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Recalls the Heroic Death of Half of Captain Rugeley's Company In the Storm on
Matagorda Bay

This town having been the home of the brave men who lost their lives in the disaster on the bay on the night of December 31st, 1863, when they went out in a small boat to repell an attack from Federal forces, our people have more than a common interest in the monument which was unveiled at Bay City last Friday. The monument is gray marble, thirty feet high, and rests on a base fourteen feet octagon, embracing a drinking fountain, all set in a concrete foundation.


The monument was erected under the auspices of the E. S. Rugeley Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy, of Bay City , and that body conducted the unveiling exercises. In behalf of the Daughters, Judge John E. Linn made the presentation speech, which was an able presentation of the constitutional causes of the war--the question of the sovereignty of the state. Hon. W. S. Holman responded for the county, accepting the monument, in an eloquent tribute to the heroic dead and the noble women of the Southland, especially the Daughters who had planned and executed this monument. Little Misses Mary LeTulle Rugeley, and Lucy Phillips pulled the cord which revealed the figure to the delighted eye of the great throng, who gazed first with silent reverence and then greeted it with rapturous applause. In the evening a reception was tendered the visiting veterans at the home of Mrs. Henry Rugeley.


This monument will stand throughout the coming centuries as a memorial to the brave men who ...their homes and the "Lost Cause," and a tribute also to the loyalty of the devoted women who revered the flag as much and often suffered more for it than the men at the front.


The monument is designed to commemorate the heroism of the Confederate Dead, but with the name of the local Chapter, "Captain E. S. Rugeley Chapter, of the U.D.C," recalled the disaster to Captain Rugeley's company forty-nine years ago, when upon responding to the call to arms to defend Matagorda from Federal attack, twenty men went to their death. Early on the morning of December 31, 1863 a courier brought to Capt. Rugeley, commander of the post here, news that the Federals stationed at Decrow's Point, at Pass Cavallo, 40 miles below Matagorda, had planned an attack upon the town for that night, it being reported that gunboats were to shell the town from the peninsula. The information was that the attacking party were to come in gunboats to the peninsula opposite Matagorda, from which point the marines or infantry were to come across the bay in small boats and the gunboats attack from across the bay. Capt. Rugeley called for volunteers from the company, and all the company wanted to go, says Judge Burkhart, the only survivor of the company living in Matagorda; but Sergeant Burkhart was made officer in charge of the guard of about fifteen to remain at the post and the remainder, about 45 made preparations to go meet the attack. Henry Cookenboo's sailboat, the George Burkhart was procured, small for the purpose but the best available at the time and the party embarked in that, a few going in a still smaller boat. During the day the weather was fair, but about the time for starting a fierce norther blew up, but nothing daunted, the brave men set sail for the peninsula shore. The storm grew worse and intensely cold, ice forming an inch on the ropes until the men were so benumbed with cold, and the frozen ropes and rigging, the boat became unmanageable, and about midnight capsized, just before reaching the John Kerr an old river steamboat which had been armed with two cannon and was to do service as a gunboat.


As the wreck occurred close to the shore of the peninsula, though the night was very dark and the wind blowing a perfect gale, about half of the party including Capt. Rugeley and Captain Cookenboo, were washed ashore and escaped. But most of the men already benumbed by the cold, in the water were soon helpless, and were either drowned for frozen to death.

Besides Judge Burkhart, the writer knows but one survivor of the ill-fated expedition. Mr. Wm. Selkirk, now resident of Galveston , who had a remarkable experience. Mr. Selkirk says he was so overcome by the cold that he remembers little of the occurrences immediately preceding the wreck, and nothing of the experiences following. His first recollection, when partly restored to consciousness, was being carried by a strong fellow-soldier names Decrow (Mr. Selkirk was about twenty years old and of slight build); that Decrow laid him down on the sand of the beach and said "Will, you rest here while I go to that house yonder where the light is and get help." How long he remained there he does not know, as he again lapsed into unconsciousness; but after a while he heard voices, and heard Decrow say, "Well, here is where I left Will; I remember this log; I am sure, for I noted this log particularly. Mr. Selkirk says he could hear but could not move or talk; he tried to call but his voice would fail him, and he remembers with what horror his mind, was filled at the thought that if they should fail to find him "It would be all up with me that time, sure." Finally Decrow came close enough to him to see him, and they carried him into the house, which proved to be the home of Mr. Henry Freeman, a stock-farmer on the peninsula, and now the grandfather of George Kilbride of Matagorda, to whom he related the above experience, on a recent visit to Bay City while they stood admiring the monument.


Captain Rugeley, who was among the rescued, was for many years afterward a prominent and valued citizen of the county, serving in the legislature and as county judge several terms. He died at the age of seventy-five on December 21, 1897 .


The names, ages and birthplace of twenty who were lost in the expedition are as follows:


James Matthews, first sergeant, age 23; birthplace London , Va.

J. H. Jones, 2nd sergeant, age 29, birthplace, Mobile , Ala.

D. A. McKinley, 2nd corporal, age 22, born Cabinas , N.C.

A. D. Hines, buglar, age 28, birthplace Washington , Tex.

Geo. M. Bowie, 18, Alabama .

W. G. Copeland, 19, Alabama .

J. M. Connor, 22, Tennessee .

J. U. Howell, 18, Alabama .

W. M. Kenerly, 33, Illinois .

A. J. May, 32, Arkansas .

J. B. Seaborn, 18, Virginia .

B. H. Walton, 21, Missouri .

Thomas McKinley, 18, Tennessee .

Tom Wadsworth, 18, Matagorda.

T. C. Secrest, 25, Matagorda.

J. G. Secrest, 20, Texas .

Henry Gibson, 19, Matagorda.

A. C. Johnson, 18, Louisiana .

James Rugeley, 17, Matagorda.

The following were volunteers for the special trip.

E. Lake , 18, Alabama .

_____ Duggan, age 25.

Julius _____.

Judge Burkhart, who compiled this list years ago and has preserved the names of the heroes, says that the other commissioned officers were: William Davis, 1st lieutenant who lived on Caney; William Wiggins, 2nd lieutenant, and William Turner, 3rd lieutenant.


Matagorda News, Friday, January 24, 1913


Copyright 2005 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
All rights reserved

Feb. 7, 2005
Nov. 29, 2009