A Fairly Well-Organized Enterprise

The year of 1862 was a perilous one for those residents of Texas who had opposed the institution of chattel slavery, opposed secession, and finally opposed being forcibly drafted into defending the Confederacy with military service. It was especially perilous for those who were leaders in the various German communities in San Antonio, and in the tidy, well-organized hamlets in the Texas Hill country, those men who had not thought it necessary to guard their tongues when it came to discussing matters political and social. After all, many of them had come from the various German duchies and kingdoms during the two decades previous, deliberately shaking off the dust of the old country and embracing the new one with with passionate enthusiasm. They assumed they had left behind repression, censorship, authoritarian rule, required military service and economic stagnation. They had gained political freedom, good farmland, every kind of economic opportunity … even just the freedom to be left alone, to amuse themselves with harmless cultural pursuits such as competitive choral singing, nine-pin bowling, and community theater.

The German settlers of the Hill Country celebrated the 4th of July with verve … but when it all began to fall apart with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the German communities of Texas carried on; opposing secession when it was voted on, state-wide. Much of the Hill Country then qualified as the frontier anyway; who would want to leave their families alone and undefended against attacks from the Comanche, whose brutality was a byword, all along the frontier, even with the slight shelter of a peace treaty worked out between the southernmost Comanche division some years before? And who would buy their property at a fair price – the land or the enterprises improved or built with fifteen or twenty years of hard labor – if those opposed to secession took up the offer of Jefferson Davis (and the Confederate administration of Texas) to pull up their stakes and leave, if they didn’t support the Confederacy, all it’s works and all it’s ways? They would be cast away, with little money to support their families … no, of those Germans who had been against secession from the beginning, hardly any departed when the War Between the States broke out in earnest… at first. Texas was a long way from the heart of the Confederacy, and the Hill Country a good way (then) from the seat of authority in Texas. Take a chance on hunkering down, staying close to home, keeping calm and carrying on … and hope that no one in authority took notice of you and your inconvenient opinions.

So that strategy worked out for a while – and then it didn’t. A number of well-respected citizens within the German settlements wound up being ‘up on charges’ when certain counties in Texas were declared as being in rebellion against the rebellion. These citizens had been noted as being particularly outspoken … and paid a price for not high-tailing it over the border or into the bush, as many others had done when the draft law was first imposed. Brought before a military tribunal in San Antonio in the late summer and autumn of 1862, three men were convicted by the commission and sentenced to be held for the duration of the war; Boerne merchant and former justice of the peace Julius Schlickum, Philip Braubach, formerly the sheriff of Gillespie County, Texas Ranger and militia company officer, and Friedrich Doebbler, also a Gillespie county merchant, the founder of Grapetown, Texas, and volunteer militia officer. The various charges against them are detailed in this account. Essentially, it appears what they were found guilty of by the military tribunal was that they were influential men in their community, their opinions were well-known, and they had been arrested by a militia unit sent specifically into their patch of country to pacify a region seen as being rebellions against the rebellion. One might suspect this was a case of “pour encourager les autres” among the other German Texans inclined to insufficient enthusiasm for the Confederacy. All three were already well-acquainted with each other, and conditions of their confinement were not terribly harsh. They were held under heavy guard in a building near the then-courthouse in San Antonio, but could order their meals from a local hotel and receive visits and gifts from friends, although before his trial, Philip Braubach had suffered the additional indignity of being in chains with cannon-ball weights attached to them. Julius Schlickum was tormented by worry over his wife – who was dangerously ill at the time of his arrest, although being cared for by the family of his good friend and business partner.

He was also a man who planned ahead; and even before his arrest, he had made certain arrangements with a friend ‘for change of air’ was how he put it in a letter to his father back in Germany afterwards. Schlickum notified his friend to set his plan in motion on the night of July 18th, being supplied with weapons for himself and his two friends, and a bottle of whiskey laced with a strong soporific to drug their guards, if neccessary. To his horror, on that very afternoon, his wife came to see him, knowing of his plans and wishing to see him one last time. Fearing that the authorities would suspect her of being involved in the escape, he was on the point of giving it up, but Mrs. Schlickum insisted that he go ahead with it, and not to worry about her.

The escape was set for 1 AM, that time when the guards changed. There were four windows into the room where the three were kept – three of them with guards posted. One door led into an open area facing the guardhouse, the other was supposedly locked and barred – but the prisoners had been able to open it. They slipped away, cocked pistols in their hands and prepared to use them, while the guards were distracted. Outside in the street, two of Schlickum’s friends waited in the shadowed side of the street. Several more friends waited in nearby doorways to cover the escape; not for nothing had all three served as volunteer soldiers. They were prepared to shoot their way out, if necessary. Fortunately it was not; their stealthy departure had not been noticed. They crept away, holding to the shadowy sides of the streets until they were safely outside town.
Someone whistled from the depths of a mesquite thicket – a signal. Schlickum gave the counter-signal, and half a dozen horsemen appeared, leading three spare mounts. They quickly passed around a celebratory bottle of cognac and galloped away. By dawn they had reached a hiding place; a cave in the bank of a dry river-bed, in the middle of dense thickets not more than twenty-five miles from San Antonio. Schlickum’s friends had already staged food and bedding there … and they took away the horses, which would betray their presence. For six weeks, Schlickum, Braubach and Doebbler hid out – never building a fire which would give them away, while the irate authorities fruitlessly turned the territory between San Antonio and the Rio Grande upside down and inside out. The searchers had orders to shoot or hang the fugitives on the spot, if apprehended. Another conveniently placed friend of Schlickum’s – who farmed a little distance away – brought them bread, salt-meat and groceries regularly.

