May Heaven Protect and Succor You
Bonham Daily Favorite, August 15, 1993
Despite Fannin County's overwhelming vote against succession, and despite a general reluctance among its citizens to settle Texas' differences with the U.S. government by war, when the call to arms came in 1861, the men of Fannin County rallied to the cause and gathering their forces rode off to battle.
An untold number of men enlisted almost from the beginning seen from the success of the eight home militia units organized in the county in the summer of 1861. As the military forces of the Confederate government became better organized many more joined the ranks. Four particular companies organized from among men primarily of Fannin County marked their places in the history of that terrible conflict.
The first of these groups was the result of a massed meeting at the Caney Creek Meetinghouse on June 22, 1861 when the Caney Creek Mounted Infantry was born. Ninety-eight men signed with that group which was to later become Company E of the Thirty-fourth Texas Cavalry commanded by Almarine M. Alexander. The exploits and hardships of this group have been presented in Robert Weddle's definitive work "Plow-Horse Cavalry" and will not be repeated in this space.
The second major group was an outgrowth of the Fannin County Cavaliers created and manned on June 22. This unit was under the command of Colonel Gideon Smith who also served as Fannin County's representative in Austin. Often referred to in later years among the tributes to Fannin County's soldiers, the record of this group is sketchy and unfortunately research has shed little light on the men.
Of the two remaining Fannin County units, probably the one receiving the most notable send off to war was the organization called The Stanley Light Horse. The largest of the home militia companies, over 100 men answered the call of the unit commander Captain W.A. Stanley. Stanley, a Bonham physician, had had previous military training in his home state of Tennessee and what able to provide immediate leadership and training among his group of recruits.
As the organization of the Confederate Army in Texas evolved, Stanley's group was absorbed into the Ninth Texas Infantry under the command of General Samuel Bell Maxey of neighboring Lamar County. Stanley's command was designated as Company H.
In fact and fiction and particularly in Southern tradition, these local units are often depicted going off to battle after a rousing and sentimental send-off by their friends, relatives, and townspeople. And actually these send offs were a staple of the patriotic fervor during the early days of the Civil War.
Just such a event was staged for Company H. on the grounds of the Fannin County Courthouse. Exactly when the ceremony took place is unknown but it probably occurred in November of that first year of the war. Maxey organized the Ninth Texas Infantry at Camp Rusk, southern Lamar County, on November 26 , 1861 .
The day before Company H. was to march to Maxey's command, citizens of Bonham planned an all out farewell. The square and its environs were decorated with bunting and flags. The day was given over to a variety of patriotic speeches designed to offer both cheer and encouragement, each speaker trying to outdo the others as though the occasion was an oratorical contest. Four speakers that day are known to us; the subject of their speeches can only be imagined. First speaker was veteran of the Texas Revolution, T. L. Greene, often called "General Greene" among his compatriots. Two ministers, a Dr. Gardner, and a Reverend Hayes also spoke. Dr. W.C. Whittsett, whose own young son was to later enlist in the war in Missouri, gave the final charge to the assembled men.
But the most moving presentation of the whole affair was an address presented by Miss Alice Hunt, who, on behalf of the women of the town presented the Company with a banner which had been designed and sewn by the women present.
In part, Miss Hunt's address expressed these thoughts: "Truly, gentlemen, our country has devised a noble banner for her sons, for its trinity of color we find love, purity, and faithfulness. 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! ... Take then this banner we have made, and let it remind you of the homes that are behind you...Take it, and in defending this, may heaven protect and succor you - bring you back to us, or write your names among those God doth love best."
Captain Stanley responded for the company. Of those men who heard the speeches, fifty did not live to return home.
One of the original enlistees in the Stanley Light Horse was Bonham attorney Sylvanus Howell. Howell evidently did not stay with the group as it joined forces with Maxey's unit for on April 22, 1862, in Bonham, he organized a light artillery group, The 11th Texas Field Battery or as it was most often called Howell's Texas Light Artillery.
The group consisted of seven officers, a surgeon, eleven sergeants, seven corporals, three buglers, six artificers or mechanics, and one hundred eighteen privates. Most of the entire complement was made up of Fannin County men and included lawyers, a former sheriff, teachers, a silversmith, farmers, blacksmiths, tanners, and brick makers in the ranks.
Soon after the unit was mustered into Confederate service it was ordered into Indian Territory where it was to spend most of the war. For the next three years the group was assigned at various times to Cooper's Brigade, Steele's Division, Seventh Mounted Artillery Battalion, and Krumbhaar's Battalion, Maxey's Division.
During its career the company participated in the Battle at Prairie Grove, near Fayetteville, Arkansas in December of 1862 and in fourteen other engagements in northeastern Indian Territory, northwestern Arkansas, and south central Arkansas in and around Camden.
At their second engagement at Fort Wayne, I.T. on October 22, 1862, all four of the guns of the company were captured by Union forces. They were soon outfitted again and returned to battle. In later years, John Lair, a member of the company from Bonham, reported that at the engagement at Cabin Creek, the company was instrumental in capturing about 130 mules and a great quantity of much needed supplies.
The last report from the company dated April 30, 1865 reported four officers and forty-two enlisted men present for duty. The men of Howell's Company surrendered at Doaksville, I.T. on June 23 , 1865.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas