January - June 1865
On New Year's Day, 1865, the Texas Brigade and the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia anxiously anticipated the results of a plan initiated by the Richmond Examiner in mid-December 1864. The newspaper had called upon the citizens of Richmond to provide Lee's deprived and hungry men with a sumptuous New Year's dinner in appreciation for their valor in defending the cities of Richmond and Petersburg. Although rumors of fresh meat, turkey, and vegetables had raised the men's hopes and morale very high, most of the army received far too little to satisfy their expectations. Seeing that their longed-for dinner was hardly a change from their meager daily rations, the Texas Brigade chose to donate their share of the ``feast'' to the orphaned and poor of Richmond. The Texans and Arkansans were praised by the newspapers for their ``spirit of self-denial,'' but, as Thomas McCarty of the First Texas later wrote, ``I hardly think they would have done so if there had been sufficient [food] for the men to eat.'' Adding to the disappointment of the New Year's dinner, the Texas Brigade faced another month of poor and scant rations. Robert Lowry of the Third Arkansas reported that on January 16 and 17 he was issued only corn.
Although the hardships in the trenches around Richmond were severe during the war's final winter, the Texas Brigade found opportunity for distraction and pleasure. ``The Field Varieties'' and ``Hood's Minstrels'' played nightly in the brigade theater. The ``Varieties'', named for division commander Charles Field, featured Mollie Bailey and her sister Pauline Kirkland. Mollie was the wife of Gus Bailey of the Third Arkansas, the leader of Hood's Minstrels. Other distractions were provided by the ``great revival of religion'' that swept through the Army of Northern Virginia during the winter. Many Texans and Arkansans dated ``their eternal salvation'' from the meetings they attended in the brigade chapel. Still others in the brigade found pleasure in more earthy pursuits. Mark Smithers of the Fifth Texas wrote home that the Texas Brigade was camped near a small settlement (probably Rockett's) that was ``swarming with pretty girls, so you see we do not lack for amusement.'' O. T. Hanks of the First Texas wrote of running the provost blockade, going ``on a big whoopee,'' and ``painting [the town] red.''
On January 2, Secretary of War James Seddon referred to General Lee the December 1864 correspondence from Col. Frederick S. Bass that requested a furlough home for the entire Texas Brigade for the purpose of replenishing its depleted ranks. On January 15, Lee indorsed the letter back to Seddon remarking that the opening of the spring campaign was ``near at hand'' and that although ``no brigade [had] done nobler service or gained more credit for its State [and] though I should be much gratified at every indulgence shown to this brigade I cannot recommend this.'' Seddon wrote back to Bass, ``in view of General Lee's indorsement, the application is reluctantly denied.''
In early January, Major William H. ``Howdy'' Martin of the Fourth Texas sought and gained an appointment with President Davis to present the Texas Brigade's case against consolidation. General Lee was also present at the meeting. Martin made his ``no merger'' appeal to Davis and Lee while flaunting the battle-scarred flag of one of the Texas regiments. Afterwards, Lee remarked to Davis, ``Mr. President, before you pass upon that request, I want to say I never ordered that Brigade to hold a place, that they did not hold it.'' Impressed by both Martin's appeal and Lee's endorsement, Davis said, ``Major Martin, as long as there is a man to carry that battle flag, you shall remain a brigade.'' Thus the Texas Brigade remained a separate entity by executive order.
On January 21, Gen. Lee presented to Col. Bass several gold stars that he had received from a young lady in Texas. The lady had made the stars from a precious gold keepsake, and she wished that they be bestowed as testimonials to the bravest men of the Texas Brigade. In his letter to Bass, Lee requested that the brigade commander present the stars for he could ``with more certainty than any other, bestow them in accordance with the wishes of the donor.'' It was decided that the recipients of the gold star awards would be selected by their fellow soldiers. Each regiment received two stars, except for the Fourth Texas, which received three.
By the end of January, the Confederate cause appeared hopelessly lost. The Shenandoah Valley had been laid waste, Atlanta and Fort Fisher had fallen, and the Union blockade was strangling the South. The Army of Northern Virginia was losing hundreds of men to desertion each month. The Confederate government was in turmoil. In spite of all these ominous signs, the Texas Brigade held a mass meeting on January 24 to proclaim their resolve and loyalty to the Confederate cause. A prologue and eight resolutions were drafted by a committees of five men from each of the four regiments of the brigade. Copies of the ``Resolutions of the Texas Brigade'' were distributed to the Confederate civil and military high commands, the state officials of Texas and Arkansas, and all interested Southern newspapers.
