The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Galveston riot of February 1866


Maybe you thought Reconstruction was all Colfax and Coushatta. If so... think twice.

We are concerned here with the Victoria and Galveston areas, from June 1865 to April 1866. To set the stage here, I'll cite Richter's 1987 book, The Army in Texas During Reconstruction. In 1865, the first wave of Union troops were "volunteers" - in effect, mercenaries. "Most of the black soldiers in Texas served in the Rio Grande Valley, along the coast, or in the area around Jefferson ... by early 1866 ... black soldiers were at their greatest proportional numbers for the whole Reconstruction period" (25-7). Until January 1867, "black troops had provided most of the Federal power along the Rio Grande and the Texas coast" (27). Federal troops also held a "line from Indianola through Victoria to San Antonio" (27), and these at the time were black too.

Richter claims, "by most accounts their [black soldiers'] discipline was admirable but..." But what? For that, he quotes a newspaper: "but the idea of a gallant and highminded people being ordered and pushed around by an inferior race is shocking to the senses". So if anyone objected to these troops, it was because of raaaaacism. Note that this somewhat contradicts Richter's earlier comment that these troops had mutinied before even arriving at Galveston harbour. Southern belles saw things differently too but who cares?

Let's join with Richter in "admiring" their "discipline". Charles Ramsdell, take it away! Pages 82-83:

In the summer of 1865 Flake's Bulletin, of Galveston, was full of references to outrages perpetrated by the Federal soldiers stationed in that city... by far the greatest complaint was against the colored troops that were brought into the state in the late summer and fall... In November a petition was sent Governor Hamilton from Jackson County for relief from a body of three hundred negro troops that had been detailed there...These negros were heavily armed and parties of them roamed about the country robbing plantations, insulting and sometimes outraging women [that means sexual assault], inciting the resident negroes to like conduct, and keeping the whole country in constant terror.

And then, said troops broke loose in the Galveston riot, the long weekend 24-25 February 1866, extending to Thursday.

What, you didn't know?

The Bulletin, by the way, was a "radical" paper - that is, very proUnion (Ramsdell, 97). When in April the (white) Seventeenth Infantry replaced the volunteers, and went on their own looting spree, the Bulletin declared "we have never had a garrison that so disgraced itself, and violated the public peace" (Richter, 23-9). We may commend the Bulletin's editors for informing us about February... Richter, not so much.

I should add here, given the perspective of a little more reading, that this event may even be a watershed. Up to mid-1866, Ramsdell gives stories like this one, of black terror and Union misrule. After this event is where Ramsdell has to admit of the Ku Klux Klan (at any rate, of its fanclub; 232-3). The tone of events take a decided shift; for instance page 220, in which the crime statistics move toward the white-against-black. Ramsdell excuses away some of it, but the point is that only now does he need to excuse it.

[3 July, I split this post from yesterday's post here. 30-31 July, added Richter's context.]


posted by Zimri on 12:57 | link | 0 comments

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