Reconstruction in Texas. [from the Galveston (Tex.) daily news, Sunday, November 15, 1896.]
by John C. Walker.[The following paper was read before the Texas Historical Society of Galveston at its annual meeting, Tuesday evening, November 10, 1896, and is the first of a series of papers in preparation. Mr. Walker has taken a deep interest in the subject and has devoted a great amount of time in study and research. A great deal of the matter he brings up has never been more than touched upon by historical writers.]
The break-up.If chaos ever reigned in any land it did in Texas from May to August, 1865, following the news of Lee's surrender, which fell like a thunderbolt upon the army and the people. A large proportion of the troops of the Trans-Mississippi Department had wintered in Texas after the campaign of 1864, which began victoriously at Mansfield,  La., by the utter rout of General N. P. Banks by General ‘Dick’ Taylor, and ended in a disastrous check at Yellow Bayou, owing to the greater part of the infantry supporting Taylor having been withdrawn and sent to Arkansas in pursuit of Steele. The army was waiting for hostilities to reopen. Another attempted invasion by way of Louisiana, Arkansas, or the Gulf coast was expected, and but few realized that the war was nearly over. During the last year of the war communication with the CisMis-sissippi Department was almost entirely cut off, and the ports on the Gulf coast were blockaded. After the fall of Vicksburg the Mississippi river was patrolled by gunboats so closely that a skiff could hardly cross with safety. Although Lee's surrender took place on April 9th, it was not known anywhere in Texas until late in that month, and the intelligence did not reach many portions of the State until May was well advanced. It is an incident worthy to be remembered that the last gun of the war was fired by a Texan on Texas soil, in an engagement on the Rio Grande, on May 13, 1865, fought near the historic field of Palo Alto, the combatants being ignorant of the stupendous events which had lately occurred. The army and the people of Texas had unbounded faith in General Lee, most of them believing him invincible, and when the news of his surrender was received they were stunned and dazed. Even the few who had the prescience to foresee the end could not realize that it was so near at hand. Although the terrible significance of the surrender of General Lee was understood, at first there was but little thought that the war was really ended. On all sides were heard public expressions of determination to prolong the struggle. While rumors were afloat to the effect that Lee had only surrendered a small part of his forces, and that the bulk of his army had joined Johnston; that President Davis and his Cabinet had escaped across the Mississippi river and would reorganize the government at Shreveport, La., and other unfounded reports of like nature, which deferred for a brief season the despair which was soon to follow. On April 26th General Joe Shelby, of Missouri, issued an address to his men at Pittsburg, Tex., in which he said: ‘Stand by the ship, boys, as long as there is one plank upon another. All your hopes and fears are there. All that life holds dearest and nearest are there. Your bleeding motherland-pure and stainless as an angel-guarded child — the proud, imperial South, the nurse of your boyhood and the priestess of your faith, is there and calls upon you, her children,  her best and bravest, in the pride and purity of her manhood and your blood, to rally around her altars, the blue hills and the green fields of your nativity, and send your scornful challenge forth, “the Saxon breasts are equal to the Norman steel.” ’ He exhorted the Missouri cavalry division to keep together and to prefer exile to submission. On April 27th Governor Pendleton Murrah, of Texas, issued a proclamation from Austin announcing the surrender of Lee and calling upon the people to recruit the army and continue the struggle, saying: ‘It may yet be the privilege of Texas, the youngest of the Confederate sisters, to redeem the cause of the Confederacy from its present perils.’ On that day (April 27th) the brigade commanded by General W. P. Hardeman, encamped in Washington county, held a mass meeting and resolved that though Lee had surrendered, they would not abandon the struggle until the right of self-government was established, and declared their readiness to march to the aid of their brethren in arms in the Cis-Mississippi Department.
