If you saw the episode this week you know we discussed how Texas played a major role in the Civil War. 60,000 to 70,000 Texans served in either state or Confederate units, of which 20-25% lost their lives in the process. More than half of these deaths were caused by diseases contracted while living in unsanitary wartime conditions, like trench foot.
Most Confederate soldiers from Texas, as Eric said, were stationed west of the Mississippi, although there were several Texan units who saw heavy fighting as a part of the Army of Northern Virginia. Texas didn’t have too many notable battles (save for some including the Battle of Galveston, the Battle of Sabine Pass, and the last battle of the Civil War near Brownsville). Most units were instead focused on defending the western frontier from Native American raids. Fun fact: the Texas Rangers fought in more battles than any other cavalry regiment in the Civil War.
Some of these troops were part of an ill-fated campaign led by John R. Baylor aimed at expanding the Confederacy westward. Baylor was a vehemently anti-Indian individual who organized a vigilante force of around 1000 men to campaign against the Comanche Indians. During his time as part of a Texas volunteer army in 1840, he edited an anti-Indian newspaper called The White Man.
In late May 1865, most units simply disbanded and went home; few Texans ever formally surrendered. And as we mentioned in this week’s TikTok, Texas has the distinction of being the only southern state to never be conquered by Union forces. The saying really is true: Texas strong!
At the museum, we have lots of Civil War-era memorabilia on display, most of which is connected to Texas, including Confederate bills used as currency in Texas. The Bryan Museum also has some original rifles and guns, including an early Henry rifle.
We also have a special display case dedicated to the cotton industry and its relationship with the Civil War and Confederacy.
During the Civil War, the Texas economy was primarily agrarian, with a great focus on cotton cultivation. As the western edge of the Southern cotton culture and the supporting slave labor force, Texas played a major role in the Confederate economy. Even during trade blockades, Texans shipped cotton and other goods overland to Brownsville and across the Rio Grande to Matamoros, Mexico.
There were many other industries in Texas at the time as well; some companies manufactured guns, cloth, uniforms, iron, ammunition, salt, medicines, and much more. All these goods and companies supported the war effort, and cotton served as the currency to purchase these items. As mentioned before, Texas was never successfully conquered by Union troops, and this relative isolation from northern forces protected industrial growth and production from devastation suffered by other Confederate states who were impacted by Union campaigns.
Another special connection that Texas and the Civil War have is that Galveston, Texas, home of The Bryan Museum, is the site of Juneteenth, which was declared as a holiday in 1980. But what is Juneteenth? It’s the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery in the U.S.
Union General Gordon Granger and his troops arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865, with news that the war had ended and that all slaves (which at one point made up 30% of Texans) were now free. June 19th, shortened to Juneteenth, is therefore considered a historic day of emancipation.
Shortly after, President Andrew Jackson declared the Reconstruction Era (1865-1877) and historic changes impacting the lives of African-Americans and other minorities took place in America, including the establishment of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands and the ratification of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery and servitude.
The Hands on History series that The Bryan Museum has put together has a special episode about Juneteenth and its history as well. We also have a special exhibit dedicated to the Art of Equality contest, which commemorated Juneteenth.