Terry’s Texas Rangers

TERRY B F

Colonel B. F. Terry, CSA

Benjamin Franklin Terry (whom everyone called Frank) was born on 18 February 1821 in Russellville, Kentucky, the son of Joseph and Sarah Smith Terry.  Joseph’s Grandfather was Nathaniel Terry; Sarah’s Grandfather was David Smith … both of whom served as officers during the American Revolutionary War.  David Smith additionally served under Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812.

While the children were still young, Joseph and Sarah moved to Mississippi, but later separated.  According to census records for Hinds County, Mississippi in 1830, the Terry household included Sarah, five male children[1], and eight Negro slaves.  In 1833-34, Sarah moved to Brazoria County, Texas where she settled with her brother, Major Benjamin Fort Smith.  Major Smith served under Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812 at New Orleans, and later served as Adjutant to General Sam Houston during the Texas Revolution in 1836.

When Sarah Terry died in 1837, Ben Smith accepted guardianship over the children and as administrator of her estate, which at the time consisted of around 2,000 acres of land along the Brazos River, and eighteen Negro slaves.  When Ben Smith died in 1841, Frank Terry took on the responsibility of managing the plantation.  In October of that year, Frank Terry married Mary Bingham, the daughter of Francis Bingham (one of Stephen Austin’s original 300 settlers).  Together, Frank and Mary sired six children.

We do not know how Frank Terry treated his inherited slaves; we only know that he managed a successful plantation.  On 6 March 1844, two of his slaves attacked Terry with knives and axes.  Terry disabled both men, an incident reported in the Houston Telegraph.

In 1851, Terry formed a partnership with William J. Kyle[2].  Terry and Kyle contracted with the state of Texas to build its first railroad, which they called the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado Railway.  It extended from Harrisburg (outside Houston) to the Brazos River and onward to Richmond, Texas.  Terry and Kyle employed slave labor to build the railroad at a cost of about $18,000 per mile.  In two years, the rail system extended only 30 miles, but it was enough to establish a brisk trade with Houston.  The City of Houston subsequently petitioned the state legislature for funds to  construct a rail system of its own, called the Houston Tap.  This contract was also awarded to Terry and Kyle.

In 1852, Terry and Kyle purchased the Oakland Plantation at Sugar Land from Nathaniel F. Williams[3].  Funds for this purchase were borrowed, but the loan was paid in full by 1856.  The production and milling of sugar made both Terry and Kyle very wealthy men.  Terry’s wealth, his physical presence, and his affability, were attributes much appreciated by Texans living in Fort Bend County and helpful in propelling Terry into the political arena.  In 1861, voters elected Terry to serve as a delegate at the Texas Secession Convention in Austin.  During the convention, Terry, Thomas Lubbock[4], and John Wharton[5] conceived the idea of organizing mounted  rifles for service to Texas.

In February and March 1861, Frank Terry served as an aid to Colonel John S. (Rip) Ford.  Ford was ordered to disarm federal troops at Brazos Santiago[6].  In June, Terry, Lubbock, and Wharton traveled to Richmond, Virginia and offered their services to the Confederate Army.  Initially, President Davis appointed Terry and Lubbock as colonels of volunteers and attached them as aides to General James Longstreet.  Both Terry and Lubbock served with distinction at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas).

Terrys Texas RangersAfter the Confederate war office authorized the formation of Texas cavalry regiments, Terry and Lubbock issued a call for volunteers on 12 August 1861; within a short time, nearly 1,200 men answered the call.  Terry’s Rangers took their oath of enlistment in September, but Ben Terry delayed the final organization of the unit until November when it was officially designated the Eighth Texas Cavalry.  On 17 December, Terry’s regiment participated in the Battle of Rowlett’s Station, near Woodsonville, Kentucky.

Union Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell assumed command of the Army of Ohio in November 1861.  Buell ordered several troop movements to consolidate his control over the area, including General McCook’s march into Kentucky to force Confederates out of Kentucky.  Confederate General Albert Sydney Johnson, meanwhile, established a defensive line along the Green River near Munfordville.

On 10 December, Union Brigadier General Richard W. Johnson (on instructions from McCook) ordered an advance toward the Confederate defensive line.  Confederate Brigadier General Thomas C. Hindman, overall commander of Texas Rangers, Arkansas Infantry, and Mississippi artillery, destroyed the southern pier of the railroad bridge and about 100 feet of track.  Union Colonel August Willich, commanding the 32nd Indiana Infantry[7], sent two companies to protect workers repairing the bridge.  A temporary pontoon bridge was completed on 15 December.  On that same day, Willich reinforced his forward companies with two additional companies and posted them on the north bank.  Stonemasons arrived from Louisville on 16 December.

