The Settlers along Spring and Cypress Creeks face the Civil War
by Diana Lynn Severance, Ph.D
On February 23, 1861, the people of Texas voted to secede from the United States. Texas was divided into eleven military districts for recruiting soldiers, and by the end of 1861, 25,000 Texans were in the Confederate army. The newly arrived German immigrants who had settled along Spring and Cypress Creeks in northwest Harris County had little interest in the war; many were not yet citizens of their new land, but most served the Confederacy when called upon. A few, however, did go north to serve in the Union forces; the pay was better in the Northern army. For decades afterwards, there remained a strong enmity in the community between those who fought for the North and those who fought for the South. G. Walter Brautigam remembered his grandfather Christoph believed to his dying day the South should have won the Civil War.
In April 1862, the Texas Congress passed a general conscription law, making all white males between the age of eighteen and thirty-five liable for military service. In September, the age was raised to forty-five. Camp Cypress became the principle mustering station for troops in north Harris County. John Peter Christen, long-time justice of the peace at Cypress, was a notary public and conscript officer during the Civil War. Settlers from the area also enlisted at Camp Groce near Hempstead, and at Houston, Galveston, and even Brenham.
Feelings in the community often ran high over the war including hostility to those avoiding military service. Carroll Bonds had moved to Cypress Creek from southern Louisiana and possessed much food and cattle. Because of his wealth he was able to hire a man to fight in the war for him. When jayhawkers and cattle rustlers in the area tried to kill him, Bonds fled to the woods. He stayed in the woods by day and went to a neighbor's home for food at night. He finally fled to Lake Charles, Louisiana for safety. His wife and eight children soon followed him; there they remained for the duration of the war.
Some of the people opposed to the war left the state. William Marsh Rice, later founder of Rice University, quietly went to Mexico during the War. Others who tried to leave were not so successful. A large group of Germans from Fredericksburg, Austin, and Brenham tried to leave to avoid the draft, but they were caught and killed. Among them was Jost Heinrich Wied, who had immigrated to Texas from Feudingen in 1855 and settled near Bleiberville, south of Brenham, with his wife Maria. Jost sent Maria to the Rosehill/Big Cypress area to stay with relatives while he tried to escape the war. He was killed in the attempt, and what then happened to Maria is not known.
While a few fought in the eastern theater of the war, most of the German immigrants who fought in the war from northwest Harris County were involved in defending Texas from Union attack, either along the coast or from Louisiana. One of the important Union strategies was to blockade the Confederate coast. As soon as the war began, Texans began fortifying Sabine Pass, Galveston, Matagorda Island, Aransas Pass, and Port Isabel. Galveston early fell into Union hands, but under Major General John B. Magruder, the Confederates were able to retake Galveston in January 1863. In 1864, Union Major General Nathaniel Banks attempted to lead a mass of troops from Louisiana along the Red River into Texas. Confederate victories at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, Louisiana in 1864, foiled Banks' Red River Campaign, and he withdrew. Several soldiers from the northwest Harris County German communities participated in these coastal and land defenses of Texas. Many families had pairs of brothers fighting together in the war.
Edward and Sophie Hillegeist had come to Texas with their eight children in 1847. By the time of the Civil War, at least two of the children had died, in addition to another son born in Texas. Of the four surviving sons, remaining evidence indicates three served in the Civil War. Two thirds of the Texans who enlisted in the War enlisted in the cavalry. Lt. Col. Arthur Freemantle of the British Coldstream Guards, visiting the United States during the War, noted that "it was found difficult to raise infantry in Texas, as no Texan walks a yard if he can help it." Texas Governor Clark recognized that "the predilection of Texans for cavalry service, founded as it is upon their peerless horsemanship, is so powerful that they are unwilling in many instances to engage in service of any other description unless required by actual necessity."
The Hillegeist brothers were typical Texans in this regard. Eduard (1838-1914) enlisted in Company A, 26th Texas Cavalry in Galveston in September 1861. Many of the men who enlisted anticipated a short fight and a quick return home. When the diverse group, largely a collection of Irish and Germans, assembled in Galveston, the officers had to impose stiff discipline on the men.
