Army of the Republic of Texas

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: June 2, 2021

The army was of immense importance in the life of the Republic of Texas. Such lawmakers as Mirabeau B. Lamar, who favored a strong defense establishment, were a powerful element in the Texas government, and the great expense of the army was perhaps the major factor in the republic's chronic financial difficulties. The army's drain on the treasury, however, was at least equalled by its demands on the nation's manpower. Although the land claims of the new republic were vast, including all of present-day Texas and parts of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming, its Anglo-American population probably did not exceed 30,000. Texas Mexicans, Indians, and Blacks-almost all of whom were either hostile or of doubtful loyalty-numbered approximately 22,000. As late as 1848 the number of Anglo-Texans had risen to only a little more than 100,000. Yet during the revolution Texas maintained an army that at one time constituted nearly one-tenth of its Anglo population, and in every year of its existence the republic recruited thousands of volunteers to fight Indians or Mexicans. President Lamar's most moderate plan for staffing the regular army required a force of 840 men, an astonishing one soldier for every fifty civilians.

The Army of the Republic of Texas was the direct lineal descendant of the revolutionary army improvised during the war for independence from Mexico. Though the urgency of military necessity during the revolution never allowed the formation of a regular Texas army, the provisional government was able to keep the "Volunteer Army of the People"-spontaneously organized during the first stages of the revolution-in the field and to make efforts to augment and improve its efficiency. These included the formation, at least on paper, of a regular army. The Consultation of November 1835 urged the formation of a force of regulars with an organizational and command structure patterned after that of the United States Army, and less than two weeks later the provisional government authorized the formation of a permanent regular army. Under the terms of this law the army was to consist of one brigade, numbering 1,120 men. The brigade was to consist of one regiment of infantry and one of artillery, each commanded by a colonel. Each regiment was composed of two battalions divided into five fifty-six-man companies. A lieutenant colonel commanded one battalion and a major the other. The infantry companies were commanded by a captain, with a first lieutenant, a second lieutenant, four sergeants, and four corporals as subalterns. The artillery companies were identically structured except that each was allowed a third lieutenant as well. Although no cavalry force was provided for in the law of November 1835, the following month a "Legion of Cavalry" was authorized. Smaller than regimental size, the legion was composed of 384 officers and men commanded by a lieutenant colonel and seconded by a major. The legion, divided into two squadrons of three companies of sixty privates each, was otherwise identical in organization to the infantry.

This regular force was to be supplemented by a corps of "auxiliary volunteers," an "army of reserve" that it hoped to raise in the United States, and a militia force, patterned after the state militias of the United States. Finally, it undertook the formation of a number of irregular ranging companies for duty on the Indian frontier. These four basic military organizations formed during the revolution-the regular army, the volunteer army, the militia, and the ranger corps-evolved into the Army of the Republic of Texas. Financial problems and the almost constant threat of Mexican invasion and Indian depredation beset the republic's ten years of independence. Experimentation and improvisation therefore characterized the Texas government's approach to military problems until the annexation of Texas to the United States in 1845.

