Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Dead-Line

Granbury's Texas Brigade at Pickett's Mill 

Though it was formed late during the Civil War, Brigadier General Hiram Granbury’s Texas Brigade would establish a legendary reputation for bravery and ferocity in the Western Theater.  The brigade was formed in November, 1863 at Chattanooga before the Battle of Missionary Ridge.  Eight Texas regiments, including Granbury’s 7th Texas, were consolidated into a single brigade under the command of General James Argyle Smith.  A lawyer before the war, Granbury had commanded the 7th Texas from the Fort Donelson Campaign until the Battle of Chickamauga.   The new brigade was attached to the Confederate division commanded by Arkansas Irishman, Major General Patrick Cleburne. Smith was wounded during the Battle of Missionary Ridge and replaced with Granbury.  During the Confederate retreat from Chattanooga, Granbury assisted Cleburne in performing a remarkable rearguard action at Ringold Gap, saving the Confederate Army of Tennessee from annihilation. The Texans waited until the Yankees came within fifty yards then unleashed a wave of gunfire that decimated General Ulysses S. Grant’s XV corps. After a five hour stand, Cleburne withdrew into Georgia and received the official gratitude of the Confederate Congress.    The following spring, Union forces, under General William Tecumseh Sherman, advanced into Georgia.  General Joseph Johnston tried to hold off Sherman by forming a series of defensive lines which Sherman skillfully bypassed, forcing Johnston to retreat.  Sherman’s objective was Atlanta, not a single decisive battle.  On May 22, 1864, Johnston again established a defensive line, this time, thirty miles east of Atlanta at New Hope Church.  General Thomas Hooker, the former Commander of the Army of the Potomac, struck the entrenched Confederate division of General Alexander P. Stewart.  Hooker was repulsed with heavy casualties, but the worst was yet to come.  Further to the right on Johnston’s line, near an abandoned grist mill owned by the Pickett family, Patrick Cleburne was waiting.

Though repulsed at New Hope Church, Sherman decided to try flanking the Confederate right.  He dispatched General Oliver Howard’s Corps for the attempt.  The one-armed Howard was known as “Old Prayer Book” by his men for his fervent Christian beliefs.  The rocky ravines and jungle-like growth made marching difficult.  Companies became lost in the vines and could only find their way through bugle calls to and from the companies marching in front.  The Confederates heard the bugles as well and positioned themselves accordingly.  Cleburne’s men had the advantage of height above a vine-chocked ravine.  On May 27, the brigade of General William Hazen moved up ravine toward Granbury’s Texans.  Cleburne’s artillery opened fire, cutting down trees and men alike.  Hazen’s tough Ohioans continued their advance to within thirty yards of the Texans.  Like Rngold Gap, a brutal standup fight ensued along Granbury’s line.

 Future author, Lieutenant Ambrose Bierce witnessed the battle firsthand and later penned an account entitled “The Crime at Pickett’s Mill.”  Bierce later wrote, “With its well-defined edge of corpses-those of the bravest, where both lines are fighting without cover-as in a charge met by a counter-charge-each has its deadline and between the two is a clear spot-neutral ground, devoid of dead, for the living cannot reach it to fall there.”  Confederate Sergeant A.G. Anderson also left an account of the deadline.  “They seemed to be drunk, and line after line would charge us and be cut down,” he wrote, “They came so close to us that they endeavored to plant their colors (flags) right in our lines, and when the flag would go down another man would raise it again.  Many of their men rushed into our lines and were clubbed and bayoneted to death.”  An exception to the many was noted by Private William Oliphant.  Dropping his musket, one young Union soldier grabbed one of the implanted flags, waved it in the Texans faces, and then retreated down the ravine.  “One of the Texans,” recalled Oliphant, “shouted out don’t shoot him, he’s too brave.”  A cheer went up as the young bluecoat retreated down the ravine with the flag.

