Texas Claims the Last Land Battle of the American Civil War

More than a month after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox (April 9, 1865), the Last Land Battle of the American Civil War occurred at Pamito Ranch a few miles below Brownsville.

Bagdad Port on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande

Tensions ran high all along the lower Rio Grande because Confederates depended on hauling cotton from throughout Texas across the river to hundreds of European ships anchored offshore at the neutral Mexican port of Bagdad. The cotton was lightered in small vessels to awaiting ships in exchange for Winchester rifles, ammunition, and desperately needed medical supplies.

Cotton Roads to the Rio Grade

Union forces had briefly occupied Brownsville, which forced the cotton wagons to travel upriver to Laredo or Eagle Pass and then haul their valuable cargo back down the Mexican side to the port at the mouth of the Rio Grande. When the Confederates regained control of Brownsville, federal troops withdrew to Brazos Island on the United States side of the river where they continued to enforce the coastal embargo.

Cotton ferried from Brownsville to Matamoros waiting for shipment along the river to Bagdad.

In March 1865, believing the Union had won the war, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant gave permission for Maj. Gen. Lewis Wallace to meet Confederate commanders of the Brownsville area in hopes of securing a separate peace agreement. The Union terms offered at the meeting on March 11th required Confederates to take an oath of allegiance to the United States; stated that there would be no retaliation against the troops; and said those who wished to leave the country would be allowed to do so. When the Union’s proposal went up the Confederate chain of command, not only did Maj. Gen. John G. Walker denounce the terms, he wrote an angry letter to his subordinates for even agreeing to meet with the Union. As late as May 9th the commander of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, Lt. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith told a gathering of governors of the Confederate states west of the Mississippi that despite Lee’s surrender he proposed continuing the fight.

Meantime, a passenger on a steamer heading up the river to Brownsville tossed a copy of the New Orleans Times to Confederates along the Rio Grande. It was May 1st and the newspaper bought the news of Lee’s surrender and Lincoln’s assassination. In the next few days, several hundred rebels headed home, but those who remained were as determined as their leaders to continue the fight.

When the Union commander on Brazos Island received a false report that the Confederates were abandoning Brownsville, he sent 300 men to the mainland with instructions to occupy Brownsville. Confederates got word of the advance on May 12th and met the federals for a brief skirmish at Palmito Ranch twelve miles down the river from Brownsville. Both sides sent for reinforcements, but the following day the Confederates were supplied with mounted cavalry and a six-gun battery of field artillery. The federal increase in infantry to 500 was no match for the rebels. Within four hours the Union troops retreated seven miles back to Brazos Island.  At that point, Confederate Col. John Salmon “Rip” Ford commander of the southern division is quoted as saying, “Boys, we have done finely. We will let well enough alone and retire.” Ford wrote in his report of the battle that it had been “a run” and the clash showed “how fast demoralized men could get over ground.” The accounts differ on the number of loses, from a handful to a few dozen Confederates wounded, while the Union had from sixteen to thirty killed and wounded.

Diorama depicting Battle of Palmito Ranch
Texas Military Force Museum, Camp Mabry

At the same time the Battle of Palmito Ranch raged, governors of the Confederate States of Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas were instructing Lt. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith to dismiss his armies and end the war. Within days, Federal officers from Brazos Island moved into Brownsville to arrange a truce with the Confederates.

Today the Palmito Ranch Battlefield National Historic Landmark is open for visitors.

 

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Indianola Survived and Thrived After the Civil War

STEIN HOUSE, A GERMAN FAMILY SAGA, tells the story of immigrants operating a boarding house in the thriving Indianola seaport. They arrived with hope for a new life and were thrust into the political choice of supporting a land that had welcomed them or standing for their principles that did not include slavery.

The new edition of Stein House.
Cover image of Federal troops leaving Indianola in 1861 is from the collection of the Calhoun County Museum, Port Lavaca, Texas.

The Civil War came to Indianola with the federal blockade of the Gulf of Mexico, which halted supplies coming through Pass Cavallo, the narrow channel from the gulf into Matagorda Bay. By October 1862, when a federal fleet made a foray into the bay, the family had already offered their sons to the war. Residents of the Stein House watched from the upstairs porch as Indianola officials refused to sell supplies and beef to the waiting Union ships. Cannons exploded in a brief battle that resulted in the death of one Union and two Confederate soldiers. The Federal troops looted Indianola, sailed up the coast and looted Lavaca, then moved back out into the Gulf of Mexico.