No sooner had the guns of San Jacinto fallen silent than Texas leaders undertook to replace the sometimes unruly and always inefficient volunteers who had won the nation's independence. Although the Texas revolutionary army never came close to recruiting its paper strength and never had more than one hundred regulars in its ranks, David G. Burnet's ad interim government, during the six months during which it managed the affairs of Texas, maintained the army laws passed by the Consultation. Sam Houston, the first constitutional president of the republic, largely reorganized the military forces, however, increasing the regular army to slightly more than 3,600 men in December 1836. This new army was to be commanded by a major general and two brigadier generals. The artillery and cavalry organizations and strengths remained much as they had been under Burnet, but the infantry arm was reinforced from one to four regiments. Also, for the first time, division, brigade, and regimental staffs were authorized. Although a large number of staff positions had been established by the general military ordinances adopted in November and December 1835, this largely improvised administrative corps evolved as need became apparent. No plan for a general staff had been formulated. As a consequence, haphazard and shoddy staff work became a major problem in the army. With Houston's reorganization of December 1836, these deficiencies were partially rectified, and administrative officers were authorized for several departments. During Lamar's administration the high-water mark of the Republic of Texas army, West Point-trained Hugh McLeod served as adjutant general, keeping the army's records and dealing with general administrative matters. Paymaster general Jacob Snively directed the financial bureau. Quartermaster general William Gordon Cooke, commissary general of subsistence William L. Cazneau, and a commissary of purchase managed the services of supply. William R. Smith headed the medical department as surgeon general, while inspection duties fell to Peter Hansbrough Bell as inspector general. An engineer and an ordnance bureau were also created and were commanded by colonels. Each brigade was also authorized to have a provost martial and chief of staff to oversee the regimental staff officers. At regimental level the staff consisted of an adjutant, an assistant quartermaster, an assistant commissary of subsistence, and a surgeon. Curiously, no judge advocate general was authorized by the December 1836 law. This basic staff structure remained in effect until 1840, when the poverty of the republic compelled a reduction in the number of staff officers and departments.

The Texas army had emerged from the revolution scattered around the new republic in a state of almost total inactivity. After San Jacinto, Sam Houston left the army to seek treatment in New Orleans for a wounded ankle, leaving Thomas Jefferson Rusk in command. Rusk continued in this capacity until Houston's inauguration as first president of the republic, but then reluctantly accepted the post of secretary of war in Houston's cabinet. Command of the 2,000-man army then devolved upon Felix Huston, a Mississippi planter of volatile temper and decidedly aggressive intentions toward Mexico. Huston's headquarters and the bulk of the army were located at Camp Johnson on the Lavaca River, and a small mounted detachment under Lt. Col. Juan N. Seguín reoccupied San Antonio. Galveston and Velasco also quartered small garrisons, and a line of crude forts on the Indian frontier was manned by small groups of mounted volunteers. Additionally, a small detachment under Capt. Andrew Neill guarded the crossing of the Colorado River between army headquarters and the capital at Columbia in order to intercept deserters. The veterans of San Jacinto and fresh volunteers from the United States were disappointed that no campaign against Mexico was forthcoming, while other soldiers were dissatisfied with short rations and meager clothing. Beans, flour, coffee, and sugar were in chronically short supply, and only beef cattle, driven up from the Nueces, seemed to offer an alternative to starvation. The adverse effect on morale and discipline was severe, and not surprisingly the army went into a serious decline as men were mustered out of service while others deserted.

In December 1836 a new senior brigadier general, Albert Sidney Johnston, was named to succeed Huston in command of the army. This appointment resulted in a near fatal duel when Huston's honor compelled him to call out the new commander and shoot him through the right hip (see DUELING IN THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS). Once recovered from his wound, Johnston attempted to apply the lessons that he had learned as a West Point graduate and a professional soldier of the United States Army to the Army of the Republic of Texas. Under Huston, the camps of the army had become the resting place for idlers and brawlers, and Johnston sought to curtail the sale of whiskey in the army and to impose military routine. Within two months, however, stricter discipline and a worsening supply situation produced serious discipline problems. In late March 1837 the garrison at Velasco under Capt. Martin K. Snell became unruly and disobedient. A Lieutenant Sprowl sided with the mutineers and left the post without permission. When Snell and a squad of soldiers followed him to a billiard room to apprehend him, he resisted arrest, and the two officers traded blows. Sprowl reached for his sword but Snell drew his pistol first and killed the renegade. Although this incident seems to have quieted the situation at Velasco, the mutinous spirit reached the main army at Camp Preston soon thereafter. Johnston's unpopularity grew with each day of military routine and monotonous rations, and on the night of April 3 six soldiers and a civilian were arrested smuggling whiskey into camp. The soldiers were placed under guard and the civilian was placed in irons. When one of the soldiers was later put in irons for refusing to work, the camp was outraged, and about fifty men rushed the guardhouse that night and released the prisoners. Rioting continued until midnight. Order was at last restored by the camp guard, and the prisoners were rearrested the following day. General Johnston relaxed his pressure on the men and ordered suspension of all drills until regular supply issues could be made.

