I suppose that my thoughts were running this week on the theory and practice of ‘otherizing’ because my work in the Tiny Bidness has brought me full-face with a prime example of how upright good citizens, patriotic as they saw it, were brought by a turn of the political wheel into being accused criminals, brought before a military commission and charged with crimes which – if found guilty of by the tribunal – could have drawn a capital sentence. That the several found guilty of disloyalty to the régime and sentenced to death, imprisonment, exile or a heavy fine did in most cases, escape the worst of it and return to lives of post-war prosperity and respect must have been of cold comfort at the time.
Texas, in spite of being a slave state and one which seceded and joined the Confederacy was far from having uniform approval among citizens when it came to slavery, secession, or war with the remaining Union. There was even less enthusiasm for the draft instituted after the initial bloody clashes with the Union burned through the first eager volunteers. When the matter of secession was voted on – at the insistence of Governor Sam Houston – there was a substantial majority voting against secession, centered in the German-settled areas in the present-day Hill Country. In the main, the German immigrants who had been recruited by the Mainzer Adelsverein in the mid 1840s or had departed Europe in a hurry after the failure of the 1848 Revolution were also abolitionists. This had not mattered much at first; the Germans were welcomed – many of them prosperous and enterprising, highly-skilled in industry and well-trained in the sciences as well as having an abiding commitment to literature, arts and the matters of the mind. A large number of the German immigrants were also not disposed to favor chattel slavery – or to hold their tongues when the matter came up for public discussion.
Suspicion of the Germans increased with the outbreak of war, especially when many of those German immigrants living in Gillespie and Kendall Counties appeared disinclined to support the Confederate war effort by volunteering … or to come along quietly when the draft was instituted. The draft demanded that all white males resident between the ages of eighteen to forty-five be conscripted for military service in the Confederate Army. There were exemptions; for elected officials, certain essential occupations, members of local self-defense companies, and for those who owned more than a certain number of slaves. The demand that male citizens who had opposed slavery and secession now be forced to defend it as soldiers was too big an insult to be accepted without resistance. Volunteering for a local militia unit to defend the frontier from Indian raids – and the Hill Country was still a part of the frontier and at a considerable risk with the departure of Federal troops – was an acceptable alternative to many Hill Country settlers. (A previous two-part account of the conditions in the Hill Country is here, and here. My own novel, incorporating much of this local history is here.)
According to historian Jefferson Morgenthaler, the German settlers were also somewhat naïve, in believing that they could stand aside from the war, once it began. Isolated as they were on the frontier among a community of their own kind, they did not realize how much or how rapidly the political situation changed in Texas once war began. They had earnestly upheld the principle of free speech – but now a frank and free discussion of the South’s military prowess, monetary policy – or policy of any other kind – was suddenly not only beyond the pale of stimulating converse, but a matter which could make you a criminal.
This is what happened, in the wake of military law being imposed on Gillespie County in the second year of the war. Between June and October of 1862 eleven German settlers – respectable men, good citizens and some of considerable stature in Gillespie, Kerr and Kendall Counties before and after the War – were brought before a military tribunal in San Antonio, on various charges of having failed to support the Confederacy. Two of them, upon expressing willingness to join the Confederate military, were sworn into service on the spot and turned over to the local military commander. The tribunal satisfied itself that another had been accused wholly out of malice and released him. Three more had neither testimony nor proof of any wrong-doing against them; the commission noting for the record of one (and possibly in some exasperation at having their time wasted) that “the accused …was found to be an ignorant man, and therefore discharged from custody…”
The remaining five were another kettle of fish. First on the military commissions docket was one Julius Schlickum, who kept a general store in Boerne, north of San Antonio on the edge of the Hill Country. If anything, Julius Schlickum was a political moderate, urging discretion and care in pursuing the interests of the German community when it came to abolition. He was an elected justice of the peace in Kendall County, well-thought of by all who knew him; even the witnesses called to testify could say little worse of him that he seemed particularly skeptical regarding the South’s chances, inclined rather to disbelieve news coming from the Confederacy and more prone to credit reports of Union success. He also was on friendly terms with those who were well-known to have anti-Confederate opinions, and it was rumored had refused payment for goods in Confederate currency. That he was a man of some standing, and had friendly relations with all sorts seemed to be justification enough for the military commission to sentence him to imprisonment for the duration as a disloyal person. As the decision of the court read, “…in his general deportment he is calculated to create discontent and dissatisfaction with the Government and its currency.”
(To be continued – what happened with the other citizens brought before the military commission in 1862, charged with disloyalty to the Confederacy? Some of them had not the slightest pretense of loyalty, anyway – but those who survived the war returned almost instantly to being honest and respectable citizens. Food for thought, in any case.)