The Twenty-Sixth Texas Cavalry Regiment operated in the Trans-Mississippi Theater during the American Civil War and was organized by the augmentation of the Seventh Texas Cavalry Battalion and the mustering of volunteers from southeast Texas. It saw action along the Texas coast and in the Red River Campaign, where the regiment acted in concert with other Confederate units to deny Union forces access to Texas. Under Col. Xavier Blanchard Debray, the Twenty-Sixth gained the reputation as one of the best-disciplined units in the Confederate army.
One of the first concerns of Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn, Confederate Military Commander of the District of Texas from April to September 1861, was the safety of the Texas coast from Union incursion or invasion. In the summer of 1861 he petitioned the governor for six companies of cavalry to be posted at Galveston for patrolling the coastal areas. Seven companies of volunteers were mustered from Caldwell, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Leon, Liberty, Montgomery, and Washington counties. In August, the newly-appointed Commandant of the District of Texas, Gen. Paul O. Hébert, recognized the completion of this regiment and placed it under the interim command of Maj. Xavier Blanchard Debray.
Xavier Blanchard Debray was a forty-two-year-old immigrant from France, having come to Texas in 1852. He had attended the French Military Academy of St. Cyr, had served in the French diplomatic service, and had become a prominent citizen of San Antonio. Following the outbreak of hostilities he had served as aide-de-camp to Gov. Edward Clark, and been commissioned as a major in the Second Texas Infantry. In addition to Debray, the following officers commanded companies in the new regiment: Captains John J. Myers, (Caldwell County), Riordan (Harris County), McGreal (Harris and Galveston counties), McMahan (Galveston and Leon counties), George W. Owens (Montgomery and Washington counties), Menard, (Galveston and Liberty counties), and Atchison (Fort Bend County). Placed under the overall command of Col. Samuel Boyer Davis as Davis's Mounted Battalion, the companies were stationed on Galveston Island for instruction and discipline.
In January 1862 three more companies were raised from Montgomery, Grimes, and Harris counties and placed under the command of Captains DuPree, Whitehead, and Hare. Major Debray was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and Captain Myers was promoted to major and designated second-in-command. The men complained that they had been denied the customary right to select their own commander. Col. Davis resigned the post, and the troop elected Xavier Debray, now a colonel, in March 1862, and the regiment was designated as the Twenty-Sixth Regiment of Texas Cavalry. Debray described his men as "young, robust, enthusiastic, well mounted, well disciplined and drilled."
The regiment was requested to march to Mississippi to join General Van Dorn, but this plan was interrupted by the capture of New Orleans by Federal forces. Instead they were instructed to reinforce Gen. Henry H. Sibley in Arizona-New Mexico. When Sibley was forced to fall back to San Antonio, the troops set up an encampment on the San Bernard River. Col. Debray constantly drilled his troops at this location, with the men often in dress uniforms and with musical accompaniment. During this period the regiment acquired the discipline and polish that became its trademark. Curious citizens regularly attended the regiment’s exercises, and according to Debray, "enjoyed the sight as they would a circus." The regiment became known as "Debray's Mounted Riflemen, "but because of the public's curiosity they enjoyed referring to themselves as "The Menagerie."
Called to patrol the coast, the troop engaged and captured several landing parties from the Union blockade sent ashore in search of fresh food. When Union ships took possession of Galveston Bay, the regiment joined in the protection of the city of Galveston. In the spring of 1864, 40,000 Union forces under Gen. Nathaniel Prentiss Banks sought to invade Texas by way of the Red River. Pressed into service under Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor in what became known as the Red River Campaign, the regiment distinguished itself in several engagements in northwestern Louisiana and received special recognition in the battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill.
Late in the campaign they were assigned to duty in the Atchafalaya swamps and, reduced by malaria and near starvation, were forced to requisition supplies from the inhabitants to survive. Depleted, the campaign at its close, they were ordered to return to Texas. They had reached the vicinity of Richmond when they learned of the Confederate surrender. Instead of disbanding, the Twenty-sixth chose to remain intact and protected Houston from marauding bands plundering supplies. They were eventually discharged and given leave to return in good order to their homes. In his memoirs of the war, Colonel Debray characterized the regiment as "true and loyal…steady under fire, impetuous in attack, cool and defiant in retreat…" and "remarked for its good discipline and instruction."