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Robert E. Lee’s Correspondence from the Rio Grande Border

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73.     [BORDERLANDS]. UNITED STATES. WAR DEPARTMENT. SECRETARY OF WAR (John B. Floyd). Troubles on Texas Frontier. Letter from the Secretary of War, Communicating, in Compliance with a Resolution of the House, Information in Relation to the Trouble on the Texas Frontier…. Washington: House Executive Document No. 81, 1860. [1] 2-105 [1, blank] pp. 8vo (25 x 15.5 cm), disbound, unstitched. First page slightly dust soiled, intermittent light waterstaining, otherwise very good. Uncommon.

     First edition. Eberstadt, Texas 162:95. Tate, The Indians of Texas: An Annotated Research Bibliography 2494: “Almost all of the correspondence concerns military action against Juan Cortina, but included are letters requesting additional troops in West Texas to suppress Indian attacks.” Not in other standard bibliographies. This excellent report dated May 3[0?], 1860, documents events between 1859 and April 1860 in the Cortina Wars, with dispatches by Robert E. Lee, S.P. Heintzelman, John S. “Rip” Ford, Sam Houston, Earl Van Dorn, and others, including a few from Mexican authorities. The first half details claims in the amount of $336,826.21, the majority by ranchers, but also by merchants, mail carriers, a blacksmith, a physician, an army wife, etc. Most losses are livestock, but a wide variety of other items are claimed—from cognac and calico to Colt revolvers and King and Kenedy’s steamboat Ranchero (a mine of information on the material culture of the Borderlands and what was worth stealing). The second section covers military operations, proposed strategies, and possible international repercussions. Sam Houston complains that the regular army is useless for protecting “our bleeding frontier” and proposes that Texas volunteers and the Texas Rangers be enlisted.

     This is a good source for Robert E. Lee’s activities in Texas and the Borderlands before he became Southern commander of the Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War. Here we find Lee serving as Acting Commander of the Department of Texas, temporarily replacing General David E. Twiggs. Lee’s task was to pursue Juan N. Cortina (Handbook of Texas Online) and bring to a halt his border raids. Here is a typical communication from Lee from this document:

Headquarters, Department of Texas

San Antonio, March 15, 1860

Colonel: I have had the honor to receive your letters of the 2d and 3d instant, containing the further instructions of the Secretary of War in relation to the outlaw Cortinas.

I take my departure this morning for the Rio Grande.

For the reasons stated in my letter of March 12, the bold and constant depredations on the northern frontier, I have been unwilling to diminish the small force on that line, and consequently the moral effect of the troops on the Rio Grande upon the banditti in Mexico, to oblige them to disperse, will not be as great as I could wish. I enclose an extract from a letter from Major Van Dorn, received yesterday, in further corroboration of the disabled condition of the horses of the second cavalry.

I have given orders that they be spared and nourished as much as possible; and with a view, if possible, of withdrawing the small bands of Indians from the settlements, have directed Major Thomas to organize all the available cavalry force for a general scout, and break up any camps they may have at the head of the Brazos or elsewhere.

For this purpose I have directed him to draw detachments of the first cavalry from the posts of Washita and Arbuckle.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R.E. Lee

Brevet Colonel, Commanding Department of Texas

Colonel S. Cooper

Adjutant General U.S.A., Washington City, D.C.

P.S. – The speediest way of rendering the second cavalry more effective would be to increase the number of horses to each company, which, by paragraph 4 of General Orders No. 13, Adjutant General’s office, October, 8, 1856, were reduced to sixty. In view of the very hard service they are called upon to make, this would be very desirable, and some of the horses would be recuperating while the others would be in the field. Nor would this add much to the expense of the present arrangement, as it would diminish the number of deaths of horses in the field, their being entirely disabled, and consequent sale. In this event I would recommend that the requisite number of horses be purchased in this department if practicable, as they would be acclimated, accustomed to grass, &c., and I believe could be procured cheaper than if brought from the Mississippi valley. R.E.L.


Sold. Hammer: $275.00; Price Realized: $330.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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