the odds had been a bit more even on that March day in 1861, the
first battle of the Civil War would have been at Fort
Clark, Texas, not Fort Sumter, South Carolina.
The history books accurately report that the opening shot of the
Civil War came with a pre-dawn muzzle blast on April 12, 1865 when
Confederate artillery began shelling Federal forces in Fort Sumpter
in Charleston Harbor.
But relations between the U.S. Army and forces supporting the South
had been deteriorating well before that April morning in South Carolina.
Halfway across the continent in Texas,
federal troops occupied a string of frontier forts intended to protect
travelers and settlers from hostile Indians. One of those posts
was Fort Clark, established
in 1852 on Las Moras Springs across from Brackettville
(they just called it Brackett back then) in what is now Kinney County.
Texans generally appreciated the stationing of federal troops between
them and the Apaches, Comanches and Kiowas, but as sectional tension
built up between the northern states and the south, they began to
think that Texas – and like-minded
states – could take care of themselves.
By March 1861, troops under Texas control,
which is to say loyal to the South if not yet duly constituted Confederacy,
were in Brackettville
face to face with the Union garrison.
As the officer in charge of the Texas soldiers negotiated with the
commander of the fort for the surrender of the post, soldiers of
one U.S. infantry company set fire to their quarters, which were
destroyed. Another infantry company trashed its quarters, smashing
windows, doors, the inner walls of their barracks–even destroying
iron bedsteads and burning their water barrels.
On the night of March 17, soldiers from the fort tried to burn down
a private residence in Brackettville,
presumably the property of a southern sympathizer. The soldiers
also, in the parlance of the day, “attempted to ravish (the) wife
and daughter” of the owner.
The Southerner soldiers were outnumbered, 18 men against four Federal
companies. And most of those dozen-and-a-half Texans were a couple
of miles from the fort when the federal troops began destroying
property. The rest of the 96-member Texas company was scattered
at various outposts.
“If all of my company had been here there would have been a conflict,”
Capt. Tervanion T. Teel reported a couple of days later.
Before open fighting between North and South broke out at the remote
border post, the two sides agreed on a face-saving federal surrender.
The U.S. troops won the right to fire their two artillery pieces
as the Stars and Stripes were lowered from the Fort
Clark flagpole. Then they would march off and let the Texans
The change of guard ceremony began as planned, but then the federal
officer in charge cheated. When the U.S. flag went down, the federals
cut the halyard and pulled the rope off the pulley in an attempt
to keep the Southerners from hoisting the Texas flag over the fort.
“Upon reaching the flagstaff with my detachment,” Teel reported
to Austin, “I sent up four...men to the cross top and with a large
rope, lowered the top mast, run the halyard through the pulley,
hoisted it to its proper position, and run up our colors with a
salute of the guns before the Federal Troops were out of sight.”
If Texans is not known as the place where sectional rhetoric finally
turned into bloodshed in 1861, the last battle of the Civil War
did happen in the state. But that’s another story.
© Mike Cox
- October 23, 2014 column
More "Texas Tales' Columns