The Legacy of Milliken’s Bend

The battle of Milliken’s Bend took place on June 7, 1863. Fought in Louisiana near the small town of Milliken’s Bend on the west bank of the Mississippi River, the battle was notable for several reasons. Firstly, it was only the second battle of the Civil War in which black Union troops participated. Secondly, unlike most Civil War battles where artillery and minie balls caused the majority of casualties, the battle of Milliken’s Bend was for the most part a vicious, close-quarters fight in which bayonets and the buts of guns were used freely. On the Confederate side, the Third Brigade of Walker’s Texas Division under Henry McCulloch – some 1, 500 men – were charged with cutting General Ulysses Grant’s supply line at Milliken’s Bend. The 16th Texas Cavalry, attached to McCulloch’s Brigade, took position on the Confederate left. The Federal garrison, consisting of roughly the same amount of men, had fortified a levee close to a fierce hedge of  thorny bois d’arc. In order for McCulloch’s Brigade to pass the hedge, the company captains were obliged to first hack an opening in the hedge for their men to pass through, mostly single-file. The regiments then reformed in line of battle on the far side before resuming their charge at the levee. A good many men fell at the hedge while attempting to scramble back into formation.

The 16th Texas Cavalry suffered some 96 casualties, according to the report by General McCulloch. According to Private Joseph Blessington of the 16th Texas Infantry, a number of trenches had been prepared before the battle to receive the bodies of the dead. No coffins were provided. The fallen were wrapped in the blankets they carried. A number of nearby empty slave cabins became the de facto hospital, where doctors such as the 16th Cavalry’s William Head busied themselves severing ruined limbs and treating various wounds. Men had lost comrades and brothers, adding to the physical misery. But the pain of Milliken’s Bend would last far beyond the battlefield, the field hospital, and the war itself. Private Alexander Boren of Company I lost his brother, Isham there.

Alexander Boren later in life.

Alexander Boren later in life.

Alexander had been released from service due to being under age. The loss of Isham Boren was a traumatic event in the Boren family, and in the post-war Lee-Peacock feud, would cause no little amount of bitter feeling. The Boren family lost several family members in the course of the feud, and Alexander himself lost a leg courtesy of the killer of his uncle, Henry. Henry Boren had taken the Union side of the feud, and was supposed to have betrayed the leader of the opposing side, Captain Bob Lee. That action cost him his life, and Alexander his leg. The picture at left shows Alexander later in life, walking with a cane. The joint of an artificial limb is clearly visible on his left knee.

The Borens were hardly the only family to feel the loss. In Company G, Lieutenant Thomas H. Batsell fell atop the levee with a

Sgt. Charles W. Batsell, Company G.

Sgt. Charles W. Batsell, Company G.

mortal head wound. Nearby was his brother, Sergeant Charles W. Batsell. It is probable, though not documented that Sergeant Batsell carried his stricken brother to the rear. Charles Batsell would serve faithfully until the close of the war, but when the regiment was disbanded at Camp Groce in 1865, he did not stay to be discharged. Applying for a Confederate pension from the State of Texas in 1914, Batsell had a defiant answer when asked about his discharge. “[I] was never either discharged or surrendered. I am still a Confederate soldier so far as formal discharge, (sic) parol, or surrender are concerned.” Batsell’s own legacy saw fruition in his grandson, Charles Batsell Winstead, who as an agent of the FBI was credited with the killing shot for Chicago gangster John Dillinger. In World War II, Winstead was for a time the head of security for the Los Alamos base where the atomic bomb research, code named “Project Manhattan,” was carried out.

Reagan, Thomas Jefferson

Corporal Thomas J. Reagan and family, ca. 1863.

