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Burnett's 13th Texas Cavalry in the Civil War
By Thomas Reid
University of North Texas PressCopyright © 2005 Thomas R. Reid
All rights reserved.
Burnett's Texas Mounted Volunteers
"Nine out of every ten men I see are going to the army."
—First Sgt. John T. Stark
The year 1861 had been one of crucial decisions and actions for Texans. In January a state convention was called to consider relations with the federal government. Results of the 1860 presidential election gave the Republican opponents of slavery and compromise a victory that threatened the fundamental basis of the Southern society and economy. The convention's representatives voted on February 1 to sever their ties with Abraham Lincoln's incoming administration and the Union. On February 23, Texas voters approved the measure by a large majority. The ordinance of secession, made effective March 2, 1861, reversed the 1845 annexation of Texas as a state. Gov. Sam Houston, an ardent opponent of the measures, refused to affiliate himself with the Confederacy and was forced out of office, leading to the confirmation of Lieutenant Governor Edward Clark to the governorship. In a series of quick actions, taken before the popular votes were cast, the state organized volunteers and seized federal military installations and supply depots in San Antonio. By April, word came that Confederate forces had fired on Fort Sumter. Units of Texas volunteers responded to President Jefferson Davis' call for soldiers. By August, battle lines were clearly drawn, and regular elections for state senators and representatives included few candidates not already committed to the Confederate cause.
In early 1862, Burnett's Texas Mounted Volunteers, consisting entirely of volunteers from several East Texas counties, was mustered into Confederate service as the 13th Texas Cavalry Regiment. In many ways, it was typical of the numerous Texas regiments formed in the second year of the Civil War, but like most military units, it developed a distinctive character as time passed. The first commander of the regiment, John H. Burnett, was a very successful planter from Houston County. Elected to the Texas Senate in August 1861 to represent a district that included Anderson, Houston, and Trinity Counties, Burnett, at age thirty-two, was among the county's five wealthiest men. In 1860 he owned over 3,000 acres and had personal property valued at $40,000. A native of Summerville, Georgia, Burnett was a veteran of the Mexican War and a former colonel in the Georgia militia. He came to Texas in 1854 with his family and father-in-law, Gen. John F. Beavers. Between them, they owned sixty-six slaves. A supporter of secession, Burnett used his Senate campaign to develop support for raising a regiment of Confederate cavalry.
Burnett soon found willing allies in the counties neighboring his district. Robert Simonton Gould, a lawyer in Leon County, and William K. Payne, a farmer from Henderson County, were supporters from the outset. Both had voted to withdraw Texas from the Union as representatives of their counties during the Secession Convention in January. Following the opening of the regular session of the Ninth Legislature on November 4, 1861, Burnett gained another, even more enthusiastic colleague, in Senator Anderson Floyd Crawford, whose district encompassed Jasper, Newton, Hardin, Tyler, Orange, and Polk Counties.
Senator Burnett, as a member of the Confederate Affairs Committee, introduced several bills intended to integrate Texas fully into the war effort. Shortly after the opening session, he sponsored a bill to "protect soldiers mustered into State or Confederate service" against any legal forced sale of their property until twelve months after they were discharged from the service. Burnett introduced legislation on December 5, 1861, authorizing the Confederate government to seize the property of "enemy aliens" through legal actions in the Texas courts. As the session came to an end, it was Burnett who introduced the bill, later vetoed by Gov. Francis Lubbock, which would have paid $75,000 to the members of the legislature for their expenses, as authorized by the constitution. Sen. Anderson F. Crawford offered an unsuccessful amendment, which if adopted, would have eliminated the ability of legislators to collect their payments in their home counties in preference to other debts of the state, but the Senate rejected it. If it had passed, the state treasurer could have paid legislators' per diem at his convenience. While the defeat of this measure did not have a significant impact on wealthy men like Burnett and Crawford, it did come as a blow to representatives of lesser means. Governor Lubbock clearly believed that the state's limited resources should be dedicated to the war effort.
While building support for his regiment, Burnett was treading familiar ground by calling for cavalry rather than infantry. Texans had a strong aversion to any suggestion of walking long distances. Governor Edward Clark, in his farewell message November 1, 1861, commented, "The predilection of Texans for cavalry service—founded as it is upon their peerless horsemanship—is so powerful that they are unwilling, in many instances, to engage in service of any other description, unless required by actual necessity."
By December 21, 1861, Burnett was sufficiently confident of his prospects for success that he wrote Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin, stating "he had nearly raised a Regiment for the Confederate Service." Representative John T. Bean, of Tyler County, and a member of the Texas House Committee on Confederate relations and later one of Burnett's company commanders, was an active supporter of both the senator's efforts to raise volunteers and his legislative proposals. Coming from one of the state's most successful cotton production areas, Bean had also been selected to serve on the Committee on Agriculture.
