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A sketch of Debray's Twenty-Sixth regiment of Texas cavalry.

By General X. B. Debray.

Paper no. 1

In the summer of 1861, General Van Dorn, commanding the District of Texas, made a requisition on the Governor of the State for six companies of cavalry, to be enlisted for the war, to report at Galveston, and to be employed in patrolling the coast. [548]

Prompt response was made to the Governor's call; the following companies reported for duty, and were mustered into the Confederate States' service:

Captain Riordan's Company A, from Harris county.

Captain Myer's Company B, from Caldwell county.

Captain McGreal's Company C, from Harris and Galveston counties.

Captain McMahan's Company D, from Galveston and Leon counties.

Captain Owen's Company E, Montgomery and Washington counties.

Captain Menard's Company F, from Galveston and Liberty counties.

Captain Atchison's company, from Fort Bend county, composed of one-year men, was also accepted in the service and became Company G.

These seven companies were organized into a battalion under the command of Major Samuel Boyer Davis, who, being at the same time Assistant Adjutant-General at District headquarters, soon resigned his lineal rank.

On the 7th of December, 1861, Major X. B. Debray, of the Second regiment of Texas infantry, was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding, and Captain J. J. Myers, Major of the battalion. Then the work of disciplining and drilling was actively entered upon, and in a short time the battalion assumed the leading rank, in point of instruction and discipline, among the troops stationed on Galveston Island.

In January, 1862, orders were received to raise three more companies for the purpose of completing a regiment. Commissions were issued to that effect, and by the close of the ensuing February, the following companies reported for duty, and were mustered in for the war:

Captain Du Pree's Company H, from Montgomery and Grimes counties.

Captain Whitehead's Company I, from Montgomery and Grimes counties.

Captain Hare's Company K, from Harris county.

General Hebert, commanding the District of Texas, upon receiving the report of the completion of the regiment, appointed Major Samuel Boyer Davis to be its Colonel. But when it became known that newly organized regiments were, by law, entitled to elect their field [549] officers, Colonel Davis resigned, and an election was ordered to be held on the 17th of March, 1862, in which the following officers were chosen: X. B. Debray, Colonel; J. J. Myers, Lieutenant-Colonel; and M. Menard, Major. Owing to delays, either at District or Department headquarters, in forwarding the muster-rolls, or in examining them in the War Department, the regiment was recognized as the Twenty-sixth regiment of Texas cavalry, while, according to the date of its organization, it should have been the Tenth or the Eleventh.

The organization of the regiment was completed by the promotion of Sergeant R. M. Franklin, of Company D, to the rank of Lieutenant and Adjutant, and the appointment of William Armstrong to be Quartermaster with the rank of Captain. The latter officer, having been transferred to the Engineer Corps, was superseded by Lieutenant T. R. Franklin, of Company D. Lieutenants Lane, of Company B, and Armstrong, of Company F, became the Captains of their respective companies, to fill the vacancies created by the election of Lieutenant-Colonel Myers, and Major Menard.

The one-year term of service of Captain Atchison's company having expired, it was replaced in the regiment by Captain Rountree's company, theretofore unattached.

Soon after orders were received from the War Department to reduce the companies of cavalry to the number of eighty, rank and file. Few of the companies of the regiment numbered less than one hundred men, and it was considered a great hardship to be turned out of the regiment and be attached to some some other organization. To obviate this unpleasant contingency, the Colonel's first step was to obtain the dropping of Captain Rountree's company from the rolls of the regiment; next, such men as were found to be unfitted for active service in the field were discharged, and, finally, volunteers from the several companies, having a surplus of men, joined together to form a new company, G, and elected R. L. Fulton, formerly of Company B, to be their Captain.

Thus Debray's regiment was definitely constituted with its full complement of young, robust, enthusiastic, well-mounted, welldisciplined, and drilled volunteers, when the order was received to prepare to march to the State of Mississippi and report to General Van Dorn. The prospect of entering into service in the field, gladly hailed, was soon darkened by disappointment. The report of the fall of New Orleans caused the destination of the regiment to be changed, and it was ordered to proceed, with Brown's battalion of cavalry, to re-enforce General Sibley in Arizona and New Mexico. [550] This duty, by no means pleasant, as it entailed a march of about one thousand miles, over a country mostly deserted, sterile, and with long waterless stretches, was entered upon, if not cheerfully, at least with becoming soldierly fortitude. The regiment was on the march when the report was received that General Sibley, confronted by a largely superior force, and short of supplies, was falling back on San Antonio. Hence a new counter-order, and the regiment went to camp on the Bernard river. During these marches and counter-marches, and mainly in camp, the fine appearance of the regiment attracted the interest and curiosity of the people around. Drills on horseback and on foot, and dress-parade, enlivened by a very creditable band, were attended by ladies and gentlemen in carriages and in cavalcades; negroes, too, would flock around, and enjoyed the sight as they would have done a circus. Hence came the self-given name of ‘The Menagerie,’ which clung to the regiment, and by which its old members still delight to designate it.

