Becoming a City and Becoming American, San Antonio, Texas, 1848-1861, Chapter 10

 

By Lawrence Phillip Knight, Ph.D.

 Texas A&M University-Kingsville

 

Chapter X

American Redefined: San Antonio and Secession,

November 1860-June 1861

 

     Late November saw the call for secession in San Antonio.  In an article signed by "FIDLS," this call was made clear; the choice for secession, he declared, had already been made during the presidential election of 1860.  The states, he noted, "declared unmistakably, the right to cut themselves loose from an alliance that has become destructive of their very existence."  After relating the Compact Theory of government, attacking those who denied the right of secession but asserted the right of rebellion, and blaming the North for breaking the covenant of Union, FIDLS. called for secession.  The process, he thought, must be orderly and done with great deliberation.  Most importantly the convention must represent the voice of the people; their voice was "the tribunal to try this case."  While FIDLS. hoped that Texas would join a southern confederacy following secession, he would also support the return of Texas to independent status, but in any case, Texas must secede.  Ironically, if FIDLS. were correct, i.e., if the people of Texas and San Antonio agreed with him, then Isaiah Paschal was correct in his argument that a vote for Breckinridge was a vote for secession.  But was FIDLS. correct?[1]

     The Ledger and Texan, although it carried the above article, was not yet ready to concede that point, as was shown by its report about a meeting that occurred the same day.  The meeting apparently occurred as the result of posters placed throughout the city, and of course the passions unleashed by the recent election.  The posters called for a meeting to be held on Saturday night, November 24, in front of the Menger Hotel for the purpose of the position of the South vis-á-vis the Union.  The first item of business for what was truly an unorganized meeting was to choose leaders.  By voice vote, the crowd called Major Dashiell to chair the meeting (Dashiell had joined Aeneas Macleod as co-editor and proprietor of the Ledger and Texan in September, 1860).  Others called to lead the meeting were Ross Houston, Sam Maverick, C.E. Jefferson and P.L. Buquor.  How these men stood on secession was as yet unknown.  After leaders were chosen, the meeting was called to order and an open debate ensued.[2]

     The tone for the meeting was set by the first speaker, Dr. Boring, the Methodist minister and a native of Georgia.  Boring said that he spoke not as a minister, but as a citizen.  Speaking, the paper noted, without his usual eloquence for fear of arousing passions, Boring stated that the Union was already dissolved, and that secession was a fact.  In the midst of his speech an obvious opponent of his position hoisted the United States flag up the hotel's flagpole, an act that met with great enthusiasm.  Charles Anderson, brother of the commander at Fort Sumter, spoke after Reverend Boring.  Anderson had recently moved to the area, and this coupled with the fact that he did not reside in town, and lived a quite life meant that he was, a stranger to most of the citizens at the meeting.  Anderson introduced himself as a native southerner who had traveled extensively.  He had, he stated, argued against secession in journeys to the North and believed that he "could talk his plain unvarnished sentiments to a Southern audience."  Since the audience assured him that he could, he first attacked Dr. Boring for straying from his calling; Anderson noted that he was not a church member and would certainly never be one if the mission of the church "was to sever this glorious Union."  Following his attack on Boring, he declared that secession was a not right (though revolution was), and that nothing had occurred to cause any state to rebel.  Furthermore he believed that Lincoln deserved a chance to be president.  By word and deed, Lincoln had proven that his presidency would be no threat to the South.  As candidate and president elect he "recognized the constitutionality of the fugitive slave law, and while in Congress, Lincoln had voted against the abolition of slavery in the nation's capital proving he was no abolitionist.  After some confusion in which Dr. Boring attacked and Anderson defended his remarks, Colonel John A. Wilcox was called for by the crowd.  Wilcox addressed the crowd with emotion, but had not come unprepared;in fact he may have been the driving force behind the meeting.  After dismissing Anderson as a native son who had spent too much time in Ohio listening to abolitionists, which but for the density of the crowd would have ended in a fight between Wilcox and Anderson, Wilcox revealed that he had drawn up a number of resolutions, which he read to the crowd.  The primary resolution asked Governor Houston to call the legislature into special secession for the purpose of calling a convention on the question of secession.  Wilcox asked for a vote on the resolutions, and according to the Ledger and Texan, was met with overwhelming approval, though the paper mentioned that many in the crowd voiced disapproval of Wilcox's resolutions.  C. Upson followed Wilcox as speaker, but apparently the opponents of Wilcox's resolutions were so aroused that Upson was unable to finish his speech.  The pro Union men called for Maverick to speak, and though there had already been much excitement at the meeting, Maverick, the well know unionist, provided the biggest surprise by being the strongest voice for secession at the meeting.  Maverick was well know as a Unionist; he had left South Carolina in the 1830's because he disagreed with the secessionists views of the state, and had supported the unionist Houston despite Houston's flirtation with the Know-Nothings whom Maverick despised.  When he spoke, he first noted his support for the Union, but stated such support could only exist as long as the rights of the states were protected.  He believed this no longer to be the case and believed that Texas must secede.  Thoroughly disappointed at Maverick's stand, the Union men called for Isaiah Paschal, but he had apparently left the meeting, and the meeting adjourned.  The meeting revealed the divisions over secession in San Antonio.  Though secession, or at least the call for a convention, appeared to enjoy the support of the majority, the supporters of the Union were numerous and vocal.[3]

