The so-called battle of Adams Hill occurred on May 9, 1861, between federal forces under Lt. Col. Isaac Van Duzer Reeve and Texas Confederate troops under Col. Earl Van Dorn. The confrontation took place on the military road between San Antonio and El Paso, about fifteen miles west of downtown San Antonio. Under the terms of the surrender of the Department of Texas, Reeve proceeded from Fort Bliss to the Texas coast to join other federal troops in the evacuation of Texas. His force consisted of companies B, E, F, H, I, and K and a detachment of Company G, Eighth United States Infantry, which represented the garrisons of Fort Bliss, Fort Quitman, and Fort Davis. Reeve reported the total strength of his command at 320 men, including two hospital stewards, twelve musicians, and ten officers. Col. James V. Bomford of the Sixth United States Infantry also accompanied the column.
Upon arriving at Fort Clark, Reeve became aware of the Confederate internment of paroled federal troops in Texas and of concern by Confederate officials in San Antonio that Reeve's force was, in fact, hostile. He nevertheless resolved to continue his march to the coast to evacuate his command in compliance with former Department of Texas commander David Twiggs's terms of surrender. On May 8 Reeve camped his command on the east side of the Medina River opposite Castroville. At midnight, having received further word of Van Dorn's advance from San Antonio with the purpose of confronting the column, Reeve resolved again to push forward to San Antonio.
Upon the advice of Lt. Zenas Randall Bliss, Reeve halted his column on a high hill a few hundred yards from San Lucas Springs. There was a small collection of buildings and corrals, which Reeve supplemented with his wagons for defense purposes. At around nine that morning, two officers representing Colonel Van Dorn arrived under a white flag with the Confederates' demand that Reeve surrender unconditionally. With no actual hostile force in sight and his position a strong one, Reeve declined.
Van Dorn, on the march, soon arrived in full force. His command, which consisted of six companies of Col. Henry E. McCulloch's cavalry regiment, a squadron of Col. John S. Ford's State Troops (under the command of Lt. Col. John Robert Baylor,) Capt. William Edgar's battery of light artillery, and a battalion of infantry under Lt. Col. James Duff, comprised nearly 1,370 men and six pieces of artillery. Van Dorn's representative now offered Reeve an opportunity to inspect the Confederate force. Lieutenant Bliss was sent forward and examined it, then quickly reported the strength of the force to Reeve. Inasmuch as the federals' effective strength had been reduced to 270 by sickness, desertion, and stragglers, Reeve resolved that resistance would be futile and surrendered his command to Van Dorn. The Confederates, satisfied with this turn of events, retired, allowing Reeve to continue his march, under arms, at his own leisure. The federals arrived at San Antonio on May 10, and the next day a Confederate officer was sent to recover all arms and public property.
Period accounts of the confrontation refer to the event as having taken place at San Lucas Springs. Later accounts say Adams Hill. There were no shots fired; it appears that both sides were eager to avoid bloodshed.
Is history important to you?
We need your support because we are a non-profit organization that relies upon contributions from our community in order to record and preserve the history of our state. Every penny helps.
Please make your contribution today.
San Antonio Daily Ledger and Texan, May 9, 13, 1861. John Titcomb Sprague, Treachery in Texas: The Secession of Texas and the Arrest of the United States Officers and Soldiers Serving in Texas (New York: Press of the Rebellion Record, 1862). The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: GPO, 1880–1901).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Kevin R. Young,
“Adams Hill, Battle of,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 23, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
November 1, 1994
Most Recent Revision Date:
July 29, 2020
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: