the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860, events moved swiftly
toward secession. South Carolina was the first state to secede from
the Union on December 20. Other states in the old south quickly
followed suit, but in Texas newly elected governor Sam
Houston stubbornly refused to call a convention to even discuss
the issue of secession. Houston
took the position that although he disagreed with American President
Abraham Lincoln and his policies, the state of Texas must yield
to the United States Constitution.
far from a popular position in Texas, and Houston’s
decision was vehemently attacked by the majority of politicians
and the press. The Democratic Party decided to act without Houston
and called for a state convention. With little support for his position,
agreed to call a special session of the legislature. The special
session quickly authorized a popular election for convention delegates.
Delegates were often elected by a simple voice vote at public meetings
where Unionists were either discouraged from attending or chose
to ignore the process because they considered it illegal. Therefore,
when the convention assembled at Austin
during the final days of January 1861, it was apparent from the
beginning that secession was a foregone conclusion.
17th Governor of Texas
ran high when the balloting for the secession ordinance was conducted
at noon on February 1, 1861. The galleries in the convention hall
were packed with spectators. One hundred and seventy-four delegates
shouted “aye” or “no” when the roll was called by convention president
Oran M. Roberts, a justice of the state Supreme Court and
a devoted secessionist. Not surprisingly, 70 delegates voted in
favor of secession before a single negative vote was cast. Commenting
on the jeers and catcalls in reaction to his “no” vote, James
W. Throckmorton a devout Unionist stated in a voice that could
be heard throughout the hall, “Mr. President, when the rabble hiss,
well may patriots tremble!”
A roar of approval
sounded throughout the hall when the official result was announced,
and a Lone Star flag was raised over the platform where the national
flag was normally displayed. The capital of Austin went wild and
couriers galloped across the state with the news. Shots were fired
to celebrate and bonfires were lit wherever militia units gathered.
Most Texans were assured that the day of deliverance from Northern
evil had finally arrived. Once the secession ordinance was approved
by a vote of the people, Texas would become a sovereign nation once
again on March 2, 1861, twenty-five years after the first declaration
With the result of the election a foregone conclusion, the secession
convention created a committee on public safety to exercise authority
and selected delegates to travel to Montgomery, Alabama where the
Confederate States of America were in the process of forming a government.
The delegates were instructed to apply to the new government for
admission, but the action proved to be unnecessary. The Confederacy
had already admitted Texas. Meanwhile, Sam
Houston tried to swing the popular vote against secession, but
it was a futile effort. Ten counties west of Austin
that were predominantly German and eight north Texas counties influenced
by Throckmorton voted no, but the statewide vote was a resounding
46,129 for and only 14,697 against.
faced the most difficult decision of his public life – whether to
take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy that was required
by all state officers. He declined on the grounds that an oath to
the Confederacy would violate the oath he had taken to the United
States. On March 16, 1861, the delegates to the convention declared
his office vacant and appointed Lieutenant Governor Edward Clark
in his place. Through an intermediary, President Lincoln offered
use of the U.S. Army to retain his office, but he declined. Fort
Sumter had not yet been fired upon, and Houston
did not want to be considered the cause of a civil war. He died
at Huntsville, Texas
in July 1863. Historian Walter Prescott Webb wrote, “Whether we
like him or not . . . the fact remains that Sam
Houston was no ordinary Man.”
on public safety quickly consolidated its power in the days following
the secession convention. Using the authority granted by the convention,
the committee formed militia units under the command of veteran
state officers and ordered the seizure of all Federal property in
the state, beginning with the arsenal in San
Antonio. Nearly 500 militia led by long-time Texas Ranger
Ben McCulloch marched to San
Antonio to enforce the commission’s order. At the same time,
regiments of cavalry enlisted by Texas Rangers Henry McCulloch,
Ben’s younger brother, and John “Rip” Ford headed north for the
Red River and south to the Rio Grande where there were concentrations
of Federal troops.
General D.E. Twiggs commanded more than 2700 soldiers in Texas,
ten percent of the entire U.S. Army, but the arsenal in San
Antonio was garrisoned by only 160 headquarters troops. The regular
army troops were scattered at small forts and camps along more than
a thousand miles of Mexican and Comanche frontier. Twiggs now found
himself surrounded by 500 hostile militia commanded by Ben McCulloch.
Although the aging Twiggs hailed from Georgia and was sympathetic
to the southern cause, it must be said in his favor that he queried
Washington for orders and received no response. This was not surprising.
In February 1861, no one in Washington either knew what to do or was
willing to take responsibility for issuing orders.
Coming to the conclusion that his position was untenable, Twiggs chose
to resign his post, but this did not solve his problem because McCulloch
demanded that he make a protocol before he left. Twiggs agreed to
surrender all Federal property and munitions, on condition that his
troops were permitted to march to the coast with their personal arms
and take ship. The agreement was eventually extended to all Federal
property and troops in Texas; however,
before the scattered garrisons could be gathered and marched to the
coast, word reached Texas of the fighting at Fort Sumter.
the war had now officially begun, the convention voided the agreement
with General Twiggs and made the Federal troops prisoners of war.
