Corsicana's Contribution to the Confederacy


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Corsicana's Contribution to the Confederacy
Originally published in "The Navarro County Scroll", Vol. XV 1970
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society


It is difficult to conceive how a 13 year old town could assume such an active and aggressive part in a major conflict as the Civil War, or the War Between the States as it is often called, but Corsicana established such a record that it is worth recording for posterity.  Forty-five years ago I wrote an article on this subject, winning $15.00 in gold from Josh L. Halbert who sponsored a history writing contest.  When I volunteered to cover the subject this time for the Navarro County Historical Society, I had no idea it had been covered so well in the 1965 issue of "The Scroll", but if you will bear with me, I will review the subject and add some information that is not in "The Scroll".

Let's look at Corsicana in the year 1861.  It was a town of 1200 population, 900 white and 300 colored, built around the courthouse square.  There were three newspapers, "The Observer", "The Prairie Blade", and the "Navarro Express".  Because good black land could be purchased for fifty cents an acre, settlers were coming in rapidly and Navarro County had about 6,000 population with 2,000 slaves, indicating that slavery was confined principally to the rural areas.  Nearly all the settlers had come from other Southern States and had strictly southern ideas and sentiments.  The trouble started Nov. 6, 1860 when the presidential election was held.  The Corsicana vote was 129 for the Democrat Breckenridge and 78 for Lincoln.   The Navarro Express came out with headlines, "Lincoln Elected, the North Has Gone Overwhelmingly for Negro Equality and Southern Vassalage: Southern Men Will you Submit to This Degradation?"  The immediate response was to haul down the Stars and Stripes on the Courthouse and replace it with the Lone Star flag of Texas, which was done to the accompaniment of ringing church bells and firing of anvils, along with cheers from the people.  This was followed by a vote to secede from the union.  In the election held Feb. 21, 1861 Corsicanans voted 213-3 for secession.  The county voted 631-38 and the state 30,415-13,841 to secede.

No time was wasted.  Communication was made with the capitol at Montgomery, Alabama, the Confederate Flag was raised over the courthouse and an appeal was made for volunteers to serve with the Army in Virginia for one year.  Contrary to present practice, the men elected their own officers, choosing William Melton, captain, J. R. Oglebie, 1st Lt., and J. H. Hill 2nd Lt.  Melton realized he was too old and was replaced by Capt. Clinton M. Winkler, a brilliant local attorney, 40 years old.  The Commissioners Court appropriated $2,500.00 for the purchase of arms and ammunition, and the organization which took the name of "The Navarro Rifles" went into camp at Spring Hill, near the present town of Dawson.  President Davis called on the State of Texas for three Regiments and the Navarro rifles were among the first to volunteer.

It is impossible to give proper credit to all the Corsicana and Navarro County men who went into the Confederate army, because the records just don't cover them all.  It is estimated that 60 percent of all white men went into the Confederate Army, which made it bad for old maids.  For the first year all were volunteers.  On April 16, 1862, the first draft was inaugurated, inducting all white men between the ages 18 and 35.   It might be noted, however, that there were many volunteer soldiers in their 50s.   About 15 percent of the men were in the Home Guard to keep down Indian trouble.   One of my ancestors, Isaac Parker, was a 70 year old private.  The first Corsicana fighting men to arrive in Virginia were the Corsicana Invincibles who joined up with Captain Winkler's company when it arrived in September 1861.

Having a great-uncle, J. M. Polk, in Winkler's Company, most of my information is from him.  The Company left Spring Hill July 18, marched to Brenham, where it took the train to Houston, then to Harrisburg and Beaumont.  It went by boat to Niblitt's Bluff, La. and the men waded through the swamps to New Iberia, where they caught the train to New Orleans.  After travelling on seven more rail lines and using two months time, it arrived at Richmond, Va., where it mustered into the Confederate Army as Company I, 4th Texas Infantry under Gen. John B. Hood.  Up to this point they had not earned any pay, because they had been state militia, but now a private soldier got $13 per month with the captain drawing $60.  Camp life at Richmond brought an epidemic of typhoid, measles and pneumonia, deaths from sickness were numerous and it was necessary to send back to Corsicana for 20 new recruits.  A finer fighting record is established by no other organization.  They engaged in 38 battles, including such engagements as Gaines Mill, Seven Pines, Antietam, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Chicamauga, Knoxville, The Wilderness, Cold Harbor, Richmond and Appomattox.  Capt. Winkler made major after Gettysburg and Lt. Col. nine months later, being in full command of the 4th Texas Regiment.  Col. Winkler never used profanity but made up for it with fiery words.  The first Corsicana man killed was W. A. Fondred in the Battle of Gaines Mill.  Unlike modern army messes, each man was issued meat and flour and cooked it himself, usually on a ramrod.  To implement these rations the men foraged for themselves, coming up with chickens, shoats, garden vegetables or whatever they could find, and this brought up difficulties with the farmers.  When they were in Maryland and Pennsylvania, definitely hostile territory, they knocked at farmhouses and were fed, and there are no records of poisoning.

