Monday, September 14, 2015

Treue Der Union

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the annual County Fair Parade, a 2 hour vista of Small Town Americana.  Marching Bands, Tractors, Beauty queens, floats, horses, a Cowboy riding a Longhorn, the whole nine yards.  In the accompanying photos, I commented on one float with Beauty Queens on it, saying that I found that “interesting”.  But, as a refresher, here’s the picture.

Before we get to the “interesting”, I need to set the stage a bit.  Like Sarge, I enjoy learning History.  Unlike Sarge, I’m not anywhere as well versed in it as he.  Be that as it may, I enjoy going to local museums and finding out about the history of a spot.  I have also been known to stop at historical markers on the highway, just because.  (My wife put a stop to that with the purchase of “Why stop?: A guide to TexasRoadside Markers , a purchase which has pushed our long distance average MPH back up to respectability.)

I do like to get to know local history.  So, anyhow, it’s the second half of the second term of the second president to be impeached but not convicted.  I have retired from the Air Force and moved to the Hill Country of Texas.  Not a Texas native, we moved to West Texas when my Father was assigned to Webb AFB.  I was in 5th Grade.  We managed to stay there through my graduation from High School, and then College in Lubbock followed by Pilot Training in Del Rio.  At that point, I considered myself a Texan.  20 years in the Air Force and I never saw my adopted state except on cross countries.  Now, Mrs. Juvat is from Wisconsin.  Having been up there in the Winter, I realized that this Texas boy wouldn't make it up there. (It involved ice on the inside of windshields, but I digress.)

So, retirement time comes around and we decide on the Hill Country.  Having taken Texas History and Geography several times (it’s mandated at both Middle School and High School level and I think I took a course in College also), I’m fairly familiar with it.

We've moved here and I've come across an old newspaper article (try as I might, I can’t find it again). The article described the murder of a local in broad daylight in the early 1860’s, but the law never brought anyone to justice.  Seems nobody saw nuthin’.
Now as I say, I've studied a little history, Texas was in the Confederacy and I knew that the war fought in Texas was much different than the one fought in Virginia, Tennessee or Georgia.  What I didn't realize was how divided Texas was in its support of the Confederacy.  Sam Houston was adamantly opposed to secession.

Likewise, the German population that settled in the Hill Country was very opposed.  Emigration from Germany had started right after the Texas victory at San Jacinto in 1836.  After a failed revolution in 1848 another group of immigrants comprised of “freethinkers” arrived. As intellectuals, they were against Slavery.

This led to the beginning loss of trust between the German population and other ethnic groups in Texas.

By the time Secession came around, the decision was very close and the rift between the German immigrants and others very wide.  Enter Basil Stewart, whom I believe was the murder victim in the newspaper article.  

According to Kenneth Howell in “The Seventh Star of the Confederacy:Texas during the Civil War”, Stewart was a Confederate spy who had infiltrated German Unionist meetings and was reporting activities to the Confederate hierarchy.  Stewart was shot while herding cattle and with his murderers never found, the Confederate commander, Gen. Hamilton Bee, directed Capt. James Duff and his Rangers. a militia like cavalry unit, to enforce Martial Law in the Hill Country.

As events in wars usually do, things started spiraling out of hand.  Duff published an order giving residents 3 days to “come in and take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy”, knowing full well that that time limit was unrealistic given the state of travel in those days.  

However, it did give him an excuse to start arresting people for treason. 

As things progressed, it seemed that only women and children were being brought in.  Additionally, members of his force started realizing that only certain people were invited to go on the raids, especially on the “productive” raids where goods were seized.
Duff issued an order to his men “that he wanted no prisoners brought into Camp.”  

These events, according to Howell, set the stage for the Battle of the Nueces and its aftermath.

Fed up with the situation, a group of German men decided to leave the area, make their way to Mexico and from there join up with Union forces to fight.  Unbeknownst to them, they had a Confederate spy in their ranks.  As they left the Kerrville area on August 1st 1862,  and made their way southwest to Uvalde, Duff sent a force after them.

It's 68 miles as the crow flies from Kerrville to Uvalde.  Google Maps put it at 106 by road, so they should have been able to make it in 5 days.  

Howell’s article said the German’s were a bit complaisant in their travel to the border.  Stopping frequently and not posting guards were also mentioned.  My guess is it's very difficult to convince yourself that your neighbors are no kidding out to kill you.

In any case, on the evening of August 9th 1862, the group stops on the West bank of the Neuces River and camped, intending originally to stay for 36 hours. 

Wikipedia says they were approximately 20 miles from Fort Clark. A comment on this New York Times article says there is now a bridge across the river at their campsite.  Given there are only two bridges that cross the river and the other one is 10 miles further from Ft Clark (now Brackettville), I believe the site is near here (Click for Google Street View)

While some of the Germans convinced the commander that 36 hours was too long, in fact, the Confederate force had already caught up to them. The Confederates had been spotted and had been reported as “Strangers”, but no defensive action was taken.

At 1 AM, the Confederates begin their two pronged approach, but quite by accident run into 2 of the Germans.  A shot is fired, a German is dead and surprise is lost.  The initial attack is repulsed, but a second attack is successful and the Germans are defeated.  Of the 60 or so, that departed, 29 are dead , the rest have fled.  Of the 29 dead, 9 were known to have been wounded and surrendered.  All were taken away and shot.

The Confederates buried their two dead, but left the Germans lie.  The remaining Germans continue to make their way towards the Rio Grande, but on October 18th, the Confederates catch up to them again and kill another 8. 

