12. August 2007 · Comments Off on True to the Union Part 3 · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, History, Old West, War, World

The flood of enthusiastic volunteers for service in the Army of the Confederacy had slowed to a trickle. Early in 1862 the Confederate Congress drafted and passed a general conscription law, essentially declaring that every white male between the age of eighteen and thirty-five were liable for military service. Within months the upper age limits was moved to forty-five. In the last desperate year of the war it was seventeen to fifty… and if a man fell into that rather broad category, he had better have a damn good reason for not being in uniform. Of course there were outs: for a while and on both sides, wealthy men could hire a substitute to serve. There were exemptions for elected officials, and for men who owned more than a certain number of slaves. This last exemption was particularly galling, especially in those portions of the Confederacy where the peculiar institution was not much practiced, either because of inclination or economics. Nothing was more calculated to prove the truth of the bitter observation that it was a rich mans’ war but a poor mans’ fight.

In the Texas Hill Country, feelings about the draft were especially bitter. Firstly, most of the Germans had been Unionists and abhorred slavery. Secondly, a prime motivation for emigrating from Germany in the first place had been the existence of conscription there. To be forced to fight in the defense of an institution they despised, and for a political body whose very existence they had opposed was an insult past bearing. And finally, Gillespie County was very much still a part of the frontier. Fighting off war-parties of Indians was much more of an immediate concern to settlers there, than whatever difficulties the Confederacy had managed to run themselves into. And there was also that ongoing concern about raising crops and protecting families and property, since the withdrawal of the U.S. Army from the frontier forts which had protected them. The Texas State troops which had replaced them after Texas secceeded had not proved any more effective. Dissatisfaction with the Confederacy rose, as the Union blockade began to bite deeply at economic interests and most especially in those parts of Texas which had not been enthralled by the whole concept to begin with.

Gillespie and neighboring Kerr County was put under martial law in the spring of 1862, and by summer the military officer in charge essentially declared war on the Hill Country Germans. It was ordered that all males over the age of 16 must register with the local provost marshal and take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. Suspicion followed by repression only bred resentment and further defiance, which in turn bred violence… and resistance. Men of draft age took to hiding out in the brush whenever anyone in a uniform came around. Even companies of volunteers raised by Hill Country settlements to protect against Indian raids and freelance brigandage were looked upon by suspicion; for they had… it was whispered… only volunteered for frontier defense in order to keep out of the Confederate Army. It had already been noted by the commandant of the South Texas district that volunteers and conscripts for the Confederate Army were quite thin on the ground in Gillespie County. A company of so-called Partisan Rangers, under the command of Captain James Duff, who had been a freight-hauler and wagon-master before the war, were sent to keep order. Duf’s company set up camp near Fredericksburg, and set about establishing their commander as the most hated man in the county; amongst a long list of actions, they arrested a respected local merchant for supposedly refusing to accept Confederate currency in his establishment.

By summer, Duff ordered the arrest of any man who had not made the difficult journey into town to take the loyalty oath. In a sweep of a thinly-settled area north of Kerrville, half a dozen men who had failed to do so where arrested by Duff’s troopers, along with their families. The families were sent to Fredericksburg, to be held under appalling conditions in a cramped one-room hut, but the six men were sent under guard to Fort Mason, in northern Gillespie County, where a large body of others suspected of being Union sympathizers were being held. During an overnight camp, two of the younger men saw that their guards were sleeping, and took the opportunity to slip away. The next morning, the frustrated guards simply hanged the four others and dumped their bodies into a nearby creek. Upon returning to Fredericksburg, the guards taunted the families of the men they had murdered with accounts of what had been done. To judge by the names, only one of the six was actually a German.

Duff’s rangers waged a savage campaign against the local settlers: flogging men they had arrested until they told his troopers what they wanted to hear, wrecking hard-built settler’s homes, arresting whole families and confiscating foodstuffs and livestock wholesale. After burning her home to the ground, one woman is said to have told Duff that he must have little enough to do, since he had left her and her children without any shelter at all. Captain Duff answered that at least, he was leaving her a spring of water, to which she shouted fearlessly that if he had known how to destroy that, he surely would have done so.

Thinking that they had been offered a thirty-day amnesty by the Governor of Texas and that they had an opportunity to depart Texas unmolested, rather than take the loyalty oath, a party of sixty men gathered south of Kerrville in August of that year, led by a German settler from Comfort named Fritz Tegener. They intended to travel westward towards the Mexican border; some of them intended to (and later did) join the Union Army. But there was no such amnesty in effect, and they were pursued and ambushed by a contingent of Duff’s troopers along the Nueces River. About half of Tegener’s party were killed outright in the resulting fight, and another twenty wounded, were executed upon capture. One was taken to San Antonio and executed there. The survivors scattered; some over the border, and some to the Hill Country, where their families brought food to them as they hid in the fields outside Fredericksburg. Captain Duff refused to allow the families of the dead to retrieve the bodies. They lay unburied until the end of the war, until the remains were gathered up and placed under a monument in Comfort.

(Next: the ‘Hanging Band’… to follow. Sorry, this is complicated, and I want to put it in small, edible bites!)

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