previous next

Chapter 13:

  • Fort Brown evacuated
  • -- General Banks' expedition on the Texas coast -- occupation of Corpus Christi and other ports-departure of Banks -- August election, 1863 -- military and other operations continued -- frontier protection -- expedition against the Federals on the Rio Grande -- ‘the last battle of the war.’

On October 12, 1863, Brigadier-General Slaughter was ordered to take command of the Western subdistrict of Texas, and General Bee was ordered to Goliad, but it appears from subsequent events that General Bee did not immediately leave Brownsville, and that Slaughter was not there until the next year.

In the latter part of October, Gen. N. P. Banks again prepared to attack the coast defenses, with a fleet and a division of about 4,500 men, under Gen. N. J. T. Dana. From Fort Brown, on November 3d, General Bee notified General Magruder of the appearance of the Federal fleet off the mouth of the Rio Grande, and on the 5th he reported that he had been forced to evacuate Fort Brown, and was then retiring with a large and valuable train and 100 men; that he would await orders at King's ranch, and that the enemy was in large force on Brazos island, which had been taken possession of on November 2d.

The Federals held Fort Brown and garrisoned posts for some distance up the river. Their object in part was, presumably, to stop the trade that had been carried on from Texas to Mexico across the Rio Grande, and to hold their position permanently on that river for that purpose. Corpus Christi was taken on November 6th, and a strong expedition sent against the defenses of Aransas pass and [120] Pass Cavallo. Col. W. R. Bradfute, with Maltby's company, Eighth infantry, and Garrett's battalion, State troops, on the steamer Cora, endeavored to rescue the small body garrisoning Mustang island, at Aransas pass, but was unable to do so. The two companies there were compelled to surrender November 17th after a severe fight. Maj. Charles Hill had a spirited combat at Cedar bayou, St. Joseph's island, November 23d, in which he was killed. The Federal brigade, whose advance he had contested, then moved up on Matagorda island and invested Fort Esperanza. The force there, under Colonel Bradfute, successfully sustained an assault and bombardment through the 29th, and in the night spiked the guns, blew up the magazines, and made a safe retreat.

It is learned from a report of General Banks of November 30th, that upon the capture of Fort Esperanza he stated that if he was furnished with another division he would capture Houston and Galveston. And in his report of December 1st, he announced his intention to move up the Matagorda peninsula to the mouth of the Brazos, and after capturing the forts at that place, make it his base for supplies in the movement against Houston and Galveston. But this movement had been anticipated, and General Magruder had collected a large force of Confederate and State troops on the prairie west of the Brazos to resist his invasion of the mainland. That may have somewhat influenced General Banks to suddenly change his plan of reaching the interior of Texas. At any rate, leaving a force in possession of the lower Rio Grande, he sailed with his main strength back to New Orleans. As indicated by subsequent events, he had probably concluded that he could better attain his object by carrying his forces up the Mississippi and along the bayous west of that river, aided by his gunboats and transports, and advance upon Texas from some base selected in Louisiana. That, too, was anticipated and provided against by Generals Taylor and E. Kirby Smith, as will be shown further [121] on, from which it will appear that wherever an invasion of Texas was planned, Texas soldiers would be found at the point of danger in full force to resist it.

At the August election in Texas, Pendleton Murrah had been elected governor and Fletcher S. Stockdale, lieutenant-governor. The following were elected representatives in the Confederate Congress: B. F. Sexton, A. M. Branch, John R. Baylor, S. H. Morgan, Stephen H. Darden, C. C. Herbert. The Texas legislature met in regular session on November 2d, and Governor Murrah was inaugurated on the 5th. In his message he recommended that the State troops, consisting of men between 18 and 50 years of age be made permanent, and those between 50 and 60 be organized into companies in their respective counties, to be held as a reserve force to meet emergencies. A Texas reserve corps was organized, with Jas. W. Barnes, colonel, and Elwood M. Bean, K. B. Dewalt and C. C. DeWitt, majors. The governor earnestly advised the protection of the frontier more efficiently, which the State under the conscript law was rendered powerless to do with State forces, and recommended that it be intrusted to the Confederate States. This was authorized by an act of the legislature and was soon thereafter accomplished. The governor further recommended the continuance of a liberal support for the soldiers' families (the legislature appropriated large amounts of money for that purpose); the enlargement of the operations of the penitentiary, and the distribution of cloth to the different counties to aid in supplying families; and an appropriation was called for to enable the military board to establish large iron works, which resulted in the establishment of a large iron factory in the eastern portion of Anderson county, which was nearly completed at the time of the surrender. The cotton transportation to Mexico, for sale there in exchange for arms and munitions of war, was continued as far as practicable during his administration. [122]