Although the compromise at Camp Preston seems to have eased the tensions there, a more serious mutiny broke out at one of the detached camps shortly afterward when dissatisfied soldiers placed an artillery shell beneath Capt. Adam Clendennin's bunk. When the shell failed to explode, the mutineers aimed a loaded cannon at the captain's quarters and fired their muskets at him. Clendennin eventually brought the malcontents under control by surrounding their barracks with artillery, but when a court-martial found them guilty their only punishment was dishonorable discharge and the loss of pay and bounty land. Rampant insubordination, combined with his unhealed wound and political difficulties with President Houston, conspired to motivate Johnston to request that he be relieved on April 22, and on May 7 Col. Joseph H. D. Rogers, the senior officer at headquarters, took command of the army. Within a week, however, a soldier who held a grudge against Col. Henry Teal shot him in his sleep. This incident proved too much for even Sam Houston, who ordered secretary of war William S. Fisher to go to Camp Bowie (in the future Jackson County), the army headquarters, and to furlough two-thirds of the army. The remaining 500 to 600 men were retained only to garrison the most essential posts. Because of its smaller size, the army could then be more adequately maintained by the government while the remaining units were held in almost total inactivity and allowed to dwindle away by expiration of enlistments. By the end of the year only small garrisons at San Antonio and Galveston remained.

After the inauguration of Mirabeau B. Lamar to the presidency on December 10, 1839, however, the fortunes of the army took a dizzying swing for the better. The Lamar administration pursued an aggressive policy against both the Indians and Mexico as well as a program of territorial expansion. In order to fulfill his mandate Lamar clearly required a powerful military establishment, and the new president began immediately to revitalize the army. First, he named the regular army's most forceful advocate, Albert Sidney Johnston, as secretary of war and then discharged all of the residue of Houston's army so as to have a free hand in the organization of a new fighting force. The principal element of new Texas army, recommended by Johnston and authorized by the Third Congress, was its regular component, designated the Frontier Regiment but more commonly referred to as the First Regiment of Infantry. This fifteen-company regiment, with an authorized strength of 840 men, was to be stationed at forts along the frontier connected by a Military Road running from the Red River to the Nueces. This line of defense was to be established some distance beyond the inhabited area at most points, and settlement near the forts was encouraged. Since the total military strength of the republic was only that of a regiment in most of the armies of the time, its command devolved upon a colonel. Remarkably, each of the companies could be designated either as infantry or cavalry at the discretion of the colonel commanding.

Edward Burleson, described by a contemporary as "a remarkable, plain, kind-hearted, benevolent, honest and unambitious man" and "a great Indian fighter," was made colonel and commander of the First Regiment of Infantry. Former secretary of war Fisher was appointed lieutenant colonel and Peyton S. Wyatt major. Col. Lysander Wells was given command of the cavalry. Although none of these officers had taken any formal military training, each was popular and experienced in warfare with the Indians and the Mexicans. Lamar's Frontier Regiment was recruited under the overall supervision of a lieutenant colonel, and recruiting stations were established at various towns in Texas. Stations at Galveston and Houston were staffed by a captain and a sergeant each. In New Orleans a recruiting officer was on duty from 1839 through 1841. Troops enlisted there were forwarded to Galveston at the expense of the Texas government. Texas soldiers came from widely varied social and economic backgrounds as well as diverse geographic origins. Rural areas of Texas or the United States supplied many units, while others were composed entirely of men recruited in New Orleans or other large cities. The better class of American or Texan was often led to volunteer by a sense of patriotism or by a taste for adventure. Volunteers from the poorer classes were often attracted to Texas by the promise of generous land bounties, and, according to Noah Smithwick, a class of men joined the Texas army who were "actuated by no higher principle than prospective plundering." All too often, this type was dominant, if not in fact, at least in the popular image of the Texas army. Although the recruiting of regular soldiers proceeded very slowly because few Texans were willing to submit to army discipline and boredom in exchange for uncertain pay and rations, most soldiers were decent men, even if they were often poor and illiterate.