On one occasion when the 13th Louisiana Regiment was bivouacked next to Company I, the colonel reprimanded the captain for not getting his men inline.  Since they were all drunk the captain told the colonel: "You will have to be after getting them in line yourself.  Me and my men are not on speaking terms."

One Corsicana character, Bill Fuller, got drunk and tried to borrow Gen. Hood's horse.   It required some of Capt. Winkler's best handling to straighten him out.

Gen. Jackson had given instructions to the men to answer no questions from strangers.   One man broke ranks to get some ripe cherries.  When Gen. Jackson asked him where he was going he said "I don't know."  When asked his name the man said "I don't know".  Gen. Jackson then asked him "Well what do you know?".  The man replied, "I want to go to that cherry tree."   Gen. Jackson then told him, "Well, go on and get some cherries and be back in the column in five minutes."

Another man asked Gen. Jackson where the army was going.  Gen Jackson looked at him intently and asked, "Can you keep a secret?".  "Sure" replied the man.  Replied Gen. Jackson, "So can I" and rode on without further conversation.

In December 1862 below Richmond, there was a heavy snow and the high brass called the men out for a snowball fight.  So 10,000 Confederates engaged in a snow battle while the puzzled Yankee enemy watched them from a distance.

On June 26, 1863, the advancing Confederates captured a Federal warehouse of whiskey at Williamsport, Md.  Being generous, the high brass passed it out to the men by the cupful.  Soon the entire army was drunk.  Gen. Hood chewed out his staff, ordering a sobering up process.  The only way was to throw the drunks in the creek, but it worked and the army, with a wet hangover, soon marched on.

Approaching Gettysburg, the women at Chambersburg, Pa. came out and waved American flags and heckled the marching column until one of the men warned them: "Hood's men are mighty good at charging breastworks, especially when there is a Yankee flag in front of it."  That quieted the woman down.

One soldier's feet were hurting so badly he asked permission to fall out and ride in the ambulance.  About that time a cannon ball burst nearby and the cripple came to life, making seven foot strides.  His captain called out, "I thought you couldn't walk," to which the soldier called back, "The devil, Captain, you don't call this walking."

Two men stopped at the side of the road to rest.  One asked, "What outfit is this?".  The reply was, "Co. I 4th Texas, what outfit do you belong to?"  The man answered, "The Army of the Lord," to which the Corsicanan replied, "Sir, I hate to tell you, but you are a long way from headquarters."

When they surrendered at Appomattox, there were 13 original plus six additional later recruits.  No transportation was furnished, and they got home as best they could.   John Duren and Hatch Berry observed a Federal Cavalry troop bivouacked near by and after waiting until dark, Berry slipped into camp, stole two saddled horses and they rode back to Corsicana.  Berry later said Duren never paid him for his horse.

Because of their activity under Gen. Lee in Virginia, Co. I, 4th Texas exploits are best recorded, and it is unfortunate that records were not kept on the other Corsicana soldiers who fought and bled.

In 1862 four companies were organized.  One was a cavalry troop under Capt. Henry Molloy, who was killed in action.  There was another cavalry troop under Capt. B. D. McKie which served principally in Missouri.  Capt. McKie returned with a discharge Nov. 3, 1863, because of bad health.  A third organization was an infantry company under Capt. J. H. Halbert, serving in Tennessee and Alabama, which was a unit of the 18th Texas Volunteers.  The fourth company was known as Co. I, 19th Texas Cavalry and served in Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana under Capt. Samuel Wright.  The famed Terry's Texas Rangers had Corsicana personnel, but  their names are unavailable.

About two-thirds of the Corsicana Confederates never crossed the Mississippi River.   This was true, particularly in the recapture of Galveston, the defeat of the Federal forces under Gen. Banks, who tried to force the Red River in the Battle of Nachitoches, La., and also the keeping of Federal troops in Missouri, preventing their coming down into Texas, thus relieving Texas of the hardships experienced by the other Confederate states.  Texas was hardly touched during the war and escaped the destruction visited in other parts of the South.

