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  • Treue der Union: Myths, Misrepresentations, and Misinterpretations
  • Frank Wilson Kiel (bio)

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The Treue der Union Monument in Comfort, Texas. Photo by Alice Ruth Kiel.

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Comfort, a small town in the Texas Hill Country, is noted for its German immigrant founders, its divided loyalty during the Civil War, and its iconic symbol—the Treue der Union monument.1 The monument honors a group of German Unionists who sought to leave Texas in 1862 for Mexico. At the Nueces River, a pursuing Confederate force attacked, and killed twenty-eight of the Unionists. Two months later, Confederates killed another eight men as they attempted to cross the Rio Grande.2

In August 1865, following the end of the Civil War, a party of men from Comfort went to the Nueces River battle site, recovered the skeletal remains of the slain, and buried them at a hillock at the end of High Street overlooking the town. Community leaders erected the monument a year later in August 1866. Annual ceremonies at the monument became customary. For many years, in early August on the anniversary of the battle, San Antonio’s Louise Tell Ewing Tent 5 of the Daughters of Union Veterans led the proceedings to honor those interred.3 In 1981, the Kendall [End Page 283] County Commissioners Court awarded Lot 122 in Comfort, which contains the monument, to the Comfort Heritage Foundation for a period of ninety-nine years for $10. The Foundation maintains it.4

Myths and misrepresentations about the Treue der Union monument have become prevalent. It is claimed, for example, that this monument to the Union is the only one in the South, that it is the oldest of its kind, that it is the only monument with an inscription in German, that it has a special right to fly the American flag at half-staff and a thirty-six-star period flag, and that it symbolizes an overwhelming Unionist solidarity in the Comfort community during the Civil War. Recent research finds each of these claims false; the service records of local soldiers dispel the myth of Unionist solidarity, the discovery of similar monuments suggests a misrepresentation of the Treue der Union monument’s exclusiveness, and reexamination of correspondence with Congressman Lamar Smith and various park directors finds misinterpretation of the half-staff story. Thus it is the purpose of this research note, which is based on site visits to other monuments, archival records, and textual analysis, to correct a number of the myths and misrepresentations of the Treue der Union monument in Comfort.5

These mistaken ideas have spread despite the work of area historians. Guido Ransleben, considered the definitive historian of Comfort, published A Hundred Years of Comfort in Texas, with an extensive account of the Nueces River affair. He printed pictures of the funeral and of the monument dedication. However, he made no claims concerning the dominance of Union sentiment in the community or to the exclusiveness of the Treue der Union monument in the South.6 Lloyd Murphy and William Parish, later civic leaders of Comfort, wrote a short section in A History of Kendall County, Texas, in 1984 that also made no claim to exclusiveness.7 Glen Lich, a careful historian of the Texas Hill Country, wrote the Comfort [End Page 284]

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Collage of monuments (clockwise from upper left) from Greeneville, Tennessee, Denison, Texas, New Braunfels, Texas, and Dallas, Texas. All photos by Alice Ruth Kiel.

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entry in The New Handbook of Texas, which mentions the monument but makes no claim for its exclusiveness.8

For many years, at least as far back as 1938 and 1939, writers described the monument as “the only monument in the Southland erected to memory of the Union defenders” or the “Only Union monument in Dixie Land.” Current residents of Comfort recall hearing in their childhood that the monument was unique to Comfort. Later writers in the 1980s described the monument, often with the qualification “outside of national cemeteries,” as the only memorial to the Union “in Confederate territory,” or “south of the Ohio River,” or...


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