Still holding on.Similar mass-meetings were held and like resolutions passed in other commands near the same time. At a public meeting held at Lagrange April 29th, resolutions were adopted to the effect that under no possible circumstances would the people ever submit to reunion or reconstruction. The citizens of Chappell Hill passed resolutions to reinforce the army and furnish their negroes as soldiers, and declared: ‘We would prefer a common grave for ourselves and our children than to submit to the rule of Northern despots.’ Similar resolutions were adopted in Colorado, Limestone and many other counties. On April 29th Governor Henry Watkins Allen, of Louisiana, issued a ringing address to the soldiers of Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Missouri, calling upon them ‘to unite in a solemn pledge to stand as patriots and freemen firmly to the holy cause, in storm or sunshine, in misfortune or success, through good report and through evil report, and to fight our invaders now and for all time to come, in armies, in regiments, in companies, in squads or singly, until our independence is won and conceded.’ On May 5th General J. B. Magruder issued an address to his soldiers announcing Lee's surrender, and stating that the Federal general (Banks) had proposed a surrender of the troops in this department,  which he would not even consider. The concluding words of the address were: ‘We are not whipped, and no matter what may transpire elsewhere, recollect we never will be whipped.’ Slender as were the grounds for hope, it was not wholly abandoned while the fate of Johnston's army and the other forces across the Mississippi was unknown. The idea of continuing the war in this State was prevalent, and by many believed practicable, and strongly advocated during the few weeks which preceded the final dissolution of the Confederate forces in Texas. General E. Kirby Smith, commanding the department, issued an address from Shreveport, La., to the soldiers, on April 22d, saying in reference to Lee's surrender at Appomattox: ‘His army was but a small portion of our forces in Virginia. The armies of Johnston and Beauregard, tripling that under General Lee, are still in the field presenting an unterrified front to the enemy.’ On the same day, nearly three hundred miles away, the officers, from colonels to lieutenants, in the regiments known as Pyron's, Elmore's, De Bray's, Cook's Heavy Artillery, the Second Texas Cavalry, and others, signed a stirring appeal to the troops, which by a coincidence embodied the same sentiments as those at the same time promulgated by the commanding general. They asserted that Johnston and Beauregard ‘still present an unbroken front to the invading foe,’ and declared, ‘we still will meet the foe upon the threshold of our State with fire and sword, nerved by the unanswering and unalterable determination never to yield.’ To the same effect were the resolutions passed in mass-meeting by Harrison's brigade. On May 17th was published the following order of Major T. M. Harwood, commanding the cavalry battalion, Waul's Legion: ‘Members of this command will rendezvous at Brenham, Washington county, May 28th, prepared to march immediately to brigade headquarters east of the Mississippi river.’ About that date General Majors addressed his brigade, exhorting them ‘to stand by the flag.’ Such were the spontaneous expressions of the commanders, the army and the citizens when the first authentic news of Lee's surrender reached Texas, and before they realized that other and final disasters could occur in such quick succession. There were no telegraphs beyond the State lines; only one railroad, the Houston and Texas Central, penetrated the interior of the State to a distance of eighty-one miles from Houston, and the Texas and New Orleans railroad paralelled the coast only from Beaumont to Houston. Communication was cut off by way of the Mississippi, every harbor was  blockaded by warships, and, as was stated by the Galveston News at that time, about a month was required to get reliable news from Virginia, Tennessee and the Carolinas. During this season of doubt and suspense discipline was fairly maintained among the troops, though it was evident that the determination to fight to the last man did not prevail in the ranks to a great extent.
The forces in Galveston.On May 12th, the day the news of Johnston's capitulation reached General Magruder at Houston, he went by train to Galveston, assembled the forces there on parade, and, in a speech to them, said that he had determined to make any sacrifice of life and property, however unavailing, rather than yield an inch of ground to the enemy; that he confidently expected to meet and repel any attempt the enemy might make to invade the country. The comment made upon his speech at the time by an intelligent observer was: ‘His remarks were listened to with silence and respect by the troops, but without any manifestations of enthusiasm.’ Even before the news of Lee's surrender reached Texas there had been signs of discontent apparent among some of the soldiers who were scattered in regimental and brigade camps principally throughout the southern and what was then the western part of the State—the section of greatest abundance of food supplies. While none openly admitted that the fall of the Confederacy was a possibility, many read in the march of Sheridan through the Valley of Virginia, of Sherman through Georgia, and in Lee's reverses the presage of coming disaster. In some regiments acts of open insubordination had been committed during the early spring. In one instance quite a number of cavalry took a furlough without leave, not deserting, but openly leaving with the avowed intention of visiting their families more than a hundred miles away, and of returning when it should suit their pleasure. They reached their homes, but were not permitted to remain, for their heroic and patriotic wives and mothers, devoted to the cause as were all the women of the Old South, promptly sent them back to their old commands, not permitting some who had arrived during a storm to remain long enough to dry their blankets. Besides this feeling of unrest and the consequent tendency to infraction of discipline, and the natural effects of disheartening reports from across the Mississippi, there were other potent causes for demoralization  among the ranks. While the commissary was supplied during the early spring of 1865 fairly well with coarse food, the soldiers were poorly clad, at least those who could not depend on shoes and homespun clothes sent them from their homes. The blue uniforms taken from the captured trains of General Banks during the spring of 1864 were threadbare, and the Confederate gray issued by the Quartermaster Department to the private soldiers was indeed scant; yet at this time there was being conducted under the auspices of government officials a large trade with Mexico, in the course of which wagon trains of cotton, then worth 50 cents a pound in gold, were constantly carried across the Rio Grande and train loads of army supplies brought back. The soldiers could not see why so small a proportion of the proceeds of this trade was devoted to their necessities. Although by the conscript laws every ablebodied man (excepting civil officials) between the ages of 18 and 45 was required to be an enlisted soldier, and those between 17 and 18 and 45 and 50 were in the reserve corps doing provost and guard duty, there was an alleged system of detailing favorites on all kinds of imaginary service at posts and about headquarters—‘bomb-proof’ positions, as they were called.