By 6:00 PM, Sherman decided to call off the attack.  Union casualties were 1,600 killed and wounded.  Cleburne suffered 600.  In General Cleburne's official report on Pickett’s Mill, Cleburne wrote, "The piles of dead on this front was but a silent eulogy upon Granbury and his noble Texans."  Faced with further losses and tired of the rugged, wooded terrain, Sherman decided to pull his army from their trenches and head northeast toward the railhead at Allatoona Pass.  Johnston could only follow.  Blankets of dead horses and humans filled the ravines from New Hope Church to Pickett’s Mill.  Union troops gave the ravines an appropriate moniker - “The Hell Hole.”  Impatient with his retreats and lack of success, Confederate President Jefferson Davis replaced Johnston the following July with General John Bell Hood.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Duel

                                                   Luke Short                   Tim Courtright

During the later days of the Wild West, the most talked-about, one-on-one gunfight happened on a Fort Worth boardwalk.  Contrary to Hollywood depictions, such gunfights were a rarity.  Gunfighters did not meet at a designated hour in the middle of a deserted street.  More often, they dueled abruptly after their whiskey infused passions fell to their trigger fingers.  On February 8, 1887, Tim “Long-Hair” Courtright and Luke Short brought their pistols to bear in a gunfight for the ages. 

Luke Short’s life was a history book of the Wild West.  He held interest in the West’s most famous saloons: the Oriental, in Tombstone, Arizona, the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City,  Kansas, and the White Elephant in Fort Worth, Texas.  He also loved to gamble in those saloons while donning the finest in men’s wear - top hats included.  Born in 1854, the Arkansas native worked on cattle drives to Kansas and served as a U.S. Army scout during the war with the Sioux Indians.  He also sold liquor to those same Indians he was fighting.  Making sales from the back of a wagon, Short became widely known for his fine tasting whiskey, which was usually tainted.  Tiring of the cowboy life and sleeping on the open ground, he turned to professional gambling to make a living.  Starting with the Colorado mining town of Leadville, Short traveled the circuit of Wild West professional gamblers seeking saloons with loose spending customers.  A life of gambling led to a life of gunplay, something Short had a deadly talent for.  While in Tombstone, he killed a drunken Charlie Storm with two shots from his pocket revolver.  In 1883, Short and his wife settled down in Fort Worth.  He became business partners with Bill Ward and Jake Johnson, the owners of the White Elephant Saloon.  Short would manage the gambling operations.   Because of his reputation, he attracted big name gamblers that drew public attention.

While Short skirted the law, Tim Courtright enforced it as a city marshal and self-proclaimed private detective.  Like Short, he served as an army scout during his youth.  In 1875, he and his wife Sarah moved to Fort Worth where he tried his hand at farming.  After three years, the farm failed; Courtright was forced to find a new occupation.  He became a city jailer then was elected city marshal by a mere three votes.  Courtright served as Marshal for three terms before traveling to New Mexico.  He was accused of murdering two squatters while serving as a deputy.  Courtright managed to escape arrest.  He came back to Fort Worth and opened a detective agency; it was actually a front for his protection racket.

Being a popular cowtown, Fort Worth naturally attracted all the seedy elements trail drivers and local businessmen sought.  Those elements gave birth to “Hell’s Half Acre;”a huge red light district that encompassed two and a half acres south of the Tarrant County courthouse. Further north of the courthouse, the establishments were more polished, but still offered the popular vices, namely gambling, prostitution, liquor, and cock fights.  Societal norms aside, the vices generated a hefty bottom line.  What was needed was law enforcement that kept the peace without shutting down any red light enterprises.  With his two-holstered pistols (butts facing forward),  Courtright kept the peace while leaving the gamblers alone.  In one evening alone, he jailed up to thirty unruly cowpokes.  Not content to be just a low paid, standup marshal, Courtright sought a piece of Fort Worth’s gambling operations.   In return for payment, he offered gambling halls, like the White Elephant, his brand of protection.  Certainly no stranger to tough guy assertions, Luke Short told him to get lost.

The White Elephant had progressed from a mere saloon and billiard hall to an elegant gentlemen’s club.  During its heyday, it offered the finest dining in Fort Worth, complete with a cigar factory out back.  Upstairs, Short’s gambling rooms were constructed of the finest mahogany and graced with crystal lighting fixtures.  The rosewood and ivory faro tables were described as “works of art.”  In addition to the many felt gaming tables, cockfighting pits lured combative fowls from miles around.  The most popular attraction was a Luke Short inspired form of lottery called Keno. Unlike the other games, Keno required no skills, just luck, and it paid big.   Unfortunately, Keno was easy to rig compared to other games and was often the target of public outrage, usually from those that lost their money.  Included among the outraged was “The Law and Order Society.”  Its members demanded the removal of the game or else they would burn down the White Elephant.  Fort Worth’s “Keno Craze” made huge profits for the White Elephant owners.  Tim Courtwright wanted a piece of the profits and a piece of Luke Short as well.