     The same division was evident in the Ledger and Texan; the paper agreed with Wilcox's proposals but was disappointed at Mavericks stand for secession.  What made the division at the Ledger and Texan remarkable was that Dashiell, who had chaired the meeting, was the sole active editor and proprietor of the paper.  Aenas Macleod died the day the meeting was reported after a long illness.  The Ledger and Texan had supported Breckinridge, but the paper was not yet ready for secession and noted with disappointment Maverick's stand for it; in fact the paper, like the Union men in the crowd, expected Maverick to take a strong Union position.  Nevertheless, the paper supported Wilcox's proposals and hoped that a convention would allow the citizens of Texas to air their complaints against the Union and allow the North time to offer the security which the South sought in protecting its institutions.  The writer of the article reasoned that if the North refused to agree to the rights of the South, the people of San Antonio would support separation from the Union by a wide margin "whether its severance be called secession or revolution."  What was evident was that Lincoln's election had aroused passions that demanded airing; whether those passions demanded secession was not yet decided.  However the paper added a sober thought to the above proceedings in a letter from Sam Houston.  The governor noted that Lincoln was constitutionally elected and that secession would not be peaceful; the North would go to war to preserve the Union.[4]

     The late November meeting was only the first in reaction to Lincoln's election.  The next week a  call for a meeting signed by 200 men of Bexar County made it clear that they believed in the right of secession; the Union though not yet dissolved, could only be saved if the "sovereign and Constitutional rights of the Southern States" were protected--which simply meant that having lost the late election, the losers demanded the fruits of victory, the Federal protection of slavery.  The men invited all the citizens of San Antonio and Bexar County to meet at the Military Plaza on December 1, 1860 at 10 a.m., "for the purpose of giving unequivocal expression of our opinions and an earnest of our intention to maintain them."  Many of those who called for the meeting were political leaders of San Antonio including state representatives Sam Maverick, Angel Navarro, and Jacob Waelder, state senator Gustave Schleicher, Mayor James Sweet, and alderman William Vance--that Vance was the only one of the eight city councilmen who signed was noteworthy; the lack of support for secession by the city council will be examined later.  Of the 200 men who signed the call for a meeting, at least twenty-five were Hispanic and included among them was José Antonio Navarro.  Also included were at least twenty-eight Germans.  Other signers included J.Y. Dashiel and Aeneas Macleod, proprietors and editors of the Ledger and Texan, and G.W. Palmer, an editor and proprietor of the Herald.  A hint to the true purpose of the meeting was that Maverick, who had already declared for secession, was the first name on the list.[5]

     The meeting was brought to order on December 1, by C. Upson, who nominated Sam Maverick to chair the meeting.  Next, thirty vice-presidents were elected among whom were Mayor Sweet, J.Y. Dashiell, and G.W. Palmer, two Hispanics and four Germans.  The purpose of the meeting was to adopt a series of resolutions addressing the concerns of the gathered citizens.  The resolutions were read to the crowd by County Judge Duncan, then were read in German by Jacob Waelder who also addressed the Germans citizens present in their native language; finally A. Superviele read the resolutions in both Spanish and French.  While the meeting had ostensibly been called to discuss preserving the Union, the preamble to the resolutions was a series of accusations against Lincoln, Black Republicans, free-soilers, and abolitionists, all of whom were linked together by a "sectional, fanatical party," and an assertion of the "right of any State of this union, to resume her distinct and independent sovereignty whenever any sufficient cause for so doing may have arisen, of which cause each State is for herself sole Judge."  The first resolve of the meeting swore undying loyalty to the Union, but made it clear that the Union to which that loyalty was declared was if not dead very close to dying.  "We declare that [the Union] divested of those guarantees...becomes a delusion and a mockery, to which we owe no allegiance."  Following the proscribed loyalty to the Union, those at the meeting demanded that Governor Houston call a special session of the legislature whose job it would be to "determine whether a convention of the legislature should be called.  Despite the secessionist tone of the meeting, not all who attended it supported secession.    Two avowed, and as yet unrepentant Unionist, I.A. Paschal and Gustave Schleicher, were chosen as vice presidents. of the meeting.  Apparently they believed that to have any control over events they must involve themselves in the process and hope that a special session of the legislature or a convention would give passions time to cool, and the problem of Lincoln's election, like the problems of the last year, would go away.[6]

