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Confederate Texas and the Reconstruction


Confederate sentiment was strong in Texas in the early 1860s. Sympathizers to the cause, primarily rooted in the concept of states’ rights and in the practical rejection of federal interference in state law, including the legality of slavery, coalesced around it to push for Texas’s secession from the United States in 1861. While Texas Governor Sam Houston resisted, the legislature authorized the meeting of the secession convention, which acted to join the Confederate States of America; this action was approved by public referendum on February 23, 1861, by more than 30,000 votes. Houston didn’t agree with the actions of the federal government; he agreed that federal efforts to end slavery overstepped states’ rights; however, he did not fully agree that the time was right for secession either, and was subsequently removed from office when the secession convention members elected a new governor.

Texas provided men, from cavalry to infantry, and materiel to the Confederate States of America, despite the best efforts of the Union forces. The Union Navy carried out a lengthy blockade of Texas’s Gulf Coast ports; at one point, Galveston was even under Union control, although it was only a short period of time before Texans regained control. Texas was still able to regularly carry out trade with Mexico to its south though, to keep economic staples like cotton moving into global markets and get supplies for fellow Confederate states.

It’s important to note that while Texas did indeed join the Confederacy, there were a number of Texans who were Union loyalists and who joined Union forces. Also, as the war carried on, some Texans bristled at the conscription of their men to fight on behalf of wealthy Southern plantation owners. That said, military action in Texas during the Civil War included offensive and defensive battles, although not nearly as many as in other Southern states, due in part to Texas’ distance from the more highly populated eastern portion of the U.S. There were several notable battles that took place in Texas. In 1862, Texas attempted a westward push into New Mexico in the Battle of Glorieta Pass. They were defeated by Union soldiers over two days of heavy fighting. On September 8, 1863, Union forces lost at the Battle of Sabine Pass, despite heavily outnumbering the Confederate forces they fought. In the fall of that year, Union troops gained Brownsville. In 1865, one of the last Civil War battles – the Battle of Palmito Ranch – was fought on May 12, roughly one month after Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Confederate States of America to the Ulysses S. Grant and the United States of America at Appomattox in Virginia.

The post-Civil War process of Reconstruction – dismantling Confederate power – began shortly after this; by June, federal forces were present in Galveston. On June 19, 1865, in this city, Union General Gordon Granger delivered the news on behalf of the federal government to the people of Texas that slavery had been abolished. All former Confederate states were at this time under the governance of the U.S. Army until their eventual full return to membership in the United States of America; Confederate leadership was barred from elected office and even from participation in the election process. The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, also known simply as the Freedman’s Bureau, was established at the federal level and carried out activities in Texas to protect the newly freed former slaves. A flood of Northerners also headed south to set up schools and social services to help former slaves. Reconstruction efforts intended to rebuild the economic, social and political devastation incurred by four years of civil war; however, success was impeded by violence, corruption and general war-weariness of Americans, especially in the North.

Within a year, secession legislation had been repealed in Texas, and a formal peace agreement was hammered out between Texas and the United States. The reconstruction process continued under Congress’s direction; Texas, along with Louisiana, was located in the Fifth Military District. Texans voted to accept a new state constitution in 1869 and the state was fully re-admitted to the United States on March 30, 1870. While the Civil War was over, its affects reverberated throughout the South for generations to come.

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