Gideon Smith and Civil War

 

    In 1844 the Methodist Episcopal Church split over slavery into “North” and “South.” In 1857 Fannin County had the largest congregation of the Northern Methodists in Texas. Their ministers (it was said) had to “love everybody and fear nobody....”   

    1859 March 11: When the Arkansas Annual Conference of Northern Methodists convened on Timber Creek in Fannin County, editor John M. Crane wrote in the Bonham Independent: “...we kindly warn these people to beware, lest in an hour they least expect it, they will be visited by citizens entertaining adverse sentiments.” A local Southern Methodist minister spied on the conference.

    The Independent’s account of “The Meeting” at the court house:


    On Saturday last, held for the purpose of taking steps necessary to rid our county of a set of abolitionists who have been amongst us for some time, and who, it appears, have ever basely, though stealthily engaged in promulgating their incendiary doctrines, and distributing abolition tracts, newspapers and other printed matter amongst the people, and our slaves, was attended by some three hundred of the very best citizens of the county of Fannin. And whilst all were perfectly cool in their deliberations, and suggestions, there was nevertheless, a firm disposition manifested to rid the county of these insidious foes.

    The committee of fifty gentlemen, appointed by the meeting to wait on the Bishop, members, etc., of this church, and ask of them to discontinue the holding of their meetings in our county, proceeded to discharge their duty on the day following. Judge Samuel A. Roberts, having been chosen as the spokesman, discharged his duty in the most befitting manner.  During the interview between Judge Roberts and Bishop Jane, and up to the time of their departure, the committee, and those who had in the mean time joined them (some two hundred in all) were altogether respectful and courteous.

    On Monday the meeting again met, pursuant to adjournment, for the purpose of receiving the report of the committee appointed for the purpose above mentioned, and to further deliberate as to the best course of procedure for the future toward these intruders. After several speeches had been made, it was determined upon to appoint a committee of five, whose duty it is to prepare a series of resolutions and report the same to another meeting, which will be held at the Court house this evening at 2 o’clock.


   In subsequent accounts of the same events (Bishop E. S. Janes wrote one), prominent men were named, their words recorded. “Gen. Green was called on to state the object of the meeting.” Northern Methodists were a threat to property held as slaves. One of their local ministers had said that Methodists “could not be engaged in putting down a greater evil [than slavery].”

    Dr. James Reid, “on being called for, stated that he heartily endorsed all said on the subject by the speakers that had preceded him, and for his part, would not feel contented with anything short of placing the entire organization across the Red River.”

    Gideon Smith would “stop their proceedings, be the means what they will.” He was one of “two wealthy Texans” in Fannin County before the Civil War:   


Occupation, Farmer; Real Property, $100,000; Personal Property, $25,000;

Slaves, 31; Acres Improved, 300; Acres Unimproved, 1,400;

Ginned Cotton (400 lb. bales), 92.


    On a motion by Dr. Reid, a committee would be sent to “warn them to withhold the further prosecution of said conference, as its continuance will be well calculated to endanger the peace of this community.”

    Next morning (Sunday): The “committee of fifty” confronted the Timber Creek conference during worship service. Samuel Roberts later denied the committee was a “mob.” They were not armed, he said, because they “had no apprehension of violence from the handful of—well—martyrs! On ‘Timber’.”

    When the “committee” reported on Monday afternoon, Gideon Smith said he “heard that a negro belonging to Joshua Cox had been tampered with....” As “secretary” he was one of five “appointed to draft resolutions to be acted upon.”


  

    When Company H of the Ninth Texas Infantry formed for the War in Fannin County, most of the men were from Bonham. The day before they left townspeople put on a big celebration, and T. L. Green (among others) made a stirring speech.


    ... [but the] outstanding feature of the occasion was the address of Miss Alice Hunt, a beautiful young girl who, in behalf of the women of the town, presented the men about to go to war with a banner made by their loving hands. With her young voice quivering with emotion, Miss Hunt said:


    Gentlemen: I hardly know how to address you today. So many banners have been presented to companies raised around us that one can scarcely speak without quoting from some of them. And yet your manliness demands I be not found so trite.

    Truly, gentlemen, our country has devised a noble banner for her sons, for in its trinity of color we find love, purity and faithfulness.

    And who had greater love for home, friends, and country than the free and volunteering soldier? No pitiless draft sends him amid the roar of cannon and clash of arms. No! No! He leaves his home and the dear ones there and goes forth to clinch the flashing steel and swing the sinewy arm in their defense.

    Deep as the crimson and pure as the white in the bars of his banner is the love of the soldier for his home and his friends. And will he falter in the discharge of duty? No! No! A high resolve has taken him from home and he remembers that round its fire, father, mother, sisters, and younger brothers are gathered, and it nerves his arm to strike the stalwart blow, strengthens his travel-tired knees, fires his drooping courage, and inspires him with faith and final victory.

    Take then, this banner we have made, and let it remind you of the homes that are behind you; let its rustling folds inspire you in the long and weary march; and in the hour of trial, if the God of battles permit you to meet the foe, let it be in the van, and press ye where its stars are shining in the thickest of the fight. Let no craven hand pollute it, no foe possess it, but, if need be—in a redoubt of the dead, let the last one wrap it around him. Take it, and in defending this, may heaven protect and succor you—bring you back unto us, or write your names among those God doth love best.


    Capt. W. A Stanley responded on behalf of his company. Fifty soldiers heard the speeches.... Not one lived to return home.... Another Confederate Company [B of the 9th Texas Calvary] that went out from Bonham was a cavalry troop known as Gid Smith’s Company.


    Gideon raised a company of volunteers and fought in the Battle of Pea Ridge. His description was published in the Clarksville, Texas, Standard on April 3:


Camp Near Van Buren, Arkansas, March 15, 1862


    Dear Sir:—I avail myself of the present leisure moment to drop you a few lines, believing anything from this direction will not be without interest.  You will doubtless have heard ere this reaches you, that we have met the enemy, fought and have been whipped, and have made a precipitate retreat to this place; and many other reports too numerous to mention.