The Resolutions expressed the desire of the Texas Brigade to continue the war ``to the last extremity'' and to rid the country ``of the hated and despised foe'' or ``die in the attempt.'' ``Let us go on,'' the committees wrote, ``Peace must come sooner or later, and with it our independence. Our final triumph is certain and inevitable, and our subjugation is an impossibility.'' The Resolutions proclaimed confidence in both Davis and Lee, ``the great soldier, father, and friend of his army.'' The Texas Brigade invited ``all organizations in the Armies of the Confederate States to come forward,'' as they had done to express their ``sentiments,'' ``unalterable purpose,'' and ``their determination to conquer an honorable peace.''
In early February, Col. Frederick Bass of the Texas Brigade presided over a ceremony in which gold stars for bravery were awarded to nine outstanding members of the brigade. Those stars were awarded to the following men: Pvt. William Durham (Co. D, First Texas), Pvt. James Knight (Co. H, First Texas), Cpl. James Burke (Co. B, Fourth Texas), Sgt. James Patterson (Co. D, Fourth Texas), Cpl. W. C. May (Co. H, Fourth Texas), Sgt. C. Welborn (Co. F, Fifth Texas), Sgt. Jacob Hemphill (Co. H, Fifth Texas), Pvt. J. D. Staples (Co. E, Third Arkansas), and Pvt. J. W. Cook (Co. H, Third Arkansas).
Years after the war, Hemphill and O. T. Hanks of the First reported that only five stars were presented -- three gold and two silver. Hemphill said he received a silver one. An attempt to learn the name of the lady donor was made at a meeting of the Hood's Texas Brigade Association in 1908. Although Hemphill suggested they came from a ``Miss Fuller of Houston,'' no final decision was reached.
Early March found the Texas Brigade manning the same Richmond defenses they had occupied all winter. By mid-March, Lee with less than 50,000 men, many of them not fit for duty, faced an ever-increasing Federal army that now numbered close to 112,000. A desperate final Confederate offensive was launched on March 25, against Federal-held Fort Stedman directly east of Petersburg. The Confederates succeeded in capturing the fort but were forced to retire before a vigorous Federal counter-attack. Lee could ill afford to lose the 4,000 men sacrificed in the battle.
The Confederate position at Petersburg completely collapsed on April 1, when General Phil Sheridan, the hard-driving Federal cavalry commander, routed George Pickett at Five Forks, eighteen miles southwest of the beleaguered city. The way to the Southside Railroad, the last iron artery connecting Petersburg with the South, now lay open to direct Federal attack. Longstreet, at about 7:00 o’clock on Saturday night April 1, received word from Lee to send a division of infantry from the Richmond defenses to Petersburg as soon as possible. Field’s Division received the assignment and was ordered to march to Richmond and board the train for the trip south. The brigades of John Bratton and Henry L. Benning were to leave first, then after a five-hour interval, the Texas Brigade and Law’s Brigade were to follow with G. T. Anderson’s Brigade bringing up the rear a few hours later. General Richard Ewell was ordered to occupy the lines vacated by Field’s Division with local troops. The Texas Brigade received orders late on the night of the 1st to be ready to march early next morning.
Grant, noting the seriousness of Lee’s position, ordered a grand offensive all along his line at 7:00 o’clock on Sunday morning, April 2. Lee, at 10:00 o’clock on the same morning telegraphed President Davis, who was attending church in Richmond, “I advise that all preparations be made for leaving Richmond tonight.” The exodus of the Confederate government and army from the capital began promptly.
That same morning, Colonel R. M. Powell led the Texans and Arkansans out of the trenches at daylight. The Brigade, following Law’s Alabamans marched past the suburb of Rocketts and through Richmond to the corner of Byrd and Eighth Streets, where they boarded the cars of the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad. Arriving at Petersburg about noon on April 2, the Brigade took position along the north side of the Appomattox.
