Quantrill's Raiders "are a hard Set of fellows . . . . he is a hiway rober in my opinion"Texas Confederate Cavalryman's Archive of Letters, all dated between January 15, 1858, and August 30, 1866. Most of the letters are between Confederate cavalryman William S. Chapman of the 1st Texas Partisan Rangers (30th Texas Cavalry Regiment), Co. "F", and his wife, Elizabeth, who remained at their home in Belton, Texas, during the Civil War with their three young children. Nearly fifty-five letters between the young couple are included-thirty-five are written by Elizabeth and the remaining by William. The young Civil War soldier wrote mostly of his service in Indian Territory, where he served a time under Colonel Douglas Cooper, commander of the 1st Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Confederate Rifles. Also included in this archive are over fifteen letters-most war-dated-between Chapman family members, some with envelopes. In all, this frank and revealing archive contains near seventy letters.
William Chapman (1833-1907) was one of many Texas men who, preferring to serve in a cavalry unit rather than an infantry unit, enlisted in a partisan regiment. These irregular military units-most often cavalry units-formed in Texas and other Confederate states after the Confederate Congress passed the Partisan Ranger Act in April 1862. They were usually used to attack federal supply chains and outposts. The Confederate Partisan Ranger Act was repealed in February 1864 after influential military figures such as General Robert E. Lee feared the lack of control over these undisciplined irregulars-the notorious Quantrill's Raiders serves as an example. Edward Gurley, a lawyer from Waco, organized the 1st Texas Partisan Rangers (30th Texas Cavalry Regiment) in Waco in August 1862 comprised of men from the surrounding area. The regiment initially protected the Texas coast until mid-1863 when they were ordered north of the Red River to protect Indian Territory. Like most Confederates from Texas, Chapman and the 1st Texas Partisan Rangers remained in the Trans-Mississippi to fight, never crossing east of the Mississippi River.
In William Chapman's first letter to his wife, he writes from "Camp McCulloch" on August 18, 1862, the day Gurley organized the ten companies of his regiment. "Our regimental election has come off today [Edward] gurly is colonel." (Even though Gurley held the commission from President Jefferson Davis to lead the regiment, he still permitted his men to vote for their commander.) After spending several months in south Texas protecting the coastline, the 1st Texas Partisan Rangers marched northward toward the Territory in the spring of 1863. As the regiment continued its march, the young soldier humorously writes on July 14, 1863, "there was a battery of flying artillery came in yesterday composed of brass 12 pounders-4 in number they are camped on the rite of our regiment they don't look mutch dangerous the little things are very quiet and I don't think that as long as they stay with us they will get hurt." Reporting on news he has received about the fall of Vicksburg, he writes on July 21, 1863, from "Camp bank head" that "the boys are all down harted the News has come that we have lost vixburg and port Hudson with a great many prisners and we are all about whipt."
When Chapman had enlisted in August 1862, he took his horse "Charly" and left his wife and three young children in the care of his aging and widowed father. In his August 1, 1863, letter, he communicates to Elizabeth his relief upon learning from her that his father was not drafted under the new Confederate conscription laws of 1863, which made all men between 17 and 50 years of age susceptible. "If he had to go I don't know how you would have got along." While he felt at ease for the moment about home, he was constantly worried about the Rangers. In fact, Chapman writes often of disorder in their ranks, particularly when Col. Gurely was away from the regiment. "Colonel Gurley is in command of the regiment now So we will probably hold together if he had not come for one month longer there would not have been No thirtieth Texas Cavalry the boys would have gon home."
Chapman had other worries. Though Texas escaped major invasions from Union troops during the war, life on the Texas home front still suffered disruptions, including those from slaves. After learning of a particular slave disruption back home, Chapman requests of Elizabeth on August 18, 1863, "Tell mee . . . how many of the negroes are cutting up down there we heare that the negroes are cutting up down on the brasas [Brazos River] and in bell [county]. . . . Mr. breadlove got a leter from home his wife rites that the negroes have been cutting up down there She rote about how walker's henry had done and that he was hung and it hard fur mee to Stay here now and if the negroes gits any worse I think that I will have to come home." Interestingly, Elizabeth had written him a letter two days earlier with her own explanation of the slave disruptions. That letter had not reached Chapman when he wrote his dated August 18, but when he did later receive it, he learned from Elizabeth that "The negroes has been playing the wile hear hen [Henry] walke[r] and too other nigers went to Calders[?] and tore the dore down but did not hurt non they went from there to mrs. Messers and strip Start [stark] naked and too[k] her out by the hair and tore out her hair they hav hung hen [Henry?] but did not find out who the other ones was i am a fraid we will See trouble hear."