In 1865 with the war’s end, the people of Comfort dispatched wagons to bring the remains back and bury.  In 1866, this monument was placed over the grave site.

It is one of the few monuments authorized to fly the flag permanently at half-staff and to fly the American Flag from that period so it has 36 stars.

That’s the history behind the float, but what makes it interesting (to me) is the depth of reactions to the Battle and subsequent Massacre to this day.  A July 2011 article from the Dallas Morning News, provided a lot of insight. The article has several vignettes including a refusal, in modern times, to cut someone's hair because they were a "Damn Comfort Unionist".  So seeing a replica of the Monument on the float was "interesting".

One of the first things I noticed when we moved here was the local German descendants are very friendly, but it takes a long time to build their trust.  It wasn't until I delved into the background for this post, that I can see why.  Being betrayed by people you’d previously trusted, then chased down and killed because you didn't agree with the political decisions made is certainly going to have a lingering effect.

Evidently, the monument itself still sparks some controversy, as it continually reminds people of one of two things.  Either 1) their ancestors were murdered by their neighbors, or 2) their ancestors murdered their neighbors.  

That was something I had never internalized in my studies of the Civil War.

As things today progress in the downward way most people agree they are, I think that we should remind ourselves of that potential outcome.

One final incident.  As I pulled up to the monument, there was no one else around.  I parked, got out and was taking pictures, when another car drove by.  It stopped.  I thought to myself, “Great, now I’m going to have other people in the pictures.”  No, it whipped a U-turn so it was on the same side of the street as the monument, and stopped there.  Watching me.  When I had finished taking the last few pictures I wanted, I started back to the truck.  When I walked by their car, they were still watching me.  As I drove off I watched them in the mirror.  They drove off the other way never having exited the vehicle.  



  1. I first learned about the animosity of the Confederates and the Germans reading Celia Haye's book - Adelsverein - The Gathering - about the German migration to Texas. It was pretty rough during that time - I guess it was similar to Kansas.

    Interesting about Sam Houston - he was such an icon that he avoided hanging I guess :-)

    1. I'll have to look into that book, Thanks.

      Re: Sam Houston, the story I've heard is he stayed very quiet during the war, voting against secession, but also turning down a Union Army to put down the Secession movement. He died just after the twin defeats of the Confederacy at Vicksburg and Gettysburg.

    2. I wonder if Houston had been more vocal if things would have turned badly for him - but as it was (and is) after San Jacinto he had a near legendary status. If I am not mistaken at the Battle of the Neuces the Texans were not "Confederate Soldiers" as the link says but a detachment of Texas Rangers.

      I mentioned to Celia that in those days sometimes telling the Texas Rangers from the outlaws was a difficult task at times - and she said that in those days the best analogy was that they were like a "neighborhood watch motorcycle gang" (I hope I am quoting her right - my memory these days is sporadic, to say the least). At the same time I do not wish to impute all of the Rangers - things were chaotic in those days with even lynchings of pro-union Germans in the German community.

    3. Well, That's sort of confusing. Most of the sources I read called them Duff's Partisans and only the article in Howell's book referred to them as Rangers. One of the sources called them a militia like cavalry and that's where that description came from. I don't believe they were a formally organized unit, but then again I don't know if the Texas Rangers were a formally organized unit at the time either.

    4. Juvat - I was thinking about my post over dinner and thought - as to not infuriate diehard Texans - from what I heard - the Rangers were a fairly loose knit group pre-Civil War - and most of the people who ambushed the Germans were Rangers - but in no way was this sanctioned by the Texas Rangers.

      I was thinking too - that in the Comanche days - Texas needed a group just as rough as the Comanches - so the pre-Civil War Rangers were what the times called for.

      And I say this with the caveat that I could be all wrong about most of them being Rangers - Just repeating what I have read - right or wrong -

    5. No blood, no foul. I may have to visit Waco to the Ranger museum there. See if they've got anything. My guess is the internet is not going to be a help just because.....

  2. Fascinating story Juvat. I was going to look up the slogan on that parade float but I held off, knowing that you'd tell that story. I'm glad I waited.

    Bloody times. Too many want to to do it again, with even less reason than the last time. That's the problem with hotheads, they are incapable of learning from the mistakes of others.

    1. I certainly don't want to do it again, but I'm afraid that's becoming more of a possibility every day.

  3. Replies
    1. Thank You! I had read that post a long time ago and wanted to refer to it in that section of my post, but couldn't find it.
      "When they immigrated to Texas, they brought with them not only clothes and guns, but books, linens, china, paintings, musical instruments, and especially, a new philosophy. As a matter of survival, these intellectuals rapidly engaged in the effort to master the art of pioneer farming. "
      As it was explained to me by an old German Friend, they came here planning to work half a day and think the other half, but found out they could work all day and some of the night and maybe survive, but the half day plan was a sure road to starvation.

  4. Just a superb post, Juvat. Thanks muchly. I've got some (more) reading to do now...

    1. I just bought the book William talked about. Looking forward to reading it. This was an interesting experience. Reading the articles and then experiencing some of the weirdness firsthand. I may have to go back there and see it again.

    2. I think you will like it juvat - she wrote a trilogy on the German migration to Texas but this is the only one I have read. I love historical novels where the background facts are correct; just fictional characters

      BTW Chester Nimitz's ancestors came from your area, I believe.

    3. Yep, the National Museum of the Pacific War (informally known as the Nimitz museum) is housed in the Hotel the family owned. His birthplace is now one of my favorite restaurants. There's a statue of him right out front of the Museum.


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