The waiting game began. It was only a matter of time before Federal forces would make another push to invade the middle Texas coast to stop the movement of cotton—the Confederacy’s means of exchange with Great Britain and other European countries.

Efforts to move cotton through the Gulf blockade quickly proved inadequate, promoting dependence on the Cotton Road, a route through the central part of Texas and across the Wild Horse Desert, the untamed and unpoliced land between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. At Brownsville, freighters ferried cotton across the Rio Grande and then hauled it along the Mexican side of the river to Bagdad, a port at the mouth of the river. There, hundreds of foreign ships anchored in neutral waters off the Mexican coast to exchange the precious cotton for Winchester rifles, ammunition, medical supplies, and equipment desperately needed by the Confederacy.

News of the war was scarce but word came of Confederate troops putting up little resistance when Federals attacked Galveston. General John Bankhead Magruder, convinced that Texas would be invaded along the coast at Indianola, ordered a scorched earth defense––burn bridges, destroy lighthouses, dismantle the railroad out of Lavaca, and burn the warehouses and wharves at Indianola. He met bitter resistance from the locals who refused to destroy their own infrastructure. In war, they expected the enemy to destroy property, not their own officials. There would be time enough when the Yanks made a move. Then spirits lifted on hearing that Confederates had retaken Galveston on New Year’s Day 1863.

In November Brownsville fell, cutting off the shipment of cotton into Mexico. Confederates moved the cotton crossing on up the river to Laredo and as far west as Eagle Pass.

Indianolans waited as Federals began a relentless march from the Rio Grande up the Texas coast. They captured town after town until they reached Indianola in December 1863. Residents of the Stein House stood again on the upstairs porch to watch the brief battle. Within hours, troops descended on the property, camped in the yard, and took over the upper floors of the boarding house.

The occupants of the Stein House foraged for food, fed families of men who were off fighting, educated the children and waited for word from their men.

On March 14, 1864, less than three months after they arrived, the Federal forces began to depart. As they watched pontoon boats carrying men to the waiting ships, one of the boats took on water and began to sink. People along the shore rowed out to the rescue only to see twenty-one men drown in the shallow water. In gratitude for their help, the commanding office donated military clothing that the women of Indianola dyed and refashioned for children who had become threadbare.

The sudden troop withdrawal led to speculation that an invasion of Texas was imminent. In fact, the Yankees planned to invade from Northwestern Louisiana near Shreveport. When the Red River Campaign failed on April 8, 1864, Union forces made no further effort to control Texas.

With the troops gone, Indianolans started rebuilding their destroyed homes, filled in the rifle pits that scarred the landscape, and replanted gardens that had been stripped bare. The legislature allowed residents who had no money to pay their taxes in goods or articles that were redistributed to destitute families. When the war ended with the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, hope returned for a future of peace and prosperity.

The Federal blockade of the Gulf of Mexico ended in June, swinging wide the gates of commerce. The Chihuahua Road reopened and hundreds of wagons and Mexican carts loaded with silver, copper, and lead from the mines in Mexico rumbled into the port. Lumber and manufactured goods, which had been halted by the blockade, flooded through Indianola. Charles Morgan, the shipping tycoon, reclaimed and rebuilt his ships that had been confiscated by both sides in the war. He intended to regain his lost shipping empire, and Indianola benefited.

The arrival of the Army of Occupation that came to maintain order and see that the freedmen were not harmed, sent shivers through Indianola and the wary residents of the Stein House. A young Yankee lieutenant took a room at the Stein House and soon eased the tensions of Reconstruction and tempered the anger generated by the government requirement that citizens sign amnesty oaths, and the denial of the right to vote for anyone who had any political or military association with the Confederacy.

Indianolans continued to look to the sea for their survival. Ships brought in everything from groceries to building materials and exported cotton, wool, hides, and even beeswax. Ice, cut from the ponds of New England, arrived during the warm months. They repaired bridges, constructed roads, and built houses next to the grading for the future railroad that had been stopped by the war.

Indianolans believed that getting their economy and their seaport back in operation and maintaining a working relationship with all the country was in their best interest. The seaport thrived––even rivaled Galveston––until 1875.

Next week: Storms that Created a Ghost Town.

First Lady of the Confederacy

Lucy Pickens was a contradiction—an outspoken, determined, and forceful woman who was ahead of her time and a southern-belle, a beauty, and a charming hostess who was very much a part of her time. She graced the stage of the Russian Czar and Czarina and the grand

Lucy Pickens
Wikipedia

plantations of the South. She sold her jewels to outfit a Confederate Army unit that bore her name, her image appeared on the Confederate one-dollar and the one hundred dollar bill, and she served as the first lady of the Confederate state of South Carolina.

