- Our Trust is in the God of Battles: The Civil War Letters of Robert Franklin Bunting, Chaplain, Terry’s Texas Rangers, C. S. A
This book tells the story of Terry’s Texas Rangers, officially known as the Eighth Texas Cavalry Regiment, an all-volunteer group of horsemen who served with Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston’s Army of Tennessee, as seen through the eyes of their chaplain, Rev. R. F. Bunting. The editor, Thomas W. Cutrer, is a professor of American Studies at Arizona State University and an expert on the history of the western frontier.
The tale that emerges from this collection of letters is all the more interesting in that their author, Chaplain Bunting, was born in Pennsylvania, possessed of a degree in theology from Princeton University, and married into a deeply abolitionist Ohio family. It would appear that Bunting fell in love with Texas early on in his [End Page 1339] career. At his request he was ordained “as an evangelist to Texas,” where for a time he did God’s work founding churches in the wilderness, before accepting the call to San Antonio. 1860 found him preaching to the largest Presbyterian congregation in the state. In the autumn of 1861, Bunting left the pulpit to serve as chaplain to Terry’s Texas Rangers.
The regiment was the creation of Ben F. Terry, a successful south Texas planter and his friend Thomas Lubbock, a veteran of the War for Texas Independence. It was not part of the Texas Rangers who enforced the law on the frontier. Comprised of 1,000 volunteers, the regiment was first destined for service with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia—Terry and Lubbock had briefly served as couriers for Longstreet’s command during the First Battle of Manassas—but en route to the Eastern theater, the Rangers were seconded to Gen. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee, where they served for a time under the command of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. Col. Terry, their commander, was killed in action in Kentucky in December 1861. The Rangers fought in all the major battles in the theater—Shiloh, Stone’s River, Chickamauga, the battle for Atlanta—and retreated with the Confederate army east and then north in the face of Gen. Sherman’s advance. In March of 1865 the Rangers formed as a regiment and made a last and successful charge against Sherman’s infantry at Bentonville, North Carolina. After Appomattox, the some 250 men who remained out of the original 1,000 made their way back to Texas.
All of this was reported in Chaplain Bunting’s letters. The chaplain appears to have been the clerical equivalent of the Virginia “fire-eater,” Edmund Ruffin. When Col. Terry was killed, the chaplain exhorted the Rangers to “avenge his death upon the cowardly hirelings who would desolate our homes and destroy our sunny South, subjugate a heroic people, and perpetually enslave them for daring to be free men.” When the tide turned against the South, Bunting wrote that “There is a cause for all this…We have forgotten Him. We were looking for other sources of aid. Our rulers were anticipating foreign alliances.” Throughout the fighting, the chaplain continued to hold services every Sunday and noted that all the Rangers attended “save about a dozen who were heavily engaged in gambling.” He also lamented that there is “too much peach brandy in evidence and all are getting tight.”
As the war wound down, Bunting was ready to urge drastic measures to save the Confederacy. In a letter to a Texas newspaper in February 1865, he made a case for enrolling blacks in the Confederate army, arguing that there were few reserves left, the war was being lost, and the “duty to ourselves, to the Negro, to the civilization of the continent, demands of us the immediate arming of our...