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Home History of the West Civil War and the West Texas The South Gets Troops, Guns, Cotton and a Link to Mexico

Texas, The Confederate War Machine:

The South Gets Troops, Guns, Cotton and a Link to Mexico

Texas Serves the Confederacy by Sending 90,000 Soldiers into Many of the Major Battles, and Provides Tons of Cotton to Help Pay for the War. Thanks to a Cocky Irishman, the Union Is Unable to Launch an Invasion.

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The plan seemed perfect. About 5,000 Union Army troops aboard 20 Navy vessels would leave from New Orleans, travel up the Sabine River in Texas, capture Sabine Pass and begin a Federal invasion of Texas. And why not? By mid-1863 Union forces controlled New Orleans, and with the fall of Vicksburg on July 4, the entire Mississippi River.

But Federal Admiral David Farragut and Union Army Major General N. P. Banks hadn't counted on Lt. Richard William "Dick" Dowling, a red-haired Irishman born in Galway County who was cocky, self-assured and only 25 years old.

On Sept. 8 three Union gunboats, along with other Navy vessels, went up river to clear away any Confederate opposition in preparation for landing the Union Army troops.

Dowling and his 46 men were waiting behind a wood and earthen fort with six cannon and command of the river.

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Telling his men to hold fire until the gunboats were clearly within range, at 1,200 yards Dowling began pouring deadly, accurate fire. Within minutes one gunboat was out of action, while another was hit and grounded itself on a river bank. The third gunboat and other vessels quickly fled.

Within 45 minutes, Dowling had destroyed two gunboats, taken 350 Federal prisoners and stopped the Union invasion, and all without a single casualty to himself nor his men.

To this day the Irishman is considered not only a Texas hero, but a hero of the City of Houston, because that's where the Union Army was heading.

Prologue to War

Many Texans at the start of the Civil War had mixed feelings about secession. There were those who believed in the Union, including German immigrants who had settled around the Hill Country. After all, Texans had battled Mexican General Santa Ana for their independence, and then later voted to join the Union on Dec. 29, 1845 as the 28th state.

But there were many others who sided with the South since a lot of Texans had migrated into Texas from Southern states. In the end, a combination of factors- economics and politics-lead Texans to secede from the Union.
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Texas primarily was an agrarian economy based on slave labor, and cotton was the major crop. Politically, Texas was a Jacksonian Democrat state, and the rise of the North's Republican Party and the election of Abraham Lincoln as President was just too much.

In March of 1861 Texas and six other Southern states formed the Confederacy.

Texas: A Frontier State

Texas had the unique position of being not only the westernmost state in the Union, but a huge frontier that was still very untamed. It was on the western edge of the North-South fighting, and except for a few attempts by Federal forces to make thrusts into coastal regions and to unleash the Red River Campaign, the Texas homeland was free from fighting.

The real value of Texas to the South was that it became a Confederate war machine.

"From the beginning of the national crisis, Texas provided a significant number of troops to the Southern cause," William McWhorter, Military Historian for the Texas Historical Commission, told OldWestNewWest.Com. "By the end of 1861, more than 25,000 Texans had joined the Confederate Army, and during the course of the war, nearly 90,000 Texans served in the military."

It was not just manpower that made Texas important to the Confederacy. The state became an important source of war material for the South, everything from clothing to pistols and firing caps. Ordinance shops and depots quickly were established.

But if there was one thing that Texas really could do, it was grow cotton.

"Cotton was the economic life blood of the Confederacy; Texans shipped cotton and other goods overland by wagons to Eagle Pass, Laredo and Brownsville and across the river to Matamoros, Mexico," McWhorter explained. "As an international waterway, the river remained open to foreign traffic and overseas shipment."

When the Federal blockade disrupted coastal trade along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, the lower Rio Grande's economic significance to the Confederacy continued to grow and the region assumed economic importance for the fledgling nation, McWhorter said.

"The remoteness and isolation of the region made any Union military activity in the vicinity difficult, but not impossible," he added.

