- Frontier Horsemen of the Confederacy: Major’s Texas Cavalry Brigade by James T. Matthews
Too often in the scholarship of the American Civil War, the Trans-Mississippi Theater is overshadowed by the titanic battles in the Eastern and Western Theaters. Even less attention is given to the men who fought west of the Mississippi River. This gap in the literature of the Civil War not only indicates an under-appreciation of those who fought in the Trans Mississippi, but also presents an opportunity in an already oversaturated field of study. James P. Matthews’s book, Frontier Horsemen of the Confederacy: Major’s Texas Cavalry Brigade, contributes to the limited scholarship on the Trans-Mississippi by following James P. Major’s brigade of Texas cavalry from the beginning of the war through the post-bellum years. Matthews’s objective is to present the “unique story and the contributions of the brigade” and “provide further insight into some lesser known campaigns of the Civil War and into the overall development of Texas and southwestern territories” (3).
For the most part, Matthews achieves his goal in eight chapters that cover the actions of the regiments that composed Major’s brigade. The first three chapters examine the four cavalry regiments that eventually amalgamated into Major’s cavalry brigade in 1863. The first chapter examines the First and Second Texas Partisan Rangers, recounting the failures of the former in Arkansas and the limited activity of the latter in the early stages of the war. The second and third chapters follow the endeavors of Colonel John R. Baylor and his failed invasion of New Mexico in early 1862. The remnants of that expedition formed several new regiments, including the Second and Third Arizona Cavalry, which both later served under Major. [End Page 517]
The remaining five chapters covered the actions of Major’s men in Louisiana and Texas from 1863 through the end of the war. These veteran cavalrymen proved to be invaluable to Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, who utilized their mobility to raid and disrupt Union military installations in Louisiana. Matthews describes the exploits of Major’s “Mississippi river-boat pirates” in great detail and at every opportunity emphasizes the importance of the brigade’s covert activities (2). While acting as mostly a raiding force, Major’s brigade also fought in the battles of Pleasant Hill and Mansfield, the two most prominent battles in the Union Red River campaign. The final pages of this book follow Major’s brigade into the post-bellum era, demonstrating the varying levels of success and failure that these now defeated rebels attained for themselves in peace time.
Matthews’s work shines in its telling of the deeds of Major’s brigade during the war. The author transitions well from chapter to chapter, weaving the experiences of different regiments into a compact and well-researched piece of scholarship. One of the shortcomings of the book, however, is the last chapter. Matthews should be commended for continuing his narrative past the end of the war in relating the hardships that these Confederates faced when they returned home, but the influence of these men on post-Civil War Texas and other areas does not manifest itself fully. With more analysis on this topic, Matthews could have demonstrated both the wartime and peacetime effects of Major’s Cavalry Brigade on its surroundings. That being said, this book fits nicely in the literature of the Trans-Mississippi, demonstrating that while most of the major battles occurred in the east, Confederates west of the Mississippi fought just as doggedly in defense of their homes and ideals.