted to become peaceful civilized Catholics.  The missionaries were also anxious to establish a mission to help end a bitter conflict between the Apaches and foster mining operations near the San Saba River. What the missionaries failed to realize, however, was that they were being played.  The Apaches never took up residence near the mission nor attended services.  To make matters worse, they bragged about their powerful new ally;  Conquistadors armed with canons, swords and muskets.  Rather than instilling fear into the Comanches, the Apaches only ticked them off.

Along with their well armed neighbors, the Wichitas, the Comanches assembled a force of 2,000  warriors on horseback then rode out looking for the Apaches.  They descended on the Santa Cruz mission and massacred the monks, including their leader Father Alonso Giraldo de Terreros.  Those that survived were barricaded in a nearby presidio (or fort)  commanded by Colonel Ortiz Parrilla.  Father Terreros had purposely built the presidio away from the mission in hopes of not provoking the Indians.

In September 1759,  Colonel Parrilla gathered a force of 600 Spaniards and Apaches to pursue the Comanches.  Little did he know that the Comanches were as well-armed, if not better armed, than his command.  Redoubtable as traders as well as warriors, the Comanches had a lucrative relationship with French traders along the Red River.  Muskets were obtained in exchange for horses which they had plenty of.  The French also provided military assistance with advice on defensive works, something Comanches are not generally known for.

At Spanish Fort, in present day Montague County, Parrilla encountered a stout earthen fortress of entrenched Indians and possibly a few French.  The canons had no effect on the fortress while the Comanches flanked the Spaniards with mounted attacks.  Parrilla was forced to fall back, leaving behind nineteen or more dead.  It was to be the Spaniards high water mark in Texas.  The Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba was the only mission in Texas to be completely destroyed by Native Americans.  Ten years later the presidio was closed.  The Spaniards were never able to settle in Comanche territory.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Now that's what I call a "shot" of whiskey !"


Major Alfred M. Hobby



Major Alfred M. Hobby had never faced an ultimatum before.  In fact, he had never faced any real threats until now.   The Union naval commander, Lieutenant John L. Kittredge, came ashore under a flag of truce and told him he was coming ashore to inspect U.S. facilities. In blunt fashion, Hobby told Kittredge that there were no U.S. facilities and he would resist any attacks on Corpus Christi.  Kittredge gave him forty eight hours to evacuate the city. 

A merchant from the town of St. Mary's of Aransas, Texas, Alfred Hobby was an ardent supporter of states' rights and had served in the Texas House of Representatives before the war.  To promote the Southern cause in St. Mary's, he established a chapter of the Knights of the Golden Cross; a secret organization that promoted the expansion of slavery.  On May 18, 1862, he organized the 8th Texas Infantry regiment to serve the Confederacy.

A self-righteous martinet, Lt. Kittredge ran a taught ship bordering on the maniacal. Crew members were subjected to severe punishment for the slightest of infractions.  Falling asleep during a worship service could subject you to "tricing" or stretching.  The violator was tied by the wrists to the ship's rigging for thirty minutes.  Any longer and your arms would probably be dislocated or worse.  Kittredge was not above striking his crew to enforce discipline.  It was little wonder that most of the infractions on his ship involved drinking.  On a ship like that, who wouldn't take to drink!

 For several months, Kittredge and his one hundred man crew rounded up blockade runners and raided coastal towns with his sailing bark, the U.S.S. Arthur. To make matters worse, he was converting some of his captured vessels into gunboats for his own growing flotilla.  Now he had the muscle to bombard and launch direct assaults on major Texas ports. Two of his vessels, the Sachem and Corypheus, had light draft hulls to navigate shallow harbors.  The Texas port of Corpus Christi was to be his prime target.

Unlike other Texas regiments, the 8th Texas Infantry had never served outside of Texas.  They garrisoned the Texas coast to ward off any Union invasion attempts. However, fighting Union infantry and cavalry was one thing, fighting a navy was another.   There were only five cannons  available in Corpus to match Kittredge's gunboats.  None of his men had any experience with targeting and firing artillery.  Fortunately, help came from two locals: a German immigrant Felix A. Blucher, a nephew of the famed Prussian general, and Private Billy Mann, a Confederate soldier on sick leave.   Hobby's men received invaluable instruction from the two.  During the evening, the cannons were moved up to the harbor and placed within earthworks dug during the War with Mexico.  Kittredge was about to get a rude wake up call.

On August, 1862, Hobby's men opened fire on the Sachem and Corypheus from four hundred yards.  With their hulls being breeched from the Texans' fire, Kittredge was forced to fall back. In a daring move, Kittredge sent a detachment of thirty sailors ashore to flank and capture Hobby's guns.  Hobby led a cavalry charge of twenty five men and forced them to depart back to their ships.  After picking up his crew members, Kittredge began shelling Corpus Christi; six hundred shells rained down on the city before Kittredge gave up and sailed away from the harbor.  One Unionist resident, John Dix, tried to wave a Union flag from the roof of his house as if to signal the city's surrender.  Dix's daughter in law pointed a shotgun to his head before he could get off his signal. His son fought in the Confederate Army.