In Company B, Corporals Thomas J. Reagan and David B. Davis both received shoulder wounds. Reagan’s wound would prove fatal. He left behind a wife and four small children. The eldest two children died before the decade was out, and Reagan’s widow, Letitia Coffey, remarried. She herself was the niece of the Company Captain, Reubens Coffey, who would be killed in August 1865 in a dispute over a horse in near Dallas, Texas. Letitia’s second marriage took place in 1865, and lasted less than three years, for she died in 1868, effectively leaving her remaining two children, Letitia and Mary Catherine, orphaned. The two sisters were awarded to the custody of their mother’s sister, Polly Ann, who had married Lieutenant John Meyers McKinney, also of Company B. Corporal Davis was far more fortunate. He not only survived, but was captured the following year on April 9, at the battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana. Returning to Texas after the war, he soon found his own family life in turmoil following the subsequent death of his wife. When he chose to remarry, he did so to Thomas Reagan’s younger sister, Mandanah.

In Company D, Captain John Haywood Tolbert received a gunshot wound that passed through his body. The wound caused him to receive a leave of absence while he recovered. Tolbert would return to his regiment, and fight again at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill. His service at Pleasant Hill was short-lived, as he found himself shot in the hip, and obliged to go to the rear. This second wound caused him to retire in 1865. His service and injuries won him respect in the years following the war from both constituents and colleagues, as he entered the Texas Legislature. He would serve for Grayson County in the 21st, 22nd, 23rd, and 26th Legislatures. During this time, he would serve on various committees, including one for a Constitutional Amendment. When Tolbert died in February, 1907, the Texas House of Representatives placed a memorial page for him in its journal, noting his service and wounds received.

In Company E, Lieutenant Dudly M. Waddill received a severe, though not fatal gunshot wound. He was shot from above, most likely as the regiment was

Lieutenant Waddill's headstone in El Paso, Texas.

Lieutenant Waddill’s headstone in El Paso, Texas.

ascending the levee. The bullet entered the top of his buttock, and traveled down the back of his leg, finally lodging behind his knee. The wound caused him to be discharged for disability the following year. It was Lieutenant Waddill’s second wound, having received a head wound at Cotton Plant, Arkansas exactly eleven months prior. After the war, Waddill left Collin County and moved to El Paso, where for most of the rest of his life he owned and ran a grocery store. He and his store were frequently mentioned in the local newspapers, but none mentioned his service.

Sam Savage, son of Robert Bolin Savage of Company I.

Sam Savage, son of Robert Bolin Savage of Company I.

In Company I, Corporal Robert Bolin Savage suffered a broken thigh. It is not known how this wound was received, but as it was not listed as a gunshot, and there is no record of his leg being amputated, it was most likely broken by the butt of a Federal rifle. Savage left Confederate service, and moved to Parker County, Texas, on the outskirts of Weatherford. He joined a local defense unit, and served through the end of the war. On March 2, 1866, Robert and his brother James, who had also relocated to Weatherford, were attacked by a raiding party of Comanches. Both brothers were killed in the surprise attacks, and had some of their children taken captive. Robert’s own son, Samuel was among them. Samuel was a captive from March until November, by which time he had become proficient in both the Comanche tongue and the use of a bow and arrow. He lived until the age of 90, and loved to recall his time with the Comanche.

Lt. James K. P. Russell and family.

Lt. James K. P. Russell and family.

Two Lieutenants of Company E, Ira Kilgore and James K. P. Russell, were ordered to be arrested following the battle by theirBrigade Commander, Henry McCulloch, for deserting their posts. Their supposed desertion was not mentioned in McCulloch’s report of the battle, but the two remained in a state of arrest until April 7, 1864. After some months, Kilgore and Russell wrote a letter to their superiors protesting their imprisonment and lack of trial. They requested that they either be tried for desertion, or released so that they could enter service elsewhere. Both were permitted to resign the day before the regiment’s next engagement, perhaps out of concern over their supposed actions at Milliken’s Bend. Both men returned to Texas after the war. Lieutenant Russell raised a large family, and died at Pilot Point, Texas in 1909. Ira Kilgore remained in Texas until at least 1870, and then quietly disappeared from history.

Aside from the events that occurred following the deaths and injuries at Milliken’s Bend, something happened at Milliken’s Bend which affected the whole regiment. It was at this battle, their first with Walker’s Texas Division, that the regiment earned the grisly nickname of “The Bloody Sixteenth.” It was a title by which Joseph Blessington would refer to the regiment in his account of the battle of Milliken’s Bend, and it was used later by Colonel Edward Gregg, who had been wounded at Milliken’s Bend, when calling for regimental reunions. It was a way to recall the suffering and brotherhood that he and his men had shared. Directly and indirectly, the battle of Milliken’s Bend affected the lives of the veterans of the 16th Texas Cavalry, and made an impression that would last the rest of their lives. In some cases, it affected their families and descendants, as well. The legacy of Milliken’s Bend, then, is mixed with blessing and sorrow, honor and disgrace. It forever touched and changed the lives of the men on both sides who lived through it, and today, 153 years later, we honor them.

The Bloody 16th II

Lawyer, Judge, Captain, Statesman, and Poet

William Thomas Green Weaver was born April 23, 1832 in Carrollton, Illinois, the son of Green Weaver. At the age of eight, his family moved to Texas, settling in Hopkins County, near the site of present-day Greenview. Young William received a common education, but Capt. William Thomas Green Weaverafter a brief stint as a teacher, he left both that profession and his father’s farm behind to seek a new life in Gainesville. It was in here that the education he had received would flourish, and Weaver would become a noted poet in the romantic style. A year after moving to Gainesville, he became a lawyer, practicing with one of his brothers. By 1860, he was one of three lawyers in Gainesville. The others were likely soon-to-be fellow officers James Menees Lindsay, and Thomas F. Mosby. Rising quickly on the political scene, Weaver was first made a notary public, and then District Attorney for the 12th Judicial District.

Though, like most of the pre and post-war South, Weaver was a Democrat, he, like a few others of note, opposed secession. Nonetheless, after his adopted State broke with the Union and entered the Confederacy, he answered the call to military service. He enlisted in what was to become the 16th Texas Cavalry on February 21, 1862, as a private in Company E.  Weaver was promoted to Company Captain on November 5, 1862, following the death of the company’s former Captain, the well-liked Baptist minister, John Runnels Briscoe. Weaver would hold this rank until the end of the war.

Weaver was with his regiment through all five of its battles, and was captured at the battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana on April 9, 1864.  Somehow, Weaver was released in time to rejoin the 16th Texas Cavalry on the road to Jenkin’s Ferry, Arkansas, to confront the fleeing army of Frederick Steele. Following the deaths of two Brigade commanders of his Division, General William “Dirty Neck Bill” Scurry, and General Horace Randall, Weaver composed a moving tribute to the fallen leaders which was published on southern newspapers.

Following the breakup of the regiment near Hempstead, Texas in May of 1865, Weaver returned home to Gainesville, where he married Nancy Wilkin Fletcher on December 10 the same year. Two sons were born to the couple. Prior to his marriage, Weaver had been appointed A District Judge by Governor Andrew Hamilton on August 1. A subsequent redrawing of the districts left Weaver over the 7th district, which included Clay, Collin, Cooke, Denton, Fannin, Grayson, Hunt, Jack, Montague, and Wise Counties. Most of these were the counties where the men of the 16th Texas Cavalry had either enlisted, or would settle after the war. While most of his duties as Judge involved petty crime or civil disputes, there was one case which he undertook that was of a far more serious nature. The Reconstruction Government was anxious that the offenders in the affair known as the Great Hanging at Gainesville should be brought to justice. Weaver was the judge over the cases of the first six defendants, who were exonerated. But on November 18, 1867, Weaver was removed from his office by Special Order #206, which allowed officeholders at all levels of government to be removed. Probably to the consternation of the government, Weaver personally represented another of the accused, Thomas Barrett, in the trial, along with fellow lawyer and veteran James W. Throckmorton. Barrett was acquitted.

