Each of the wars fought by Texans spawned the creation of scores of military sites across the state, from the lonely frontier outpost at Adobe Walls to the once-bustling World War II shipyards of Orange. Today, although vestiges of the sites still exist, many are barely discernible, their once-proud martial trappings now faded by time, neglect, the elements and, most of all, public apathy. ?In Faded Glory: A Century of Forgotten Texas Military Sites, Then and Now, Thomas E. Alexander and Dan K. Utley revisit twenty-nine sites—many of them largely forgotten—associated with what was arguably the most tumultuous hundred-year period in a five-century span of Texas history.?
Whether in the war with Mexico, the American Civil War, in clashes between Indians and the frontier army, or in two worldwide conflicts fought on foreign shores, Texas and Texans have often answered the call to arms. Beginning in 1845 and continuing through 1945, the Lone Star State and its people were fully involved in seven major conflicts. ?In this thoroughly researched and absorbing guide, Alexander and Utley recount the full story of the sites from their days of fame to the present. Comparing historic sketches, paintings, and period photographs of the original installations with recent photographs, they illustrate how time has dealt with these important places. Providing maps to aid readers in locating each site, the authors close with a resounding call for preservation and interpretation for future generations. ?The descriptions and images restore, at least in the mind’s eye, a touch of vitality and color to these forgotten and disappearing sites. Thanks to Faded Glory: A Century of Forgotten Texas Military Sites, Then and Now, both the traveler and the armchair tourist can recover a sense of these places and events that did so much to shape the military history of Texas.
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A Century of Forgotten Texas Military Sites, Then and Now
By Thomas E. Alexander, Dan K. Utley
Texas A&M University PressCopyright © 2012 Thomas E. Alexander and Dan K. Utley
All rights reserved.
THE MEXICAN WAR 1846–1848
Wars as such may best be forgotten, but the period of the Mexican War was an important era, one of upheaval, of passion, of heroism, of bitterness, and of triumph. —John S. D. Eisenhower
While all wars are controversial by nature, few have proved to be quite as lastingly contentious as the relatively brief but hugely significant war between the United States and Mexico. Beginning on the banks of the Rio Grande at the southern tip of Texas in May 1846, the often fierce conflict came to its close less than 18 months later when the victorious American army marched into Mexico City.
The magnitude of the spoils of the war is beyond dispute. In defeat, Mexico forfeited more than 1 million square miles of its territory to the United States. In time, those vast lands became the states of California, Arizona, and New Mexico, with sizeable portions of Colorado, Utah, and Nevada included in the war-wrought transaction. Texas, then only recently annexed into the Union, was by treaty finally made free of the long-standing claim of ownership by Mexico. In addition, the defeated nation was forced to recognize the Rio Grande as the formal boundary separating it from the United States.
For many politicians at the time, as well as for numerous historians since who have made the Mexican War their favorite subject, the controversy that still swirls around it has provided ample fodder for argument. For example, Abraham Lincoln, as a 38-year-old freshman congressman from Illinois, railed against the rationale for going to war with Mexico so vehemently that his colleagues and supporters called into question his personal loyalty to the Union.
As is always the case, the writing of the war's history fell largely to the victor's own historians. In this instance, however, some of these scholars have depicted the winning side as the villainous perpetrator of the whole affair. No less a military authority than Ulysses S. Grant, a participant in and a chronicler of the Mexican War, decried it as being "the most unjust war ever waged by a stronger nation against a weaker nation." His analysis, offered years after the Union general Grant himself had led the forces of a stronger nation in a war against a weaker one, puts his quote in clear perspective.
With the passage of time, however, the American invasion of Mexico now seems to have taken refuge in the handy observation that the ends justify the means. In the case of the Mexican War, the ends were a weakened Mexico and an enlarged United States suddenly without any strong strategic challenger on the North American continent. It is not only the end, however, that has stirred the controversy over the years but the means as well. Just how and why this pivotal war came about remain the key questions. While it is not within the scope of this chapter to review in any depth the war's causes and effects, we offer a short abstract of the more salient issues. Those seeking a comprehensive study of the conflict are urged to read John S. D. Eisenhower's excellent book, So Far from God, as well as Robert Selph Henry's equally compelling treatment, The Story of the Mexican War.
In this short version of that story, the overarching reason for the Mexican War was American expansionism. The United States apparently had no desire to expand deeply into Mexico proper, but rather, slice across its northern territory in pursuit of what US president James Knox Polk saw as his nation's manifest destiny. Like other presidents before him, he envisioned a United States that stretched the full 3,000 miles from the Atlantic Coast on the east to California's Pacific shores on the west. A cursory glance at an 1840s-era map of North America reveals that the most expedient way to accomplish this bold ambition would be to persuade Mexico to relinquish its claim to much of its northern territory, which ran from Texas westward to the Pacific.
