Rumor has it that a contraband told the Federals that there was a operating black powder mill near Tomball. The Federals were advancing into Texas after a significant defeat at Jefferson in north Texas. Their southern salient showed some better promise. Still stinging from the battle at Mansfield, LA last year they were eager to avenge the failures of the Red River campaign at the hands of our gallant boys from Louisiana. They had decided to bypass Houston, having been thrown out of Galveston at the start of the year. They decided to move quickly inland to the northwest so as to outflank the home guard who were concentrated between Galveston and Houston proper. This circling movement was hoped to surprise and ultimately lead to the defeat of those defending the rail head and inland port at Houston. Earlier battle lines had been drawn to the south and southeast of Houston and they appeared to be impenetrable. However, to the north they were thought to be weaker. It was necessary to move upon Tomball township in order to cut the Texas and Eastern Rail Road line which brought supplies of reinforcements and food stuffs to the defenders of the city.
We had heard Lincoln’s Boys were on the move, but as yet we had seen few blue coats and were only recently beset by scalawags, brigands and stragglers in the guise of federal troops. They had been a general nuisance, harassing the ladies and stealing chickens but not much more. The Harris County sheriff had deputized several good men form each town empowering them to dispatch these shameful marauders without a lengthy court fights. The system was as brutal, it was just and it was swift. The honor of our ladyfolk hung in the balance as many of their menfolk were off to the eastern front fighting gallantly with Terry Texas Rangers or under the command of the Grand Army of Virginal and General Lee.
It is well known that few blue coats had much regard for the home guard. After all they were a collection of old men, young boys and worn out soldiers. But we had shown them what for when they attacked head on toward Houston. By burning the rail tressle from Galveston and forcing them into the swamps they were utterly beaten and forced to withdraw to their ships which shadowed them along the shore. Now they were angry and ready for a fight and a fight we were eager to give them. All that remained was for them to break out of the brush thicket and move onto the field so that they might be instructed to return the way they and came, all the way back to New York City!
Orders had been received from MG McGruder to concentrate our forces at or near the Tomball Powder Mill as the Federals were known to have already advanced on and burned the town of Fulshire. They were moving inland north and were following the Brazos River burning plantations and releasing all the darkies that had not run off into the woods. They posted something called the Emancipation Proclamation as they moved from county to county which incited the darkies to rebellion. These were certainly difficult times for all good men of the South.
The Federals moved on Hempstead in an attempt to cut the rail lines to Austin, El Paso, and Fort Worth. But they were stopped at Camp Groce and forced to move further south and east than they had originally planned. This brought them into a direct attack upon Tomball. They occupied Simonton, burning only the bank and government buildings as they were not fired upon in the township. They then moved across the flat lands of the Brazos River Valley toward Waller burning more than 18 million dollars’ worth of fine southern cotton at the press and in the fields. They move like damnabel locust leaving only charred remains in their path as they pillage and foraged their way through the merger possessions of dirt framer and wealthy plantation owner alike.
Today finds the Federals moving cautiously down the Tomball Trace which paralleled the Trinity and Brazos Valley Rail line. The greater part of the home guard Calvary had been set hither and yon to try to find precisely were the Federals were and to determine where they might strike. This day was fortunate as Corporal Joiner came upon the Federal camp early on the morning of May 20th just north of the Tomball Trace where it enters a broad field along a tributary of Spring Creek. For some unknown reason, they had not posted pickets and he was able to count their number before stealing back into the thicket then to report to headquarters.
Upon receiving the report the area commander General Cagle issued orders for all units to concentrate west of Tomball along the trace near Spring Creek with the greatest dispatch. Capt. Ronnie Mathews and his command of 200 infantry was the first to arrive answering the order. He deployed his men along a steep bank of a tributary of Spring Creek which cut across the open meadow roughly running from the west in a south westerly direction. They were ordered to conceal themselves and to remain silent. After surveying the field it was clear to see that the Federals had only two directions in which they might proceed. Either they must advance into the field 4 abreast along the deer path through the thicket or they must withdraw.
