Who Fought for the Confederacy?The Soldiers of Walker’s Texas Division

The Soldiers of Walker’s Texas Division

 “We have waged this war not by strategy but by fighting,and the hero of it is not the general but the soldier.” That statement, by the anonymous author of an 1864 primer on warfare for junior officers, makes a point worth pondering: the privates and corporals and sergeants and captains of the Civil War decided its outcome, even more than generals and politicians. For 140 years Americans have learned more and more about Lee and Grant and Sherman and Jackson. We can’t seem to get enough of them. Only in the last twenty years or so have some historians begun to shift their gaze and examine the rank and file of both armies, partly to understand how they managed in such a bloody slaughterhouse as the American Civil War. For four years, those soldiers endured casualty rates that today would have Americans rioting in the streets. What sort of men could march twentyfive miles a day over dusty roads, with little or nothing to eat, and then do the same the next day, and then die by the thousands on the third day, and then have the survivors resume the march on the fourth day? The answer to that question can’t be found in biographies of Abraham Lincoln or Robert E. Lee or old-fashioned battle studies. Scholars have had to dig into census returns, tax accounts, courthouse documents of all sorts, and the military records of individual soldiers to try to understand the men who fought for the Union and the Confederacy.

My colleague Mike Campbell studied this subject by examining the military population of Harrison County in Civil War Texas. I have approached it by looking at the Texans who marched and fought in John G. Walker’s Texas Infantry Division. What I would like to do this afternoon is, first, tell you a little about this important Texas unit in order to place it in the broader context of the war. Then, once you are familiar with the division’s role in the conflict, I will talk about the type of men who marched in its ranks. The objective, of course, is to try to understand the question posed for this session, “Who Fought for the Confederacy?”

The Walker of Walker’s Texas Division was Major General John G. Walker, a native of Missouri, a graduate of what is now St. Louis University, a veteran of the Mexican War, and a valued division leader in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia before he was assigned to command the Texas Division in late 1862. The men who would form Walker’s Texas Division, the largest body of Texans to fight in the Civil War and the only division on either side to consist of regiments from a single state, joined the Confederate army in the winter and spring of 1862, mostly in reaction to a series of battlefield reverses that seemed to threaten Texas directly—the Confederate defeat at Fort Donelson in western Tennessee in February 1862; the defeat at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, in March; the bloody disaster at Shiloh in southwest Tennessee in April; and the fall of New Orleans to Union forces three weeks later. These events prompted thousands of Texans who had not joined the war effort at first to march off to the nearest county seat, sign up for a particular company, and eventually report to a training camp (“camp of instruction”) where these farmers and shoe clerks would be turned into soldiers. At least, the Confederate army hoped to turn them into soldiers.

The division spent the entire war marching and fighting in the trans-Mississippi theater of operations. In June 1863 the Texans, who soon acquired the nickname “Walker’s Greyhounds” for their reputation as swift and long marchers, struck at Ulysses S. Grant’s long supply line during the Vicksburg Campaign in a vicious hand-to-hand engagement at Milliken’s Bend, just upriver from Vicksburg. Although successful at first, the Texans were eventually driven back by the heavy guns of Union ironclad ships on the Mississippi River. Five months later they smashed the rear guard of another Union army marching overland from New Orleans toward Galveston and helped to convince Federal generals to abandon that approach to Texas. Their most important contribution to the Confederate war effort was the leading role they took in turning back another Union thrust aimed at Texas, the famous Red River Campaign in the spring of 1864. In seventy days they marched, often without food or tents, 930 miles and fought three pitched battles. That was the equivalent of a Civil War army marching from Washington, D.C., to Memphis and fighting along the way, all in ten weeks. At one point during this campaign, the Greyhounds were reduced to only about 1,500 soldiers, about one-eighth their original number. The men of the Texas division had a reputation as tough soldiers, capable of withstanding great hardship and able to handle themselves well on the battlefield. But they were not angels. They looked like scruffy thugs, they stole from civilians with a remarkable degree of proficiency, and they sometimes left the ranks without permission. Many of them whored and drank at every opportunity. They fought to preserve life as they knew it, including slavery, and they made no apologies for it. I wouldn’t want to run across them on a lonely dark road in Arkansas, but I did find them a fascinating subject.

One of the first patterns that emerged when I began studying these men was their propensity to join up with brothers and cousins and neighbors. In my sample of 2,200 soldiers drawn from twelve regiments in the division, you can see in the table that most served with people they knew. For example, more than 96 percent of the men in Company D of the 6th Texas Cavalry Battalion were from the same county. This general pattern held true for most of the companies in most of the regiments of the division. What did that mean for their home communities? Among other things, it meant that the adult male population of a county could be severely reduced if the company or companies formed in that county happened to be in the thick of any fight. For the man in the ranks, it meant that his performance as a soldier would surely be reported back to his
family and friends at home. For most soldiers, the war was a family and community undertaking.

