Saturday, May 26, 2012

Atascosa County's Regiment in the Civil War - Part 11

Multiple Missions for the 36th Texas Cavalry

It is possible that by the end of August 1862, the bulk of Woods’ regiment was either in or headed for their new area of operations in what some old maps labeled the “Wild Horse Desert.” Their mission was to bring some order to the chaotic and turbulent Nueces Strip, to the Rio Grande border below it, and along the Gulf Coast. Besides the standard peace-keeping and police functions, defense against depredations by Indians and Mexican and Anglo bandits, and the prevention of German (and other) defections to Mexico, Colonel Woods and his men were given three other major assignments.

One was to prevent random Union naval raids against Texas. The Federal navy dominated the Gulf coast; their ships lay off Brownsville, Corpus Christi, and Indianola, and they could land as they chose at just about any coastal town that had some kind of port in order to disrupt the Texas-Mexico trade and in the process, tie down Confederate troops. Because of the presence of 36th Texas and some other units in the area, all this ever amounted to, with a couple of exceptions, was “hit and run harassment.” This was a strange, early form of asymmetrical warfare: the Confederate cavalry versus the Union navy.

Another mission was to protect the cotton wagons of the Texas plantations rumbling down to the coast, from highwaymen or bands of brigands. The cotton was sold in Mexico, the “white gold” exchanged for yellow gold, which was used to purchase guns and needed war supplies. This two-way stream of commodities was vital to the Southern cause.

And, finally, an important assignment was the safe-guarding of a large salt lagoon called El Sal del Ray that lay between King’s Ranch and the Rio Grande. The securing of this precious resource was of immeasurable value to the Confederacy.

By mid-September Texas had fielded six cavalry regiments, but only a few were assigned to the southern district. To adequately cover the vast area of Colonel Woods’ responsibility and to defend against such a wide and wildly disparate variety of enemies would have been a formidable task for a regiment of less than a thousand men. But the 36th had help. One major source was a brother regiment made up in the San Antonio area, the 1st Texas Cavalry, commanded by a Colonel Augustus Carl Buchel. The colonel was a Prussian émigré who had served in the Austrian army and “with the Turks.” He was described by his contemporaries as “a small, quiet man and is said to have been unassuming, courteous, and gentlemanly in manner. He spoke seven languages.” He had come to Texas to live a civilian life, but when the call came, like the many of Texas’ Rangers and Mexican War veterans, he returned to military duty. For all his quiet-mannered ways he was proud and fierce when it came to his personal dignity – he had killed opponents in several duels.1

September and October 1862

September 2nd: Martial law in Texas is repealed and the second Confederate conscription law goes into effect, raising the age limit to 45.
September 17th: Hood’s Texas Brigade, fighting with Lee’s army in the battle of Antietam, suffers 519 casualties.
September 22nd: President Lincoln issues his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
October 5th: The Confederates are forced to abandon Galveston Island (but not the town, the second largest in the state). The Federals do not occupy it until the day before Christmas.2

We know that Company E (or at least some component of it) was at Fort Ringgold in August (or late July), but clearly was on the move after that.

At the end of October, Company E (if not the whole unit, certainly the main contingent of it) was in the San Antonio area. We know because the Company Muster Roll (its fourth) for September and October states that it was taken at “San Antonio Springs” (about three miles north of downtown, currently near the north end of the campus of the University of the Incarnate Word).3

As to why the outfit was at San Antonio – maybe they were there for some special resupply, or were temporarily stationed in the area, patrolling because of the above mentioned prevalence of deserters and draft evaders in the big military and commercial town, the state’s largest. Still, it is a bit of a puzzle.

Next time:  On Patrol Below the Nueces . . .

Purgason, Howard.  Calvin Turner, Texas Ranger
1.  Duaine, Carl L.. The Dead Men Wore Boots, 34; Handbook of Texas Online, s.v.
2.  Gallaway, B.P., ed.  Texas: The Dark Corner of the Confederacy, Contemporary
      Accounts of the Lone Star State in the Civil War. 249
3.   National Archives, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Texas. Roll M323

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