“The first draft of history comes from talking to Grandpa,” Tim Draves, adjunct professor of history at the University of the Incarnate Word, told several dozen members and guests of the San Antonio Historical Association Monday evening.
“And we don’t want to hurt Grandpa’s feelings, so we accept what he says,” Draves said. “But we’ve spent enough time listening to Grandpa and it’s time to find answers on our own.”
Fifty years ago the centennial of the Civil War was big. Schools brought history alive by focusing on the anniversary of events. Cities commemorated battles and the sacrifices made. And the Post Office issued several stamps to remember milestones in the conflict.
The sesquicentennial of the Civil War is not so big. Sons and great-grandsons of the Confederacy have lost the legacy of their ancestors. Fortunately, the San Antonio Historical Association is keeping the past alive.
Tim Draves’ topic Monday evening at St. Mary’s University was “Common Thread: San Antonio Ties to Civil War Leadership.”
“Actually, there were many threads,” he said. “Basically, we’re going to be looking at a catalog.”
The catalog derived from Draves’ research on a forthcoming book about Mary Menger. His wife is Nancy Draves, a descendant of the family of the Menger Hotel fame.
“Mary Menger arrived in Texas in 1846,” he said. And the records of the hotel provide a Who’s Who of the era.
Professor Draves began his tale recounting the events of Private Ferdinand Hahn the morning of the Battle of Gettysburg. “His soldier friends probably did not believe him when he said he had a ‘speaking acquaintance’ with Generals Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, and John Bell Hood, who were conferring on the hillside,” Draves said.
“’Go on up there, Hahn,’ his companions urged him, ‘and hear what they’re saying.’ He did – and learned that the battle of Gettysburg was eminent.” Draves said. “Private Hahn had his ‘speaking acquaintance’ with these leaders because he was once a steward at the Menger Hotel,” he said.
Joseph E. Johnston was an engineer and senior Confederate commander at the First Battle of Bull Run. General Albert Sidney Johnston was killed in the Battle of Shiloh. Abraham C. Myers was quartermaster for the U.S. Army and later for the Confederacy. Paul Octave Hébert was the 14th Governor of Louisiana and a southern general. Warrick Tunstall was a Texas pioneer and judge. Laszlo Újházy was a Hungarian freedom fighter and friend of presidents. “All were well known to San Antonio who talked about the war on the old plazas and streets of town,” Draves said.
“San Antonio was a major military outpost before the war. Twenty-five percent of the U.S. War Department budget went to Texas in the 1850s and San Antonio was the headquarters,” Draves said. “It was also on the road to Brownsville, one of the ports where the Confederacy could ship cotton during the Civil War.”
The Mexican–American War in the 1840s was a training ground for many Civil War leaders, Draves said. Robert E. Lee, George Meade, Ulysses S. Grant, James Longstreet, and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson were all involved in that conflict.
Draves said Robert E. Lee spent a lot of time in our city. “But it is not verified that he made his decision in San Antonio to support the Confederate cause,” Draves said, “but he certainly thought about it.”
One of the early builders was General Robert E. Lee, then Lieutenant Colonel, stationed here. In the “Life of General Robert E Lee” written by Captain Bob Lee, we find this statement: – In February 1860, he was ordered to take command of the Department of Texas. The summer months he spent in San Antonio and while there interested himself with the good people of that town in building an Episcopal Church to which he contributed largely.
Slavery was an important factor in the Civil War, Draves said. “The economy in the South ran on cotton and that relied on slaves.”
Slavery was not as important in San Antonio as in other southern cities, he said. “There were no large cotton plantations in the area.”
There were more than 8,000 residents in the 1860 census and 352 slaves, he said. “Asa Mitchell (of Mitchell Lake fame) owned thousands of acres and nine slaves,” Draves said.
A record in the 1883 Southern Historical Society Papers had this quote: “We find that old citizens here (at the Menger Hotel) never tired of talking of Albert Sidney Johnston, R. E. Lee, Hardie, Kirby Smith, Van Dorne, Fitzhugh Lee, and others of the officers of the old Second Cavalry, which gave 17 Generals to the late war.”
It appears that some citizens of San Antonio are still not tired of talking about it either.
*Featured/top image: The Menger Hotel, circa 1865. Historical photo via Wikipedia.