Like most soldiers in most wars, the men of the Greyhound Division were young. The mean age of soldiers at the outset of their service was 26.9 years (median: 26). One-sixth were still teenagers when they enlisted and one-half were twenty-five or younger. One in four was in his thirties, and only 6.3 percent were forty or older. Although two-thirds of the men in the division were in their teens and twenties when they first signed the muster rolls, the Greyhounds were, on the average, a few years older than their enemies, older than Confederate soldiers in general, older than their comrades who had joined the army in the first months of the war, and older than U.S. soldiers in World War II.

Not only were these Texans older than the typical Confederate or Union soldier, they were also more likely to be married and more likely to be the head of a household. Slightly more than half (50.9 percent) of all men in the division were married, and about the same proportion (50.1 percent) headed a household back in Texas. Most Civil War soldiers were not married, and most did not support a family. The men of the Federal 12th Missouri Infantry, for example, were nearly all single, 90.7 percent. Similarly, only 22 percent of the horsemen in a separate Texas regiment, the 3rd Texas Cavalry, were heads of household in 1860. The same held true among U.S. privates in World War II: only 27 percent were married when they enlisted.

These figures on age and marital status point up a clear pattern of enlistments in Texas. In general, younger single men from financially stable families volunteered earlier in the war. Older men, with families and households to worry about, especially those in the middle and lower wealth groups, joined the war effort later. They had more to lose by going off to war, and only an emergency, such as that presented by Confederate reverses in the winter and spring of 1862, convinced them to leave wives and children behind and join the army.

Most of the Greyhounds—about two of every three—were natives of the lower southern states. Almost half had been born in just four lower South states: Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Nearly one in three men in the division were natives of the upper southern states (from Maryland to Missouri), and only a small scattering had been born

Table 1

County Origins of Enlistees in Sample Companies

Regiment Company County Percentage od Enlistees  
6th Texas Cavalry Batn. D Leon 96.3  
11th Texas Infantry D Titus 96.0  
12th Texas Infantry D D Grimes 87.8  
13th Texas Cavalry H Newton 94.2  
14th Texas Infantry  H Harrison 80.3  
16th Texas Cavalry D Grayson * 47.5  
    Colins 39.3  
16th Texas Infantry D 36 counties scattered  
17th Texas Infantry A Burleson 78.8  
18th Texas Infantry K Cherokee 95.5  
19th Texas Infantry E San Augustine 61.0  
22nd Texas Infantry B Leon 82.8  
28th Texas Cavalry H Freestone 92.5  

Table 1
County Origins of Enlistees in Sample Companies

Note: Soldiers whose county of residence could not be ascertained (568 of 1,557, or 36.5 percent) were not included in these percentages.

*Grayson and Collin Counties are contiguous.

Table 2
Age Distribution of Men in the Division

Age Percentage
13-19 16.2
20-25 33.6
26-29 18.3
30-39 25.6
40 and older 6.3

in the North or in foreign countries. These proportions—nearly twothirds from the lower South and one-third from the upper South—varied widely from those in the general population of Texas, where upper-southern adult males outnumbered lower-southern men (41 percent to 37 percent). Why, then, were men from the lower southern states so vastly overrepresented among the soldiers in Walker’s Division? According to one prominent student of soldier motivation in the Civil War, James M. McPherson, lower southerners in general were more highly motivated to fight for the Confederacy. Certainly, they turned out in disproportionately large numbers in Texas during the winter and spring of 1862.

The overwhelming majority of men in the division, as one might expect, engaged in some form of agriculture to support themselves and their families. “Agriculture” as used in the table is a broad term that includes everyone from planters to farm laborers. More than two-thirds of the men in the agricultural category called themselves “farmers” or “stock raisers” in the 1860 census. This group included great planters, middling farmers, and small self-sufficient farmers. Another 18 percent were listed as farm laborers. The remaining groups were either overseers or agents on the one hand or tenants or renters on the other. Men engaged in agriculture were over-represented among the soldiers (compared to their numbers in the general population), and all other groups were slightly under-represented.

Compared to soldiers in the Union and Confederate armies in general, the men in the Texas Division were much more heavily involved in agriculture and less involved in skilled or unskilled labor, commercial pursuits, or the professions. This pattern is probably best explained by the more rural and undeveloped nature of Texas, still on the frontier of western settlement in the 1850s, where farming was relatively more important than in older, more established, and more urban areas.