In July, 1862, the Colonel, by reason of his seniority in rank, was called to command the Eastern Sub-District of Texas, with headquarters at Houston, leaving the regiment to the efficient care of Lieutenant-Colonel Myers. Nothing happened for several months to break the monotony of camp life, except patrols on the coast, on which duty landing parties from the blockading squadron, in search of fresh meat, were captured or otherwise punished, and induced to cease their depredations.

Meanwhile General Herbert having been ordered to send to Arkansas all the infantry stationed in Texas, except two regiments, remonstrated against that disposition which left the State unprotected. His remonstrance was met with the curt answer that ‘Texas must take her chances.’ The authorities at Richmond seem to have overlooked the fact that the loss of the Rio Grande frontier, the only point to be depended upon for obtaining army supplies, might be a fatal blow to the Confederate States. General Herbert, despairing of a successful defence with his reduced force against an attack by sea, ordered the small forts, erected at Galveston, to be dismantled and their artillery to be removed to the mainland at Virginia Point, where sand works had been raised. Indeed, this was an era of despondency and gloom for the people of Texas.

In October, 1862, the Federal fleet entered Galveston Bay without resistance. The small force which had been left in the city retired to Virginia Point, the city itself being almost deserted by its inhabitants, who had moved with their chattels to Houston and the interior [551] of the State. Communication with the Island was maintained by planking over the railroad bridge and protecting it on the Island side with a redoubt and rifle-pits, occupied by a detachment of infantry and artillery. Debray's regiment, ordered to Virginia Point, by frequent patrols, day and night, satisfied the Federals that we still claimed the city, and prevented them from visiting it. A battalion of Federal infantry landed on one of the wharves and took quarters in its warehouses, strongly barricading themselves, but they never ventured into the city.

By the close of November, Major-General John Bankhead Magruder came to assume the command of Texas, relieving General Herbert, who was ordered to Louisiana.

The new Commanding General had acquired fame for the skill with which, in the peninsula of Virginia, he checked for weeks McClellan's invading army before miles of empty entrenchments, armed, in part, with Quaker guns, and by continually moving about his small force to multiply it in the Federal eyes. Feeling that something must be done to rouse the spirits of the people of Texas, he resolved to try his hand against the enemy's squadron lying in Galveston Bay. Under his instructions two steamboats, lying in Buffalo Bayou, at Houston, were travestied into rams and gunboats, armed with one gun each, and supplied with two tiers of cotton bales to give them, as the General said in confidence to his friends, an appearance of protection. A third boat was fitted out to act as tender. The two gun-boats were manned by volunteers of Green's brigade, converted for the occasion into horse marines, also by a company of artillery, the whole under the command of the brave Tom Green. Captain Leon Smith was the naval commander; Adjutant R. M. Franklin, of Debrays regiment, having volunteered to serve as his aid.

At Virginia Point General Magruder was actively organizing his land forces. We had about fifteen pieces of field artillery, manned by details from Cook's regiment of heavy artillery. The infantry were told off to drag the artillery by hand and to carry ladders, to be used for storming the wharf where the Federals were quartered. Companies B and E, of Debray's regiment were to act as escort and couriers. The whole land force amounted to about 1,000 men.

All dispositions having been perfected on land and on water, on the 31st of December, by nightfall, the column was set in motion to Galvestoj, over the railroad bridge, on a six miles silent march by a dim moonlight, soldiers laboriously hauling the guns and carrying the ladders. Upon reaching the city the guns were placed in battery at [552] the foot of streets leading to the bay, and on the 1st of January, 1863, at day-break, General Magruder pointed and fired the first gun. In less than two minutes the Federal gunboats opened their fire, which, in a short time, silenced that of our artillery, over which they had the advantage in metal. Several of our gunners were mangled or killed at their pieces, which had to be withdrawn. Our troops were sorely disappointed at what they considered a failure; not so General Magruder, whose only object in attacking by land was to divert the enemy's attention from the attack by water.