A young German at the Galveston camp in 1861 wrote that "…the day before two men had strung up another by the hand and had let him just hang there that way for three hours, and another one was hitched in stocks, and lots more, from which we could see that the people were not treated like civilians." The 26th Regiment later came under Col. X.B. Debray and participated in the Battle of Galveston in January, 1863, which broke the northern blockade of the port. The regiment was considered one of the best organized and best disciplined regiments in Confederate service. It gained the nickname "The Menagerie" because its fine discipline and marching order attracted onlookers as if the circus had come to town. March, 1863, Eduard Hillegeist was transferred to Company H, 1st Regiment Texas Heavy Artillery. The regiment was responsible for defenses along the upper Texas coast from Sabine Pass to Velasco, with its primary strength at Galveston. It had played an important part in the recapture of Galveston in January 1863. Sam Houston, Jr. joined Co. E of the regiment about the same time Eduard Hillegeist was transferred to Co. H. Eventually, Eduard was promoted to corporal. November 1864 he was at Camp Groce near Hempstead guarding federal prisoners. Here he apparently remained until the end of the war.
Eduard's younger brother, Oscar (1841-1916), also enlisted in the Confederate forces in 1861, joining Company F, 7th Regiment of the Texas Cavalry, which later merged with the 26th. Later he was dismounted and served in the infantry until the end of the war. Oscar lost his left eye during his service; and after his death in 1916, his widow, Lena, was able to receive a Confederate pension.
The older Hillegeist brother, August Adolph, worked at a gunpowder mill on Spring Creek at the north end of his farm. In April 1864, the mill exploded, killing August Adolph (1829-1864), along with Peter Wunderlich and William Bloecher. All three men had been burned very badly. Adolph Hillegeist and William Bloecher died that night. Peter Wunderlich survived to the morning. The three men were buried in the Scherer Family Cemetery, which later became Salem Lutheran Cemetery. Their graves are unmarked, though the pattern of burial seems to indicate they were buried at the foot of the giant cedar tree located near the northeast corner of the cemetery.
Johann Peter Wunderlich (1828-1864) had been conscripted into the Confederate service in Houston, February 10, 1863. His conscription paper was found in the 1874 Maria Katherina Wunderlich house in 1998. This is the only written record remaining of any of the three men's involvement in the war. There are no existing records known of the powder mill at Spring Creek, but local families have passed the story down through the generations. Well into the twentieth century, parts of the mill wheel could be seen rising above the waters of Spring Creek. In 1966 a monument was erected at Spring Creek to mark the site of the explosion.
Philip Kleb (1835-1913) and his younger brother John (1841-1863), who came to Texas in 1846, were living in Hockley with their older brother Andrew when the war broke out. On December 4, 1861, they enlisted at Hockley in Co. E of the 26th Texas Cavalry (Eduard Hillegeist was in Co. A of the same regiment). Most of his enlistment time, John was sick. However, he re-enlisted after a year in the army and received his $50 bounty on January17, 1863, at the camp on Brays Bayou. He died in a Harrisburg hospital on February 1, 1863. Philip became ill shortly after his brother John died and was given a nine day sick furlough. He returned to the army and was last found on the muster rolls January -February, 1864. He probably saw action at the Battles of Galveston, Pleasant Hill, and along the Red River.
Edward and Carl Fritz, who had immigrated to Texas as young boys in 1848, also joined Co. E of the 26th Texas Cavalry, Debray's regiment. In March 1864, Edward was appointed corporal. Carl was captured and spent some time as a POW; he was released as a "Parole of Honor" at the war's end.
Another pair of German brothers who served in the Confederate army were Henry (1838-1912) and Adam (1842 - ?) Metzler. Henry and Adam had immigrated to Texas with their parents and an older brother and younger sister in the mid-1840's. On April 15, 1862, Adam enlisted in the Civil War under Captain Otto Nathusius; he was 21 and unmarried. Adam became part of Company C, Waul's Legion, and was sent to Camp Waul, located at Gay Hill, seven miles north of Brenham. Waul's Texas Legion was one of only two legions of Texas troops in the regular Confederate Army. First assigned to Arkansas and Louisiana, in October the infantry was transferred to Mississippi, organized into two battalions, and assigned to General John C. Pemberton's army at Vicksburg. The men, including Adam Metzler, were captured at the fall of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863. The final record of Adam was on the roll of the prisoners of war. When Waul's men were paroled by mid-July, Colonel Waul granted his men a forty-day furlough. The men were then re-organized in Houston and assigned to protect the Texas coast around Galveston. There are no records of Adam re-enlisting, however, and he simply disappeared from history. Perhaps he was killed or died on the way home after the battle of Vicksburg.
