EDITOR’S NOTE: In commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, Midlothian resident Karen Esberger has written a three part series of historical facts relating to the War Between the States.
•Part One of Three
Texas provided more cavalry to the Confederacy than did any other state, and Texans had a wonderful reputation for riding skills and nerve.
One of the most famous was “Terry’s Texas Rangers” founded by Benjamin F. Terry, Thomas Lubbock and John A. Wharton.
Lubbock went to Montgomery, Ala., in April 1861 to obtain authority to raise a command. However, he was not able to secure the desired commission.
The Confederate War Department thought that it did not need to organize troops so far away as Texas, that it would cost too much to transport troops that far, that enough men would enlist nearer the sites of the battles and that the war would be over very soon. Lubbock argued against those points without success.
In June newspapers reported armies gathering around Richmond and Washington, and that battle was imminent. Terry and Lubbock were determined to be in the first fight and left for Richmond immediately. Contacts in Virginia were able to get positions for them as volunteer aides on General Longstreet’s staff. They served at First Manassas.
Longstreet’s report of the battled indicated that they took an active part in it.
The opinion at the Confederate War Department quickly changed after First Manassas. No one now believed that the war could be fought without using troops from different states.
Terry and Lubbock were authorized to raise a regiment for the Confederate army. Each company was to consist of one captain, one first lieutenant, two second lieutenants, four sergeants, four corporals, one blacksmith, two musicians, and from 64 to 100 privates.
Over a thousand volunteers from the Coastal Plains area responded to the call. Each was required to provide his own carbine or shotgun, a colt revolver, a Bowie knife, and tack.
These men were perfect examples of the exceptional horsemanship of the great cattle ranches and plantations of the era.
The recruits gathered near Houston, Texas, where most companies were officially mustered into Confederate service, but Terry and Lubbock delayed formal organization of the regiment until their anticipated arrival in Virginia.
Terry took command but refused to be called Colonel until he was elected to the position by his men. The eastward march began immediately. At Beaumont all horses were sent home.
On reaching New Orleans, they found themselves regarded as traditional Texas Rangers and treated accordingly. Texas Rangers of pre-war reputation became the common perception east of the Mississippi, and those who bore the name throughout the war were under special pressure to live up to it.
While in New Orleans, Terry received a telegram from General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding Confederate forces in the West, with headquarters then at Columbus, Ky. The Johnston and Terry families had been friends from the days when the general had been a Brazoria County planter. Now he invited Terry to bring his regiment to him for service in Kentucky. Johnston had the authority from Richmond to intercept the Texans and order them to his own command, but he left the decision up to Terry.
Popular opinion at New Orleans thought that the Rangers would gain advantages by service in Kentucky. Johnston had promised Terry that the regiment would serve as an independent corps, never to be brigaded while he lived. It would be mounted on the finest horses that the Blue Grass State could furnish.
At New Orleans they left a reasonably good name. Company commanders, with considerable difficulty, had held drinking, brawling and assaults on the citizenry to a commendable minimum.
The march toward Tennessee soon began. Rain and an unseasonably early norther added to the general discomfort.
When the command arrived at Nashville, it was provided a temporary camp at the fair grounds. During a 10-day stay, the Texans were royally entertained by citizens. Some Rangers borrowed mounts and demonstrated feats of horsemanship. Measles struck, and the first Ranger death occurred. However, men defied orders and left camp. So there was drinking and disorder in the city and General Johnston was asked to move them out quickly.
Upon arrival at Bowling Green, Ky., Johnston’s headquarters, Terry was assigned a camp area near Oakland. Here the 10 companies of Rangers were formally organized into a regiment. The process involved an election of field and staff officers. Terry and Lubbock waived their confederate commissions and stood for election with the rest.
Following this election, the company commanders drew letters from A through K to determine relative rank between themselves and letter designations of their units.
When notified of this organization, the Confederate War Department designated the command as the 8th Texas Cavalry, it being the eighth Texas mounted regiment furnishing proof of completed organizations.
This irritated the Rangers who argued, with some accuracy, that had their organization been completed at Houston they would have received a number more descriptive of the relative order of their volunteering.
Although officially named the 8th Texas Cavalry regiment, the men were always known as Terry’s Texas Rangers.
None of the Rangers ever wore a uniform of any particular style or pattern and were usually in civilian clothing. Pistols were a favorite weapon. Some of the Rangers had as many as four revolvers belted about themselves. No Ranger wanted a saber, but every one of them was equipped with a Bowie knife.
The late fall and winter of 1861 in Kentucky was wet and cold. Due to poor camp sanitation and inadequate medical knowledge, epidemics broke out among the Rangers and other servicemen. Soldiers suffered as they had to watch their lifelong friends and relatives die of camp fevers, respiratory infections, and outbreaks of “childhood diseases.” Hospital facilities were generally unavailable
No real front existed between Johnston and the Federal forces gathering before him. Inadequate Confederate cavalry was required to spread itself over an extended distance.
(To be continued next Sunday)
Karen Kay Esberger, Ph.D., R.N., is a retired nurse who is now President of Daffan-Latimer 37, the Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Ellis County. For further information, see www.txudc.org