     The passions in San Antonio were like those in most of the state; passions that drove the supporters of secession into issuing an address calling for a convention of delegates elected by the people to discuss secession.  Governor Houston, who opposed a convention and hoped that the passions of the people would cool with time now called for a special legislative session to meet on January 21, one week prior to the opening of the proposed convention in hopes of nullifying the convention.[7]

     Meanwhile some of the citizens of Bexar had formed a Southern Rights Club--a name adopted by those who favored the convention.  The Ledger and Texan backed T.J. Devine, George T. Howard, C. Nauendorf, R.W. Brahan, and John Wilcox as the men they desired as delegates to the convention, a good indication that the paper supported secession since each of these men did.  Backing by the paper did not translate into support by the electorate--most voters in San Antonio failed to vote and only eleven of the county's precincts voted at all.  Nevertheless, Wilcox, Brahan, Devine, and Nauendorf were elected (as was Sam S. Smith instead of George Howard), but the total votes received by them ranged from 545 to 732.  These were not impressive totals since the men ran unopposed; two months later, 1,589 votes would be cast on the secession question in Bexar County.[8]

     The Convention met and its resolution for the question of secession to be presented to the people was sent to the state legislature where it passed the Texas House 65-13 and the Texas Senate 25-5.  By now most of the leaders of San Antonio also supported secession.  Isaiah Paschal and Gustav Schleicher, who had both been Union men throughout the presidential election split their votes; Paschal, who held that secession was illegal, voted against the right of the people to vote on the question.  Of the four state representatives of Bexar County three voted for a vote of the people while L.B. Camp, who later resigned his seat because he could not support secession, did not vote.  Ironically the three representatives from Bexar, Sam Maverick, Angel Navarro, and Jacob Waelder, represented the three major ethnic groups in San Antonio, Anglo, Hispanic, and German.  Thus, it appeared that Bexar County and San Antonio were firmly in the secessionist camp.  That they might not be, however, was revealed in a remark made by Angel Navarro; he was for secession, he thought that the people of Texas wanted it, but he did not think the voters of Bexar County supported it.[9]

 

From Convention to Secession

     The vote by the people of Texas on the question of secession  was set for February 23, 1861.  The Herald, whose owners only one year before had rented the old Reed House to publish their paper and renamed the building the "Union House," came out fully for secession.  The paper noted that the Union was already dissolved and the fault lay with the Republicans.  The job of the South was now to form a "slave Confederacy" which would allow prosperity to return to San Antonio.  The paper also attempted to quash the firmly held idea that San Antonio was opposed to secession.  An article from the Austin Intelligencer, apparently written by a citizen of Bexar County, was carried by the Herald, so that the writer's thesis--that Bexar County opposed secession--might be refuted.  The Intelligencer article noted the poor turnout to elect the delegates to the convention, 600, as opposed to 1,400 for the previous regular election; it further noted the difference between those who opposed and those who supported secession.  Those opposed to secession were "the most respectable portion of our citizens, among whom can be classed all our Germans;" those supporting secession were "nothing-to-lose-men."  The Herald responded by stating that the people of Bexar were almost unanimously for secession, that the city's richest man was for secession, and that the richest German in San Antonio was for secession, though neither proof nor names appeared in the Herald's attempted refutation.[10]

     Because there was no voice for the opponents of secession, James P. Newcomb again took up the fight for Union.  His Tri-Weekly Alamo Express began in early February 1861.  Newcomb attacked both the governing of Texas by the Convention, which he termed a "reign of terror," and the new southern confederacy, which he believed would be oppressive.  Proofs of the oppressive nature of a southern government were the failure of the Convention to elect Thomas J. Devine, a staunch secessionist, as a delegate to the Confederate Congress, because Newcomb explained, Devine was born "on the wrong side Mason's and Dixon's line," too great a sin for the secessionists to forgive; the fear expressed by some Union men that secession should not be opposed because "it would jeopardize the character of our German citizens;" Jefferson Davis' election to the presidency by a convention and not by electors chosen by the people; and most important, the use of military force.  Major Ben McCulloch and 400 troops acting under orders of the Committee of Public Safety had taken the federal property of the city; Newcomb remarked that it was "injudicious in the extreme--a grand electioneering trick." 

The reason for the oppressive character of the government was made clear in a letter printed in the Alamo Express from G.W. Paschal who had journeyed to Washington, D.C..  He believed that the entire purpose of the new government was to establish a slave empire run, of course, by slave holders.