Born in 1832 on the family plantation outside LaGrange, Tennessee, Lucy Petway Holcombe was named after her paternal grandmother, Lucy Maria, who claimed to be a distant relative of Marie Antoinette. Lucy clasped her connection to nobility and spent her life feeling slightly elevated and entitled to whatever was best for her.

While Lucy and her sister were away at the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, their father, Beverly Holcombe, made a series of bad investments, which forced the girls to leave school and the family to move to land outside Marshall, Texas. Determined not to allow his family to forgo the luxuries to which they were accustomed, Beverly Holcombe managed to recoup some of his losses and to build a grand brick mansion named Wyalucing. As a further show

Wyalucing Plantation
Wikipedia

of wealth, he constructed a second home, Westover on the plantation, and created a street between the two houses that was lined with cabins for the slaves.

Despite her husband’s flair for displaying their wealth, Lucy’s mother, Eugenia, continued to stress her Christian ethic of hard-work and benevolence. She emphasized to her daughters that to whom much is given, much is required. Each day she made her rounds to the slave (she called them “servants”) quarters delivering liniment and salve. She also made sure her servants owned Bibles and learned to read and write, a practice that was against the law and one she claimed in her diary did not sit well with other people in her community.

Lucy was eighteen years old when the family arrived in Texas, and she was determined to realize all her dreams for a fine life of wealth and prestige. The manners and social skills learned in her youth, combined with her extraordinary beauty, perfect figure, and flowing auburn hair came together in a creature constantly surrounded with admiring suitors. Using her wit and charm, she managed to convince each admirer that he was special as she moved quickly into the important social circles that spread across the South.

Unknown until almost a century after her death, Lucy was writing The Free Flag of Cuba or the Martyrdom of Lopez: A Tale of the Liberating Expedition of 1851, a novella published in 1855 under the pen name of H.M. Hardimann. It was a romantic story favoring the actual filibustering efforts of Gen. Narciso López to free Cuba from Spanish rule and establish a slave state on the island. The book encouraged U.S. support for the cause, and the characters and situations they encountered paralleled Lucy’s own life. The men were brave, the women were lovely southern belles, and the slaves were happy servants. Some historians believe Lucy had been engaged to Lt. William Crittenden who was killed in the expedition and that the book was her reaction to her own lost love.

Very soon, however, another opportunity arose. Lucy met South Carolina’s U.S. Congressman Francis Wilkinson Pickens, who was twenty-two years older and had three children from two previous marriages. Pickens fell immediately in love with Lucy and quickly asked her to marry him. Despite Pickens offering most of what Lucy was looking for in a man––handsome, wealthy, respected and well established—she turned him down. She said if he had accepted the offer of the ambassadorship to England that his good friend, President Buchanan, had recently offered, she would have married him. Pickens hurried back to Washington to see if the offer was still open. The position had been filled but Pickens agreed to become the Ambassador to Russia. The couple married within a few weeks and began immediate preparations for the journey to St. Petersburg.

Upon their arrival in the summer of 1858, they saw St. Petersburg’s marvelous architecture at its best. Pickens’ position as the American Ambassador swept the couple into the upper echelons of Russian society. Lucy’s knowledge of French and Russian, her elaborate wardrobe, and her willingness, despite the cultural shock, to learn the customs associated with her new lifestyle, soon made the couple favorites at court. In her letters home she wrote that the manners of the aristocracy reminded her of those of the Southern planter class. The friendship that developed between Lucy and Czar Alexander II and his wife the Czarina resulted in the Czarina insisting when Lucy was expecting her first child that she move into the Imperial Palace to be waited on during the last stage of her pregnancy and be attended during the birth.

Upon the birth of the daughter, a formal salute was fired to announce it to the citizens of St. Petersburg. The child was given a name that combined the southern family tradition and the Russian addition: Francis Eugenia Olga Neva Pickens with the added “Douschka,” which is Russian for “little darling.”