Older, more likely to be married, and more oriented to farming than most Confederate soldiers, and more likely to be natives of the lower South than most Texans, the men of the Greyhound division were distinctive in another way as well—they were of generally modest means. On average, the soldiers owned only about half as much property as heads of household in Texas and were much less wealthy than the prosperous elite of the 3rd Texas Cavalry Regiment. On the other hand, the Texas foot soldiers were younger than the average head of household in the Lone Star State and had not had as much time to accumulate property as the typical Texas family head. When wealth is controlled for age (that is, when the soldiers are compared to Texas household heads in their twenties), the men of Walker’s Division fall into line as average wealth holders ($3,484 for men in the division and $3,091 for household heads of comparable ages).

Not surprisingly when one considers these wealth holdings, soldiers in the division were less likely to own slaves than the average Texas family. Slightly more than one-fourth (27.3 percent) of all families in the Lone

Table 3
Occupations of Men in the Division

Occupation Percent of Soldiers in the Division Percent of Texaas Head Household *
Agriculture 78.1 69.0
Unskilled Labor 7.9 9.2
Skilled Labor 5.8 9.1
Professions 2.8 5.0
Commerce 2.6 4.3
Manufacturing 0.9 1.2
Public Seervice 0.4 0.8
Miscellaneous 1.5 0.7

Note: Not all soldiers were heads of households and not all heads of households were adult males, so the comparison of figures in this table could be misleading. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of individuals in both groups (96.2 percent of the soldiers and at least 95 percent of the household heads) were adult males, eighteen or older.

*Source: Campbell and Lowe, Wealth and Power in Antebellum Texas, 63.

Table 4
Occupations of Men in the Union and Confederate Armies

Occupations Union Army (percent) Conferderate Army(percent) Walker's Division (percent)
Agriculture 47.5 61.5 78.1
Skilled Labor 25.1 14.1 5.8
Unskilled Labor 15.9 8.5 7.9
White Collar and      
Commercial 5.1 7.0 3.9
Professional 3.2 5.2 2.8
and Unknown 3.2 3.7 1.5

Note: On the row labeled “White-collar and Commercial,” commerce, manufacturing, and public service were combined for the third column.

Source: McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 608, 614.

Table 5
Mean Property Holdings of Men in the Division, 1860

Type of Property Men in Walker's Division Tesas Heads of Household Men in 3rd Texas Cavalry
Real Property $1,397 $2,699 $12,787
Personal Property $2,180 $3,692 NA
Wealth * $3,484 $6,393 NA

*Wealth is defined as a combination of real and personal property as listed in the 1860 United States census.

Sources: Campbell and Lowe, Wealth and Power in Antebellum Texas, 116; Hale, “The Third Texas Cavalry,” 26.

Star State owned slaves in 1860, but only about one-fifth (21.6 percent) of these soldiers. Once again, the relative youth of the military population helps to explain the difference: younger men simply had not had as many years to accumulate wealth and slaves.

These figures on slaveholdings in the division provide little support for the old argument that the Civil War was “a rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight.” The soldiers were about as wealthy as other Texans their age and presumably would have accumulated slaves and property at the same rate as other Texans. In other words, they reflected the society around them. They were not poor cannon fodder thrown at the enemy by the wealthy. Indeed, some Texas units included far more than their share of the slaveholding elite of Texas. More than half of the horsemen in the 3rd Texas Cavalry, for example, were members of slave-owning households, and planters (those holding twenty or more bondsmen) were greatly overrepresented.

The wealthiest families in Texas—the 7.8 percent who owned combined real and personal property worth at least ten thousand dollars in 1860—are another measuring stick for the old charge that rich men started the war and expected poor men to do the dying. In the regiments of Walker’s Texas Division, owners of wealth worth ten thousand dollars or more constituted 10.5 percent of the original members of the division. In other words, even though the men of this division were not wealthy compared to Texas adult males in general, the division nevertheless contained more than its share of rich men. Prosperous planters huddled around the same campfires, blinked through the same summer dust, shivered in the same freezing rain, and faced the same enemy missiles as their poorer neighbors. Rich men may have started the war, but they also fought it.

