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Tucked away in the cemetery at Matagorda is a monument of an incident in the history of that locality which brought grief to many families and individuals there; an incident which brought to their front doors the actuality of the horrors of war.

This monument bears the names of 22 men who perished during the Civil War in the midst of an expedition against Federal troops, perished not as the result of hostilities but as the result of a severe blizzard which suddenly arose. The following article is a copy of a letter written some years ago telling vividly of that expedition and just how it happened. The writer, Alex C. Burkhart, was a survivor of the expedition, and the letter is reproduced in full.

By Alex C. Burkhart

To the Editor of the Houston Post: Houston , Texas , October 1.

Of late I have noticed in your editions several letters about the Civil War incidents that occurred on Matagorda peninsula. It is likely that I can contribute something to establish facts, as I was one of the expedition that resulted so unfortunately. The gunboats of the enemy had for two or three days been noticed from the town of Matagorda plying up and down the peninsula, and on the 30th of December, 1863, one of them came to anchor about four miles above the town (the bay intervening) and was noticed to lower some launches fully manned, and landed on the peninsula and at once commenced to construct a sand fort. At that time there was stationed at Matagorda Captain E. S. Rugeley's company of Brown's Regiment, Texas Cavalry, the gunboat John R. Carr casemated with cotton bales, with a 32 pound parrot gun on her bow, Captain G. Sheppherd commanding; the Lucy Gwinn, used for transportation; all under command of Captain Marmion of the marine service. The guns were officered and manned by members of Cook's regiment of artillery, stationed at
Galveston . Captain Rugeley was the ranking officer and conceived the idea, after consulting of attacking the sand fort after dark. Some time before sundown his force embarked on the Carr and Lizzie Lake , 57 all told, which included several volunteers, Mr. Wilcox of the signal service but recently arrived from Virginia, who died in Houston in 1867 with yellow fever, others and self. The boats anchored about 1200 yards from land in less than five feet of water and awaited nightfall. All the time the enemy could be plainly seen working on the fort. About nine o'clock two trusted men had been selected to go on shore and find out what had been done and the strength of the enemy's forces. They returned soon and reported the enemy's number about sixty and the attack was to be made; all were anxious to go. Two life boats and one skiff were to carry our party; one had twenty-seven and the skiff had eight; in the last was Captain Rugeley, Captain Green Hall, Wilcox and I think, four militia men of Captain Jim Wade's company and self. In order of movement the skiff was in the lead, the others following, one in charge of Bill Turner and the other in charge of Bob Decrow of the marine service.

When we had neared the shore (the day had been warm and beautiful) many of the brave men were in their shirt sleeves, a most terrific norther came up and night became dense darkness. Captain Rugeley gave the command to return to the gunboats; soon all of the small boats were separated and the bay was lashed with the fury of the storm and it was freezing cold. The skiff, after hard work, reached the gunboats white the others continued to go, it is believed towards the peninsula, and there met their sad fate. Next day those who reached the gunboats were subjected to the fire of the two of the enemy's ships from good dawn until past meridian. About two p.m. we could see our cavalry on the peninsula. (The enemy when the storm came up went aboard their ship.)

They would dismount at points; then we began to realize that disaster had overtaken some of the missing, but to what extent the casualties were, we knew not. Some of the men froze to death, others were drowned. The men lost was 22 in all. On a definite count of the eight of the men that got ashore, nine of the men got to the shore together. The ninth man was named Forestier and he urged the others to move on; otherwise they would freeze to death. They resisted his solicitations and said they would sleep there until morning. They did so but in death, all of them being together. One was John M. Jones. I have taken so much of your space, so will just add the list of those lost:

Rugeley's company:

Orderly Sargeant Jesse Mathews,

Second Sargeant John M. Jones,

Corporal McKinley and brother, found locked in each other's arms;

Privates J. W. Howell, Henry Gibson, William Copeland, James Seaborn, August Johnston, Benjamin Walton, J. C. Secrest, J. F. Secrest, A. J. Hay, Thomas Wadsworth, William H. Menely, J. M. Conner, A. D. Hines and George Bowie.

Gunboat John F. Carr: Julius Shaw, Volunteer James Rugeley.

Lost on Matagorda peninsula in the night of December 31, 1863 , some frozen and drowned out of Company D, E. S. Rugeley, Captain Brown's Regiment:

Jesse Mathews, 23, merchant, first sargeant, of London , Va. ;

J. H. Jones, 29, planter, second sargeant, of Mobile , Ala ;

D. A. McKinley, 22, farmer, second corporal, of Cabanis , N.C. ;

A. D. Hines, 23, stock raiser, bugler, of Washington , Tex ;

G. M. Bowie, 18, planter, private, of Dallas , Ala. ;

W. G. Copeland, 19, stock raiser, private, of Pike, Ala. ;

J. M. Conner, 22, farmer, private, of Madisonville , Tenn. ;

J. U. Howell, 18, farmer, private, of Dallas , Ala. ;

W. M. Menely, 33, overseer, private, of Illinois ;

A. J. May, 31, overseer, private, of Arkansas ;

J. B. Seaborn, 18, stock raiser, private, of Greenville , Va. ;

B. H. Walton, 21, clerk, private, of Missouri ;

Thomas McKinley, 18, farmer, private, of Tennessee ;

Thomas Wadsworth, 18, clerk, private, of Matagorda , Tex. ;

T. C. Secrest, 25, merchant, private, of Colorado , Tex. ;

J. G. Secrest, 20, stock raiser, private, of Ft. Bend , Tex. ;

Henry Gibson, 18, student, private, of Matagorda , Tex ;

A. C. Johnson, 18, student, private of Carroll , La. ;

James Rugeley, 17, student, private, of Matagorda , Tex.


E. Lake , 18, clerk, of Alabama ;

______ Duggin, 35, merchant; and

Julius _____.

(Taken from Matagorda County records.)

The Daily Tribune and Matagorda County Tribune, Century of Progress Edition, August 26, 1937


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Feb. 2, 2005
Feb. 2, 2005