By 1860 Lucy longed to return to the South to raise her daughter, and Francis, concerned about the political turmoil stirring between the North and South, felt he needed to get back to South Carolina. Thrust immediately into the upheaval, Pickens had to choose between his deep friendship with President Buchanan (who was soon replaced by President Lincoln) and loyalty to his state of South Carolina that was leading the push for secession. As Pickens traveled across the state, he realized if he wanted to serve as governor, he would have to support secession. On December 17, 1860, Francis Pickens was sworn in as South Carolina’s governor, and three days later the state became the first to secede from the Union without clear assurances that other southern states would follow. Despite wanting desperately to return to her family in Texas, Lucy stood firmly behind her husband’s decision and saved her doubts for the letters she wrote to her family. In the following months, thirteen other southern states followed South Carolina. After a brief trip back to visit her family in Texas, Lucy recognized that she was the face of the southern cause and returned to her husband whose health was declining.

In keeping with her duties as the governor’s wife, she entertained lavishly at the governor’s mansion in Columbia and at the family plantation near Edgefield. The Confederate elite was impressed and fascinated that even her servants were dressed in the finest Russian fashions. She sold her exquisite jewels that had been gifts from the Russian Czar and gave the proceeds to outfit a legion from Charleston composed of seven infantry companies and one cavalry. In a gesture of gratitude, it was named the “Holcombe Legion.” Known as “Lady Lucy,” she frequently addressed the soldiers and presented the legion a flag she designed that bore her name, the South Carolina palmetto, and the lone star that represented her Texas home.

As a further symbol of appreciation for the support of such a beautiful lady, the Confederacy placed her image on its one-dollar note in June 1862 and on its $100 note the following December. At the end of his term in 1862, Pickens’ poor health forced him to return to their Edgewood plantation where Lucy continued to entertain. With Pickens too weak to accompany her, Lucy traveled all over the South to show her support for the Confederacy.

$100 Confederate Note
Wikipedia

After General Robert E. Lee surrendered, the life Lucy had always known came to an abrupt end. Many of their freed slaves stayed as servants. Just before Pickens passed away in 1869, he called the servants to whom he felt closest and asked them to watch over Lucy. True to their former master, the servants served as pallbearers at Francis Pickens’ funeral.

Lucy joined the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, which worked to preserve George Washington’s former home. On August 8, 1899, at the age of 67, the Queen of the Confederacy passed away.

In 1880, former slaves of Marshall and Harrison County purchased Wyalucing for use as the President’s House at Bishop College. After the college moved to Dallas in 1961, the old house was sold and then demolished.

BELLE BOYD, CONFEDERATE SPY

tumblr_m88j73Awn31rd3evlo1_1280At the beginning of the Civil War, 17-year-old Marie Isabella (Belle) Boyd hardly fit the image of a daring spy. She had graduated Baltimore’s Mount Washington Female College and enjoyed a Washington debut. Family stories abound about the lively, oldest child in the family of eight siblings, growing up as a tomboy climbing trees and finally in protest for being excluded from the adult dinner table at age eleven, she rode her horse into the dining room and announced, “Well, my horse is old enough isn’t he?”

Belle’s family lived in Martinsburg, Virginia (present West Virginia) and owned six slaves, one of whom, Eliza, became Belle’s constant companion. Secretly, by candlelight, Belle defied the law by teaching Eliza to read and write. When Belle began her other secret adventures—spying on Union troops—Eliza reportedly helped by carrying messages to Confederates in a hollowed-out watchcase.

In Belle’s memoir Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison published in 1866, she relates a story that  signals the beginning of her involvement in the Civil War. Martinsburg was one of the first towns captured by the Union and while ransacking homes and businesses, a group of drunken soldiers invaded the Boyd home and tried to raise a Yankee flag. Belle’s mother, exclaimed, “Every member of my household will die before that flag shall be raised over us.” Belle writes that one of the soldiers “addressed my mother and myself in language as offensive as it is possible to conceive. I could stand it no longer . . . we ladies are obliged to go armed in order to protect ourselves as best we might from insult and outrage.” Belle shot and killed the gentleman.

The subsequent inquiry found Belle had “done perfectly right,” according to her account. For a brief period sentries posted around her home kept watch on her activities, which allowed Belle to charm secrets out of one of her overseers and relate the information to Confederate officers.

Union officials watched Belle’s activities, but she managed to take advantage of her minders’ sense of chivalry and their natural deference to “ladies” that allowed her to gather detailed information on Union movements that she passed on to Confederate commanders.

After visiting her father who was serving in what became known as the Stonewall Brigade, Belle began carrying messages between generals Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and P.G.T. Beauregard.