 

I am convinced from a thousand sources during my travels, and stay at Washington that the Disunionists do not intend to stop short of a full slave basis of representation, and of suffrage confined to slave ownership, and a Military Dictatorship to support it.[11]

 

     Newcomb also reported that the perceptions concerning the people of San Antonio were true; they were opposed to secession.  When the U.S. troops marched out of San Antonio to their encampment at the head of San Pedro Creek, Newcomb observed that for the first time, the people realized what life outside the Union would be like.  He observed that when the "old bullet riddled and war-stained banner of the 8th regiment" led the troops marching out of San Antonio, "strong men wept and hung their heads in shame," and the people cheered the troops and followed them to their encampment.  Perhaps it was this sight that caused Newcomb to proclaim that the people would reject secession.  "Never despair of the Republic; the people will yet rise in their might and save our country from ruin."  Newcomb also noted the size and spirit of Washington's birthday celebration, held one day prior to the vote on secession.  The crowd of 2,000 was the largest ever to celebrate a holiday, and Newcomb remarked, "never before have our citizens evinced so much spontaneous patriotism as on yesterday."  He also noted that the city's fire engines "were tastefully decorated with national flags," and that Ward Company No. 3 flew the national flag, and that the "Union and the American Flag were cheered throughout."[12]

     Newcomb admitted, however, that there were supporters of secession.  The Alamo Rifles, which had been accused of being dominated by abolitionist and Republicans, responded by noting that the unit had "always been, are and ever will be, (while existing as an organized body) willing and ready to discharge our whole duty, not only to our state, but to the whole South."  In reporting on the Washington's birthday celebration, Newcomb also observed that the Alamo Rifles and the Alamo City Guards carried only their company colors and that Ward Company No. 2 carried the old revolutionary banner "Don't Tread On Me."[13]

     The election of February 23, proved Newcomb both right and wrong.  The lead article of the Alamo Express on March 2 proclaimed victory for the Union in San Antonio despite the combined attempts of the Ledger and Texan, the Herald, the "Court House clique," Judge Devine, the Knights of the Golden Circle, many prominent citizens, and the Mexicans who, "with few exceptions, were corralled for disunion."  San Antonio had voted by a slender margin 562-535 to remain in the Union.  But Bexar County had not.  The county voted for secession 827-762 with three county precincts not reporting any votes.  More importantly, of course, the state had supported secession by a huge margin, 46,153-14,747.[14]

 

Analysis of the Vote

     San Antonio voted against secession--but why had the city voted as it did, and who had opposed secession?  An analysis of the vote offers no definitive answers, but it gives some insights.

     While San Antonio voted to remain in the Union by 51.23 percent, a slender margin, the vote in each of the city's three precincts was more definite (see graphs).  Precinct one voted for secession by 61.1 percent, precinct two voted to remain in the Union by 68.96 percent, and precinct three voted to remain in the Union by 60 percent--which certainly contradicted Isaiah Paschal's theory of Breckinridge and secession.

     Precinct one, which was also city ward one was the oldest part of San Antonio, contained the largest portion of the business district, the highest percentage of Hispanics (46.5), the highest percentage of natives of the United States (27.9), the highest percentage of southerners (16.3), the highest percentage of northerners (11.6), the lowest percentage of Europeans (23.3), the lowest percentage of Germans (13.95), was second in per capita wealth of its heads of household ($3,044), and was second in percentage of slave ownership of heads of household (4.7).[15]

     Precinct two, which was also city ward 2, had the second highest percentage of Hispanics (35.5), the lowest percentage of natives of the United States (17.8), the lowest percentage of southerners (6.7), the second highest percentage of northerners (11.1), the second highest percentage of Europeans (44.4), the second highest percentage of Germans (20), was lowest in per capita wealth of its heads of household ($2,286), and was lowest in percentage of slave ownership of heads of household (0).[16]

     Precinct three, which combined city wards three and four, or San Antonio east of the river, had the lowest percentage of Hispanics (15.6), the second highest percentage of natives of the United States (20.8), the second highest percentage of southerners (15,6), the lowest percentage of northerners (5.2), the highest percentage of Europeans (62.3), the highest percentage of Germans (45.5), was highest in per capita wealth of its heads of household ($5,642), and was highest in percentage of slave ownership of heads of household (6.5).[17]

     Although not definitive, some patterns of the voting emerged.  Precinct one, with the highest support for secession at 61 percent, had the greatest percentage of Hispanics, the lowest percentage of Europeans, and the lowest percentage of Germans.  That gave some credence to Newcomb's accusation that the Mexicans were "corralled" into voting for secession.  However the factors that seemed to influence those voting against secession were wealth, slave ownership, and United States nativity.  Precinct two, which voted most strongly for Union, had the lowest numbers in each of those categories.

     Two other factors were, perhaps, also important.  Precinct one was the oldest and most established area of San Antonio, and voted for secession.  A similar situation occurred in counties that were heavily populated by Germans.  Comal County, settled earlier than Gillespie County voted 239-86 for secession (73.5 percent for secession), while Gillespie County voted 398-16 against secession (96 percent opposed to secession).  Another factor might have been the failure of those who opposed secession to vote.  In precinct one 555 votes were cast in the gubernatorial race in 1859, but only 372 were cast in the secession vote, or 67 percent.  The absence of voters was even greater in precinct two with only 232 votes cast on the secession question while 405 were cast in the governor's race, a drop of 43 percent.  However these figures are not conclusive.  In 1859 precinct one voted by over 65 percent for Houston yet supported secession by 61 percent in 1861, which showed a shift from pro to anti Union.  The opposite occurred in precinct two; in 1859 the precinct supported the states rights Runnels by 57 percent, but in 1861 opposed secession by 69 percent.  That a dramatic decline in the numbers voting occurred in 1861 was evident, that it made a difference in the outcome was not.[18]