Adam's older brother, Henry, enlisted in Houston on June 2, 1862, as a private in Haldeman's Light Artillery, the 4th Texas Field battery. Before enlisting, Henry took the precaution of making a will, drawn and recorded in the deed records of Harris County on March 16, 1862. He left to his mother, Elizabeth, "one ox an road wagon, four yolks of oxen with there yolks and chains, four horses, forty heads of cattle, and twenty heads of sheep and all the balances of my personal estate and property." Henry's stay in the army was brief. On August 12, 1862, he was issued a certificate of disability for discharge at Camp Millwood, Texas. It stated that because of chronic hepatitis, Henry had been unfit for duty for the past sixty days.
Henry Theiss (1828-1909) enlisted in the 4th Texas Artillery battery the same day Henry Metzler did, June 2, 1862. This undoubtedly was a forced conscription, since Henry had three small children at home, and his second wife, Mary, whom he had married the previous autumn, was expecting another child. Family stories say Henry was captured by Union soldiers and held a prisoner. The last time his name appears on the muster rolls is October 1862. Family stories also tell that later Henry made wagon wheels for the Confederacy at the powder mill near Spring Creek.
Numerous other men from the community enlisted in Captain Horace Haldeman's 4th Texas Field Battery, including the following:
Richard Haude* (corporal) David Ehrhardt
Henry Hempel Jacob Kuehnle
Henry Scherer Daniel Werner
Ernst Wuensche John Bode**
Joseph Fritsche** Frederick Jurgen**
John Kuehnle Herman Tautenhahn**
Gustave Werner William Wuensche
During the first part of the war, Haldeman's battery was assigned to the 1st Brigade of Walker's Texas Division, which served in Missouri and Arkansas. In April 1864, the men saw action at the battles of Mansfeld and Pleasant Hill. When the men returned from Louisiana at the war's end, they buried the guns in the Red River.
Jacob and John Kuehnle, listed as privates in Haldeman's 4th Texas Artillery battery, had immigrated to Texas from Eichenkirnberg, Germany with their sister, Rosina, in 1855. Nothing specific is known of John's war service, but family legend says that Jacob was severely wounded in the war and was sent home, where he died of his wounds. He is supposedly buried in the Old Confederate Cemetery on the west side of downtown Houston. Jacob had married Catherine Krimmel, and the couple had one daughter, Rosina, before Jacob's death. They lived north of the corner of Spring-Cypress and Klein Cemetery road. Catherine later married Carl Herman Tautenhahn of Westfield. John and his family later lived on what is now 1960 across from Wal-Mart.
Carl Bahr and Jacob Zahn, both from the nearby Cypress community of Germans, were privates in Flournoy's 16th Texas Infantry, also part of Walker's Division. This was a mobile organization that saw duty in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Carl was wounded in fighting around Natchez, Mississippi, and died near Dangerfield, Texas on September 27, 1862. Jacob was frequently ill during the war and at times absent with leave, but he served until the war's end.
George and Frederick Brautigam had come to Texas in 1856, only five years before the war began, but they quickly enlisted in the war effort. On July 22, 1861, George signed up with Captain Lem Clepper of the Montgomery County Rifle Brigade. Family historian Margie Walter notes, "This was a unit of poor men who could not leave their homes but a few weeks at a time without leaving their families destitute or in want but were willing to act as minute men in case their services should be deemed necessary." Though no verifying records can be found, family tradition states that Christoph, father of George and Friedrick, also fought in the war.
May 28, 1862, along with others in the Montgomery County Rifle Brigade, the Brautigam brothers enlisted in the 20th Texas Infantry being organized at Galveston. The regiment did guard duty along the Texas coast from Galveston to the Sabine Pass and was active in the recapture of Galveston in January 1863. In September 1863, the Federals attacked Sabine Pass and were valiantly repulsed by the Davis Guards under Dick Dowling. The U.S.S. Sachem had a hole in its steam drum and was among the two ships captured in the engagement. In October, the Brautigam brothers served detached duty on the Sachem at Sabine pass. When the Trans-Mississippi Department surrendered on June 2, 1865, the brothers were back in Galveston.
As the war worsened for the Confederates, conscription officers scoured the countryside for enlistments. Christian Strack (1844-1898), who had immigrated to Texas with his parents, Herman and Anna Mueller Strack, in 1848, enlisted at Camp Groce late in the war, on December 21, 1864. He was a private in C Battery, First Texas Heavy Artillery, the same regiment in which Eduard Hillegeist later served. Because he enlisted so late in the war, it is probable Christian Strack's enlistment was a forced one.
