True to the Union – Civil War in the Hill Country of Texas
By Celia Hayes
“…From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean…”
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean…”
It’s a little-known fact – even in Texas – that the Civil War was fought in miniature in the Hill Country, even as it was fought bitterly in the east between the Union and the Confederacy. During the 1850s the fissure between free-soil men and slave-owners hardened among communities in Texas, mimicking the split between North and South. Abolitionist feelings were especially strong in Gillespie County – the German-settled areas around Fredericksburg, Comfort and New Braunfels. This was the high country, the frontier, the less-good land of hard-working farmers and small cattle ranches. Most were solidly opposed to chattel slavery. The Germans might have settled in Texas relatively recently, but they were a cohesive block; they had put down roots, knew their rights and were prepared to insist on them.
When the war began in earnest, barely a handful of men had volunteered out of Gillespie County for the Confederate Army, although there were recruits a-plenty for the Home Guard, and for the Frontier Battalion, and for locally-recruited ranging companies to defend against Indian raiders sweeping in from the west and from the Plains. By the second year of fighting, the battles back east had burned through those first volunteers for the Confederate cause. 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. Texas followed suit. Of course there were exemptions: wealthy men could hire a substitute, and there were also exemptions for elected officials, and for men who owned more than a certain number of slaves. This last was particularly galling. Nothing was more calculated to prove the truth of the bitter observation that it was a rich mans’ war but a poor mans’ fight.
Resistance was instant and furious in those communities which had not been enthusiastic about secession to begin with. In the Hill Country, feelings about the draft were doubly bitter. A 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, it was still the frontier. Fighting off war-parties of Indians was much more of an immediate concern.
By that summer the military governor of Texas essentially declared war on the Hill Country. Gillespie and neighboring Kerr County were put under martial law. All males over the age of 16 were ordered to 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 began hiding out in the brush whenever anyone in a uniform came around. Even companies of volunteers raised to protect against Indian raids and freelance brigandage were looked upon by suspicion; it was whispered that they only volunteered for frontier defense in order to keep out of the Confederate Army. 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. He was soon established as the most hated man in the county, arresting a local merchant for supposedly refusing to accept Confederate currency and others on suspicion of treason and sedition.
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, his troopers arrested half a dozen men who had failed to do so, 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, where a number of other suspected Union sympathizers were held. During an overnight camp, two of the younger men saw that their guards were sleeping, and slipped away. The next morning, the frustrated guards simply hanged the four others and dumped their bodies into a nearby creek. On returning to Fredericksburg, the guards taunted the families of the men they had murdered with accounts of what had been done.
Duff’s rangers continued waging 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 homes, arresting whole families and confiscating foodstuffs and livestock. After burning her home to the ground, one woman 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 it, he surely would have done so.
In late summer, a party of sixty men gathered south of Kerrville, led by a German settler from Comfort named Fritz Tegener. They thought they had 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. They planned to travel westward towards the Mexican border; as many intended to (and later did) join the Union Army. But there was no such amnesty in effect; they were pursued and ambushed by Duff’s troopers on the Nueces River. Half of Tegener’s party was killed outright and another twenty wounded were executed upon capture. One was taken to
Antonio and executed there. The survivors scattered;
some fled over the border, and others returned home, where their families
brought food to them as they hid in the fields. Captain Duff refused to allow
the families of the dead to retrieve the bodies.
Having made it clear who was boss, Duff and his company were withdrawn late in the autumn of 1863. They left smoking rubble and several decades’ worth of hatred and distrust in their wake. On his departure, a scratch company of local men - pro-Union and Confederate - were recruited by a Fredericksburg merchant; Major James Hunter. It helped that a fresh outburst of Indian raids effectively re-directed everyone’s priorities towards meeting a more immediate threat. Hunter proved effective: he was respected by all, trusted by the Germans, and sensibly confined his attentions towards protecting those scatterings of hamlets and ranches from Indian marauders, leaving enforcement of the conscription laws strictly alone.
Unfortunately, continuing reversals on the battlefields in Tennessee and Virginia led to a demand for more men to feed into the Confederate Army and a renewed outcry to enforce the conscription laws in the Hill Country. A new decree insisted that the volunteers in the frontier company be mustered into the Confederate Army. Opposed to any such thing, most of those volunteers promptly deserted, and Hunter’s remaining troops turned to hunting them down. A pair of deserters were killed resisting arrest near Grape Creek in Blanco County. Shortly afterwards a relative of one of the men killed the neighbor who was assumed to have informed on them.
Meanwhile, a detachment of state troops went searching for Karl Itz, a survivor of the Nueces massacre thought to be hiding near his family home in the Cherry Spring area. Unable to find him, they seized his two younger brothers and took them to
on the pretext of enlisting them forcibly into the Confederate Army. Instead,
the two were murdered by their guards in the middle of Main Street, presumably
as a means sending a message to other draft dodgers and deserters. Another
running fight between troopers and bushmen left authorities with the impression
that the situation was truly getting out of hand. Major Hunter was effectively
kicked upstairs and local command given to an excitable and impulsive man named
Banta soon exhibited a lamentable tendency to see enemies everywhere, encouraged by the whisperings of pro-Confederate neighbors at his headquarters at White Oak Creek, a little north of present-day
He and a local pro-Confederate named James Waldrip were also encouraged in this
by the arrival of a small squad of men from William Quantrill’s notorious band.
