Saturday, April 6, 2013

Texas secession fever set in quickly in 1861. Militia companies were raised across the state. Wealthy men funded them and experienced soldiers and American Indian fighters led them. An assortment of units in colorful uniforms drilled in town squares: part of the First Texas Infantry in red stripes, some Fourth Texas Infantry troops in gray and trimmed in blue. One cavalry commander even sported jaguar skins. There was no shortage, however, of bravado. Pvt. Ralph J. Smith, in Company K of the Second Texas Infantry, put it simply: “We knew no such words as fail.”

Infantry and cavalry alike assembled in westerners’ wide-brimmed hats; the volunteers from South Texas were partial to Mexican sombreros. They packed a frontiersman’s arsenal: shotguns, swords, knives, spears, carbines as well as Mississippi and Sharps rifles. Texans favored cavalry duty over infantry: 25,000 Texans volunteered in 1861; two-thirds formed into cavalry units.

Most men were in their 20s, a mix of migrants from the Upper and Deep South. But sprinkled throughout were Europeans, Mexicans, American Indians and even Unionists: James W. Throckmorton, the most outspoken Unionist at the Secession Convention, donned a Confederate uniform, eventually rising to general officer. In the brigade led by John Bell Hood alone was a mix of English, Welsh, Scottish, Germans, Irish, French, Jews, Dutch, at least 2,500 Mexicans — and even an American Indian.

The Texans who fought would prove indispensable in the most vicious fighting of the war; Robert E. Lee would come to refer to Hood’s brigade as “my Texans.”

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