Military History

By: Robert Wooster

Type: Overview Entry

Published: December 1, 1995

Updated: December 3, 2020

Military affairs have dramatically shaped the history of Texas. Among the region's Indians, tribal economies and cultures depended heavily upon warfare. Likewise, the army was a significant factor in Spain's exploration and colonization. Only through force did the Republic of Texas secure its independence from Mexico and see its annexation by the United States assured; military might also allowed the Union to defeat the Confederacy's attempt to establish a separate nation. By sponsoring exploration and building frontier forts, the army encouraged westward migration of non-Indians and ensured the ouster of virtually all of the tribes. Defense and defense-related industries took an increasingly large role in the Texas economy during World wars I and II. By the latter half of the twentieth century, the nation's larger permanent military establishment had become fundamental to the state's economy.

Before the arrival of Europeans, Indians living in Texas often settled their differences through warfare. The Caddoes established defensive confederacies; the scattered tribes of southern Texas and the Rio Grande delta practiced seasonal feuding and small-scale raiding against one another. Fear of inland enemies often kept the Karankawas, tenaciously protective of areas they claimed for their own tribes, near the Gulf coast. Among these and the other groups that came to dominate the plains of Texas, pre-Columbian warfare generally emphasized personal bravery. The introduction of horses and firearms, along with the greater pressures stemming from the European intrusions, often lent a more violent tone to the culture of warfare. The arrival in large numbers of Apaches and Comanches, groups whose cultures were based on warfare, added further pressure. Raids and guerrilla-style harassment usually characterized these clashes, with the latter emerging during the late 1720s after a long struggle with the Apaches as the dominant military force on the Southern Plains.

The army played a fundamental role in Spain's occupation of what later became the Lone Star State. Armed columns escorted most sixteenth-century explorers, and military detachments guarded the early mission establishments along the Rio Grande. The French colony at Fort St. Louis challenged Spain to step up its activities in Texas. The first missions in East Texas, with but a tiny garrison, failed during the 1690s, but subsequent efforts during the next century included larger armed contingents. Even so, the failure to enlist strong Indian support caused Spain's temporary evacuation of East Texas, in the face of an armed French force of fewer than ten men, during the Chicken War (1719). Determined to restore Spain's honor, the Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo reestablished the missions of East Texas, leaving two presidios behind as well. To forestall potential French threats to the coast, he also set up a presidio and mission at La Bahía, and reinforced the burgeoning complex at Bexar. But the costs of such efforts seemed to outweigh the benefits, particularly as the French threat waned. Pressured from the north by the Comanches, the Apaches challenged Spanish expansion into Central Texas and even Bexar itself. As the tribes secured more guns (often from French traders) and grew more accustomed to European military methods, it became increasingly difficult to deliver the punishing retribution upon which Spain's policy depended. In 1758–59, for example, warriors from several tribes destroyed the San Saba de la Santa Cruz Mission, and a subsequent punitive column led by Col. Diego Ortiz Parrilla limped back to San Antonio after an unsuccessful assault on a stockaded Taovaya village.

