Thursday, August 26, 2010


[Why Texans Fought in the Civil War by Charles David Grear (Texas A&M University Press, 2010). Cloth, maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:183/252. ISBN:9781603441728  $30]

With Texas perhaps more than any other Confederate state, unusual emigration and immigration patterns defy the formation of general statements about soldier motivations. In the ten years preceding the Civil War, the population of Texas increased three fold. Most of this increase came from other southern states, but sizable numbers of foreign born persons, mostly from Mexico and Europe (Germans, with some Poles, Czechs, and Wends) also lived in the state. By 1860, native born Texans were a distinct minority.

In broadest terms, what motivated Texans to fight (e.g. honor, manhood, defense of slavery, devotion to home, sense of adventure, etc.) mirrored that of other Confederate states, but a major theme of Charles Grear's Why Texans Fought in the Civil War is the exceptional scale of multiple local attachments among Texans and how this led many to leave their new homes far behind to enthusiastically fight in the western and eastern theaters. With so many recent migrants to the state, 'home' meant more than one place. Important extended networks of family and friends were left behind in the states of the border, upper, and lower South, motivating Texans to defend those areas with a passion. The author contends that this zeal only waned when Texas itself became directly threatened and, most important, the Mississippi River was closed.  Grear argues persuasively that the fall of Vicksburg proved to be the watershed event that opened the floodgates of desertion among Texans serving east of the Big Muddy.

Perhaps due to Texas's geographical isolation and few initial military threats, its fighting men seemed to have been granted more freedom to selectively enlist in those units best situation to satisfy personal motivations. Grear, through excellent use of journals, diaries, letters, and census data analysis, develops this point in some detail. Thus, coastal residents enlisted in regiments formed to defend the coast. Those from the wilder regions of the northwest joined militia units, or the later formed Frontier Regiment, to block Indian depredations. Men motivated by Manifest Destiny and/or the expansion of slavery into the desert southwest went into the Sibley Brigade. Finally, Grear's analysis of representative units that fought east of the Mississippi River (Terry's Texas Rangers for the West, and Hood's Texas Brigade for the East), found that indeed those regiments had significantly higher percentages of southern migrant enlistments than the average Texas Civil War regiment.

Of course, not all Texans supported the war. Germans who immigrated straight from Europe to Texas, with no stops in between, were generally pro-Union and anti-slavery, while those that had previously lived and worked in other southern states tended to adopt local mores. Out of the almost 10,000 Tejanos that fought in the war, most joined pro-Union units, not surprising considering their treatment by Anglo-Texans prior to the war, but their support was fickle at best.  The latter finding is entirely in line with that of Jerry Thompson, the best known scholar of the subject.

If rather too repetitively put forth in the text, Grear's conclusions about what motivated Texans to fight in the Confederate and Union armies are nevertheless well supported by the impressive range of evidence presented and analyzed. No other book is devoted solely to this subject, nor does any that examine it in part do so with comparable depth. Why Texans Fought in the Civil War is highly recommended.

See Also:
* Moss Bluff Rebel: A Texas Pioneer in the Civil War
* Frontier Defense in the Civil War: Texas' Rangers and Rebels
* Confederate Struggle For Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West
* Planting The Union Flag In Texas: The Campaigns of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in the West
* The Yankee Invasion of Texas
* Blood & Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest

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