In 1875, Weaver served as a delegate to the Texas Constitutional Convention which drew up the document that has governed Texas since the following year. Weaver put forward a number of progressive ideas, including women’s suffrage, and humane punishment for prison inmates. He was ridiculed for both. Laudable as these efforts were, another side of Weaver emerged in the newspapers during the convention. There were reports that he was frequently intoxicated, and could often be seen at the bar when not at the convention. After less than a full ten years of marriage, he and his wife had also separated.

After the convention, perhaps sensing an end to come, he divided his land holdings between his sons. On October 18, 1876, Weaver, back home in Gainesville, had complained of a severe headache. In trying to remedy the pain, Weaver self-medicated with grains of hydrate of chloral, taking over 100 grains in the space of an hour. Soon after, he was talking with a friend, when he suddenly collapsed and died.

A simple marker stands over his grave at Fairview Cemetery in Gainesville, cracked and cemented; the last monument to a lawyer, judge, captain, statesman, and poet.

 

Updates

Since the announcements have been made on both the Facebook and Twitter pages, probably the announcement should be made here, as well.  For the last three years, I have been researching the 16th Texas Cavalry, and while that research continues, it is being put into a book on the regiment and its men.  The book is a long way from publication, but I will be posting updates on “Fitzhugh’s Regiment: A History of the 16th Texas Cavalry and Its Men” as the work progresses.

In the meantime, for those of you who follow this blog, I am including photos of the descendants of men who served in the regiment.  If you would like your own included, you can send it in by emailing me at sixteenthtexascavalry@yahoo.com.

If you are not familiar with the social media pages for the 16th Texas Cavalry, you can find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/16thTexasCavalryDismtd, and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/16thTxCav

Updates are posted to these pages regularly.

In Uniform

The standard uniform of the Confederacy was of course the famous Gray, and its unintentional offshoot, butternut.  Most have seen the kepi hat worn by both sides, with its blue or gray variations.  But what about those without standard uniforms?  Trans-Mississippi Confederates, like the men of the 16th Texas Cavalry, rare wore a standard uniform.  A photo of any of them in such clothing is almost as rare a find as one could wish to make.  But there are examples, and they provide an interesting view of what clothing was available to men in the Trans-Mississippi Department. The Commander of the Trans-Mississippi at its surrender was General Edmund Kirby Smith, who, not surprisingly, wore the standard uniform.

Gen. E. Kirby Smith in uniform

Gen. E. Kirby Smith in uniform

But Smith’s uniform as an officer was not largely the rule west of the Mississippi.  Joseph Blessington, an Irish-born private in the 16th (and later 19th) Texas Infantry, described a rather motley crew, with items of clothing including penitentiary jackets, jeans, three-corner hats, felt hats resembling a tassled fez, and covered in buttons, and black wool shirts.  One such image that exists, though for legal reasons cannot be posted here, is that of Private John Samuel Bryan of Company B, 16th Texas Cavalry.

This picture, on file with the Indiana State Historical society, portrays Bryan from roughly the waist up.  As many did, he sports a beard.  On his head is a dark-colored, rounded hat, and his shirt is white with vertical and horizontal black stripes.  The shirt has two breast pockets, both outlined with a thick black border.

Cpl. Bartlett Hutton

Cpl. Bartlett Hutton

More to the standard side is Corporal Bartlett Hutton of the 16th Texas Cavalry.  Dressed in dark colors, and sporting a necktie and kepi, Corporal Hutton’s attire seems more something that he has looted from a Federal camp, or Federal soldier no longer in need of the items.  The date of this picture is uncertain, but seems to be either during or shortly after the war.  His attire is certainly too dark for a standard Confederate Grey.  It is well-documented that Confederates whose clothes were ragged or gone would take clothes from fallen enemies, or loot them from camps.  On the battlefield, for obvious reasons, this became something of a liability.

Deaver

Another soldier of the 16th, in a picture standard for the time leading up to the war, is Private John A. Deaver.  Deaver’s confident and somewhat cocky photograph shows him sporting a western hat, long hair, and a jacket, shirt, and tie.  Also a common feature for Deaver, especially among Texas soldiers, is the huge Bowie knife that he is holding.  Large numbers of Texas soldiers went to war with such knives, a fearsome tribute to the fallen Alamo hero James Bowie, and his famed blade.  The knives in most cases proved too cumbersome for military service, and were discarded.  What became of Deaver’s knife is not known.