Defeat in the Seven Years' War (1756–63) led to an overhaul of Spanish defenses. Following the reports of the Marqués de Rubí and José Bernardo de Gálvez Gallardo, the Royal Regulation of 1772 relocated presidios all along the frontiers. The East Texas outposts were abandoned and the northern provinces eventually separated from the viceroyalty of New Spain under a commandant-general, who was given civil, judicial, and military powers. Still, the scattered garrisons were too poorly trained, equipped, or supplied to be truly effective against the more mobile Plains Indians. Spanish attempts to pit either the Apaches or the Comanches against one another failed to duplicate the success generated by Indian alliances in neighboring New Mexico. Though never able to achieve military supremacy in Texas, the army remained a bastion of Spanish settlement. In the 1792 census the 720 soldiers and their families at Bexar and La Bahía made up nearly 20 percent of the entire population of Spanish Texas. And military force delayed unwanted American intrusions. Philip Nolan and about two score Americans were defeated in 1801. Although in 1813 several hundred revolutionaries and adventurers under the loose leadership of José Bernardo Maximiliano Gutiérrez de Lara, Augustus W. Magee, and Samuel Kemper briefly drove Spanish authorities from San Antonio, they were in turn crushed at the battle of Medina by Joaquín de Arredondo's royalists. Arredondo swept organized opposition to Spanish rule from Texas, but the empire's continued decline boded ill for the future. In the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, the United States recognized the Spanish claims to Texas, only to induce James Long and some 300 American filibusters and Mexican revolutionaries to capture Nacogdoches in protest. Spanish troops crushed Long's movement, but the American threat had not dissipated. Fearful that American infiltrators would eventually seize Texas, crown officials approved the request of Moses Austin to bring in several hundred new colonists in a desperate hope that a larger population base might help meet defense needs.

In the end, internal turmoil rather than external invasion doomed Spanish Texas. Royal soldiers north of the Rio Grande, though unable to defeat the Indians or prevent armed incursions from the east, retained a precarious foothold. But Spanish authority in Texas collapsed upon the establishment of an independent Mexico. Under the leadership of Stephen F. Austin, the American colony in Texas began the military activities that eventually led to Texas independence. The Karankawas were annihilated and the short-lived Fredonian Republic of 1826–27 suppressed. Mexican officials, fearing the growing Anglo influence, attempted to halt further American immigration and reinforce the Mexican garrisons in Texas with the Law of April 6, 1830. Still, the population resisted the army in minor clashes at Anahuac and Nacogdoches. Antonio López de Santa Anna's turn to Centralism and reliance upon the army to enforce policy antagonized Texans and led directly to the Texas movement for independence. In fall 1835, following skirmishes with Mexican regulars at Gonzales and Goliad, several hundred Texans laid siege to San Antonio. In late November, Edward Burleson took command of the "Army of the People" (see REVOLUTIONARY ARMY) after Austin left to solicit aid from the United States. Engagements at Concepcion and at the Grass Fight highlighted the siege until December 5, when Benjamin R. Milam and Frank (Francis W.) Johnson led several hundred volunteers in a successful assault against the Mexican troops. Overconfident Texans dreamed of further conquests. Although Sam Houston, the Consultation's choice to command Texas forces, opposed the move, several groups gathered in South Texas for a proposed march on Matamoros. Meanwhile, Santa Anna, having routed a rebellion in the Yucatán, turned his attentions toward Texas. Still the Texans dallied, assuming that Mexican troops would wait until spring before moving northward. On February 23, Santa Anna arrived at San Antonio, where about 150 rebels holed up in the old Alamo mission. Disputes still plagued the Texas military; only the failing health of James Bowie allowed William B. Travis to assume effective command of troops there. Travis's pleas for reinforcements brought only a thirty-two-man delegation from Gonzales. On March 6, Santa Anna attacked; although his army suffered heavy casualties, the defenders were killed. Protecting Santa Anna's coastal flank, Gen. José de Urrea routed scattered Texas forces under Johnson at San Patricio, Dr. James Grant at Agua Dulce, Amon B. King at Refugio, and William Ward near Victoria. James W. Fannin, who held Goliad with some 300 men, seemed paralyzed throughout the campaign. At first insistent upon defending the site, then convinced that he must go to the aid of the Alamo, and finally attempting to retreat, Fannin allowed his command to be caught on March 19 at Coleto Prairie. Low on water and outnumbered by Urrea's 800 troops, Fannin surrendered the following day. On the 27th, most of those captured in the South Texas campaigns were executed in the Goliad Massacre.

