One of the few Union monuments south of the Mason-Dixon Line stands in Comfort, Texas, honoring a group of Union sympathizers killed by Confederate troops. Most of the Unionists, young German immigrants recently arrived in the United States to escape oppression in their native country, saw themselves as freethinkers, intellectuals who did not believe in slavery. They did not own land of sufficient size to need slave labor, and they did not want to separate from the country that recently welcomed them to its shores.
The young freethinkers established Comfort and several communities on the western edge of the Texas frontier. Their mercantile businesses supplied the United States army outposts, and they opposed secession because of the disruption to their lucrative trade.
The Germans were not alone in opposition to secession. Many prominent Texans, including Governor Sam Houston, were Unionist who fought a losing battle to convince Texans and the legislature of the dire consequences of secession.
After Texas seceded from the Union, all the federal troops manning the posts along the western frontier were called back to the United States, leaving the western communities exposed to Indian and outlaw attack. A group of young men formed a militia claiming as their intent to protect the western counties.
The Confederates, suspecting the group posed a serious threat to the government, declared martial law. When Confederates demanded that all men 16 years and above join the army, about 68 young intellectuals under Major Fritz Tegener headed to Mexico, which remained neutral during the Civil War.
Failing to select a defensive position or even post a guard, the young Germans camped along the west bank of the Nueces River about 50 miles from the Mexican border. Lt. C.D. McRae and his Confederate force of 94 followed the retreating Unionists and attacked before dawn on August 10, 1862. After holding off three charges, the Unionists realized the impossibility of their position. The survivors crawled through the Confederate line, leaving behind 19 dead and nine wounded. Lt. McRae’s men executed the wounded a few hours after the battle.
Two Confederates were killed and 18 wounded, including McRae. Of the Unionists who escaped, Confederates later killed seven, and six more drowned as they tried crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico. Eleven returned home, and most of the others made it to Mexico and California.
In 1865 a group of German Texans traveled to the battle site, gathered the bones of the dead in tow sacks, and carried them back to Comfort for burial in a common grave. The following year the community erected a monument at the gravesite titled “Treue der Union” (Loyalty to the Union).