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FRONTIER REGIMENT

FRONTIER REGIMENT. The Frontier Regiment is the name history has given to a regiment of rangers authorized by the Ninth Legislature of Texas on December 21, 1861, for the protection of the northern and western frontier of Texas. The act and the raising of the regiment was the state's political and military response to the vulnerabilities posed to the state's frontier settlements by the planned withdrawal and redeployment of the Confederate First Regiment, Texas Mounted Riflemen, from their frontier forts.

Already withering Comanche and Kiowa Indian raids in 1861 were killing settlers, slaughtering livestock, and stealing horses in communities along the entire northern and western frontier. These settlements, substantively weakened by the mass exodus of their young men for service with the Confederacy in the Civil War, faced the grim prospect of continuing Indian depredations, as they were known in that time.

Col. James M. Norris, an attorney, accepted Gov. Francis R. Lubbock's appointment to command a frontier regiment of rangers still to be raised on January 29, 1862. Accompanied by his immediate subordinates, Lt. Col. Alfred T. Obenchain and Major James E. McCord on parts of the trip, Norris undertook an arduous journey in March and April of 1862, to select eighteen frontier defense locations. The sites were selected on a winding, serpentine line extending almost 500 miles from the Red River in North Texas to the Rio Grande in South Texas. By separate action in January 1862, Governor Lubbock appointed nine enrolling officers to raise nine companies of rangers, each from a selected group of counties along and within the line, to man the frontier defense sites. Even though far western El Paso and Presidio counties were mentioned in the Act, they were effectively excluded from the instructions given Colonel Norris by the Adjutant General in Special Order #12, January 29, 1862, and a more manageable, easterly line was established. A tenth company was authorized that was not tied to any specific group of counties, but which would act as a roving or emergency response company at the discretion of the governor. A captain was selected to lead it, but the raising of this company was never implemented.

The nine companies of approximately 115–125 men each were raised and deployed throughout March and April 1862. Company officers were elected by the enlisted men, and many of the enrolling officers were elected captains of their companies. Each ranger captain was given command of two camps, one named for the captain himself and one for the locale of the camp or a feature of the locale. Initially, scouting patrols consisting of an officer and at least five rangers would leave a camp every other day heading south to the next camp and then returning the next day, so that the entire line from the Red River to the Rio Grande was traversed each day. Thus, the line was expected to act as a cordon of protection against Indian attacks on settlements within the line.

The plan met with moderate success, but conditions within the temporary camps were difficult at best. Colonel Norris in an April 25, 1862, letter to the Adjutant General, noted that the men were indifferently armed and badly mounted, and that much sickness prevailed in all the camps. There was no medicine, and in the first year, the camps were poorly supplied with food, forage for horses, and even ammunition. Substandard gunpowder was a frequent complaint. There were also discipline problems. Added to this, the plan of multiple camps with daily patrols between camps was passive and defensive. Distances between the camps to be covered in one day proved too great to allow for effective scouting, and the ranger patrols were too small to engage larger bands of Indians. Remarkably, some modest success was achieved, but after a few months the cordon was easily penetrated. On June 24, 1862, Colonel Norris attempted to correct these deficiencies by increasing the size of the perimeter patrols to eight privates plus an officer, and, in addition, instructed each of the nine captains to keep four additional scouting forays, two each from the two camps under their command, operating in the field at all times. At each camp, one foray was to range outside the defense perimeter and one would scout inside. These ranging missions were to last twenty days and each foray was to be composed of thirteen privates and an officer, effectively committing fifty-six men from each company to the field on continuous scouting operations at all times.

The regiment was organized and governed by Confederate Army rules and regulations in the hope that the Confederacy would take on the financial burden of the regiment. However, a provision of the Act provided that the regiment would "always be subject to the authorities of the State of Texas for frontier service," and would not be "removed beyond the limits of the State." Jefferson Davis, with another war on his mind, balked at this provision and would not accept the regiment into the Confederate service.

In late January 1863 Governor Lubbock, financially strapped and frustrated by this rejection, and noting the approaching end of the one year muster, ordered the immediate mustering out of the regiment. Rangers were given the option of returning home or re-enlisting in a reorganized frontier regiment, consisting of ten companies of no more than ninety-seven enlisted rangers, plus officers, for an extended three-year enlistment period. In addition, the Adjutant General at this time apparently gave the regiment a new name, the Mounted Regiment of Texas State Troops. This name was primarily used to convince Confederate authorities that it was a new regiment, as the regimental commander did not adopt it until September 1863, when a transfer to the Confederacy looked more likely. These cosmetic changes were designed to comply with the current Confederate Army structure in hopes that the Confederacy would pay for the regiment's upkeep. Regardless of these changes, conflicting priorities frustrated this objective for another year.