 

A Divided City

     Despite Texas', and even Bexar County's vote for secession, San Antonio had decided otherwise, though by a slender margin.  Thus, following the secession vote, a period of division began in San Antonio that was never completely breached.  That a great deal of Union sentiment resided in San Antonio was evident from the pubic displays of loyalty mentioned earlier, and of course by the vote against secession.  However, almost 49 percent of the votes in San Antonio supported secession.  Thus in March and April, 1861, San Antonio displayed the oddity of having groups of people working fervently for and against secession.

     One of the notable changes in San Antonio began at the time the convention met was the sprouting of militia groups.  In December, 1860 San Antonio had one militia company, the Alamo Rifles formed in 1857.  By February, 1861, six militia companies had been added:  Captain Trevino's Company, Captain Tobin's Company, the San Antonio Guards, the Alamo Guards, Captain Gilbeau's Company “composed of the French Nationality,” and a “company of Mexican citizens”.  In addition, each city ward, by city ordinance, had its own guard.[19]

     Whether these units, except for the Alamo Rifles, supported secession, however, was unknown, and fighting Yankees may have taken a back seat to fighting Indians or Cortina for the citizens of San Antonio.  Newcomb reported, and not without, one senses, some glee, that the Indians had taken the withdrawal of the United States troops from Texas as an invitation to stage raids throughout the frontier.  The Alamo Express reported Indian attacks in numerous issues and was also joined by the Ledger and Texan in those reports, with the latter demanding that the Convention, now the governing power in the state, protect the state's citizens.  So severe were the raids that Captain W.T. Mechling of the Middle Division headquartered at San Antonio asked the Convention for permission to establish a company of 100 men for defense of the area southwest of San Antonio.  He noted that protection was "absolutely necessary, as the people are terror-stricken, and many families are coming into San Antonio.”  Newcomb also reported that the Mexican government had stationed troops along its border to protect Mexico from Texas' irregular troops, and that Cortina was recruiting an army with the intention of invading Texas.  So whether the militia companies formed were intended to fight the North, the Indians, the Mexicans, or whether those who joined the militia were simply young men hoping for adventure was not easy to discern.  The fact that at the Washington birthday celebration the two militia companies present carried only their own colors and not those of the United States might have been a hint that those companies favored secession, and the fact that ward company from ward number three carried the United States flag might have signaled that its members supported the Union, but neither of those was definite proof.[20]

     The division caused by secession was most clearly seen by the city council of San Antonio.  On February 27, just four days after the city had voted against secession, three commissioners representing the Convention's Committee of Public Safety notified the city council that the Convention wanted the "two hundred and fifty stand of arms" that had earlier been loaned to the city by General Twiggs.  The three commissioners included San Antonio city leaders Thomas J. Devine and Sam Maverick.  However, the council decided to defer action on the subject until the next meeting; actually the council deferred action for two months in what seemed to be, and was certainly perceived by the supporters of secession, as a direct attempt to oppose secession.  On March 18, the question was further deferred on a motion by David Russi until the entire council was present, despite a letter written to the council by the assistant attorney general; the vote was 4-3.  Nothing was done on the question for the balance of the month.  Mayor James Sweet, who supported giving the arms to the state, was so frustrated by the situation that he wrote a letter to the city council requesting that the arms be given to the state.  He noted that as mayor, he had no vote on the question, unless a tie vote occurred.  He wrote that the perception outside of San Antonio was that the council was opposed to the new government.  Sweet remarked that he knew that to be false, and knew that those who had spread such rumors were men of little import in San Antonio, however, their reports had been given "a currency and character" outside of San Antonio by those who did not know these mens' character.  Also credence had been given to the rumors by the length of time since the arms were requested by the state.  The council had initially voted 5-2 to defer the question, and had deferred it on two subsequent occasions.  Sweet requested that the council either give the arms to the state, pay for them, or return them to General Twiggs.  Following the reading of the mayor's letter, P.L. Buquor made a motion that the arms be given to the state, however the motion was defeated 4-3 and the question was once again deferred.  Following the decision to further defer the question, a committee composed of William Vance and P.L. Buquor was formed to examine the question.  The report of the committee of two, which was presented to the council on April 15, "recommended that the arms claimed be turned over to the State authorities as early as practicable."  Only six councilmen attended the meeting; when the question was again voted on the vote was deadlocked at 3-3.[21]

     From a distance of over a century, the disagreement between state and city might appear of little import, could, in fact, be construed as a bit of a power struggle, or a matter of ego between conflicting authorities.  It was not, however perceived so within or without San Antonio.

