Committees of Public Safety (Civil War)

By: John G. Johnson

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: December 1, 1994

A Committee of Public Safety was appointed by the first session of the Secession Convention in February 1861 to carry out the secession program in case of opposition by Unionists. Of top priority was the seizure of all military equipment in Texas held by the United States Army. John C. Robertson served as chairman. The committee was given extensive powers that were gradually strengthened. All of the fifteen members had military experience. Benjamin McCulloch, Henry McCulloch, and John S. Ford were named colonels and ordered to raise an army with which to fight the Unionists and ensure the safety of citizens until the Confederate Army should become effective. A subcommittee was appointed to call on Governor Sam Houston in order to assure that he would not exercise his powers in conflict with the convention. They found Houston agreeable to this and also found that he had received a letter from Gen. David E. Twiggs, Union commander at San Antonio, giving the conditions under which he would surrender the Union forces. A subcommittee was appointed to confer with Twiggs.

Twiggs, a Southerner, had written the federal commander on January 15 asking to be relieved by March 4, but had received no reply. Twiggs appointed a committee of his officers to consider surrender, but the committee could not agree and Twiggs hesitated as he had received no orders. Ben McCulloch had raised a cavalry company of 400 men. When he reached San Antonio he was joined by volunteer companies that enlarged his force to 1,000. When Twiggs saw the show of force he surrendered his post and all other posts in Texas. Between February 18 and April 13 all federal posts were surrendered or abandoned. A large number of Texas counties also appointed Committees of Public Safety to give general protection.

Jack W. Gunn, "Ben McCulloch: A Big Captain," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 58 (July 1954). Stephen B. Oates, "Texas Under the Secessionists," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 67 (October 1963). Anna Irene Sandbo, "The First Session of the Secession Convention of Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 18 (October 1914). Dudley Goodall Wooten, ed., A Comprehensive History of Texas (2 vols., Dallas: Scarff, 1898; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1986).

Time Periods:

  • Civil War

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

John G. Johnson, “Committees of Public Safety (Civil War),” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 19, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994

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