Magruder, John Bankhead (1807–1871)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: August 3, 2020

John Bankhead (Prince John) Magruder, soldier for the United States, the Confederate States, and Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, was born on May 1, 1807, at Port Royal, Virginia, the son of Thomas and Elizabeth (Bankhead) Magruder. He was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point on July 1, 1826, graduated fifteenth in the class of 1830, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Seventh Infantry on July 30, 1830. He was transferred to the First Artillery on August 11, 1831, and promoted to first lieutenant on March 31, 1836. With Winfield Scott's army in Mexico, Magruder was promoted to captain on June 18, 1846, and brevetted to major on April 18, 1847, for "gallant and meritorious conduct" at the battle of Cerro Gordo. On September 13, 1847, he received a lieutenant colonel's brevet for his bravery in the storming of Chapultepec. Said to have been "the wittiest man in the old army," he was a great favorite of General Scott's. He resigned from the United States Army on April 20, 1861, and was commissioned a brigadier general in the Confederate service, and was then quickly promoted to major general. While commanding Confederate forces at Yorktown, Virginia, Magruder completely deceived George B. McClellan as to his strength and caused the Union commander weeks of needless delay. Lack of aggressiveness during the Seven Days Battles cost him the favor of Robert E. Lee, however, and he was soon reassigned to the command of the District of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. He arrived in Texas on October 10, 1862, and assumed command on November 29. From his headquarters in Houston, Magruder ably administered his department and was generally popular with the citizens of the region, despite occasional clashes with the governor, especially over the enforcement of conscription laws. His greatest success was his brilliant recapture of Galveston on January 1, 1863, and the consequent if temporary dispersal of the Union blockading fleet (see GALVESTON, BATTLE OF). On August 17, 1864, however, he was transferred to the command of the Department of Arkansas and was superseded in Texas by Gen. John G. Walker.

On March 31, 1865, Confederate president Jefferson Davis returned Magruder to the command of the District of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, but only in time to witness Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith's surrender of the Trans-Mississippi Department at Galveston on June 2, 1865. After the war Magruder offered his sword to the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, but after the collapse of the imperial forces he returned to Texas to make his home in Houston, where he died on February 19, 1871. According to John N. Edwards, with whom he traveled Mexico, "Magruder was a born soldier...He would fight all day and dance all night. He wrote love songs and sang them, and won an heiress rich beyond comparison." Magruder spoke with a lisp. He was six feet tall and "in full regimentals" was said to have been "the handsomest soldier in the Confederacy." He married Esther Henrietta von Kapff on May 18, 1831. For the first nineteen years he saw his family in Baltimore only on occasional furloughs. After 1850 his wife visited him only twice, 1854–55 and 1856. Many thought he was single. He is buried in Galveston, the scene of his greatest military success.

John N. Edwards, Shelby's Expedition to Mexico (Kansas City Times Steam Book and Job Printing House, 1872; facsimile reprod., Austin: Steck, 1964). Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (2 vols., Washington: GPO, 1903; rpt., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965). William C. Nunn, ed., Ten Texans in Gray (Hillsboro, Texas: Hill Junior College Press, 1968). Thomas M. Settles, The Military Career of John Bankhead Magruder (Ph.D. dissertation, Texas Christian University, 1972). William S. Speer and John H. Brown, eds., Encyclopedia of the New West (Marshall, Texas: United States Biographical Publishing, 1881; rpt., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). Timothy Dale Spell, John Bankhead Magruder, Defender of the Texas Coast, 1863 (M.A. thesis, Lamar University, 1981). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959).

Time Periods:
  • Civil War

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

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Magruder, John Bankhead,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022,

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August 3, 2020

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