Former Maj. James E. McCord, now Colonel McCord, was elected by the re-enlisted rangers to lead the new regiment and assumed command in February 1863. Headquartered at Camp Colorado throughout his tenure, Colonel McCord was bold and aggressive. He promptly recommended scrapping the daily patrols, consolidating the companies currently split between camps, and launching scouting forays of forty to sixty men each beyond the defensive cordon deep into Indian territory. His plan, effectively "search and destroy," was meant to put the Indians on the defensive by going after their home bases. It was rejected in Austin. McCord resigned. His resignation was rejected, and McCord, strongly supported by his ranger captains, set about instituting more aggressive strategies. On July 28, 1863, McCord reported to the Adjutant General that Capt. James Joseph Callan had been out on scouting forays with forty men a total of 122 days. These larger ranger missions proved successful in engaging Indians. Unfortunately, individual Indian raiders still slipped through the defensive cordon creating panic in individual settlements and jangling political nerves in Austin. In early September 1863 Governor Lubbock forbade forays beyond the cordon, instructing McCord to conduct operations within the defensive perimeter until the raiding Indians were either destroyed or driven outside the line. About this same time, McCord was forced to deal with another problem. Small, violent bands of Union sympathizers, called jayhawkers, were creating havoc—burning homes, murdering residents, and looting frontier settlements. In January 1864 there was again movement to transfer Texas' frontier regiment, now called the Texas Mounted Regiment, Texas State Troops, into the Confederate Army.

Such plans increasingly created tensions in 1863 and 1864 as senior Confederate commanders would seek immediate transfer of some elements of the frontier forces to their depleted command. In January 1864 Captain Rowland, at Red River Station in North Texas, wrote to Colonel McCord predicting that the transfer would cause widespread panic among the citizenry, who were already complaining that it was illegal. Nonetheless, on March 1, 1864, the Mounted Regiment, Texas State Troops, was transferred into the Confederate Army. The transfer spelled the effective end of Texas' Frontier Regiment. While not totally successful in its mission, it had, nonetheless, provided a measure of effective reassurance to Texas' frontier communities at an anxious time.

The transfer of the regiment to a Confederacy strapped by increasing shortages of manpower in 1864 generated enormous insecurity, vulnerabilities, and adjustments along the entire frontier. The Indian war on the frontiers of Texas from 1861 to 1865 had always been the unwanted stepchild of the Confederacy. Within weeks of the transfer, most of the ranger companies comprising the Frontier Regiment had been stripped from the frontier and redeployed to other areas. On March 31, 1864, several anxious families of Gillespie, Kerr and Kendall counties—already victimized by both jayhawkers and Indians and having "forted up" together in common defense—upon hearing that Company "A" at Camp Davis in Gillespie County had been order redeployed, petitioned the Adjutant General to block the move.

They were unsuccessful. On April 11, 1864, McCord himself was ordered to concentrate what was left of his regiment in Austin and then to proceed with it to Anderson in Grimes County in East Texas. Whipsawed by two simultaneous wars, the frontier settlers within a few short weeks in 1864 were effectively conjoined with and then abandoned by the Confederacy. The dire situation on the Texas frontier in 1864 might have gotten worse had it not been for another state military initiative—the Frontier Organization.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Adjutant General’s Records, Texas State Library and Archives, Special Order #12, Texas Adjutant General, January 19, 1862; General Order #4, Col. J. M. Norris, April 23, 1863; Frank M. Collier, Enrolling Officer to Adjutant General, January 14, 1862; Adjutant General's List of Captains in Frontier Regiment, April 21, 1861; Col. Norris to Adjutant General, April 25, 1863; Lt. Col. A. T. Obenchain to Adjutant General, May 17, 1863; Special Orders #129 and #131, Col. Norris, January 24, 1865; General Order #l, Col. McCord, March 8, 1863; General Order #7, Col. McCord, April 16, 1863; Col. McCord to Adjutant General, March 10, May 21, July 6, and July 28, 1863; General Order #17, Col. McCord, September 3, 1863; Captain Rowland to Col. McCord, January 9, 1864; citizens of Gillespie, Kerr and Kendall counties to Adjutant General, March 31, 1864; Major B. Bloomfield, CSA, to McCord, April 11, 1864; General Orders, Special Orders, and correspondence file, Frontier Regiment, 1862–64; and Adjutant General's correspondence file, 1862–64. E. L. Deaton, Indian Fights on the Texas Frontier (Fort Worth: Pioneer Pub. Co. 1927). David Paul Smith, Frontier Defense in the Civil War: Texas’ Rangers and Rebels (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1992). Texas Legislature, Act of December 21, 1861.

Robert Dunnam

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Robert Dunnam, "FRONTIER REGIMENT," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qjf01), accessed August 29, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.