In May 1862, probably while employed in a hotel owned by her relatives in the Shenandoah Valley town of Front Royal, she overheard plans to send Union forces east out of Front Royal, thereby reducing the Union’s strength in the town. She rode that night; some accounts say fifteen miles through Union lines to pass the information to Confederate Major General Jackson. When the Confederates advanced on Front Royal on May 23, Belle ran to the edge of town to meet Jackson and inform him of the light enemy strength. Jackson’s aide later described seeing a woman in white gliding swiftly out of town seeming to heed neither weeds nor fences, but waving a bonnet as she came. Belle claimed in her memoir, “Federal pickets . . . immediately fired upon me . . .rifle-balls flew thick and fast about me . . . numerous bullets whistled by my ears, several actually pierced different parts of my clothing.” Jackson captured Front Royal and wrote a personal letter of appreciation for Belle’s bravery. Some accounts say she received the Southern Cross of Honor.

The detective, Allan Pinkerton, wrote to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, “She (Belle) gets around considerably, is very shrewd, and is probably acting as a spy. She is an open, earnest, and undisguised secessionists, and talks secession on all practicable occasions . . .informant considers her more efficient in carrying news to the rebels of our operation than any three men in the valley.”

After being arrested and jailed for a short time in July 1862 and again the following year, she became known as the “Joan of Arc of the Confederacy.” She volunteered to carry dispatches to Confederate agents in England who were trying to get Britain to enter the war on the side of the South. Her ship was captured on May 10, 1864, and she was deported to Canada and threatened with death if she returned to the United States. From Quebec she sailed to London where she married Samuel W. Hardinge, one of the Union naval officers who had captured her ship.

Belle published her two-volume memoir in London and had a daughter before Hardinge died in 1866. To support herself as a widow with a child, she began a stage career and then retuned to the United States for her stage debut in St. Louis.

Belle’s Texas connection began in 1868 when she acted in several plays in Houston and Galveston. She moved on to Austin to offer several dramatic readings at the Texas postwar constitutional convention.

The following year, she gave up her stage career to marry Dallas businessman and former Union officer, J. S. Hammond. They had four children before Belle divorced Hammond in 1884 and two months later married Nathaniel Rue High, seventeen years her junior.

With High serving as her business manager, Belle returned to the stage as Belle Boyd presenting the dramatic story of her Confederate spy exploits. She toured the country performing in a Confederate gray uniform and cavalry-style hat.Civil-War-Series-Photo-4-Belle-Boyd

In 1900, after ending a lecture with the dramatic words “one God, one flag, one people—forever,” Belle Boyd died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-six.

According to the National Women’s History Museum, Belle was not so much a supporter of the Confederacy, but an adventurer who took advantage of the assumption that women could not be dangerous. She was arrested six times, imprisoned three times and exiled twice. A man with her record would have been executed.

Manifest Destiny Marches Across West Texas

The end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, fulfilled the dreams of manifest destiny for many citizens and politicians as the United States acquired the land belonging to Mexico that stretched all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The following year, gold was discovered in California and the rush was on. Forts had to be constructed to protect the advancing surge of settlers whom the Apache and Comanche were not happy to see crossing their hunting grounds and their route into Mexico.

Henry Skillman received a contract in 1850 to carry mail from San Antonio to El Paso. On that first mail run Skillman used a Concord coach pulled by six mules and a company of eighteen well-armed men including Big Foot Wallace (Watch for Wallace’s story in next week’s blog). They established a stage stand in Limpia Canyon at the base of the Davis Mountains, and E. B. Webster, possibly the first white man in the area, remained at the site as the master of the stage station. The mail continued to go through, extending the route to Santa Fe and adding passenger service.

Historic Fort Davis

Historic Fort Davis

In 1854, Jefferson Davis the Secretary of War ordered a line of military posts along that southern route. The commander of the department of Texas selected Limpia Creek northeast of the mail station because of its “pure water and salubrious climate.” The string of forts stretched from San Antonio to El Paso, and Fort Davis became the name for both the town that grew up around the mail station and the new post. Settlers and adventurers by the thousands chose the southern route to avoid the snow and mountain terrain of the northern trails.

When Texas seceded from the Union prior to the Civil War, federal troops abandoned Fort Davis. The Confederates occupied it for only a year and then retreated to San Antonio after failing to take New Mexico.

When the federal troops returned in 1867, the garrison consisted mainly of white officers and black enlisted men of the Ninth and

10th Cavalry, Fort Davis

10th Cavalry, Fort Davis

Tenth U.S. Cavalry regiments and the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth U.S. Infantry regiments who were given the respectful title of Buffalo Soldiers by the Comanches. In a series of Apache raids the Buffalo Soldiers of Fort Davis fought several battles before the Apaches retreated to Mexico, and the fort settled into a quiet routine of protecting the cattlemen who began moving into the area.

