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Confederate Interlude

THE TEXAS SECESSION CONVENTION met in Austin on January 28, 1861. The State seceded from the Union on March 4 and formally joined the Confederacy on March 23. As early as February, State commissioners demanded the surrender of Federal military property and the withdrawal of Federal troops. Sympathetic with the South and unable to get a clear directive from Washington, General Twiggs met the demand on February 18. Orders promptly went out for the evacuation of the frontier forts. On April 13 Capt. Edward D. Blake and Company H, 8th Infantry, abandoned Fort Davis and joined the garrisons of Forts Bliss and Quitman for the eastward march. The column grew as it picked up additional contingents at Forts Stockton, Lancaster, and Hudson. Meanwhile, the Civil War had broken out, and as the units from the forts on the El Paso road neared San Antonio they were seized by Texas troops and made prisoners of war.

Captain Blake had left E. P. Webster and Diedrick Dutchover, stagecoach drivers who had settled in the Davis Mountains, in charge of Fort Davis. As the Confederate authorities planned to mount an offensive against the Federals in New Mexico, they regarrisoned the forts as protection for the line of supply and communication. The advance element of the invasion, the 2d Texas Mounted Rifles under Lt. Col. John R. Baylor, passed Fort Davis in June 1861. Company D of the regiment, officered by Lts. Reuben E. Mays and W. P. White, held Fort Davis. Baylor seized Mesilla, N. Mex., late in July, organized the Confederate Territory of Arizona, and waited for the main invasion force, a brigade of Texans under Brig. Gen. Henry H. Sibley, to launch the assault.

At Fort Davis, meanwhile, the Confederates had established seemingly cordial relations with the Mescalero Apaches of the Davis Mountains. In fact, Colonel Baylor had concluded a treaty with Chief Nicholas, feted him at a banquet in El Paso, and caused rations to be issued at the fort to his people. Nicholas took advantage of the arrangement for 2 months, but in August he descended upon Fort Davis, killed some cattle, and ran off part of the horse herd. With 14 men, Lieutenant Mays followed, the trail deep into the Big Bend. Learning of the pursuit, the Apache chief posted his warriors, numbering 80 to 100, on the sides of a rocky canyon and waited. On August 12 the Confederate detachment rode into the ambush. When the smoke lifted, all the soldiers lay dead. Only the Mexican guide escaped to tell the story.

Concerned only with supporting the invasion of New Mexico, the Confederates mounted no offensive against the Apaches. Indians took advantage of this immunity to lay waste the land. "Outrages were committed frequently," reported Colonel Baylor:

The mails were robbed; in one or two instances the passengers were found hanging by their heels, their heads within a few inches of a slow fire, and they thus horribly roasted to death. Others were found tied to the wheels of the coach, which had been burned.

General Sibley's brigade passed over the El Paso road in November 1861 and pushed up the Rio Grande from Mesilla the following February. It won victory at Valverde and seized Albuquerque and Santa Fe only to be turned back at the Battle of Glorieta Pass in March. The remnants of the brigade were back at Fort Bliss by May. Many of the wounded were sent to Fort Davis, which became a medical receiving station. In July 1862 advance units of a column of California Volunteers reached the Rio Grande, and Sibley had no choice but to withdraw from West Texas. His decimated regiments passed Fort Davis early in August, taking the small garrison with them.

On August 27, 1862, a detachment of Federal cavalry from the California Column rode cautiously into Fort Davis. Apaches had burned some of the buildings and wrecked others. In the old Butterfield stage station the cavalrymen found the body of a Confederate soldier, pierced by bullets and an arrow. The United States flag flew again over Fort Davis for one day; then the Federals marched back to Fort Bliss, skirmishing with Apaches on the way. Fort Davis lay deserted for the next 5 years.


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