"Terry's Texas Rangers"
The Beginnings



1

The 8th Texas Cavalry, better known to Texans as Terry's Texas Rangers, had its beginnings on a stagecoach between Austin and Brenham, Texas. In late March, 1861, Benjamin F. Terry, Thomas S. Lubbock and John A. Wharton were returning home from the secession convention, to which they had been delegates. Discussing the impending war, they resolved to offer a regiment of Texas cavalry to the Confederate government, then organizing at Montgomery, Alabama.

Terry, born in Kentucky in 1821, had been brought to Texas at the age of ten. Reared in Brazoria County, he began sugar planting in Fort Bend County about 1852. By 1861, he was commonly regarded as one of the two or three wealthiest men in the state.

Thomas S. Lubbock, born in North Carolina, in 1817, and reared in that state, had arrived in Texas with the New Orleans Greys in 1836. A veteran of the Texas Revolution and Santa Fe Expedition of 1841, at the outbreak of the War Between The States Lubbock was a Houston commission merchant. His brother, Francis R. Lubbock, was prominent in Texas politics and in August would be elected governor of Texas.

Wharton, born in Tennessee in 1828, had been brought to Texas as an infant. Educated at the University of South Carolina, in 1861, he was planting and practicing law in Brazoria County, where he was in partnership with Clinton Terry, younger brother to Benjamin F. Terry.

2

In the spring of 1861, the military ambitions of Terry, Lubbock and Wharton were duplicated in nearly every Texas town and county. Aspiring captains, in particular, were everywhere raising companies for the expected war. Lacking other authority, most of these were being organized under the Militia Act of 1860. In every case the organizational muster was followed by a tender of the company for immediate active service. When this brought a polite acknowledgment from the governor and statement that the command would be called when needed, the unit normally disintegrated, its eager warriors enlisting elsewhere under another captain promising a shortcut to the battlefield.

Under these conditions any person having an actual Confederate commission to raise a command would be able to pick and choose to suit himself. Lubbock departed for Montgomery early in April to seek such authority from Jefferson Davis and the Confederate War Department.

Lubbock found himself one among many at Montgomery, all seeking commissions in the organizing Confederate States Army. A large number wanted to be generals. Others, like Lubbock, had more modest ambitions. All of them posed a problem to the Confederate president, who was required to estimate the defense requirements of the new-born Confederacy, to plan her conversion from a peace to war footing and to select military leaders on no better basis than personal acquaintance and the recommendations of trusted advisors.

In this charged atmosphere the Texan was unable to secure official favor for his proposal. He was told by the Confederate War Department that it would be unnecessary to organize troops in a State so distant as Texas, that the cost of transportation would be too great, that enough men could be enlisted nearer the scene of actual conflict, and that the war would be of short duration.

Lubbock argued contrary views without success. Finally, having devoted several weeks to a futile errand, he returned to Texas to report failure to his associates. As he left Montgomery, the Confederate government was making ready its move to Richmond, Virginia.

During his absence, Wharton had raised a company of cavalry in Brazoria County, Texas. Terry, apparently, had taken some hand in a similar project in Fort Bend County and, in addition, had corresponded with others engaged in other places with a view to assembling a regiment upon Lubbocks return. These plans were frustrated by Lubbock's disgusted account of his experience at the Confederate War Department.

3

As June came in Texas, newspapers reported the buildup of armies at Richmond and Washington. The first great battle of the war was expected daily. As Southerners who had supported, believed in and voted for secession, Terry and Lubbock were determined to be in the first fight. In June, accompanied by Thomas J. Goree, of Huntsville, they sat out for Richmond.

At the Confederate capital the Texans found friends and in due course were installed as volunteer aides on the staff of Brigadier General James Longstreet. They served in these roles at First Manassas (Bull Run) and Longstreet's approving remarks in his report of that battle indicate the active part that they took in it.

Terry, in particular, captured the imagination of both the army and capital by a bit of Texas derring-do. On a scout to Fairfax Court House on the day after the engagement he cut the halyard of the Federal flag floating over the courthouse with a single shot from his unerring rifle, later replacing it with the Stars and Bars.

The symbolism of a Federal flag falling to a Southron's rifle was irresistible in the flush of a Confederate victory at Manassas, and the incident may have added weight to Terrys and Lubbock's renewed petition for authority to raise a regiment of Texas cavalry. Suddenly there was a renewed interest in a troop of cavalry that could ride and shoot better than most.

More probably the suddenly changed atmosphere at the Confederate War Department reflected the general shock at the scale of First Manassas. Even as the hope lingered that the war was over, no one now argued that, should it continue, it could be fought without using troops from inconvenient distances. Terry and Lubbock were given the authorization they sought to raise a regiment for the Confederate army in Virginia.

The exact nature of this authority, unfortunately, is not now of record. Terry and Lubbock returned to Texas, however, and the call they addressed to prospective company commanders suggests the nature of the command they intended to organize:

Having been authorized by the Secretary of War of the Confederate States of America to raise a regiment of mounted rangers for service in Virginia, we hereby appoint Captain ________________ to raise and enroll a full company, to consist of one captain, one first lieutenant, two second lieutenants, four sergeants, four corporals, one blacksmith, two musicians and from sixty-four to one hundred privates, and to report the same to us on or before the 1st day of September next. Each man will be required to furnish equipment for his horse and to arm himself. The company will be transported free. The term of service will be during the war unless sooner discharged.


B. F. Terry
T. S. Lubbock



What followed in each locality affected by Terry's and Lubbock's call is well described in the memoirs of a veteran from Fayette County, J. K. P. Blackburn:

"The company which I joined was made up of from Fayette, Lavaca and Colorado counties, the majority being from Fayette. L. M. Strobel, having the authority, enrolled the names and set a day for meeting at LaGrange in Fayette County, for organizing the company by electing officers from captain to corporal. At the called meeting Strobel was elected captain, W. R. Jarman, first lieutenant, Phocian and William Tate (brothers) were elected second and third lieutenants, C. D. Barnett orderly sergeant, and J. T. J. Culpepper second sergeant. I cannot recall with any certainty the names of the other noncommissioned officers at this date. Our next meeting was called for Houston, Texas, where we were to be sworn in as soldiers of the Confederate States. Early in September, the city of Houston was filled with volunteers anxious to enlist in the Terry's Rangers. One thousand men were expected to constitute the regiment, but more four thousand showed up, from which more were enlisted until the number reached one thousand one hundred and seventy six, an average of one hundred seventeen to each company, and others, I don't recall how many, were denied the priviledge of enlisting."


4

At Houston each company was officially mustered into Confederate States service. For some reason, however, Terry and Lubbock chose to delay formal organization of the regiment until their arrival in Virginia. Terry took command but, as one Ranger noted later, refused to be called Colonel until he should be elected to the position by his men.

These men were a special breed, ranchers, farmers, lawyers, etc., and they were independent to a fault. The march eastward began almost immediately, some members of the command going to Beaumont on horseback, others by train. At Beaumont all horses were sent home, and the companies were transported down the Neches River to Sabine Lake. The they turned upriver to Niblett's Bluff, just above present day Orange on the Louisiana side of the Sabine. From Niblett's they were marched by foot to New Iberia, Louisiana. As companies arrived at New Iberia, they were transported by boat to New Orleans, the last of them arriving at the Crescent City late in September.

The march to New Iberia was a sore trial to the young Texans, unaccustomed to walking and, in most cases, away from home for the first time in their lives. Company commanders pressed wagons and carts to carry horse equipment and individual baggage. These were also carrying a considerable number of sick before the march was over. Rain and an unseasonably early norther added to the general discomfort. Most agreed the Yankees would be an easy experience compared to such an ordeal. In this, as they would reflect in later years, they represented the ignorance of the trials ahead, so common in 1861.

Either at Houston or en route to New Orleans, members of the command began calling themselves Texas Rangers. To their surprise, on reaching New Orleans, they found themselves regarded as the Texas Rangers and lionized accordingly. Especially picturesque members of the command, like Captain John G. Walker, attired in buckskin and Mexican sombrero, were singled out for special attention by the Crescent City populace who, it was noted, still used the old-fashioned word Texican in referring to their Trans-Sabine neighbors.

This mistaken notion concerning Terry's command would prove impossible to correct, assuming anyone ever made a serious effort to do such a thing. That these were the Texas Rangers of pre-war reputation would be the common assumption across the Mississippi, and those who bore the name throughout the war were under special necessity of living up to it.

That a reputation had its disadvantages was quickly demonstrated. Colonel Terry called on Major General David E. Twiggs in New Orleans. Applying to the general for an issue of tentage and mess gear, he got nothing but a horselaugh for his effort, Twiggs affecting to be much amused at the thought of Texas Rangers being burdened with such unnecessary furniture.

At New Orleans, Terry had a telegram from General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding Confederate forces in the West with headquarters then at Columbus, Kentucky. The Johnston and Terry families had been friends from the days when the general had been a Brazoria County planter. Now he invited Terry to bring his regiment to him for service in Kentucky.

Johnston, the records show, had the authority from Richmond to intercept the Texans and order them to his own command. He left the decision to Terry, who undoubtedly consulted with his officers before accepting. Evidently most of the officers took the matter up with their troops. Some conflict in postwar recollection suggests, however, that not all the Rangers got to vote on the change in plans, and the diversion may not have been popular with all of them.

Whatever individual opinion may have been, there was some popular conviction at New Orleans that the Rangers would gain certain advantages by service in Kentucky. Johnston and Terry, it was noted, were old and close friends. Johnston had promised Terry that the regiment would serve as an independent corps, never to be brigaded while he lived. It would be mounted on the finest horses the Blue Grass State could furnish. Virginia could hardly offer such temptations, and most of the Rangers must have been well pleased when, in early October, they took the cars for Nashville.