    Well!  on the morning of the 4th, we left Boston Mountain, in the midst of a violent snow storm (which continued until the turn of the day)  en route for Fayetteville. Camping at night one mile this side, resumed our march. On the fifth, encamped at Elm Springs, some 15 miles north. Starting on the sixth, before day, we came in sight of Bentonville, about nine o’clock, at which place there were lingering, some thousand or more of the Federal troops, who set fire to all the business houses of the place, and retired before our advancing columns, some three regiments of Cavalry were ordered on a scout, in a northern direction, with directions to join the main body, 6 or 8 miles North East, on the wire road. Getting in a head of the main body, we were surprised to find ourselves front to prant [?] with the enemy, some four or six thousand strong, who were also surprised to find us approaching, from an unexpected direction. They however opened fire on us, with both small arms and cannon to the discomfiture of some of our men.—Stone’s Greer’s and one or two of the advance companies of our regiment headed by McIntosh boldly charged to within forty or fifty yards of the enemy’s line, then filed off to the right out of reach of the enemy’s fire.  In this time two or three of the centre companies of our regiment wheeled directly about, and commenced a precipitate retreat, to the discomfiture of the entire left, who vainly endeavored to prevent the retreating mass from passing through their ranks. From these positions our entire force commenced a precipitate retreat back to Bentonville, instead of charging the enemy on the instant, which we could have done successfully, or at least could have gained their rear, and thus retarded their retreat before our main force. On reaching Bentonville we learned that our train force had passed on, and now we heard the booming of cannons, and also the clatter of small arms which plainly told us the battle was up. Pushing on, passing trains of baggage, and laggers hind [sic], we now and then found the bodies of dead men, who had fallen victims, as our advance came up with the rear of the enemy; and now we were again on the scene of our late discomfiture, with abundant evidence of the conflict. But the enemy had kept up a retreating fight before Price, who pushed them close until night, when the latter camped for the night, whilst the former continued the march until he reached a strong position on Sugar Creek, where he commenced fortifying. On the morning of the 7th, Price, in accordance with concert, pushed forward to attack the enemy in his position, while McCulloch and McIntosh disposed their forces a mile or more to the South West, in order to act as circumstance might require. The enemy had collected his forces at this point, to make a final stand, to the number of thirty or forty thousand, some 10,000 of which were mounted.—Price opened fire on the enemy [illegible] cannonade, about 11 o’clock, on the [illegible] of the 7th, which was replied to [illegible], and presently both parties opened fire with small arms. The enemy flanking back South West, as was anticipated came in contact with McCullough’s division, which assailed them vigorously, and held the vantage ground at every point. The right of our army a part of Young’s and Stone’s regiment then formed and charged a battery of [illegible] pieces, which had been run out on the enemy’s extreme left, supported by a strong body of Cavalry, and which had already fired some 4 or 5 rounds on our ranks, with but little result. The charge was conducted by McIntosh in person, with the commanders of the several regiments in command of their respective divisions. Our regiment in front with Col. Sims at the head of his column, bravely charged the enemy in the very teeth of their pieces, which were plied to their utmost capacity, making ball and grape shot fly at a careful rate. Thus our gallant Texians charged and  opened an irretrievable fire upon the enemy, driving them from their pieces, making many a one bite the dust. Col. Sims rode directly up, shot one of the gunners off his piece, and nearly at the same instant received a severe wound in the right fore arm. The ball entering the underside came out on top just below the elbow, fearfully shivering both bones. His horse being no longer manageable plunged through and through the enemy’s ranks, who shot, and cut at him from every side, but he finally succeeded in clearing their ranks without further injury. While all this was going on, the left of our regiment had been dismounted, and stationed in a flanking position, in a skirt of timber, raked the enemy with a galling fire from our shot guns.  So soon as the field was cleared, the fifth squadron of which I was in command, hastened forward and hoisted the squadron colors, over the pieces with a shout of triumph such as Texans only can raise.  We speedily secured the pieces, and were formed again, on foot, in support of a body of infantry, who had already engaged a strong body of the enemy’s infantry further east, where the contending parties kept up a continual discharge of small arms, with the loud roaring of the enemy’s cannon. Here it was the brave McIntosh, ordered Col. Hill with his regiment to charge and take this battery; they refused, when McIntosh himself headed the column, and led them to the charge; and just as he was leading them to victory, was shot through the chest, with grape shot, and fell dead on the spot. His column having no longer the example of their brave leader, fell back, and thus lost the advantage they had gained. About this time, McCulloch was shot down on another part of the field, while reconnoitering the enemy’s position. Up to this time, our arms had been triumphant on all parts of the field, but losing the guidance of these two brave men, our forces knew not what to do, and being under strict orders to maintain their several positions at all hazards, and not to leave them until further ordered, remained for the most part inactive until late in the evening, when they called off, and left the enemy in possession of the field, after having repulsed them at every point. The Louisiana regiment, infantry, having repulsed a strong body of Federal infantry, eleven times, who [hole in paper] reinforced; but to be re [hole in paper] our forces had been with [hole in paper] the Federal forces, with [hole in paper] returned to reinforce the party, which Price had been battling all the evening, and for whom he was more than a match. Thus the battle raged, till long after night, when, as by mutual consent, the strife ceased, to be renewed again by time next morning. During the night McCulloch’s entire command were given to Price, and with early light, boom!  boom!! went the cannon on both sides, followed quickly by small arms principally in the hands of infantry on both sides whilst mounted troops on both sides were vigorously posted, as their services might be thought to be needed. In this condition, the enemy were shut upon all sides, who would doubtless have run had they the chance.  Just about this time, our ammunition for the artillery gave out, when Van Dorn ordered a retreat; Price expostulating and insisting with tears they should continue one hour longer. Under these circumstances, our columns were put in motion as, it was said, to give a more favorable position and to prevent the enemy from outflanking us, but which was in fact, a retreat leaving many of our forces to get away the best they could and left the field in possession of the enemy, who as subsequent circumstances show, availed themselves of the first chance to also leave the field, in the direction of Springfield. Thus ended one of the hardest contests known to modern times, and what seemed to me from the amount of powder burnt, to have been sufficient to have extinguished the race. The next day we sent back a party with a flag of truce to bury our dead, which are said by parties who have returned to be 181. The enemy’s loss being variously estimated from 1100 to 2000 in killed. We have a good many missing yet, but some are still coming in. Many of our men have doubtless fallen through their own imprudence, by wandering over the field. None of my company were lost in the fight and only one or two slightly injured. Three are missing. Bob Tarlton is among the missing and I fear is taken prisoner. He was seen last on the field on Saturday evening, and was complaining of a slight hurt he received in a fall from his horse, the day before. He and Dan Colter were together; Colter taking care of Tarlton, but a short distance in advance of the enemy. Jasper Southerland is also missing. He has not been seen since Friday early in the day.

