Twiggs, David Emanuel (1790–1862)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer and David Paul Smith

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: October 1, 1995

David Emanuel Twiggs, United States commander of the Department of Texas during the secession crisis, son of Gen. John and Ruth (Emanuel) Twiggs, was born in Richmond County, Georgia, in 1790. His long career of military service began with his appointment as captain in the Eighth United States Infantry in March 1812. He was promoted to major in 1825, lieutenant colonel in 1831, and colonel of the Second Dragoons in 1836. During the Mexican War he served ably under Zachary Taylor at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma and was promoted to brigadier general. After the capture of Monterrey he was brevetted a major general for gallantry, for which Congress voted him a sword and gold scabbard. He was later transferred to Veracruz and served under Winfield Scott in the campaign to capture Mexico City. After the war Twiggs served in various departmental commands until he assumed authority at the Department of Texas in 1857, headquartered in San Antonio. He was absent on sick leave from his command for most of 1860, replaced temporarily by Robert E. Lee, but he returned to San Antonio and resumed command on December 13, 1860, in the midst of the secession uproar. Certain, after Lincoln's election, that the Union would be dissolved, he resolved never to fire upon American citizens. As a strong advocate of state's rights, he repeatedly asked Washington for instructions, stating that he did not assume that the government desired him to carry on civil war in Texas and that he consequently would turn over the army property in his department to the government of the state after Texas seceded. On January 13 he requested that he be relieved of command, but orders to that effect were not issued until January 28, and then the necessary papers were sent by mail rather than courier.

On February 1, 1861, the state Secession Convention adopted an ordinance of secession, and three days later appointed commissioners to confer with Twiggs at his San Antonio headquarters. This committee was empowered to demand, "in the name of the people of the State of Texas," those United States arms, stores, and munitions under his control. Should Twiggs decline to surrender the government property to the commissioners, Benjamin McCulloch was commissioned to take the place by force. On February 8 the commissioners at San Antonio reported that Twiggs, momentarily expecting the arrival of his replacement, was willing to maintain his troops in their quarters until March 2 or until he was relieved. If, however, the state should ratify its secession ordinance before that time, he would "deliver all up" to the committee. He "expressed a fixed determination," however, to march the troops under his command out of San Antonio under arms and with all of their transportation facilities and extra clothing. The commissioners sent Samuel A. Maverick to obtain Twiggs's promise in writing. When Twiggs refused this demand, the commissioners sent a rider to McCulloch with orders that he "bring as large a force as he may deem necessary, and as soon as possible to San Antonio." Confronted with a situation in which he could not reconcile his duties as a soldier with his belief in the state's right of secession, Twiggs appointed a military commission on February 9 to meet the commissioners. The question of what his men could take with them when they evacuated Texas was close to settlement when, on February 15, Twiggs received the order relieving him of command. Col. Carlos Adolphus Waite of the First Infantry, next senior officer in the department, was named his successor. Waite, a New Yorker, was a strong Unionist, and the Texans reasoned that he would not surrender the federal property. The committee ordered McCulloch to move on San Antonio. If Twiggs's command "should express a desire to depart the country peaceably," McCulloch was instructed to allow them to do so under honorable terms.

McCulloch posted his men on the surrounding rooftops so as to command the buildings occupied by federal troops and picketed Twiggs's quarters, a mile outside of town, to prevent the federal commander from communicating with his forces in San Antonio. Near 7:00 A.M., McCulloch demanded the surrender of the troops in San Antonio. Without firing a shot, they capitulated. In the meantime, Twiggs was placed under arrest and escorted into San Antonio. There the commissioners required him "to deliver up all military posts and public property held by or under [his] control." Although willing enough to surrender the other public property, Twiggs repeatedly assured Maverick and his fellow commissioners Thomas Jefferson Devine and Philip Noland Luckett that "he would die before he would permit his men to be disgraced by a surrender of their arms." Wishing to avoid a bloody confrontation, the commissioners were willing to compromise on that issue. After "a stormy conference between the department commander and the commissioners," Twiggs agreed that the 160 United States soldiers in San Antonio would surrender all public property, an inventory estimated at $1.3 million in value. Twiggs and the commissioners further agreed that all forts in Texas would be turned over to Texas state troops, and their garrisons were to march from Texas by way of the coast.

Twiggs's unwillingness to fire upon Texans in the streets of their own cities was not appreciated in the North. What he viewed as an attempt to avoid bloodshed, most Unionists saw as a part of a Southern conspiracy for which Twiggs was mercilessly vilified. He was dismissed from federal service by order of President James Buchanan on March 1, 1861. On May 22 he was commissioned as the senior major general in the Confederate States Army and assigned to command the District of Louisiana, with headquarters in New Orleans. Age and infirmities soon compelled his virtual retirement, however, and he died near Augusta, Georgia, on July 15, 1862. He is buried near his birthplace in Richmond County, Georgia. His first wife, Elizabeth (Hunter), preceded him in death, but his second, a Mrs. Hunt of New Orleans, survived him as did his two children.

J. J. Bowden, The Exodus of Federal Forces from Texas, 1861 (Austin: Eakin Press, 1986). Dictionary of American Biography. Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (2 vols., Washington: GPO, 1903; rpt., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965). Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (4 vols., New York: Yoseloff, 1956). Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959).

Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Civil War

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

Thomas W. Cutrer and David Paul Smith, “Twiggs, David Emanuel,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 02, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995

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