The frontier regiment having been transferred to the Confederate States, the governor in May, 1864, reported to the legislature that he had appointed Wm. Quale, Geo. Erath, Jas. M. Hunter (succeeded by John Henry Brown), with the rank of major, to command ‘minute’ companies on the frontier, and that they were doing good service. Major Throckmorton was made brigadier-general of the militia force on the frontier. Governor Murrah also made the complaint that ‘subordinate officers on the Rio Grande, claiming to act under orders of officers higher in rank in the Confederate States service, had interfered with cotton transportation under the authority of the State, and have delayed and prevented its transportation.’ Such conflicts of authority were occasionally to be expected, where the agents or officers of the two governments were engaged in the same line of business.

On the 22d of December, 1863, Col. John S. Ford was ordered by General Magruder on a secret expedition to the Rio Grande, naming the troops to go with him. The Federal forces at that time at Fort Brown, Ringgold barracks and some other points on the river were estimated to number 3,500. Colonel Ford was selected for this duty in order to exert an influence upon the inhabitants of that region, and enlist their assistance in any way desirable, for which he was peculiarly fitted, from his service and intimate association in that part of the State previous to the war, as well as at the commencement of it. He took position at San Antonio, where Colonel Dickinson, chief of General Magruder's staff, in command of the Western sub-district, rendered what assistance he could to Colonel Ford. The report of this expedition was published by Colonel Ford, himself then alive, in October, 1897. At San Antonio, February 27, 1864, he published a call for troops, and by March 17, 1864, had made arrangements for about 2,000 men to accompany him, which force, however, was not fully collected. While still at San Antonio he received information that parties were sent by the Federals [123] over on the Nueces river to collect beef-cattle and to capture cotton. He sent some companies to that quarter as fast as they were sworn into the service, to aid Major Nolan, who was in command at Corpus Christi, and who had reported the recapture of some cotton that was being carried to Corpus Christi for shipment. Colonel Ford learned from Major Nolan that a Mexican by the name of Cecilio Balirio had joined the Federals, and was made captain of a small company. He was in a concealed camp and was operating in aid of the Federals in the region of the Nueces, getting the cotton and stock for them. By using some strategy the locality of his camp was discovered. In the attack which followed, nine of Balirio's men were killed and a number of horses and some arms and ammunition were captured, with the loss of three men killed. This broke up that business in that region. Colonel Ford requested General Magruder to have him furnished with 200 bales of cotton, as that was the only way to get funds for the expedition. His route of march was down to the Nueces near to Corpus Christi, reaching Camp San Fernando, where he found Major Nolan and Captain Ware in charge of the troops. There were a great many bales of cotton secreted between the Nueces and Rio Grande, which were hunted up by Colonel Ford's men and turned over to the officers there.

While stationed there he received the following report (March 19th) from Col. Santos Benavides, commanding the line of the Rio Grande, relating to a battle at Laredo:

Sir: I have the honor to inform you that the town of Laredo has been attacked this afternoon by the enemy's forces, consisting of about 200 cavalry, Mexicans and Americans. I think this is the advance guard of the forces en route for this place. I have received positive information from my spies below on the river that about 300 men, infantry, and 2 pieces of artillery will arrive here in about two days. I have resisted the attack this afternoon with about 60 men. The affair lasted until night. The main body of the enemy retired about onehalf [124] mile from the city, but still continued their fire. Their arms are superior to ours. We have barricaded the plaza and some of the main streets. We would be glad to receive reinforcements, but are determined to do our utmost in defense of our homes. The greater part of my command are at La Para, 25 miles north of here. A messenger has been sent to them. They are expected tonight. When they arrive, I propose to move out and attack the enemy. I have dispatched a courier to Colonel Giddings at Eagle Pass, requesting him to reinforce me as soon as possible. If the enemy from below join those now near the town, I shall be compelled to evacuate, unless I am reinforced. Our ammunition, I fear, would not be sufficient to make a long fight. We shall do our best. I would suggest to you to make an effort to place your command in the enemy's rear. In that event he would be in a bad fix. The reason of our not being notified and in readiness is that the Yankees traveled no road. They had good guides and encountered scarcely a man.

