- Tejanos in Gray: Civil War Letters of Captains Joseph Rafael de la Garza and Manuel Yturri
Thousands of Tejanos served in the Confederate and Texas military forces during [End Page 311] the Civil War, but few of the letters they wrote to family and friends are readily available to scholars of that period. Jerry Thompson draws upon a lifetime of extensive research to provide this slim volume, which helps to redress that lack of sources. The result is a welcome addition to the primary material on the history of Tejanos and the story of Texas in the Civil War.
There are forty-one letters in this collection, written by two Confederate Tejano captains from San Antonio, Joseph Rafael de la Garza and Manuel Yturri. They were born into prominent families and became brothers-in-law, and both of them were educated outside of Texas, De la Garza at St. Joseph’s College in Kentucky and Yturri at St. Joseph’s and later the University of Pennsylvania. Both joined the Alamo Rifles of San Antonio in early 1862 when they were in their mid-twenties. De la Garza stayed with the Alamo Rifles when that unit became Company K of the 6th Texas Infantry, and he was killed at Mansfield during the Red River Campaign in April 1864. Yturri enlisted in Company H of the 6th Texas Infantry, then served in the 33rd Texas Cavalry for a year before securing a commission in the 3rd Texas Infantry, with which he served until the end of the war.
The letters begin in April 1862 and, at least for Yturri, continue for three years. Most of them were written in Spanish, but they have been translated here. They primarily provide a touching litany of boredom, loneliness, illness, deprivation, and even desertion, but there are a few exceptions. Some excitement surfaces in those that focus on the Overland Campaign in Louisiana in 1863, there is a sad communication conveying a report of De la Garza’s death in combat, and Yturri provides a vivid account of the battle at Jenkins’ Ferry and its gory aftermath. Yturri also writes perhaps one of the most moving letters, which describes how a Texas captain who refused to take his troops east of the Mississippi River was tried and executed by a firing squad. But the material has its greatest impact in revealing perspectives on life at home in San Antonio, where the two Tejano officers’ families obviously struggled to survive without them. Absent from these documents is any clue about why they enlisted when they did, as conscription loomed on the horizon, though Yturri’s disgust with the war by 1865 and his strong desire to be home is quite clear.
There are many names in the text that will be familiar to those who study Tejano history and that of Texas in the Civil War. Thompson provides effective notes, which are drawn from an impressive bibliography and comprise almost a fourth of the book, to explain the cast of characters and illuminate the letters. He also provides wonderful illustrations, many of them published from the collections of the two officers’ descendants or taken by Thompson himself. His introduction is somewhat unfocused, but it is gracefully written and provides a sufficient context for Tejano and Civil War scholars alike. Both groups should, and will, embrace this fine little work, and it will be cited in many footnotes.