Returning residents found a number of spent shells in their damaged homes.  Calling them "Kittredges," they used them as doorstops.  One curious find, according to local legend, was the presence of whiskey inside some of the spent shells.  Apparently, Kittredge's rambunctious crew had taken out the gunpowder and hid their forbidden whiskey inside the shells.

Corpus Christi was secure for now.  Kittredge's career wasn't.  He was later captured during a foraging expedition at Flour Bluff by Texas troops under Hobby.  Given parole, he was sent north in humiliation and given a new command.  After belting a crewmember in the mouth with his pistol, Lt. Kittredge was court martialed out of the service.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Texas Civil War Museum Acquires Second Diorama

 
 

"Who are you, my boys?"  

General Robert E. Lee inquired after trotting over to a cluster of gray-clad infantry.   Appearing out of the smokey woods, they quickly filed past him to form a defensive line. 

They answered, "Texas boys !"

The small group was followed by a column of hundreds.  The 1st Corps, commanded by General James Longstreet, had arrived after a forced march.  Leading the way was the famed Texas Brigade under the command of Brigadier General John Gregg. 

"Hurrah for Texas !"  Lee waved his hat in a rare moment of exuberance then proclaimed, "Texans always move them!"

It was May 6, 1864.  The Wilderness Campaign was in its second day.  It was General Ulysses S. Grant's first battle with the Union Army's most lethal foe, Robert E. Lee.  Content to let his subordinates manage the fighting, the famed Union general coolly spent most of his time whittling on a stick of wood.  Meanwhile, both armies became ensnared in the dense woods.  Their lines became intertwined, disoriented and hopelessly lost.  To make matters worse, the gunfire touched off raging fires that consumed wounded soldiers who couldn't crawl fast enough or be carried away by their comrades.  After a day of heavy fighting and a night of ghastly horrors, both armies were at a stalemate.  The Confederates, however, were at a distinct disadvantage.  They were heavily outnumbered and their line was like a dilapidated wooden fence: full of holes and ready to collapse at the slightest push.  The push would come from a morning attack led by  General Winfield Scott Hancock. A line of blue appeared within view of Lee's headquarters; a ramshackle cabin owned by the widow Catharine Tapp.  It would appear all was lost and Lee's Army of Northern Virginia would be irreparably split in two.

General Gregg exhorted his troops. "Men of the Texas Brigade!  The eyes of General Lee are upon you! Forward!"  The Texas Brigade, arrayed in attack formation, advanced toward Hancock's line.  Much to their surprise, Lee was advancing with them, a perilous move for any commanding general on horseback.  "Go back, General Lee, go back.  We won't go forward until you go back."  Brigade members grabbed Lee's horse bridle to turn him around.  "Lee to the rear!"  Lee complied and headed back to confer with his officers.  The Texas Brigade plowed into the Union line at a frightful cost.  The Union attack was stifled but over half the brigade was lost.  Lee had won the first round against Grant, but the fight was far from over.

This special moment, in Texas Civil War history, is wonderfully captured in a new diorama acquired by the Texas Civil War Museum.  Those talented students, from Gilbert Arizona's Highland High, constructed a superb depiction of the Texas Brigade's most heralded moment.  Like the popular Battle of Palmito Ranch diorama,  the figures and landscape are finely detailed.  Robert E. Lee, astride his horse "Traveler," stands out amidst the advancing Confederates.  Check out these pictures then stop by the museum for a firsthand look.  
 

 
 

 
 
 
 


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Texas' First Naval Victory

Republic of Texas Schooner
 
 
 