At first, the Polk administration attempted to purchase the thousands of square miles of desired Mexican territory. It quickly became clear, however, that Mexico had no interest in selling its valuable lands at any price. When pressed on the issue, the Mexican government countered with a bellicose note to the effect that if the Republic of Texas, still viewed by Mexico as being its legal possession, were to become an American state, a condition of war would immediately exist between the two neighboring nations.
Likely recognizing that a war with Mexico might well be the only viable key to his aspirations, Polk promptly cleared the path for Congress to annex Texas. In a rather transparent move, the United States next sent more than half its entire army into the newly annexed state to protect it from any overt military manifestations of Mexico's threatened declaration of hostilities.
The American army under the command of Gen. Zachary Taylor encamped on the shoreline of Corpus Christi Bay in Texas from July 31, 1845, until March 8, 1846. From the Mexican viewpoint, this camp was actually inside Mexico. A longstanding dispute between Mexico and the now defunct Republic of Texas about the boundary line separating the two had become an issue with the United States. While the Mexican government had always maintained that boundary line was the Nueces River, the United States chose to accept the old Republic's claim that the Rio Grande, located many miles farther south, was the true international boundary.
Clearly intending to prove that his national domain did now indeed extend to the Rio Grande by virtue of the annexation of Texas, President Polk ordered Taylor to march some 160 miles south to the river. When the army reached the site of present-day Brownsville, Taylor ordered that a fort be constructed directly across the Rio Grande from the Mexican village of Matamoros. An apparently temporary American army camp on the beach of Corpus Christi Bay was one thing, but a small but permanent fort built on what the Mexicans believed to be their indisputable terrain was something else altogether. The gauntlet had been thrown down by the invading United States forces.
The challenge was quickly answered when on April 25, 1846, a Mexican force of some 1,600 men ambushed a US cavalry patrol, resulting in over 60 American casualties. When word of the first clash of arms in Texas reached Washington, it triggered a swift reaction. Claiming that "American blood had been shed on American soil," Polk quickly orchestrated a congressional declaration of war against Mexico. That the newly declared enemy had every reason to believe the blood of American invaders had actually been spilled on Mexican soil did not alter the course of events that followed.
The war was often hotly contested, with the Mexican forces proving to be much better trained than the Americans had assumed. Eventually, however, the Americans' better leadership, superior firepower, and efficient logistical support won battle after battle across Mexico and, in short order, the war itself. It was a costly conflict. Over 13,000 Americans died in battle, as did countless thousands of Mexican soldiers. Among the survivors were some 300 junior American officers who would in just 13 years serve as generals on both sides in their divided nation's tragic Civil War. Among them were Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, George McClelland, George Pickett, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, Joseph E. Johnston, and, of course, Ulysses S. Grant.
The war over, America's wide path to the Pacific seemed clear. Serious concerns about slavery issues in the newly acquired territory were eventually resolved, and Polk's dream of manifest destiny became a reality. History holds, generally, that what is often referred to as "Mr. Polk's War" made that dream come true. However, whether that highly desired end justified his allegedly provocative means continues to be debated on both sides of the Rio Grande.
CORPUS CHRISTI BEACH
The congress of the Republic of Texas voted on July 4, 1845, to approve annexation to the United States, and three weeks later American forces were in position at Corpus Christi to quell any possible Mexican attempt to invade what would become the nation's newest state upon formal approval by the US Congress. The aptly named "Army of Occupation" established its massive encampment on the beach of Corpus Christi Bay on July 31, 1845. Its very name and immense size demonstrated that the American army had immediate plans to invade and then occupy something far more significant than a desolate bay front in a tiny village in the newly annexed state of Texas. A lithograph made at the time shows impeccable rows of canvas tents stretching eight deep along the edge of the bay for miles, only to disappear beyond the horizon. According to army records, there were exactly 8,509 American men in uniform in the year of the lithograph's creation, and by most accounts just slightly less than half the entire regular American army lived in that tent city by the bay.
Many of the soldiers arrived in Corpus Christi by sea. They had marched from Fort Jessup, Louisiana, to New Orleans to board the steamboat Alabama and other smaller vessels for the three-week, 90-mile passage across the Gulf of Mexico to land on St. Joseph Island, a barrier island off the Texas coast. Because the waters between the barrier island and the mainland were too shallow to accommodate oceangoing vessels such as the Alabama, the troops relied on shallow-draft vessels to transport them from the steamboat to the little village of Corpus Christi. In the first of many poorly planned logistical episodes in this campaign, the men were compelled to stay on the desolate island for five days until the transport vessels finally arrived to shuttle them to the mainland and their bay front campsite.
