Parsons's Brigade

By: Anne J. Bailey

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: May 1, 1995

Parsons's Brigade, a Confederate brigade during the Civil War, was organized in the autumn of 1862 to serve as cavalry for the Army of the Trans-Mississippi then forming in Arkansas. For much of the war the brigade was commanded by Col. William Henry Parsons, who had raised the Twelfth Texas Cavalry Regiment in the summer of 1861. In late 1862, however, Brig. Gen. James M. Hayes briefly commanded the brigade, in 1863 Col. George W. Carter led part of the regiments, in 1864 Brig. Gen. William Steele assumed command, and in 1865 Parsons regained total control. Because the force had been organized under Colonel Parsons, served under him in 1863, and was again under him at the end of the war, it was generally known as Parsons's Brigade. The permanent components of the brigade were Parsons's Twelfth Texas Cavalry Regiment, Nathaniel Macon Burford's Nineteenth Texas Cavalry Regiment, George Washington Carter's Twenty-first Texas Cavalry Regiment, Charles Leroy Morgan's Texas Battalion, and Joseph H. Pratt's Tenth Texas Field Battery.

In fall 1862 the brigade served as the cavalry for the Army of the Trans-Mississippi in eastern Arkansas and monitored Union troop movements around the federal fort at Helena. In July 1862, before formation of the brigade, Parsons's Twelfth engaged federal troops near Cotton Plant, Arkansas, as Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis's Army of the Southwest marched through Arkansas. As a result of the fine leadership qualities Parsons displayed during this campaign, he received authorization to organize a brigade. By October the brigade consisted of the Twelfth, Nineteenth, and Twenty-first Texas Cavalry regiments along with an Arkansas battalion (later replaced by Morgan's Texas Battalion) and Pratt's Battery. Early in 1863 the Confederate hierarchy at Little Rock detached part of the regiments and placed Colonel Carter over the Nineteenth Texas, Twenty-first Texas, Morgan's Battalion, and Pratt's Battery. These Texans, designated Carter's Brigade, joined Maj. Gen. John S. Marmaduke on his second raid into Missouri in April. Carter, a former Methodist preacher, had originally organized a brigade of Texas Lancers (his own Twenty-first, Franklin C. Wilkes's Twenty-fourth, and Clayton C. Gillespie's Twenty-fifth Texas Cavalry regiments). But Carter's Lancers broke up after reaching Arkansas, and the Twenty-first Texas joined Parsons's Brigade. Colonel Carter's desire to regain command of a brigade, however, caused problems throughout the war.

In June 1863 Parsons took the Twelfth Texas to Louisiana, where he was joined by the Nineteenth Texas and part of the Pratt's Battery under Isaac R. Clare. Parsons's men raided Union positions along the west bank of the Mississippi during the federal campaign against Vicksburg. Although Confederate efforts to aid the Vicksburg defenders from the Louisiana shore failed, Parsons's raid did result in the destruction or capture of numerous federal supplies. While Parsons was in Louisiana with part of the brigade, Colonel Carter remained in command of the rest in Arkansas. Some troops from Carter's Brigade took part in the battle for Little Rock in September 1863 and an attack upon Pine Bluff in October. When all of the regiments were reunited in Arkansas in late 1863, there was a problem over which man should command. To avoid a disagreement and to subsist men and horses, the government assigned the force to the Confederate Bureau of Conscription. Each company was ordered to its home county in Texas to arrest deserters and draft evaders.

Early in 1864 the regiments came together again when Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks's federal columns began to move up the Red River toward Shreveport. Although the brigade did not join Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor's Confederate Army in time to take part in the battles at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, they did accompany Brig. Gen. Thomas Green on the attack upon part of David D. Porter's fleet at Blair's Landing, on April 12, 1864. Parsons held field command in this unsuccessful attempt to cripple the federal fleet, and in the midst of battle General Green was killed by enemy artillery fire. During the campaign to push the retreating federal army down the Red River, Brig. Gen. William Steele assumed command of the brigade, and it became part of Maj. Gen. John Wharton's cavalry division. Both Carter and Parsons at times had field command of the troops during the Red River campaign. The final battle of the campaign occurred at Yellow Bayou on May 18, 1864, and in this battle Parsons's Brigade suffered its greatest loss. An incomplete report of casualties from Yellow Bayou indicated twelve killed, sixty-seven wounded, and two missing. From the entire Red River Campaign, Parsons counted twenty-nine killed and 159 wounded.

Subsequently, the Texans returned to southern Arkansas. For the remainder of the year they monitored federal troop movements along the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. But Confederate authorities began to fear a possible attack along the Texas coast and in January 1865 ordered the brigade to Texas. When the troops were reorganized in the spring of 1865, Colonel Parsons regained command of all but Carter's Regiment. Col. Edward J. Gurley's Thirtieth Texas Cavalry replaced the Twenty-first Texas in Parsons's Brigade, and the Twenty-first Texas joined Walter P. Lane's Brigade. The war ended for the men under Parsons on May 20, 1865, at the Central Texas settlement of Sterling, when Colonel Parsons informed his men that they could return home.

During the Civil War Parsons's Brigade earned the reputation as one of the finest mounted units serving in the Trans-Mississippi Department. The brigade took part in almost fifty battles, although most were too small to rate a name, and the men were responsible for watching federal operations from Memphis to Vicksburg. For three years they provided outposts and scouts for the army headquartered first at Little Rock and later at Shreveport. The brigade rarely mustered in full at any single place; instead, the troops generally fought by detachments or regiments. Much of the brigade's well-deserved reputation resulted from the outstanding fighting record of the Twelfth Texas Cavalry Regiment and the leadership of Colonel Parsons.

John Q. Anderson, ed., Campaigning with Parsons' Texas Cavalry Brigade, CSA (Hillsboro, Texas: Hill Junior College Press, 1967). Anne J. Bailey, Between the Enemy and Texas: Parsons's Texas Cavalry in the Civil War (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1989). Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Texas, National Archives and Record Service, Washington. B. P. Gallaway, The Ragged Rebel: A Common Soldier in W. H. Parsons' Texas Cavalry, 1861–1865 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988). William Heartsill, Fourteen Hundred and 91 Days in the Confederate Army (Marshall, Texas, 1876; rpt., Wilmington, North Carolina: Broadfoot, 1987). George H. Hogan, "Parsons' Brigade of Texas Cavalry," Confederate Veteran 33 (January 1925). Henry L. Ingram, Civil War Letters of George W. and Martha F. Ingram, 1861–1865 (College Station, Texas, 1923). Ludwell H. Johnson, Red River Campaign: Politics and Cotton in the Civil War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1958). A Memorial and Biographical History of Johnson and Hill Counties (Chicago: Lewis, 1892). Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies (Washington: Department of the Navy, 1894–1927). Parsons' Texas Cavalry Brigade Association, A Brief and Condensed History of Parsons' Texas Cavalry Brigade (Waxahachie, Texas: Flemister, 1892; rpt., Waco: Morrison, 1962). Johnette Highsmith Ray, ed., "Civil War Letters from Parsons' Texas Cavalry Brigade," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 69 (October 1965). W. T. Shaw, "The Red River Campaign," Confederate Veteran 25 (March 1917). William Martin Walton, An Epitome of My Life: Civil War Reminiscences by Buck Walton (Austin: Waterloo, 1965). The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Mamie Yeary, Reminiscences of the Boys in Gray (McGregor, Texas, 1912; rpt., Dayton, Ohio: Morningside, 1986).

Time Periods:
  • Civil War

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

Anne J. Bailey, “Parsons's Brigade,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 17, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995

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