Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

When Old Confederates Attack

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on June 16, 2010


Rusty Williams blogs about My Old Confederate Home, supplementing his recent history of the various Southern states’ efforts to provide facilities for indigent veterans of the war. Recently, Williams told the brief story from the home in Austin where, in 1904, one old veteran killed another:

On a warm day in September 1904 at the Texas Confederate Home for Men, John Rotley [sic.] and another man got into a heated argument. A third inmate, 65-year-old C. H. Lyster from Galveston, stepped into the argument as peacemaker. Rotley picked up a chair and smashed it over Lyster’s skull, sending him to the ground, unconscious.

Lyster died soon afterward, and Ratley was arrested and charged with murder. (Early press accounts gave the assailant’s name as Rotley, but these were later corrected to Ratley.) It turns out that both Ratley and Lyster were long-time residents of Galveston before they moved into the home. From the Galveston Daily News, September 11, 1904:

Thursday’s News contained an item from Austin giving an account of the death in the Confederate Home there of C. H. Lyster, resulting from an injury received at the hands of John Rotley, another Confederate veteran and inmate of the home. It was reported that “according to the statement of those who witnessed the affair, Lyster was acting as a peacemaker to prevent trouble between Rotley and another inmate, when Rotley picked up a chair and struck Lyster over tho head with it.”

It was learned, yesterday that both parties were formerly residents of Galveston and went from here to the home. Rotley, those acquainted with him say, was an old resident of Galveston. He is thought to have served in Hood’s Brigade [sic., Parson’s Texas Brigade] throughout the Civil War. He lived here for thirty years or more, and for a long time was a traveling salesman for the old firm of Gary & Oliphant, wholesale grocers and cotton factors. After that he embarked in business for himself, retailing tobaccos. It Is said that his only surviving relative is a daughter who resides either in Tennessee or Georgia. Those who knew him in Galveston state that he was an Intelligent man and considered inoffensive. He went from here to Austin about four months ago.

C. H. Lyster went to the Confederate Home from Galveston about two years ago. He served under Capt. D. W. Ducie In the Civil War as a member of the Mississippi Regiment. In Galveston he resided for the past twenty or twenty-five years. For quite a while he was a clerk In Mr. Ducie’s paint store. He also served as Deputy Constable under Constable Moran in 1838 and also under Justice Spann. He is survived by a brother, Mr. James Lyster, who resides at Sherman. During the war he was captured at Gettysburg and taken to Baltimore, where he remained until the exchange nf prisoners. He was regarded here by his friends as a kind-hearted man, quiet and courageous.

Ratley’s son, John Ratley, Jr., of Ardmore, Indian Territory, traveled to Austin and secured his father’s release a few days later on $1,500 bond. The case didn’t go to trial for over a year, but the Galveston Daily News of October 5, 1905 noted that Ratley was acquitted of the charge, and was once again a resident of the Confederate Home in Austin.

Charles H. Lyster, Jr. enlisted joined the 16th Mississippi Volunteers as a private in April 1861. His father, 43-years-old Charles Sr., served as the company first sergeant. On December 10, 1861, Private Lyster was designated a musician and re-enlisted for ten years, entitling him him to a bounty of $50. He received a 50-day furlough in early 1862, but was back with his unit later in the spring. During Private Lyster’s time in the 16th Mississippi, the regiment participated in numerous actions as part of the Army of Northern Virginia, including Mechanicsville, Cold Harbor, Malvern Hill, Second Manassas (Bull Run), Sharpsburg (Antietam), Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Lyster was captured at Gettysburg on July 2 or 3, 1863, where the 16th was part of A. P. Hill’s corps’ unsuccessful attacks on Cemetery Ridge. (The 16th Mississippi continued with the Army of Northen Virginia through to Appomattox, where it mustered four officers and 68 enlisted men.)

In the 1893-94 city directory, brothers Charles H. and James Lyster are listed as “collectors,” rooming over the business at 516 Tremont Street, between Postoffice and Church, on the site of present-day Star Drug Store. I haven’t found a similar listing for Ratley, but it’s certainly possible that the two long-time residents of Galveston knew each other before Ratley entered the home in Austin.

John Ratley’s background is a little less clear. I’ve found nothing about him in Galveston, although he is supposed to have lived here for decades. There are a number of other, useful clues, however. The old Confederate veteran John Ratley, aged about 74 in 1904, appears to be the 30-year-old John Ratley who enlisted in Captain John Alston’s Company of Lancers in March 1862 at Hempstead. He brought with him $150 in horses and $30 in equipment, and signed up for three years or the duration of the war. Alston’s Company was subsequently designated Company H of the 21st Texas Cavalry. The 21st Texas later became part of Parson’s Texas Brigade, a primarily cavalry unit, that served in the Trans-Mississippi region. The last note in Ratley’s service file, dated October 13, 1863 at Caddo, Arkansas, notes Ratley’s vocation as carpenter.

John Ratley, working as a carpenter, appears in the Washington County, Texas census of 1870. (Hempstead, John Ratley’s place of enlistment in 1862, is the seat of Waller County, adjacent to Washington County.) He is 38 years old, with a 36-year-oldwife, A. R. Ratley, and a fourteen-year-old female, E. L. — presumably a daughter. Ratley is listed as having born in England. In 1871, Ratley and five other local men successfully petitioned the state legislature to incorporate the Victoria Society of Washington County, “to encourage and promote the emigration of British farmers and others to aid in the development of the agricultural and mechanical interests of the country.”

A 26-year old carpenter named John Ratley, born in Ireland, immigrated from Liverpool to New York in September 1857, accompanied by his wife Marian, age 21, aboard the ship Margaret Tyson. At the time. all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, and Ratley may have been of hereditary English, rather than Irish, parentage.

John Ratley is listed as a carpenter and joiner at the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway roundhouse in San Antonio in 1891, residing at 320 Bowie Street.

Note: There was also a John Andrew Ratley, born about 1830 in Alabama or Tennessee, who served with the 44th Tennessee Infantry during the war. He later moved to Texas and died in 1910 or 1914 in Harrison County (Marshall). I believe this John Ratley is not the old veteran from the Confederate Home in Austin.

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