The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Sam Houston perspective on the Civil War


So now I'm reading Reconstruction in Texas by Charles William Ramsdell.

There's a standard Texas history of the 1850s and early 1860s; it revolves around Sam Houston, a former President of Texas when she was an independent state. Houston, we are told, heroically tried to keep Texas out of the Confederacy, and actually won election on a "Unionist" / independent ticket... but was eventually hustled out of office anyway.

Ramsdell agrees with this wholeheartedly. Some of what he has to say I knew already: that Texas did okay in the first two years of war, via the Mexican trade; that Texas failed to take New Mexico; and that the various Federal incursions and Unionist insurrections failed to get far in Texas.

He has other stuff to add, which I didn't know. He notes that John Brown's terrorism is what drove Texas from being a border-South pro-Union state like Kentucky, to voting for Breckenridge. He also notes a "bargaining" phase from January to March 1861: it seems Sam Houston was willing to go so far as to restore Texan independence (and neutrality), but to withhold any oaths of loyalty to Jeffy Davis. (My inexact analogy with Kentucky holds here, too: although Kentucky didn't secede, Lincoln did grant to Kentucky a neutral status. Kentucky joined the Union war effort only after the South attacked it.)

In general Ramsdell hasn't any time for the Confederates. He figures that all the Confederacy did for Texas was to drain it of men and treasure. East of the Mississippi, the war went like the Second World War; west, it went more like the First. By 1865, Texas was still beating off Union invasions, but most of her troops had already deserted.

If Sam Houston wrote a memoir of the Civil War, I suspect it would look much like pages 1-33.


posted by Zimri on 14:14 | link | 0 comments

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