US-CSA FlagThe primary Confederate force at this location was the 8th Texas Cavalry.  At midday on 17 December, a Union picket continued south on the bridge under repair and advanced into the wood to discover enemy skirmishers just south of Woodsonville.  The Confederates withdrew until joined by Terry’s Rangers, when they launched an assault against the Union troops.  With 500 Union troops facing 1,300 rebels, it wasn’t an even match.  The outmanned Indiana regiment withdrew into defensive lines, supported by Ohio and Kentucky light artillery.  Mississippi artillery launched counter-battery fire, decimating Union defenders.   During the battle, Colonel Terry fell mortally wounded; command of the regiment passed to Lubbock until his death in 1862.  While both sides claimed victory at the Battle of Rowlett’s Station, the outcome was a draw … the Union force retained control over the area and its access routes.

Texas’s mobilization for war was a popular mounted-centric effort involving some 60,000 volunteer horsemen.  Texas cavalry participated in several major battles extending from New Mexico to the Carolina forests.

Texans were simultaneously confronted by the invasion of Union forces and hostile raids by Indians along its western frontier.  These were conditions that led to a two-tier strategy in Texas—one to confront the invading Yankee army, and the other in defense of western homesteaders.  The formation of Texas Cavalry reflected a traditional approach to mounted warfare that evolved from the experiences and struggles with invading Mexicans and hostile Indians.

While deploying 92 regiments in operations of mass, scale, and centralization in the Civil War, Texas also fielded a mounted ranger corps to address marauding Indians and insurgent Unionists.  No other state, Confederate or Union, faced such challenges.  Governor Francis Lubbock (serving from 1861 to 1863), boasted of the success of Texas mounted warriors.  “As for Texas, she needed no foreign bayonet to protect her soil that her sons demonstrated their ability to do, and besides, she had been gallantly represented by regiments composed of her bravest and best on every battlefield from New Mexico to Virginia.”

Of the 90,000 men who mobilized, 58,000 joined as light cavalry, mounted riflemen, or irregular rangers and this reflected the state’s preference for mounted warfare.  In contrast, only 30,000 Texans enlisted as infantry, artillery, or quartermaster units.  But unlike the early days, when Texans rode as irregular but popular militarists, Civil War units returned to the time of General Sam Houston’s Napoleonic formations during the San Jacinto campaign.  The shift reflected the state’s commitment to fighting beyond its borders, which of course favored mounted expeditionary forces and inspired the romantic imaginations among the people, who as it turned out, favored more than any other, the 8th Texas Cavalry.  In any case, during the Civil War twelve Texans were assigned to regular regiments for every one that joined the ranging corps for duty on the western frontier.

Texas cavalry operating in the Eastern Theater, in the Trans-Mississippi Region, and in New Mexico focused on linear operations supporting combined arms brigades, divisions, and corps.  Cavalry helped meet the demand for actionable intelligence, which offered advantages to Confederate forces on the field of battle.  As in previous conflicts, Texas mounted forces performed reconnaissance, raiding, screening, harassing, and retrograde security functions with an occasional mounted shock charge.

The 8th Texas Cavalry offered conventional light cavalry suitable for operations below the brigade level.  Terry’s Texas Rangers served as THE most lethal mounted regiment in the American Civil War, on either side.  The 8th Regiment, more than any other, personified the tactical culmination of Texas military culture while encompassing unique ranger and cavalry qualities into a single fighting formation.  In the Civil War, Terry’s Rangers excelled in confrontations with guerrilla and regular units; they combined frontier audacity, mobility, and firepower to screen, raid, conduct intelligence-gathering operations, and shock assaults.

Terry’s Texas Rangers was formed when more than a thousand men responded to Frank Terry’s advertisement: “I am authorized by the Secretary of War of the Confederate States of America to raise a regiment of mounted rangers for service in Virginia.”  A separate announcement stated that each company would consist of “not less than 64 nor more than 100 privates,” and that “each man must furnish the equipment for his horse and arm himself with a short rifle or double barrel shotgun, and a six-shooter.”  The framework of these ads suggested the distinct frontier character of the regiment.  It’s planned service in Virginia reflected President Davis’s understanding of the capability of Texas frontiersmen armed with Colt revolvers and Sharps carbines[8].  Confederate and state officials intended to capitalize on the strengths of Texans.  This view was echoed in the news sheets of the time: Writing of Terry’s Texas Rangers, The New Orleans Picayune wrote, “If this regiment does not make its mark on the Lincolnites, there is no virtue in strength, courage, patriotism and throughout knowledge of the use of horses and arms.”  Another newspaper echoed the view of Texans when it opined, “The regiment will be the pride of Texas and will feel that they have an ancient and glorious fame to sustain … there is an amount of manliness, chivalry and bravery in the Regiment which cannot be surpassed any regiment of troops in the world.  We feel pride in them, as representatives of the State itself.”

