The Sixth Texas Cavalry was organized and mustered into Confederate service at Dallas on September 6, 1861. Ten companies of volunteers were brought into the service of the Confederate states at Camp Bartow in Dallas County. The regiment totaled about 1,150 men. Col. Barton Warren Stone, Jr., a Dallas attorney, had the responsibility of recruiting a regiment of volunteer cavalrymen from seven North Texas counties: Dallas, Kaufman, Henderson, Collin, Fannin, Grayson, and Van Zandt. Also included in the Sixth Texas Cavalry was Throckmorton's Company of Mounted Riflemen, a Texas State Militia unit from Collin County. They became Company K, and James W. Throckmorton, a lawyer from McKinney, was elected captain. All volunteers were required to serve for twelve months until the Conscription Act required them to be committed for the duration of the war.
Some of the companies were made up as follows: A, commanded by Capt. A. J. Hardin, raised from Kaufman County; B, the "Rockwall Cavalry," mostly from Kaufman County and commanded by John Summerfield Griffith; C, raised in Dallas County and commanded by Capt. Fayette Smith; D, composed primarily of men from Collin County who had previously served in Capt. Thomas H. Bowen's Mantua Company of Mounted Volunteers; E, also known as the "Texas Wide Awakes," commanded by Capt. Jack Wharton, and composed of men from Van Zandt County; F, known as the "Lancaster Guard," from Dallas County, commanded by Capt. Robert S. Guy; G, recruited from McLennan County, commanded by Capt. Peter F. Ross (older brother of eventual regiment leader Lawrence Sullivan "Sul" Ross); H, commanded by Capt. Robert M. White and organized in Bell County; I, known as the "Titus Grays," recruited from Henderson County with Henry W. Bridges as captain; and K, led by Capt. James W. Throckmorton and composed of men from Collin County.
In late November 1861 the Sixth Texas Cavalry was ordered to Fort Smith, Arkansas, to join Gen. Ben McCulloch's Army of the West, which was awaiting the arrival of Gen. Sterling Price and his Missouri state troops. Before beginning the march, the regiment was divided into three divisions with Maj. "Sul" Ross commanding the first, Lt. Col. John S. Griffith commanding the second, and Col. Warren Stone commanding the third. Over its career, the Sixth Texas Cavalry participated in more than eighty-five various skirmishes, engagements, and battles. These included Pea Ridge, Holly Springs, the Atlanta campaign and siege, and John Bell Hood's operations in northern Georgia and Alabama. The first engagement for the Sixth came on December 26, 1861, in Chustenahlah, Indian Territory, on Battle Creek. Although the fight was short, thirteen men were killed and thirty more injured. At this point, the Sixth Texas Cavalry was combined with the Third and the Ninth under Gen. James McIntosh.
Before the battle of Pea Ridge (or Elkhorn Tavern, fought between March 6–8, 1862) the Sixth was absorbed into the army of Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn. The Confederate forces included 16,000 men and 800 Cherokees against a Union force of 10,250. This encounter claimed the lives of both Gen. Ben McCulloch and Gen. James McIntosh, leaving the Sixth Texas Cavalry and the Army of the West without a commanding officer. Soon after the battle, the Sixth Texas Cavalry was sent to help Gen. Pierre G. T. Beauregard's men in Tennessee at Shiloh. On April 15, 1862, they were dismounted and their horses sent back to Texas. They were now a dismounted cavalry with the strength of 935 men. They were also too late in helping General Beauregard, as the battle at Shiloh was over before they arrived.
After the Conscription Act of April 16, 1862, the Sixth Texas Cavalry was temporarily put under the command of the unpopular Col. Barton Warren Stone, Jr., who resigned and returned to Texas after not being promoted to brigadier general. During this time, disease ravaged the lines of the Sixth, with forty-one deaths reported in Arkansas and sixty-two in Mississippi. Due to the successes of Ross and his mounted troops in slipping behind enemy lines and providing vital information, only four months after the Sixth Texas Cavalry was dismounted, detailing parties from each regiment were to return to Texas and bring horses back to Mississippi. Before their horses would arrive, the Sixth was involved in the battle of Corinth on October 3–4, 1862. The Sixth suffered heavy losses, including some men taken prisoner.
The Sixth Texas Cavalry, along with the Third and the Twenty-Seventh, were remounted in November 1862 and organized into the Texas Cavalry Brigade. The Ninth joined later for the Holly Springs raid. They were under the command of General Van Dorn, but it was Colonel Griffith of the Sixth Texas Cavalry who conceived of the plan to raid Holly Springs in December 1862. This was a costly surprise to General Grant and his operations in Mississippi and a great morale boost for the Confederacy. Holly Springs was captured, the Federal Army fell back to Memphis, and the Texans helped themselves to some much needed supplies. The rebels destroyed an estimated $1.5 million worth of military stores being stockpiled for General Grant's advance on Vicksburg, and they also took 2,800 to 3,000 soldiers prisoner. The success at Holly Springs set the pattern for later Confederate cavalry attacks in the west.
By January 1862 the Sixth headed for Middle Tennessee and was joined by its immensely popular commanding officer, Col. Sul Ross. Ross and his Sixth Texas Cavalry were a part of Col. John W. Whitfield's Brigade, one of five brigades under the command of Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn. After the untimely death of General Van Dorn on May 7, 1863, the cavalry corps was broken up, and John Whitfield was promoted to brigadier general and placed in command of the Texas Cavalry Brigade, including the Third, Sixth, Ninth, and the Twenty-seventh regiments. After Whitfield's health deteriorated, Sul Ross of the Sixth Texas Cavalry was appointed brigade commander. He was appointed brigadier general in December 1863.
During the Atlanta campaign, the Sixth spent 112 days under fire and participated in eighty-six engagements as part of Ross's Brigade. After the fall of Atlanta, the Texans marched with John Bell Hood's troops into Tennessee; they served as rear guards, raided Union supply trains and battled Federal cavalry. In the withdrawal from Nashville, they were one of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest's two brigades covering the Confederate retreat. At this point, dissension was rife in the brigade, and desertions occurred frequently. When the brigade surrendered on May 4, 1865, at Jackson, Mississippi, General Ross was in Texas attempting to recruit replacements for the depleted ranks.
The Sixth Texas Cavalry was paroled in Jackson, Mississippi, in mid-May 1865. At the time of surrender, there were only 160 men left from Ross's Brigade. Col. Jack Wharton, the commander of the Sixth Texas Cavalry at the time of surrender, signed the oath. Thus, the remaining men of the Sixth Texas Cavalry, returning home via the USS E.H. Fairchild, disembarked at Natchitoches, Louisiana, and made their way back to Texas.