Courtright pushed his way into the White Elephant and loudly demanded to see Short, who was having his shoes shined.  Short went outside to find his business partner, Jake Johnson, and Courtright waiting for him.  Johnson was trying to smooth things over, but to no avail.  Short and Courtright walked several yards down the street from the White Elephant to the appropriate frontage of a shooting gallery.   Courtright pulled out his six- shooter.  Short, however, beat him on the draw.  He killed Courtright with four shots.  Short was arrested and spent the night in jail.   Among those who witnessed the gunfight was Short’s friend from Dodge City, the legendary Sheriff William “Bat” Masterson.  Known for his abusive, short tempered demeanor, Courtright was not a popular man.  Nevertheless, he had a considerable number of uptown Fort Worth supporters; they wanted to lynch Short that evening.  Wearing his famed six guns, Masterson guarded Short’s jail cell himself.  No sane person would dare challenge the guns of Bat Masterson.  Short was later acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.  Courtright was buried after one the largest funeral processions in Fort Worth history.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Coming To A Texas Town Near You !

Of all the storied brigades that served under General Robert E. Lee, there was one he always counted on the most – the Texas Brigade.  His admiration for his Lone Star boys was best summed up while watching a military parade next to a European observer.  As the Texans marched past, the observer pointed out the torn backs of their uniforms.  “It does not matter,” Lee replied.  “No one sees the backs of my Texans.”  At Gaines Mill, Second Manassas, Antietam, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, and The Wilderness, no one saw the backs of the Texas Brigade.  Their casualty rate was among the war’s highest.  There were no posthumous medals, no funeral processions to their hometown cemeteries, no flags presented to their widows, and no carefully manicured gravesites. These Texans made their heavenly assent from a 3 foot, unmarked burial pit.  You marched, you fought and you died.  Only 700 of the 7,000 members of the brigade made it back home.  The Texas Brigade always had the back of General Lee.  Now, it’s time for their descendants to have his back again.  The tragic event at Charlottesville, Virginia, has spurred a backlash against Confederate memorials and statues.  The strongest so far was in Durham, North Carolina, where members of a Communist organization pulled down a statue of a Confederate soldier.  I would urge native Texans to oppose such wanton destruction in their state.  Express your displeasure and oppose organizations who are attempting to rewrite history at the expense of your heritage.  The City of Dallas is establishing a commission to decide the fate of a Robert E. Lee statue at Lee Park.  Statues, such as this one, will no doubt be moved, but sticking them in junkyards or destroying them is a direct affront to Texas History.

Sunday, June 18, 2017


Samuel Walker

It seemed like an unlikely pairing: a well-heeled Connecticut gunmaker and a rough hewn Texas Ranger.  Despite their backgrounds, both had an abiding passion for firearms, and how to improve them.  They met at a New York gunsmith shop to exchange their ideas.  The result was a revolving pistol that would change the course of Texas and the American West.
Fighting Mexicans and Comanches provided Texas Rangers with more than a firsthand knowledge of firearms.  Being on horseback, it was crucial they have repeating firepower to take out mounted, hard charging adversaries.  This needed feature became apparent in confrontations with the Comanches.  The “Lords of the Plains” could use a bow and arrow faster than Rangers could fire and reload a musket.  To make matters worse, the Rangers often had to get off their horses to fire at them; the Comanches could stay on horseback.  The solution came from an unlikely source: the Texas Navy.  In 1839, the Texas Navy purchased 130 of Samuel Colt’s revolving pistols.  Named for their origin of manufacture, Patterson, New Jersey, the Patterson Colt featured a five shot cylinder with .36 caliber paper charges.  Though fragile with its delicate frame, pocket watch mechanisms and cumbersome reload process, the Colts provided game changing firepower.  Better yet, they could be fired on horseback.  When Republic of Texas President Sam Houston disbanded the navy, a surplus of Texas Navy Colt revolvers became available.  The Rangers helped themselves.

On June 8, 1844, the Patterson Colts got a thorough shakedown.  At the battle of Walker’s Creek, fifty miles north of San Antonio, a Ranger detachment of 14 battled 70 Comanches under Yellow Wolf.   When numbers were starting to tip the balance in the Comanches favor, Captain Jack “Coffee” Hayes shouted, “Any man who has a load, kill that chief!”  Yellow Wolf was dropped from his saddle while his warriors fled the battlefield.  Under the superior leadership of Captain Hayes and their Colts’ firepower, the Rangers won a signal victory that put the enemies of Texas on notice.