Immediately upon entering the service, all recruits became the responsibility of the Texas government for clothing and feeding. Procuring and distributing adequate food and clothing for the troops was the responsibility of the quartermaster, subsistence, and purchasing departments, but the strained financial situation of the republic often made their jobs all but impossible. Rations prescribed for the regular army were identical to those issued to the army of the United States. Regulations stipulated a daily ration of three-quarters of a pound of salt pork or bacon or a pound and a quarter of fresh or salted beef; one and a half pounds of bread, hardtack, flour, or cornmeal; some peas or beans; and rice, coffee, vinegar, salt, and sugar. The issue of small quantities of soap and candles was also authorized. Shortages often compelled commissary officers to make alterations in the standard ration, however, and when sufficient bread was not available, the issue of beef was customarily increased. As much as three pounds of beef a day was sometimes supplied. During such periods, the commissary department made every effort to provide adequate coffee and sugar in order to minimize discontent among the troops. Although perhaps less urgent than feeding them, the problem of clothing and equipping the troops was nevertheless a major challenge to the maintenance of the regular army. Regulations called for abundant supplies of clothing and equipment, with each recruit to receive two pairs of woolen trousers and three of cotton, a woolen and a cotton jacket, a coat appropriate to his branch, two cotton and two flannel shirts, three pairs of boots, three pairs of stockings, two sets of underwear, a greatcoat, a dress coat, a blanket, and a leather stock. In addition to this initial issue, new uniform items were to be supplied at intervals established by regulations.

Although regulations were quite precise regarding uniformity, the army's appearance varied greatly with time and circumstances. Texas army uniforms were meant to be identical to those used by the United States Army during the same period. Dark-blue nondress uniforms with standing collars and long skirts trimmed with white were prescribed for infantry. The cavalry wore an identical uniform with yellow trim and a yellow stripe on each trouser leg. White cotton trousers were prescribed as summer wear for both services. Gray fatigue uniforms for the field completed the soldiers' ensemble. However, although quantities of clothing began to reach the army in summer of 1836, the Texas agent obviously had purchased the garments with little regard to uniformity. As well as some regulation United States Army clothing, cotton duck and red flannel shirts and brown linen and blue twill trousers were forwarded from New Orleans. Prior to 1839, only official Texas army buttons-which had the Lone Stare in the center, T-E-X-A-S above in a semicircle, and T.A. below-could have been regarded as uniform, and they had to be purchased by the soldiers themselves. As most of the troops could not afford even to buy buttons, before 1839 the Texas army never achieved any of the uniformity prescribed by regulation. After 1839 the army was, at least for a time, adequately supported by the Congress, and available evidence indicates that between 1839 and 1841 the Texas army actually dressed according to regulations.

In addition to clothing, the troops were to be provided with a variety of miscellaneous equipment. Tents, ranging in size from the luxurious marquee and wall tents prescribed for generals to the spartan, wedge-shaped tents for each six enlisted men, were part of the regulation issue. Enlisted tent-mates formed a mess, each of which was provided with a hatchet, a camp kettle, and two mess pans. Each company was likewise issued six axes and four spades, and all officers, including the generals, were issued axes and hatchets.