There was also great confusion about which river Mexican forces would have to cross to invade American territory. Having never officially recognized the Republic of Texas after the battle at San Jacinto in 1836, Mexico at first continued to claim the Sabine River as its border with the United States. When it became clear the Sabine premise could not be defended, the Mexican government concluded that the Nueces River was a more practical choice as its international boundary with Texas. But Texas during its 10-year existence as a republic claimed the Rio Grande as the legal boundary, and the United States, upon annexing Texas, eagerly endorsed the Rio Grande border.
For almost seven months some 4,000 American troops awaited a resolution of the border issue on the hot and humid shore of Corpus Christi Bay. Nearly half the soldiers were foreign born, and having no particular interest in the strategic plans of their adopted country, many often slipped away from camp to escape the heat and the constant drilling imposed upon them in an effort both to maintain discipline as well as to occupy the long, hot hours between sunrise and sunset.
The leader of this large contingent of bored and restless soldiers, and the man who demanded the endless hours of drill, was Bvt. Brig. Gen. Zachary Taylor. Today, Taylor would be called a "soldiers' general." Like other commanders in history who have been admired and respected by their troops, Taylor had a nickname, "Old Rough and Ready," in common use throughout the tent city and later in combat. It was a particularly apt title for a man who, at age 61, was definitely old at a time when reaching one's 50th birthday represented a remarkable feat. Taylor was also rough, both in the sense of his disdain for accepted military practices and procedures as well as his disregard for social niceties. Capt. Franklin Smith of the 1st Mississippi Rifle Regiment commented that Taylor "swore worse than even Andy Jackson," who it was said could burn the bark off a tree by hurling crude epithets at it. Smith also found Taylor to be outrageous and a man who "pummels with his fists anyone who comes in his way."
Descriptions of the general in letters written by some of his soldiers portrayed him as being short, bowlegged, and fat. His disregard for military uniforms led him to wear whatever sort of clothing seemed comfortable for the occasion. He sometimes wore trousers made of a purple-colored cloth and a shabby and tattered greenish leather overshirt, as well as all manner of headgear, including a soiled oil cloth cap and a well-worn Mexican straw sombrero. Apparently, he only once wore the official army uniform to which his high rank entitled him, on the occasion of a meeting with an equally high-ranked naval officer. In an ironic twist worthy of the author O. Henry, the navy commodore came to the meeting wearing his most informal uniform in deference to Taylor's widely known dislike of pretentious military frills.
A young lieutenant who had just arrived at camp once saw what he perceived to be a fat old man sitting outside a tent, polishing a sword. He offered his own sword to the old fellow with a promise to pay him a dollar if he were to shine it, as well as direct him to the commanding general. To his dismay, the "old fatty," as the lieutenant had addressed him, barked, "Lieutenant, I am the commanding general and I will take that dollar."
Being old and rough, Taylor was also ready. He had been the first American army officer to earn a brevet promotion for bravery in battle. He served in the War of 1812 and received another promotion for bravery during the Seminole War in Florida. Just as soon as he had arrived at Corpus Christi, the general seemed more than ready to move on to the next stage in the border river disputes with Mexico, but political intrigues in Washington, DC, and Mexico City thwarted him. Taylor's army remained on the beach for over half a year, much to his dismay and to his men's discomfort. Under the direct supervision of such West Point–trained junior officers as Ulysses S. Grant, Braxton Bragg, and George Meade, the troops drilled by the hour and then refreshed themselves with frequent frolics in the calm waters of Corpus Christi Bay.
The village of Corpus Christi, virtually adjacent to a portion of the sprawling but orderly city of tents, could boast of no more than 200 residents when General Taylor and his troops arrived to make camp. It had been founded as a trading post in 1839 by Col. Henry L. Kinney, a somewhat shady early Texas entrepreneur. The longer the troops stayed on its bay front, the larger Corpus Christi became. By the time the army broke camp and moved south to the Rio Grande, the population had increased more than tenfold. The reason for the explosive growth in population was the golden opportunity to cater to the more basic needs of the thousands of soldiers virtually stranded on the beach with at least some money in their uniform pockets and nowhere else to spend it. Saloons and gambling houses sprang up almost overnight. The combination of high-priced but barely drinkable liquor and crushing boredom frequently generated a predictable flurry of drunken brawls involving the enlisted men.
When they were not busy disciplining errant soldiers or drilling the troops for hours each day, officers found numerous ways to amuse themselves. Horseracing along the water's edge was a popular pastime, as were card games and checker tournaments. Those officers seeking more intellectual pursuits formed a book club. Other off-duty diversions included attending one of the many circuses that somehow frequently found their way to the Gulf Coast. A drama club formed to help quell the malaise that stemmed from having few official duties to perform. Soldiers created a theater by arranging canvas tent panels in a large circular pattern. Enlisted men constructed the floor of the stage and the scenery, and received front-row seating in exchange for their labors. Although the primitive theater-in-the-round had no roof, most of the 800 seats it contained reportedly remained filled during every performance. Many younger officers who in 15 years would become generals on both sides of America's Civil War took part in the productions. Longstreet, Grant, and other junior officers often accepted challenging roles in Shakespearian plays, and due to the absence of any genuine actresses, men commonly served as female leads. In one production of Othello, Grant took on the role of Desdemona but in such a slovenly manner as to cause the male actor in the leading role to stalk off the stage in disgust midway through the first act.
