Saturday, July 28, 2012

Atascosa County's Regiment in the Civil War - Part 13

Feeding the Troops   

Because of poor transportation, commissary stores could not be delivered readily, and the troopers had to live off the land as much as they could. Though the search for water was always insistent due to the remoteness of the wild country of the Corpus Christi-Brownsville-Eagle Pass Triangle area of operations (described in Part 10), much of it was flush with game: deer, antelope, javelina hogs, and wild turkeys. The men of Company E who happened to be in those areas didn’t want for fresh meat.1

Out in the western reaches of the region where wild game was not so plentiful,  whenever outfits on patrol duty could get their hands on some beef, they would preserve quantities of it by “jerking” it – cutting it into long, thin slices which they would string out by ropes to dry in the sun. This process didn’t even require salt, and it would keep and provide nourishment for a long time.2

The Reverend Potter of Company K relates an experience with fresh meat when almost half the regiment was near Brownsville:

In many places we could not get water for our horses, only when we drew it from wells, so the command was divided and traveled in detachments, and our commissary sergeant found it very difficult to get meat. He had orders to kill beeves and give the Mexican owners vouchers, but he could not speak Spanish, and had no little trouble in settling with them; he got so worried over it he feigned sick, and the colonel [Woods] appointed me to furnish beef that day. We camped near to where the cattle gathered in large numbers for water. I examined them, and found but few fit for beef, except a few two-year-olds. There were four companies of us, and I called on each company for men and ropes; then I pointed out the beeves, and they roped and butchered them. When we had caught three, the colonel came along and said, “Mr. Potter, how do you come on in getting beef?” I answered, “Pretty well, colonel; we have three, and the boys are after another.” The colonel smiled, and said I was doing well. So we got our four beeves slaughtered, and the half-starved men began to cook and eat. I reported to our commissary, and called for vouchers for four beeves. “What!” said he, “you have not killed four?” “I have, sir,” said I; “this is my day to issue beef.” He said it was more than they were entitled to, and that a great deal of it would be wasted. I replied that after four companies had eaten what they wanted, and then cooked enough to take along to-morrow, out of four small beeves, but little would be left; and it was even so.3

Since we don’t know if the men of Company E were with this bunch at the time, we don’t know whether the meat they ate that day was wild and fresh or “jerked.”

As to bread: when flour was available the men had multiple ways of cooking it. One was to mix a kind of biscuit dough, roll it out to “about the size and shape of a snake,” coil it around a stick or ramrod, and then roast it over an open fire. Another method was to roll the dough up in a “wet shuck” (i.e. corn shuck) and bake it in the hot embers of the campfire. The product of this simple process was called “hot doger.”

But food was not always short – sometimes a supply train would make it down the line and then the companies would receive “plenty of salt or dried meat, flour or corn meal, desiccated vegetables, fresh potatoes, and molasses, soap, and candles.” These would have been banner days for the boys.4

1862 Comes to an End

December 24th: Union forces finally occupy Galveston Island.
December 31st: Six hundred Texas Unionists hold a resistance rally in Austin County (west of the Brazos).

It appears that, in November and December, Company E of Woods’ Regiment was stationed at Camp Sibley, near the old Mexican War outpost, Fort Brown. Their fifth muster roll (dated, copied I guess, May 13th of the next year) states that the unit was there from October 31st, 1862 to February 28th of 1863.

Though troops of the 36th Texas may have had in these months below the Nueces, the odd skirmish with some band of troublemakers or other – or dissuaded some Yankee warship from putting into some port along the coast – there is not one report I have found of a military engagement in which any of them was involved. One assumes that their time there was very like a replay of the patrols of Texas Rangers between the wars: monotonous routine, broken only occasionally by some momentarily engaging occurrence or other.

Into 1863

January 1st,, 1863:  The Emancipation Proclamation takes effect.
Confederates use a combined land and water attack to re-capture Galveston.
January 8th: Martial law is declared in Colorado, Austin, and Fayette Counties because of outbreaks of organized anti-Confederate resistance.
January 11th: Arkansas Post, Arkansas, captured by Union forces.
March: The legislature appropriates money for the State Hospital Fund and for needy soldiers’ families – and doubles the state tax rate.
March 7th: State law provides that local militias may be transferred to Confederate service for no more than one year.
April 18th: The U.S. Navy arrives at Sabine Pass (where that river empties into the Gulf), but the Federal landing party is captured by Confederates.5

Resignations and Desertions

There were many AWOLs and desertions by men of the Trans-Mississippi regiments. There were hundreds in the 36th Texas Cavalry alone. Seventeen Pleasanton men and 16 from elsewhere in the county went home prematurely, legally or not. Most of those were probably out of fear for the safety and well-being of their folks. But, Duaine writes, Colonel Woods knew the family hardships of the men in his command. Many were given furloughs, and he was tolerant when they didn’t return exactly on time.

The fact that virtually all the still-living 36th Texas’ “deserters” went to the regiment’s 1890 reunion indicates that there was no great shame attached to it – everybody knew the situation of the troopers’ tension between service to the Confederacy and their home front needs. On the 1890 reunion muster roll only one man from Company E was considered an actual deserter.6

Next time:  The End of the Regiment . . .

Purgason, Howard.  Calvin Turner, Texas Ranger
1.        Duaine, Carl L.. The Dead Men Wore Boots, 35
2.        Oates, Stephen B.. Confederate Cavalry West of the River 53
3.        Graves, Hiram Atwell.  Andrew Jackson Potter, the noted parson of the Texan
    frontier, 137-138
4.        Oates 53-54, 56
5.        Gallaway, B.P., ed.  Texas: The Dark Corner of the Confederacy, Contemporary
            Accounts of the Lone Star State in the Civil War. 250
6.        Duaine 28, 50, 23, 96-109

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