The fort was abandoned in 1891, but the nearby town of Fort Davis, the highest town in Texas at 5,050 feet, began attracting wealthy Gulf Coast residents eager to escape the summer heat, and it developed into a tourist haven. When the

Restored Enlisted Barracks

Restored Enlisted Barracks

Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway proposed building a line through Fort Davis, the citizens refused, claiming the railroad would attract low-class people.

Congress designated Fort Davis as a national historic site in 1963. The adobe and stone buildings have been restored to their 1880 appearance

Fort Davis Panorama

Fort Davis Panorama

Queen of the Confederacy

Lucy Pickens

Lucy Pickens

Lucy Pickens’  life was a contradiction—she was an outspoken, determined, and forceful woman who was ahead of her time, and she was a southern-belle, a beauty, and a charming hostess who was very much a part of her time.  She graced the stage of the Russian Czar and Czarina and the grand plantations of the South.  She sold her jewels to outfit a Confederate Army unit that bore her name, her image appeared on the Confederate one-dollar and the one hundred dollar bill, and she served as the first lady of the Confederate state of South Carolina.

Born in 1832 on the family plantation outside LaGrange in western Tennessee, Lucy Petway Holcombe may have been the second of five siblings, but her rare beauty, quick intelligence, and determination elevated her in the eyes of her very religious and indulgent mother, Eugenia Holcombe.  Lucy could do no wrong.  Her mother’s accounts in her diary described her daughter’s antics as precious childlike amusement, slightly frivolous, but   always adorable.  Lucy was named for her paternal grandmother, Lucy Maria, who claimed to be a distant relative of Marie Antoinette. Lucy clasped her connection to nobility and spent her life feeling slightly elevated and entitled to whatever was best for her.

Her early life on the remote plantation with only her siblings and slave children as companions did not deter Lucy’s insistence on getting her way.  Her first trip away from home occurred when she was eight and allowed to travel with her siblings to Kentucky to visit their governess’s family. Lucy missed her home and especially her mother. She whined and cried incessantly for days until the family gave up and placed her on a steamboat bound for Memphis.  Upon arrival, she rode fifty miles in a coach and then met a companion who accompanied her the rest of the way home on horseback.

Lucy and her older sister left the loving environment of their plantation home in 1846 for the formal rules and practices of a Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  As Lucy would show in later years, she had learned from her mother to make the most of her situation, finding for the first time a larger society that admired her beauty, wit, and charm.

While the sisters were away at school, their father, Beverly Holcombe, made a series of bad investments, which forced the girls to leave school and the family to move to land outside Marshall, Texas.  Determined not to allow his family to forgo the luxuries to which they were accustomed, Beverly Holcombe managed to recoup some of his losses and build a grand brick mansion with white columns named Wyalucing. As a further show of wealth he constructed a second home, Westover, and created a street between the two houses that was lined with cabins for the slaves.

Despite her husband’s flair for displaying their wealth, Lucy’s mother, Eugenia, continued to stress her Christian ethic of hard-work and benevolence. She emphasized to her daughters that to whom much is given, much is required. Each day she made her rounds to the slave (she called them “servants”) quarters delivering liniment and salve.  She also made sure her servants owned Bibles and learned to read and write, a practice that was against the law and one she claimed in her diary did not sit well with other people in her community.

Lucy was eighteen years old when the family arrived in Texas, and she was determined to realize all her dreams for a fine life of wealth and prestige.  The manners and social skills learned in her youth, combined with her extraordinary beauty, perfect figure, and flowing auburn hair came together in a creature constantly surrounded with admiring suitors. Using her wit and charm, she managed to convince each admirer that he was special as she moved quickly into the important social circles that spread across the South.

Unknown until almost a century after her death, Lucy was also busy writing The Free Flag of Cuba or the Martyrdom of Lopez: A Tale of the Liberating Expedition of 1851, a novella published in 1855 under the pen name of H.M. Hardimann.  It was a romantic story 41S5N3GSH5L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_favoring the actual filibustering efforts of Gen. Narciso López to free Cuba from Spanish rule and establish a slave state on the island. The book encouraged the U.S. support for the cause, and the characters and situations they encountered paralleled Lucy’s own life. The men were brave, the women were lovely southern belles, and the slaves were happy servants. Some historians believe Lucy had been engaged to Lt. William Crittenden who was killed in the expedition and that the book was her reaction to her own lost love.