Despite General Taylor's badgering of the War Department to issue orders to move on to the Rio Grande, the army remained on the beach. Even though the food and entertainment made available to his troops were in most respects superior to those found in other military camps at the time, the men grew as impatient as their general to move on. When diplomatic efforts to resolve the international boundary and other issues with Mexico abruptly came to an end, orders to vacate the camp and move south finally came from Washington. As a result, Taylor had his columns marching toward the Rio Grande by March 8, 1846. Some large equipment, supplies, and a number of troops made their way back across the bay to St. Joseph's Island to then be transported by sea to the new American supply port at Brazos Santiago while the general joined most of his men in the 160-mile march to the Rio Grande. Three weeks later, the Army of Occupation took up its position on the river directly across from the important Mexican trade hub city of Matamoros.
With the forces of both the United States and Mexico thus poised for long-anticipated battle, the inevitable military clash that led to a full-blown war soon occurred. On April 25, a small cavalry patrol under the command of Capt. Seth Thornton rode blindly into an ambush by a much larger Mexican force. Zachary Taylor quickly proceeded to claim victory in a number of battles in Mexico that would eventually propel him into the White House as the 12th president of the United States, and a very long way from the beach on Corpus Christi Bay.
Excerpted from Faded Glory by Thomas E. Alexander, Dan K. Utley. Copyright © 2012 Thomas E. Alexander and Dan K. Utley. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsList of Maps,
Chapter 1 The Mexican War, 1846–1848,
Chapter 2 The Indian Wars, 1848–1875,
Chapter 3 The Civil War, 1861–1865,
Chapter 4 The Spanish-American War, 1898,
Chapter 5 The Mexican Revolution, 1910–1920,
Chapter 6 World War I, 1917–1918,
Chapter 7 World War II, 1941–1945,
Epilogue: A Call for Preservation,
What People are Saying About This
"In this beautifully illustrated and well-crafted book, the military history of Texas comes alive and takes on new meaning. One can almost hear the thunder of cavalry horses and the clatter of dragoon sabers and Rancho de Carricitos on the Rio Grande, the deadly crack of Billy Dixon's rifle at Adobe Walls, or the fatiguing sighs of the ill-fated Sibley Brigade arriving at a windswept Fort Bliss. There is also the deafening pound of Lt. Dick Dowling's artillery at Sabine Pass, the debilitating and scorching heat in the desert at Camp Ruidoso in 1916, the hum of propellers as airplanes take flight at Marfa Army Airfield, or the whistle of a troop train in the night as Italian prisoners from North Africa arrive at Camp Hereford in the Panhandle. It is all here and it is all very exciting and very grand."--Jerry D. Thompson, Regents Professor of Humanities, Texas A&M International University
"This guide to the sites recounts the story of each of them, from its days of fame to the present."--Marie Beth Jones, Facts
"Tom Alexander and Dan Utley, two outstanding historians with a great wealth of information and knowledge on military history between them, have gotten together to make '1+1' into much more than '2.' Make it a full '10' for their thorough review of what remains from our militant history to teach present and future Texans."--Archie P. McDonald, southern historian
"In Faded Glory authors Tom Alexander and Dan K. Utley have shared a seat in their car for a first-hand tour of military history across the Lone Star State. Starting with the U.S.-Mexican War and coming up through World War II, they have recounted the stories of both familiar and little-known scenes of military activities and then have given us easy-to-follow instructions on how we can visit and experience the sites for ourselves. This is the perfect book for the armchair historian or the eager heritage tourist." --T. Lindsay Baker, W.K. Gordon Endowed Chair in Texas Industrial History, Tarleton State University
"Faded Glory takes the general audience on an interesting and informative journey into the nooks and crannies of Texas history. The theme presents a representative sampling of 34 Texas military sites . . . that offer a window into key periods of Texas history from statehood and the Mexican War to the end of World War II."--Thomas T. Smith, retired US Army lieutenant colonel and author of The Old Army in Texas: A Research Guide to the US Army in Nineteenth-Century Texas and The US Army and the Texas Frontier Economy, 1845-1900
"It is obviously a labor of love . . . this book moves from being merely fun and informative to being truly an important effort to marshal support for historic preservation. This is a lively text, well-written by two fellows who are obviously good story-tellers."--Richard B. McCaslin, professor and chair of the history department, University of North Texas
Alexander resides in Kerrville, TX
Utley resides in Pflugerville, TX