Pvt. Elijah Chambers

Pvt. Elisha Chambers

Only one other photograph, seemingly in uniform, is known to exist from the ranks of the 16th Texas Cavalry, that of soldier and diarist Elisha Chambers.  Chambers wears a dark, seemingly home made shirt, and what seems to be a white undershirt, which covers his neck.  Like John Bryan, he sports a beard, and seemingly has the two breast pockets.  Setting his apart from Bryan’s however, is the absence of a border for the pockets, and the presence of what is either a button or grommet at the inside corner.

Though not as outlandish as Blessington’s descriptions, these photos show that there was little standard to be had for uniforms in the 16th Texas Cavalry.  The papers of the officers show requisitions for clothing, especially pants and socks, but no description of them exists.  Possibly they were grey or butternut, as with General Kirby Smith.  But the photographic evidence left behind, scant as it is, shows variation as colorful as the men themselves.

 

For questions or comments regarding material on this blog, please write sixteenthtexascavalry@yahoo.com

 

 

The Regiment in Film

Hollywood is hardly known for its historical accuracy, but on occasion, it gets things right.  There is practically no end to the historical films to have come out of Hollywood, or those based, however loosely, on historical events. To date three films have been made which have connections to the 16th Texas Cavalry; Chisum-1970, The Outlaw Josey Wales-1976, and Public Enemies-2009.

Chisum is a depiction of cattle baron John Chisum, and his connections with the famed outlaw, William Bonnie, better known as Billy the Kid.  Chisum’s character is played by legendary actor John Wayne, and Billy by Geoffrey Deuel.  A relationship of sorts springs up between Billy and Chisum’s niece, Sally.  In reality, this connection has some truth, as there was a connection between the young desperado and Sallie Chisum.  The connection with the 16th Texas Cavalry is that Sallie was also the sister-in-law of Private Robert G. Johnson of Company A, 16th Texas Cavalry.  His second wife, Mary Branch Chisum, was Sallie’s sister.

Left: Pamela McMyler as Sallie Chisum. Right: Sallie Chisum

Left: Pamela McMyler as Sallie Chisum. Right: Sallie Chisum

Private Robert G. Johnson

Private Robert G. Johnson

 

Second on the list is Clint Eastwood’s portayal of Josey Wales, a farmer from Missouri whose family and comrades are murdered by a band of Kansas redleg Union soldiers.  Wales seeks and obtains revenge on the killers.  At approximately the one hour mark in the film, Eastwood’s character walks into a bar, and overhears a man talking about “Captain Bob Lee still fighting over in Fannin County.”  This brief bit of dialogue is a reference to the bloody four-year struggle known as the Lee-Peacock feud, in which Captain Bob Lee fought against Union aggression during reconstruction.  Several men of the 16th Texas Cavalry were involved in this feud, including Colonel Fitzhugh himself, who harbored one of Lee’s men, and endured a subsequent shootout at his home near Melissa.  Private John Baldock, a deserter from Fitzhugh’s regiment, took up with the Union forces under Lewis Peacock, and was killed when Bob Lee raided a meeting of Peacock’s men, also wounding Lewis Peacock himself. Alexander Boren of the 16th Texas Cavalry ultimately lost a leg as a result of the feud, having been shot in the leg by his Uncle Henry’s killer as he made his escape.  Henry Boren had betrayed Lee, and some said, fired the fatal shot.  In another relation to the film, a bounty had been placed on Lee’s head not long before his death.  Among those who had tried to claim it were two Kansas redleg Union soldiers, who were never seen alive again.

