This time of the year the weather in an around the Houston area is very changeable. There is a saying in these parts that if you don’t like the weather in Texas, wait a minute, it will change. Well, it had been one of those weeks. There was a cold snap for the better part of the week and all the local farmers had to cover their vegetable gardens with blankets or straw or risk losing the season’s canning. It was a laborious task but it had to be done. But much worse was the news spreading through the county that the war was not going well on the eastern front. There was something about the Yankees getting close to Richmond and maybe even attacking Petersburg again. We knew that our gallant boys would do their duty and we hoped for the best. But according to the news things were not going well. This was bad enough but also we heard the Yankees had landed raiding parties near Port Lavaca and that they were working their way north, burning barns, fields and homes as they advanced.
The call for the local militia to gather at the Montgomery County Court house had been issued the week before and there was a flurry of activity over the tri-county area to consolidate troops and gather weapons and supplies. This was hard enough on the population as the damnable Yankee blockade had reduce trade in the area to a trickle. Everything, and I mean absolutely everything, was in short supply. And it seemed that there was never enough money to buy things at the ever inflating prices, that is unless you had hard gold. And no one had seen much of that since the war started several years ago. Things were hard, the weather was changeable as usual and things were going to get worse.
On February 8 it happened. The morning started cool and crisp. The fog hung listlessly over the meadows and it was cold enough so the morning birds withheld their normal sunrise song. The still was broken only by the occasional tat-tat-tat of woodpeckers who were busily at work in the forest searching for their morning meal.
Just as the sun rose above the tree line and the Jones family was about to start out to the fields for the day’s work, there was a stampede of deer and birds and other small critters out of the surrounding wood thicket to the north of the farm toward the house. This could mean only one thing. Someone or something had frightened them out of hiding and into the open. Karl Jones, the owner of the farm, knew instinctively what this meant. There had not been any panthers or bear in these woods for many years so it could only mean that a large body of men were working their way through the forest. The stampede of deer came from the north so this could only mean that Yankees were about. He hurriedly threw a blanket on the back of O’l Jenney, their trusty plow mule, hoisted his youngest son Karl Junior up on its back with instructions to ride as fast as O’l Jenney would go to the town of Spring (some eight miles distant) to raise the alarm that the Yankee raiders were at the farm. In a flash (as much as a mule can make a flash) the boy was up and away. And just in time as the first Yankee picket could be seen carefully walking out of the forest looking suspiciously at the farm ahead. Karl knew that there was little time to bury the family goods. He hollered at Marta to gather up the silver and to throw it down the privy or surely the Yankees would steal it.
Shortly Captain Yorbus made his way to the edge of the meadow leading a contingent of Company A, 13th U.S. Infantry moving at a brisk march toward the farmstead. Karl and Marta were hurriedly trying to hide what they could. Karl ordered his second son, Jimmy, to take the milk cow and to run into the forest as far as he could and not to return until he was called for. The other three children were scurrying around the house helping their mother, doing what they were told then skittered up to the loft where they normally slept and were told to remain absolutely quite.
It did not take long before the Yankees were at the coral gate. They fanned out to the right and to the left taking up defensive positions, unsure what would happen next. Captain Yorbus walked cautiously toward the house with his pistol drawn. It was tightly shuttered and except for a slight bit of smoke curling out of the chimney it appeared to be abandoned. Captain Yorbus yelled unceremoniously into the cabin, “Come out with your hands held up” we know you are in there. Shortly the front door opened just a crack as a double barreled shotgun made its way out of the shadow. Then with a roaring explosion both barrels erupted in fire and smoke, wounding the good captain in the leg and toppling him over into the mud. Instantly the infantry started firing at the house from their hidden positions. In short order some several hundred rounds rattled the clapboard cabin breaking windows and splintering wood in all directions.
This was enough for the Jones’. Marta made her way to the front door after tying her white apron on a broom and sheepishly waving it from the half opened front door. The order was given to cease fire and for the inhabitants to come out of the cabin with their hands up. After a few moments Marta with three weeping children in tow and Karl, having been wounded twice, limped out of the cabin huddled together in fear.
The Federal infantry immediately surrounded them with bayonets, herding them toward the barn in a tight circle. Captain Yorbus was not in a congenial mood as you might expect. His leg was soon properly bandaged and he stood in front of the assembled family demanding to know the disposition of the Confederate troops in the area. The Jones family was petrified with fear and they could do little more that huddle together while Marta consoled her terrified and crying children. Not getting any acceptable answers from the assembled prisoners, Capt. Yorbus pulled Marta from the group with the order to retrieve the family silver or he would shoot her husband. She, with a guard on either side, made their way toward the cabin and through the door. There was the sound of breaking glass and sounds like furniture was being overturned. Then a brief silence and a scream from Marta. That was enough to cause Carl to make a rush for the door so as to help his wife in her distress. The guard nearest him tripped Carl while simultaneously taking a butt stroke across the back of the head causing him to crumple to the ground unconscious.
