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Mrs. Duncan Gordon's Account

Mrs. Gordon, who was in her early teens at the time of the tragedy was in Matagorda to attend the annual New Year's Eve Ball at the Colorado House hotel. This is her account as told to Mrs. Allen.

On December the 30th as word had come that Yankee troops were preparing to land on the Peninsula , a number of the soldiers stationed at Matagorda boarded several vessels and started across the bay to repel the invasion. Just before they landed, a norther or blizzard struck with terrific force. Two of the boats were overturned, and in the darkness and the slashing sleet, twenty-one of the men were drowned or frozen to death. When daylight showed the frozen beach and the icicles that hung from the salt cedars, the survivors loaded the bodies of the men that could be found on the gunboat and fought their way back across the bay in the very face of the norther.

That night the bodies were "laid out" in the parlor of the Hodges hotel, the Colorado House. In Matagorda, where freezes were most rare, and events are reckoned from a norther like that one, travel was almost impossible; so no messengers went to the plantations that night. All night long fires burned in all the homes, and lights shone in the windows. Only the children, the mothers, who must nurse their babies, or the very old were at home. The men came as one to "sit up" with the bodies. The parlor had only a few coals in the huge fireplace. The men sat in the second parlor adjoining, and fresh logs were piled continually on the fire there. The dark, old kitchen was a-buzz as coffee was heated and the supper for the crowd was prepared. The ladies were helping in the kitchen or gathered around the fire in the dining room or Mrs. Hodge's room upstairs. The hotel was crowded for the New Year's Eve Ball that was never held, but the bereaved wives and mothers were given the rooms and urged to rest. Since the only stairs were on the north and south galleries, and few of the rooms were connected save by the gallereies, there was a continuous flare from the lamps as someone dashed in from the blast without for hot coffee or to summon a doctor. A baby was born in the hotel that night, and a grandfather's name was added to the list of the dead.

The next morning riders set out to take the news to the plantations, and by dark there was hardly a home in Matagorda where horses didn't crunch through the frozen mud to the front gate. The carriages could scarcely come to a stop, when lighted lamps would be brought to the windows, and the boys of the family would dash out to help the visitors in after their long, cold drive. The light, the warmth and the smell of good food might to the uninformed presage a gala New Year. Yet, actually every home was in mourning and was offering hospitality to other mourners from the outlying districts.

At the townspeople knew by the third afternoon that all had arrived except those families from the upper bottom or across the river where it was impassable, the last funeral was held. Then, on January the fourth, as, for one of the very few times in Matagorda's history, there was no abating of the norther after four days, the guests still remained. Thus the whole week following New Year's, which was usually as gay as Christmas week, was spent in deepest mourning. Was it any wonder that it was almost twenty years before a New Year's dinner or ball was held in Matagorda?

The wives and mothers of these soldiers were accorded the deepest measure of sympathy, but perhaps the sweethearts were equally as much to be pitied. Many of them had only their promises and their plans to remember--and they were so young! Several of them never married; among these were Miss Harriet Talbot and Miss Mollie Wadsworth.

(Miss Ella of the Deep South of Texas by Arda Talbot Allen, published in 1951 by the Naylor Company, San Antonio, Texas)


Copyright 2005 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
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Feb. 2, 2005
Nov. 29, 2009