Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ashton Villa and General Order No. 3

Ashton Villa, Galveston, TX
Ashton Villa was the site of one of the most celebrated events of emancipation. On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves. I learned about Ashton Villa's part in the proclamation when I read Ken Byler's story "General Order Number 3" in the June 29, 2014 issue of the Plano Star Courier.

Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger
While standing on the balcony of Ashton Villa, Granger read "General Order No. 3:"
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
On January 7, 1859, Colonel James Moreau Brown, a prominent hardware merchant and banker, purchased four lots at the corner of 24th and Broadway in Galveston to build his new home.  Brown modified several plans to design the three-story brick home. He used slave labor and skilled European craftsmen to construct one of the first brick structures in Texas

The three-story house was built in Victorian Italianate style, with deep eaves, long windows and ornate verandas that were topped by cast iron lintels. The brick walls were thirteen inches thick to reduce against humidity inside the home and add strength to the structure. Brown's wife, Rebecca Ashton, named the home in honor of her ancestor, Lt. Isaac Ashton, a Revolutionary War hero.

The house was completed in 1861. When the Civil War began, the home was used as the headquarters for the Confederate Army. The Confederates used Ashton Villa for their headquarters throughout the war except for a brief time in the fall of 1862 when Galveston was captured by Union forces. The Union used the house as their command center until Galveston was re-taken by the Confederates during the Battle of Galveston in January 1863. The home remained in Confederate hands for the rest of the war.

In the spring of 1865, Texas contained over 60,000 soldiers of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi under General Edmund Kirby Smith. Morale was very low and desertion and crime were rampant.  When news of the surrender of Lee and other Confederate generals reached Texas around April 20, the senior military leaders pledged to continue the war. However, the enlisted men were not enthusiastic and desertion continued to increase.

On May 14, Confederate troops in Galveston briefly mutinied, but were persuaded to remain in the army. Morale continued to sink and Generals John B. Magruder and Kirby Smith stopped trying  to rally the troops. Instead the Rebel officers discussed how Confederate government property would be distributed. Magruder said that disbanding of the army would prevent crimes by disgruntled soldiers against civilians.

The hurry to disband the army created riots and pillaging of Confederate property. Soldiers and civilians rioted and ransacked warehouse, ships, and trains throughout the state. By May 27, half of the original confederate forces in Texas had deserted or been disbanded, and law and order disappeared in many parts of Texas.

Federal troops did not arrive in Texas to restore order until June 19, 1865, when Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and 2,000 Union soldiers arrived on Galveston Island to take possession of the state and enforce the new freedoms of former slaves. The Stars and Stripes were not raised over Austin until June 25. On June 19 Granger took possession of Ashton Villa and delivered his proclamation freeing the slaves. It is somewhat ironic that Confederate headquarters was used as the site for announcing the end of the institution that caused the war.

Former slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets with jubilant celebrations. Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year.

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