Burks, John C. (ca. 1835–1862)

By: Cecil Harper, Jr.

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: November 1, 1994

John C. Burks, lawyer and soldier, the son of Joseph H. and Winnifred B. Burks, was born in Georgia about 1835. The family moved to Clarksville, Texas, in 1846. By 1856 Burks had graduated from the law department of Cumberland University and had established a law practice in Clarksville. As the son of a prominent regional political figure, he was soon active in the Democratic party and was often called on to address political gatherings. On October 13, 1857, he married Penelope Donoho, also of Clarksville. In 1858 Burks was one of three commissioners appointed by Governor Hardin Runnels to investigate the legality of land certificates issued by county and district courts in the area of the Peters colony grant. In 1859 he announced his candidacy for the position of district attorney of the Eighth Judicial District. Shortly after his announcement he suffered a series of personal losses that prevented an active campaign. His father died in February, his seventeen-year-old wife died after childbirth in April, and his infant son died in June. He lost the four-man race. By the time of the census in the summer of 1860, Burks had apparently remarried and was living with his wife and her daughter. In June of 1861, following the outbreak of the Civil War, he helped to raise a company of volunteers, who elected him captain. The company became part of Col. William C. Young's Eleventh Texas Cavalry. When Young resigned as a result of ill health in mid-1862, Burks was promoted to colonel, and later to commander of the regiment. On December 31, 1862, he was mortally wounded while leading a charge on a Union battery at the battle of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Holding his hand on the wound to control the bleeding, he continued at the head of his command, urging his men forward, until he lost consciousness. In his report of the battle, Gen. Mathew D. Ector said of Burks: "a better friend, a warmer heart, a more gallant leader than he was, never drew the breath of life."

Clarksville Standard, June 18, 1853, June 28, 1856, October 31, 1857, March 27, 1858, February 19, 1859. Sidney S. Johnson, Texans Who Wore the Gray (Tyler, Texas, 1907).
  • Education
  • Lawyers, Civil Rights Activists, and Legislators
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • Military
  • Confederate Military
  • Regimental and Staff Officers
  • Soldiers
Time Periods:
  • Civil War
  • Antebellum Texas

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

Cecil Harper, Jr., “Burks, John C.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 29, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/burks-john-c.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994

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