The Confederate government in Montgomery concurred with this action,
and without firing a shot, the Texans eliminated ten percent of the
Federal army and captured three million dollars in military property,
munitions and stores. Many of the Federal troops who became prisoners
of war were born in the South, especially the officers. Almost to
a man, these men resigned their commissions and enlisted in the Confederate
Most people in the South expected the North to fight, but hardly anyone
in the Confederacy believed it would take a serious effort to win
the war. This belief failed to take into account several key factors.
First, the North had nearly three times as many people as the South
and controlled more than ninety percent of the nation’s manufacturing
capacity. Southerners also were confident that France and Britain’s
need for cotton would bring the European powers into the war on the
side of the South. Unfortunately, the French and British people refused
to be a part of defending slavery under any circumstances. Finally,
the South badly underestimated the will of Abraham Lincoln and the
people of the North to prosecute the war to a successful conclusion,
regardless of the ultimate cost.
In May, a force of 2,000 Texans crossed the Red River and captured
three Federal forts in the Indian Territory of Oklahoma. Texas, a
border state far removed from the main theaters of action in the east
and along the Mississippi River, was now freed from the threat of
northern invasion, and it was believed that the hostile Comanches
and Apaches would protect the western frontier. However, the far superior
Union Navy exposed the Gulf coast to a constant threat of invasion.
Surprisingly, the Texans put up a brilliant defense of the seacoast
throughout the war, but the Comanches proved to be far more of a threat
than was first anticipated. Time and again, frontier defense would
prove to be a disaster.
|In the beginning
of the war, most Texans believed it would not be necessary to send
troops to the east. Militias were disbanded and farmers returned to
their crops. Governor
Clark created thirty-two military districts and a few state troops
were dispatched to occupy the forts in the west and along the Rio
Grande, but the counties threatened by the Comanches were ordered
to enlist companies of minutemen. Attempts were also made to collect
firearms and munitions in the hands of civilians, but these efforts
proved to be generally unsuccessful. However, the steps taken by Clark
did bring a serious problem to light. In spite of the huge quantity
of confiscated Federal stores and munitions, Texas was a frontier
community that depended on Europe and the North for manufactured goods
and was totally unprepared to fight a sustained war.
9th Governor of Texas
won the gubernatorial election during the summer of 1861 in what amounted
to a popularity contest that revolved around which candidate would
do most to support the war. A deep believer in the South, Lubbock
traveled to the new capital of Richmond while he was still governor-elect.
Arriving soon after the bloody battle of the first Manassas, he quickly
realized that the war would be both long and difficult, not the lark
that most Texans anticipated. In a move that was rare for most Southern
governors who were opposed to a strong central government, Lubbock
earned President Jefferson Davis’ undying gratitude by asking
him what he expected of Texas during
President of the Confederacy
men in Richmond, Governor Lubbock realized that the war must be
won with quick and decisive action before the North could bring
its superior manpower and resources to bear. He rode home determined
that Texas would do its part in winning
the war. His first action was to issue a proclamation that urged
“every able-bodied Texan” to enlist. In accordance with Texas tradition,
men of all ages and all parts of the state rushed to the colors.
In late summer of 1861, the Confederate government requested twenty
companies of infantry “for service in Virginia, the enlistment to
be for the period of the war.” A total of thirty-two companies answered
the call. The volunteers marched into legend as members of Hood’s
John Bell Hood
the one great contribution of Texas to
the Southern war effort. The record keeping of the time was poor at
best, but the 1860 census recorded 92,145 white men between the ages
of 18 and 45 living in Texas. Of that
number, 60,000 to 70,000 served in the army or on frontier service
? nearly two-thirds of those who were eligible. Texas
also provided 135 generals and colonels to the South, among them two
men of exceeding military prowess, John Bell Hood and Albert
Sidney Johnston. Whatever their motivations, whatever their virtues,
whatever their faults, no body of men ever fought with more determination
for a forlorn cause that was lost before it began. Their sacrifices
lent the war an air of holiness that few Texans ever forgot.
Although most Texans rushed to volunteer for the war with high hopes
of a quick and easy victory, the struggle with the North proved to
be a long and futile effort. Moreover, with shortages of food, medicine
and manufactured goods of all kinds, the civilians at home suffered
nearly as much as the soldiers in the field. Undoubtedly, the settlers
on the frontier fared worst of all. The constant drain on manpower
left the west practically defenseless, and the Comanches took advantage
of the situation, relentlessly driving the line of settlements back
nearly 200 miles before the war ended. However, through a long and
difficult war most Texans remained steadfast in their support of the
"A Glimpse of Texas Past"
February 1, 2013 Column
About Jeffery Robenalt
The Shattering of Texas Unionism: Politics in the Lone Star State
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H. and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Palo Alto:
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accessed November 27, 2012.
A., The Secession Conventions of the South, Princeton, NJ: Princeton
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