By the time the Federals had begun to move Capt. Buster Horn and the Keys Battery had deployed their six pounders behind the line of Confederate troops, well hidden in the brush. As the Federals made their way into the field all remained silent until nearly half their number had deployed. At about 11 am the order was given to open fire. Keys battery threw down their brush cover, rolled clear of the tree line and erupted in a glorious volley of fire and smoke sending shells into the Federal Artillery who were in the process of deploying along the north-west edge of the clearing. The first volley hit one gun square on, sending it cartwheeling into the brush, scattering the horses and ammunition to the winds. Still with remarkable skill Maj Tarleton, commander of the Federal Seats Battery Guns quickly deployed his remaining guns and returned fire from his three-inch mountain howitzers.
The cannonade continued in the manner of a duel until the bulk of the Federals were arrayed on the field still unaware of the Confederates lying in wait concealed in the ravine. By this time the Federals Burleigh artillery’s cannon had deployed to the East of the opening in the thicket so as to anchor the Federal line right and left with artillery, the fight was on and amid the smoke and explosions the Federals cautiously advanced across the meadow probing for a place to flank the Confederate Artillery. Division commander Capt. Meyers of the 36th Texas Dismounted having arrived just when needed assumed command of the line and ordered a company volley upon the as yet unaware advancing Federal troops. This being done and having caught them completely by surprise, leaving nearly half their number dead on the field, the first line of Federals began to waver then it turned to retreat falling upon their comrades who were following close order behind them. Seeing the disarray among the Federals Capt. Horn ordered the shelling of the rear echelon of the confused Federal troops. This had the effect of sewing great panic among their number as their retreat degenerated into a disorganized skedaddle. Capt. Mathews rose to issue orders to advance just a s Federal shell landed behind him knocking him unconscious and grievously wounding his right hand. Immediately Lt. Ken Meyers took command and lead the advance upon the Federals with the intent of anchoring on a large oak tree at the center left of the field so as to be able to inflate the Federal infantry. In short order this being done General Cagle ordered a full advance along the entire line which sent the Federals scurrying in chaos down the deer trail they had used to advance into the field. Our artillery turned their guns upon the entry into the meadow and rained down a withering fire upon their full retreat.
This had been a good day for our boys. The Federals were caught by complete surprise and at a great cost. At 1 pm sharp shooters were shifted so as to cover the entry point from the thicket on to the field and to protect the bridge across Spring Creek as additional Confederate reinforcements began to arrive. Our boys withdrew again with the five captured Federal guns to the creek bed elated at the day’s good work. Soon they were watered, repositioned and rearmed ready for a counter attack that never came. Medical units were deployed to the field to assist those who were wounded and in great distress due to the excessive summer heat.
Shortly after 2pm a large crack was heard as apparently the Federals had brought forward several large field guns. Their shells fell nearly on top of the position from which our boys had withdrawn to the creek bed causing little harm and great tumult. As the evening closed in the Federal guns stopped as we settled in for a restless night. Tomorrow was likely to bring a renewed fight, but we had bought valuable time of those at the Powder Mill to remove irreplaceable manufacturing equipment further in land and out of reach of these Federal scalawags.
This Field Report at my Hand,
Corporal Michael Bunch
***I trust you enjoyed this narrative and I also hope that you will have an opportunity to attend next year Heritage Festival which is to be held the third Saturday in May 10 from AM to 3 PM rain or shine. The festival is held at Spring Creek Park, 15012 Brown Road, Tomball, Texas the third Saturday in May each year. There will be living history demonstrations, food for purchase and more battles. Please also take a moment to visit the recently discovered era cemetery or, to learn about the Native American Artifacts found at the site and the remains of the old Powder Mill. Please contact Mr. Monty Parks at the Harris County Prescient 4 Office, 281-353-8424 or visit the site at http:/www.hcp4.net for more information.