Captain Bob Lee

Captain Bob Lee

 

The third and final film is 2009’s Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale.  Depp plays the role of notorious gangster John Dillinger, who after an impressive criminal career, was gunned down outside a Chicago cinema.  In the film, Depp’s Dillinger is shot down by FBI Agent Charles Batsell Winstead.  Winstead was indeed credited with killing Dillinger, and by no less a personage than J. Edgar Hoover.  Winstead was also the grandson of Sergeant Charles Batsell of the 16th Texas Cavalry, whose brother, Lt. Thomas Batsell, was killed at Milliken’s Bend in 1863.

winstead

Left: Charles Batsell Winstead Right: Steven Lang as Winstead in Public Enemies

Sgt. Charles Batsell

Sgt. Charles Batsell

 

My Four Sons

Boren

The Boren family, like so many others, were relative newcomers to Texas. In spite of that, a good deal of them served their adopted State when the Civil War broke out. Afterward, they settled in for what they hoped would be a peaceful life. But like so many of the edge of war, it was not to be. Three members of the Boren family served in the 16th Texas Cavalry; brothers Isham and Alexander Boren, and their cousin, Washington.

Their grandfather, William Boren, had several children, and among them, four sons that would tear a rift in north Texas. They were James, Israel, Henry, and Richard. Israel Boren was the first to fan the flames. One rainy night in 1865, he arrived at the home of Captain Bob Lee, lately home from the war, and lying on his sickbed. With Boren were a party of men who were, including himself, dressed in blue Union uniforms. It was a strange sight no doubt, as Israel Boren had claimed sickness to prevent himself going into the Confederate army.

The party was led by one Lewis Peacock, who proclaimed that Lee was under arrest for crimes committed during the war. Without further ado, Bob Lee and his brother were dragged into the wet night, and into Choctaw Bottom, where they would spend three days. Bob Lee’s health would decline further as they waited. What they were waiting for, instead of bringing Lee to any kind of “justice,” was instead for Bob Lee to pay them a ransom for his release. With no hope of rescue, he finally agreed. Thus began the infamous Lee-Peacock feud.

What was most peculiar of all about seeing Israel Boren in a Union uniform, was that his brother, son, and nephews had worn Gray in the late conflict. He himself was a veteran of the Union army, but in the Mexican War.

For four long years the feud raged, until Bob Lee was killed by Union soldiers in 1868. Lee had been expertly hiding in the area known as “The Corners,” but was betrayed by Israel Boren’s brother, Henry, who not only led the soldiers to Lee, but reportedly asked for the honor of the first shot. If he had hoped to gain the $1,000 bounty on Lee’s head, he was to be disappointed. There are conflicting reports of which family member pulled the trigger. If it was Bill Boren, Henry’s nephew, or Jack Harrington, husband of Melinda Boren, Israel’s daughter. The story of Bill Boren says that Henry drew first, and that he was killed in self-defense. Bill later rode with infamous outlaw and murderer John Wesley Hardin.

The Jack Harrington version holds that Henry was called to his front porch by his niece’s husband, and promptly shot down. Harrington then took to his horse and fled. As he tried to make his escape, he ran into his wife’s cousin, Alexander Boren, whom he shot in the left knee. Harrington was later hunted down and killed by Dick Boren. Some records say that this Richard “Dick” Boren was Henry’s son. Given that he would have been less than ten at the time of his father’s death, this is unlikely. It is far more likely that if Jack Harrington was shot down for Henry Boren’s death, it was by Henry’s brother, Richard, who was far and away old enough to hunt and kill his brother’s murderer.

Israel Boren never saw consequences from his actions in sparking the Lee-Peacock feud, but did end his days in prison for the murder of Syd Nance in 1891. Israel was in his late 70s when he died. His son, Washington, had died some fifteen years before in 1880. Isham Boren was killed at Milliken’s Bend in 1863. Richard Boren moved to Portales, New Mexico, where he died in 1905. James Boren had passed away in 1848, well before any of the trouble started. Alexander Boren had to have his left leg amputated just above the knee. He lived the longest of all the Borens of that era, dying in his old age in 1937, having lived with the fallout from his family’s actions for nearly 70 years.