Our brave little crafts, upon hearing the discharges of artillery, hastened to join in the fight, and singled out the ‘Harriet Lane,’ which was the nearest ship to them. The ‘Bayou City,’ in the lead, missed her aim and glided along the ship's side; the ‘Neptune,’ following close by, with a full head of steam, struck the ship, but crippled herself and backed off to sink in shallow water. The ‘Bayou City,’ returning to the attack, entangled herself in one of the wheelhouses of the ‘Harriet Lane,’ holding her fast, while General Green's men opened a galling musketry fire upon the ship's crew, with their knives cut her boarding net, boarded her and compelled the crew to seek shelter below, while one of the Federal officers hoisted the flag of truce in sign of surrender. The other Federal gunboats, unaccountably to us, hoisted the white flag too, and under it, two of them fled out of sight in the gulf; a third ship, stranding in her flight, was blown up by her commander, who lost his life in the act. Finally, the Federal infantry quartered on the wharf surrendered. This brilliant, but bloody engagement was over in less than two hours.

Revilers were not wanting who called this victory a scratch; but they were soon silenced by the success of a scheme of the same kind, planned by the General, to drive off the Federals from Sabine Lake. On both occasions the General relied upon the confusion created among the enemy's ships by the unexpected appearance in their waters of strange looking crafts boldly steaming down to them.

General Magruder's success far exceeded public expectation, and for a time he was the idol of the people of Texas. But States as well as Republics are ungrateful. Brave, generous, warm-hearted Magruder died at Houston in want and almost friendless. Much was said and written, but nothing done towards erecting a monument to him. His body was interred in the burial ground of the Hadley family, his friends in life and in death; but several citizens of Galveston, in an evanescent fit of gratitude, claiming the honor of possessing his remains, [553] demanded them, with the consent of his family, and removed them with great pomp, to their city, where, ever since January, 1876, he lies ignored in an undertaker's vault, still begging for a grave.

An incident of the battle of Galveston, terribly illustrative of the horrors of civil strife, deserves to be mentioned. Major A. M. Lea, of the engineer corps, having reported for duty to General Magruder, at Virginia Point, on the eve of the attack, was instructed to accompany the General to Galveston. After the capture of the ‘Harriet Lane,’ in default of a naval officer, Major Lea was ordered to take charge of her. On entering the ship, among the dead and the wounded weltering in blood, unexpectedly and to his utter dismay, the Major beheld in the last throes of death, his son, Lieutenant Lea, executive officer of the ship, whom he had not heard of since the beginning of the war. The bodies of Lieutenant-Commander Wainright, killed in the action, and of Lieutenant Lea, were buried in the Galveston cemetery with military and masonic honors, the Confederate father reading over his Federal son's grave the solemn funeral service of the Episcopal church. The witnesses of that heartrending scene never can forget it.

General Magruder's success raised popular enthusiasm to the highest pitch, and his call for more troops was responded to with alacrity. Debray's regiment and other troops were ordered to re-occupy Galveston, while an appeal to the planters, promptly complied with, brought to the island numerous gangs of negroes, who, under the supervision of their own overseers, worked diligently on new fortifications, planned by the Commanding General. Colonel Debray having been assigned to the command of Galveston Island, LieutenantColo-nel Myers remained in command of the regiment.

The blockade of Galveston, forcibly raised on the 1st of January, was not resumed until the 13th of the same month, when seven gunboats came to anchor at about three miles from the city, to which they prepared to pay their compliments. A shelling was opened and kept up for six hours, to which the garrison, having no artillery to reply, had to submit good humoredly. Strange as it may appear, although the Federals covered the whole city with their shells and solid shot, some of which reached the bay, there was no loss of life, and the injury to houses was trifling. It will be remembered that, in the evening after the shelling, flashes of light were seen and a rumbling noise resembling broadsides was heard from a distance westward; then, after a few minutes, darkness and silince prevailed again. Many were the surmises upon this incident and several weeks intervened [554] before the sinking of the Federal ship Hatteras by Captain Semmes, off Saint Louis Pass, became known on the island.

For nine months all was quiet in Texas. The defenses of Galveston soon assumed shape, and Quaker guns frowning from the crests and casemates of the fort, held the Federals in check until real artillery could be placed in battery.

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