    I am more than ever satisfied of the necessity of urgent and strict discipline, whilst the independent service so popular among our people is ruinous to our cause. We had thousands wandering over the field, and country, without any special organization, and who for the most part were hunting easy places, which tended much to demoralize regular organization. For this reason, not more than one half of our forces were available. Whilst owing to a healthier state of discipline, every man on the enemy’s part were available. Our people must, while acting the soldier, forego the independence of the citizen, otherwise they had better stay at home.

    This whole movement was too precipitate and not sufficiently provided for. Our troops were rushed through on a forced march, day and night, and had but a precarious subsistence for several days before the fight. Our regiment was ordered on the 2nd to prepare two days rations, which they did as well as they could, in the absence of every thing in the shape of a vessels. Our train including tents, and etc. having been left on this side of the mountain. On the third we were ordered to prepare ten day rations, but failed entirely to get the material out of which to prepare it. Our train getting up to day, we had the luxury of sleeping under our tents at night. In this condition we set out as above, drawing such subsistence as could be had in a country, already twice sacked. Our men and horses were actually so fatigued and starved, that they had neither life nor spirit. For these reasons many of our men from shear exhaustion, were seen nodding in the lines, while missiles of death were flying thick around them and while the conflict was almost one continuous roar, as if the very elements were at war with each other.

    We reached this place on the 12th Inst., and are recruiting ourselves and horses as well as we can, preparing for another advance. We lost of our regiment ten killed, and fifteen wounded, all in the charge on the battery.

            Gideon Smith,

            Capt. Company [illegible],

            Sims Reg’t 1th [sic 11th] Texas Cavalry, 1st Brigade.


       A man who knew and observed Gideon Smith in the war was James C. Bates. His mother, it was said, “spun the thread...and made her son’s Confederate uniform.”  Bates’ civil war diary and letters have been published:


    Sept 18, 1861: Left Paris at 11 oclk A.M. —took dinner at Mr Burke’s—started on our way at 2 P.M.—arrived at Honey Grove at dark....


    The diary and letters begin in mid-Sept. 1861 (following editor Lowe’s narrative), after Bates joined a cavalry unit, and before his company was officially mustered into Confederate service. They trained for a few weeks near Sherman, Texas, just south of the Red River border with the Indian Territory, then rode off to the northeast to join other Confederate units in Missouri. Before they reached their destination, they were detoured deeper into the Indian Territory to chase down a column of Unionist Indians fleeing toward Kansas.

    The rumors about the dismounting of the cavalry regiments gathering near Des Arc proved to be true. Forage for their horses was scarce at their destination near Corinth, so the men were dismounted with the promise that they would be remounted when the situation was allowed. Still, this order was a great disappointment to the Texans, who regarded the cavalry as the natural home of Texas men.


    April 15, 1862: [letter to] Ma & Sister.... The Cavalry are being dismounted and their horses either sent home or kept at the expense of the government as the companies prefer. The order dismounting our Regt was this morning read to the men. A good deal of dissatisfaction was manifested by some but then they found it would be of no avail they acquiesced with as good a grace as possible. We have determined to send our horses to Lamar Co.... The order is for us to be dismounted temporarily—but I am of opinion that it will be for the remainder of our term....


    Reorganization of the units...at Corinth the Confederate camps were engaged in the time-honored practice of electing their leaders. (Lowe’s narrative continuing) Some of the soldiers were determined to remove officers who had not proved themselves good leaders since the original elections in October.


