10/22/2011 Fort Davis CSA-Sesquicentennial Reenactment

The Oath of Freedom
-James Barron Hope

Born free, thus we resolve to live;
By Heaven we will be free!
By all the stars which burn on high-
By the green earth-the mighty-sea-
By God’s unshaken  majesty,
We will be free or die!

October 1861-

Baylor’s Confederacy

On Texas Independence Day, March 2, 1861,  the Lone Star of Texas was the seventh star on the first national flag of the Confederacy.  The Stars and Bars was the sixth flag over Texas.  Focus on the role of Texas during the War Between the Confederate States and United States is usually on the contributions of Texas veterans on eastern battlefields.  Nevertheless in the waning months of 1861 one of the most ambitious and daring campaigns of the war would become a gallant page in Texas history on Texas soil. 

By the end of  1861 there was thirteen states and two territories in a Confederates extending from Virginia to the Colorado River border of California.   From the beginning defending this vast territory would be the new nation’s biggest woes.   In the American and Texas revolutions the woe of having too few men and supplies was helped by foreign intervention.  The rebels of 1861 lacked the necessities of foreign aid enjoyed by the rebels of 1776 or 1836.  They were geographically outnumbered, blockaded by the US Navy, and without a friend like France.  In Confederate West Texas an area the size of West Virginia was defended almost exclusively by one regiment of cavalry.

The Second Texas Mounted Rifles held several forts surrendered by the US Army along the San Antonio-El Paso Road including the Trans-Pecos posts of Fort Lancaster, Fort Stockton, Fort Davis, Fort Quitman, and Fort Bliss.  They were commanded by the Kentuckian Texan Colonel John Robert Baylor.  West Texas and the Territory of Arizona (where Baylor served as Territorial Governor) is considered Baylor’s Confederacy.

Under orders  from President Jefferson Davis a brigade was raised for a far west campaign.  Their mission was to secure the Confederate southwest in Arizona Territory, invade the United States through the New Mexico and Colorado territories, and boldly open routes for a conquest of California.  Authority over the insane task was given to the officer who had conceived the idea, Louisianian Henry Sibley.  Sibley left Richmond with the stars and wreath of a Brigadier General for San Antonio in the summer of 1861.   He raised three regiments  including the 4th Texas Cavalry, 5th Texas Cavalry under Colonel Tom Green (a veteran of the Texas Revolution), and the 7th Texas Dragoons.  They were accompanied by two companies of horse artillery.   The little brigade was supplied by the Alamo arsenal, surrendered by US troops in February.  In October 1861 they set out toward the empty moonscape and mountains of West Texas.  With orders to meet Sibley at Fort Bliss in El Paso they began the lengthiest campaign of the War. A round-trip march from San Antonio to Glorieta Pass New Mexico.

Marching on the San Antonio-El Paso Road the long column stopped at the string of forts west of the Pecos River.  They gathered additional supplies and were reinforced by companies of the  Second Texas Mounted Rifles stationed along the way.  However, they were not prepared for how unforgiving nature could be in the along the old Chihuhuahian Trail.  At many of the stops west water was exhausted before half the army had arrived.  Health and moral was generally low among the Texas troops when they arrived at Fort Davis.  Many considered the situation bleak and even wondered if the great campaign would crumble before making it to Fort Bliss.  But they would find relief at Fort Davis.

Water from the 8,367 foot above sea-level Davis Mountains created the rich source of fresh water through Lympia Canyon and ancient gorges like these.

Fort Davis was one of the most prominent of the chain of forts visited by the westward bound Confederates. Founded by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis the garrison was built in 1854 for its local source of water.  During the seven years before Confederate control, the fort saw several future stars of the Confederacy pass through including Robert E Lee, Albert S Johnston, JEB Stuart, and James Longstreet.  In the fall of 1861 these same officers were participating in opening operations in Tennessee and Virginia.  On October 21st, about the time Sibley’s cavalry entered Fort Davis, Brigadier General Nathan George Evans (had served in West Texas in the old army 1856-7) achieved great victory while defending Leesburg, Virginia at the battle of Ball’s Bluff.