Very soon, however, another opportunity arose.  Lucy met South Carolina’s U.S. Congressman Francis Wilkinson Pickens, who was twenty-two years older than Lucy and had three children from two previous marriages.  Pickens fell immediately in love with Lucy and quickly asked her to marry him. Despite Pickens offering most of what Lucy was looking for—a man who was handsome, wealthy, respected and well established—she turned him down saying that if he had accepted the offer of the ambassadorship to England that his good friend, President Buchanan, had recently offered, she would have married him. Pickens hurried back to Washington to see if the offer was still open.  The position had been filled but Pickens agreed to become the Ambassador to Russia.  The couple married within a few weeks and began immediate preparations for the journey to St. Petersburg. Despite her determination to better herself and climb the social ladder, the letters that she sent to her family reveal a young woman experiencing terrible anxiety at the prospect of leaving home.  When she was the only one in her party who did not succumb to illness during the long sea voyage, she managed to ease her stress as she enjoyed the solicitations of the sailors on board ship.

Upon their arrival in the summer of 1858, they saw St. Petersburg’s marvelous architecture at its best.  Pickens’ position as the American Ambassador swept the couple into the upper echelons of Russian society.  Lucy’s knowledge of French and Russian, her elaborate wardrobe, and her willingness, despite the cultural shock, to learn the customs associated with her new lifestyle, soon made the Pickenses favorites at court. In her letters home she indicated that the manners of the aristocracy reminded her of those of the Southern planter class.  The friendship that developed between Lucy and Czar Alexander II and his wife the Czarina resulted in the

Lucy with Douschka in Russia

Lucy with Douschka in Russia

Czarina insisting when Lucy was expecting her first child that she move into the Imperial Palace to be waited on during the last stage of her pregnancy and be attended during the birth.

Upon the birth of the daughter, a formal salute was fired to announce it to the citizens of St. Petersburg.  The child was given a name that combined the southern family tradition and the Russian addition: Francis Eugenia Olga Neva Pickens with the added “Douschka,” which is Russian for “little darling.”

By 1860 Lucy longed to return to the South to raise her daughter, and Francis, concerned about the political turmoil stirring between the North and South, felt he needed to get back to South Carolina.  Thrust immediately into the upheaval, Pickens soon had to choose between his deep friendship with President Buchanan (who was soon replaced by President Lincoln) and loyalty to his state of South Carolina that was becoming the leader in the push for secession. As Pickens traveled across the state, he realized if he wanted to serve as governor, he would have to support secession.  On December 17, 1860, Francis Pickens was sworn in as South Carolina’s governor, and three days later the state became the first to secede from the Union without clear assurances that other southern states would follow.  Despite wanting desperately to return to her family in Texas, Lucy stood firmly behind her husband’s decision and saved her doubts for the letters she wrote to her family. In the following months thirteen other southern states followed South Carolina, and after a brief trip back to visit her family in Texas, Lucy recognized that she was the face of the southern cause and returned to her husband whose health was declining.

In keeping with her duties as the governor’s wife, she entertained lavishly at the governor’s mansion in Columbia and at the family plantation near Edgefield.  The Confederate elite were impressed and fascinated that even her servants were dressed in the finest Russian fashions.  She made a further gesture of grand support for the Confederate troops by publicly selling her exquisite jewels that had been gifts from the Russian Czar.  In a gesture of appreciation, Colonel P.F. Stevens of The Citadel in Charleston raised a legion composed of seven infantry companies and one cavalry; he named it the “Holcombe Legion.”  Becoming known as “Lady Lucy,” she adored the attention and frequently addressed the soldiers dressed in her finest attire.  She also presented the legion a flag she

Holcombe Legion Flag

Holcombe Legion Flag

designed that bore her name, the South Carolina palmetto, and the lone star that represented her Texas home.

As a further symbol of appreciation for the support of such a beautiful lady, the Confederacy placed her image on its one-dollar note in June 1862 and on its $100 note the following December.  At the end of his term in 1862, Pickens’ poor health forced him to return to Edgewood where Lucy continued to entertain.  With Pickens too weak to accompany her, Lucy traveled all over the South to show her support for the Confederacy.