Stephen F. Austin enjoyed the ocean breeze.  After eighteen years in Mexican prisons for suspicion of treason,  it felt good to be out.  The emprasario of the largest colony in Texas had made his way from Mexico City to New Orleans. From there, the schooner San Felipe would take him down the gulf coast to the Texas port of Velasco.  As the port came into view, any anticipated homecomings were cut short; a Mexican warship appeared on the horizon.     
During Austin's absence, Mexico's Centralist government, led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, decided to reign in its remote colony with taxes, import duties and armed troops.  Texas colonists greatly resented this sudden intrusion.  For years, they had lived tax free, courtesy of a distracted Mexican government beset with internal discord.  To enforce the collection of import duties along the Texas coast, Mexico dispatched an ill-tempered, hard drinking navy lieutenant with few endearing qualities, Thomas "Mexico" Thompson. 
Prior to joining the Mexican navy, the English born Thompson was a down and out merchant captain looking for a second chance.  That second chance would come from extorting Texas merchant vessels at the helm of his warship Correo Mejicano.  Texans saw him for what he really was, a mere pirate in the guise of a Mexican naval officer.  Thompson, on the other hand, despised those  ungrateful Yankee Texans who refused to support their government.  The fuse was lit.
On September 1, 1835,  Thompson attempted to seize the merchant vessel Tremont, anchored just off  the coast near Velasco.  Suspecting the Tremont of smuggling illegal goods , he sent over a marine detachment in rowboats to take possession. In a boiling rage, the ship's owner, Thomas McKinney, watched the seizure unfold from ashore.  He decided to take matters into his own hands.  Accompanied by thirty armed volunteers, he boarded the steamboat Laura and steamed out to the Tremont.  Pulling alongside the seized vessel, McKinney's men opened fire with their muskets on the marines.  Fleeing for their lives, Thompson's men jumped back into their rowboats and paddled back to the Correo. 
As he approached Velasco, the swashbuckling skipper of the San Felipe, Captain William Hurd, armed the two 12 pound cannons he had on board.  Each despising the other, Thompson and Hurd had been looking for each other for weeks.  Both boasted they would capture or summarily execute the other.  Now they would get their chance.    
After securing the Tremont, the Laura steamed out to the San Felipe.  Seeing the "Father of Texas" on board was a huge morale booster for McKinney and his volunteers.  The Laura towed the San Felipe back to Velasco where Austin and his fellow passengers disembarked.  Hurd and 20 volunteers boarded the San Felipe.  It was time to settle up with "Mexico" Thompson; they were going after him. 
Hurd pulled up alongside the Correo as the evening darkness approached.  Thompson called out to the  Texans with his bullhorn, "Let go your anchors, you damned Yankees!"  Instead the Texans let go with their cannons and muskets.  For forty five minutes, the Correo and San Felipe traded shots in the darkness.  The lack of wind led to a thick cloud of gun smoke that shrouded the opposing vessels.  Screams of the wounded mingled with the thunder of the cannons.  Thompson was wounded in the thighs and one of his cannons was dismounted; the Correo seemed to have gotten the worst of it.  Only the smoky darkness prevented his ship from being boarded.
Since he couldn't find the Correo in the dark, Hurd decided to return to Velasco and resume the chase in the morning.  Thompson also decided to withdraw but was in hostile waters.  He would have to hope for a steady wind to fill his sails and propel the Correo to Matamoros.  By morning, he had made little headway; Velasco was still in sight and the San Felipe was being remanned and rearmed.  To make matters worse, she would be towed by the steamboat Laura and wouldn't need sails to reach her target.
To Thompson's utter horror, he watched the Laura and the freshly armed San Felipe slowly coming toward him.  Low on ammunition, manpower and wind, he decided to surrender.  Along with five of his men, he was placed in irons on his own ship.  The rest of his crew, including the marines, were sent ashore.  The Texans helped themselves to the Correo's small arms and army payroll.  Accompanied by the San Felipe, Hurd ran up an American flag on the captured vessel and set sail for New Orleans
Since Texas, a Mexican colony, didn't have an admiralty court, Captain Hurd sought justice in a United States admiralty court.  Upon arrival, he claimed that Thompson was committing piracy against the San Felipe, a U.S. registered vessel.  Thompson and his men were thrown into the county jail to await trial in a district court.   The Mexican Consulate protested that Thompson was a commissioned Mexican officer and couldn't be jailed for enforcing Mexican laws.  Thompson, however, didn't have his signed paper commission with him for proof.  
 
The trial became a sensation when New Orleans' most prominent attorneys represented the opposing parties.  District Attorney Henry Carleton, a former U.S. infantry lieutenant that fought in the Battle of New Orleans, represented the prosecution while future U.S. Senator and Ambassador to Spain, Pierre Soule, represented the defendant.  As accusations were hurled, tempers grew increasingly short and hilariously childish.  Like a scene out of a slapstick comedy, the opposing barristers began hurling their inkwells and law books at each other.  Angered by such a melee in a court of law, the presiding judge threw both Carleton and Soule in jail for six hours to cool off.  Closing arguments were insufferably long and impassioned.  Soule presented his final speech in his native French.
After eighteen hours, the jury deadlocked and Thompson was set free.  Nevertheless, the guy just couldn't catch a break; he was arrested again for debt based on charges from past creditors.  
In order to placate a very angry Mexico, federal officials were pressured by U.S. Secretary of State, John Forsyth, to enforce U.S. neutrality laws in a more even handed manner.  Ironically, the even handed manner led to the arrest of Captain Hurd himself for pirating a Mexican vessel.  Not surprisingly, he was promptly acquitted by a sympathetic jury.
The incident died down but not the outrage.  To say the least, Mexico felt humiliated over the incident.  "Would not the United States have protested with unexcelled indignation," wrote Mexican Secretary of War Jose Maria Tornel, "if the schooner Grumpus, or any other of their war vessels, had been captured by the Correo and brought at once with its entire crew into a Mexican port?" A month after the trial, the Mexican schooner Bravo fired into Velasco.  The opening shots of the Texas Revolution had begun.