The Texas Secession

Texas became the seventh state to leave the Union. Delegates to the Austin convention voted 166 to 7 in favor of an ordinance “dissolving all political connection with the government of the United States of America.” This result would have to be ratified by the people in a special election on the 23rd, where delegates hoped that “the intelligence and patriotism of the free men of Texas” would lead voters to give their final approval on secession.

After the final vote, the Texas attorney general “led a company of ladies down the aisle” of the convention hall, where “they unfurled a Lone Star flag.” Governor Sam Houston continued his vocal opposition to secession, despite the unpopularity of such sentiment. Houston believed in the right of secession, but he also believed that the Federal government would use all the force at its disposal to maintain the Union, and the misery and hardship that such force would cause was not worth the risk.

Houston signed the secession ordinance into law, but he argued that the convention had no other legal powers. Before the popular vote was even held, the delegates approved forming a southern Confederacy and appointed representatives to attend the southern state convention at Montgomery, Alabama. They also authorized the Texas militia to take control of all Federal installations within the state. This included the arsenal at San Antonio, where Brigadier General David E. Twiggs had the headquarters for his Department of Texas.

Twiggs was well aware that Texas was leaving the Union and, being a southerner, he had requested to be relieved of duty. This request was granted, but it was sent by regular mail. Until it reached him, Twiggs was still the overall Federal commander in the state. He finally received orders to turn over his command in mid-February, but his successor, Colonel Carlos A. Waite, was 60 miles away at Camp Verde, so Twiggs would have to wait for Waite’s arrival at headquarters to leave.

In the meantime, the Texas Committee of Public Safety sent three commissioners to San Antonio to demand that Twiggs surrender all Federal forts and property to the state. The commissioners reported that Twiggs was “strongly in favor of Southern rights,” but they objected to his proposal to move his troops to posts just outside Texas in the New Mexico Territory, the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), and Kansas.

The committee feared that these troops would be too close for comfort and therefore directed Colonel Ben McCulloch to head the new military District of Texas. “We must obtain possession of that which now belongs to Texas of right by force,” the committee chairman told McCulloch, and as such he was to lead “as large a force as he may deem necessary” to expel Twiggs’s Federals. If Twiggs pledged to leave on the state’s terms, then McCulloch was to allow him to do so peaceably. McCulloch was to use his “best judgment and discretion in any emergency which may present itself.”

On the day that Twiggs received orders to turn over his command, McCulloch led some 1,000 troops, mostly Texas Rangers and other volunteers, to the outskirts of San Antonio. These troops moved into the city’s main plaza the next morning. Heavily undermanned, Twiggs quickly stopped talks with the commissioners and weighed his options. If he resisted, his garrison would be wiped out. Twiggs therefore agreed to “deliver up all military posts and public property held by or under (his) control.”

As San Antonio passed from Federal to state hands, Colonel Robert E. Lee of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry passed through. He had been stationed in Texas until having recently been ordered to report to Washington. The Texans threatened to stop him and demand that he join the southern cause, but Lee insisted that, being an officer in the U.S. Army, he would obey orders and go to Washington. After a brief consideration, the Texans let him go.

Twiggs, one of the top four ranking officers in the U.S. Army, surrendered one of the country’s largest military departments. He only had 160 men in his garrison, but even if he could have resisted: “If an old woman with a broomstick should come with full authority from the state of Texas to demand the public property, I would give it up to her.” Twiggs made no secret of his southern loyalties, and he had asked to be relieved from his command. He had also repeatedly asked for advice from his superiors over the past two months but got no answer.

Federal officials quickly accused Twiggs of treason, and he was dishonorably discharged from the service “for his treachery to the flag of his country.” Twiggs angrily wrote to President James Buchanan:

“Your usurped right to dismiss me from the army might be acquiesced in, but you had no right to brand me as a traitor. This was personal, and I shall treat it as such, not through the papers but in person. I shall more assuredly pay a visit to Lancaster (Buchanan’s home town) for the sole purpose of a personal interview with you. So sir prepare yourself. I am well assured that public opinion will sanction any course I may take with you.”

A “personal interview” intimated a challenge to a duel, but this never took place. Twiggs’s capitulation spread fear among Federal officials that other southern commanders might give up other Federal posts just as easily. But in the end, regardless of where Twiggs’s loyalties had lain, there was little he could have done to resist the Texans.

Colonel Waite arrived at San Antonio on the 19th and found that the Federal Department of Texas had ceased to exist. He reported:

“No one at a distance can form a correct idea of the state of public feeling. The troops in this department are stationed at different camps or posts in small garrisons, and spread over a very large extent of country. To concentrate a sufficient number to make a successful resistance, after the Texans had taken the field, was not practicable… An attempt to bring them together under these circumstances would have, no doubt, resulted in their being cut up in detail before they could get out of the country. Under these circumstances I felt it my duty to comply with the agreement entered into by General Twiggs and remove the troops from the country as early as possible.”

The Federal garrison at Brazos Santiago surrendered to Texans led by Colonel John “R.I.P.” Ford, commander of the Rio Grande district. At Camp Colorado, Captain Edmund Kirby Smith got word of Twiggs’s surrender and turned over his Federal command to Colonel Henry E. McCulloch, head of the Northwestern Frontier. Federal forces soon abandoned Camp Cooper as well.

On the 23rd, voters overwhelmingly (and predictably) upheld the secession ordinance adopted by the Austin convention by a 75-percent majority. Delegates closed the convention by offering thanks to Twiggs “for his patriotism, moral courage and loyalty to the United States, embracing the rights and liberty of his native South.” Texas was out of the Union, and so was Twiggs.


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