Thursday, March 15, 2012

Atascosa County's Regiment in the Civil War - Part 9

While the 36th Texas Cavalry Prepares for War . . .

Overall between 60,000 and 70,000 Texans, two thirds of the military-age population, reportedly saw Confederate service.1 In the Trans-Mississippi by mid-September 1862, Texas had fielded six cavalry regiments (including the 823 horse of the 36th Texas) amounting to 4,201 men. To these were added regiments from Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Indian Territory, 12,729 men, for a total of 16,930 Confederate mounted soldiers in service west of the Mississippi.

In addition to the formal military organizations, there were some 2,677 men in independent, unattached units (including sixteen cavalry troops) stationed at various points in Texas (among them Captain A. Navarro’s 80 men in Atascosa County) for home guard duties.2

While the troopers of the 36th Texas at Camp Clark were engaged in training and firming up the regiment, military engagements elsewhere continued:

To the east: March through August 1862: Union General George McClellan begins the Peninsula Campaign in the attempt to circumvent the Confederate army in northern Virginia and capture the capital of Richmond. Hood’s Texas Brigade, fighting with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, launches a desperate final charge that breaks the Federal line at Gaines Mill.3 In August, General Earl Van Dorn, commander of Confederate forces east of the Mississippi, makes an unsuccessful attempt to retake Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which had been abandoned when New Orleans fell.4

To the north: in March the Confederate Army of the West, in an attempt to open a pathway to Missouri, fights the Battle of Pea Ridge in northwestern Arkansas. The thrust north fails and the Confederacy never again seriously threatens the state of Missouri. Within weeks the Army of the West is transferred across the Mississippi River to bolster the Army of Tennessee, leaving Arkansas virtually defenseless and the Texas border vulnerable.

To the west: the Frontier Regiment, described above, is manning a series of “camps” along the Indian line and are having only marginal success against depredations by the aboriginals. The Indians have learned to exploit the weakness of the Regiment’s “passive patrol” system (as opposed to the volunteer minutemen’s pursue-and-punish or the Rangers’ find-and-destroy tactics). After a lull at the beginning of the Civil War, Comanche and Kiowa raiding parties are resuming their tactics and penetrating the line at will.5

Threats to the State and the Home Front

Probably in late July 1862, after two months of the boredom, rigors, and routine of training camp life, orders come down to Colonel Woods. Those soldiers in his command passionate to go to war against the Yankees will not be happy to hear them. He and his men are not going across the Mississippi. There will not be any daring raids behind enemy lines; there will be no riding rings around McClellan’s army as Jeb Stuart has just done in Virginia. They are needed in Texas.

The state has problems of its own. The patriotic fervor of a year and a half ago is beginning to fade somewhat, even among supporters of the Confederacy. The farther west you live in the state, the less likely you are to be concerned with the problems of the slaveocracy and the trials of the Army of Northern Virginia than you are with local dangers and the immediate threats to life and property. Texas still did not have what it always desired: a force of Rangers to protect the frontier, paid and adequately funded by the eastern government, but controlled by Texans.

Two of those threats come from old adversaries: Mexicans and Indians. But now there is menace from some other groups as well.

This year’s Mexicans are not the invaders of 1842; they are roaming bands of banditos – the whole area south of the Nueces is subject to their raids. Some of the raiders are simply rancheros trying to regain the off-spring of the stock that was taken from them after the Mexican War. But there are also bands of lawless riders, who range from legitimately aggrieved men displaced by years of war and revolution who have turned to banditry out of necessity, to despicable gangs of thugs, sometimes augmented by renegade Gringos, from whom no man, woman, horse, or cow is safe.

Plus, there are outlaw mobs of Anglos, most of them Texans; the kind of low dregs of society who will always show up to take advantage of others when they can. There are villainous quasi-military guerilla bands, near-outlaws of two types: Jayhawkers (Union sympathizers) and bushwhackers (Confederate partisans), who raid, rob, and kill for one side or the other. Not too different from these are bands of draft dodgers, those who were against secession and the war from the beginning, plus some who are now permanent deserters from the army, who ride and steal and sometimes kill in order not to be captured and hung for treason.

A number of frontier and Rio Grande towns and ranches are depopulated and run down from fear and the constant strife, and the absence of their mainstay of able-bodied males.

And, As Always, The Native Americans

On Secession Day, March 16, 1861, there had been 2,700 federal troops, one quarter of the U.S. Army, deployed among a string of frontier defense forts. By now all those soldiers were gone and all the forts abandoned, some burned to the ground.

By the end of 1862, there would be 62,000 Texas men absent with the southern armies – lots of fighters on good horses had gone away 6 – as we have seen, at least 47 men of fighting age and ability from Pleasanton alone! And a number surely in excess of 15 from other parts of the county.7 But for the Frontier Regiment, the line of civilization would have been left unguarded.

When the great war between the two Anglo-American tribes began, the Comanche, Cheyenne, and Kiowa warriors threw off what had been a growing sense of defeat and demoralization. They realized that the white warriors had moved east to fight amongst themselves – and, even though some realized that their former world had effectively ended, they returned to their old ways of raiding: stealing, killing, and kidnapping. Deep anxiety and fear again descended on the Anglo frontier.

Next time: The 36th Texas Cavalry Goes to Work . . .

Purgason, Howard. Calvin Turner, Texas Ranger
1. Fehrenbach, T.R.. Lone Star, 354
2. Oates, Stephen B.. Confederate Cavalry West of the River, 44-45
3. McPherson, James M.. Battle Cry of Freedom, 427, 464-71
4. Gallaway, B.P., ed. Texas: The Dark Corner of the Confederacy, 249
5. Smith, David Paul. Frontier Defense in the Civil War, 46-53
6. Fehrenbach, 448, 452
7. Duaine, Carl L.. The Dead Men Wore Boots, 96-109

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