Hood’s Texas Brigade

This outstanding book by Professor Susannah Ural of Mississippi State University is, in my opinion, a model for how to do a unit history. The book is deeply researched, packed with facts, and a joy to read.

We learn things such as, “The majority of Texas Brigade soldiers and their families made their way west in the antebellum period, usually living for a few years in one southern slave state before moving on to another, and finally settling in Texas. Over two-thirds of the Texans in the brigade came from middle-class households. .. What unified them, however, were the middle-class status and traditions they had earned by 1860 and their conviction that Republican Party policies, especially the containment of slavery, posed a disastrous threat to their future.” [p. 2] We also find, “Hood’s Texas Brigade defines the poor in 1860s Texas as those households with real and personal property estimated at less than $500. Middle-class households held $500 to $19,999 in property, while the wealthy had combined property holdings of $20,000 or more. … Hood’s Texans were more unified by their cultural habits than their occupations or income. The majority of the soldiers in this brigade were not poor farmers or laborers, nor were they elite planters. Most of them embodied a middle-class disdain for ostentatious behavior, as seen in the Fifth Texas’s abuse of Lt. Col. Frank Schaller and his military finery and their celebration of Lt. Col. John C. Upton, a middle-class rancher known for his rough mannerisms and his gift for command.” [pp. 2-3] There was a strong connection to slavery among the officers. “Two-thirds of Texas Brigade officers came from households that owned slaves. This proved true for only one-third of the Texas privates in the brigade, but the middle-class status most of them enjoyed tied them economically, socially, and politically to the slaveholders in their communities. Hood’s Texans’ comments regarding slaves and race relations during the war reflected that background as well as their tremendous faith in themselves and in Confederate victory. Their writings revealed a classic paternalistic faith that Texas Brigade soldiers and their families were respectable masters whose slaves were satisfied with their place in the social order, a position, Hood’s Texans would argue, that was natural and preordained. They believed that elite white mails were best positioned to run their communities and their nation. … they did not believe nineteenth-century African Americans could or should enjoy such opportunities.” [p. 3] Through most of the war, they remained supremely confident. “As a result of these racial beliefs, most Texas Brigade accounts that reference the enslaved are brief paternalistic greetings in letters home. Significantly, when emancipation became a key issue in the war in January 1863, Hood’s Texans, unlike many Confederates, did not worry. They remained confident in their ability to secure Confederate independence, and believed emancipation would never affect their world. Secession had been the first step in defending their rights as slave owners, and Confederate independence would secure these. That confidence was not rattled until late in the war, when Texas Brigade men were attacked by African American Union soldiers in the fall of 1864. Then, Hood’s Texans responded brutally to this challenge to their racial superiority and the social order. After the war, they continued to support the idea of a society led by whites. Texas Brigade veterans and their families expressed frustration with what they saw as the disastrous results of black suffrage and Radical Republican policies, and Hood’s Texans longed for the return to white rule, though they did not universally support a return to Democratic rule.” [pp. 3-4]

Hood’s Texans as a unit were far more highly motivated than other confederate soldiers. “While the men’s wealth and slave-owning status reflected the norm among mid-nineteenth-century Texans, their ideological dedication to the Confederacy sets the Texas Brigade apart from their fellow Confederates. The volunteers and families who comprised this unit never lost their determination to help win Confederate independence. These men could have served close to home, bu they insisted on fighting more than a thousand miles from their families because that is where they believed they could help most. As desertions rates spiked and will on the home front sank, Texas Brigade soldiers are unique in the historiography for their determination to stay in the ranks despite exhaustion and to return again and again after wounds and capture to continue the fight. Their families reflected that same ideological devotion. … Part of this devotion was inspired by the men and their families’ strong and early identification with the Confederacy. But their nationalism and identity was also tied to the brigade’s reputation, their commanders, and to each other.” [p. 4] The desertion rate is enlightening. “Whereas Lee’s army suffered a 15 percent desertion rate, of the more than 7,000 men who served in Hood’s Texas Brigade, only 6 percent deserted in four years of war. But one-third of these desertions took place between November 1863 and April 1864.” [p. 9]

This book is truly outstanding. Professor Ural gives us the historical context for the brigade as well as providing cogent analysis of the men and their actions. I highly recommend this book for students of the war and for students of history in general. It’s definitely a model for us to use, not only of how to write a unit history but also how to write a compelling narrative filled with factual details.

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