    May 10, 1862: [letter to] Dear Mary [sister]  ... On yesterday we received an order to reorganize in compliance with the conscription act...also balloted for field officers, but no one has yet been elected.... The election of our Company of company officers went as follows....

    Sunday [May] 11th The balloting for Col[onel] was this morning resumed. [No candidate had received a majority in the first day’s balloting.] Maj Townes withdrew [h]is name & on the third ballot Capt [Gideon] Smith of Fannin Co[unty and Company B] was elected. I think it probable that another election will be ordered—as the general impression seems to be that the law of Texas—by which we are governed in the elections, will not admit a new candidate after the first ballot.... I think it doubtful [emphasis added] whether our Col elect will be able to stand an examination by the Military board of examiners or not. All officers elected in the reorganization have to undergo a rigid examination and if found incompetent are rejected.....

    [May 16]  ... Several days since we received an order to reorganize—by electing company and field officers. Our election for Col was pronounced void by Gen Van Dorn & we will therefore ballot again tomorrow. Capt Smith of Fannin County was elected. If Maj Townes will consent to have his name run we will elect him—I think. Esqr Hunt who will be the bearer of this is impatient to get off so I must close....


    Interestingly, the soldiers voted with their feet by physically gathering around the man of their choice....

   

    March 16, 1862: from Van Buren, Ark.  Dear Friend [Miss Mootie Johnson, describing the Battle of Pea Ridge]  On this good sabbath morning, as we have no preaching in camp....

    I need not say much in regard to our recent battle.... As I was engaged in the fight on Friday only, and saw but little of it except on that day—I could not if I wished, give you a detailed account of the whole. I will only say—that on Friday about noon—near an hour after the fight had commenced by Gen Price on the left wing—we discovered the enemy advancing on our division—Gen McCulloch immediately ordered us to prepare for a charge & form a line of battle. This was instantly done. The 5th Squadron—(our company and Capt [Gideon] Smith’s) were ordered to dismount and make the charge on foot—as the undergrowth was so thick betwixt us and the enemy we could not get through with sufficient speed on horseback. (I should have stated above the enemy had planted a battery of rifled cannon in an old field on our right supported by a Reg of Infantry and large body of Cavalry—and it was this we were preparing to charge.) As soon as the charge was sounded the whole Reg—on foot and on horse—with a yell more savage if possible than we had been accustomed to hear from the Indians—rushed on amid grape and canister and bomb shell—with such irrestible force to the very mouth of the cannon—that the enemy seemed perfectly terror stricken—and in five minutes were in utter confusion—completely routed—running in every direction and leaving their cannon in our possession. Amidst loud huzza’s our company flag was unfurled over the cannon. Our loss in this charge was six or eight killed and fifteen or twenty wounded. We were formed several times after this to fight awaiting orders from Gen Mc[Culloch] but we waited and waited in vain, ignorant of the fact that his brave spirit had long since taken its flight to another world. The death of Gen McC lost the battle to us on Friday.

    Saturday morning the firing was opened with the dawn of day and was continued with partial successes on either side untill about 9 Oclk. At this time our batteries began to be withdrawn. I asked the reason and received the same reply from all—out of ammunition. The last battery passed us and with it went every hope of a victory that day. Although the firing with small arms still continued and no order has as yet been given for us to fall back I felt that it would soon come. The suspense and intense excitement of the two hours previous had been so great that it was actually a relief to me to know the fight would terminate. I have often thought it would be bad enough to look on while a battle was being fought and much worse to engage in it, but if I could have my choice I had rather be actively engaged in ten battles than look with folded arms on one other such as this. If engaged actively we have no time for reflection if not engaged we can do nothing else but think.

    Our army was not whiped but the fight ceased for the want of ammunition—we fell back in perfect order—the enemy being well satisfied to let us depart without any effort to annoy us. But I have said more of the battle than I had intended....

    Mr Chisum has just called at my tent on his way to Tex. and as he is waiting rather impatiently I must close this scribble. Before the next battle I hope we may have at least ten thousand Texans in our ranks.... Our Col [Sims] distinguished himself greatly in our fight. In fact, our Reg gets the credit of having done more fighting than all the balance of the cavalry— which is really true.... Very truly your Friend  J. C. Bates