Disciplining officers and men alike proved perhaps the most vexing problem of administration in the Texas army. Regulars, because of their better discipline, were more easily managed than volunteers, and, so long as they were properly fed and clothed, were willing to endure long periods of the monotony of garrison duty or inactivity in the field. Regulars, however, were inclined to mutiny and desertion when food and clothing were in short supply or of poor quality. Courts-martial were specified for numerous breaches of army regulations, and such serious infractions as violence against a superior officer, mutiny, desertion, sleeping on post while acting as a sentinel, the raising of false alarms in camp, and cowardice in battle, were punishable by death. Such judicial proceedings were not infrequent in the regular army, and the death penalty was prescribed on a number of occasions. In almost all such cases, however, clemency was granted to the offender, and no one seems to have been executed for a strictly military crime. Of the 674 enlisted in the First Regiment of Infantry, no fewer than 169 deserted, 61 of whom were apprehended and returned to the custody of the army. No deserter, however, seems ever to have been executed, although desertion was clearly one of the most serious problems in the army of the republic. In fact, between 1839 and 1841 only seven soldiers were dishonorably discharged and three executed. Mutiny, a most serious military crime, was never severely punished in the Texas army, perhaps because authorities who were too weak to prevent mutinies were usually too weak to chastise mutineers. At worst, mutineers were given dishonorable discharges or cashiered. Among the very few executions that did take place in the army was that of a soldier who had stabbed an officer. This felon was tried, convicted, and sentenced within five days of his crime. His sentence was appealed and upheld the same day as the trial, and he was executed less than two weeks later.

Assemblies, drill, and duty constituted the standard daily routine in the Army of the Republic of Texas. A drum or bugle sounded reveille at daybreak, and breakfast call was sounded at seven. Sick call followed at 7:30, and then came assembly for drill, inspection, and assignment of duties at eight. Call to dinner was beaten at one and retreat at sunset. When tattoo was sounded at nine in the evening, all men were required to be in their quarters. Officers, however, were not nearly so fully regulated, and garrison life for them was usually uneventful but often pleasant. According to the diary of Capt. Andrew Neill, commandant of the post on Galveston Island during the summer of 1838, daily activities included the oversight of guard mount, the formation of the troops, and the preparation of administrative reports. The rest of his days he spent in reading, swimming in Galveston Bay, watching the boats passing by, and conversing with visitors to the island. Enlisted men as well had considerable time off duty, which they passed in such simple diversions as hunting, writing letters and occasionally keeping journals, gambling, and drinking illicit whiskey.

Lamar's Frontier Regiment never achieved more than half of its authorized size. It reached a maximum strength of only ten full companies, totaling 560 men. Nevertheless, thanks largely to liberal congressional army appropriations for 1840, this force was superior in organization, discipline, and efficiency to any previous Texas army, as well as better fed, clothed, and equipped. Recruiting in Texas, however, was almost nonexistent, and officers transferred their efforts to New Orleans, where recruits were more plentiful. Even so, the army never reached its authorized strength, and after Albert Sidney Johnston's resignation in March 1840 the army slowly declined, from approximately 540 at the end of September 1840 to only 465 by the end of the year. Failure in recruiting was paralleled by the War Department's inability to establish the line of forts and the Military Road that President Lamar had proposed at the beginning of his term. By December 1839 the army still had no more than five companies along the Texas frontier, a number far too small to open the new posts called for by the law. So small an army was hardly effective as a deterrent either to Indians or to Mexicans, and only in the Cherokee War (1839) and the Council House Fight (1840) did the regular army play even a supporting role in actual combat.

The Fifth Congress of the republic, sitting between November 2, 1840, and February 5, 1841, was completely dominated by the Houston faction. Although Lamar argued forcefully for the retention of the regular army, his dream of a powerful military establishment was doomed. Lamar correctly pointed out that certain essential military services such as enduring extended garrison duty or building roads and forts would never be willingly performed by "citizen soldiers." Further, he maintained, the very fact that the army had not participated in many actions during 1839 and 1840 was an indication of its worth, since "It was not its actual fighting, but its existence in the field that was serviceable." Although Lamar's patronage prevented the passage of legislation for disbanding the regular army, his victory was a hollow one. Congress adjourned before making any appropriation for the army's support, thus effectively destroying the Frontier Regiment. Sadly, Lamar was compelled to issue orders to disband the army. The First Regiment of Infantry, the last serious effort by the Republic of Texas to maintain a regular army, thus passed from the scene, a victim of partisanship and the country's financial difficulties.

In addition to the regular army, the Republic of Texas was protected by a militia, by companies of minutemen, and by the paramilitary Texas Rangers. On December 6, 1836, during Sam Houston's first presidential term, Congress passed legislation establishing the essential militia structure. "Every free able bodied male citizen of this republic, resident therein, who is or shall be...seventeen...and under the age of fifty years enrolled in the militia." Congress envisioned two divisions, each commanded by a major general and divided into two brigades commanded by brigadier generals. Each brigade would contain two regiments of two battalions each, and each of these battalions would contain five companies. According to the legislation, companies and battalions would muster twice annually for drill, and regiments would gather each year for three days of drill. The organization, on paper, was formidable. The Texas Congress, however, refused to appropriate necessary funds, causing a furious Sam Houston to write the House of Representatives that the "proper organization would have been consummated under the last law, had Congress made any appropriation adequate to the completion of its organization. Not one dollar was placed at the disposal of the Executive." Late in 1837 the Second Congress made another attempt to reorganize the militia. The militia act of 1837 reduced the militia to one division, under the command of a major general, which contained four brigades, each commanded by a brigadier general. Congress selected the initial general officers: Thomas J. Rusk as major general and Edward Burleson, Moseley Baker, Kelsey H. Douglass, and John Dyer as commanders of the first to forth brigades, respectively. In 1839 Felix Huston replaced Rusk as major general, but four years later Rusk returned; he held the office for less than a year before being replaced by Sidney Sherman, who remained in the office until annexation.

Because of the ineffectiveness of the militia and the scarcity of regular army troops, the Texas Congress authorized twenty frontier counties to organize "minutemen companies" under the jurisdiction of the county judge, but, as Texas Ranger James Buckner (Buck) Barry pointed out, "every settler was a minuteman. In fact, every man in Texas was a soldier." As their title implied, these volunteers anticipated dropping their work in an emergency and rushing to the scene of action with little time wasted on musters and rules and regulations. Each man equipped himself with "a good substantial horse, bridle, and saddle...together with a good gun, and one hundred rounds of ammunition." Congress expected these "minute companies" to be mustered only in times of extreme emergency, and the men were paid only for the days spent on actual service, with a maximum limit of four months duty per year. Each squad of rangers daily patrolled its section of the frontier to assure that no Indians took the settlements by surprise. Barry wrote that if the rangers discovered Indians, "it was our business to beat them there and notify the minutemen of their coming." According to him, the minutemen "were really the army of Texas," for John Coffee (Jack) Hays's ranger battalion was composed only of "spy companies" that watched for the enemy and reported to the minutemen. No more than three rangers from a camp were ever out on patrol at the same time, and these men were to report to a prearranged rendezvous with the patrols from the camps above or below at the terminus of their areas of responsibility. Failure to show usually meant that marauding Indians had "sent them under." The rangers were ordered, therefore, to avoid confrontation with the raiders, for, as Hays said, "no dead man could make a report to the minutemen."

Eugene C. Barker, "Texan Revolutionary Army," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 9 (April 1906). William Campbell Binkley, The Expansionist Movement in Texas, 1836–1850 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1925). Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Defenders of the Republic of Texas (Austin: Laurel House, 1989). Hans Peter Nielsen Gammel, comp., Laws of Texas, 1822–1897 (10 vols., Austin: Gammel, 1898). Frances Terry Ingmire, Texas Frontiersman, 1839–1860: Minute Men, Militia, Home Guard, Indian Fighter (St. Louis: Fort Ingmire, 1982). John H. Jenkins, ed., The Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835–1836 (10 vols., Austin: Presidial Press, 1973). Joseph Milton Nance, After San Jacinto: The Texas-Mexican Frontier, 1836–1841 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963). Gerald S. Pierce, The Army of the Texas Republic, 1836–1845 (M.A. thesis, University of Mississippi, 1963).

Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution
  • Republic of Texas

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

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Army of the Republic of Texas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 2, 2021

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