On the night of April 2, General Lee, with his right flank crushed and pressure all along his front, ordered the weary veterans to evacuate the Richmond and Petersburg lines. The Southern army, wider Federal fire and in the midst of burning cities and countryside, hurried westward through the valley of the Appomattox. Lee’s immediate goal was Amelia Court House, about forty miles west of Petersburg. Here, he hoped to unite his scattered forces and find ample rations for his famished army. Lee’s ultimate destination was Danville, Virginia, 125 miles southwest & Petersburg. Once he reached this city he would be in position to join forces with Joseph E. Johnston’s Army retreating north before Sherman through the Carolinas.
Orders were for Powell’s command to guard the fords and crossings of the river to prevent the Federals from crossing to the north bank. The Texans remained here on evening of the 2nd guarding the river crossings. Grant made no effort to cross the stream as the Confederate army filed out of town and started its retreat west along the north side of the Appomattox toward Amelia Court House. Just before mid-night on April 2, the Texas Brigade commenced its march westward, bringing up the rear of Lee’s Army. Thus, the Brigade occupied, for the last of many times, the post of honor during the retreat—the rear guard.
As the Texans left Petersburg, the city was in flames; fires and exploding ammunition lit up the sky for miles around. Although the Brigade was without food, the men were not allowed to take bacon from a Confederate storehouse that was set afire near their position. The Brigade plodded on through the night of the 2nd and continued westward during April 3rd unmolested by the enemy. The men were tired and hungry; members of Company M of the First Texas had only a cup of flour per man and no meat. The other companies had little more. On April 4, the Brigade followed the main Confederate army south across the Appomattox to Amelia Court House, a small station on the Richmond and Danville Railroad. Carloads of food were supposed to have been on a siding here, but, by some mistake or Yankee chicanery, the cars had passed on through to Richmond. Lee’s army was forced to remain a day at Amelia Court House while his men foraged for food. At Amelia Court House the Texas Brigade managed to secure a little corn meal from the small stock of food found there. The men made this into a gruel which they ate without salt. The army resumed the march south again on the 5th along the railroad toward Danville. Meanwhile the Federal army had taken up a vigorous pursuit of the harried Southerners.
Lee’s advance on April 5, reached only as far as Jetersville, seven miles south of Amelia Court House. Here, the Confederates found their way blocked by Phil Sheridan’s cavalry and Charles Griffin’s Infantry Corps. Cut off from Danville, Lee had no recourse but to turn west. His immediate objective now was Farmville, twenty-three miles distant on the Southside Railroad, where Southern scouts had reported a small stockpile of food and grain. The Texas Brigade maintained its position as the rear guard for Lee’s Army as it moved westward. The Texans and Arkansans constantly had to halt, form a defense line, and parry the probing attacks of A. A. Humphreys’ and H. G. Wright’s Federal skirmishers as they dogged Lee’s retreat. On the night of April 5, the weary Texans were attacked by so strong a force of Federals at Rice’s Station that they needed reinforcements to drive the enemy back. On April 6, at Sayler’s Creek, the commands of Richard Ewell, John B. Gordon, and Richard Anderson with Lee’s wagon train were cut off from the rest of the Confederate army and forced to surrender. The Confederate loss was between 7,000 and 8,000 and amounted to almost one third of Lee’s strength. The Confederate army moved at night toward Farmville by way of Rice Station with the Federals following close behind. The Southerners reached Farmville and the food supply on the morning of April 7, but, as the rations were being distributed, the Federal army came up in strength and forced Lee to hastily evacuate the town.
On April 7th, the Texas Brigade had another brush with the Federals. The Brigade was almost cut off from the rest of the army near Farmville but managed to elude the enemy and cross the Appomattox River on the wagon bridge north of town. As the Brigade retreated west along the hills north of the Appomattox, the long lines of Federal infantry and cavalry were clearly visible following and paralleling Lee’s line of retreat. O. T. Hanks of the First Texas reported that the Brigade was so reduced in strength during this time that the men had to do double duty. In one instance Hanks himself had just finished twenty four hours of duty on the skirmish line and “had not been in the ranks five minutes when f he was called on for another tour.”
All throughout the days of April 7th and 8th the Confederate army, starved and straggling continued to retreat in a westerly direction. After crossing to the north side of the Appomattox and burning the bridges behind him, Lee marched north until he struck the Lynchburg Road and then turned west toward Appomattox Station. As the Texas Brigade plodded westward on April 8, it stopped only a few minutes at a time to rest. There was, according to Hanks, “very little food, no time to forage and no wagons up.” About the only food that the men had to eat was hastily prepared bread that was made by kneading the dough “on a piece of oil cloth or on a piece of bark peeled from a tree.” and then baked “on an iron ramrod or a green stick or a spade.” It was almost midnight on the 8th, when Colonel Robert M. Powell led the Texas Brigade into bivouac two miles east of Appomattox Court House. Colonel Charles Marshall, Lee’s military secretary, unable to sleep because of the noise and the tension, heard the rear guard Texans chant a little Lone Star doggerel as they moved into the Confederate lines:
The race is not to them that’s got
The longest legs to run,
Nor the battle to that people
That shoots the biggest gun.
Early -the next morning, Powell’s Command, after its entry into the lines the night of the 8th, marched to within one mile of Appomattox Court House to make its final stand at the rear of Lee’s Army. This was the last operational march for Hood’s Texas Brigade—the last mile of hundreds of miles that the Brigade had marched over the ravaged land from the forests of Chickamauga to the hills of Gettysburg. The Texans and Arkansans, assuming a defensive position east of the village and north of the stream, built breastworks of rail fences across the old stage road leading in from the northeast. The men were “ragged, starved, and exhausted.” They had not eaten for three days except for a few scraps of hurriedly prepared bread and biscuits. Fortunately for the Texans they found in the dirt, while gathering branches and breaking down fences to construct their breastworks, scattered kernels of corn that had been spilled where officers had fed their horses. These kernels were eagerly gathered up, brushed off, and eaten. The Texans, regardless of the hopelessness of their situation, like most of Lee’s veterans, prepared their defenses and determined to sell their lives dearly.
By mid-day on April 9, the ominous silence of an informal truce had settled over the valley of the Appomattox. The word spread rapidly that Lee had asked for and had been granted an interview with the Federal commander. As unbelievable as this seemed to the men, it could mean only one thing—General Lee was contemplating surrender. The first news of the surrender was brought to the Brigade by teamsters who had come from the front. The Texans refused to believe their stories and threatened the lives of the teamsters for spreading false news. Finally convinced that the inevitable had taken place, one member of the Brigade dropped his hands despondently and exclaimed, “I’d rather have died than surrendered, but if ‘Marse Bob’ thinks that is best, then all that I have got to say is that Marse Bob is bound to be right as usual.” Other members of the Brigade did not take the news of the surrender so philosophically. Several veterans of the Fifth Texas, when they heard the news bent the barrels of their guns in the fork of a nearby red oak. Others smashed their Enfields against rocks and trees determined that the Federals would not receive usable weapons. Captain W. T. Hill, commander of the Fifth Texas, counseled the men against such senseless action, stating that unless they surrendered their guns in good order they would not receive paroles. His words had the desired effect on several members who tried in vain to straighten their gun barrels in the same fork of the red oak. As it turned out the guns were not inspected when they were surrendered.
On the morning of April 10, the Brigade was formed on the color line to hear their officers read Lee’s Farewell Address and explain the surrender terms. The Texans and Arkansans listened to Lee’s words in silence, many with tears in their eyes. After the formation, Colonel Powell’s men returned to their respective campsites to draw Federal rations and await the summons to surrender their arms and flags. On April 9, Grant had ordered the Federal quartermaster to issue 25,000 rations to the starving Confederates. It was their first substantial meal in weeks.
The formal surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia took place on Wednesday morning, April 12, 1865. The day of the surrender was chilly, and the skies were overcast. The roads were still muddy from the rain that had fallen almost continuously since the 9th. At sunrise on the 12th, there was a stir in the Confederate bivouacs as the soldiers made ready for their last march. Early in the morning the column began to form on the high ground north of the shallow river. No bands were present, and without a beat of a drum the ragged column started through the mud and across the Appomattox toward the Federal lines. Lee’s ragged and gaunt soldiers had stoically maintained their composure until the time came to stack their arms and furl their battle stained banners. At this moment they finally realized that all they had been fighting for through the struggle—the hope for an independent nation—and the comradeship forged on the anvils of bivouac and battle had suddenly came to an end. Many of the veterans dropped to their knees and cried when they placed the ragged battle flags on the stacked arms along the line of surrender. After the sorrowful ceremony the Texans and Arkansans passed by the provost marshal tables, picked up their paroles, and returned to their bivouac area north of the Appomattox. By noon, the formal surrender and the issuance of paroles to Hood’s Texas Brigade had been completed
It is estimated that about 5,300 men had enlisted during the war in the three Texas regiments and the one Arkansas regiment that comprised Hood’s Texas Brigade at Appomattox. Of this number only 617 were left to be paroled on April 12, 1863. Thus, some 4,700 members of the Brigade had been killed in battle, had died of disease, had been invalided home due to sickness and crippling wounds, or had been discharged for being either over or under age — only a few had deserted.