Further evidence of this is in this next table. These figures demonstrate that those who became battlefield casualties were very much like those in the division as a whole. In terms of age, occupation, birthplace, wealth, and slaveholding status, the two groups were nearly identical. Wealthy men served and suffered at a rate one might expect from a group with their share of the overall population. The only significant variation among those who were battlefield casualties was in family status. Slightly more than half of all members of the division were married and heads of households, but only about two-fifths of those who were killed, wounded, or captured and missing were married and/or headed a household back in Texas. Neither the quantitative nor qualitative data I examined point to an obvious explanation for this difference, but a commonsense suggestion seems reasonable: married men and men who had households to support were probably less likely to expose themselves recklessly in battle than men without such responsibilities. This is only a conjecture, however, and further research is justified along these lines.

To sum up, then — compared to his neighbors who volunteered early in the war, the soldier in Walker’s Texas Division was somewhat older, more likely to be married, less likely to be a slaveholder, and less prosperous. The “typical” soldier in the Greyhound Division was a native of the

Table  (6)
Characteristics of Soldiers Who Were Battle Casualties*

Points of Comparasion Whole Sample Sample Casualities
Mean Age 26.9 25.8
Occupation 78% in  73.8% in
  Agriculture Agriculture
Born in Lower South 65.4% 59.6%
Mean Proporty Holdings $1,397 $1,590
Mean Personal Property Holdings $2,180 $2,327
Proportion Who Were Slaveholders 27.3% 27.3%
Proportion Who Were Married 50.9% 39%
Proportion Who Were Heads of Households 50.1% 39%

*All figures in the table are from the sample of officers and men in the division.

lower South, in his mid- to late twenties, married and the head of a household, and a non-slaveholding farmer. He rubbed shoulders and shared tents with rich men and poor, and he fought because he wanted to preserve life as he knew it before the war—an agricultural, rural life that included slavery and a dominant white race.

The end of the war found the Greyhounds back where they had started, in their camps of instruction near Hempstead, northwest of Houston. When they learned in the spring of 1865 that Confederate armies in Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama had surrendered, they realized, unlike some of their generals, that the cause was lost. On May 20 what was left of the Confederate army near Hempstead went to pieces. Some of the men quietly walked away from their campfires, turned for home, and depended on the kindness of strangers for meals on the road. Others, angry at the world they found themselves in, concluded that the Confederacy must pay for all their troubles: the wages they had never received, the meals they had never eaten, and the time they had missed with wives and children. These angry Greyhounds joined other Confederates from Galveston to Houston to Hempstead, broke open quartermaster and commissary warehouses, snatched all the supplies and food they could carry home, drove off in army wagons, led away army mules and horses, and cursed their luck all the way home. When their officers asked them to remain soldiers after all hope for victory had vanished, they turned almost overnight into civilians again. To resist when resistance was useless—when, in fact, resistance would invite massive enemy armies onto their soil—made no sense to the Texans. They had seen what happened to farms and communities visited by large armies, especially enemy armies. In one sense, then, by walking away and going home to their wives and children, they saved Texas one last time from the ravages of war.

The end of the war ended the career of Walker’s Texas Division, but it did not end the Greyhounds’ determination to preserve the old order as much as possible. A small, almost invisible federal government, an even smaller state government, a political system and social order controlled by traditional-minded southern white men, and a docile black laboring class—this was life as they remembered it before the war and life as they hoped to continue it. Some of them resumed public careers after the war (Oran Roberts and Richard Hubbard became governors), resisted Republican goals for the Reconstruction of the nation, and clung to the old ways as long as possible. General Walker fled to London after the war, where he wrote his memoirs and waited for a pardon from President Andrew Johnson. He returned to the United States in 1868, became a successful businessman, and served as United States consul in Bogota, Colombia, in the late 1880s. He died while walking through Lafayette Park across from the White House in Washington in 1893, two days before his seventy-first birthday. Symbolizing the eventual reunion of North and South, both Confederate and Union generals formed an honor guard at his funeral in Winchester, Virginia.

• • •

The veteran who doubtless lived longer than any of his twelve thousand comrades was Corporal Maston Thomas Hickman of the 22nd Texas Infantry Regiment. Born in 1841, he was a farmer in Polk County before he enlisted in future governor Richard Hubbard’s regiment in March 1862. He was present for duty at every roll call throughout the war and returned to Polk County after the breakup. He celebrated his one-hundredth birthday just fourteen weeks before Pearl Harbor in 1941 by taking a ride on an airplane, a story that his Civil War messmates would never have believed. Just to prove he had done it, he posed for a photograph beside the aircraft. His own parents may well have been born as early as the administration of Thomas Jefferson or James Madison, but there was Corporal Hickman, several generations later, taking advantage of 20th-century technology to mark his first century of life. He finally died in January 1945, in his 105th year, and lived almost long enough to see the dawning of the atomic age seven months later. By the looks of this crowd, I believe that some of us were living when Corporal Hickman was alive. The Civil War is barely over.