As the number of men in the Confederate Army dwindled through the attrition of war, recruiting officers rode from house to house inquiring into the age of all males. Anyone over the age of sixteen was instantly enlisted into the Confederate forces. One soldier from the Cypress Creek Community deserted and hid in a friend's house. The military police, suspecting his hiding place, posted guards to apprehend him. Friends of the soldier dressed him up as a woman and gave him a baby to carry when he, together with two women, walked right past the guards. The women quietly warned the soldier to walk with shorter steps so he would not be detected going past the guards.
David Ehrhardt, a farmer and cattle rancher who owned 320 acres in what became the Bammel community on FM 1960, was plowing his fields with his oxen when the conscriptors came to enlist him in the confederate Army. His wife Elizabeth had to finish plowing the field alone. David joined the 4th Field Battery, which served as artillery along the Texas coast.
The Texas Conscription Act exempted from military service those engaged in the production of war supplies or those physically unable to serve. Some of the community's men did qualify for an exemption. Herman Strack, a blacksmith, was commissioned to make bridles and spurs for the cavalry. Henry Theiss did woodwork on spokes of wagon wheels at a shop near the Powder Mill on Spring Creek. Charles Kriegel was a drover, collecting hay and forage for the cavalry horses.
Adam Klein was conscripted to serve in the Confederate Army, but he was released when he developed malaria fever and asthma. Since he was a weaver by trade, he gained a military exemption and was commissioned to weave cloth for uniforms. The government provided the loom and raw materials for weaving, and he was given a certain quota to weave every day. He was paid in Confederate paper dollars, which were virtually worthless. During this time about twenty Confederate soldiers came to the house and asked to stay the night. They were housed and fed, and during the evening conversation they discussed the problems facing the South. When Adam suggested that the South might lose the war because of a lack of arms, one soldier insisted, "Hell, that's no problem! We'll lick the Yankees, take their arms away, and fight the rest with their own guns." Adam was also commissioned to haul cotton for the Confederacy.
Before the Civil War cotton had been the major export of the United States. There was some economic justification for the Southern claim that "Cotton is King." Cotton was the key to Texas' economy, as it was for most of the South, and Texas' cotton production continued to increase during the war years. In the decade of 1859-1869, annual production dramatically increased from 58, 706 to 431, 463 bales, but the Union blockade of the Southern ports cut off Texas' normal trade with European markets. Texas differed from other southern states, however, in having a neighboring country with which it could develop trade patterns. The North could not blockade the Rio Grande because it was an international body of water; the Rio Grande frontier and Matamoras quickly became focal points of the wartime Texas cotton trade.
The State sale of cotton was Texas' primary means of arming the military for the war. State officials, operating under the Texas State Military Board, purchased cotton from planters for 8% State Bonds. Laws were passed requiring planters to sell at least half of their cotton crop to the State in exchange for these bonds. The cotton was sold or traded in Mexico for needed military supplies - weapons, clothing, and medicines. The trade was a major commercial enterprise. Entrepreneur William Marsh Rice, later founder of Rice University, moved to Mexico during the war and especially profited from the border cotton trade. By 1863, hundreds of ships were usually off the mouth of the Rio Grande at Matamoras, picking up Texas cotton for shipment overseas. During the war Texas was able to sell $2,000,000 in cotton through the Rio Grande ports, an incalculable asset to the war effort. Most cotton for this Matamoras trade was transported overland by ox wagons, and Adam Klein became a part of this work.
The point nearest Houston for collecting the cotton bales for transport was Alleyton, sixty-five miles to the west. Alleyton was a little wooden village that had sprung up as the western terminus of the Texas Railroad system. Here cotton from the eastern cotton growing districts was collected to be taken south. Small wagon trains were organized to transport the cotton bales to the border. Each wagon train had 10-15 wagons, a few saddle horses, and 20-30 extra draft animals. A wagon master, two section captains, twelve teamsters, a couple of armed guards, and a man to herd the extra animals made up the wagon train's personnel. Teamsters were in short supply. Though Adam Klein was apparently among the teamsters conscripted by the army, private merchants paid for some teamsters and advertised in Texas newspapers, promising nine dollars a day plus ox feed. The conscripted government teamsters such as Adam, however, received five dollars a week plus ox feed.