One of the Rangers, Samuel Walker (no connection to the creek), suffered a gapping lance wound in the back during the battle.  He recovered in time for the War with Mexico where he served as a Ranger lieutenant.  The Rangers continued to prove their mettle, but more manpower was needed.  During a recruiting trip to New York, Walker was approached by the Patterson Colt’s manufacturer: Samuel Colt.  The famed gun maker, however, was flat broke.  He desperately needed a sale.  Both Samuels warmed to each other and started an earnest discussion on revolvers.  The Patterson’s shortcomings were the main topic.  How do you make a proven revolver better?  Walker had answers.   

As in any confrontation with overwhelming numbers, firepower was vital.  Instead of five chambers, a sixth chamber would be added.   The reloading process was simplified; the cylinder could be reloaded without taking the revolver apart.  A loading lever was attached to secure the cartridges in their chambers.  Stopping power from one shot depended on the caliber.  The .34 caliber bullet was replaced with a .44 caliber.  The result of the discussion was a new revolver that was heavier, sturdier, and packed a wallop.  The reloading was still cumbersome, but was compensated for by having more loaded revolvers on hand.  Instead of one revolver, a Ranger would carry from two to five revolvers.  Also, the reloading lever was often knocked loose when the revolver was discharged.  A piece of rawhide cord was often used to secure the lever to the barrel.  The most serious problem was a ruptured cylinder after firing; a problem caused by loose powder igniting the cartridges in the other cylinders.  Nevertheless, the Walker Colt was the most powerful handgun prior to the modern day .357 Magnum.

The first six- shooter was manufactured during the War with Mexico.  In 1847, Samuel Walker would receive two of his namesake revolvers.  Tragically, he was killed at the Battle of Huamantla.  Only 1,100 Walker Colts were produced, making them extremely rare and coveted by gun collectors.  At auction, a Walker Colt could go for as high as $950,000.00.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Duplicitous Trail Drives

John Chisum

During the Civil War, there were instances on both sides of profit replacing patriotism.  The sudden lack of markets and severe income loss led some to circumvent government authority for new business opportunities, especially if the authority was on the losing side.  Late in the war, cotton was always a hot commodity in illegal trading with the enemy.  In West Texas, a different commodity offered a second monetary source:  Cattle.

After Confederate forces were driven from Southeast New Mexico, Union forces occupied the region and established an Indian reservation near their newly constructed Fort Sumner.  The reservation was built on an arid, uninhabitable stretch called the Bosque Redondo.  Into this dreadful landscape, the U.S Army, under the firm command of General James Carlton, crammed members of the Navajo and Mescalero Apache tribes.  During the months to come, Bosque Redondo would prove to be more of a prison camp hellhole than a reservation.  To begin with, the Mescalero and Navajo had fought each other for decades, and weren’t about to make a lasting peace.  The dry weather wouldn’t allow sustained crop production.  Being that it was in a desert, there was no wood to make fires and only a brackish trickle of water to drink.  To make matters worse, the Comanches raided the reservation and stole the Navajo’s horses.  A stable food source was quickly needed to feed the reservation and the Union forts in New Mexico.

In 1864, Union contractors James Patterson and William Franks contacted Texas ranchers to arrange cattle drives to Fort Sumner and Union held El Paso.  They carried plenty of cash to make their purchases.  With Confederate markets cut off by the loss of the Mississippi and Confederate currency on the wane, it was difficult not to accept their offers.  Famed Texas Ranger James “Buck” Barry reported to his superiors, “It might be well to inform you that we have five men here under arrest that say they were hired by one Patterson in New Mexico to drive beef from our frontier.”  The Texas Third Frontier District reported a drive of 1,000 to 1,500 cattle heading west over their district.   The most notable of these unlawful ranchers was famed cattle baron John Chisum.  Although he supplied the Confederate Army with 4,000 head of cattle, Chisum sought approval from the Texas governor to move his vast herds from Denton County to Concho County in West Texas, a remote area near the New Mexico border and conveniently too remote for Confederate authorities.  In his book, “From the Cow Camp to the Pulpit,” one of Chisum’s ranch hands, M.C. Smith, wrote about the assembly of a cattle herd destined for Fort Sumner in September 1864 – seven months before the end of the war.  After the war, Smith went to work for Patterson.

