The American Civil War

20th Texas Infantry Regiment

For months the soldiers of the 20th Texas Infantry Regiment wondered when they would finally taste battle. The regiment had been posted to duty on the Texas coast. Detachments were detailed for garrison duty, to guard military stores, to escort supply trains and provide other necessary but mundane services. Now, in the pre-dawn darkness of January 1,1863, troops from the 20th Texas were finally selected for a daring assault. Confederate forces under General John B. Magruder were to retake the Texas port of Galveston, which had been occupied by Federal forces since October of 1862.
Magruder prepared a rare operation: a surprise Confederate army-navy attack. Commandeering two civilian riverboats, he equipped them with cotton bales for "armor" and fitted them with bow artillery. Aboard were 300 sharpshooters. On shore, Magruder commanded a force of 1,500 troops and a dozen artillery field pieces. With this makeshift land-sea force, he planned to launch a surprise attack on the Federal forces holding Galveston which consisted of 260 troops in well-defended fortifications and a powerful flotilla of Federal gunboats.

A Tremendous Discharge of Shell—Grape and Canister

Assigned to a 500-man Confederate storming party was a detachment from the 20th Texas Infantry. At 4 a.m. on New Year's Day, Magruder launched his attack. "The enemy did not hesitate long in replying to our attack," Magruder reported. "He soon opened on us from his fleet with a tremendous discharge of shell, which was followed with grape and canister." The storming party made a courageous frontal assault on the fortified Federal wharf, wading through the water with scaling ladders.
Magruder's land forces were beaten back, but his "navy" was more successful. The sharpshooters poured fire into the U.S.S. Harriet Lane, clearing the decks for a Confederate boarding action which captured the warship. The Confederates then dispatched a flag of truce to the Federal commander, demanding surrender. Mistaking Magruder's cotton-bale boats for powerful Confederate ironclads, Commander William B. Renshaw responded by ordering his squadron of ships out of Galveston and abandoning the Northern troops on shore. The 20th Texas Regiment's moment of glory — as part of Magruder's assault force — ended in victory.

Commanded by Colonel Henry M. Elmore, the 20th Texas Infantry Regiment was organized in the Lone Star State in the spring of 1862. In May, after it was mustered into Confederate service, it was assigned to the Eastern District of Texas. Although the 20th served in the Confederacy's Trans-Mississippi Department and the District of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, the regiment spent most of the war on the Texas coast.
Except for its involvement in the Battle of Galveston on January 1,1863, the 20th Texas Infantry Regiment was assigned to routine duty. Coastal fortifications needed garrisoning; bridges and railroads needed guards; military supplies had to be protected. The duty was boring at times, as well as mundane and taxing on regimental morale — but it was as necessary as combat. "Captain Clepper's company, Elmore's regiment, escorted the train," noted a typical Confederate dispatch about the 20th Texas, "and a detachment of 20 men and one commissioned officer out of said company was to have been left at each depot to guard the stores."

"Packed for Traveling"

Years of garrison assignments and guard duty were difficult for Southern soldiers, who generally yearned to "see the elephant" — as initiation to combat was known in the ranks. While other Texans were braving battle in the war's eastern and western theaters, the troops of the 20th had been left in their home state. But after exposure to battle at Galveston in early 1863, the troops of the 20th Texas found it harder to go back to their routine of walking guard outside an obscure fortification or standing guard over stores of hardtack. And with so many at the front, troops in the backwaters of the war were in short supply, so detachments were regularly dispatched from the 20th Texas to complete routine duties apart from the regiment. By the fall of 1864, morale among some of the regiment's soldiers was dismal — and a threatened mutiny finally occurred.
"I respectfully report that last night about 8 or 9 o'clock some seventy-five or eighty men from Fort Point march up to this fort under arms and packed for traveling," reported Captain D.H. Lewis, who commanded a Confederate fortification at Galveston. Most were soldiers from the 20th Texas Infantry. After "calling for volunteers to follow them," Lewis reported, most of the disgruntled troops marched off into the darkness. Aware of the demoralizing nature of their duty — or perhaps because he was outnumbered — Captain Lewis made no attempt to use force against the would-be mutineers. In the morning, he reported, almost all the men had returned.
On May 26,1865, three years after the regiment was organized, the 20th Texas Infantry surrendered to Federal forces as part of General Edmund Kirby Smith's Confederate Department of Trans-Mississippi.