Luckily a Mexican had seen the Yankees, and crossing the Rio Grande came in haste to New Laredo, then re-crossed the river and informed Colonel Benavides. He had but a short time for preparation, but he repelled the attack, and the Yankees passed down the river. Ford's camp was over 100 miles from Laredo. When the news reached him of the attack, it was known that the United States forces had retreated from Laredo. From Laredo to Brownsville was about 210 miles, and from his camp to Brownsville about 165 miles. Colonel Benavides, in going up to hasten his force to Laredo, left Capt. Cristobal Benavides with his company in the plaza, with positive orders what to do in the event the enemy should defeat him, as follows: ‘There are 5,000 bales of cotton in the plaza. It belongs to the Confederacy. If the day goes against us, fire it. Be sure to do the work properly, so that not a bale of it shall fall into the hands of the Yankees. Then you will set my new house on fire so that nothing of mine shall pass to the enemy. Let their victory be a barren one.’ The opportunity has been furnished, by giving this extended [125] account, of exhibiting the patriotism of this family of Benavides, of Spanish-Mexican origin, during the war between the States. The members of the family are now highly-honored citizens of Texas.

The drouth of 1863 and 1864 dried up the water and grass between the Nueces and Rio Grande, so that the passage of the troops from one to the other was attended with much suffering to the men and teams; but by going over to the Rio Grande they could be supplied with water going down it from Laredo, which place they reached by the 17th of April, 1864, when Colonel Ford reported to General Magruder the disposition of his forces at different points. A part of his business was to so place his companies as to keep the way open for the trade in cotton and army stores with Mexico, at points of the river above Brownsville; and thereby we may account for his protracted delay in getting to the Rio Grande and moving down the river to Brownsville, which he reached without encountering any hostile opposition, only some time before February, 1865.

According to Capt. W. H. D. Carrington, of Ford's command, ‘the United States forces under Colonel Barrett (brevet brigadier-general), consisting of the Thirty-second Indiana, better known as the Morton rifles, a regiment of negro troops officered by Lieutenant-Colonel Branson, a part of a New York regiment, and a company of the Second (Federal) Texas, under command of Lieutenant or Captain Hancock, numbering about 1,600 or 1,700 men, advanced from Brazos island upon Brownsville. They were held in check by Captain Robinson, commanding Giddings' regiment, on the evening of the 12th of May, 1865.’

The following report of the battle that ensued May 13, 1865, the last battle of the war, was furnished by Col. John S. Ford for this history:

During the month of February, 1865, Gen. Lew Wallace, [126] of the United States army, came to Brazos island, which lies a little north of the mouth of the Rio Grande. He was accompanied by Mr. Charles Worthington, of Texas, who addressed a letter inviting General Slaughter and Colonel Ford to meet Gen. Lew Wallace at Point Isabel and discuss some matters pertinent to the then existing war. Both these gentlemen met Gen. Lew Wallace, and they had a long interview. General Wallace observed that it was useless to fight on the Rio Grande; that should the forces meet and kill all on both sides it would not effect the result. To this proposition General Slaughter and Colonel Ford both agreed. After returning to Brownsville the Confederate mounted forces were sent to wherever they could find wood, grass and water. In this manner the Confederate forces were scattered between the Rio Grande and Arroya Colorado. There was no fighting and none expected. On the 12th of May, 1865, Colonel Ford received a communication from Captain Robinson, then commanding Colonel Giddings' regiment, saying he had been attacked by the enemy. Colonel Ford assured him that he would collect troops that night and come to his assistance in the morning. Couriers were sent in every direction to the different camps, directing the officers to proceed at once either to Fort Brown or directly to the assistance of Captain Robinson. These things were done with the approval of General Slaughter.

These events and the subsequent engagement are described as follows in the report to Capt. L. G. Aldrich, assistant adjutant-general, Brownsville:

On the 12th inst., Capt. W. N. Robinson, commanding Giddings' battalion, 300 strong, reported the enemy advancing. They drove in his pickets, captured their rations, clothing, two sick soldiers, etc., and burnt Palmetto rancho. In the evening Captain Robinson attacked with 60 men and drove them back to the White House. Orders were given to concentrate the command on the Brownsville and Brazos island road, in Captain Robinson's rear. On the morning of the 13th, Captain Robinson reported the enemy reinforced and again advancing. Steps were taken to meet him at once. At 11 o'clock a. m. I made a forward movement with Capt. O. G. Jones' light battery and a portion of the cavalry. Learning that Captain Robinson was hard pressed and forced to give ground, I directed Lieutenant Vineyard, commanding a detachment [127] of Capt. A. C. Jones' company, to move briskly to Captain Robinson's support. The order was executed with promptitude. After 3 o'clock I arrived on the field. Our troops were a short distance below the ranch of San Martin the enemy some half a mile lower down their line, cutting the road at right angles. I found myself in the presence of 800 infantry. I had 300 cavalry and a light battery.

