January 28, 1861: Sam Houston Stands Alone

 

 

But if, through division in the ranks of those opposed to Mr. Lincoln, he should be elected, we have no excuse for dissolving the Union. The Union is worth more than Mr. Lincoln, and if the battle is to be fought for the Constitution, let us fight it in the Union and for the sake of the Union. With a majority of the people in favor of the Constitution, shall we desert the Government and leave it in the hands of the minority? A new obligation will be imposed upon us, to guard the Constitution and to see that no infraction of it is attempted or permitted. If Mr. Lincoln administers the Government in accordance with the Constitution, our rights must be respected. If he does not, the Constitution has provided a remedy.

Sam Houston, September 22, 1860

It took a fair amount of courage to stand against the tide of secession in the South in 1860-1861, but not even his most determined enemy, and he had many enemies, could say that Sam Houston ever had a shortage of that virtue.   As an ardent Unionist he  fought secession every step of the way.  As I outlined in an earlier post, which may be read here,  he realized that secession was a disaster for the South, and with eerie accuracy predicted a great war and military defeat for the South.

Houston, as governor of Texas, refused to bring the state legislature back into session to consider secession.  The Secession Convention, which held its opening session on January 28, 1861, voted to abrogate the treaty of annexation with the US on February 1.  Secession was put to a popular vote and won at the ballot.  Texas was admitted to the Confederacy on March 1, 1861.  Houston never recognized the legality of any of this, and refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy.

“Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas….I protest….against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.

Houston was removed from office on March 16, 1861.  On September 22, 1860 he had made a pro-Union speech.  It is a fascinating document.  If this gallant old man had been heeded, the nation would have avoided a fratricidal war that claimed 620,000 American lives.  Here is the text of the speech: (more…)

Published in: on January 28, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on January 28, 1861: Sam Houston Stands Alone  
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The Cortina Wars

Juan Cortina

 

 

In a post about fighting in Matamoras on January 12-14, 1864, go here to read it, I mentioned that the leader of the Juarista forces was Colonel Juan Cortina.  A colorful rogue, Cortina had supported the French against the Juaristas before deciding to switch sides.  Throughout his career as a Mexican political and military figure, he endlessly changed sides in internal conflicts, his guiding star always being what was good, at the moment, for Juan Cortina.  After the Mexican War, during which which he led a cavalry regiment for Mexico, his family estates were divided with part in Texas and part in his home Mexican state of Tamaulipas.  Cortina was an important political boss in the South Texas Democratic party and eventually came into conflict with a group of lawyers and judges in Brownsville, who he accused of seeking to appropriate lands of poorer Tejanos.  They accused Cortina of being a cattle rustler.  (Both allegations were doubtless true.)

Cortina assembled a small private army that resisted evictions of Tejanos.  Open fighting broke out on July 13, 1859 when Cortina sought to intervene when the sheriff of Brownsville was brutalizing one of Cortina’s former employees.  When the sheriff refused to stop, Cortina shot him in the shoulder.  Thus the First Cortina War began.  On September 28, 1859 Cortina occupied Brownsville with a force of between 40-80 men, his foes fleeing.  Cortina issued this proclamation:

There is no need of fear. Orderly people and honest citizens are inviolable to us in their persons and interests. Our object, as you have seen, has been to chastise the villainy of our enemies, which heretofore has gone unpunished. These have connived with each other, and form, so to speak, a perfidious inquisitorial lodge to persecute and rob us, without any cause, and for no other crime on our part than that of being of Mexican origin, considering us, doubtless, destitute of those gifts which they themselves do not possess. (…) Mexicans! Peace be with you! Good inhabitants of the State of Texas, look on them as brothers, and keep in mind that which the Holy Spirit saith: “Thou shalt not be the friend of the passionate man; nor join thyself to the madman, lest thou learn his mode of work and scandalize thy soul. (more…)

Published in: on August 1, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Cortina Wars  
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Sheridan, Hell and Texas

 

 

Phil Sheridan could be a nasty piece of work on duty.  A bantam Irish Catholic born in Albany, New York on March 6, 1831, to Irish immigrants, Sheridan carved a career in the Army by sheer hard work and a ferocious will to win.  He had a hard streak of ruthlessness that Confederates, Indians and the many officers he sacked for incompetence could attest to.    His quote, “If a crow wants to fly down the Shenandoah, he must carry his provisions with him.”  after he ordered the burning of crops in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 to deny them to Confederate troops indicated just how hard a man he could be when waging war. 

