by candle light, Capt. John Shropshire scratched out another letter
to his beloved Carrie.
The captain and his fellow Confederate soldiers had covered about
12 miles that November day in 1861, stopping to make camp on the Frio
River about 60 miles from Fort
The boys from Columbus
were on their way to El
Paso and eventually New Mexico. Shropshire knew it would be a
long time before he held his wife in his arms again or saw their son,
view of Columbus, Texas in 1906
Taken from the courthouse. Photo courtesy Nesbitt Memorial Library
peace is not declared before we leave [El Paso], we can not possibly
get back before 12 mo…which to me appears an age to be separated from
my family,” he wrote.
Shropshire had been writing his wife since August, when his company
marched off to war. “I tell you,” he had written, “soldiering so far
has not been the most pleasant occupation I have followed.”
Indeed, before the war, he had been a successful cotton grower. “But
these are no times to long for the comforts of home,” he had continued.
Early in the campaign, he had at least eaten well. “I managed to eat
or worry down a small portion of a calf and also a pig which we pressed
into the service of the Southern Confederacy,” he wrote.
“The candle has burnt out and I am writing by moonlight,” Shropshire
continued in his November missive. “The moon shines very brightly
in this country.”
By early December Shropshire wrote Carrie that his company was “dirty
and hungry all the time.”
The day after Christmas, Shropshire wrote from a camp near the Rio
Grande not far from Fort
Quitman. Fighting Yankees would come, but for the time being,
West Texas has proven
a formidable adversary in its own right.
“I candidly confess I never would have come this way had I imagined
the country was so mean,” Shropshire wrote. “If I had the Yankeys
at my disposal I would given them this country and force them to live
in it. I would make Devil’s
River hollow headquarters for them.”
By late January 1862, the Texans had reached New Mexico. “In this
long wearisome march my fancy has been idle and allowed to roam at
will,” he penned. “Many are the fancy castles I have built for you
and I and our little ones and I believe that some of them will be
Shropshire finally saw a fight coming, but he worried more about Carrie
than himself. “Remember darling,” he wrote, “that if I am so unfortunate
as to number among the slain in our country’s cause that to you alone
on earth will our children have to depend.”
When the smoke cleared after the Battle of Glorietta Pass, Shropshire
indeed lay among the unfortunate who would never see Texas again.
But his name did eventually become associated with a castle – at least
a structure that looks like one.
early view from the NE corner of the Columbus town square
Photo courtesy Nesbitt Memorial Library
round, white tower on the Colorado
County courthouse square looks like an architectural survivor
of the days of yore in England. No matter how European it looks, however,
the tower is the product of Yankee – well, Southern – ingenuity.
In the spring of 1883, two decades after the war that claimed Shropshire,
a fire gutted a livery stable and adjoining hotel in Columbus.
Volunteer fire fighters managed to contain the blaze before it leveled
downtown, but getting enough water on the fire had been a problem.
To provide the city a water system, the county commissioner’s court
authorized construction of a brick water tower. Built by R.J. Jones,
the tower took shape from 400,000 locally made bricks. The walls lack
only four inches being three feet thick. A metal water tank went atop
the two-story brick tower. Beneath it, the city’s volunteer fire department
had its office and equipment.
tower with the clearly-identified Stafford Building in the background
Photo courtesy Nesbitt Memorial Library
hurricane damaged the top of the tower in 1909. The county had the
structure repaired, but three years later decided the city needed
a better water system. With completion of that system, the tower stood
abandoned. Eventually, the county hired someone to tear it down, but
dynamite did not phase it.
In 1926, it finally occurred to someone that the tower had other than
utilitarian value. The officers of the John Shropshire and John C.
Upton chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy got county
officials to agree to let them use the tower as their meeting place.
L- The earliest
photo of the tower courtesy Nesbitt Memorial Library
R- The tower as it appears today after the removal of the tank.
Photo by John Troesser, 2004
architect Milton Wirtz and contractor A.N. Evans Sr. refurbished the
old tower, adding a small, rounded room on the east side of its base
and a circular staircase leading to a second floor. Since 1962, the
tower has been the home of Columbus’ Confederate Memorial Museum
and Veterans Hall.
A photograph of Shropshire hangs on the museum wall, and his letters
have been saved for posterity by Columbus’ Nesbitt Memorial Library.
The tower unpainted
Photo Courtesy Colorado County Visitors Bureau