W. H. Hamby, a member of Company B of the Fourth Texas, and after the war a prominent banker at Austin, in the early 1900’s made a detailed study of the strength and the casualties of the three Texas Regiments of Hood’s Brigade. According to Hamby’s findings the First Fourth, and Fifth Texas Infantry regiments enlisted a total of 3.884 men (First Texas, 1,302; Fourth Texas, 1,251; and the Fifth Texas, 1,311). The First Texas lost 332 killed in battle, 476 wounded once, 119 wounded twice, 25 wounded three or more times, and 159 died of disease giving a total of 1,111 casualties and a rate of 85.3 percent. The Fourth Texas lost 316 killed in battle, 431 wounded once, 98 wounded twice, 19 wounded three or more times, and 143 died of disease giving a total of 1,007 casualties and a rate of 80.4 percent. The Fifth Texas lost 303 killed in battle, 506 wounded once, 138 wounded twice, 19 wounded three or more times, and 140 died of disease giving a total of 1,106 casualties and a rate of 83.1 percent.
Although the sun of the Confederacy had set and the bloody experiment in states rights’ government had come to an end, the world would long remember the soldiers of Hood’s Texas Brigade. Few men in the history of modern warfare had fought so long and so well, with so little, and had suffered so many casualties. They were a credit to their American heritage, a credit to the famous army in which they fought and a credit to the states which they represented.
Not for fame or reward, not for place or rank,
Not lured by ambition or goaded by necessity,
But in simple obedience to duty as they understood it,
These men suffered all, sacrificed all, endured all . . and died.”
– from the inscription on the Confederate Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, DC
On the afternoon of April 12, a mass meeting of the Texas companies was held in “the pen,” as the men termed their campsite surrounded by Grant’s soldiers. The purpose of the conclave was to discuss the best way to proceed on the journey home. General Grant had generously ordered that “all officers and men of the Confederate service paroled at Appomattox Court House. . . . [would] be allowed … to pass free on all Government transportation and military railroads.” As the men had little or no negotiable money this was a most welcome order. Several routes of travel were discussed at the meeting. Some members wanted to walk or ride to Yorktown, a hundred and fifty miles east, and take water transportation there for the voyage to New Orleans or Galveston.67 A few wished to remain in Virginia to rest and recuperate before attempting the long journey back to Texas, and others desired to visit relatives in the Southern states before going home.68 The greatest number, however, desired to go overland direct to Texas by the shortest route and fastest way possible.
The men of the Third Arkansas had little trouble in deciding on what route to take. Most of them returned to their state by way of Chattanooga and Memphis.GS However, a few elected to g a far as New Orleans with the Texas soldiers, hoping to find transportation up the Mississippi to Arkansas from there. One of these was Robert J. Lowry, a member of Company G of the Third Arkansas, who fortunately kept a diary during the homeward journey.
Major William H. “Howdy” Martin, second in command of the Fourth Texas, and Captain W. T. Hill, commander of the Fifth Texas, assumed leadership of the large group that planned to go overland to the Lone Star state. Both of these officers were well-liked men; they had been original members of the Brigade and they had impressive combat records. Martin and Hill decided to lead the men home through Danville , Greensboro , Charlotte , Atlanta , Montgomery , Mobile , New Orleans , and Galveston . By going this route, the footsore veterans could take maximum advantage of the free rail and water transportation that Grant had offered.
