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Monday, June 11, 2012

The Incident on the Nueces

This coming August 10th marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of the Nueces, where Texans loyal to the Union were attacked by a small force of Texas state and Confederate troops. Only a few of the "Unionists" escaped, and those taken prisoner by the Confederates were executed.
Treue der Union monument
Image source: Wikipedia
After the war ended families of those slain there visited the site and gathered the bones still scattered on the ground. They brought these to Comfort and erected a small monument to their memory, inscribing it, in German, with the motto "Treue Der Union."   It is said three hundred attended the dedication ceremony August 1865, which included a salute fired by federal troops.
The monument still stands, though it seems small and tucked away off of the main thoroughfare. A U.S. flag with thirty-six stars flies at half-mast beside the limestone obelisk. The monument underwent restoration in 1994.
Comfort, at that time, and before the creation of Kendall County, was a part of Kerr County.
There are descendents still living in our area who can count a relative who was there that day -- descending from both sides, some from the Unionists, and some from the Confederates. Like today, those who met there at that bend of the Nueces were neighbors.
I ran across an interesting article in the July 2000 issue of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, by Stanley S. McGowen, which investigates the incident quite thoroughly. I found the article online.
What happened that August 10th when the two forces met has been the source of controversy for most of the 150 years since it happened.
There are those, especially those who lost loved ones there, who consider the event a massacre; there are others, more often those descending from the Confederate forces, who consider it a battle.
"Were unarmed German farmers ridden down and murdered by bloodthirsty Confederate cavalrymen or was this a legitimate battle between armed combatants?" McGowen asks in his article.
It's a good question. Given the information available from eye witnesses, often recorded many years after the event, the answer is not altogether clear. That, and the fact that a few of the Confederate forces acted ignobly, executing wounded prisoners, left a strong feeling of distrust and anger among those who survived.
It is true between 9 and 11 of the wounded Unionists were executed. Under whose authority this atrocity was committed is not clear; the commanding Confederate officer was wounded in the skirmish, and so the line of command is not clear.
But it's also true the Unionists were not "unarmed German farmers."  The Unionists were quite well armed. Henry Schwethelm, one of the surviving Unionists, stated the settlers were "fully equipped with rifles and six-shooters (the rifles mostly of German make) and mounted on good horses with pack animals."
"At one camp along the trail, the settlers cut human figures into large trees and used them for rifle practice -- not an indication of poor, defenseless farmers," McGowen writes.
"At the conclusion of the engagement, the pro-Union German casualties totaled twenty-five to twenty-seven."   As for the Confederate forces, around twenty-one casualties were sustained, according to the article. That sounds like a battle to me.
"Despite their unpreparedness the [Unionists] fought bravely and well, inflicting enough casualties on their attackers that [the Confederate unit] would be considered combat ineffective," McGowan concludes.
The cruel act of shooting wounded prisoners could well be called a massacre, but that occurred after the skirmish. I suppose the incident is rightly called the Battle of the Nueces, but it was followed by a dark deed which could be called a massacre.
150 years ago our area was in mortal turmoil. Here it was not so much North versus South, but, in many ways, German immigrants against English-speaking settlers.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is thrilled to have both of his children at home today.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times June 9, 2012.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't seen that monument in over 50 years.

    I enjoyed seeing it in this photo.

    Someday I hope to return to Kerrville for a visit. When I do, I want to see that monument again.

    Thanks, Joe.

    ReplyDelete

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