Besides needing the support of politically prominent men to promote his new unit, Burnett faced several other major challenges. Unlike Texas militia units, which could appeal to the state for virtually everything they needed, units entering Confederate service were required to be armed and equipped. The Confederate War Department added to the already chaotic mobilization in Texas by directly authorizing the raising of over a dozen regiments "north and east of the Trinity River" and then placing a levy on the governor for an additional fifteen regiments of infantry. The third major issue facing those who raised troops that spring was the duration of enlistments. State troops had been accustomed to terms as brief as six months, but the majority of the War Department's instructions specified twelve months. On November 16, 1861, Brig. Gen. Paul O. Hebert, commanding the Confederate District of Texas, had issued General Order No. 11 directing that "no enlistment would be for any term less than that of the duration of the war." All of these conflicting orders had to be addressed during the organization of the 13th Texas Cavalry.
Recruiting began in earnest when the legislature adjourned on January 14, 1862. Burnett set February 22 as the date for the initial muster of companies in Anderson, Henderson, Houston, and Leon Counties. Anderson Crawford ordered the muster of the companies from the southern counties, Angelina, Jasper, Newton, Orange, and Tyler, on March 1. Concurrently, and using Colonel Burnett's authorization from the War Department, Robert S. Gould of Leon County recruited an additional five companies, which later became the 6th Texas Cavalry Battalion.
Capt. John T. Smith, another of Burnett's political allies and a member of the Ninth Legislature from Houston County, conducted the muster of his company at Camp Burnett, near the village of Porter's Springs, eight miles west of Crockett. A New Yorker by birth, Smith had moved to Georgia at an early age, serving in the lower house of the legislature before departing for Texas in 1849. He was forty-seven years old, a prosperous planter, and owned extensive land in the county. Smith was one of the county's large slaveholders, listing twenty-four slaves among his property in the summer of 1860.
Capt. George English raised a second company for the regiment in Houston County, despite having been an opponent of secession. English had served as a lieutenant during the Texas War for Independence. He had been commissioned by President Sam Houston as a captain to lead a company of Indian fighters in Shelby County in 1838 and 1839, and had served with Capt. John Hall during the Mexican War. English moved to Houston County about 1843. At age fifty-five, he was the oldest of Burnett's company commanders. Although unmarried, English had taken in a number of orphaned cousins when his uncle, Archibald English, died in 1857. Five of them volunteered for his company. While most companies from East Texas drew their men from one county, the Houston County companies included several recruits from Cherokee County east of the Neches River.
Capt. Jerome N. "Jet" Black mustered a company at Centerville, Leon County, February 21, 1862. His command had been recruited in Leon County and in Madison, Trinity, and Polk Counties along the Trinity River bottoms to the south. Aged thirty-three, Black had settled in Leon County in the 1850s after leaving his home in northern Alabama. Described as a popular man, he had served in the Mexican War and had been elected Leon County's sheriff. The wider area of Black's recruiting was made necessary by Robert Gould's earlier efforts around Centerville. There was intense competition for volunteers in the spring of 1862 as recruiting officers from Texas units serving in Virginia arrived. First Lieutenant J. J. McBride of the 5th Texas Infantry was particularly persistent. Captain Black discovered that McBride was enrolling soldiers already mustered into the 13th Texas Cavalry. On March 22, he demanded that a private named James Green be returned, but McBride refused. This matter was referred to Lieutenant Colonel Crawford, who complained to General Hebert, the department commander. Hebert ordered the arrest of both Lieutenant McBride and Private Green, and Green returned to his proper company. McBride eventually returned to Virginia with forty new recruits for Company C, 5th Texas Infantry.
In neighboring Anderson County, Capt. James Steele Hanks mustered his company at Mound Prairie, not far from Palestine. According to the 1860 census, Hanks was the wealthiest man in the county. His land and personal property, which included at least twenty-five slaves, was valued at over $63,000. This was nearly four times that of his friend and neighbor, Confederate Postmaster General and former U.S. Congressman John H. Reagan. Hanks was fifty-three in 1862, and his oldest son was already serving in Virginia. In 1893, he assisted in writing his biography, which stated "in 1861 he was a Union man, but when he found that his neighbors differed from him, he raised the largest company that ever went from Anderson County." Other sources note that out of hundreds of votes cast in the county, only seven were against secession. Hanks' Union sympathies should be viewed in the context of his purchase of new slaves as late as August 1860.
