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Old Rebels' Plight

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

The old man walked from house to house in the middle class North Dallas neighborhood.

When he knocked on the door of printer Bryan Snyder Jr.’s home at 4409 Irving Ave. that summer day in the early 1930s, Mrs. Margarite Snyder graciously let him in. Doffing his sweat-stained hat, the visitor looked around the family’s living room. His still-clear eyes stopped at the oil painting hanging over the mantle above the Snyder family’s gas-log fireplace. The artwork, done from life, depicted Maj. Gen. Sterling Price in his Confederate uniform.

Snapping to attention with a click of his heels, the old-timer presented a crisp salute to the long-dead officer.

In the early days of the Depression, many a man – young and old – peddled something or another in an effort to get by. But this man, though as destitute as most of the door-to-door men, had a different story. The gray coat he wore had brass buttons and faded yellow chevrons on its sleeves. He had fought in the Civil War.

Mrs. Snyder’s oldest son, Bryan III, listened as the old-timer made his pitch. For two bits, he offered a Civil War-related pamphlet.

“I don’t remember what the booklet was about,” Snyder recalled when he was 85, “but Mother gave him a little money for it.”

Thanking her, the old soldier shouldered his worn leather satchel, put his hat back on his head, wished the Snyders a good day and walked slowly downhill toward the next house on the street.

Snyder never knew if the old soldier who came to his family’s home that day had served under Price, but one of Dallas’ United Veterans of the Confederacy camps had been named after the general. For Snyder, the connection to Price was much closer – the colorful general was his great-great grandfather.

Best known for the key part he played in the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas, Price came from Virginia but grew up in Missouri. He represented the “Show Me” state in Congress and served until the beginning of the Mexican War in 1846, when he signed up to fight.

After the war, Price got elected as Missouri’s governor. When the Civil War broke out, Price again donned a uniform – this one gray. Following the collapse of the Confederacy in 1865, an unreconstructed Price fled to Mexico hoping the South could continue the fight. He died in St. Louis on Sept. 29, 1867.

The oil painting of the general remains in the Snyder family, but whether the pamphlet survived is not known. Bryan Snyder never learned the identity of that old survivor of what still ranks as America’s deadliest war.

The booklet could have been a publication produced by the UVC in 1907, “A History of Confederate Battle Flags.” The organization sold the pamphlet for 25 cents, but it proved a financial flop. Today, of course, it’s a collector’s item and would be worth considerably more than a quarter.

One thing is certain: The old Rebel who came to the Snyder residence was one of a rapidly dwindling number. The Confederate Veteran, a monthly magazine that for 40 years had played an important role in uniting Southern veterans, published its last issue in December 1932. In a story noting that, Time Magazine observed that only about 4,500 of the old soldiers still lived.

Long before then, the UVC and its members had given up on their dream of getting another shot at the Yankees, but they had continued to fight for veteran’s benefits. While always a contentious political issue, thanks to the UVC, the state and U.S. government offered increasingly better benefits and care for Civil War veterans as they continued to age.

Texas had not always treated its old vets as respectfully as Mrs. Snyder did.

In the spring of 1909, W.W. Walker, later described as “between 70 and 80 years of age” took the train from Nacogdoches to Austin to collect his $15.25 pension warrant and take care of some other business.

The old solider got his money but before he could get back on the train for East Texas, someone assaulted him and took his cash. When he learned that Walker had not made it home, Rep. Homer Dotson of Nacogdoches went looking for him.

As the Galveston Daily News reported, the lawmaker “found the old man walking about the streets. He said he had no money and had not eaten since yesterday.”

Dotson and a legislative colleague passed a hat on the House floor and collected $23.55 to give the aged former soldier. The Nacogdoches lawmaker bought Walker a ticket home and escorted him to the depot to make sure he suffered no further harm in the capital city.

Author's Note: Bryan Snyder III, who told the story of the old Confederate who had to walk from door to door to get by during the Great Depression, was a veteran of another deadly conflict, World War II. Born in Dallas March 17, 1922, he died at 94 in Austin on May 5. Having served in the South Pacific as a Navy lieutenant, he was laid to rest with full military honors in Capital Memorial Gardens on May 10. The Veterans Administration estimates that 430 men and women who took part in the global conflict of 1941-1945 are dying every day.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" - May 12, 2016 Column

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