     The Ledger and Texan interpreted the conflict in terms of free southerners versus abolitionist and cast the local Germans in the role of the antagonist.  The city council had not turned the arms over to the state because the Germans "compelled a majority of the City Council to refuse" to do so.  Other areas in the state also noticed the conflict and denounced San Antonio, the mayor, and the city council as well.  The Galveston News called Mayor Sweet an anti-secessionist and claimed that he had met those who delivered the request for the arms with armed force--a force largely composed of foreigners, which the News deemed natural since Mayor Sweet was of foreign birth.  The Ledger and Texan which printed the Galveston article defended the mayor as a staunch secessionist and again focused on the city council; “a majority of our City-Council are anti-secessionist , and by their votes and acts are openly violating the law of the land.”[22]

     The interpretation of the Alamo Express was much different.  Newcomb reported with disgust that because of the absence of two of the councilmen the mayor was enabled to cast his tie-breaking vote to give the arms to the state.  Newcomb wondered, though, if the arms would be so easy to retrieve since the officers of the local companies had given bond for them.  The news of the resolution of the conflict, however, was overshadowed by the report in the same paper that the war had begun at Charleston.[23]

 

Finding a Scapegoat--the Germans in San Antonio

     Before looking at the effect of the announcement of hostilities and of Lincoln's call to arms, a final aspect of the secessionist conflict in San Antonio must be covered.  Because the secession issue aroused such passions, and because San Antonio was, at least according to the secession vote, almost evenly divided on the subject, those who favored secession and saw, with frustration, the opposition to their desire of separation, naturally looked for a scapegoat, a target, someone to blame for that opposition.  That target was the Germans, as has already been hinted at above by the Ledger and Texan.  The Germans had been targets before--during the Know-Nothing years, but ironically, the very paper that supported them during those years and carried numerous articles noting what good Americans they were, was now against them.  The shift from pro to anti-German was a swift one and needs a bit of background to be understood.

     In July, 1860 Reverend Bunting the Presbyterian minister in San Antonio, became embroiled in a dispute with the German community.  Reverend Bunting left San Antonio to tour the eastern states for the purpose of securing financial support to build a Presbyterian sanctuary in San Antonio.  To show the dire need of such a facility, Bunting had described in the Banner of Peace, a Presbyterian publication, the spiritual condition of San Antonio.  Bunting noted the history of San Antonio as a Roman Catholic city, but observed that the Catholic Church had lost much of its influence with the influx into the community of many non Catholic citizens.  Most notable was the influx of Germans and the influence they had in city affairs.  Bunting reported that the Casino Club, the center of social life among the Germans, and also for much of San Antonio, had theatrical performances on Sabbath nights.  Worse was the German-English School which was "sustained by infidels."  The school was "conducted strictly on...principles which those adopt as their creed who deny a being of a God, the Bible, religion, and a future life."  Bunting's remarks were printed in the Staats Zeitung and from there were copied by the Ledger and Texan which strongly disagreed with Reverend Bunting's assessment of the Germans.  The editors of the paper saw no evidence that the Germans were infidels and saw no fault in either the Casino Club or the German-English School (though the Ledger and Texan always referred to the institution as English-German)  Instead the paper thought that the Reverend had fouled his own nest and brought dishonor on San Antonio.[24]

     The good rapport between the Ledger and Texan and the German community continued for the remainder of the year.  The editors of the paper, Aeneas Macleod and John Dashiell, visited the Casino Club in November, on the occasion of the annual Alamo Rifle ball and noted that the food, music, dance, ladies, and decorations were all first rate; the main decoration, the editors noted, was a huge American flag draped across one wall.  Also in the election for alderman of ward one between Gustave Persch and P.L. Buquor, the Ledger and Texan, noted that Gustave Persch had done an excellent job as alderman, and that though Buquor, a native southerner, was well qualified for the job, Persch seemed the better choice.[25]

     The paper, in fact, showed no evidence of anti-German sentiment until its April 6, 1861 edition.  For the first time in its existence the Ledger and Texan correctly named the German community's school, the German-English School, because now the paper agreed with the earlier assessment of Reverend Bunting.  The German-English School was a horrible school because it elevated German culture and language over the American culture and the English language.  More importantly, the school was run by the early German settlers who came to Texas in the 1840's and established a socialists community in which free-love was practiced; these radicals were later joined by others, under the leadership of the now exiled Adolph Douai.  He preached abolitionism and at what was supposed to be a singing convention in 1854, organized a group of German radicals who authored the Sisterdale Doctrine which espoused both the abolition of slaves in American and of God in political life.  Though Douai was run out of San Antonio, fifteen of the radicals who formed the early commune or were authors of the Sisterdale Doctrine lived in San Antonio, and they, though small in number controlled the German community and the city of San Antonio.  They were responsible for rebelling against the new government by forbidding the city's giving its arms to the state, using those arms to arm German militia units in the city, and refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the new government; they were also responsible for desecrating the Catholic cathedral “a building surmounted by the cross, and consecrated to the teaching and worship of the living God,” and their immorality was further shown by their taking a business sign from an establishment on Commerce Street and putting it over a brothel.  More importantly still, these leaders were abolitionists; proof was a letter written in San Antonio and printed in the German language New York Democrat which supported Lincoln, abolitionism, and the use of arms to keep Texas in the Union.  “Where else could this letter from a German of San Antonio, which we copied from the New York Democrat, have emanated, if not from a member of the Casino?”  All of the above sins combined to create a worse one.  The Germans were not Americans, were not becoming Americans, and did not want to become Americans.[26]