As he had feared, Mrs. Schlickum was accused of assisting her husband and his friends to escape. She was interrogated and threatened, and told not to leave town on pain of having to forfeit a $5,000 bond – but she was not intimidated in the least. Eventually she was allowed to return to their home in Boerne.

Early in September, when the intensity of the search for them had abated somewhat, the three friends were joined by three other German-Texans desirous of a ‘change of air’. After several more adventures, they made it safely over the border into Mexico, where their ways parted. Phillip Braubach organized a Union guerrilla company to wage war along the Rio Grande. In 1864, he made his way to New Orleans and enlisted in a Union cavalry unit – the First Regiment Texas Cavalry. He survived the war, married and returned to Texas. Friedrich Doebbler waited out the war in Mexico and returned to the Hill Country when the war was over. Schlickum intended to return to Germany; in the mean time, he set up in business in Matamoras, and sent for his wife and children to join him. When they finally arrived in the following year, it was only to find that Schlickum had perished of yellow fever.

(Cross-posted at my book blog – www.celiahayes.com)

7 thoughts on “A Fairly Well-Organized Enterprise”

  1. They were luckier than a lot of the Germans (as I have learned from your past posts). Interesting that Sam Houston was against rebellion but being the father of Texas they conveniently chose to leave him alone.

  2. The Germans of Missouri were also loyal to the Union and Edward Bates became Lincoln’s Attorney General after having been a competitor for the nomination of the Republicans. Bates was not German but he represented the large German population of Missouri.

  3. Oh, Sam Houston was the most die-hard Unionist of all, Bill. I think secession must have near broken his heart, for he had worked for ten hard years, doing every kind of finagling short of selling his soul, to have Texas annexed to the US … and fifteen years later, it was all for naught, over his advice. He wisely kept his mouth shut after resigning – and he was too much a hero for any Confederacy-sympathetic tribunal to lift a finger against him, however much they went looking for Unionist sympathizers under every bed.

    Mike, it was the German-organized militia of St. Louis who were key in keeping Missouri in the Union, when it might easily have gone the other way. This was an astonishing story – all the more astonishing because Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were in St. Louis at the time … as civilians, and had nothing to do with it at all. A fantastic story –

  4. Re Grant in St. Louis: he was indeed there that day, which I never knew. But I don’t know where Adam Goodheart (author of the linked essay) got his description of Grant. He wasn’t looking for an officer’s commission; he’d been adjutant of the Illinois militia for a few weeks, organizing volunteer regiments at Springfield. He’d had come over from Belleville for a few days, because the volunteers he was to muster there hadn’t assembled.

    Now it may be that he was in St. Louis looking for a Regular Army commission. And though he spoke to Frank Blair, as Blair mustered his “Dutchmen” for the march on Camp Jefferson, he took no part in the action. But he wasn’t really a civilian.

    Sherman was, though.

  5. “Mike, it was the German-organized militia of St. Louis who were key in keeping Missouri in the Union”

    Great story.

    The same type of thing was going on in Southern Illinois also. Federal forces took control of that area because of its strategic importance as a staging area between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, but they weren’t welcomed by everyone.
    All throughout the war there were guerrilla attacks by Confederate sympathizers, and open, pitched battles in a few cases.

    Nowadays most people think that, since Lincoln was from Illinois, the state was solidly behind him and the Union war effort, but that wasn’t exactly the case.
    Southern Illinois went to Douglas in 1860.
    It’s a cultural division of the state that still exists in some ways today, most prominently, oddly enough in baseball allegiances.
    And, while it’s mostly quiet, there’s a good amount of private militia activity still going on down there.

    On that 1860 electoral map, the red counties near St. Louis and the bullwark farther up in the central and eastern parts of the states were areas of large German immigrant populations. In fact, some people say it was Illinois Germans who kept the original Republicans from straying onto anti-immigrant platforms and closer to the principles that brought them to power, along with fighting prominently in the war

  6. “some people say it was Illinois Germans who kept the original Republicans from straying onto anti-immigrant platforms and closer to the principles that brought them to power, along with fighting prominently in the war”

    My uncle told me that, until World War I, there were portraits of the Kaiser in Chicago public schools.

  7. Mike, I don’t doubt it.
    For a time I lived on the north side in a part of the city that was a German-American enclave back in the 1800s. Almost all evidence of it has long since disappeared except for the grand old church anchoring the entire neighborhood, St. Alphonsus. I had met some real old timers still around who recalled, from family stories passed down, about the heydays of the German immigrants, although most of the stories involved beer drinking and J.P. Altgeld, their political patron saint.
    Apparently, the immigrants came in waves. The first ones, being Forty-Eighters, supported abolition and Lincoln. Subsequent immigrants, socialized by the Bismark welfare state, turned progressive.

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