Texas also had its hands full protecting its western borders from Indian attacks. Prior to the war, the Federal army had the responsibility. When U.S. Gen. David E. Twiggs on Feb. 18, 1861 surrendered all U.S. military posts in Texas, less than two weeks before Texas formally seceded from the Union on March 2, 1861, that meant the Confederacy would technically be responsible for frontier protection.

But the Confederacy was stretched too thin, and the job fell to Texas to protect itself. The Indians, however, felt the military vacuum and the tribes successfully pushed against white settlements. The Comanches, for example, used the Texas manpower shortage to push settlements back more than 100 miles eastward.

Indian tribes also proved to be a threat on the only Confederate thrust westward toward the Southwest and California.

Early in the war the New Mexico Territory was an appealing area for Confederate acquisition. The territory, dotted with Union-occupied military posts, posed an uncomfortable threat to El Paso, Fort Bliss and far West Texas. Furthermore, its vast mineral and military resources would boost the Southern cause.
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Lt. Colonel John R. Baylor and 300 soldiers of the Second Texas Rifles attempted to flush the Federals from New Mexico, McWhorter explained.

"Though Baylor removed the small number of Union troops from the southern area, additional soldiers were needed to control the territory," he said. "As a result, Confederate President Jefferson Davis authorized Gen. Henry H. Sibley to organize three regiments in San Antonio to march west.

"Against superior odds, he secured a tenuous victory at Valverde and pressed north through Albuquerque en route to Fort Union. Unfortunately, the Texans were not so successful in the Battle of Glorieta Pass. Sibley's New Mexico campaign represented the "high-water mark" of the Confederacy in the West," he added.

As if the Indian problem wasn't enough, the Union strangle hold on the South was tightening.

"The eventual power of the Union blockade on Texas ports, and the Union control of the Mississippi River meant that an invasion of Texas was not critical to an overall Federal victory in the latter part of the war," McWhorter said. "As a result, the Union focused its efforts toward defeating the Confederacy through attrition in land battles back east and maintaining its blockade efficiency."

While the Texas homeland was relatively free of fighting during the war, there are several battles listed by the Texas Historical Commission.

They include the Battle of Sabine Pass, the Battle of Galveston, the Battle of Brazos Island, the Federal attack on Laredo, the Battle of Corpus Christie, the Battle of Fort Esperanza, the Battle of Port Lavaca, the Battle of Fort Carney, and the last land battle of the Civil War-the Battle of Palmito Ranch.

It goes to Texas to have been the setting for the last battle of the Civil War, taking place at Palmito Ranch along the Rio Grande near the southern tip of the state and the border of Mexico.

There might not have been a battle at all if the Union forces present hadn't moved from their position near the battlefield site. A gentleman's agreement between the opposing forces had been in place to let each side live and let live.

But for whatever reason, the Union commander at Brazos Santiago, Texas, dispatched an expedition. The force was composed of about 300 troops made up from the 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment and the Federal 2nd Texas Cavalry Regiment.

In the end, the fighting was considered a Confederate victory, and Federal forces made an orderly retreat on May 14, 1865.

It was only later that Texas forces learned Gen. Robert E. Lee, the Confederate Army commander; had surrendered to Union forces at Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865.

On June 2, 1865 Confederate Gen. E. Kirby Smith surrendered the Trans-Mississippi Department. There was nothing left; The war was over.

Federal occupation forces took up positions in Texas, and on June 19 Union Gen. Gordon Granger freed the slaves in Texas. The date has become a state holiday and the occasion is called Juneteenth, the Texas emancipation.

The jubilation and excitement among most Texans at the start of the war was long gone. The war had brought economic hardship to many, and at the end there was chaos and a state government and infrastructure to rebuild.
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Hero and legend of the Republic of Texas, Gov. Sam Houston, had issued a prediction before the start of the war.

Included in the excellent guidebook "Texas in the Civil War," produced by the Texas Historical Commission, Houston said in an 1861 speech made a few days before passage of the Ordinance of Secession:

"Let me tell you what is coming. You may alter the sacrifice of countless millions of treasures and hundreds of thousands of precious lines, win Southern independence, but I doubt it. The North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche."

Houston's prediction would come back to haunt Texas.


 
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