Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“Where they shoot cross-eyed men and red-headed women at sight”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on July 25, 2013

TrumanBenjamin Cummings Truman (right, 1835-1916) was a journalist and author who, after a stint as a war correspondent, accepted a position as a staff aide to Andrew Johnson, then military governor of Tennessee. After the war, he returned to journalism before settling in California and eventually embarking in the 1880s on a career in what today we’d call public relations.

Truman remained close to Johnson, and during Reconstruction, traveled extensively in the South, filing regular reports for the New York Times. Truman was not impressed much with Texas, with Texans, or with Galveston. A friend passed along this letter of Truman’s from the front page of the February 19, 1866 edition of the New York Times:

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This is the commercial capital of the Lone Star dominions, and the city where they shoot cross-eyed men and red-headed women at sight, where they used to draw and quarter a Dutchmen [sic.], scheme for emigration, and eat pork until you can feel the bristles. The real old Galvestonians – that is, the F.F.G.s [1] – wear long hair like crazy poets, soap their greasy locks and the ends of their dismally thin moustaches, and look daggers at intellectual people. They drink whiskey that will kill at twelve paces, go home blind drunk every night and get ditto every morning. The full programme of a high-toned ranger is to get full of bad whiskey, lick some small boy, fire off his revolver three or four times, kill a Mexican, and beat his wife, and d—n the Yankees – this last being set to music. The war hasn’t improved this class much, and the best place for a stranger to keep is in his house. Not a night has passed for a month but some poor fellow has been found murdered the next morning. Three murderers took a poor hack-driver out on the beach a few nights ago and cut his throat for five dollars.
 
Before the war Galveston has about nine thousand inhabitants – now it has full fourteen thousand, of which are least two thousand are murderers, vagabonds and thieves. The state of society is most unhealthy I can assure you, and no person who has any knowledge of these things, and respect for his own life, ventures out after dark. There are a great many rough characters here from New York, Chicago, St. Louis and Cincinnati, a large number of whom are discharged government employees. A few days ago two fellows fought a prize-fight near the city, and, after ninety-two rounds, one of the party was declared the winner, when a free fight took place, in which three were killed and a number wounded. The loser of the fight is to be the recipient of a “handsome testimonial,” in the shape of a sparring exhibition, in which twenty-two prize-fighters (sporting gentlemen, the bills say) are to assist. The people are talking strongly of getting up a Vigilance Committee, and I believe they will if the military do not interfere. Things are far worse than they were at Vicksburgh in 1834, [2] or in San Francisco in 1865, and it seems to be the impression that there is but this way remaining of ridding the community of these vicious characters.
 
There has never been a time when a man’s life was ever safe in Texas. Everybody – rogues and gentlemen – go armed and shoot and cut each other at the least provocation. And, as a general thing, these fellows’ weapons are not concealed – they catty Bowie knives and pistols in their belts, and carry what is called a Mexican cane, which is nothing more or less than a sword-cane, or foil, without any case or sheath. Last week a Texan from near Victoria was killed in a bar-room by being run through with one of these Mexican canes, but, while he was being run through with the cane, he shot his pistol through his pocket, discharging its contents into the stomach of his assailant, and both dropped dead upon the floor together. Last Monday morning a murderer was brought into court and a jury impaneled. The evidence on both sides was heard, the lawyers on both sides went through their accustomed harangues, the Judge had his say, and his smoke, too at the same time, the Jury went out, disagreed, came in, the prisoner was discharged – and all before dinner. How are you, Texas courts? Last night Major Farr, of Gene. Wright’s [3] staff, and Capt. Hale, of the Commissary Department, were returning home from their office in an ambulance, when some fellows shouted, “Stop that hack!” Of course no attention was paid to the summons, and three bullets went whizzing through the ambulance, but fortunately without injuring the officers or driver. I could mention many such things, but these are enough to give you an idea of the state of society here.

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[1] This is a spoof on F.F.V.s, “First Families of Virginia,” a sort of Tidewater nobility in the Commonwealth, much derided during the war by Northerners.

[2] This is a reference to the “Murrell Excitement” of 1835, when rumors of a slave insurrection spilled over into a general vigilante action against brothels, gamblers and other perceived sources of vice.

[3] Horatio Gouverneur Wright, (1820-99) commanded the Army of Texas from July 1865 to August 1866, succeeding General Gordon Granger.

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5 Responses

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  1. Steve Green said, on July 25, 2013 at 7:10 am

    This is hilarious. Maybe the writer exaggerates just a tad. Being slightly cross eyed myself, I certainly hope so.

  2. Foxessa said, on July 29, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Charming people and place!

    The Tidewater FFV was / is a real phenomenon though.

    • Andy Hall said, on July 29, 2013 at 9:47 am

      Oh, the FFVs certainly are for real, and they were the butt of some serious pranking by Texas Confederates stationed in that part of Virginia during the early part of the war.

  3. H. E. Parmer said, on August 1, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    … and eat port until you can feel the bristles

    Must be some right stout wine they’ve got there.


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