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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Terry's Texas Rangers

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

One year before the American Centennial, most of the nation celebrated the signing of the Declaration of Independence on Sunday, July 4, 1875.

Three days later, only a decade after the bloody Civil War that nearly made moot what happened in Philadelphia in 1776, the surviving members of Terry’s Texas Rangers gathered at Barton Springs in Austin for a reunion. That was Wednesday, July 7.

Reunion  of Surviving Terry's Rangers in Austin Texas
Surviving Members of Terry's Texas Rangers Gather at the Northside of their Monument on the Capitol Grounds in Austin
(No date available)
Courtesy United Daughters of the Confederacy, Shropshire-Upton Chapter, Columbus, Texas

First a note on nomenclature: Though popularly known as Terry’s Texas Rangers, the command organized in Houston in 1861 by B. F. Terry and T.S. Lubbock was officially the 8th Texas Cavalry. They were regular gray-clad soldiers, not Indian-fighting Texas Rangers. Still, some of them had ridden as rangers before the war.

So why didn’t the ex-Confederates have their get together on Sunday after church rather than wait until the middle of the work week? Was it simply a matter of scheduling or were those battle-scared rebels who had their annual meeting in the Capital City that year still somewhat unreconstructed?

The account of the event published in the Austin Daily Statesman did not address the calendar issue, but it’s not hard to imagine that men who had fought hard for the South and lost many friends in the process still had a little trouble getting too fired up over the Fourth of July.

The Texans who rode with the Terry and Lubbock, and later under Col. John A. Wharton, paid a high price for their beliefs. Of 1,700 who served in the regiment, the 8th Texas consisted of only 150 men by the end of the war.

“Many of them died from exposure and disease, many were killed in battle, many were seriously wounded and forced to retire from the service, and many became prisoners of war,” The Confederate Veteran magazine later noted, “but it is said that no one of them ever deserted the cause. They were the…swiftest horsemen, the surest and best shots, and of the coolest and bravest…[unit] that ever charged a battery.”

Terry's Texas Rangers Monument, Capitol Grounds, Austin, Texas
Terry's Texas Rangers Monument by Pompeo Coppini, Capitol Grounds, Austin, Texas
TE photo, July 2006

Terry's Texas Rangers Monument, Capitol Grounds, Austin, Texas
Terry's Rangers monument close-up
TE photo, July 2009

No matter why the veterans set July 7 rather than July 4 as their meeting date, they had a fine time along Barton Creek that afternoon.

“The weather was warm,” the newspaper reported, “but the surroundings of the place are so delightful that this objection was to a great extent overcome. The clear, limpid, dashing stream added its cheerfulness to the scene while soldierly hands once more clasped each other in brotherly affection.”

Though Barton Springs had long been a popular venue for picnics and other outdoor activities, the adjacent land was then private property. The Confederate veterans met under the pecan trees on land belonging to fellow former rebel William C. Walsh, who owned a nearby quarry.

Capt. Rufus King, the ranking surviving officer of the regiment, called the reunion to order at noon. Early in the war, King raised a company in Bastrop County and eventually became the ranking captain in the regiment. The newspaper filled in the rest of his service record:

“He remained with the Rangers until the battle of Shiloh, where he received three balls in his body, one passing through his shoulders, another shivering in his arm and the third spending itself in his thigh.”

After King spoke, he asked another veteran to offer the invocation. Following the prayer, the captain called the roll. Sixty veterans answered present.

The highest ranking former Confederate on hand at Barton Springs that hot afternoon was Gen. Braxton Bragg, a North Carolinian, 1837 West Point graduate and Mexican War veteran then working as a railroad inspector in Galveston. The namesake of future Fort Bragg, home of the 82nd Airborne Division, Bragg had been one of only eight general officers to lead Confederate forces during what some sons of the South call the “War of Northern Aggression.”

Though not the Confederacy’s brightest star, for a time Bragg stood at the top of the chain of command of the 8th Texas. Known by historians as a well-organized if sometimes incompetent sourpuss, Bragg was asked to speak to the Texans.

“Like a soldier…[he] obeyed,” the Statesman reported. The article continued: “His remarks were on the style of ‘a little more grape,’ [as in “have another drink, boys”] and were enthusiastically received by his hearers. His towering form, noble demeanor, suavity and age, are such as to command the respect of any one.”

Barely a year later, only 59, Bragg dropped dead while walking with a friend down the street in Galveston. While his body was shipped to Mobile, Ala. for burial, some say his spirit remains in Texas in the form of an apparition known as Bragg’s Light.

Terry's Texas Rangers Statue on TX Capitol Grounds
Unknown Undated Event on the Southside of the Monument
Courtesy United Daughters of the Confederacy Shropshire-Upton Chapter, Columbus, Texas

As many of the former rebels meeting at Barton Springs followed Braggs’ “order” and enjoyed distilled spirits or cold brew, regimental chaplain R.S. Bunting closed out the formalities with a reading of another officer’s order, the April 30, 1865 swan song of Gen. “Fighting” Joseph Wheeler, commander of the corps that included Terry’s Texas Rangers:

“Gallant Comrades—You have fought your fight: your task is done. During a four years’ struggle for liberty you have exhibited courage, fortitude and devotion. You are the victors of more than two hundred sternly contested fields. You have participated in more than one thousand conflicts of arms. You are heroes! Veterans! Patriots! The bones of your comrades mark battle fields upon the soil of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. You have done all that human exertions could accomplish.”

Reunion of Terry's Texas Rangers in San Marcos TX
Reunion of Terry's Texas Rangers in San Marcos (No Date)

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" July 3, 2008 column

Mike Cox's "The Texas Rangers: Wearing the Cinco Peso, 1821-1900," the first of a two-volume, 250,000-word definitive history of the Rangers, was released by Forge Books in New York on March 18, 2008

Kirkus Review, the American Library Association's Book List and the San Antonio Express-News have all written rave reviews about this book, the first mainstream, popular history of the Rangers since 1935.

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