     The Ledger and Texan, the editor noted, had consistently championed the rights of immigrants to live in San Antonio.  The paper had lost most of its patronage defending the right of immigrants in the dark days of the Know-Nothing struggle.  But in defending Germans and other immigrants, the Ledger and Texan had always defended their right to become Americans; no immigrant had the right to retain its former nationality.  The writer asserted

 

we recognize and respect, and stand prepared to protect their rights under the laws--not as foreigners--not as members of different nationalities, but as Americans, and as Americans only.

 

The Germans, however, had violated the rights of immigrants because they remained, and were becoming moreso, "a distinct and exclusive population, instead of...becoming Americanized."[27]

     The paper admitted that most Germans were neither opposed to becoming Americans nor were they abolitionists, but they were easily led astray.  Borrowing a page from the Know-Nothings, the Ledger and Texan asserted that the German votes were easily purchased with "Lager."  The last word of the paper was a warning to the Germans.  They comprised a large percentage of the population in San Antonio, but only a small one in Texas.  The Germans must Americanize; if not, “they should be eliminated from among us.”[28]

     Certainly many Germans and their leaders supported secession. State officials Jacob Waelder and Gustave Schleicher voted in the state legislature for secession; alderman and native German Edward Braden voted for giving the city held arms to the state on both occasions where individual votes were recorded, and fellow German native and alderman Julius Hoyer changed his vote between April 1 and April 15 to support giving the arms away.  However David Russi, and C.F. Fisher, also native Germans, both consistently voted to retain the arms, and Hoyer had perhaps changed his vote only out of fear of retaliation.  Also Germans were leaving San Antonio--Dr. Hertzberg had already left San Antonio for Mexico with his own and six other families, but most convincing apparently was the secessionist vote.  Where Germans lived in great numbers in San Antonio, secession was defeated.  Whether Germans were more opposed to secession than other groups was impossible to prove; certainly the only Tejano on the city council, Francisco Galan also voted against giving the city's arms to the state, but José Antonio Navarro and his son Angel were staunch supporters of secession, and two companies of Mexican militia had been raised, which apparently was accepted as proof of their support of secession.  Perhaps the old idea of the Germans as abolitionists, that had risen to a fever pitch because of Douai's article in 1854, and that had been reinforced by the Know-Nothings in the middle fifties, was still perceived as the truth.  But for whatever reason or reasons, the Germans were perceived as abolitionists and as the nucleus of opposition to secession.[29]

 

Secession Comes to San Antonio

     Fort Sumter was fired upon on April 12, 1861, and President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 men to put down the rebellion.  Secession, as Houston had foretold, had become war, but for the North to preserve the Union, it had to invade the South.  Invasion by the North caused even Houston to support the Confederacy. Following Lincoln's pronouncements, the love for the Union did not die in San Antonio, and some like James Newcomb and Isaiah Paschal would remain unrepentant Unionists throughout the war.  But the high tie of Union was passed.  Many of the citizens of San Antonio had celebrated the Union at a Union rally on April 10, 1861 on Main Plaza, but more than four years would pass before the Union would again be celebrated in the city.  As was noted earlier, the city gave up its arms to the state on April 15, though by a divided vote.  Five days later the last three holdouts on the city council, C.F. Fisher, Francisco Galan, and Julius Hoyer, took the oath of obedience to the confederate government.  Early in May the minutes of the city council noted, "No meeting was held this day in consequence of all the Military Companies of the City having marched for the Leon to intercept the US Troops under command of Col Reeves 8th Inftry."  San Antonio, like the rest of the South, was at war.  Secession had come to San Antonio by late Spring, and the final symbolic touch was a meeting held on Main Plaza--the site of the last Union rally.  The meeting was called and hosted by Colonel J. A. Wilcox.  His words to the supporters of Union were conciliatory.  Many who had supported the Union had been wrongly maligned by the supporters of secession.  Passions had been aroused on both sides, but, Wilcox noted, now that Lincoln had proposed to invade the South, the differences between secessionists and unionists had disappeared.  Wilcox remarked that many former Union supporters were in the crowd--though no names were listed--and they were now all for secession.[30]

 

