“…From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean…”

In hot pursuit of my next “book”, I continue to plough through a great stack of readings, all about the German migration into Texas in the mid-19th century. Yes there is a great story there, of which practically no one outside Texas has ever heard, and given any sort of encouragement I will bore you rigid with all sorts of trivia. Like, for instance, the aristocratic patrons of the Society for the Protection of German Emigrants to Texas fell, hook, line, sinker and obscene amounts of cash to two of the biggest land swindles ever known. Three words “Fisher-Miller Grant”. That little fiasco was right on par with the sale of Manhattan Island, by a tribe that didn’t even own it. Ah, but it came out all right in the end… if the aristocratic members of the Society had possessed business acumen on par with their ambitions… well, let’s just say if that had been so, the second language of the state of Texas would not be Spanish. And it might not have joined the Union at all, but continued as an independent entity or quasi-German colony, which would have pleased a whole constellation of German princes and nobles, but really have annoyed the Confederate States, and deprived a great many Southern generals in the “late unpleasantness” circa 1861-65 of a great portion of their fire-eating, romping-stomping cavalry.

Texas joined the secession, to the heartbreak of Sam Houston, and enthusiastically entered into the whole spirit of the Confederacy… to be expected, since the Anglo (read American) settlers were mostly from southern states, and of that Scots-Irish breed of whom it has been oft-acknowledged that they were “born fighting”; Indians, British, the French or each other, whichever were most convenient at the moment. To read of the enthusiasm with which Texans volunteered to fight for the Confederacy is to wonder if it was just that they were spoiling for a fight, and the issues which impelled the secession were a minor bagatelle.

But this was not true of the considerable district around the German-settled areas around Fredericksburg and New Braunfels, all through the rolling lime-stone hills between San Antonio and Austin. This was the high country, the less-good land of hard-working farmers and small cattle ranches, solidly opposed to chattel slavery and who had opposed secession from the very beginning. They may have settled in Texas relatively recently, but they were a cohesive block, had put down deep roots, knew their rights and were prepared as stubborn and stiff-necked Americans to insist on them. If the Hill Country had been geographically contiguous with the Union at any point, doing a “West Virginia” and seceeding from the Secession would have met with solid approval.

As it was, the Hill Country Germans pretty much stood apart from the fray until a year into the war, in the spring of 1862, when the tide began to subtly shift against the Confederacy, to those who had the strategic sense to see the long picture. New Orleans was taken by the Union, whose forces began a slow progression up the Mississippi, slicing the Confederacy into two portions. Those who had been opposed to the whole secession thing were confirmed in their judgment, and those who had wavered began to wobble in the direction of loosing confidence… while the die-hard Confederates began to see the skull-grimace of death and defeat grinning at them from the corners.

Texas was put under martial law, and the supreme military commander was a foppish and overbearing little martinet named Hebert, who did much to make himself detestable to even supporters of the Confederacy. But what ignited resistance in the Hill Country, and farther north, around present-day Dallas, was the institution of conscription. Texas had poured 25,000 volunteers into the Confederate Army during the first year of the war. But volunteers were not enough, and in the spring of 1862 legislation passed which authorized the drafting of every Anglo (white) male between the age of 18 and 34… shortly thereafter, it was changed to 17 through 50. Resistance was instant and furious among Unionists. A party of 65 Unionist men from the Hill Country attempted to flee across the Rio Grande; they were ridden down by Confederate troops along the Nueces River, and half were killed outright or executed out of hand. In following weeks, another fifty men in Gillespie County, around Fredericksburg, were executed… many of them by Confederate vigilante gangs. It was said bitterly for decades afterwards, that more were killed in the Hill Country by such gangs during the Civil War than were ever killed by Indians, during the war or after it. A footnote in the history books, if even noted to begin with.

The experience of the Civil War had, I think, the effect of drawing the Texas German colonies into themselves, and emphasizing their distinct character, rather than diffusing amongst their neighbors as similar German enclaves did in the northern states. For they were long in forgetting what had been done to them, by their neighbors, and fellow Texans.

More about the German settlers, here and here, from the archives.

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