The Texas government had few men and funds to patrol West Texas.  Most defensive efforts were focused on the Texas coast where Union amphibious operations were a constant threat.  Ironically, the Native Americans that plagued Confederate Texas also kept Union troops in New Mexico occupied and away from the more populated East Texas.

Though their loyalties became more blurred toward the war’s final month, Texas ranchers, nevertheless, had a keen eye toward the future.  In 1866, the Goodnight-Loving Trail was established to drive Texas herds into New Mexico.  The great cattle drives to Kansas followed shortly.  Though traitorous by law, it’s still good to know these unlawful Texas cattle drives went to feed hungry Navaho children.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Let Us Charge the Cannon !"

Colonel Hinche Mabry

General Sterling Price had all the evidence he needed – a Yankee attack was coming. Horribly spattered with the blood of his comrade, the scout before him needed little to convince the portly Missourian. Just southwest of Iuka, Mississippi, he had encountered a Federal cavalry detachment on the San Jacinto Road. Price sent an infantry brigade, under General Louis Hebert, to counter the threat. A Union army, under the command of General William Rosecrans, was indeed marching steadily toward Price from the southeast. At the same time, a second army was advancing on him from the northwest. Under the overall command of General Ulysses S. Grant, both armies were executing a classic pincers move to trap Price in Iuka. Price would have to move quickly to avoid the trap. Hebert sent the Third Texas Cavalry regiment out ahead to find and screen Rosecrans’s advance – an overwhelming task at best.

The Third Texas Cavalry was actually the Third Dismounted Texas Cavalry. Consisting mostly of planters from Northeast Texas and armed prodigiously with shotguns, the Third had shed their mounts to become infantry. Their commander felt there were too many cavalry units in Mississippi. Encamped at the railroad junction of Corinth, the dismounted Texans learned the rudiments of infantry drill during the spring of 1862. They suffered staggering losses from disease and Corinth’s foul water supply. Fortunately for their health, but not their moral, the Confederates were forced to evacuate Corinth before a massive Federal offensive. Under the command of General Braxton Bragg, the Confederates later retook the initiative by invading Kentucky. Sterling Price was left behind to guard Mississippi. The newly appointed commander of the Vicksburg, Mississippi garrison, General Earl Van Dorn, requested Price to join him and invade West Tennessee while Bragg was in Kentucky. Price would have to get out of Iuka before joining Van Dorn.

Rosecran’s deployed his regiments to meet Hebert’s brigade. In the center of the line, directly in front of the Texans, was the 11th Ohio Artillery. The Federals were aligned along the south slope of a ravine. No sooner had the 3rd Texas descended into the ravine, when a shower of canister shot forced them to hit the dirt. Sgt. W. P. Helm recalled:

“The roaring artillery, the rattle of the musketry, the hailstorm of grape and ball were mowing us down like grain before we could locate from whence it came. We were trapped; there could be no retreat, and certain death was in our advance. We fell prostrate to the ground.”

The certain death was a gruesome decapitation if you stood up. There was only one solution - charge the battery and take the guns. With a rebel yell, the Third got to its feet and charged into the Union line. To the right of the battery, the 48th Indiana, a regiment consisting of green recruits, bolted to the rear when the Texans hit their line. Their brigade commander, Colonel John B. Sanborn, ordered them to stand and fight, drawing his pistol and shooting two who didn’t. The regiment directly behind the 48th, the 16th Ohio, was swept up by the 48th’s rout – a domino effect. The battery, however, kept many of the Texans back. To make matters worse, they were being fired on by their fellow Confederates behind them. After three attempts, the Third’s Colonel Hinche Mabry rallied his men for a fourth. “Boys if we are to die, let it be by Yankee bullets, not by our friends,” he cried. “So let us charge the cannon.” The Ohioans fought with an unmatched fury. Helm recalled, “Sword and bayonet were crossed. Muskets, revolvers knives, ramrods, gun swabs – all mingled in the death dealing fray."  Only a handful of the fifty four artillerymen were still standing when their battery was captured. One of the dead was found holding the bridles of his battery horses with a firm death grip. The horses were dead as well. Respectfully, the Texans released the survivors, but kept their six cannons. Of the 388 men in the Third Texas, 22 were killed and 74 were wounded - the highest loss the regiment suffered in battle. The Third continued serving in Mississippi until the end of the Civil War. They eventually regained their mounts and became part of the famed Sul Ross cavalry brigade. The brave charge of the Third Texas held up Rosecran’s advance and helped Price make his escape.