San Antonio and American Redefined

     In a sense San Antonio had come full circle since 1848.  In that year the Anglos of the city demanded that the Hispanics of San Antonio become Americans.  Over the next twelve years, the city would be run by Anglos; Anglo laws, language and customs would flourish in the city, and although business, politics, and court proceedings might be held in many languages, the business of city government would be held only in English.  Unlike the Mexican citizens, the Germans, except for their language, were ideal Americans and their influx into the city was welcomed; they loved freedom, had left their old homes to seek it, and were model citizens.  The Hispanics too, could be good citizens, and certainly their aid had been welcomed to stave off the Know-Nothings in the middle fifties, but they were never fully American.  Too often they retained their language and customs, and their culture had changed little since the Americans had arrived.  The secession crises, though, had turned the definition of American on its head.  The Anglos had become Confederates and the Mexicans had joined them with such alacrity that even the return of bull fighting on the west side of the San Pedro Creek had received no editorial comment from the Anglo press, though such activity had long been illegal.  However, the Germans, in retaining a love for the Union had become un-American.  The new definition of American, offered by the Anglos, demanded allegiance to the South, and the Germans, though many supported the new government, were perceived as infidels.  With the coming of war, these differences largely disappeared, though reports of the Germans shirking their duty to the Confederacy would continue throughout the conflict.[31]  American, by June, 1861, meant southerner in San Antonio, and though the transition had not been easy (and was never fully accepted), a consensus had been achieved.

 

[1]San Antonio Ledger and Texan, Nov. 24, 1860 (cited hereafter as Ledger and Texan).

[2]Ibid., Sept. 24, Dec. 1, 1860.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid.

[6]Ibid.

[7]Anna Irene Sandbo, "First Secession of the Convention in Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XVIII (Nov., 1914), 178-181 (cited hereafter as SHQ); Ledger and Texan, Dec. 29, 1860.

[8]Secretary of State Election Returns, 1861, Bexar County (Archives Division, Texas State Library, Austin), cited hereafter as (ADTSL);

[9]Tri-Weekly Alamo Express (San Antonio), March 17, 1861 (cited hereafter as Alamo Express); Ledger and Texan, Feb. 2, 1861; San Antonio Weekly Herald, Feb. 2, 1861 (cited hereafter as Herald).

[10]Ibid., Feb. 21, 1861.

[11]Alamo Express, Feb. 11 first and second quotes, Feb. 16 third quote, Feb. 19 fourth quote, 1861

[12]Ibid., Feb. 23, 1861.

[13]Ibid., Feb. 19 first quote, 23, second quote, 1861.

[14]Ibid., March 2, 1861 quote; Secretary of State Election Returns, 1857, Bexar County (ADTSL); Robert A. Calvert and Arnoldo De León, The History of Texas (Arlington Heights, Illinois:  Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1990), 118.

[15]United States Eighth Census (1860), Bexar County, Texas, Population Schedules, City of San Antonio, (microfilm; Southwest Texas State University Collection, Albert Alkek Library); United States Eighth Census (1860), Bexar County, Texas, Slave Schedules, City of San Antonio, (microfilm; Texas State Library Genealogical Division).

[16]Ibid., the percentage of slaveholders was derived from a sampling of every tenth head of household of the population census and does not mean that there were no slaveholders in ward/precinct two.

[17]Ibid.

[18]Marcus J. Wright, Brig. Gen., C.S.A; (comp.) Texan in War, 1861-1865, ed. Harold B. Simpson, Co. USAF (Ret.) (Hillsboro, Texas:  Hill Junior College Press, 1965), appendix II; Herald, Aug. 4, 1859; Secretary of State Election Returns, 1861, Bexar County (ADTSL); Gilbert J. Jordan, trans., "W. Steinert's View of Texas in 1849," SHQ, LXXXI (July 1977), 64-65.

[19]Ledger and Texan, Feb. 2, 1861.

[20]Alamo Express, March 4, 6, 8, 13, 1861; Ledger and Texan, March 16 quote, April 6, 1861; Alamo Express, March 18, April 26, 1861.

[21]Council Journal Book C, 1856-1870, City of San Antonio, Feb. 27, 296 first quote, March 18, 299-300, April 1, 302-303 second quote, 15, 305 third quote, 1861 (cited hereafter as CJBC);

[22]Ledger and Texan, April 6 first quote, April 20, 1861 second quote.

[23]Alamo Express, April 17, 1861.

[24]Ledger and Texan, July 14, 1860.

[25]Ibid., Nov. 3 Dec. 22, 1861.

[26]Ibid., April 6, 1861.

[27]Ibid.

[28]Ibid.

[29]CJBC April 1, 302-303, 15, 305, 1861.

[30]Walter L. Buenger, Secession and the Union in Texas, (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 1984), 4-7; Ledger and Texan, April 10, 1861; CJBC, May 6, 1861, 307 first quote; Ledger and Texan, June 1, 1861 second quote.

[31]G.M. Martin, Captain and Quartermaster, 30th Brigade to Col. D.B. Cluberson, Adjutant and Inspector General, Feb. 23, 1864, Adjutant General, Civil War Records--Texas State Troops Records, Correspondence, 30th Brigade, 1861-1864 (ADTSL).