Dissatisfaction with Magruder.There was also dissatisfaction among the men regarding some of their superiors, extending even to the general officers. General Magruder's headquarters were at Houston, and for many months before the final scenes of the war were enacted he was said to be living in a style not of strict Spartan simplicity. Ably seconded by his favorite subordinates, he was a leader of fashion and the central figure of a gay society. The soldiers believed, whether justly or otherwise, that the ‘blue beef’ and corn pones—the daily fare of the private soldier—were not the rations issued at headquarters, and grumbled accordingly, for they were accustomed to see the Confederate commanders share all the hardships and privations with their men. General Magruder was popular with most of the officers and with some of the private soldiers, but at the close of the war he did not enjoy that unbounded confidence which a military leader must have in order to inspire enthusiasm or command unquestioned obedience in a crisis like that at hand; and it is not a matter of surprise that the private soldiers were unresponsive to his appeal to continue the struggle in Texas after all was lost in the Cis-Mississippi Department.  There was still another cause for the sudden and complete disbanding of the Confederate forces. As is well known, the best blood of the South was in the ranks, and a large proportion of the private soldiers were of high intelligence and education. Such men knew the utter futility of further opposing the overwhelming forces of the United States, after the great armies of the Confederacy had succumbed, its capital abandoned and destroyed, and its President a prisoner. They fully realized when the news of these accumulated disasters was received that further resistance was useless, and many acted upon the determination to spill no more blood in a hopeless cause. Some of the general officers foresaw the result months before it was believed possible by the soldiery. General Taylor in his work, ‘Destruction and Reconstruction,’ (page 197,) says: ‘Upon what foundation the civil authorities of the Confederacy rested their hopes of success after the campaign of 1864 fully opened I am unable to say; but their commanders in the field, whose rank and position enabled them to estimate the situation, fought simply to afford statesmanship an opportunity to mitigate the sorrows of inevitable defeat.’ Again, in recounting an interview with President Davis in September, 1864, he says (page 206): ‘I did not disguise my conviction that the best we could hope for was to protract the struggle until spring.’ President Davis not only disagreed with this, but believed the continuance of hostilities feasible up to the moment of his capture. He says in his work (page 696): ‘If, as now seemed probable, (after the fall of Richmond,) there should be no prospect of successful defence, I intended then to cross the Mississippi river, where I believed Generals E. K. Smith and Magruder would continue to uphold our cause.’ Taylor, then a lieutenant-general, surrendered at Meridian, Miss., to General E. S. R. Canby on May 8th, and it may not be inappropriate to quote the words of the Confederate commander in Order No. 54 respecting the distinguished Federal officer. He said: ‘The intelligent, comprehensive and candid bearing pending negotiations of Major-General Canby, U. S. A., to whom I have surrendered, entitle him to our highest respect and confidence. His liberality and fairness make it the duty of each and all to faithfully execute our part of the contract.’