The great majority of the surviving members of the Brigade, packing up what little personal equipment they had, moved out of “the pen” and toward Danville on the morning of the 13th — by evening, they had walked almost twenty miles. At noon on the following day the group bivouacked near Nowlin’s Mill on Falling Creek. The presence of fresh water and the opportunity to obtain corn meal induced “Lee’s Miserables” to camp here for the remainder of the 14th. The meal was made into bread, and, according to A. B. Green of the Fifth Texas, it was the first bread the Texans had tasted since April 7. The evening of April 14, was the last time that the Brigade bivouacked together. The men soon found that traveling in such a large group had its disadvantages; food in quantity and suitable campsites were difficult to find for so large a number. Hence, small parties splintered off and went their own way along the general route of march as the main body traveled southwest through the Carolinas .
The trip back to Texas proved to be tedious and trying. After leaving Nowlin’s Mill the main group of Texans reached the vicinity of Danville on the 15th, where they rested for several days as the stragglers caught up. The hope of riding the railroad from Danville to Montgomery by the way of Atlanta did not materialize because much of the track had been destroyed by the Federal army. The band of ragged Texans with the able bodied helping the lame and sick, walked much of the way through the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama.
When the survivors of Hood’s Texas Brigade passed through North Carolina , they were joined by many Texans who were veterans of the Army of Tennessee that had surrendered to W. T. Sherman on April 26, at Durham Station. Among the parolees from Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee was Major George, who had been Hood’s Quartermaster in Virginia and had followed the General to Georgia in 1864. George still had with him the same Durham cow that he had brought from Texas in 1861, and that had followed his wagon train through the four years of war. As the cow was still giving milk, Major George was a welcome addition to the hungry party heading for home.
While John H. Reagan, President Davis and other members of the Confederate Cabinet and Congress were at Charlotte , North Carolina , during the flight from Richmond , the Texas Brigade passed through that city on their way home. According to ex-Postmaster General Reagan, Major Howdy Martin commanding the contingent of veterans from Virginia gave the presidential party the first details of Lee’s surrender and informed Reagan that a number of blank Federal parole forms had “fallen” into his hands. “At my request,” wrote Reagan,” he [Martin] gave me some of them [parole forms], and later both Senator Wigfall and Secretary [of the Navy] Mallory used them in passing through the Federal lines.
The advance party of Martin’s and Hill’s “command” reached Montgomery on May 7. Here the Texans were assigned temporary quarters in a large two-story building near the center of town. After five days, 400 Texas veterans (and a few Arkansans) had assembled at the first capital of the Confederacy awaiting water transportation to Mobile . Finally on May 11, Major Martin was notified that the steamer scheduled to transport his men down the Alabama River to Mobile had arrived. However, the ship designated for their use was loaded with supplies and equipment for the Union garrison at Montgomery . The Texans were told that if they wanted the transport they would have to unload it. The veterans, stripped to the waist and working in shifts, accomplished the job in six hours, a job that normally took the regular fifty man Negro dock crew twenty-four hours to do. Upon viewing the huge stack of Federal supplies and equipment that had just been unloaded, one of the Texans blurted out, “Boys, we could have never whipped the Yankees”. Late on the afternoon of the 11th, the tired Texans boarded the steamer Groesbeck for Mobile.
At Selma , fifty miles down the muddy, meandering Alabama , Martin’s men were put ashore to make way for a Federal Corps D’Afrique regiment that had a higher priority. After a day’s layover in the Alabama river town, the Texans boarded the steamer Lockwood for Mobile . The Texans spent five enjoyable days at the Alabama gulf port — May 14 to the l8th. Here they were assigned good quarters and were issued ample rations.
On the morning of the 18th, Major Martin and Captain Hill marshaled their men aboard the gulf steamer Iberville for New Orleans . Hood’s veterans, after a rough voyage across Lake Pontchartrain, during which time their ship almost capsized in a squall, reached the Crescent City on May 19th. Immediately upon landing, their paroles were endorsed by the local provost marshal, after which they were assigned uncomfortable quarters in a large cotton shed. No mattresses, cots or blankets were issued to the men and only their threadbare army blankets “cushioned” them from the rough floors. Here, unlike the free rein and genial treatment that they had enjoyed in Mobile , a Negro company was assigned to guard them. 0ie of the first acts of their guards was to cut the brass CSA buttons off the gray jackets the Confederates wore. Rather than give members of the corps D’Afrique the satisfaction of sniping buttons, most of the Texans cut off their own buttons and pocketed them.
