The U.S. Supreme Court has been dealing with the Texas state government’s refusal to allow the Sons of Confederate Veterans to put the Confederate battle flag (it was never the official Southern flag) on their personalized license plates. Wasn’t this decided at Appomattox? But there is still one little-known story about Texas and Dixie that could have changed everything. First some background. In the old Capitol in Austin shortly after noon on Feb. 1, 1861, amid thunderous applause, a special convention voted that Texas should secede from the United States. A parade of officials came down the aisle led by George Flournoy, a leading secessionist. The procession was brought up at the end by a group of ladies from Travis County who had with them a beautiful new hand-made flag which was hoisted to a place of honor over the platform. It was not the flag of the United States. It was not the flag of the Confederacy. It was the Lone Star flag.
For as the Union was dissolving, unlike the rest of the South, Texas did not face the alternative of leaving or staying. It had a third choice: Returning to where it had been barely 15 years before, to the Republic of Texas, a time span equal to now and the year 2000. How long ago was Y2K? Maybe a year? Many leaders were the same who had led the republic, although in the emotion toward the Confederacy, independence was not the strongest possibility, but, a choice, nevertheless. The Ordinance of Secession for Texas was different. It ticked off the accusations against the U.S. government including not protecting the frontier from Indian attacks (Virginia didn’t have that problem). Slavery was a key item.
The secession document went on to declare that all the powers delegated by the Republic of Texas to the United States in 1845 were now being transferred back to Texas. The powers were “revoked and resumed.” Resumed — a telling choice of words. The Ordinance added that Texas was absolved from all restraints and obligations incurred by the federal compact and that Texas was once again a separate and sovereign state. Then the convention declared the Annexation Resolution to be null and void.
Feelings were high. Amelia Barr, an English woman in Austin at the time, wrote, “There were bitter disputes whenever men were congregated and domestic quarrels on every hearthstone. . . . There were now three distinct parties. One for remaining in the Union; A second which demanded a Southern Confederacy, and a third which wants Texas to resume her independence.” Gov. Sam Houston was supposedly one of those who favored a return to the Republic of Texas. Houston was against secession, and told his eldest son, Sam, Jr., not to join the Confederate Army unless Texas itself was threatened. Sam Jr. joined anyway and was wounded at Shiloh. President Lincoln got wind of a plan that Houston and the Texas Unionists would form a military force and simply hold Texas neutral. Lincoln sent an agent to Austin to confer with Houston, and promised to make him a major general in the U.S. Army commanding 50,000 troops sent to support him, but Sam turned down the idea.
Francis R. Lubbock, who later became governor, wrote in his memoirs, “Had she (Texas) desired to desert her sister States of the South in this hour of need and peril (which she did not) and resume her former station as a republic, it was realized that she could not preserve a neutral attitude and maintain herself in that condition.” Three other leaders of the secession movement — John Henry Brown, Pryor Lea and John Stell – wrote an “Address to the People of Texas” in which they minimized the idea of a separate Texas.
When the matter was put before the voters on Feb. 23, 1861, only two choices were given: “For Secession” and “Against Secession.” Secession won, 46,153 to 14,747. At the time, the U.S. Army had 2,700 troops in Texas — 10 percent of its entire force. The Army was sent packing and its headquarters for Texas, in San Antonio, were taken over. A picture ran in Harper’s magazine at the time showing the changing of the guard. The flag flying over the headquarters was the Lone Star flag. That was once again our official pennant until Texas joined the Confederacy.
But the dues of the club were high. Lubbock, after becoming governor during the war, wrote: “Texas has furnished to the Confederate military service thirty-three regiments, thirteen battalions, two squadrons, six detached companies, and one legion of twelve companies of cavalry. . . .” The number of Texans in gray eventually reached 90,000. That was three times the number of male Texans between the ages of 16 and 60 who did not join, and was the highest proportion of men from any state on either side. No one really knows how many Texans were killed in the war, but two-thirds of Terry’s Texas Rangers were killed. And after the First Texas Infantry attacked through a peach orchard at Shiloh, an observer noted that he could walk clear across the orchard and never touch the ground.
An interesting side note: Despite the plea for infantrymen, two-thirds of the Texans joined the cavalry, their preferred branch of service. Lt. Col. Arthur Fremantle of the British Coldstream Guards, who visited Texas during the war, observed this fondness for cavalry service: “it was found very difficult to raise infantry in Texas,” he wrote, “as no Texan walks a yard if he can help it.” Gov. Edward Clark observed that “the predilection of Texans for cavalry service, founded as it is upon their peerless horsemanship, is so powerful that they are unwilling in many instances to engage in service of any other description unless required by actual necessity.”
So the Lone Star Republic never returned, the South lost, and the only battle left is over license plates.
Ashby whistles Dixie at email@example.com