Disintegration of the army.But to return to the action of the army when the total collapse of  the Cis-Mississippi Department became known as an undoubted fact. This period was long known in Texas as ‘the breakup.’ Regiments, companies, brigades disintegrated and disbanded with incredible rapidity. In some commands there was not a man left on the scene of a former encampment in an hour's time, the soldiers, seizing wagons, mules and other government property and scattering in squads, couples and singly, all going towards their respective homes in a peaceful and orderly manner. The disbandment of their regiment was attended by disorder, in some cases the troops defying such officers as pleaded with them to remain. Some left without consultation with their officers. Lieutenant-Colonel Fontaine, in charge of three batteries of artillery, awoke one morning to find the men in only one remaining, the members of the others having departed with the horses, wagons and camp equipage, leaving the guns and caissons. In some commands, notably in Hardeman's and DeBray's brigades, the private soldiers stood by their colors until their officers agreed that it was useless to remain longer and went through the form of giving them honorable discharge from the service, and when at last they departed, realizing that the stars and bars represented the government of a proud people no longer, the farewells spoken were most affecting, and their homeward march was made with broken spirits and heavy hearts. The different regiments composing the army were so scattered, having been posted during the preceding winter at the most available points for subsistence, there could be no concert of action, but as the tidings of the ‘breakup’ elsewhere reached a command, it followed the general movement either at once or after a short period of delay. Where the soldiers were quartered in towns, or near depots of government supplies, many took possession of quartermaster, commissary and ordnance stores and appropriated such effects as they desired. At Anderson a magazine exploded, causing loss of life and destruction of property. At Galveston a blockade runner, which had escaped the enemy's guns, was pillaged upon reaching the wharf in front of the city. At Houston the government stores were appropriated not only by the soldiers, but by women and boys, the families of soldiers who were serving in distant commands. The ordnance stores there were either carried off or destroyed, and guns, shot and shell were thrown into Buffalo bayou. Gunpowder in large quantities was spilled and scattered about in the magazines, and the city had a narrow escape from a terrific explosion. The troops reasoned that they had fought and suffered all kinds  of hardships during four years for the Confederacy, and that such of its property as could be secured rightfully belonged to them upon its downfall. It is hard to see who were better entitled to it than they, and such opinion was then shared by the citizens and advocated by the newspapers. The wagon trains returning from Mexico with supplies in charge of Confederate agents furnished rare sport as well as profit. A difference of opinion existed between these agents and the soldiers as to which were properly residuary legatees of the remnants of the Confederate estate, each claiming that right, but in all cases, except where defeated by the agents' skill in hiding property, the soldiers easily maintained the superiority of their title. San Antonio was the most important post in Texas in many respects, being the base of supplies nearest the Mexican border, and financial agents were stationed there, having possession of large amounts of government funds in gold and silver. Two companies from Pyron's regiment were there, while others on detached service and employed in the various departments swelled the number of soldiers at that point to 700 or 800 men.
Lasker as a financier.When the news of Lee's surrender reached San Antonio, its import, while not fully appreciated, was apprehended, and the idea that the Confederacy was about to collapse imbued the men with the determination to appropriate and divide the gold and silver in the hands of the Confederate agents, they assuming that otherwise the money would only serve to enrich those who had served their country but little, if at all. M. Lasker, of Galveston, (now State Senator,) a private in Pyron's regiment, was a prime mover in securing an equal division of the government funds, and he, with others, notified the officers that in case the Confederacy should fail the government money should be divided equally. The officers endeavored to sustain the hopes of the men, saying that if the Cis-Mississippi Department should fall the bulk of the armies there would cross the river and carry on the war in the Trans-Mississippi Department, but the soldiers, in anticipation of what might occur, placed guards over the Alamo building, to which $80,000 in silver had been removed, and also over the offices of the financial agents, as a precautionary measure. When the news of the surrender of Johnston, Taylor and Buckner was received they concluded there was no use in deferring action longer, and then required the financial agents to show their  books and to deliver up the specie, which was fairly divided, the sum of $160 being received by each officer and man. San Antonio having valuable stores owned by private individuals, it was feared that marauding stragglers might sack the city. Mr. Lasker, in conjunction with others from his regiment, assisted the civil authorities in maintaining order until the arrival of Colonel Pyron, who organized a body of men to protect the place and its inhabitants, and remained there under discipline doing guard duty until such dangers had passed. As a general rule the depredations of the soldiery were confined to the property of the Confederate government, to which they considered themselves entitled. In but few instances was the property of citizens disturbed or interfered with. Notwithstanding the demoralizing effect of the sudden release of a large body of soldiery from all discipline or restraint their behavior towards the citizens was in the main exemplary. A terrible calamity had fallen upon all alike, and when military organization was abandoned the soldiers fraternized with the people, and the people opened their arms to those who had been their defenders as though they were returning crowned with the laurels of victory. The soldiers of the Texas army were impatient of discipline, but braver men never lived. They were of the same material as those who made name and tame for Texas across the Mississippi. Fathers serving in Tennessee had sons here with Green, Walker or Polignac; one brother would be marching and fighting, ragged and barefooted, in Virginia, while another followed the flag through the swamps of Louisiana. They were of the same blood and of the same families with those who composed Hood's brigade and Terry's rangers, which organizations deserve to rank in valor with the legions of Caesar and the battalions of Napoleon. The disbanding of the troops began about the middle of May, and up to the 31st there were men under arms in isolated commands or where remnants of regiments still devoted to the cause kept together and refused to accept the inevitable; but the forces continued to be depleted day by day. On May 21st part of a regiment still remained at Corpus Christi; on the 29th the force at Galveston was scarcely sufficient to man the forts, and by the 1st of June, with the exception of scattered detachments at different points in the State, the army which had won renown throughout the war on many fields, from New Mexico to the Mississippi, passed into a memory.