Having made a reconnoissance and determined to attack, I directed Captain Jones to place one section of his battery in the road under Lieutenant Smith, another under Lieutenant Gregory on the left, supported by Lieutenant Vineyard's detachment. The other section was held in reserve, the guns directed to move in advance of the line. Captain Robinson was placed in command of the main body of cavalry, Anderson's battalion, under Capt. D. W. Wilson, on the right, and Giddings' battalion on the left. Lieutenant Gregory had orders to move under cover of the hills and chaparral to flank the enemy's right, and if possible to get in an enfilading fire. Captain Gibbons' and Cocke's companies were sent to the extreme left, with orders to turn the enemy's right flank. Skirmishers were advanced. The artillery opened fire before the enemy were aware we had guns in the field. Lieut. M. S. Smith threw several well directed shells and round shot into the enemy's lines. He is a promising young officer. Lieutenant Gregory's fire annoyed the enemy. Skirmish firing soon became brisk. I waited until I heard Gibbons and Cocke's open on my left. I saw the enemy's skirmishers, which were well handled, left without support by the retreating main body, and I ordered an advance. Very soon Captain Robinson charged with impetuosity. As was expected, the Yankee skirmishers were captured, and the enemy were retreating at a run. The guns pursued at a gallop; the shouting men pressed to the front, occupying the hill adjacent to the road, and fired in security from behind the crest.

The enemy endeavored to hold various points, but were driven from them. The pursuit lasted for nearly 7 miles, when the artillery horses were greatly fatigued; some of them had given out, and the cavalry horses were jaded. I was convinced the enemy would be reinforced at or near the White House, and for these reasons I ordered the officers to withdraw the men. After having withdrawn a short distance Brigadier-General Slaughter, accompanied [128] by Captain Carrington, commanding Cater's battalion, arrived and assumed command. It will not be inappropriate to state that the resumption of the pursuit by his orders proved the correctness of my course. The enemy had been reinforced and were followed within a mile of Brazos island. In this affair the enemy lost 25 or 30 killed and wounded and 113 prisoners. While the fight was going on, one of King & Kennedy's boats came steaming up the river. We could not satisfy ourselves as to the flag she bore. Two round balls were thrown at her from one of our cannons. Luckily she was missed.

We had some volunteer French cannoneers in charge of the pieces in front. Colonel Ford galloped past them a short distance above Palmetto ranch, and gave them a command to hurry up. After having gone 200 or 300 yards, a ranger came up at full speed and informed him the Frenchmen had halted and unlimbered the pieces. Ford moved back at full speed and told the Frenchmen ‘Allons.’ They limbered up briskly and went forward with celerity, but the chance of a good shot was missed. The colonel had not previously known of their presence. After General Slaughter joined the retiring Confederates, he sent one of his staff, Capt. W. R. Jones, directing Colonel Ford to resume the pursuit. This Colonel Ford declined to do unless he could first see General Slaughter and explain to him the fatigued condition of the horses of his command. We were then too near Brazos island not to expect reinforcements to be hastened to meet their retiring troops. The firing of the artillery could be heard distinctly on Brazos island. Their troops had moved without a single big gun and these reports could only be made by Confederate cannon and they were approaching the island. These reasons, if reported to General Slaughter, were ignored, and he ordered skirmishers to be thrown out. This line was met by a similar one on the part of the Yankees. It was about dark, but they fired at each other. If anybody on the other side was scratched, it was not mentioned.

After General Slaughter had indulged in skirmish firing for a short time, perhaps ten minutes, he withdrew the Confederates and rode up to where Colonel Ford was standing. We were then near Palmetto ranch. The general said, ‘You are going to camp here to-night, are you not?’ Ford replied, ‘No, sir.’ Said the general: [129] ‘I have ordered down several wagons loaded with subsistence and forage.’ ‘I am not going to stop here in reach of the infantry forces on Brazos island,’ said the colonel, ‘and allow them a chance to gobble me up before daylight.’ ‘But remember the prisoners.’ ‘I do, sir;’ Ford retorted, ‘if we Confederates were their prisoners, we would be compelled to march to a place of safety from attack by Confederates.’ We moved about 8 miles further up and encamped.

This was the last battle of the war in Texas. Why, under the then existing circumstances, it was brought on and fought, was not explained. [130]

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: