John Austin Wharton, Confederate major-general, the son of Sarah Ann (Groce) and William Harris Wharton, was born near Nashville, Tennessee, on July 3, 1828. Wharton was brought to Galveston as an infant and spent his early years on a Brazoria County plantation. At the age of eight he was sent to the home of his uncle, Leonard W. Groce, for instruction under a Mr. Deans from Boston, who later founded a school at Galveston which Wharton attended until he was fifteen. From 1846 to 1850 Wharton attended South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina), where he served as a commander in the student cadet corps. In 1848 he married Eliza Penelope Johnson, daughter of David Johnson, the governor of South Carolina. Following college, Wharton returned to Texas and studied law with former United States Senator William Preston, Jack Harris, and Elisha M. Pease, all well-known and successful lawyers. After he was licensed to practice, Wharton established the firm of Wharton and Terry with Clint Terry at Brazoria. In 1860 Wharton served as a Breckinridge presidential elector and later represented Brazoria County at the state Secession Convention, voting for secession. In addition to his career in law and politics, Wharton was also a planter of considerable means. The 1860 tax roll for Brazoria County showed that he owned $167,004 of taxable property, including 135 slaves. When the war began Wharton was elected captain of Company B, Eighth Texas Cavalry, better known as Terry's Texas Rangers. He rose to command the regiment after the deaths of Col. Benjamin F. Terry and Lt. Col. Thomas S. Lubbock. Wharton led his troop with distinction at the battle of Shiloh, where he was wounded. His leadership in the course of Gen. Braxton Bragg's 1862 Kentucky invasion earned him a promotion to the rank of brigadier general on November 18, 1862. His actions at the battle of Chickamauga in the fall of 1863 earned him another promotion, to the rank of major general. In February 1864 the general was transferred to Richard Taylor's Trans-Mississippi Department in Louisiana. Upon his arrival he was assigned to lead the cavalry and took part in the closing scenes of the Red River campaign. On April 6, 1865, while visiting Gen. John B. Magruder's headquarters at the Fannin Hotel in Houston, Wharton was killed by fellow officer George W. Baylor in a personal quarrel that grew out of "an unpleasant misunderstanding over military matters." Even though Wharton was found to have been unarmed, Baylor was acquitted of murder charges in 1868. Wharton was originally buried at Hempstead but was later moved to the State Cemetery in Austin.
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Clement Anselm Evans, ed., Confederate Military History (Atlanta: Confederate Publishing, 1899; extended ed., Wilmington, North Carolina: Broadfoot, 1987–89). Patricia L. Faust, ed., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper and Row, 1986). Leonidas B. Giles, Terry's Texas Rangers (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1911). Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959). Marcus J. Wright, comp., and Harold B. Simpson, ed., Texas in the War, 1861–1865 (Hillsboro, Texas: Hill Junior College Press, 1965).
Regimental and Staff Officers
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Robert Maberry Jr.,
“Wharton, John Austin,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 25, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
August 26, 2020
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