At New Orleans they left a reasonably good name. Company commanders, with considerable difficulty, had held drinking, brawling and assaults on the citizenry to a commendable minimum.

Going by way of Jackson and Grenada, Mississippi, Grand Junction, Tennessee and Decatur, Alabama, the command arrived at Nashville, where it went into a temporary camp located at the fair grounds. During a ten-day stay at the Tennessee capital the Texans were royally entertained by citizens. One Ranger recalled in later years that the Nashville ladies were particularly happy to meet the real Texas Rangers about whom they had heard so much. Selected Rangers with borrowed mounts demonstrated feats of horsemanship, and there was much joking of the "Please take off your hat so I can see your horns" type, still more or less patiently endured by Texans who venture out of the state.

5

Camp measles struck them at Nashville, and the first Ranger death occurred there. Other indications suggest the brief halt at that place was not the unclouded interlude some of them later recalled. Men defied orders to leave camp. There was drinking and disorder in the city, and the municipal constabulary found itself contending with disturbers of the peace who reacted to interference with pistol fire. Johnston had citizen encouragement to move them from Nashville as quickly as possible. He ordered them to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to which he was moving his own headquarters in mid-October.

At Bowling Green, Terry was assigned a camp area in the vicinity of Oakland, fifteen miles to the northeast. Here the ten companies of Rangers were formally organized into a regiment. The process involved an election of field and staff officers. Terry and Lubbock waived their Confederate commissions and stood for election with the rest. After organization the command and staff structure of the regiment was as follows:

ColonelBenjamin F. Terry
Lieutenant ColonelThomas S. Lubbock
MajorThomas Harrison
AdjutantMartin H. Royston
QuartermasterBenjamin A. Botts
CommissaryR. H. Simons
SurgeonJohn M. Weston
Assistant SurgeonRobert E. Hill
ChaplainRobert F. Bunting

Following this election, the company commanders drew letters from A through K to determine relative rank as between themselves and letter designations of their units (a complete roster is linked to this site).

Upon notification of this final organization, the Richmond authorities designated the command the 8th Texas Cavalry, it being the eighth Texas mounted regiment furnishing such proof of completed organization. This irritated the Rangers, who argued with some accuracy that had their organization been completed at Houston they would have received a number more descriptive of the relative order of their spring to arms. They avoided using their numerical designation during their service, simply calling themselves "Texas Rangers".

The new field officer, Major Thomas Harrison, had commanded Company A of the regiment. Born in Alabama in 1823, he was reared in Monroe County, Mississippi. In 1843 he emigrated to Brazoria County, Texas, where he studied law. At the beginning of the Mexican War he returned to Mississippi to enlist in Colonel Jefferson Davis' 1st Mississippi Rifles. After the war he returned to Texas. After several years in Houston, from which place he served a term in the Legislature, he moved to Waco, where he was practicing law in 1861.

6

None of the Rangers, at this time or later, were in a uniform of any particular style or pattern. Most of them were in citizen's dress of one sort or another. General Johnston noted that, though better armed than most of his other regiments, the Rangers were variously equipped with pistols, rifles and shotguns of twenty different calibers. This pained the military mind, which concerns itself with the logistical implications of ammunition diversity, but it was a condition Confederate generals would learn to accept.

Pistols began as a favorite weapon with them and continued in high regard throughout the war. Some of the Texans had as many as four revolvers belted about themselves. A few still lacked this essential item and bewailed the going price of fifty or sixty dollars asked for pistols at New Orleans and Nashville.

No Ranger wanted a saber, but every man of them was equipped with a Bowie knife. About the Bowling Green campfires there was much talk of tactics and weapons, and men who regarded themselves as representatives of the Jack Hayes-Ben McCulloch school of fighting agreed that shotguns, pistols and knives suited their purpose better than the regulation carbine and saber.

In late October or early November the regiment was mounted. To the average Ranger the fact he was furnished his horse by the government was a distinction. The actual source of these horses is a mystery. In reporting arrival of the command at Bowling Green, General Johnston mentioned in a letter to Judah P. Benjamin, acting Secretary of War, that lack of funds was hampering procurement of horses for Terry's regiment, reporting the previous acquisition of three hundred and fifty for this purpose. Benjamin reacted in tones of legalistic shock, expressing a hope Johnston was not expending government funds for so unlawful a purpose as mounting Confederate cavalrymen, required by law to furnish their own mounts.

Johnston's biographer, William Preston Johnston, indicates that his father's undertaking to mount Terry's men was an actual condition of the permission given to him to divert them to his own command. He fails however, to clarify the means by which the horses were obtained. There the mystery rests.The conclusion is inescapable that Johnston bought the horses that were donated by Kentuckians who, for understandable reason, wanted no public acknowledgment of their contributions to the Southern cause.


 

 

Text by Mel Wheat



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