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.