February 13, 1863 broke like spring day in these parts of Texas. The morning was cool, windy and brooding as large heaps of clouds gathered in a line in the southeast and mounted into a thunderstorm. The wind whipped violently for nearly half an hour bringing down several broken old oak trees. For a time it seemed to rain small branches and bunches of leaves. It also whipped up a torrent of dust and debris that obscured pretty much everything, then it tried to wash it all away in a thunder clapping rain that you could do little about except seek shelter where ever you could to wait it out.
Ms. Debby McLaughlin was about her daily duties at the family farm. It was a hardscrabble existence on the edges of prosperity. The war had caused most the young men to go off in search of honor and glory. However, this left the hard work to the women who did their best but were rarely able to make much headway against the changeable weather and the hard rock strong soil. Nevertheless, they did their best to hold hearth and home together knowing that sometime hopefully soon, their loved ones would return once victory might be had against the damnable Yankee invaders.
The sudden storm not only brought some much-needed rain but it obscured the advance of the remnants of the NY 13th infantry company A. Capt. Whiteside had made an orderly withdrawal with the bulk of his troops, after recovering the wounded and was well back up the San Jacinto river toward Indianola when the storm hit. The brigade had been sorely battered at the Battle of Groveton earlier in the week and although the main body was well south of the farm, several stragglers and deserters were unceremoniously bringing up the rear. Moreover, they brought pestilence with them as they were pillaging and burning farms as they retreated toward Indianola.
The Federal Navy had captured Indianola in early January. The Federals were foraging north and west in order to acquire foodstuffs for their troops. Like locust, they stripped the land leaving little in their wake but worthless chits to be redeemed at the Federal encampment for greenbacks, which could not be spent in Texas. They were unrelenting in their forage. They left little or nothing to sustain the farmers or their families through the rest of the year until the crops could be brought in. They stripped the gardens bare and emptied every root cellar they encountered. They rounded up large heards of livestock, including milk cows intended for our babies and sent them back to their camp for slaughter. These were hard times and there was little to be done as the home guard, made up mostly of aged veterans of the Texas Revolution against Mexico were few and were spread thinly across several counties.
This morning the stragglers decided to make their move on the farm under cover of the storm. As the weather slackened a bit, they burst out of the woods confronting the right honorable Judge Cagle who happened to be returning from the barn after checking on the livestock. At the same time, Grannie Mc Laughlin was busy shooing the scattered chickens back into the hen house. Just as the Judge managed to get grannie back into the cabin three bedraggled blue bellies quickly surrounded the judge who could do little but stand startled in the wind and dust. SSgt Tomson shortly sauntered into the opening and demanded to know whom he was in charge. The judge, accustomed to treatment that is more gentlemanly took immediate offence to Lincolns Boys much to the surprise of TSgt Tomson. After a few disquieting silent moments SSgt Tomson informed the Judge that this farm was under the protection of the Federal troops and that he was obligated to provide whatever forage they saw fit to take. The judge had little patience for such impudence and unceremoniously drew his pistol and shot Sgt. Tomson dead where he stood. The shock of the moment allowed him to make his way to the porch of the cabin before the remaining troops could react. Having done so one shot him squarely in the back sending him tumbling off the steps and crumpled writhing in pain wounded of the ground. At this moment Missy sprang from the door to cover her husband. The blue bellies not understanding such adoring love moved to bayonet her. However, this was not to be as Ms Debby and her contraband appeared at the cabin door. Ms Debby wheeled a double-barreled shotgun and let loose with double-aught buckshot from both barrels sending one Yankee to the ground and the remaining boy hightailing it back the way they came.
Shortly a battle line appeared at the edge of the woods and a volley raked the cabin sending Missy, Contraband and the wounded Judge back into the cabin. Shortly a sharp skirmish erupted as the Federals moved on the cabin in close skirmish order. Shots rang out form the cabin bringing down another blue belly as they advanced on the unwitting inhabitants in the cabin who were out-numbered and out gunned. The Federals put out a furious rate of fire that could not be explained by their numbers alone.
Just as the Federals got to the porch a volley rained down on them form the south inflating their line and bringing down another blue coat. Almost without hesitation, the blue coats wheeled left, took a kneeling position and returned fire. Captain Dusty Lind, of the Euless’s A.D. Weatherspoon Brigade had arrive with local militia to make a fight for the farm. He ordered his men to advance in skirmish order at 5 yard intervals by the numbers, in two lines, then to set and fire. In a very short amount of time the Confederates advanced while firing down the road from Tomball into the clearing raining havoc on the ever-thinning Federal line. When it became apparent that the Confederate infantry was much larger in number than the scavengers their commander ordered a fighting withdrawal into the woods. Shortly they skedaddled back toward the San Jacinto River without recovering any forage or retrieving the wounded and dead.
This sharp and short skirmish had brought down five Federals and two Confederates. It left the Judge wounded and a severely shaken Ms. Debby. Nevertheless, it had not ended as the Federals than intended with a sacked farm left in flames.
After the skirmish, the Confederates split their number with one group pursuing the rapidly retreating Federals. The second group ministered aid to the wounded and secured the farmstead. They were able to recover several Joslyn breach loading rifles. These were top of the line weapons and that normally were assigned to dismounted troops. This was puzzling but the attackers were clearly infantry. This notwithstanding the rifles were welcomed to the inventory and might be useful if the proper paper cartilages might be had. Capt. Lind recovered his troops, treated the wounded and marched smartly back up the road to Tomball having done a good days work.
This field report at my hand. Your obedient servant.
Corporal Michael Bunch
Every second Saturday in February Harris County Precinct 4 host a Homestead Heritage Days at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center in Houston, Texas. It is open to the public for at no cost. You are welcome to come, as there will be ample drink and food venders available so that you might get a glimpse of how life was in Texas during the 1830-1860’s. There are period games, cooking demonstration, hatchet throwing, skirmishes, period music and period crafts demonstrations. The park is located at 20634 Kenswick Drive, Humble, TX 77338. Please contact Jones Park or visit the website at http://hcp4.net/jones for more information and directions. If you are in town please come and enjoy the day. The park is immediately north of Bush International AirPort at 1960 and Kenswick Drive in Humble, Texas. We hope you can make it.