Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Tracking Confederate Deserters in East Texas

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 11, 2013

Both desertion and men running from conscription was a big problem in Texas, as it was in other parts of the South during the war. I recently came across this account of using “Negro dogs,” bred and trained to hunt runaway slaves, to track deserters in East Texas. The place mentioned, Winter’s Bayou, runs through the Sam Houston National Forest, southeast of Huntsville. From the Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph, December 21, 1864, p. 1:

Walker County, Nov. 24, 1864
Editor Telegraph – It is, I believe, generally known that gangs of deserters and “jayhawkers” have for some time, been congregated in the immense recesses of the almost impenetrable “Big Thicket.” Recently, however, the security of these foes to the Confederacy has been most unceremoniously disquieted, and their organization broken up. About 40 more of the “reserve corps,” under I know not what officer, accompanied by that redoubtable old bear hunter and soldier – Richard Williams – who, with a pack of negro [sic.] dogs, was impressed for the occasion, came upon the lurking place of the patriotic gentry above mentioned. Their chief rendezvous was on Winter’s Bayou, about ten miles below Col. Hill’s plantation, in the center of a cane break over a mile in width. Here in the heart of a wilderness, 30 miles every way in extent, the “jayhawkers” and deserters had taken up their abode, built comfortable shanties, cleared lands, planted corn, erected a tan yard for making leather of the hides of stolen cattle, and surrounded themselves with many of the appliances of civilization. But, alas! In an evil hour for these expatriated cowards and enemies of the South, our “Leather Stockings” (Williams) with marvelous sagacity, has tracked their foot-prints through the cane brake and thicket, and the fierce cries of his dogs warn him that the wolves are “at bay.” Instantly the “reserves” are launched upon them. But, although the deserters may rob the passing traveler, and plunder houses protected only by women and children, they can’t stand the cold steel in the hands of these true men.
They make only a show of resistance, and then “scatter.” Our bold “reserves” are generally too quick for them. Twenty-four were captured; four only of that gang escaped. Pretty good for the “first drive” of the “reserves,” and the indomitable Williams (he is an old 1835 soldier), certainly deserves the highest praise. I talked with Williams yesterday. He says there are yet, at another place in the think about twenty more deserters & c.
Your informant,





8 Responses

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  1. Foxessa said, on December 12, 2013 at 11:01 am

    ” … using “Negro dogs,” bred and trained to hunt runaway slaves, to track deserters in East Texas.”

    The irony of this can hardly be parsed.

    Love, C.

  2. Cotton Boll Conspiracy said, on December 13, 2013 at 11:43 am

    I’ve often wondered where most deserters headed once they left the ranks. I know some returned home, but I’d imagine others went west, to Texas and the border states, where they weren’t known and wouldn’t be recognized. I don’t know if your research bears this out, or if this was a trend that was more prevalent after the war was over. I realize they wouldn’t have been prosecuted after the end of the war, but many would have been held in low esteem by others in the community and may have decided to leave for “greener pastures.”

  3. chancery said, on July 12, 2016 at 8:00 pm


    I’ve searched unsuccessfully for a post on your blog a few years back that discussed a popular annual Civil War commemoration in Texas that includes the simulated hanging of a Confederate deserter. If and only if it’s convenient and easy, could you give me a pointer to that post?

    I’m asking because that post led me to a chilling account of the organized murder of former confederate deserters in Texas after the end of the Civil War. (It’s possible that you mentioned the killings in your post, but that’s not the way I remember it.) It’s a topic I’d like to bring up in the discussion of desertion on Kevin Levin’s blog, and I’d like to have something better than a dim recollection on which to base it.

    I’ve tried to search for the topic on google, but the results are saturated by the Great Gainesville Hangings.


    • Andy Hall said, on July 12, 2016 at 9:49 pm



      “Nicaragua” Smith was executed by firing squad, as was the only other deserter shot here. Smith epitomized the old saying that “he needed killin’.” He was a bad character living here before the CW, one of those people that everyone knows is a criminal but they can never catch him at it. At one point, a deputation of citizens seized him and put him on a steamer for New Orleans, with instructions not to return.

      He ended up in Confederate service during the war, but deserted to the Federal blockading fleet offshore. A few days after the Battle of Galveston in January 1863, a Federal transport arrived and, assuming Galveston was still in Union hands, signaled for a pilot. A pilot boat went out, and was met by a boat’s crew from the Union vessel that included Smith, now formally enlisted is the U.S. Army. He was promptly court-martialed and shot, defiant and cussing right to the end.

      Smith was portrayed int he battle reenactments by a retired firefighter here named George Osborne, who I knew slightly. I think George enjoyed doing it because it’s a great part, lots of over-the-top drama. But getting executed several times over the course of a single weekend can be hard on older folks, and I think he was glad to give it up after the last event in 2013.

  4. chancery said, on July 13, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    Thanks Andy. I added information from that post to my searches, but still haven’t been able to track down any references to post-war murders of former confederate deserters. It’s possible (I’ve been wracking my brain) that what I remember was some discussion and citations on a small, old-fashioned (purely text) civil war discussion board with something of a Lost Cause flavor. It might no longer exist, and the fact that I haven’t found other references casts some doubt on the accuracy of what I read years ago.

    I’ll see what I can turn up next time I’m in a big library.

  5. chancery said, on July 13, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    Not the Nueces massacre, which took place early in the second year of the war.

    These accounts were specifically from mid-1865, only a few months after the end of hostilities. Confederate soldiers (or supporters) who, despite the end of the war, felt entitled to continue privately their “unfinished business” with Confederate deserters and/or Union sympathizers whom they had not managed to kill during the war. That’s what was chilling about the stories, assuming they were true.

    There were plenty of lynchings and other murders throughout the reconstruction, but this had a different feel to it.

    It’s of course possible that my recollection is playing tricks on me. However, I remember planning to post something about it on your blog, and to inquire if there was evidence of comparable post-war killing (by course of law or otherwise) of Union deserters in the north. Although I never got around to it, my strong memory of thinking about how I would frame such a post gives me some confidence that I didn’t dream the whole thing up.

    Thanks again for your indulgence in responding to such an unspecific query.

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