Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Atascosa County's Regiment in the Civil War - Part 10

The 36th Texas Cavalry Goes to Work

Starting in probably late-July 1862 Colonel Wood began to dispatch patrols to carry out his orders to pacify some areas of unrest, crime, or treason in the state of Texas.

A number of the companies of the regiment, but not yet all, headed to new postings south of the Nueces. Certain elements of the regiment remained at Camp Clark on the San Marcos for some months, the quartermaster department among them. It is unclear where Colonel Woods and the regimental headquarters were located after, say August, but eventually they wound up down on the Mexican border at Fort Ringgold located at Rio Grande City.

It is not possible to say with certainty just where the rest of Company E was throughout the remainder of 1862, but we know generally – they were either on patrol in the regiment’s area of operations below the Nueces, or on the Gulf Coast, assigned to some other duties, which we shall address in subsequent articles.

The patrol area of Woods’ Regiment covered an enormous expanse that could be defined by a triangle whose corners were Corpus Christi, Brownsville, and Eagle Pass. This westernmost town was of major importance because the Federals had possession of the lower Rio Grande.1

Company muster rolls started out being taken at regular two-month intervals and then became sporadic and covered variable time periods. It is useful to remember that the rolls were merely a snapshots of a unit’s strength and location at any given moment – say, the end of a pay period. A company could have been, and some certainly were, reassigned numerous times between those snapshots.

On Captain Maverick’s Company Muster Roll for July and August the “station of company” shows “Not Stated,” which is a pretty good indication that they were on the move around the end of that time.2 It seems clear that, though they may have been at Camp Clark for some part of July, the company was sent on patrol to Fort Ringgold in the middle to latter part of the month.

The Trip Down

It is over 300 miles from San Marcos to Rio Grande City. One of the maps the cavalrymen used was probably one made in 1855, and they may have had some more recent ones besides. Captain Maverick’s company (and whatever other companies that were traveling with them) surely would have swung back through San Antonio to present the big commissary with requisitions for supplies and fodder. Heading out of town, they may have even have taken a straight shot south and passed through Pleasanton. It seems logical – it was the next town on the way after San Antonio. What a treat that would have been for the men of Company E and their families! Joyous reunions. Hugs and kisses all round and maybe even some home cooking, if the Captain allowed such a thing.

As the regiment (or some of its companies) headed southwest towards Corpus Christi, they would have generally followed the Atascosa River toward its junction with the Frio and the Nueces (where the town of Three Rivers is now). When they had exhausted their supplies of the crystal clear artesian well-water of San Antonio, the troops would have had to refill their canteens and gourds and the water barrels of the chuck wagons from those three rivers. The officers and sergeants would have had to keep a firm hand on the men to obtain their needed refills in an orderly manner and not muddy the streams for the rest of the company.

Depending on the time of year and any recent rains, these water courses could be raging torrents or, in some high spots, merely water holes strung along the creek or river beds. In those years the brush was thin and the grass cover heavy, therefore water runoff was slower and water holes lasted longer than they did in later decades. The farther from the three rivers the troop traveled, the harder it was for the cavalrymen to find sweet water. The search for it was continual; the shortage was sometimes chronic.

The terrain from Atascosa on down through the next couple of counties would have looked very familiar to the men of Maverick’s Company – this was cattle country, “open ranges and no fences except an occasional wood corral.” There would have been little in the way of civilization, other than isolated hamlets and ranches.

Ringgold Hospital

We know that Company E (or at least some part of it) was at Fort Ringgold in August because of an charming tale in connection with the fort hospital, which seems to have been the only one in the patrol area.

Billie Fitzgerald, a 37-year-old Atascosa County private of the company, took ill or had an accident and was sent to the hospital. He probably wrote his wife, Margaret, and told her of his condition and perhaps said something uncomplimentary about the facility. Margaret likely hitched up a wagon, loaded it with some supplies and home-grown food and traveled over 200 miles down to the Rio Grande to see what she could do to make Billie more comfortable and get him well – and wound up working in the hospital for about seven months!

It is not hard to imagine that upon arrival Margaret, outraged at the sorry state of the place, rolled up her sleeves and started straightening out and cleaning up and organizing the help – and pretty soon everybody discovered that she was indispensible.

She was promptly enlisted in the regiment [perhaps retroactively to the first of August] and listed as matron. She oversaw the hospital and superintended the men’s laundry, and seemed to have been a vital factor in the health and well being of the regiment during the late part of 1862 and the first part of 1864 [sic – surely 1863].3

Over the rest of 1862, Fort Ringgold at Rio Grande City seems to have been the central fort and more or less home base for the 36th Texas and the other companies operating in the area.

Next time: August, September, and October 1862 . . .

Purgason, Howard.
Calvin Turner, Texas Ranger
1. Duaine, Carl L.. The Dead Men Wore Boots, 33; Fehrenbach, T.R.. Lone Star, 342
2. National Archives, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Texas. Roll M323
3. Duaine 34-36; Handbook of Texas Online, s.v.,

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