Fresh from assorted partisan atrocities in Kansas,
they had come to Texas
to purchase horses, cattle and supplies. In short order, Waldrip gathered a band
of like-minded partisans together with Quantrill’s men and determined to root
out Unionists, deserters, draft-evaders and any whose views of the Confederacy
were less than wildly enthusiastic. They
would become known as the hangerbande
or “the hanging band.”
Late in February of 1864 a group of about twenty men led by Waldrip burst into the home of
public school-teacher, Louis Scheutze, seized him over the protests of his
family and carried him away. He was an educated and cultured man, his brother
was a music teacher and tutor in Austin,
whose pupils included the children of the current and former Governors of
Texas, and the home from which he was taken was right in the middle of town.
His body was found two days later, hanging from the branch of a tree just
outside town. His only offense seems to have been that he was outspoken in
criticizing authorities in their investigation into the murders of the Itz
brothers and the fight at Grape Creek.
Meanwhile, the excitable Banta became convinced by rumors that deserters and evaders were in open rebellion in the district north of
Kerrville. A suspected deserter being
escorted to Fredericksburg
was simply taken away from the troopers by a large group of men and hanged.
Several days after that incident, Waldrips’ hanging-band swept through a
cluster of farms and ranches clustered around Grape Creek. One man was shot in
the back, and three others taken away without explanation and hanged. There
might have been more, but for two children who ran from house to house giving
warning. It was never clear why those men were targeted by the hanging band,
although later investigation brought forth some ugly suppositions. One man
owned a large herd of horses, which went to Quantrill’s purchasing agent and
another possessed a large quantity of silver coin … also confiscated by that
agent. Shortly afterwards the elderly father and teenaged son of another
draft-evader thought to be in the area were flogged and tortured by Banta’s
troopers in an effort to make them reveal
his whereabouts. Both the old man and the boy died without revealing anything.
At that point Banta’s superiors had had enough. Banta and five others were arrested and charged with murder and robbery, although they were never actually tried in court. They would have arrested Waldrip and elements of his band, including Quantrill’s agent, but for all of them making themselves scarce; in some cases, all the way to
The authorities, after reasserting some measure of control, sensibly concluded
that after these goings-on there was likely no way to bring local citizens
around to support the Confederacy anyway… best leave them to manage their own
affairs. Within a year of the Grape Creek outrages the Confederacy had tottered
to its’ final ruin.
Two years after the end of the war, J.P Waldrip suddenly appeared in
Fredericksburg. No one
was ever able to say why; perhaps he thought he would not be recognized, or
that the end of the war constituted some kind of amnesty. He was soon
recognized, and fled for his life. The son-in-law of Louis Scheutze - the
murdered school-teacher - took a shot at him and missed. Waldrip is supposed to
have run towards the Nimitz Hotel, perhaps to steal a horse from the stables,
or maybe he was making towards the stage stop which used to be at the back of
the present-day property. At any rate, he was shot by an unknown assailant and
fell dying, underneath an oak tree which still stands on the Nimitz Hotel grounds.
The identity of who shot him was supposed to have been a mystery. Local
historians suspect that it might have also been one of those things that
everyone knew - but preferred to keep their mouth shut about. Waldrip was
buried in an unmarked grave on private property – not in the town cemetery. It
would be claimed for decades that the hanging band had killed more settlers in
the Hill Country during the War than the Indians ever had, before, during or
Shortly after the end of the war, the remains of those killed in the Nueces fight were retrieved and brought back to Comfort for a proper burial. A monument was put up over the burial site, with the names of the dead, and the dedication “True to the Union” engraved upon it.
The storms of war came upon them ... Loyal to the Union, adamant in their belief that slavery was wrong … Could they survive a brutal war in the dark heart of the Confederacy?
The Sowing is Volume 2 of the Adelsverein Trilogy, following the fortunes of German settlers who came to Texas seeking land and political freedom in the 19th century.
“Vati” Steinmetz and his children have prospered. His older daughter Magda has married Carl Becker, born him children and helped him build a happy life as a rancher in the beautiful valley of the Guadalupe River. Vati’s son-in-law Hansi Richter prospers as a farmer, and his son Johann has returned from years of study in Germany to become a doctor. But his beautiful adopted daughter Rosalie is in love … with a man who intends to serve in the Confederate Army!
Ideals, friendshio and cruel circumstance clash with the coming of civil war to the Hill Countrym bringing Carl Becker and Hansi Rickter into mortal danger from the ‘hanging band’ – a pro-Confederate lynch mob, while Johann and his twin brother Friedrich are drawn into fighting on opposite sides.
Adelsverein: The Sowing continues the epic story of how one family became American, through the brutal tragedy of the Civil War!