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  • "This Fateful Revolution"Letters of a German-Texan Unionist, 1862–1863
  • Paul N. Spellman (bio)

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Julius Schlickum. Courtesy of the Vogel Family.

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On July 2, 1862, the Military Commission of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department convened in San Antonio to hear testimony and put on trial dozens of German Texans suspected of being traitors to the rebel cause. The sessions, which lasted off and on through October 10, were held at the old U.S. Army headquarters on East Houston Street, a two-story structure that would later be reopened as the Vance House (and today the site of the Gunter Hotel).1 A few blocks away, on Military Plaza, the old courthouse building, which sat empty at the time and was known locally as "the bat cave" for its nocturnal residents, stood across the street from the old city jail. Close by, on the southeast corner of Main Plaza, the city's first firehouse included a large storage area in the back that had been turned into a holding cell for the various defendants. Some awaited their day in court, often chained to heavy metal balls and left nearly naked, while others awaited such punishments as ninety days of incarceration, a $200 fine, or exile from Texas.2

In the opening days of the hearings, Confederate Major Charles Russell presided over the military tribunal, assisted by Lt. James R. Sweet, John [End Page 305] C. Howard, and the judge advocate, Maj. E. F. Gray. As the days wore on, replacement commissioners included John Ireland (presiding), Lt. Lucas H. Brown, and others.3 Among the first to appear before the "kangaroo court" were W. M. Gamble, W. P. M. Means, J. R. Radcliff, Franz W. Doebbler, and D. A. Saltmarsh, almost all of whom were found guilty of various seditious behavior, not the least of which included recruiting for or making plans to join the Union army. Radcliff, for example, hauled before the court on July 28 and referred to by the prosecutors as "a Black Republican," was found guilty and "banished" from the South.4

Seventy miles to the north of San Antonio, Germans loyal to the United States gathered secretly on the Fourth of July to bolster the Union Loyal League. The Bear Creek meeting near Fredericksburg totaled more than five hundred Unionists ready to defend their homes or see their families north to safety. Officers selected to organize the Union Loyal League's troop included Fritz Tegener (1813–1901) as major and Jacob Kuechler (1823–93) as captain.5

As word of the military trials in San Antonio spread across the German communities, a dire feeling of helplessness caused more and more families to discuss the merits of leaving Texas altogether, whether it be to go north and join the Union ranks, or simply get to the safety of Mexico until the war ceased. On July 31, a group of eighty men met on Turtle Creek in Kerr County to plan their escape southward across the Nueces and Rio Grande into Mexico; sixty-one agreed to make the initial dangerous journey together, most of whom would then head on to Union territory.6

The company immediately set out along the trails and streams that would direct them on a southwesterly course to the Rio Grande crossings; four more Unionists caught up with them on August 8, and the sixty-five men made camp on the banks of the West Fork of the Nueces River in Kinney County the following day. The company was unaware that their plan [End Page 306] and their course had been compromised by a traitor named Charles Bergmann. A troop of Texas Confederates had already set out to chase down the fleeing Unionists. Confederate scouts found the Germans' camp late on the 9th and an attack commenced almost immediately.7

During the early hours of August 10, a battle raged along the river bank and the nearby scrub brush, both sides taking casualties in the darkness. The Battle of the Nueces (also known as the Nueces Massacre) left nineteen Unionists dead, several of whom were shot to death...


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