Tuesday, July 2, 2013
If I produced a video on Texas in the War for Southern Independence
Few people within the Civil War community actually know much about the war west of the Mississippi River. It's kind of a closely guarded secret. Shush...don't tell anyone but the fighting actually started west of the Mississippi years before Ft. Sumter. John Brown did his pledge work as a fanatical maniac abolitionist in the Kansas - Missouri area. Terrorism continued to be a part of the fight in the west, by both sides. The war the Trans Mississippi theatre was more personal, more savage, more like terrorism, and less one of large formations of regiments, though there were some reasonably sized fights here.
I am not going to spend time on the Trans Mississippi theatre in this short post, but I did want to tell you about Texas, and if I were producing a video on the war here, what I would include in it.
First, there is pre-secession. This is important for several reasons. First, Texas is the only state that conducted a referendum on secession itself. The people of Texas did elect to a convention, and the delegates did prepare a resolution of secession. However, the people of the state voted yea or nay. This is unique and important. In Texas, it was not some high political elite that chose the course, but the people themselves.
And there is more. In the summer prior to the vote a series of fires erupted in a number of cities attributed to abolitionists. In addition, poison and guns were alleged to have been found amongst a small group of slaves. Together, these actions clearly would have excited the population. The federal government had already proven to be a poor guardian of west Texas where savages roamed, so like today's open border issue, the United States had a known track record of failure. And in dealing with the abolitionists the fed.s had proven to have a deaf ear.
So despite Sam Houston campaigning against secession, Texas voted by almost 75% out of the Union! In Upshur County it was over 90%. That's fairly high agreement among the common folk that the Union wasn't working! I wonder what that vote would be today in Texas?
So, after we move through secession it would be important to talk about the Texans limited commitment to the Confederacy. For many men there was real opposition to serving outside the state of Texas, and some units declared they would not cross the Mississippi. There were some brigades of Texans that made across the Mississippi. One brigade made it to Lee's Army in Virginia, and two to central Tennessee. Texans did fight in Arkansas and Louisiana.
Now as to fighting in Texas. There were only a few small, but important and interesting land engagements in Texas, and an important naval battle between the C.S.S. Alabama and U.S.S. Hatteras off the Texas coast. And, importantly the first invasion of the north commenced from Texas into the territories of Arizona and New Mexico with an ultimate goal of California.
One battle of real interest is the Battle of Galveston on January 1, 1863. General John Magruder, C.S.A., organized a surprise combined arms (army and navy) offensive to take back the South's largest port west of the Mississippi River. The fight took less than a morning, but its repercussions were felt in Washington! To my knowledge it is the only combined arms Confederate offensive to be successful during the war.
A second battle, the Battle of Sabine Pass, September 8th, 1863 is one of mythical proportions. 48 Irish Catholic immigrants commanded by Lt. Dick Dowling, C.S.A. , and known as the Davis Guards occupied and defended a mud - sand fort on a water way known as Sabine Pass, just west of the Louisiana - Texas border. This water way led to Port Neches. From there it was a short march to Beaumont, and then on to Houston, cutting off Galveston.
The Yankees in New Orleans, at the insistence of President Lincoln, organized an assault force of 5,000 soldiers in about 28 ships, four of them gun boats, to move through Sabine Pass onto Sabine Lake to take Port Neches and march on to Houston! But they did not know 48 Irishmen stood in their way. On September 8th, 1863, the Yankees would attempt to pass through Sabine Pass. But in less than 40 minutes Dick Dowling's Irish Catholics forced the first two gun boats into the banks of the pass, capturing more that 300 Yankee sailors. The remainder of the Yankee fleet turned tail and ran. In sum 48 Irishmen defeated a force of more than 5000 and what is even more amazing is that they all lived to tell the story!
Another part of the war in Texas that is important for the past, and for now is that almost none of Texas was ever occupied by the Yankees. There was no brutal rape of the state like there was in almost every other southern state. I think that lack of violence by the Yankees against Texas explains the "granny" point of view in Texas. Texans did not have their homes and churches burned down. Texans did not see the wave of carpetbaggers that the Carolina's and Virginia and Tennessee and all the other states saw.
The story of Texas is not one of great campaigns. But, it is one worth telling. There are lessons to be learned, and as always the past helps explain the present.
Mark Vogl, Black Sheep
Rebel Mountain, Texas