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Jeffery Robenalt

"A Glimpse of Texas Past"

Texas leaves the Union

by Jeffery Robenalt
Jeffery Robenalt

After 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.

Huntsville Tx - Sam Houston Statue
Sam Houston Statue in Huntsville
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, October 2010

Unionism was 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, Houston reluctantly 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.

TX Governor Oran Milo Roberts
Oran M. Roberts
17th Governor of Texas

Wikimedia Commons

Tensions 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!”

James Webb Throckmorton photo portrait
James Webb Throckmorton
12th Governor of Texas

Photo courtesy Library of Congress

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 of independence.

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.

Houston now 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 Houston the 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.”

General Benjamin McCulloch
General Benjamin McCulloch
Wikimedia Commons

The committee 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
General D.E. Twiggs
Wikimedia Commons
Federal Major 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.

Since 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 army.

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.
TX Govenor Edward Clark

Govenor Edward Clark
8th Governor of Texas

Wikimedia Commons

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.
TX Governor Francis Lubbock
Francis R. Lubbock
9th Governor of Texas
Wikimedia Commons
Francis R. Lubbock 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 the war.
Confederacy President Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis
President of the Confederacy

Wikimedia Commons

Unlike many 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 Brigade.

General John Bell Hood
General John Bell Hood
Wikimedia Commons
Manpower was 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 Confederacy.

© Jeffery Robenalt
"A Glimpse of Texas Past" February 1, 2013 Column

References >

About Jeffery Robenalt

References for "Secession"

  • Baum, Dale, The Shattering of Texas Unionism: Politics in the Lone Star State during the Civil War Era, Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press (1998).
  • Buenger, Walter L., Secession and the Union in Texas, Austin: University of Texas Press (1984).
  • Eicher, John H. and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Palo Alto: Stanford University Press (2001).
  • Fehrenbach, T. R., Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans
  • Mitchell, Louis, “Lubbock, Francis Richard,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/flu01), accessed November 27, 2012.
  • Wooster, Ralph A., The Secession Conventions of the South, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (1962).
  • Wooster, Ralph A., “Civil War,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qdc02), accessed November 27, 2012.

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