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    Columns | "Texas Tales"

    A Story of Two Veterans:
    They didn't take the war personally

    by Mike Cox
    Mike Cox
    Nacogdochesí Oak Grove Cemetery is one of the oldest and most historical graveyards in Texas, but one of its better stories has hardly been told.

    First known as ďAmerican Cemetery,Ē Oak Grove began with the burial of one Franklin J. Starr in 1837 on a tract granted in 1826 to empressario Haden Edwards, whoís also buried there.

    Four signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence are buried at Oak Grove, the best known of them being Thomas Jefferson Rusk. He served as Sam Houstonís secretary of war during the early days of the Republic of Texas and later became the young nationís chief justice.

    Three veterans of the decisive Battle of San Jacinto lie in the cemetery, as do the remains of veterans of many other wars. Other burial plots are filled by the once well-to-do and the once down-and-out, including former slaves.

    The cemetery received an infusion of even older remains in 1912 when an old Spanish graveyard was relocated to make room for a new county courthouse. One of those reinterments was a Father Mendoza, who died in 1718.

    An historical marker at Oak Grove, which is just east of downtown Nacogdoches, provides a thumbnail history of the graveyard and some of its more noted occupants, but it says nothing about W.E. Winston and Frank Robbins.
    Nacogdoches TX - Oak Grove Cemetery
    Oak Grove Cemetery
    Photo courtesy Dana Goolsby, November 2010
    Winston, a native Texan, fought for the South during the Civil War. In the mid-summer of 1863 at Gettsburg, he suffered a wound so severe his comrades-in-arms left him where he fell, figuring he was dead or soon would be. But after the fighting, someone finally noticed he was still breathing and hauled him to a field hospital.

    While hospitalized, Winston met Robbins. Like him, Robbins had been gravely wounded during the fighting and left for dead.

    Though they had shared a common experience on the battlefield, they had one particularly big thing not in common: Winston was a rebel and Robbins was a Yankee.
    Reunited Americans C. 1915 -  War Memorial, Evanston, Illinois
    Reunited Americans C. 1915
    War Memorial, Evanston, Illinois
    TE photo, December, 2010

    Despite that, the two soldiers became friends during their mutual convalescence. When they both got their discharges, they swore that if one of them ever got in trouble, he would seek the other out and get help, no matter what.

    Shaking hands on the deal, Winston headed back to Texas and Robbins left for his home in Ohio.

    Settling in Nacogdoches, Winston opened a foundary and soon enjoyed a prosperous business.

    In 1883, two decades after Gettsyburg changed the course of the war, a down and out fellow walked into Winstonís place of business. It was Robbins.

    Living up to his end of the bargain, Winston gave Robbins a job and they renewed their friendship. Of course, they still had their differences. Winston was a life-long Democrat while Robbins always voted Republican.

    No matter their differing politcal views, another thing they had in common was that neither had married or had a family. So they became each otherís family, watching the otherís back just like they had back in that field hospital in Pennsylvania.

    As he got older, Winston bought a lot in Oak Grove Cemetery big enough for two graves. He made it known that were he to die first, his friend was to be buried at his side when he passed on.

    And thatís what happened. The old Confederate went first, followed by his Yankee pal.

    On Jan. 20, 1932, the Associated Press carried a short story on this unusual pact, noting that the menís graves were unmarked. Four months later, on May 25, the AP ran another article, telling basically the same story it had the previous January, but noting that Winston and Robbins had a double tombstone with their names, birth and death dates.

    But www. findagrave.com, which lists some 57 million graves, has no records for either Winston or Robbins, two former enemies united in friendship and death.

    © Mike Cox
    "Texas Tales"
    February 17, 2011 column
    More The Cemeteries |
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