In the fall of 1861 Middleton Tate Johnson of Johnson's Station, Tarrant County, Texas, raised a cavalry regiment known as "Johnson's Mounted Volunteers" for Confederate service. Johnson was a planter and the largest land and slave owner in Tarrant County. The men that comprised his regiment of ten companies were primarily from North and East Texas and came from the counties of Dallas, Denton, Montague, Panola, Rusk, Smith, Tarrant, and Upshur. After its organization, the regiment was sent into Arkansas and then to Corinth, Mississippi. During this time, more than 100 men in the regiment died from disease before ever firing a shot at United States troops.
The Fourteenth Texas Cavalry was dismounted in March 1862 at Little Rock, Arkansas, and served the duration of the war as infantry. On May 8, 1862, the regiment was reorganized, and John Lafayette Camp, a Georgia-born graduate of the University of Tennessee and a lawyer from Gilmer, Texas, was elected colonel. For lieutenant colonel, the men elected Abram Harris, who had been the sergeant major of the Sixth U. S. Infantry, stationed at Fort Worth, before the war. The regiment's first action against the Union Army was a rear-guard action at Farmington, Mississippi, on May 28, 1862.
The Fourteenth Texas Cavalry was placed in Brig. Gen. Joseph Lewis Hogg's brigade, which also contained the Tenth, Eleventh, and Thirty-second Texas Cavalry regiments, Douglas's Texas Battery, and McCray's Arkansas Battalion. Hogg died and was succeeded eventually by Brig. Gen. Matthew D. Ector. The Fourteenth Texas Cavalry remained in Ector's Brigade for the remainder of the war. On August 30, 1862, the Fourteenth fought at Richmond, Kentucky, which some historians have assessed as the South's most complete victory of the war. Casualty numbers in the Fourteenth Texas were not known but considered light.
On December 31, 1862, the Fourteenth fought at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Losses were officially reported as five killed, fifty-two wounded, and three men missing. Ten members of the regiment were named to the Confederate Roll of Honor for their actions at the battle of Murfreesboro. After Murfreesboro, the brigade passed the winter months unmolested near Shelbyville. In the spring the men were ordered into Mississippi, where they fought at Jackson in July 1863; two men were killed. The summer of 1863 was filled with sickness for the unit as a result of the men drinking stagnant bayou water. The surgeon for the unit recorded 260 illnesses among the 319 men.
On September 19–20, 1863, the Fourteenth fought at Chickamauga. The regiment, fighting with only 197 officers and men, suffered losses of 10 killed, 47 wounded, and 29 captured or missing—a loss of 44 percent. Every mounted officer in the regiment had his horse shot from underneath him, and almost every company lost the commanding officer. The regiment wintered in Mississippi and Alabama before being assigned to Maj. Gen. Samuel G. French's Division.
On April 5, 1864, at Lauderdale Springs, Mississippi, there were twenty officers and 206 enlisted men present in the regiment. The unit participated in the battle of Jenkins' Ferry on April 30, where one company lost nearly half the men, and as a result many sergeants and captains were promoted. Shortly thereafter, the brigade, now in Maj. Gen. Samuel G. French's Division of Polk's Corps, was sent to northern Georgia. Beginning in May 1864 the Fourteenth Texas Cavalry opposed William T. Sherman's advance towards Atlanta. Fighting almost daily for more than 100 days, the Fourteenth suffered losses of eight killed, fifty-five wounded, and eleven men captured or missing during the campaign. The engagements included fighting at Resaca, New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain, the Chattahoochie Crossing, Peachtree Creek, the battle of Atlanta, and in the trenches surrounding the city.
On October 5, 1864, the Fourteenth Texas Cavalry assaulted the Union works at Allatoona. The Atlanta campaign had reduced the regiment to only eighty-seven officers and men. Fighting without the benefit of bayonets, the Fourteenth participated in some of the most desperate fighting in the war as they assailed the Federals in their trenches and forced them back into their stronghold. Colonel Camp, "one of the best officers in the service," according to his commanding officer, was shot in the thigh and captured. Total losses in the regiment were four killed and forty-five wounded.
The Fourteenth Texas Cavalry missed the battle of Franklin, Tennessee, as they were guarding the army's pontoon bridges near the Tennessee River. They fought at the battle of Nashville on December 15–16, 1864, and assisted in holding open the Franklin–Columbia Turnpike. Afterwards, the Fourteenth was part of a handpicked rear guard, the post of honor on a retreat. Casualties during the campaign are unknown, but at least ten men were wounded and ten were captured.
In early April 1865 the unit participated in the defense of Mobile, Alabama, at the battles of Fort Blakely and Spanish Fort, Alabama. Hopelessly outnumbered by Maj. Gen. Edward R. S. Canby's much-larger Union Army, many of the soldiers could fire only one or two volleys before fleeing back to Mobile as they struggled through the swampy lands in muck as deep as their waists. The regimental color-bearer, William Powers, was killed. At least twenty-two soldiers in the Fourteenth Texas were captured.
On May 9, 1865, as a part of Gen. Richard Taylor's army, the Fourteenth Texas Cavalry was paroled at Meridian, Mississippi. The regiment, commanded by Lt. Col. Abram Harris, had twelve officers and eighty-eight enlisted men present—a mere 10 percent of those who had served in the regiment at one time or another.
The Fourteenth Texas Cavalry included notable men who achieved success and recognition after the Civil War. Capt. Claiborne W. Merchant of Company H became a prosperous cattleman and merchant and named the West Texas town of Abilene. Regimental quartermaster Zadoc B. Garrison and his cousin, Capt. James H. Garrison of Company C, moved to Nacogdoches County after the war and established a successful mercantile business. The community of Garrison, in Nacogoches County, was named after them. Col. John Lafayette Camp was elected to the Texas Senate and was later appointed a district judge.
John Polvado of Company I was captured at the battle of Chickamauga. Upon his release from prison, he returned to Texas, where he lived out the next sixty-seven years of his life. When he died on October 8, 1932, at the age of ninety-one at Vanderpool, Bandera County, he was the last known survivor of the Fourteenth Texas Cavalry.