Part one is here – a meditation on how suddenly a group of citizens became the ‘other’ during the Civil War.
In the wake of a military crackdown on a region perceived to be in rebellion – philosophically and perhaps politically – against the State of Texas and the Confederacy, a series of military trials of an assortment of civilians and local militia volunteers was held in San Antonio in the late summer and early autumn of 1862. Storekeeper Julius Schlickum was the first convicted, although no one testifying at his trial could say anything worse of him than his enthusiasm for the Confederacy was markedly restrained. The second prisoner convicted in the commission hearings had considerably more meat and justification to the charges laid against him; Philip Braubach, formerly elected sheriff of Gillespie County. Braubach was an outspoken Unionist, an associate of Jacob Keuchler – another Unionist, a farmer and surveyor who had trained as a forester in Germany.
Keuchler had briefly been the recruiter for a company of the Frontier Regiment, a Texas State self-defense organization established to defend the frontier. Hill country settlers, German and Anglo alike had at least two good reasons for joining the Frontier Regiment; they would be defending their own families and property, and they would be exempt from being drafted into the Confederate Army. Jacob Keuchler was soon accused – on very good grounds, as it turned out – of recruiting only Germans for his company, with an eye towards sheltering them from the draft and creating a military force which would also enable the Hill Country Unionists to secede from the secession, creating their own breakaway state, just as West Virginia had broken from Virginia. Keuchler eluded arrest, escaping into Mexico after the Nueces fight, but Braubach – who had not been with the group ambushed on the Nueces – was captured and held in heavy chains in San Antonio. He had been one of Keuchler’s commanders, and witnesses testified at the hearing that Braubach’s closest friends and associates were men who spoke disparagingly about the Southern cause. He was also charged with purposefully arresting a debtor as a means of keeping the man from being drafted. All agreed that he had the reputation of being a Unionist, or as the commission put it, “a Black Republican.” Braubach had also warned another associate – who testified against him – that the Confederate currency was no good. Other witnesses testified that they had never heard him denigrate the currency. Braubach was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for the war’s duration and exile after it.
Next came the trial of Fredericksburg merchant Frederick Lochte, charged by several witnesses as having refused payment in Confederate money for goods or for payment of a debt. Casting aspersions on Confederate currency appeared to be seen in the same light as casting aspersions on the Confederacy itself; Mr. Lochte was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment until he paid a $100 fine – presumably in Confederate notes. Another local merchant, J. R. Radcliff, also accused of insufficient enthusiasm for the fortunes of the Confederacy, slavery, and of deprecating the currency mounted a stout defense of himself, pointing out that what he had said in regards to the value of Confederate money in relation to the value of gold had been published in newspapers. Nothing particularly specific could be pinned onto Radcliff by testimony of his neighbors – and he drew a judgement of guilty on the charge of disloyalty and sentenced to immediate exile.
The next big case was that of the elderly Eduard Degener, of Sisterdale, which began late in September. Degener had always been active politically – beginning as a young man in Germany, when he was a representative to the first national assembly at Frankfort-am-Mainz in 1848. Upon the failure of the ’48 Revolution, Degener moved with his family to Texas. He was a prominent intellectual as these matters were judged among the German-Texas, a highly-educated man with a wide circle of friends. The writer and traveler Frederick Law Olmstead had visited Degener’s home during his trip to Texas seven years before, and been wholly impressed. He was obviously a leader of whom an example should be made, in the eyes of the Confederate government. To the usual charge of insufficient enthusiasm for the Confederacy was added a charge of sedition, and of having knowledge of the departing Unionists and failing to inform the authorities; Degener’s two sons, Hugo and Hillmar were among those killed in the Nueces fight, a month previous. A letter from Degener intended for two old friends of the Degener family in Germany was found on the body of one of the sons. This letter lamented the wartime shortages and hardships which had afflicted the family, and outlined the preparations for the departure of his sons to Mexico – incriminating stuff indeed. Degener had the sense and the resources to hire lawyers – who turned out to be worth every penny of whatever was paid to them. They challenged the charge of sedition, and brought out from witnesses that his sons were headstrong young men, over whom their aged parent had little control, although he had done his best. Testimony of witnesses also pounded in the point that Degener had been neutral with regard to slavery in any statements made in public – a wise move for him, under the circumstances. The incriminating letter was a private communication, intended for the eyes of readers far, far away from Texas. Degener was found guilty of disloyalty – but was released on posting a hefty bond.
The final case heard before the commission was that of one Ferdinand Simon, of Boerne, which prosecution had the interesting twist of not depending on tattle-tale witnesses and a past reputation: Ferdinand Simon was one of those Unionists participating in the Nueces Fight. He had the good fortune to survive it, but was captured four days later. His trial before the military commission was short and uncomplicated. Found guilty and sentenced to hang, he was fortunate again that the government annulled martial law. He was sent to Austin to await another trial, but the war ended before the authorities got around to him, and he returned to his home in Boerne.
Of the others accused or found guilty and given various sentences, Julius Schlickum, Philip Braubach and another Unionist, Friedrich Doebbler, all escaped from prison soon after being confined there in July, 1862, and made their way to Mexico. Early the following year, Schlickum made arrangements for his family to join him in Matamoros, just over the border – but when his wife and children arrived, they found that he had died of yellow fever in the meantime. Philip Braubach went to New Orleans and joined the First Regiment, Texas (Union) Cavalry, and led a small guerilla company making war along the Rio Grande Valley. He mustered out after the war, returned to Texas and to a private life, as did Friedrich Lochte. Jacob Kuechler also returned to Texas and a life of considerable respectability and success, being elected commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, and following that, a surveyor for a number of the railway lines built across post-war Texas. Eduard Degener was not done with politics, not by any means; he lived for another thirty years, was elected to Congress for a single term when Texas was readmitted to the United States, and followed that with a term as a city councilman in San Antonio, Texas.
Remarkably, regarding what happened to them during the five years of the war, it appears that there were very few grudges held against those friends and neighbors who had testified against them, or who had sat in judgement – although there must have been some interesting moments in the social lives of Jacob Kuechler and Eduard Degener, years later upon meeting certain people who had been opposite them in courtroom or on the battlefield.