Texas Military Forces Historical Sketch

1880 to 1897

Brigadier General W. H. King, in his Adjutant General's report of 1882, made the following recommendations in order to increase the efficiency of the militia system:

"Some important additions to, and modifications of, the present militia law would be a necessary preliminary step to securing anything like an efficient militia system, and without essaying a full elaboration of the subject, I respectfully suggest a plan somewhat after the following order: Authorize and require an enrollment of the entire militia once every two years; confine the active militia, or volunteer guards, to a definite number of companies and regiments -- infantry, cavalry and artillery all being represented -- and unite them all into one division, composed of not more than four nor less than two brigades, with one Major General for the entire State, and one Brigadier General for each brigade, and such staff for each as may be necessary for an active, intelligent performance of their duties."

He also recommended one encampment a year, not less than three nor more than five days; inspections of units and reports, and modification of the law so that military companies could not be called out by subordinate officials but only by the Governor, with pay.

In another report later in the same year, he stated:

"It is with regret that I have to state that, in connection with the active militia or volunteer guards, no evidences of improvement of or increased efficiency have been found during the year, but, on the contrary, carelessness, indifference and an almost hopeless subsidence of all military spirit seem to prevail with these organizations throughout the State. I cannot believe that this comes from an absence of military ardor and enthusiasm, but arises from a lack of substantial recognition by the legislature of all efforts among our people to organize and keep up an efficient system of active militia."

Another commentary on the condition of the militia and the attitude of the legislature towards the militia was contained Burke's Texas Almanac for 1882, as follows:

"Two military conventions have been held in this city during the sessions of the 16th and 17th legislatures, the object being to ask assistance from the State -- only such assistance as would keep the organizations intact. This was refused with a sneer. Is it any wonder, then, that out of 50 uniformed companies only 12 have been sent up to the Adjutant General's office the report required by law? Every man in Texas, between certain ages, with a few exceptions, is required to perform certain military duty. In cases of riot or any other unusual disturbance of the public peace, the militia of the State is subject to the orders of the sheriff or district judge. Instances are on record where companies have been called out to preserve the peace and protect lives and property, and when their bill, as allowed by the statutes, was presented, it has been refused. It is not surprising that . . . indifference should be so manifest."

The Almanac went on to report that four companies had been organized in 1882 and six had been disbanded.

Although no help was forthcoming from the legislature, the militia received a spurt in activity and drew new interest from the young through competitive drilling. In remarking on the new stimulant to the militia movement, Adjutant General W. H. King in 1884 stated:

"The general condition of the active militia organizations of the State is about what it was at the period of my last annual report, except such improvement in tone, and such increase in military pride and spirit, as originated from the convocation and competitive drilling at the city of Houston, in this State, in May last, of a number of fine volunteer companies of Texas, and several other states."

Five companies were disbanded in that year and eight were organized.

Besides failing to pay armory and training expenses for the militia companies, the legislature made no provisions for annual summer encampments. Civic-minded citizens, though, contributed to the encampments of the companies. General King in 1886 commented on this phase of the development of the militia when he reported to the Governor:

"Though the State makes no provision whatever for bringing the active militia into camps of instruction, the citizens of a number of places in the State have contributed from time to time to this end, and at San Antonio and Lampasas last year, and at Lampasas and Galveston this year, a number of companies were brought together without cost to the State, and had the advantage of meeting some of the higher State officials, their own general and field officers and many of their comrades, besides regulars, and visiting militiamen from other states, and also gained some appreciable knowledge of important field and camp duties pertaining to a soldier's life."

So many new companies were added to the Texas Volunteer Guard, that on October 15, 1886, it was reorganized. It was then composed in the form of a division, with five regiments of Infantry (First through Fifth), the Dallas Rifle Company attached to the Fourth Regiment, the Galveston Artillery Battalion, First Regiment Cavalry and Colored Infantry Battalion. Following an inspection tour of the Guard, R. P. Smythe, Colonel and Aide de Camp, reported some units in good shape and recommended that others be disbanded, adding that some officers knew nothing about drill.

Despite this increase in interest and added enrollment of the Guard, the authorities were finding it difficult to win over the public to the militia, as is evidenced by a statement of General King in 1888:

"There is a disposition shown by some persons to hold the volunteer forces of our State and of all the states, in a sort of genteel contempt, and to disapprove of all efforts to make this force what the law and the constitution contemplates that it should be -- an efficient and safe power upon which to rely in times of public tumults."

More arms and accoutrements were received through an increased appropriation for militia purpose by Congress.

In 1892, Adjutant General W. H. Mabry recommended that the Guard be relieved of some of its expenses, but his major recommendations was in regards to a permanent encampment ground near Austin. This site had been offered to the State for that purpose, and General Mabry recommended that it be accepted, that 40 more acres be purchased to make room for additional drill fields, the sinking of artesian wells on the camp grounds and a suitable building for storage of camp equipage. He also suggested the organization of a new Navy Militia of Texas for coast defense.

The camp site was accepted and this military reservation became known as "Camp Mabry." The law made it mandatory to hold an annual encampment of all the troops, and the attendance of the Guard was made compulsory. Five companies were disbanded for failure to attend encampment at Hyde Park, near Austin. General Mabry inaugurated a compulsory system of examination of the officers and non-commissioned officers of the Volunteer Guards to bring "greater efficiency and higher intelligence to the service."

During this period, the frontier force was very active in keeping law and order in Texas. Day in and day out, this force was under the command of the Adjutant General. Through lack of appropriations, it was reduced in strength from time to time but its fine service was continued. Typical of the duties it performed is the report of the Adjutant General on the activities of the frontier force during 1895-96. He state that the force had traveled in scouting 173,381 miles, arrested 676 criminals, returned 2,856 head of stolen stock to their owners, assisted the civil authorities 162 times. and had guarded jails 13 times.

The Adjutant General's report of 1896 showed that the Texas Volunteer Guard had been reduced for lack of proper encouragement, from 64 companies, with 3,000 officers and enlisted men, on December 31, 1894, to 48 companies, with an aggregate of 215 officers and 2,246 enlisted men on December 31, 1896. The average age of the men was 24 years.

During a voluntary encampment, attended by 19 companies of infantry, two troops of cavalry and two regimental bands, at Tyler, Texas, the companies were scored on discipline, cleanliness of quarters and rounds, conditions of arms, soldierly bearing, obedience to orders, etc. All companies and bands scoring over 50 points were entitled to 35 suits of uniforms. Twenty out of 23 of the units were over the 50 mark, three below.

The Texas Volunteer Guard was in such a state of organization and development as the days of the Spanish-American War approached. Regardless of the attitude of the legislature and the public, the Guard was to prove once again its value in the days to come.

Previous Article | History Menu | Next Article