the rest of the country didn’t think or care much about Indian Territory – present-day
Oklahoma – during the Civil War, the people of North Texas happened to think about
it quite a lot because Indian Territory was all that lay between them and a Union
Indian Territory was part of the vast Trans-Mississippi Department
of the Confederacy. It included three territories (Indian, New Mexico and Arizona)
and five states, including Texas. Maxey was assigned
to defend the territory with members of five tribes that had been banished there:
Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaw and Seminoles.
The struggle to
control Indian Territory had gone badly for the Confederacy in the early going.
Union troops raided out of Kansas and took control of two forts in the northern
portion of the territory. With the Union setting its sights on the Red River country
and North Texas, Sam Bell Maxey was sent there to hold the line and, if possible
recapture portions of the territory taken by the Union.
Maxey was a military
veteran and a graduate of West Point where he finished next-to-last in the Class
of 1846, but he distinguished himself in the Mexican War. He resigned from the
army to practice law with his father and in 1857 moved to Paris,
Texas with his father and wife Marilda. The people of North Texas had elected
him to the Texas Senate before the war; now they depended on him to keep the Yankees
out of Texas.
With the outbreak of the war,
Maxey had formed the Lamar Rifles, which became part of the Ninth Texas Infantry.
He served in Kentucky, Tennessee and in the Vicksburg campaign before taking over
as commander in Indian Territory. Morale was low, the desertion rate was high
and the rag tag army he commanded lacked for uniforms, guns, food and shelter.
Using the diplomatic and oratorical skills he had honed as a lawyer and politician,
Maxey reassured the Indians who were supposed to be fighting for the Confederacy
that food, guns, and clothes would soon be on the way, as promised. They stuck
with him even when this turned out to be not true.
Maxey took the assignment
seriously. “Let the enemy once occupy the country to Red River and the Indians
give way to despair,” he wrote.
In an odd sort of way, Maxey was one of
the most progressive officers, on matters of race, of any other Civil War commander.
He declared that no consideration of color – between red and white, that is –
be taken into account when promotions were issued. Largely through his recommendation,
Cherokee warrior Stand Watie was promoted to General, the only member of any tribe
to serve the Confederacy as a general.
Stand Watie was among those who
went with Maxey to Arkansas, where Brigadier General John Sappington Marmaduke
and his troops had captured a Union wagon train. Maxey, sent to take over command
from Marmaduke, arrived on the scene and had the good sense to order Marmaduke
to simply carry on while offering any assistance he and his troops could provide.
Together, Marmaduke and Maxey conducted a remarkable campaign. They didn’t exactly
turn the tide of battle but they at least gave the Confederate Indians something
to celebrate for the first time in quite a while.
“The campaign has been
shivered like a crushed vase,” Maxey told his soldiers. “Your action has been
glorious. You have made yourselves a name in history.”
a guerilla campaign, the Confederate Indians took their victories where they could.
Stand Watie and his Choctaw and Creek troops captured a Union steamboat, and Watie
and General Richard Gano’s troops plundered a huge wagon train. These little victories
were distracting enough to keep the Union troops out of Texas,
at least until the war was over.
Maxey was eventually replaced by Douglas
H. Cooper, who had long coveted Indian Territory command but who was passed over
twice previously for the post. With the war winding down and Indian Territory
at least held in check, Cooper finally got his command.
For his part,
Maxey returned home to Paris, practiced
law and, after receiving a presidential pardon for his service to the Confederacy,
represented Paris in the U.S. Senate for
12 years. Today he is probably best known for the Sam
Bell Maxey House in Paris, a state
To the people he served in his lifetime he was respected
as the man who kept the Yankees out of Texas during the war.
18, 2012 Column
"Letters from Central Texas"
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