Col. Philip N. Luckett organized the Third Texas Infantry into Confederate service in the summer of 1861. The men of the Third came largely from Central Texas, specifically Bexar, Gillespie, San Patricio, and Travis counties. As these counties were heavily populated with recent German immigrants and persons of Mexican descent, a large number of the regiment's men were foreign-born. Luckett, who served as the Third's commander for much of the war, had been a surgeon in John "Rip" Ford's company of Texas Rangers. Prior to the war, Luckett was the representative for Nueces and Webb counties at the Texas Secession Convention. His field officers included Augustus Buchel, Edward F. Gray, and John H. Kampmann.
The Third Texas Infantry saw little action during the course of the war. This was due to the regiment's assignment to the relatively peaceful Department of Texas from 1861 until March 1864. They began their duty in San Antonio from 1861 through 1862. In January 1863 the regiment proceeded to Brownsville where they protected cotton shipments and guarded against raids from Mexico. On May 14, the regiment left Brownsville for Galveston. In a stop at Houston, the city's residents remarked that the Third was "the best drilled regiment in the state."
The close proximity of these posts to Mexico afforded an opportunity for Spanish-speaking soldiers to desert with little fear of being apprehended.
In March 1864 the Third was reassigned to the District of Arkansas as part of William R. Scurry's Brigade in Walker's Texas Division. Stationed along the lower Brazos and San Bernard rivers, the Third occupied much of its time firing at Union gunboats along the rivers. The regiment participated in the Red River campaign and fought in the battle of Jenkins Ferry on April 30, 1864. This appears to have been the only combat the regiment saw during the war.
Near the end of the war, the Third was ordered to Hempstead, Texas, where the regiment was disbanded, and the troops returned to their homes. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith officially surrendered the regiment at Galveston on May 26, 1865.
Throughout the war morale was low, men verged on mutiny, and desertion was frequent. In 1861 alone, fourteen soldiers of one company crossed into Mexico. Many Confederates distrusted Germans because of sympathy for the Union and opposition to slavery in the Texas Hill Country. Those of Mexican descent were targeted as being seditious and lazy, however many Mexican soldiers served with bravery—including Kentuckian Manuel Yturri, who rose to the rank of captain during the war.
Colonel Luckett, who was promoted to brigadier general in 1863, fled to Mexico at the end of the war and returned only to die in 1869. In addition to Luckett, a number of prominent individuals served in the Third Infantry. Augustus Buchel, a lieutenant colonel in the Third, was a Hessian soldier who fought in the Carlist War in Spain and was knighted by Queen Maria Christina for his bravery in battle. He fought in the Turkish army and served in the Mexican War after arriving in Texas in 1845. He died while attached to a different regiment at Pleasant Hill. Second Lt. William Neale was a mayor of Brownsville before the war and was reelected to this position shortly after returning from service in the Third. Other prominent members of the regiment included banker and rancher Charles Armand Schreiner and Presbyterian minister Hiram Chamberlain.