Terry’s Texas Rangers are so remembered to this very day.

Sources:

  1. Blackburn, J. K. P.  Reminiscences of Terry’s Texas Rangers (Reprint, Austin: Ranger Press, 1979)
  2. Muir, A. F. “Railroads Come to Houston, 1857–1861,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 64 (July 1960).
  3. Jennings, N.  Texas Mounted Arms in the Civil War.  Real Clear History Online.
  4. Bailey, A. J.  Texans in the Confederate Cavalry.  McWhitney Press, 1995
  5. Bush, B. S. Terry’s Texas Rangers: History of the Eighth Texas Cavalry.  Turner Publishing, 2002
  6. Murrah, J. D. None But Texans: A History of Terry’s Texas Rangers.  Eakins Press, 2001.

Endnotes:

[1] The oldest son was David Smith Terry, who later in life served as a justice on the California Supreme Court.  Son Clinton was a successful Texas lawyer.

[2]  William Jefferson Kyle (1803-64) was a prominent planter in Brazoria and Fort Bend counties and one of the largest slave owners in Texas.

[3]  Nathaniel Felton Williams (1800-1884) was from Rhode Island.  Through several financial arrangements, Williams established the Oakland Plantation at Oyster Creek, which later became the Imperial Sugar Company.  Williams was one of the more prolific land speculators in Texas before and after the Civil War.

[4] Thomas Saltus Lubbock (1817-1862) was the brother of Texas Governor Francis R. Lubbock.  Lubbock was born in Charleston, South Carolina, migrated to Louisiana in 1835, and joined the fight in Texas as a member of William Cooke’s New Orleans Greys.  Lubbock participated in the New Mexico Expedition as a lieutenant.  Captured and imprisoned in Mexico City, Lubbock escaped and returned to Texas.  In 1842, he served and later commanded G. O. Smith’s company of volunteers during the invasion of Adrian Woll, but (wisely) declined to participate in the Mier Expedition.  By 1861, Lubbock was a strong secessionist.  After helping Terry establish the 8th Texas Cavalry, he served as second in command of the regiment until illness took his life in January 1862.

[5] John Austin Wharton (1828-65) was born in Nashville, Tennessee but raised in Texas.  Wharton was well-educated at the Deans School, South Carolina College (where he commanded the student cadet corps), and married Eliza Johnson, daughter of David Johnson, the governor of South Carolina.  After studying the law, Wharton established the law firm of Wharton-Terry with Clinton Terry while operating a substantial plantation in Brazoria County.  After the death of Terry and Lubbock, Wharton succeeded to command Terry’ Texas Rangers.  Eventually promoted to Major General, Wharton was later killed in a duel with fellow Confederate George W. Taylor.

[6]  Brazos Santiago was located on Brazos Island (present-day Cameron County), a port facility on the south end of Padre Island that facilitated the movement of cargo up the Rio Grande.  Brazos Santiago was destroyed during a hurricane in 1867.

[7] Also known as the 1st German Regiment, it was composed of German immigrants and the descendants of German settlers from the midwest.  Willich used Prussian bugle calls to organize and direct these troops.

[8] The military carbine was popular among cavalry units of the north and south and issued in much larger quantities than any other carbine, chambered for the .50-70 caliber cartridge.  Confederate clones of the Sharps carbine were produced in Richmond, but the quality of these weapons, using brass rather than iron fittings, was generally inferior to those produced in the north.

About Mustang

US Marine (Retired), historian, writer.
This entry was posted in Antebellum Period, Civil War, History, Texas, Texas Rangers. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Terry’s Texas Rangers

  1. Andy says:

    While Frank Terry may have been large in stature, one might question whether his contributions to the Civil War matched his impressive size. But none can question his devotion to the Texas and the War in which he died.
    Interesting bio.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mustang says:

      My reading suggests that in the early days, the Confederacy was grasping at straws for naval and ground combat leaders. Men such as the politically popular Terry were rewarded with rank in exchange for raising battalions and regiments. It didn’t hurt Jefferson Davis to offer Terry a colonelcy (of volunteers) since there was no salary attached to it, and after Terry passed his audition with Longstreet, it was a win-win for Davis, who benefitted from Texas Cavalry. “Grasping for straws” seems to me a good analogy given that Sibley should never have commanded a squad let alone a brigade.

      Like

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