To the north in Henderson County, Capt. William K. Payne's company took the oath on February 15 at Athens. Payne was a thirty-six-year-old farmer born in Alabama. His personal wealth of $7,850 was moderate in comparison to that of his fellow company commanders. Capt. S. M. Drake mustered Payne's company at Camp Shiloh on February 22. With eighty-five volunteers, the Henderson County company was initially the smallest in the 13th Texas Cavalry. Drake, the former commander of Company F, 1st Texas Heavy Artillery, had been detailed as the mustering officer for Burnett's regiment as representative of the Confederacy by the Department Commander, Brigadier General Hebert. Drake's company had been disbanded in November 1861 and he had been assigned to post duty in Houston.
It was Drake's responsibility, as stated in the Secretary of War's authorization letter of January 17, 1862, to "muster the Regiment into service, provided it is armed and equipped." In a letter to President Jefferson Davis, recruiting officer Lt. Col. Samuel A. Roberts complained from Texas, "two-thirds of their horses ... are totally unfit for any military service, while the expense to the Government of feeding them is enormous. I have never yet known a horse rejected by any mustering officer." This certainly seems to have been the case with Captain Drake. While the average value of a horse was $150, Drake accepted animals valued as little as $87.50. The majority of the horses (and mules) were not even shod. There is also little evidence that he rejected men who were equally unsuited for military service.
The soldiers of Anderson F. Crawford's senatorial district mustered on March 1, 1862, at Newton, Orange, Jasper, and Woodville. Crawford, scion of an aristocratic Georgia family, had joined an elder brother in Jasper County in 1857. He was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1859 and to the Senate in 1861. Crawford's appraised county property was $63,000 in 1860. A photograph in the album of the Eighth Legislature, taken when Crawford was thirty, shows a thin, athletic young man. Soldiers referred to him as "Colonel" even before he was elected the regiment's second in command. Crawford presided over many festivities as the local company, "Crawford's Rebels," as well as the "Dreadnaughts" of Newton, were sworn into Confederate service in Jasper. Families competed for the honor of feeding and entertaining the new troops. Local ladies organized a program of patriotic music and speeches described as "enough to nerve the arm of the most cold blooded man in Newton County." Even though another company had just been among them, John Stark of Newton wrote that citizens "took us home with them every one some 95 men and fed us on the best they had." On March 11 the two companies rode to a camp overlooking the Neches River in Polk County to wait for the company from Tyler County.
Elias T. Seale of Bevilport commanded the Jasper County company. Elias had settled down somewhat after an adventurous youth. He was said to have been the only "Jasper County boy" to have returned from the California gold fields with "a small fortune." Seale and his younger brother William, who also volunteered, owned a large general merchandise business in Jasper. The county's contingent also included Charles R. Beaty, later elected major of the regiment. At thirty-three, Beaty owned a sawmill, which employed seven full-time employees in 1860 and cut 500,000 board feet of oak and pine annually, producing an income of almost $10,000. Major Beaty was the brother-in-law of Capt. William Blewett, the company commander from Newton County. A native of Thomasville, Georgia, Blewett was a thirty-one-year-old merchant and gentleman farmer in Newton County, and owned eleven slaves. Blewett was also a partner in one of the county's largest cotton buyers, Blewett & Co.
The "Orange Greys," a state militia company originally organized April 29, 1861, had offered their services to Governor Clark and requested the necessary arms and accouterments. The governor promptly provided commissions for Capt. Samuel A. Fairchild and his officers but little else. The Orange Greys were assigned to the Second Brigade of Texas State Troops, headquartered at Jasper. By September 1861, attrition, mainly to units already in Confederate service, had reduced the company from ninety to seventy-four men. All seventy-four had horses, but only fifty were armed. The weapons, an assortment of shotguns, muskets, and revolvers, were mostly private property. Fairchild was persistent in seeking active service for his company, and was recruited by Anderson Crawford for the 13th Texas Cavalry early in 1862.
Fairchild was the only native-born Texan among the company commanders. His father, William H. Fairchild, had been a sheriff and local civic leader in Angelina County. Both William and Samuel were very active in their support of the Masonic Lodge. Samuel Fairchild was thirty-three when his company joined Burnett's Cavalry. In 1862 he was serving as the Orange County treasurer, having earlier served as the sheriff from 1854–56 and county judge in 1858. The Orange Greys began their journey to Camp Burnett, west of Crockett in Houston County, early in March after mustering in Orange on March 1. Samuel was one of six brothers, all of whom volunteered for the 13th Texas Cavalry.
Excerpted from Spartan Band by Thomas Reid. Copyright © 2005 Thomas R. Reid. Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas Press.
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