Sibley’s weary and hungry troopers arrived at Fort Davis in November of 1862.  Under the threat of mutiny officers issued the soldiers passes to what they wanted from the  stores and sutler.    Firms and contractors like Moke & Brothers provided the fort and the passing army with rare luxuries like sardines, soap, and of course brandy.  The post was well supplied with rations and water and during their stay the hunger, thirst, and low moral passed.  After a few weeks of respite, the march west resumed in high spirits.   Reinforced with over sixty members of the Second Texas Mounted Rifles garrisoned at Fort Davis Sibley’s Army marched to Fort Quitman and finally Fort Bliss before the, 1862.  In all three companies of the Second Texas Mounted Rifles under Major Charles Pyron and a battery commanded by Lieutenants Joseph H. McGinnis and Jordon H. Bennett, and five companies of Arizona Territory Cavalry joined the original San Antonio Confederates.  Originally numbering around two thousand, Sibley’s newly named Army of New Mexico had grown to just over three-thousand.

On January 2, 1862  the Army of New Mexico struck out north from El Paso De Norte, Texas.  Following a victory in the battle of Vaverde against Colonel Edward Canby’s Federal infantry on February 20-21st the Texas and Arizona column crossed the 38th Parallel (international border between the Territory of Arizona and Territory of New Mexico).  Sibley’s brigade became conquers.

March 28  was the high water mark of the campaign.  The Texas army had not only captured both Alburkerky and Santa Fe but had swept a Federal force beyond Glorieta Pass.  The way was opened for an advance against Fort Union and toward Raton Pass and Colorado.  However, as Scurry’s 4th Texas charged at the front over Pigeon’s Ranch the Confederate rear was attacked. All the wagons, supplies, and pack animals  were ambushed by the 2nd New Mexico, resulting in a total loss of logistical support.

The units that fought at Glorieta Pass retired to Santa Fe where their commander, General Sibley plotted their next move.   With most of their substance destroyed or taken the army could hardly go forward or backward.  They were over three hundred miles from their nearest base of supplies.  With orders that restricted foraging against civilians without compensation, they could not rely on what an enemy country wouldn’t give.  In spite of all that they accomplished and had suffered during the long invasion, General Sibley ordered a retreat rerouting their march to Fort Bliss.   Adding insult to injury the retreat back to Texas was marked by death and sickness.  Though they fought off patrols of Union cavalry the worse enemy the Texans faced was starvation.

When the lead columns of Sibley’s Army of New Mexico came through Fort Davis again in March it was a third the original size.  More than a thousand had died from exposure, disease and starvation.  The artillery had been captured, destroyed, or buried along the way. The sick over flowed the infirmary. By July 1862 the last Confederates including the Second Texas Mounted Rifles left the Territory of Arizona, West Texas, and Fort Davis.  The abandoned post was briefly visited  by Union cavalry of the 1st California.   Fort Davis would remain empty until two years following the war in 1867.  The history of the War Between the Confederate States and United States at Fort Davis and “Baylor’s Confederacy” ended in silence.

After the last survivors of the New Mexico campaign limped into San Antonio General Sibley was called to Richmond to answer charges for questionable conduct in many aspects of the campaign.  Questions were asked like why he didn’t take command at Glorietta Pass and why he hadn’t moved all his troops from Santa Fe to the battlefield.   In 1863 he was court-marshaled on account of poor conduct including drinking during the battle of Bisland, LA.  Sibley’s career in the Confederacy ended with a dishonorable discharge.  The 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 7th Texas Mounted Rifles continued distinguished service including duty as “horse marines” in the victory of Galveston on January 1, 1863.   In June of 1865 the brigade was surrendered by General Kirby Smith after four years of campaigning in Texas and Louisiana.

Troops from other states have their reputations to gain but sons of the Alamo have theirs to maintain.
-President Jefferson Finis Davis

October 22, 2011

I wonder if the sun had shown so beautiful and warm on the San Antonio regiments of Sibley’s Brigade when they arrived at Fort Davis 150 years ago.  On Saturday, October 22, 2011 Confederates once again occupied Fort Davis.  For the first time, Fort Davis Historic Site hosted a living history event focused on the ground’s Confederate heritage.  New events are never uneasy to get started, however, our attendance was between twenty and a couple dozen good ole rebels.  These numbers which included civilian and soldier reenactors from as far north (but still bellow the 38th parallel) as Alamagardo, NM.  The good turnout for this first time event was an announcement as clear as the battlefield rebel yell that the history of Fort Davis matters to a wide area in the living history community.

We arrived at Fort Davis National Historic Site to commemorate and portray a story of the fort that is rarely studied.   The brief era of Fort Davis CSA  has been overshadowed by the post-war service of the US cavalry.  Living history and education programs are largely based on that period.  However, for one October weekend we were given a chance to show West Texas the history of Fort Davis as it was while under the colors of the sixth flag over Texas..

