- The Washington Times - Friday, October 3, 2003

The arrival in Richmond of 20 companies from Texas prompted Confederate President Jefferson Davis to greet them with these stirring remarks: “Texans — the troops of other states have their reputations to gain; the sons of the defenders of the Alamo have theirs to maintain. I am assured that you will be faithful to the trust.”

Little did Davis know how faithful those Texans would be. These soldiers from Texas, known as Hood’s Texas Brigade, became Gen. Robert E. Lee’s most effective shock troops. Taking difficult positions was their specialty, and they almost never failed.

The 1st, 4th and 5th Texas Infantry divisions served with the brigade for the entire war but were augmented by units from Georgia, South Carolina and Arkansas at different times. The 18th Georgia Infantry and the infantry battalion from Hampton’s South Carolina Legion served in the brigade through the Battle of Antietam. The 3rd Arkansas replaced the Georgia and South Carolina units and remained with the brigade throughout the war.

The unit was named for its second commander, John Bell Hood. A native of Kentucky, Hood served in Texas with the Second U.S. Cavalry before the war and fell in love with the state. When war broke out, he joined the Confederate army as a Texan and was given command of the 4th Texas Infantry. In March 1862, he was promoted and given command of the brigade. Although he led it in just two battles (Eltham’s Landing and Gaines Mill), he had gained the soldiers’ undying affection and respect. No matter who actually commanded the brigade, they always insisted on being called Hood’s Texas Brigade.

After the skirmish at Eltham’s Landing and a minor part in the Battle of Seven Pines, the brigade saw its first real combat during the Seven Days’ Battles in June 1862. At Gaines Mill, after numerous attempts by different units, the Texas Brigade waded Boatswain Swamp under withering fire and carried the heights, giving Lee his first victory.

It was only the first of several moments during the war when the Texans were called upon to carry a stubbornly held position against overwhelming odds.

At Second Manassas, they spearheaded Gen. James Longstreet’s attack Aug. 30, 1862, and in the process captured a Union battery and inflicted the highest killed-in-action total on any unit of the war when they overran the 5th New York Infantry. The 5th Texas advanced farther than any Confederate unit in the attack, reaching the base of Henry House Hill before darkness stopped its attack.

The brigade, however, would not always be on the producing end of such carnage. At Antietam, the charge of the 1st Texas resulted in the highest percentage of casualties of any regiment in the war, 82.3 percent. Despite the incredible loss of life, the charge plugged a dangerous gap in the Confederate lines and probably saved Lee’s army from a disastrous defeat.

Although Hood’s Texans did very little fighting at Fredericksburg and were not at the Battle of Chancellorsville, they more than made up for it at Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Chattanooga and Knoxville.

At Gettysburg, the Texas Brigade fought through determined Union resistance to take Devil’s Den and join other units of Longstreet’s corps in several unsuccessful attempts to capture Little Round Top on July 2, 1863. During the assault on Devil’s Den, the men from the Lone Star State captured a Federal battery. It was the only battery captured by a Confederate command during the three-day battle.

After Gettysburg, the Texans traveled west with Longstreet to reinforce Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Chickamauga. During the fight, Hood’s men took part in the breakthrough, at the Brotherton House, that sealed the victory. At Chattanooga, Tenn., the brigade held the far left flank of Bragg’s army until ordered to join Longstreet in an attempt to capture Knoxville, Tenn.

Reduced to fewer than 1,000 men by hard fighting, Hood’s Texans experienced their finest moment during the 1864 campaign. The Eastern Campaign began May 5 with the Battle of the Wilderness. On the morning of May 6, Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock’s 2nd Corps broke the Confederate line along the Orange Plank Road. Longstreet’s Corps, with the Texans in the lead, arrived just in time to plug the gap. Lee, who witnessed the scene, attempted to lead them in the counterattack, shouting, “Texans always move them.”

The Texans, however, refused to allow it, thinking that it would put the revered commander in too much danger. Shouting “Lee to the rear,” the Texas Brigade escorted Lee to a position of safety, then carried the position despite losing half of its men. It was a moment that would live in the memory of both parties for the rest of their lives.

Finally reduced to a mere handful of men, the Texas Brigade helped hold off the Union army for 11 more months before it surrendered with the rest of Lee’s army at Appomattox. Despite their final defeat, the men of Hood’s Texas Brigade left a legacy in valor that will live as long as courage is treasured.

Although Hood led the brigade in just two battles, he had gained the soldiers’ undying affection and respect. No matter who actually commanded them, they always insisted on being called Hood’s Texas Brigade.

Jerry W. Holsworth is a free-lance writer in Winchester, Va., who is writing a book on the Texas Brigade and John Bell Hood.

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