The parolees were detained at New Orleans for nine days awaiting free water transportation to Galveston . Except for the uncomfortable living accommodations, occasional heckling by their Negro guards, and their anxiety to get home, it was an enjoyable interlude. The Irish women in town were particularly hospitable to the Texans and, in certain instances brought baskets of food to the cotton shed where the men were quartered or they invited the veterans into their homes. These kindhearted women also saw to it that each Texan was supplied with a suit of civilian clothes before he left New Orleans .
Transportation for Galveston had been arranged for May 29th. Early that morning, the veterans of Lee’s Army, wearing a mixture of civilian clothes and Confederate grays, filed down to the clock area and boarded the Hendrick Hudson, ready to start the last leg of their long trek home. However, before the steamer could pull away from the pier, the clanging of fire bells and a column of smoke near the residence of one of their benefactors induced the impulsive Texans to desert the ship and help fight the fire. After six hours the men straggled back to the ship and an angry ship captain. By half past four in the afternoon, the small steamer was on its way down the Mississippi .
Transportation delays and hard luck still dogged the homeward bound soldiers. As the Hendrick Hudson approached the mouth of the Mississippi at daybreak on the 30th, it ran aground on a mud flat and remained there despite the efforts of two tugs to move it off. Finally, a boat was sent to FortJackson and a telegram sent to New Orleans for another ship. For almost two days the men remained in their cramped quarters, their clothes wringing wet from the heat and humidity of the Mississippi Delta. On May 31, the Exact, a freighter bound for Galveston , picked up the marooned Texans. Unfortunately, the good Samaritan turned out to be a filthy, ill-kept vessel. The odor of body heat and bilge water, coupled with poor ventilation, finally drove the Texans from the hold onto the deck and under the broiling sun. The mass movement from the hold to the deck almost capsized the poorly constructed freighter.
On June 2, the Exact reached Texas and steamed slowly through the Federal blockading fleet anchored off of Galveston . On the same day that the Texans reached Galveston , General E. Kirby Smith surrendered the last important Confederate army, the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, to General Edward Canby in the port city. General E. J. Davis, commander of the Federal troops at the port and later to be the last Reconstruction governor of Texas , refused to let Martin’s men land and ordered the vessel to remain at anchor in the bay for several hours. At noon on the 2nd the steamer finally tied up at the wharf — the first civilian ship to enter the port after the war.’° The veterans of Hood’s Brigade “with a yell” swarmed ashore, many of the men touching Texas soil for the first time in almost four years.
A delegation of prominent Galvestonians was on hand to welcome the returning veterans. Their spokesman informed Major Martin and Captain Hill that the citizens of Houston were expecting the men to attend a series of welcome home dinners and bails in the Bayou City that same evening. However, Galveston was in a state of turmoil, primarily due to the Smith-Canby capitulation negotiations taking place there, and Post Commander Davis denied the returning soldiers the use of the Buffalo Bayou steamer for the trip to Houston .
The people of Galveston , who had furnished Company L of the First Texas Regiment to the Brigade, not to be denied by Davis ’ decision, came forward with a transportation scheme that made the trip to Houston possible. The townspeople quickly located an old rusty railroad engine and several dilapidated flat cars at the roundhouse of the Galveston , Houston , and Henderson Railroad. The townspeople, assisted by the soldiers, soon had the engine in working order and, by sunset, the “Homecoming Special” was ready for departure. Just before the veterans boarded the train a group of Irish women came out from town and swept the cars. The exploits of Hood’s Texas Brigade in the East were well known to all Texans, and the people at home vied with each other to pay homage to veterans of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The special train left Galveston at dusk for the fifty-mile run to Houston . After a hectic night trip on an uneven roadbed under the unsteady hand of an amateur engineer, the wheezing locomotive with its string of crowded cars finally reached its destination. Although it was near midnight, a large crowd was on hand to greet the soldiers and to escort them to the round of parties and pleasures planned for them.
On the following day, June 3, after a gala dinner for the Brigade, and the farewells and handclasps that followed, those survivors of Hood’s Texas Brigade that had journeyed home with Major Martin and Captain Hill, disbanded. They left Houston singly, in pairs or in small groups bound for their home communities — they were now shadows of history and legend. “There let us drop the curtain,” wrote Captain W. T. Hill, the last commander of the Fifth Texas, for the great drama was over.