Overconfidence, carelessness, and indecision had heretofore characterized the Texans' military operations. Now only Sam Houston and fewer than 400 men at Gonzales stood between Mexican troops and the Sabine River. Having no other viable options, Houston retreated across the Colorado and Brazos Rivers. Santa Anna pushed ahead, hoping to complete the rout, and caused most of the colonists to join a panicky retreat. Some, including ad interim President David G. Burnet, accused Houston of having no plan, charges fostered by the general's determination to keep his own counsel. As Houston retreated, his army, fired by desire for revenge and having benefited from training exercises conducted during the retreat, developed into a more cohesive military force. Reinforcements from the United States as well as from the older Texas settlements further bolstered his army. And Santa Anna grew progressively weaker. Although several thousand Mexican troops were now in Texas, the president's zeal to catch either Houston or Texas leaders had led him to the banks of the San Jacinto River with only a small part of his total force. Houston turned and attacked on the afternoon of April 21. Taking the exhausted Mexicans by surprise, the Texans fell upon the enemy camp. At the cost of 9 men killed and 30 wounded, Houston listed 630 Mexicans killed and 730 taken prisoner. Among the latter was the Mexican chieftain, Santa Anna. Texas independence was thus assured.

Although San Jacinto had been a decisive battlefield victory, military problems still faced the newly declared republic. About 2,000 Mexican troops remained north of the Nueces River, and the composition of the Texas army was changing. Texas residents had dominated the force at San Jacinto. But by summer 1836, the army had swollen to over 2,500, three-quarters of whom had come to Texas after the battle of San Jacinto. To make matters worse, a painful ankle wound had forced Sam Houston, the only Texan who had been able to control large numbers of troops up to this point, to seek medical treatment in New Orleans. The Treaties of Velasco failed to resolve the military crisis. In Mexico, the government annulled them and threatened to continue the war. Although Mexican troops withdrew, the Texas army refused to allow Santa Anna's release. Led by Felix Huston, many within the army called for an offensive campaign against Matamoros. In a flagrant challenge to the shaky ad interim government, the troops refused to accept Mirabeau B. Lamar as its commander. In May 1837, fearful of military insurrection and anxious to reduce government spending, President Houston furloughed most of the army. Defense now rested upon a small detachment of mounted rangers, a disorganized militia consisting in theory of all able-bodied males between the ages of seventeen and fifty, and volunteers called up to meet emergencies. Violent encounters with Indians and rumors of Mexican invasions continued, but the president's determination to delay military action in hopes of securing annexation by the United States was consistent with his reduced defense budget.

Houston's successor, Lamar, favored an aggressive Indian policy. To protect the frontiers and to provide bases for offensive action, in 1838 Congress provided for a line of military posts along the republic's northern and western frontiers, to be manned by a regiment of 840 men and supported by a military road stretching from the Red River to the Nueces. To the east, the Cherokees, suspected of having allied themselves with Mexico, were driven into what is now Oklahoma after the battle of the Neches. Campaigns against the Comanches proved less decisive, but did cause the withdrawal of most of that tribe farther west and north. Lamar also hoped to force concessions from Mexico. After brief attempts to purchase some sort of settlement on recognition or the boundary, the president encouraged domestic revolt against the Mexican government, going so far as to rent the Texas Navy to rebels in Yucutan. To stake the republic's western claims in summer 1841, he also sent a military force, led by Col. Hugh McLeod, to seize Santa Fe. Dogged by misfortune and poor leadership, the exhausted Texans surrendered upon reaching that city (see TEXAN SANTA FE EXPEDITION).

After being reelected president in 1841, Houston found himself immersed in the problems resulting from Lamar's policies. Operations against the Indians alone had cost $2.5 million during a three-year period in which government receipts totaled just over $1 million. Houston cut the army to a few companies of rangers, attempted to sell the navy, and signed treaties with several Indian tribes. But Mexico, with Santa Anna again at the helm, retaliated against the recent threats. Gen. Rafael Vásquez and about 500 troops briefly occupied San Antonio in March 1842. Congress declared war, but Houston, still cautious, vetoed this measure. Enraged by the continuing disputes along its northern frontier and by the attempted Texas blockade of its ports, Mexico mounted another offensive. Leading 1,400 men, in mid-September Gen. Adrián Woll seized San Antonio. He withdrew under pressure from Texas militiamen, and Houston dispatched Alexander Somervell with 750 men to show the Lone Star flag along the Rio Grande. Somervell withdrew that December, but about 300 men, led by William S. Fisher, defied orders and crossed the Rio Grande. At Mier, however, the invaders surrendered to a much larger Mexican force.

The Texas military situation changed dramatically upon annexation. Although the United States maintained but a small regular army and navy, its growing population and industrial base gave it a formidable military potential. Such resources were tapped in the Mexican War, which had been triggered by the recent annexation of Texas. About 6,000 Texans saw military service during the conflict; the most visible of the Lone Star units fought with Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott in northern and central Mexico, respectively. These troops, who called themselves the Texas Rangers, proved superb scouts and hard fighters, but their violent methods and vengeance against the civil population of Mexico left behind a bitter legacy. After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the state, with some assistance from the federal government, continued to employ varying numbers of ranging companies to patrol its western frontiers. But United States regulars assumed the bulk of the defensive duties as well as furthering exploration of the Trans-Pecos and Panhandle regions. Several military posts lined the Rio Grande from Brownsville to Eagle Pass in response to potential Mexican and Indian incursions. Others composed a huge semicircle extending from Fort Worth to Fredericksburg to Corpus Christi; the forts were pushed farther west as non-Indian settlement expanded. To offer protection and succor for the thousands of California-bound migrants and travelers, the army also occupied several positions along the roads from San Antonio to El Paso.

Brief attempts to establish reservations in Texas having failed, the army launched a series of offensives against hostile Indians. In the most significant of these campaigns, Bvt. Maj. Earl Van Dorn led Texas-based detachments, stiffened by allied Indian scouts and auxiliaries, to victory against Comanche encampments across the Red River at Rush Spring (October 1, 1858) and Crooked Creek (May 13, 1859). But Texans wanted even more action, and a ranger force led by John S. "Rip" Ford defeated a sizable Comanche encampment on May 12, 1859, near the Antelope Hills in the Indian territory. In February 1861, the secession convention of Texas listed the federal government's inability to protect its citizens from Indian attack as one of the reasons for the state to leave the Union. This must have seemed ironic to War Department officials, for as much as one-quarter of the entire army had been stationed in Texas during the 1850s. In a controversial move, David E. Twiggs, commanding the Department of Texas, surrendered all federal property and forts in Texas in exchange for the safe passage of his troops. Before all the soldiers could embark, however, the outbreak of war led state officials to scrap the agreement. Garrisons from several Trans-Pecos forts, led by Bvt. Lt. Col. Isaac V. D. Reeve, surrendered to Earl Van Dorn, who had joined the Confederacy, just west of San Antonio.

Relations with the new Confederate government proved a thorny problem for state officials. Although states'-rights doctrine suggested that Texas should retain control over its men and war material, Confederate leaders demanded that resources be pooled under a more centralized authority. And while an initial surge of volunteers flocked to the colors, in early 1862 the Confederacy enacted a conscription law that was eventually extended to most non-Black males between the ages of seventeen and fifty. Of the 100,000 to 110,000 eligible, between 60,000 and 90,000 probably served in the military. Most Texans displayed a strong desire for mounted duty and a fierce independence that limited efforts to enforce discipline. Early in the Civil War, state regiments penetrated into Indian territory and patrolled the western and Rio Grande frontiers. In late 1861 and early 1862, Brig. Gen. Henry H. Sibley and three regiments of Texans marched west into New Mexico, but fell back into Texas after the battle of Glorieta. In October 1862, Union naval forces occupied Galveston Island. John B. Magruder, commander of Confederate forces in Texas, retook Galveston on New Year's Day 1863. Another federal invasion force, including twenty-six ships and 4,000 troops commanded by Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin, was checked at Sabine Pass in September 1863 by Lt. Richard W. Dowling and a single artillery battery. In late 1863, the federals captured Brownsville, thus cutting off the lucrative trade between Texas and Matamoros. Northern troops advanced up the Rio Grande as far as Rio Grande City, and another column pushed north along the coast past Corpus Christi. But the South Texas offensive was then halted; troops were shifted from South Texas to join Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks in Louisiana. Before Banks could reach Texas, however, Richard Taylor defeated his army in the Red River campaign. Although the final major Union threat to Texas had been blunted, the war was not over in the Lone Star State. In July 1864, Rip Ford's Texans recaptured Brownsville, and in the final encounter of the Civil War routed another federal force at Palmito. But Confederate Texans were less successful in protecting frontier settlers from Indian attack. With the withdrawal of federal troops from western posts, several tribes, anxious to retaliate against the White intruders, struck back. The state's inability to defend its frontiers was exemplified in the battle of Dove Creek (January 1865), in which 140 Kickapoos migrating to Mexico from Indian Territory defeated 370 state troops. The war itself was resolved east of the Mississippi River. In the Army of Northern Virginia, thousands of Texans formed the bulk of Hood's Texas Brigade, named for its first commander, Texan John Bell Hood. Other Texas units, such as the Eighth Texas Cavalry (Terry's Texas Rangers) and Ross's Brigade, also fought in Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. Albert Sidney Johnston, former secretary of war for the Republic of Texas, was commander of the Confederate Army of the Mississippi until killed at the battle of Shiloh. In 1864, President Jefferson Davis transferred Hood from Virginia to Georgia, where he commanded Confederate armies in the closing stages of the Atlanta campaign and in the disastrous defeats at Franklin and Nashville. In July 1863, Ulysses S. Grant's capture of Vicksburg made direct communications between Texas and Richmond precarious at best. To resolve the administrative impasse, the Confederacy instituted the Trans-Mississippi Department, which encompassed Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and much of Louisiana, under the command of Edmund Kirby Smith. The department was virtually isolated from the rest of the Confederacy for the remainder of the war. After Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Smith attempted to continue the war, but, with support waning, capitulated on June 2.

Federal troops, some of whom were Black, poured into the Lone Star state. To help force the Emperor Maximilian and the French out of Mexico, some 50,000 United States soldiers were assembled near the Rio Grande in 1865–66. With the death of Maximilian, the French quiescent, and Congress having declared military rule over most of the former Confederate states in the Reconstruction Acts of 1867, the army turned to domestic matters. Texas and Louisiana were combined to form the Fifth Military District, commanded by Gen. Philip H. Sheridan. Determined to establish federal authority, Sheridan ousted newly elected Governor James W. Throckmorton and several other officials. District military commanders generals Charles Griffin and Joseph J. Reynolds used their troops to intervene in state and local elections in support of the nascent Republican party. The army also backed the Freedmen's Bureau, which helped former slaves secure labor contracts, established separate courts, and set up a rudimentary education system. Governor Edmund J. Davis's declaration of martial law in several counties and use of a State Police force (that was 40 percent Black) further infuriated Whites, as did the corruption that plagued efforts to reorganize a state militia. In such towns as Brenham, soldiers openly clashed with civilians. But an uneasy peace characterized most of the state. Conservatives tried to convince army and federal officials that the troops were needed to protect against Indian attacks rather than openly challenging the men in blue. By summer 1867 several companies had returned to the Indian frontiers. Forts Richardson, Griffin, Concho, Stockton, Davis, and Clark soon held substantial garrisons of regulars, who soon proved invaluable to travelers and local non-Indian economies.

With the election of Governor Davis, President Ulysses S. Grant declared Reconstruction in Texas to be at an end. The army's emphasis thus shifted to Indian service. In late 1868, columns from New Mexico, Indian Territory, and Kansas moved against several Southern Plains tribes. The resulting campaign brought a temporary peace, but as railroads and White settlers pushed west and the slaughter of the buffalo herds began in earnest, violence continued. Texans claimed that many tribes conducted raids into the state, then retreated to the safety of their reservations. To help patrol the frontiers, in 1874 the state legislature mustered two ranger forces: the Frontier Battalion, designed to control Indians; and the Special Force, organized to guard the Mexican border. During the early 1870s, the army stepped up its campaigns on the Llano Estacado. Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie, the most effective regular commander, routed a large Comanche village near McClellan Creek in September 1872. The Red River War, which involved troops from Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, and Indian Territory, began in summer 1874. From Fort Concho, Mackenzie delivered the most telling blow at Palo Duro Canyon on September 28, 1874. Human casualties were minimal, but Mackenzie's decision to kill nearly 1,500 captured Indian ponies helped force several tribes to surrender the following year. Farther west, several Apache groups had also resisted encroachment. After witnessing several futile pursuits of Victorio and the Apaches, Col. Benjamin H. Grierson seized upon an effective tactic in summer 1880. Rather than attempt to overtake the Indians, Grierson stationed his men at strategic waterholes throughout the Trans-Pecos. After several sharp skirmishes, Victorio withdrew across the Rio Grande, where he was killed by Mexican soldiers. Throughout the period, regulars clashed with their rivals, the Texas Rangers, over methods and effectiveness. In their efforts to punish Indian and Mexican raiders, several state and federal officers crossed over the Rio Grande. In 1873, Mackenzie destroyed several Indian villages near Remolino, about forty miles inside of Mexico. Texas Rangers splashed across the river two years later near Las Cuevas, seeking to stamp out cattle rustlers. Lt. Col. William R. Shafter led several army sorties in 1877, even as Mexican protests increased. The following year, Mackenzie and a large United States column twice engaged in long-range skirmishing with Mexican troops. The actions of Texas, United States, and Mexican military forces, the slaughter of the buffalo, the expansion of the railroads, and the westward migration of non-Indian settlers combined to destroy the military power of the Plains Indians in Texas. But the armed forces' influence was far greater than simply that of its military campaigns. Frontier posts stimulated civilian settlement, and army contracts proved a tremendous boon to local businesses and job-seekers. The state militia, organized as the Volunteer Guards upon passage of the Militia Law of 1879, provided supplemental income to another 2,000 to 3,000 guardsmen as well as a lucrative, if sometimes sporadic, source of appropriations.

About 10,000 Texans served in the Spanish-American War. In April 1898, Congress allowed soldiers in existing organized militia units to volunteer for federal service. Under this law, state troops formed the First Texas Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which sailed to Havana in late 1898. Other Texans joined assorted regular and volunteer formations such as the Rough Riders (the First United States Volunteer Cavalry), organized and trained at San Antonio and made famous by their flamboyant lieutenant colonel, Theodore Roosevelt. Texas and the military remained closely linked during the early twentieth century. Although incidents at Brownsville, Houston, Del Rio, El Paso, Waco, San Antonio, and Texarkana between Black garrisons and White and Hispanic residents were symptomatic of the racial tensions that divided American society, this relationship was generally amicable. Early Signal Corps experiments in aviation were conducted at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio. Turmoil within Mexico in 1911 led the War Department to concentrate a "Manuever Division" at San Antonio. Eighteen months later, the Second Division was mobilized at Galveston and Texas City. By 1914 other regular army forces, totaling some 12,000 men, were also stationed along the border. After Pancho (Francisco) Villa's strike into New Mexico in March 1916, President Woodrow Wilson called the national guards of Texas and Oklahoma into federal service. The president soon expanded the call-up, and by late July, 112,000 national guardsmen from fourteen states had massed along the Rio Grande. As the Mexican crisis cooled, the guardsmen were in the process of demobilizing when in April 1917 Congress declared war on Germany. Most Texas and Oklahoma national guard units formed the Thirty-sixth Infantry Division, a process formalized that fall. Texans also composed most of the Ninetieth Division; several thousand others were funneled into the Forty-second Division, the so-called "Rainbow Division," a unit that comprised men from twenty-six states. In all, the selective service registered nearly a million Texans for possible duty; of these, 197,389 were drafted or volunteered. Engaging in the patriotic fervor that swept much of the United States, Texas became a major military training center during the First World War. More than $20 million was spent constructing camps Bowie (Fort Worth), Logan (Houston), Travis (San Antonio), and MacArthur (Waco) for new recruits. Forts Sam Houston (San Antonio) and Bliss (El Paso) also underwent major expansion. Likewise, military aviation found a warm reception in the state, where Fort Worth, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Waco, and Wichita Falls housed key flight and service training centers.

Most soldiers from Texas never went abroad. However, the Thirty-sixth Division, supplemented by wartime recruiting and the draft, left for Europe in midsummer 1918. Elements of the Thirty-sixth finally saw combat, as part of the Fourth French Army, at St. Étienne and during the Aisne offensive, for which the units earned substantial accolades from an adoring press. The Forty-second Division was one of the most acclaimed American units of the war, and the Ninetieth Division, composed largely of Oklahomans and the "Texas Brigade" (the 180th Infantry Brigade), also fought in the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne operations. In all, more than 5,000 Texans died overseas.

Numerous bases, availability of land, public support for the military, and an increasingly influential congressional delegation made Texas an important military training center in World War II. The Third and Fourth armies, which oversaw basic and advanced training in several southern and western states, respectively, were headquartered at San Antonio. More than 200,000 airmen trained in Texas, which had more than fifty airfields and air stations, including naval air stations at Corpus Christi, Beeville, and Kingsville. Carswell Field, Fort Worth, was home to Air Force Training Command headquarters. Seventy camps in Texas held 50,000 prisoners of war. About 750,000 Texans (roughly 6 percent of the national total) saw military service during the war. Texas claimed 155 generals and twelve admirals, including the supreme Allied commander in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Pacific Fleet admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Col. Oveta Culp Hobby directed the Women's Army Corps; Walter Krueger commanded the United States Sixth Army. Among units that included large Texas contingents, the Thirty-sixth Infantry, including the famous "Lost Battalion," fought in Java and Italy in some of the war's bloodiest combat. The division suffered heavy casualties in an unsuccessful attempt to cross the Rapido River under enemy fire. This action, ordered by Fifth Army commander Mark Clark to support Allied landings at Anzio, led to an inconclusive congressional investigation in 1946. The First Cavalry, Second Infantry, and Ninetieth Infantry divisions saw extensive duty in the European Theater. In the Pacific campaigns were the 112th Cavalry and 103rd Infantry. In all, some 23,000 Texans lost their lives overseas. The war had a tremendous impact upon the Texas economy, in which federal and private investments brought massive industrial development. Aircraft production blossomed in Dallas-Fort Worth; shipbuilding boomed in Orange, Port Arthur, Beaumont, Houston, and Galveston. Sprawling industries along the Gulf Coast also formed the world's largest petrochemical center. Munitions plants, steel mills, and tin smelters were built, and increased demand for food, timber, and oil offered new opportunities throughout the state. With labor at a premium, half a million rural Texans moved to the cities, and women and minorities took jobs once reserved for White males.