Chapman didn't have much time to worry about rebellious slaves. On August 18, Chapman writes, "We have got Marching orders to reinforce [Colonel Douglas H.] Cooper" in Indian Territory. "If we are ordered across red river the men that live on the frontier will leave and nearly all of the men here are frontier men." In 1861, Douglas Cooper raised the 1st Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Confederate Rifles. By Chapman's next letter, dated August 27, 1863, the regiment had moved about forty miles north across the Red River into Indian Territory and were camped at "Camp big blue Chocktaw nation" where they were "expecting to get orders to go on ever hour . . . from general [William] Steele who has taken command over cooper." (Steele commanded the Department of Indian Territory for most of 1863.) Of particular interest in this letter, Chapman transcribes passages from his personal journal, which no longer exists. The dates from his journal are August 23, 1863, through August 27, 1863, and report on Col. Cooper's retreat after a loss to General James G. Blunt at the Battle of Honey Springs in Indian Territory earlier in July. Chapman wrote in his journal on August 27 that "a currier came from cooper this morning he says that Cooper is falling back and that the feds are rite up on his heals he has fell back to perryvill which is only Seventy five miles from here the orders are to dispense with drill and put our guns in order for immediate use." The 1st Partisan Rangers did not make it to Perryville in time to help General Steele and Colonel Cooper who lost the Battle of Perryville on August 26, 1863. Once the Rangers did arrive to reinforce Cooper, they quickly left as Chapman writes on September 3: "We are in indian nation about one hundred miles from red river we left Cooper on little bogy [creek] he is the worst whirped[?] man in the Confederacy. There is no yankeys in hearing of us on this road we are on the rode to fort Smith [Arkansas] the yanks that run Cooper are on the road to fort Gibson old [General James] Blunt is the federal General and his a good one. . . . The people is all getting myty tired of this war in this country. The Indians are divided according to the way they are treated the pin[?]Indians are all with blunt. Cooper has got more than 1800 hun[dred] Indians with him they are all Chocktaws the Creeks and Cherokes are not with us and I am of the opinion that they are against us."
On September 17, Chapman informs Elizabeth that "The people up here are all turning over on the other Side we have been in to arcansas upin 22 mile of fort Smith the Yankees are as thick there as the cattle is about our house. . . . We had a little fight with the feds . . . we whiped them out very easy . . . we killed four me and several others and never got a man hurt the bulletts flew around us finely thick for a little while." But other Confederates in Arkansas did not fare so well, as Chapman writes on September 22, "General Curtis took Little Rock with out the fire of a gun general prise [Sterling Price] has fell back about Sixty miles to red river he has not got much forse with him the whole of the arcansas river is in posesion of the yanks now and they are able to hold it for the hole country up here is whiped. . . . Cooper is on the road from red river to port Gibson our brigade is on the road to fort Smith. Cable and prise are a way below here. There is not enough of any of the command to whip a lady." On October 4, 1863, the soldier writes, "We are now with Cooper camped near peryville in the Chctaw nation. . . . There is not much danger of a fight here for if the feds don't run we will. Cooper is too easy Scared to ever get much hurt he is old white headed Childish man and easy Scard in the bargain the Indians are holding a counsil to See if they will drawout of the Conferency [Confederacy] or not they say that the Confedracy is Whiped and I think that they will all draw out of it."
In October 1863, the 1st Texas Partisan Rangers met up with Quantrill's Raiders near the Canadian River. On October 12, Chapman notes, "I have been in the Sadle 48 hours but the federals have gon from here to fort Gibson and there is none here now quantrells men have burnt the town of lawrance in cansas [Kansas] and had to leave that country as they was leaving there they came across old [General James] blunt and his Staff and killed him and nearly all his Staff and bodygard they are in our camp now on their way to texas they are a hard Set of fellows they say if we don't do beter than we are doing that we are gon up." Quantrill's Raiders did attack General Blunt's detachment a few days earlier killing around 80 of his 100-man detachment, but General Blunt was not killed, contrary to what Quantrill's men told Chapman. Still writing about Quantrill two days later, Chapman records, "They have run quantrell out of mosouri his command is Spliting up and going to other commands he is a hiway rober in my opinion."
After three years of military service to the Confederacy, Chapman made it home after the war to his ranch of 250 cows where the burden of reconstruction of Texas and the South quickly became onerous. Disgruntled, he writes on April 8, 1866, "We are living under military oppression there being no civil law but as the military orders it. But some of the old Secesh are sufering now for their meanness I survived the war. . . . It has Been a hard war on the South it has ruined this country as to the loyalty here it is just as good as none the war is going on in feeling just as much here as it was in the most promising time of the rebellion. That there is soldiers in almost every county in the state which inforces some respect to the old government. . . . George turned all his Neegroes in to cattle Before cession so he did not loose any thing on that. . . . if the infernal Democrats had not got us in to this war I would have been independent By this time."
The thirty-five letters of Elizabeth Chapmen (1841-1902) serve as a fascinating complement to her husband's letters. After the war, both William and Elizabeth eventually moved to Temple, Texas, with their five children.
Also included are eight war-dated letters from William Chapman's three brothers. Five are from John D. Chapman (6th Texas Infantry, Co. F, "Garland's regt.") who asserts on March 9, 1862, "I be damd if they ever will kill me in this war." In his letter dated June 30, 1862, he writes about the march from Camp Henry McCulloch, southwest of Houston, to Little Rock, Arkansas, where Federal troops were invading the state. Brother N. A. Chapman wrote two war-dated letters. In one, he notes from "Live Oak Co. Texas Echo Po May 4th 1862" that "the indians were very bad up above San Antonio . . . the people out there is afraid they will come down for nerly all the men out here has gone to the war what is left is Irish they are the worst[?] set of men that I ever saw." Also included with this collection of letters are other manuscripts, documents, and letters, as well as a well-worn $1 Confederate bill signed by Norton and Dudley. This archive has been well cared for and awaits further research. A few letters exhibit vermin damage.
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