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Battle on the Nueces, 1862


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Stanley S. McGowen, “Battle or Massacre?: The Incident on the Nueces, April 10, 1862,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, vol. CIV, no. 1 (2000), 64-86.

This article examines the events that led to the confrontation between German unionists and Confederate soldiers on the banks of the Nueces River. Stanley McGowen presents evidence that the German settlers were heavily armed and, therefore, not massacred as some later generations have claimed. However, the German unionists who were captured in the battle were killed later under suspicious circumstances, and they could be said to have been massacred.

German settlers did not initially participate in unionism after Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency. They organized the Union Loyal League in 1861, and earned the title of traitors and insurrectionists from secessionists. Although many people assert that the Union’s purpose was to maintain neutrality in the war and prevent animosity between Union and Confederate sympathizers, McGowen contends that soon after Texas seceded the Union Loyal League organized militias in eighteen German communities to actively oppose the Confederacy. Members of the militia swore oaths never to betray the United States of America and were well armed with rifles and ammunition. McGowen presents the testimony of a Union Loyal League member as to the Union’s purpose, which was to join the Federal troops as soon as they invaded Texas. Some of the actions taken by the German unionists were to write letters of an insurrectionist nature to Northern newspapers, establish an underground communication system between themselves and the United States, and to intimidate anyone who supported the Confederacy.

Soldiers were sent to Fredericksburg to control the situation, and martial law was declared in Gillespie County. After learning of plots to attack the Confederate troops, Captain James Duff arrested several local citizens and executed two German immigrants that he considered to be troublemakers. These incidents caused many German unionists to decide to flee to Mexico.

Informants told Duff of this exodus, and he sent ninety-six soldiers in pursuit of them. They located the German unionists on August 9 at the Nueces River. The soldiers planned to attack at 1 a.m. while the Germans were asleep. The soldiers split into two forces to attack from two directions. However, two Germans ran into one of the Texas forces, and the battle was begun prematurely. The Germans took what cover they could and fought back, killing and wounding twenty-one men, but were overrun by superior forces. About twenty-three men escaped early in the battle, and six others escaped after the Confederates overran the camp. What happened after the Confederates took the camp can be considered a massacre; nine or eleven of the wounded Germans were dragged into the woods and shot in the head.

The Battle of the Nueces resulted in a bushwhacker war between Unionists and Confederate sympathizers. Ambushes from both sides were so common that many features of the surrounding terrain were named Bushwhacker. Many homes and farms were set on fire, and sometimes the occupants were shot. These incidents created animosity between the two factions and it continues today among the descendants of German unionists and Confederate sympathizers.

Mary Arnold graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a B.A. in literature and history.

She is an author on http://www.Writing.Com/ which is a site for Writers.

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  • Posted On January 1, 2007
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