Confederate $100 bill

Confederate $100 bill

After General Robert E. Lee surrendered, the life Lucy had always known came to an abrupt end.  Many of their slaves stayed as servants and just before Pickens passed away in 1869, he called the servants to whom he felt closest and asked them to watch over Lucy.  True to their former master, the servants served as pallbearers at Francis Pickens’ funeral.

Lucy’s brother came to help run the plantation, and her daughter Douschka, who was eighteen, helped manage some of the farms.  Douschka instituted a plan that may have been the first plantation to pay its laborers a bonus in addition to their salary when they helped produce a good crop.  After Douschka married and moved away, Lucy joined the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, which worked to preserve George Washington’s former home.  After Douschka died in 1894, Lucy lived another five years until August 8, 1899, when, at the age of 67, the Queen of the Confederacy passed away.

Queen of the Confederacy

Queen of the Confederacy

Former Texas Slaves Serve in Civil War

Three Holland brothers—Milton, William, and James—were slaves born in the 1840s on Spearman Holland’s plantation near Carthage.  Apparently their father was Spearman’s half brother, Capt. Bird Holland.  Capt. Holland purchased his sons from Spearman and moved them to Travis County. Little is known of their early life except that Bird Holland served as a captain in the Mexican War (1846-48) until illness, probably cholera, forced him to resign and return home.  He became chief clerk and assistant secretary in the state department and in the 1850s he took his three sons to Ohio where they were enrolled in Albany Manual Labor Academy, a private school that maintained the very unusual policy of admitting both black and female students.

After Texas joined the Confederacy, Bird Holland was appointed secretary of state until he joined the Confederate Army in November 1861. Meantime, sixteen-year-old Milton was in Ohio and eagerly volunteered for the U.S. Army, only to be turned down because of his race.

Milton and his older brother, William, may have joined a group of blacks that formed the Attucks’ Guard, which was named for Crispus Attucks, the first man (who was also black) killed in the Revolutionary War.  The Attucks Guard marched to the governor’s mansion in Albany to offer their service, but they were turned down.  It was not until June 1862 that Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton allowed black Americans to enlist and even then they had to serve in separate units commanded by white officers with less pay than white soldiers.  And, they were not allowed to rise above the rank of the non-commissioned officer.

Only known wartime photo of Milton Holland in uniform

Only known wartime photo of Milton Holland in uniform

While Milton waited for his opportunity to join the military, he used the skills he learned at the Albany Manual Labor University to work as a shoemaker for the quartermaster department.  In June 1863 he joined the Fifth United States Colored Troops, and his older brother, William, joined the Sixteenth United States Colored Troops.

Although both brothers fought in several battles, it was Milton who rose to the rank of sergeant major.  In late September 1864 while engaged in hand to hand combat at Chaffin’s Farm and then at New Market Heights, Virginia, all the white officers were either killed or wounded. Milton and three other black soldiers led the troops in routing the enemy and securing a victory that opened the door to nearby Richmond.  Despite being wounded in the charge, Milton Holland continued to lead his men.  For his extraordinary service Milton Holland was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on April 6, 1865, one of sixteen black soldiers in the Civil War to receive this country’s highest honor.  Although he had been promoted to captain

Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor

Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor

in the field, the U.S. War Department refused to honor the commission because of his race.  Ohio’s Governor David Tod offered to commission Holland as a captain if he would agree to be reassigned to another regiment as a white man.  Holland refused the offer, declining to deny his racial identity.

1st Sgt. Milton M. Holland wearing Medal of Honor.  Courtesy of Rob Lyon

1st Sgt. Milton M. Holland wearing Medal of Honor. Courtesy of Rob Lyon

During the war Milton’s father and former owner, Bird Holland, had risen to the rank of major in the Confederacy.  While serving during the Red River Campaign as head of his regiment in the Battle of Mansfield on April 8, 1864, Bird Holland was killed.

Milton mustered out of the army and settled in Washington D.C. where he worked as a clerk in the U.S. Treasury Department and studied law at Howard University, graduating in 1872.  He established a law practice, remained active in Republican politics, held offices in two black-owned banking businesses, and founded the Alpha Insurance Company, one of the first black-owned insurance companies in the country. After his death from a heart attack in 1910, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

William Holland

William Holland

Milton’s brother William attended Oberlin College, returned to Texas and taught in several Texas schools, and held a position at the Austin post office.  After moving to Waller County, he was elected to the fifteenth legislature where he sponsored bills establishing Prairie View Normal College (now Prairie View A&M University) and The Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Institute for Colored Youth, where he was superintendent for eleven years.

Born into slavery, both brothers served the United States with honor as freedmen.