First Sergeant Zac and Private Jed Tims of the 15th Alabama Company G infantry raising the national flag of the Confederate States in Fort Davis 150 years later.

The event launched with the raising of the flag of a country that Texans had voted for 3 to 1 in 1861.  A salute from the 3 inch ordnance piece, Liberty was fired followed by a roll call of the commands gathered on the fort grounds.

Darrell Rhea, 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles Company F, commander of Texas Volunteers in Fort Davis

“I loved my banner forty times better than my sword.”-Joan of Arc

Confederates in West Texas were equipped from military stores surrendered by the US Army in February 1861.  As shown here Southern troops distinguished their allegiance by turning their US belt buckles upside down.

A Texas cavalry patrol as it was.

For the Yankees, a charge of Texas cavalry was perhaps the most physiologically devastating sight on the battlefield.

Flags, horses, and men of the recreated Confederate Cavalry

As it was in 1861 for the mounted Texans at Fort Davis, there was little to do (or pursue).  However, our cavalry did see some action on the 22nd.  They pursued a mare through a wild Texas canyon.   Slim,  a scrappy gray mare  had trampled the headquarters tent and attempted to flee to the yankee lines.  She’d obviously become disillusioned with the cause.

Later the cavalry simulated charges and lance warfare. Tired of charging a grass line the reenactors began charging each other!  Fun and chivalry is an ode to the Texas cavalryman.

I have never, on the field of battle, sent you where I was unwilling to go myself; nor would I now advise you to a course which I felt myself unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers, you can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the Government to which you have surrendered can afford to be, and will be, magnanimous.

– Nathan Bedford Forrest,  Lieutenant-General. Gainesville, Alabama May 9, 1865

Reenacting the Fort’s other history.

Liberty of Croft’s Battery saluting our heritage with a bang.

While representing Teel’s Battery it was the duty for Croft’s Light Artillery to fire the  ordnance gun Liberty once every hour.   The horsemen attracted attention well on this day, as cavalry does but when it was time for the crew of Croft’s battery to fire both the infantry and cavalry were  humbled.  The cannon sounded like waves of thunder against the cliffs and high altitude atmosphere of the Davis Mountains. All of us  thought about the first time a Confederate gun roared against the indigenous rocks 150 years ago. It was like thunder from the past.

Infantryman Private Jed Tims guarding headquarters in the comfortable pose of a cavalryman.

While the artillery and cavalry recreated history with thundering cannon and thundering hooves, the infantry was left in the smoke and dust.  Composed of a first sergeant and private we had the dual duties of color guard and headquarters guard.  The infantry’s numbers were declined by midday with only the presence the first sarge.  At two o’ clock I performed a loading and firing demonstration.  Henry, my 53′ Enfield rifle fired proudly though not as loudly as Liberty.

The future of living history

The Sibley (or Bell) Tent, invented by Brigadier General Henry Sibley

Since then long years have vanished, their forms have gone to dust,
their flags have all been banished, their swords have gone to rust.
But their souls are up in glory, and now like angels gleam;
last night their mystic story, came to me in a dream.
-Private Morton Bryan Wharton

At 6:00 I lowered the Fort Davis flag in a ceremony as solemnly befitting as the occasion represented.  Park rangers and reenactors alike presented arms during this last act of remembering and recreating the story of Fort Davis as it was when it had been the highest garrison above sea-level in the Confederate States of America.

Fort Davis National Historic Site Park Rangers with the Stars and Bars

The Fort Davis park rangers were on hand not as witnesses in this special event but rather, participants.  While their usual association with living history  is with the portrayal of the post-war events, the rangers adjusted to the early period impression right away.   One ranger commanded the infantry during the firing demonstration while Ranger Donna Smith provided a map of the period fort.   These men and women gave honor to the Confederate volunteer soldiers that marched through the gates of Fort Davis 150 years ago by helping make this event a memorable one.

Second Texas Mounted Rifles & Teels Battery

Portrayed gallantly by members of the 15th Alabama infantry Company G, 7th Texas infantry, 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles company F, 8th Texas Cavalry Company B, 5th Texas Mounted Volunteers Company B, Croft’s Light Artillery, and the

Sons of Confederate Veterans

Grief not if our brave cause is lost lest our brave dead are forgotten!


Flag raising and cannon salute

Cavalry Charge

Kerry Hellums

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