Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Treue der Union"

In the town of Comfort, Texas located off of route 10 between Kerrville and Boerne in the Hill Country, memories of the Civil War are kept alive by Anne Stewart, She spends her time, with the Comfort Heritage Foundation inside the old Comfort State Bank, researching events surrounding the Nueces Massacre. 

Ms. Stewart, a self-taught archivist and historian, is a descendant of Germans who arrived in Comfort in 1861determined to shed more light on the fatal decision by a group of Hill Country Germans, loyal to the Union, to reject the Confederacy and escape to Mexico.

When German communities in Texas voted against secession, they became the subject of suspicion and distrust. The communities had formed local militias to protect themselves against Indian raids. Confederate authorities were concerned that the loyalists might join Union invading armies to capture Texas. Older immigrant families were angry that the loyalists were focusing animosities on the entire German population. The entire community was viewed as traitors. According to historical accounts, dozens to hundreds of Germans in the Hill Country were lynched or shot, and their farmhouses burned, on the mere suspicion of treason.

Germans mostly opposed slavery, but it wasn’t a burning issue in the Hill Country, where farmers grew wheat and not cotton. When Texans voted on secession, the newer immigrants voted to remain in the Union. Among those opposed to the Confederacy, were the Freethinkers, who helped found the towns of Comfort and Sisterdale. The Freethinkers had immigrated to Texas after a failed democratic revolution in Germany in 1848. They disliked organized religion, believed in civil liberties, and opposed slavery.

Though the Freethinkers’ beliefs did not reflect the views of longer-established Texas Germans, they fed the growing distrust of Confederate authorities toward the Hill Country communities. In response to concerns, the Confederate authorities declared martial law on May 30, 1862, and required all white males over age 16 to take a loyalty oath.

Capt. James Duff, a ruthless Confederate officer, was sent from San Antonio to enforce the decree. Duff with the help of vigilante mobs, the Germans called hangebund or “hanging gangs,” hunted down and hanged any Germans suspected of being pro-Union.

The violence persuaded some Hill Country Germans to leave Texas. A group of about 70, led by Fritz Tegener of Comfort, refused to take the loyalty oath and set out for Mexico. Some of them planned to wait out the war there. Others hoped to join federal forces in New Orleans.

Duff learned about the escape from a spy and ordered about 100 Confederate troops to pursue the Germans. On the night of August 9, 1862, scouts spotted Tegener’s group on the Nueces River in Kinney County, about 40 miles east of present-day Del Rio on the Mexican border. The Confederates attacked the next morning killing 19 and wounding 9 others. The nine wounded were executed shortly after being taken prisoner. The 28 bodies were stacked in a pile near the river and left unburied.

The rest of the Union loyalists escaped. Two months later, eight more were killed by Confederates while trying to cross the Rio Grande into Mexico. After the war, relatives of the dead recovered the bodies and buried the remains in Comfort.

On Aug. 10, 1866, a 20-foot-tall limestone monument was dedicated at the burial site. The monument was inscribed with the names of the victims and the words "Treue der Union" or "Loyalty to the Union." The memorial holds a unique place in Texas history as the state’s first Civil War monument, and one of only two dedicated solely to the Union in a state that overwhelmingly voted to join the Confederacy. In 1906, a statue was erected in Denison honoring Union veterans who lived in Grayson County, which voted to keep Texas in the Union.

Has anyone heard of events such as this occurring in Union states?

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