The Eleventh Texas Cavalry Regiment was organized on October 2, 1861, at Camp Reeves, Grayson County, Texas, by the energies of its original colonel—William C. Young, a Mexican War veteran, former U.S. marshal and lawyer, and, in 1860, the wealthiest planter in Cooke County, Texas. The companies that formed the regiment were from Northeast Texas—Cooke, Grayson, Hopkins, Red River, Fannin, Collin, Hunt, Titus, and Bowie counties.
Young's field officers were Lt. Col. James J. Diamond, who had been a member of the Democratic National Convention in Charleston in 1860 and had stormed out at the nomination of Douglas. The regimental major was John W. Mayrant, a farmer from Grayson County. Most of the company commanders were planters, farmers, or lawyers, with the exception of L. G. Harman, of Company D, who was a surveyor, and Joseph M. Bounds, of Company G, who was a hotelier.
Following its organization, the regiment was sent to the Indian Nations, where it was engaged at Chustenahlah on December 26, 1861. The initial engagement of the Eleventh Texas Cavalry proved to be a victorious one for the regiment. One man was killed, one died of his wound, and four others were less seriously wounded. One of the wounded was Capt. James D. Young, Colonel Young's son, of Company A. He suffered a painful but not serious wound to the thigh. After the battle, the regiment was dispatched into Arkansas for the winter.
On March 6–7, 1862, the regiment was engaged at the battle of Pea Ridge, or Elkhorn Tavern, Arkansas. During the battle, Capt. Andrew J. Nicholson of Company F was shot through the wrist. His horse got away from him and broke for the Union lines, but a Yankee slapped the horse on the rear, sending Captain Nicholson safely back to Confederate lines. Afterwards, the Eleventh Texas Cavalry served as part of the rear guard for the army.
Disease proved to be a much tougher adversary initially than Yankees to the Eleventh Texas Cavalry, as typhoid, pneumonia, and measles thinned the ranks of Young's regiment. After a tough winter with many deaths and discharges due to disease, the regiment was dismounted at Jacksonport, Arkansas, and placed in the Texas Brigade under Joseph Hogg. Hogg also succumbed to disease, and Colonel T. H. McCray assumed command. The brigade contained the Tenth, Eleventh, Fourteenth, and Thirty-second Texas Cavalry regiments, dismounted, McCray's Arkansas Regiment, and Douglas's Texas Battery. In April, soon after the battle of Shiloh, the regiment was sent to Corinth, Mississippi.
On May 8, 1862, in response to the new Confederate Conscription Act, the regiment was reorganized. Colonel Young had resigned his commission on April 16, 1862, and Lieutenant Colonel Diamond was appointed colonel. Diamond, however, was not reelected, nor was Maj. John W. Mayrant. The new field officers of the Eleventh Texas Cavalry were John C. Burks as colonel, Andrew J. Nicholson as lieutenant colonel, and H.Y. Bone as major.
John C. Burks was a fine choice as colonel. Burks, a twenty-seven-year old lawyer born in Georgia and practicing law in Red River County, had the confidence of the men and appeared to have a fine future in front of him. Nicholson never served in his new office. He had to resign due to his Pea Ridge wound. Neither did Bone, as he was rejected as an officer by the Examining Board. Bone later served as chaplain of the regiment but resigned in July 1862. To take their places, Captain Bounds of Company G was appointed lieutenant colonel in July 1862, and Otis M. Messick was named major on May 25, 1862.
In mid-summer 1862, the newly-christened Army of Tennessee, under the command of Gen. Braxton Bragg, commenced a forward movement into Tennessee and then into Kentucky. On August 30, 1862, the brigade, still under the command of Colonel McCray, fought at Richmond, Kentucky. Desperately outnumbered, McCray's Texans and Arkansans nearly destroyed the Federal army, leaving the ground strewn with dead and wounded. The Southern army, styled the Army of Kentucky under the command of Edmund Kirby Smith, captured 4,303 of the enemy and numerous weapons and other supplies.
The regiment suffered an unknown number of casualties at Richmond, however. At least three were killed, seven wounded, and nineteen became prisoners of war. Afterwards, the regiment withdrew into Tennessee.
On December 31, 1862, Ector's Brigade spearheaded the initial charge at the battle of Murfreesboro. The Confederates quickly surprised and overran the Federal positions, capturing men and artillery. The Eleventh Texas Cavalry suffered heavy losses, officially reported as eight killed, eighty-nine wounded, and eighteen missing. Among the fatalities were Colonel Burks, who was mortally wounded during the battle and died several days later. Pressing his hand to conceal what he knew to be a fatal wound, he shouted encouragement to the men, "charge them, my brave boys," until, faint from the loss of blood, he could go no further. He was highly commended by his brigade and division commanders.
Following Colonel Burks's death, the Eleventh Texas Cavalry was remounted and transferred to the Cavalry Corps. Some say it was Burks's dying wish to have his regiment remounted. Whatever the reason, the Eleventh Texas Cavalry was remounted and transferred to the Cavalry Corps on January 23, 1863.
Under the command of Joe Wheeler, the Eleventh Texas Cavalry were led on several raids through Tennessee and Kentucky. Following those raids, they fought at the battle of Chickamauga on September 19–20, 1863.
On October 27, 1863, Colonel Bounds was apparently murdered by W. R. Dulaney of Company D. Dulaney deserted the regiment the same day. This incident is shrouded in mystery, but Bounds became the second colonel of the Eleventh Texas Cavalry to be killed by a private assassin.
The regiment passed a hard fall and winter of 1863–64 near Knoxville in East Tennessee, an area known for its Union sentiment and bushwhacking. Two large Federal cavalry raids resulted in many of the members of the Eleventh Texas being captured. Company-grade officers were particularly hard-hit, as Capt. Nathan Burks of Company F and Capt. John Russell of Company G were both captured, and Capt. W. W. Gibson of Company I was wounded and unable to return to the service. At least forty-two other members of the regiment were captured during the winter of 1863–64.
From April to September 1864, the Eleventh Texas Cavalry participated in the defense of Atlanta. Always against great odds, the Eleventh served side-by-side with the Eighth Texas Cavalry, also known as Terry's Texas Rangers. Following the Atlanta campaign, the Eleventh pursued Sherman on his trail of devastation through Georgia and the Carolinas. The surrender of the Army of Tennessee occurred at Greensboro, North Carolina, on April 26, 1865. However, most of the members of the cavalry corps refused to surrender. Instead, many joined President Jefferson Davis, and others tried to make it to the Trans-Mississippi to continue the fight there. Most of the members of the Eleventh Texas Cavalry did not surrender. Instead, they left North Carolina in small groups and simply returned to Texas.
On May 16, 1865, at Columbus, Mississippi, a detachment of Second Lt. A. C. Bailey and seven enlisted men from Company C surrendered in what is believed to be the last organized surrender involving the regiment. The war was over.
Most of the men returned to their pre-war occupations, mainly farming, to make a living. Some, such as Ben Bickerstaff and Lt. Tom Emmett, both of Company I, opposed the Reconstruction government in a movement referred to as "The New Rebellion."
The post-war years were hard ones, but by the 1880s, the old veterans could again gather together, tell old tales of fighting Indians and Yankees, and relive the comradeship they had enjoyed during the war. Two of the larger reunions enjoyed by the members of the regiment were the twenty-second reunion at Clarksville, Texas, on August 3, 1899, and the one at Whitesboro, Texas, on August 1-2, 1912. Robert Bean, formerly Second Lt. of Company B, served as president of the Eleventh Texas Cavalry Veterans Association for twelve years, despite being dropped from the rolls in 1864 for being absent without leave.
Of the original field-grade officers of the regiment, Maj. J.W. Mayrant lived the longest. He died in Grayson County in 1894. Lieutenant Colonel Diamond died in the yellow fever epidemic in Houston in 1867. Lt.Col. Robert W. Hook s was killed in a sawmill explosion in Bowie County in 1870. Colonel Reeves, who commanded the regiment longer than anyone else, returned to politics and was Speaker of the House in Texas in 1882. Returning home from a session, Reeves was bitten by a rabid dog. He died of hydrophobia shortly thereafter.
Maj. John Brent Puryear was the last surviving field-grade officer of the regiment, as he breathed his last on August 29, 1921, in Poolville, Parker County. Capt. Washington Underwood of Company F was the last surviving company commander, as he died in Honey Grove, Fannin County, during the same year. The last junior officer was possibly Lt. Henry H. Allison of Company K, who died in Abilene in 1924.
The other veterans gradually grew old, obtained pensions from the state, and finally passed into history. The last survivor of the Eleventh Texas Cavalry is believed to have been William J. Brewer of Company E, who died on April 20, 1937, in Fisher County. Upon his death, it was said that the last of the old veterans of the Eleventh Texas Cavalry had "crossed the river to rest 'neath the shade of the trees."