After the war the United States retained a much larger permanent military establishment in Texas. Between the active military, the organized and inactive reserves, the national guard, and the selective service, most male Texans of eligible age experienced the military or its bureaucracy in some direct manner. Thousands of Texans served in the Korean conflict, in which native Texan Walton H. Walker held command of all United Nations ground forces from July to December 1950. During the 1960s and early 1970s, the nation's involvement in Vietnam dominated military affairs. More than 500,000 Texans saw service. In addition, several Texas-based units were transferred to South Vietnam. Fort Hood contributed the United States II Field Force Vietnam, assigned to coordinate operations of the III and IV Corps, and the 198th Infantry Brigade, which joined the Americal (Twenty-third) Division. The Forty-fourth Medical Brigade was dispatched from Fort Sam Houston. More than 2,100 Texans died in Vietnam. Texans and Texas-based forces also remained a major source of the nation's military strength through the 1980s and early 1990s. During the 1980s, Texas was second only to California as home of record for both active-duty and retired military personnel. Sprawling military complexes at San Antonio, El Paso, and Fort Hood, as well as defense manufacturing plants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, had become essential to national defense as well as the state's economy. During the Desert Shield-Desert Storm operations of 1990–91, for example, the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment and Eleventh Air Defense Artillery Brigade were dispatched to the Persian Gulf from Fort Bliss, while Fort Hood contributed the First Cavalry Division, the First Brigade of the Second Armored Division, and the XIII Corps Support Command. Texas National Guard units, which included more than 20,000 members (many of them part-time) during the early 1990s, supplemented the regular forces and were often called out to assist victims of natural disasters. In 1991 the state militia maintained 138 armories in 117 Texas cities and spent about $250 million in state and federal money.

Post-Second World War trends thus continued to emphasize the historic relationship between the armed forces and the people of Texas. Indian tribes, Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy, and the United States all resorted to warfare to resolve their perceived differences with other societies and governments. Their cultures, societies, economies, and demographic compositions were linked to things military. In sum, the influence of military affairs upon Texas history can hardly be overstated. See also INDIAN AFFAIRS , ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS.

John Francis Bannon, The Spanish Borderlands Frontier, 1513–1821 (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1970). Alwyn Barr, Texans in Revolt: The Battle for San Antonio, 1835 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990). Garna L. Christian, Black Soldiers in Jim Crow Texas, 1899–1917 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1995). Stephen L. Hardin, Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994). Elizabeth A. H. John, Storms Brewed in Other Men's Worlds: The Confrontation of Indians, Spanish, and French in the Southwest, 1540–1795 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1975). Joseph Milton Nance, After San Jacinto: The Texas-Mexican Frontier, 1836–1841 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963). James W. Pohl, The Battle of San Jacinto (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1989). William L. Richter, The Army in Texas during Reconstruction, 1865–1870 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1987). David Paul Smith, Frontier Defense in Texas, 1861–1865 (Ph.D. dissertation, North Texas State University, 1987). Robert M. Utley, Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian, 1866–1891 (New York: Macmillan, 1973). Robert L. Wagner, The Texas Army: A History of the 36th Division in the Italian Campaign (Austin, 1972). Richard P. Walker, "The Swastika and the Lone Star: Nazi Activity in Texas POW Camps," Military History of the Southwest 19 (Spring 1989). David J. Weber, New Spain's Far Northern Frontier (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1979). Ralph A. and Robert Wooster, "`Rarin' For a Fight': Texans in the Confederate Army," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 84 (April 1981). Robert Wooster, "The Army and the Politics of Expansion: Texas and the Southwestern Borderlands, 1870–1886," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 93 (October 1989). Robert Wooster, "Military Strategy in the Southwest, 1848–1860," Military History of Texas and the Southwest 15 (1979). Robert Wooster, Soldiers, Sutlers and Settlers: Garrison Life of the Texas Frontier (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1987).

  • Exploration
  • Peoples
  • French
  • Military
  • Politics and Government
  • Native American
  • Campaigns, Battles, Raids, and Massacres
Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution
  • Republic of Texas
  • Antebellum Texas

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

Robert Wooster, “Military History,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 16, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1995
December 3, 2020