Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Civil War Comes to Atascosa County - Part 1

Imagine a day in mid-April 1861. You’re walking down Pleasanton’s Main Street on the way to the General Store, or you’ve ridden your horse to San Antonio on business, and you see a newspaper emblazoned with the headline “WAR! FORT SUMTER FIRED ON!” So, it really is going to happen. Now the larger world will invade the lives of ranchers and shopkeepers and mothers of children out on the edge of the Texas frontier and pull them into its turmoil.

Of course, the County’s citizens would have known war was coming. All of the news of the previous year was rife with the politics of slavery, abolition, states’ rights, the seeming threat of Lincoln’s election, the fracturing of political parties. Then when the Republican won the presidency in November, it was only a matter of time until the secessionist tide reached Texas.

On February 23rd a popular referendum was held in Texas; some citizens were strongly opposed, others adamantly in favor. A contested election indicated that about two thirds had voted yes. On March 5th Texas joined the Confederate States of America, and when the Fort Sumter bombardment began on April 12th, there was no longer any avoiding civil war. It was real now.1

Surely, there were young single men eager to go to war, but many men with families were also swept up. There would have been somber talk between husbands and wives at the kitchen table that night after the children had gone to bed; possibly the husband stressing duty, the wife arguing for family. Should he go? How could he not go? How was she to manage? Households would have had livestock and probably a sizeable patch of vegetables growing and hired hands and all the rest. How could a family man with that kind of responsibility go off to war!?

A Home Front Concern

As if domestic and familial constraints weren’t enough, the Indian threat to the region was ongoing.

In the 1850s due to the increased presence of some U.S. Army units along the frontier, but more to the continual punitive expeditions and patrolling of the frontier line by Ranger outfits such as Rip Ford’s and Henry McCulloch’s, the Indians were somewhat held in check. But neither the Army and Ranger operations nor the removal of many tribes to reservations put a stop to Comanche-Kiowa depredations by the eve of the Civil War. To the contrary, the military operations against the Comanches brought sporadic retaliatory “murder raids” by those native warriors whose code required vengeance for fathers or sons or family members killed.2

During the decade of the ‘50s the area around San Antonio was still being raided periodically. “An entire German settlement was destroyed northwest of San Antonio.”3 And it was reported that in 1861 “the Indians made [a] big raid, penetrating the settlements as far as Pleasanton” and that under the command of Big Foot Wallace “men gathered from all over the country to fight them.”4

Company E of the 36th Texas Cavalry is Formed

By very early in 1862, likely everybody in the county knew that the military call-up was coming soon. Lewis Maverick of San Antonio returned from the war in Virginia probably with the intention of raising a company. When he did, about half of it was from the little town on the Atascosa.

Did Maverick ride down to Pleasanton to meet with the men of the town, maybe make a patriotic recruitment speech? Did he explain the possible mission of the company and set out the place and time of muster and the equipment requirements?

Or did the initiative came from Pleasanton? There must have been one or more meetings in town to discuss formation of a cavalry company of the C.S.A., and what it might mean to them. Brave and resolute as most of the would-be volunteers probably were, it would have been good to have old hands, Rangers and Mexican War veterans, around to ask questions of and maybe privately seek a little reassurance from.

Perhaps the Pleasanton men had heard that young Maverick wanted to form a company and so sent a spokesperson to San Antonio to tell him that half a company of men were ready to join up and they would accept his leadership.

To our very great benefit, a South Texas historian, Carl L. Duaine, wrote the only history to be found of the regiment. Here he describes the general nature of the men who made up Maverick’s company. He says they were

men who came from the edges of the brush country, that section lying south of San Antonio, the southern boundary of which was marked by the Nueces River. Beyond lay the real brush country, La Brasada, reaching to the Rio Grande.

These were men who made their living working cattle in La Brasada. They did a little farming at times, growing corn for themselves and their horses, or producing little patches of hay for the saddle horses during drought and winter time, but their main occupation was dragging cattle out of the ramaderos of the brush country.

Probably in late February 1862, the word was circulated around the west (now central) Texas area that volunteers for this company were to muster at Pleasanton in mid-March. When it was formed it would become Company E (in modern military usage it would be called Echo Company) of Woods’ Cavalry. Duaine says it “was called together under the giant live oak trees that grew [in] Pleasanton . . . [the men] came from Atascosa, Wilson, Live Oak, McMullen Counties.” (Duaine wrote that the muster was at "the old red rock courthouse," but it wasn't completed until 1886. See comments below.)

Under the big live oaks, Lewis Maverick made out a muster roll, starting with himself as Number One, Captain of the Company, and listing 103 men. He recorded each man in the Company in a neat, highly legible hand that is easily read today.5

Next time: the Officers and Men of The 36th Texas . . .

1. Purgason, Howard. Calvin Turner, Texas Ranger
Handbook of Texas Online, s.v.,
2. Fehrenbach, T.R.. Lone Star, 438
3. Fehrenbach, T.R.. Comanches, 421
4. F.G. Tinsley in A.J. Sowell, Early Settlers and Indian Fighters of Southwest Texas, 306
5. Duaine, Carl L.. The Dead Men Wore Boots, 22-23


Barbara Morris Westbrook said...


Barbara Morris Westbrook said...

Just want to say, for the record, Duaine's reference to the muster in Pleasanton, by the red sandstone courthouse, that building wasn't opened until April 20, 1886, so couldn't have been there at the time Lewis Maverick's men signed up to fight. Instead it would have been a simple "picket wall" building that was to cost no more than $125. in 1858, or so the county records say. Just a small thing.

Howard Purgason said...

Many thanks to Barbara for catching this error! I would love to know how high the "picket wall" was and how long. Presumably it was for protection from Indian attack.

A footnote of my own about the old red stone courthouse:

One of my great-great-grand-fathers, Christian Eichmann, was a stonemason who emigrated to Texas in 1845 from the German Rhineland. He was one of the master masons who help build it. The Atascosa County History (pg 6) says "The contract, for $15,850, was signed on April 23, 1885. . . . When the county offices were moved to Jourdanton [in 1910], the Pleasan-ton courthouse was used as a city hall."

Barbara Morris Westbrook said...

Howard, I think I can shed some light on that. According to Norman Porter's book, and he references County Commissioner's Court Minute Book A, page 31, it states the following description, "20 feet wide by 30 feet long-to be built of split log pickets or round pickets not less than 3 inches thick at the small end. The wall to be 9 feet above ground and the house daubed inside and out". It goes on to describe the windows and doors, but does not mention a floor. One can only assume it is dirt, or, in P-town, sand.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your story, the comments, etc. Really makes you THINK!!!!

Marilynn Erwin said...


Marilynn Erwin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.