Off duty he was completely different.  He had the traditional Irish gift of gab and in social settings was charming and friendly. 

After the Civil War he commanded an army of 50,000 troops in Texas to send a none-too-subtle hint to the French who had used the opportunity of the Civil War to conquer Mexico that it was time for them to leave.  The French did, with the Austrian Archduke Maximilian they had installed as Emperor of Mexico dying bravely before a Mexican firing squad.  During his stay in Texas Sheridan made a famous quip about Texas.  It was swiftly reported in the newspapers:

“14 April 1866, Wisconsin State Register, pg. 2, col. 3:
GEN. SHERIDAN, after his recent Mexican tour, states his opinion succinctly and forcibly, as follows: “If I owned h-ll and Texas, I would rent Texas and live at the other place!”

“19 April 1866, The Independent, pg. 4:
But these states are not yet reduced to civil behavior. As an illustration, Gen. Sheridan sends word up from New Orleans, saying, “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell.” This is the opinion of a department commander.”

“15 May 1866, Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman (Boise, ID), pg. 7?, col. 3:
GEN. SHERIDAN does not have a very exalted opinion of Texas as a place of resident. Said he lately, “If I owned hell and Texas, I would rent Texas and live at the other place.” In former times, before Texas was “re-annexed,” Texas and the other place were made to stand as opposites. Thus, when Col. Crockett was beaten in his Congressional district, he said to those who defeated him, “You may go to hell, and I’ll go to Tex!” which he did, and found a grave.” (more…)

Published in: on March 31, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Sheridan, Hell and Texas  
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Texas Navy

 

Texans have always been ambitious.  Faced with the prospect of an overwhelming land invasion, the new government of Texas in January 1836 decided to found a Navy in addition to an Army.  The force consisted of four schooners, Invincible, Brutus, Independence and Liberty,  all under the command of Commodore Charles Edwards Hawkins.  Although massively outnumbered and outgunned by the Mexican Navy, the Texas Navy succeeded in foiling the attempt by the Mexican Navy to blockade the Texan ports, and captured badly needed supplies from Mexican merchant ships, sending them on to Houston’s army.  By October of 1837 all the original ships of the Texas Navy had been lost due to enemy action or mishap at sea. (more…)

Published in: on January 4, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Texas Navy  
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Father Galveston

It is ironic that a priest who became so associated with Galveston and Texas was a Yankee!  James Martin Kirwin was born in Circleville, Ohio on July 1, 1872.  Kirwin was ordained to the priesthood on June 19, 1895.   Incardinated in the Diocese of Galveston, Texas, while in the seminary he attended, Father Kirwin was sent to the University of America in Washington, DC by the Bishop of Galveston, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in theology.  His ability being recognized early, Father Irwin was made rector of Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Galveston in 1896.

Throughout his priesthood Father Kirwin was always a whirlwind of activity, and he quickly became noticed for the heroism with which he attended the sick during the yellow fever epidemic of 1897.  During the Spanish-American War he helped raise the First United States Volunteer Infantry and served as its chaplain with the rank of captain.  Although the regiment never served over seas, the fate of most of the American units raised for the Spanish-American War, Father Kirwin’s service began a life long association for him with the Texas National Guard and the United States Army.

Father Kirwin rose to national prominence after the Galveston hurricane of 1900, the worst national disaster in US history which killed approximately 8,000 people.  He helped found a committee of public safety which restored law and order to the city, he drafted the martial law plan, helped with the burial of the dead, and organized and served on the central relief committee which aided victims of the hurricane.  Together with his good friend Rabbi Henry Cohen, he spearheaded the efforts over the next few years to rebuild Galveston, including the building of a seawall for the city, the cornerstone of which he blessed in 1902 and saw through to completion in 1905.

