Archive of Nineteenth-Century Life in Southeast Texas
German—Texana—Civil War—An Embattled Steamboat—
Ornate Ship Register—Rare Confederate Imprint
126. [CIVIL WAR]. [KOPKE-GRIPON FAMILY ARCHIVES]. Approximately 140 items chronicling the lives of two Texas families (and a steamboat). The archive contains personal and business correspondence, legal and other documents, photographs, artifacts, and other materials by and about Charles H. and Catharina Kopke, Theodore and Lucretia Gripon, and their children and grandchildren, as well as Theodore’s steamboats Cora I and Cora II. The earliest letter is dated 1844 and concerns family property in Maine; the last is dated 1937 and concerns family property in Sabine Pass, Texas. Most of the material is dated from about 1860 to 1900.
The Kopkes emigrated from Schleswig-Holstein to San Felipe, Texas, a decade before the Civil War. Charles H. Kopke, the father, arrived in 1848 and, after some trials, was able to bring his wife, Catharina, and two sons over sometime around 1852. A third son, Louis, was born in 1856 in San Felipe, Texas.
The older sons, Heinrich F. Kopke and Charles A. Kopke, served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and were stationed in Texas and Louisiana. The archive contains over twenty wartime letters between the sons and their parents at home. The letters are in German, but translations are present for almost all of them. It may well be that Heinrich died in the war. His last letter is dated June 23, 1863, from Berwick City, Louisiana, during what came to be called the Battle of Port Hudson, the longest siege battle in American history (May 21-July 9, 1863). He is not buried in the San Felipe de Austin Cemetery with his parents and brother Charles. Charles’ last letter is dated July 29, 1864, from Galveston Island.
One particularly interesting letter is Heinrich’s last, written from Berwick City, Louisiana, where his regiment had just arrived. Heinrich describes a battle on the Tuesday and Wednesday previous in which 300 Confederate soldiers defeated a force of 1100 Yankees and 2000 Blacks under General Banks (the Yanks were caught sleeping in their tents), capturing all their provisions and supplies, including two thousand barrels of flour, one hundred fifty thousand pounds of coffee, bacon, potatoes, dried peas, apples, pickles, shoes, and blue Yankee clothing ten times better than the Confederate gray material. Heinrich anticipates a counterattack in the next few days because the Yanks will want their supplies back. He writes that the Yankees bury their dead in mass graves and barely cover them. Major Gen. Nathaniel Banks had earned the sobriquet “Commissary Banks” among Confederate soldiers because of his previous tremendous loss of supplies to Stonewall Jackson in 1862.
The youngest Kopke son, Louis J. Kopke, was born in 1856. He was in the first graduating class of the Texas Agricultural & Mechanical College (1879) and went into the railroad business in Beaumont. He was chief of the Engineering Department of the Gulf, Beaumont & Kansas City Railway. Louis married Jessie Gripon, the daughter of Theodore and Lucretia, in 1886.
The Gripon family had their roots in France and the Netherlands. Theodore Gripon’s father was from France, and Lucretia Van Woert Gripon’s ancestors were among the early Dutch settlers of New York. Theodore and Lucretia met and married in Mobile, Alabama, and moved soon afterward to New Orleans, then Houston and Galveston, finally settling in Sabine Pass, Texas, shortly before the Civil War.
Theodore Gripon owned and operated two steamboats, both named Cora and both used in the cotton trade. One ran up the Trinity River from Galveston; the second Cora ran between New Orleans or south Texas and Mexico. The latter was owned jointly by Theodore Gripon, Charles Gearing, and Richard King (of the King Ranch). In 1863, the second Cora was registered under the Confederate flag. (The broadside certificate of registration is included in the archive.) Loaded with cotton and under the command of a hired captain, she was captured near Tampico by the Yankees. Much of the Cora-related material in the archive concerns either the apparently unhappy involvement of Richard King in the joint ownership venture or the post-Civil War legal claim by Gripon and Gearing against the United States for damages resulting from the capture of the Cora.
The Gripon portion of the archive reveals much, not only about family matters but also about life in southeast Texas in the latter third of the nineteenth century. Letters between the Gripon sisters predominate the decade from the mid 1880s to 1897. Interesting little details abound, including the 1889 Thanksgiving menu for just a few people “other than the boarders”: turkey, three baked chickens, chicken salad, white celery, butter beans, Lyonnais potatoes, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, white turnips, white head cabbage, baked ducks, pickles, corn, apple jelly, and for desert Coconut cake, Minnehaha cake, fruit cake, oranges, apples, mince pie, and Catawba wine.CO
CIVIL WAR LETTERS. Twenty-three Civil War letters between the Kopke parents and their sons in the Confederate Army, including interesting details on camp life and the Battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana.
STEAMBOATS Cora I and Cora II & A RARE CONFEDERATE BROADSIDE: Documentation on Theodore Gripon’s two steamboats, both named Cora, which were engaged in the cotton trade and one of which was captured by the Yankees off Tampico. In this group is a large, pictorial, and rare Confederate ship’s register for the Cora, with three lithograph images at top showing ships at sea, a helmsman, and a female figure with anchor. The broadside is very ornate, with elaborate wood types, and completed in manuscript (Galveston, 1862). This a rare form of documentation on Confederate ships and a highly unusual and elaborate Confederate imprint.
RICHARD KING CORRESPONDENCE: Correspondence involving Richard King (of King Ranch) as a disgruntled investor in the second Cora steamboat, including one letter from King demanding reimbursement of his one-third interest.
PERSONAL & FAMILY CORRESPONDENCE: Personal letters, especially among the daughters of Theodore and Lucretia Gripon: Zada, Jessie, and Florence.
FAMILY HISTORIES: Manuscript narratives and early twentieth-century typescripts of family histories.
ARTIFACTS AND PHOTOGRAPHS: cartes de visite, cabinet cards, tintypes, a set of six large coin-silver spoons, etc.
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Copyright Dorothy Sloan 2009