Marshall Conferences

By: Allan C. Ashcraft

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: February 25, 2011

Three conferences were held at Marshall, Texas, during the Civil War to address the wartime problems of the Confederate states west of the Mississippi. At the suggestion of President Jefferson Davis, the first conference was called by Texas governor Francis R. Lubbock in July 1862, as Union forces threatened to cut off the western Confederacy by taking control of the Mississippi River. Lubbock and Missouri governor Claiborne F. Jackson met at Marshall in late July and prepared three recommendations for Davis: that a commanding general be appointed to have jurisdiction over the western states, that a branch of the Confederate treasury be located west of the Mississippi, and that the government provide arms and ammunition to alleviate the "most distressing want of small arms on this side of the river." These recommendations were endorsed by Governor Rector of Arkansas and Governor Moore of Louisiana, neither of whom was able to attend the meeting.

The second conference took place in August of the following year, after the Union army had made good its threat by capturing Vicksburg and taking over the entire length of the Mississippi. This action cut the Confederacy almost exactly in half, isolating all of Louisiana west of the river, Arkansas, Texas, the Confederate Indian Territory (the southern half of Oklahoma), and those portions of southern Missouri under Confederate control. By this time, Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith had been appointed commander of the Confederate Department of the Trans-Mississippi, and he called the governors, supreme court justices, and other leaders from each western state to Marshall to discuss the crisis.

This second conference began on August 15, 1863. Representing Texas were Governor Lubbock (who became chairman of the meeting on August 17), Governor-elect Pendleton Murrah, Senator William S. Oldham, and Confederate Special Agent Guy M. Bryan. Committees were formed, including a foreign-relations committee headed by Murrah and a finance committee led by Oldham.

In response to the need for protection of homes and property and for additional armaments, Missouri governor Thomas C. Reynolds's committee gave an overly optimistic report on the region's military strengths. Each committee also made a number of recommendations endorsed by the full convention. These included establishing county committees to report disloyalty and putting Smith in charge of all cotton transactions in order to control cotton speculation and aid the economy. However, conference members concluded that Smith should exercise only such powers as leaders in Richmond had been exercising. Finally, the conference strongly endorsed developing diplomatic relations with French and Mexican leaders in Mexico.

The third Marshall Conference, in May 1865, was precipitated by the surrender of all Confederate land forces east of the Mississippi and the dissolution of the Richmond government. Union authorities asked Smith to surrender on the same terms that Ulysses S. Grant had given Robert E. Lee. The Southern commander refused. Then, with no direction from Richmond and in need of some form of civil authority to back him, he called for a conference of governors. Governor Murrah, who was dying of tuberculosis, sent Bryan in his place. Between May 9 and 11 the conference members produced a plan for surrender that was unrealistically favorable to the Confederacy. Although Smith did his best to persuade the Union to accept this plan, the answer was firmly in the negative. An impasse in peace negotiations followed. Finally, with members of his army deserting in droves, the departmental commander directed that the Union terms be met.

Allan Coleman Ashcraft, Texas, 1860–1866: The Lone Star State in the Civil War (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1960). Florence Elizabeth Holladay, "The Powers of the Commander of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, 1863–1865," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 21 (January, April 1918). Robert L. Kerby, Kirby Smith's Confederacy: The Trans-Mississippi South, 1863–1865 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972). Francis Richard Lubbock, Six Decades in Texas (Austin: Ben C. Jones, 1900; rpt., Austin: Pemberton, 1968). Joseph Howard Parks, General Edmund Kirby Smith, C.S.A. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1954).

Time Periods:
  • Civil War

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

Allan C. Ashcraft, “Marshall Conferences,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 25, 2011

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