Shortly Marta was seen struggling against her two guards as they attempted to assault her. She was able to break away from one of them and to land a full force slap across the face of the other. This sent him reeling down the steps landing in the mud below with a splat. The second guard took a step back as to bayonet her when Captain Yorbus drew his pistol, fired it in the air and ordered him to stop. There was a brief moment of stunned, motionless silence before the guard lowered his rifle. Marta was ordered back to the huddled group of weeping prisoners. Capt. Yorbus, angry and indignant about what had just happened, pronounced his judgment. “You are clearly secessionist, you have fired upon my troops and resisted lawful questioning. Your farm is to be burned and all usable contents to be confiscated,” he ordered.
In short order the remainder of the troops proceeded to pillage the home, gather up what produce and canned vegetables that could be found, hog tied Molly May their sow (catching all but two of her piglets). They loaded corn from the corn crib, what chickens they could catch and half a dozen little brown jugs for medicinal purposes into the wagon and ordered it back down the road toward their camp. When they had finished the farm was a wreck. Just as they were lighting torches to fire the barn, skirmishers from the home guard arrived and fanned around the flanks of the farm. Not far behind them were elements of the 11th Texas Dismounted Calvary who had been home on leave, and several men from the 1st Texas Volunteer Infantry. Not far behind them moving at the double quick was company L of the 1st Texas Infantry, who were moving to surround the farm in strength.
Capt. Yorbus was a seasoned officer and he could see that the situation was rapidly deteriorating and he would soon be trapped. He ordered his men into a skirmish line between the barn and the home and rained down volley fire upon the advancing Confederates. Lt. Ken Cox and two sharp shooters Pvt. James Samples and Pvt. James Gonzales had already worked their way to the right and left of the Federal line and were inflating their line with arcuate fire, bringing down three Federals before Capt. Yorbus could wheel to meet the threat. Once this maneuver was complete there was little for Lt. Cox to do but skedaddle back the Confederate lines to report the number and position of the enemy troops. Having suffered no losses and inflicted several upon the Federals, you can certainly see how he was pleased with his men and their actions. But duty called to report the disposition of the enemy and he reluctantly ordered a skedaddle. Unfortunately in the process a federal volley cut down Pvt. Gonzales as he turned to withdraw.
Upon returning to the Confederate lines and making his report, orders were given by Capt. Meyers to advance tree to tree under cover upon the enemy arrayed in close quarter blocking their advance into the farm yard. This gave the Federals enough time to fire the barn. As the flames licked hungrily through the stored hay it laid down thick gray smoke across the battle. Capt. Yorbus used it to direct an orderly withdrawal while firing several well aimed volleys. The first cut down privates Kevin Schlageter, Michael Rabbe and wounded Corporal Travis Tipton in the left arm. The second volley did little damage as Capt. Meyers ordered a volley down just as it was to be fired. Their bullets whizzed like angry hornets over the heads of the troops. By this time the smoke was so thick that no one could see anything. Capt. Meyers ordered Lt. Cox and SSgt Skinner to the right flank to infalate the Yankees again and they hurriedly moved to the right from tree to tree firing as they moved.
By this time the Texas Rifles had arrived and were formed on the road ready to charge in to the melee. Their blood was up and many of them knew the Jones family and were incensed to see their farmstead ablaze. Falling under the command of Capt. Meyers he ordered them to press full into the farm yard to dislodge the Yankees. They marched in full regalia firing well ordered volleys every 10 paces as the dismounted troops were ordered to advance at independent fire. Shortly all troops were involved in complete chaos of the battle. No order was given to charge, but spontaneously the men rallied and moved with the fury of a tornado into the farm yard and fell upon the Yankees. It was hard to see what was happening through the smoke but after a few moment the Yankees had enough, they broke and made their way helter skelter, carrying their wounded back across the meadow, taking Confederate fire as they retreated.
The order was given to hold the line at the edge of the meadow as it was unknown what Federals may lay in wait in the forest beyond. Several of the troops were made busy trying to extinguish the barn before it spread to the chicken coop and other out buildings or the house. The battle was over and it had been a horrific day. Rising of smoke could be seen on the horizon to the northwest where apparently other Yankee raiding parties had done their work. Our gallant boys had fought hard and driven off the accursed Yankees. They had done so at a terrible price with eight dead and five wounded. But they had given as good as they got some 14 Federals were dispatched and several more wounded were carried away.
This had been a difficult day for all the farmsteads around the town of Spring. Later reports would flow in from all over Montgomery and Harris Counties of similar cowardly attacks by the Yankees. The home guard had done a job repelling the raiding parties in every case. But did so at a horrific price. These little skirmishes and many more like them all over the South were rarely chronicled. But inevitably they would determine the outcome of the war as the home front in the South would be devastated by the unchivalrous attacks of Federal troops. This field report is issued at my hand this day 10 February 1863.
PVT Michael Bunch
Assisted by correspondents aid PVT. James Samples