The Home Front was not neglected.  In May 1862, the county passed a war tax of 12 1/2 cents per $100 evaluation and at the same time sold $2,000 in County Bonds to support soldiers' families.  Due to the shortage of Metal, the county issued script from 25 cents to $10 to the extend of $5,000.  The community of Silver City gained its name because the natives refused to accept paper money, only silver or gold.  On Feb. 18, 1863, $7,000 worth of County Bonds were sold to support soldiers' families.  The value of Confederate money began to slip, and the County refused to accept Confederate bills of more than $100 for taxes.  In 1864 the County drafted on the state of Texas for $4,980.86 to support needy soldiers' families.  Price of beef went up to 11 cents a pound.

During the war, the Home Guard kept peace and order.  The negroes gave no trouble, although some of them skipped out.  Saboteurs did try to create a disturbance in 1864, stocking a cache of arms and ammunition on Postoak Creek near what is now Princeton Drive.  This was discovered and the plot fell apart.

It has been frequently said that Confederate soldiers would go AWOL.  The only Corsicana organization with records was Captain Winkler's and it shows only four percent went AWOL, and this was during the winter of 1863-64 when the weather was extremely cold and provisioners were short.

It is estimated that 450 Navarro County men went into the Confederate army.  Of this number 125 were killed in action or died of disease, although disease caused over half of the deaths.  Over 200 Navarro Countians had permanent service-connected injuries or disabilities.

Like the rest of the South after the war, Corsicana was occupied by Federal troops, many of whom were negroes.  They were stationed at the northwest corner of the courthouse where Corley Funeral Home is now located.  One day when Col. Winkler passed by, one of the soldiers, who was incidentally drunk, accosted him, using a few unrepeatable cursewords.  Not being the kind to put up with such, Col. Winkler gave him a working over with his walking cane, whereas some of the Yankee soldiers started to mob the colonel.  About that time, the Yankee commander, Capt. A. R.  Chaffee, came forward, broke up the mob and, on finding out what happened, had the offending soldier tied up and left in the hot sun all day without food or water to sweat out the alcoholic spirits.  John Duren, who witnessed the affair, told me Capt. Chaffee was later thrown by a horse and killed, but Alva Taylor told me this was not correct, and that Chaffee later became a general in the Philippine Islands.

It is a credit to the people of Navarro County that they went to work and re-established their home, farms and businesses.  Navarro County did have a Ku Klux Klan, although in my research I had not found where they ever took any drastic action.   In 1870, Texas took the oath of allegiance to the Union, and former Confederates could vote.

The first Democratic convention after the [war] was held at the then new First Methodist Church in Corsicana, where Richard I. Coke was nominated for governor.   Hogs were running loose at that time and congregated underneath the building, creating so much squealing and disturbance that it was necessary to stop the meeting several [times] and run them out.  Hence this meeting was called the "Hog Convention" or "Flea Convention", from the fleas the hogs brought.   Anyway, on the first Tuesday of November 1873, Richard Coke was elected governor, and the government was once more in the hands of its own people.

Many Confederate reunions have been held, but the last State Convention was held here in 1937 at the Commercial Hotel, and I might add, the Navarro Hotel, too, as I talked to some of them there.  There were six old gentlemen in their late nineties.  I recall Gen. M. H. Woolfe, who showed me an old scar on his face caused by a Yankee saber thrust.  Gen. Woolfe said we should have won the war.  Also in attendance was Gen. Walter Williams, the last surviving Confederate soldier, who died at age 117.   However, he did not look as old as the other veterans.

When we look back on the patriotism, valor, suffering and hard work of our Civil War Corsicanans, we can indeed take pride, and there is no reason we cannot overcome our problems of today, which certainly do not exceed those of one hundred years ago.   These early citizens have bestowed on us a heritage in which we can all take pride.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

J. M. Polk, the North and South American Review.

The Lone Star State, a History of Navarro, Henderson, Anderson, Limestone, Freestone and Leon Counties. Lewis Publishing Co.

History of Navarro County, Annie Carpenter Love

Navarro County Scroll, 1965

Personal Interviews, 1925 and later:
John W. Duren
J. L. Halbert
J. D. Hamilton
C. L. Jester
Mrs. W. N. Renner
Mrs. Larry Miller
Mrs. Archie Cromwell
M. H. Woolfe


Navarro County TXGenWeb
Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox