In January 1862 George H. Sweet, a newspaperman from San Antonio, began organizing a cavalry regiment. Sweet, who had been born in Ulster County, New York, had served earlier in the war as a private in Hood's Texas Brigade in Virginia. Having secured a commission and authority to organize his own regiment, Sweet returned to Texas and formed ten companies from Bexar, Wise, Dallas, Johnson, Tarrant, Limestone, Denton, Red River, Van Zandt, and Johnson counties.
Sweet had little trouble raising his regiment, which was composed of "middle-aged men and boys," according to one member, and each had to supply his own horse and equipment. They practiced their cavalry drill on courthouse squares and prairies around the Lone Star State and, armed with Bowie knives and armament of every kind, presented a most unmilitary appearance. Finally, on March 10, 1862, the Fifteenth Texas Cavalry was mustered into service at McKinney in Collin County.
Initially, the regiment marched through Clarksville and into Arkansas. On May 20, 1862, the regiment was reorganized in response to the new Confederate Conscription Act. Essentially, the act specified men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five must serve in the military unless they held certain jobs or were responsible for twenty slaves. In essence, the act eliminated men who had voluntarily enlisted and put men in the ranks who did not want to fight. The act did not add any men to the regiment, but around 100 were discharged due to being too young or too old. In addition, one of the provisions of the act allowed the enlisted men to elect their own officers, and the composition of the regiment changed dramatically. Colonel Sweet was reelected colonel, while Maj. George B. Pickett of Wise County was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and William Cathey of Company K was promoted to major.
On July 8, 1862, the regiment fought their first battle, near Batesville, Arkansas. The regiment lost eight killed and seven wounded. In Colonel Sweet's report, he singled out Capt. Valerius P. Sanders of Company A for "signal coolness and bravery." On July 24, 1862, the regiment was dismounted, and their horses were sent home. For the rest of the war, the Fifteenth was to serve the Confederacy as infantry.
In the late fall of 1862, the regiment was sent to garrison the post of Arkansas, then an unfinished fort being built by slave labor on the Arkansas River. The Fifteenth Texas Cavalry was brigaded together with the Tenth Texas Infantry, and the Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Texas Cavalry regiments, dismounted, and Colonel Sweet was assigned temporarily to command the brigade.
The area was terribly unhealthy, and at least 100 men in the regiment died. Many others had to be discharged from the service. One officer, Robert M. Collins of Company B, stated he came close to "cashing in his checks" and was quartered near the graveyard, which he stated was being used regularly and services held around the clock in order to inter the large number of young men who had died. Many soldiers in the Fifteenth died before ever seeing or even firing at a Yankee.
On January 10, 1863, about 40,000 Federal troops under the command of Maj. Gen. John McClernand attacked the fort. Two days of furious fighting ensued, until the Confederates capitulated on January 11. The garrison of 4,791 officers and men surrendered, mostly Texans, and were sent on transports up the Mississippi River to prison. In the Fifteenth Texas Cavalry, twenty-seven officers and 436 enlisted men were captured. Exact casualties are unknown, but the regimental assistant surgeon, Nathan Wyncoope, was mortally wounded while tending to the sick and wounded in his charge.
Officers were sent to Camp Chase, Ohio, and the enlisted men were sent to Camp Douglas in Chicago. Arriving with few amenities and fewer blankets, many soldiers who had become sick from exposure on the way upriver, died from pneumonia and other causes. In about two months' time, over 700 of the Texans died, about 100 from the Fifteenth Texas Cavalry.
Finally, on April 3, 1863, the enlisted men were sent for exchange to City Point, Virginia, and received on April 10. Officers were sent to Fort Delaware on April 29 and received on May 4. Due to their various ailments, many men had to be discharged, and some died in various hospitals around Richmond, Williamsburg, and Petersburg. The enlisted men suffered worse than the officers, and upon their exchange, many officers found themselves to be supernumeraries. About two-thirds of the officers of the regiment were sent back to the Trans-Mississippi Department. The Sixth and Tenth Texas Infantry and the Fifteenth Texas Cavalry were combined into one regiment. Maj. Valerius P. Sanders of the Fifteenth was one of the field officers in this new consolidated regiment. The Seventeenth, Eighteenth, Twenty-fourth, and Twenty-fifth Texas Cavalry regiments, also captured at Arkansas Post, were also consolidated into one regiment, and both new regiments were placed in a new brigade under the command of Brig. Gen. James Deshler.
It was rumored that no officers in Lee's army wanted the Texans, so they were sent to Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee. Pat Cleburne, a divisional commander in that army, needed replacements and decided the Texans were "a fine body of men out of which good soldiers are made" and welcomed the Texans. He was rewarded for his trust, as the Texans proved to be one of the best brigades in the army. The Texans were sent initially to Wartrace, where they were retrained as infantry, all under the watchful eye of the Irish major-general.
On the evening of September 18, 1863, Deshler's brigade splashed across Crawfish Springs, and the bloody battle of Chickamauga began. For two days, the battle raged, and Deshler's men were assigned to hold a position. Hold it they did, even though Deshler was killed, and the Texans suffered severely under artillery and small-arms fire. The next day, the Texans advanced, and assisted in driving the blue-clad army into siege at Chattanooga. The Fifteenth fought well in their initial battle after their exchange. Five men were killed, sixteen were wounded, and fourteen were captured or missing.
On November 24–25, 1863, the regiment won new glory at Missionary Ridge and Tunnel Hill, where the regiment lost one man killed, seven wounded, and two missing at Missionary Ridge, including Maj. V. P. Sanders, whose right arm was wounded severely and had to be amputated. The regiment was also acknowledged on November 27, 1863, at Ringgold Gap, where the Texans threw back the victorious Federals. The Fifteenth lost four wounded and one man captured in that action. The Texans, then under the command of Hiram B. Granbury, won the thanks of the Confederate Congress. Granbury won his general's star and command of the brigade that would thereafter bear his name.
Beginning in May 1864 the Fifteenth Texas Cavalry served in Granbury's Brigade, Cleburne's Division, Hardee's Corps, Army of Tennessee, and opposed Sherman's three armies converging on Atlanta. Fighting daily at places such as Resaca, Pickett's Mill, Dallas, Kennesaw Mountain, Peachtree Creek, Leggett's Hill, and the siege works around Atlanta, the Fifteenth lost four killed, nine mortally wounded, fifty-eight less seriously wounded, and three captured.
After the fall of Atlanta, the Confederates fell back to Palmetto, Georgia, before commencing a move into Tennessee. On November 30, 1864, the Army of Tennessee, including Granbury's Texas Brigade, charged the Federal works at Franklin, Tennessee. In five hours of furious fighting, the Confederates lost over 6,000 men. Granbury was killed, and his brigade decimated. Of the 1,100 men who went into the fight, only about 450 answered roll call the next morning. In the Fifteenth Texas Cavalry, 7 were killed, including Capt. Matthew M. Houston, commanding the regiment; 10 wounded; and 13 were missing.
The brigade was all but finished at the battle of Nashville on December 14–15, 1864. The Texans defended their assigned position well but had to retreat on the. The last major Confederate offensive of the war was over.
On April 28, 1865, the Confederate Army under the command of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrendered at Greensboro, North Carolina. The Fifteenth Texas Cavalry numbered only forty-three: three officers, eight non-commissioned officers, two teamsters, and thirty enlisted men. Out of the 1,200 men who had served in the regiment at one time or another, only forty-three, or 3.5 percent, were at the surrender.
Of course, many of the men were not at the surrender at Arkansas Post, as they were on detached duty, escaped capture, or were on sick leave. Among this number was Col. George H. Sweet, who commanded Camp Ford, a prisoner of war camp near Tyler, Texas. Following the war, Sweet traveled in Mexico and operated several different publications, including the Texas New Yorker, designed to promote northern investment and immigration to Texas. Sweet moved to Galveston in 1878 and published the Galveston Journal. He later returned back to New York. His widow, Lizzie, obtained a pension from the state of Texas in 1899 and stated, "[I] have not heard from him for 12 years."
Sweet's disappearance occurred many years before the last of his old soldiers passed away. With the passing of Alonzo L. Steele, formerly of Company F, on December 6, 1936, in Baytown, Harris County, it is believed the last of the old veterans of the Fifteenth Texas Cavalry had "crossed the river, to rest 'neath the shade of the trees."