In 1901 he permanently injured his eyes while rescuing people in a great fire that swept through Galveston.  He then led efforts to rebuild the Galveston water system and to strengthen and modernize the Galveston fire department.

He was brought in as a negotiator by the City of Galveston in 1907 to resolve labor disputes on the Galveston docks as everyone in the city trusted Father Kirwin to be fair.

He founded the Home Protection League in 1909 to eliminate saloons from residential areas.

In 1911 he was made Vicar General of the Galveston diocese, while also serving as President of Saint Mary’s Seminary where he taught moral theology, scripture, Latin, Spanish, and catechetics.

During the Pershing Expedition against Pancho Villa in Mexico in 1916-1917, Father Kirwin served as a chaplain with the Fourth United States Infantry, while continuing his ongoing service as a chaplain with the Texas National Guard.  With the entry of America into World War I, General Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force to France, requested that Father Kirwin serve as chaplain on his staff.  Father Kirwin was unable to take up these duties due to the death of Bishop Gallagher of Galveston.  Father Kirwin was appointed to serve as administrator of the diocese until the appointment of Bishop C.E. Byrne in 1918.

Though he was re-appointed by the new bishop as vicar-general, rector of the Cathedral and President of the Seminary, Father Kirwin somehow, did the man ever sleep?, founded a speaker’s bureau in support of the war effort, and headed the Red Cross in Galveston.

After the War he fought against the growing influence of the Ku Klux Klan.  In 1922 Pope Pius XI bestowed upon him the well-earned title of Monsignor, and Notre Dame in 1923 awarded him an honorary doctorate of laws.  He died of a sudden heart attack on January 24, 1926, death obviously having to be sudden for Father Kirwin, or he would have eluded the Grim Reaper in his usual whirlwind of activity.  All Galveston mourned at his death, with his funeral services lasting four days.  The Texas National Guard escorted his coffin to the train station to take Father Kirwin’s body back to Circleville where his mother requested that he be buried.  No doubt his heart remained in his beloved Galveston.

Published in: on July 20, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Father Galveston  
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January 28, 1861: Sam Houston Stands Alone

 

 

But if, through division in the ranks of those opposed to Mr. Lincoln, he should be elected, we have no excuse for dissolving the Union. The Union is worth more than Mr. Lincoln, and if the battle is to be fought for the Constitution, let us fight it in the Union and for the sake of the Union. With a majority of the people in favor of the Constitution, shall we desert the Government and leave it in the hands of the minority? A new obligation will be imposed upon us, to guard the Constitution and to see that no infraction of it is attempted or permitted. If Mr. Lincoln administers the Government in accordance with the Constitution, our rights must be respected. If he does not, the Constitution has provided a remedy.

Sam Houston, September 22, 1860

It took a fair amount of courage to stand against the tide of secession in the South in 1860-1861, but not even his most determined enemy, and he had many enemies, could say that Sam Houston ever had a shortage of that virtue.   As an ardent Unionist he  fought secession every step of the way.  As I outlined in an earlier post, which may be read here,  he realized that secession was a disaster for the South, and with eerie accuracy predicted a great war and military defeat for the South. 

Houston, as governor of Texas, refused to bring the state legislature back into session to consider secession.  The Secession Convention, which held its opening session on January 28, 1861, voted to abrogate the treaty of annexation with the US on February 1.  Secession was put to a popular vote and won at the ballot.  Texas was admitted to the Confederacy on March 1, 1861.  Houston never recognized the legality of any of this, and refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy.

“Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas….I protest….against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.

Houston was removed from office on March 16, 1861.  On September 22, 1860 he had made a pro-Union speech.  It is a fascinating document.  If this gallant old man had been heeded, the nation would have avoided a fratricidal war that claimed 620,000 American lives.  Here is the text of the speech: (more…)

Published in: on January 28, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (7)  
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