Horse Sweat and Powder Smoke: The First Texas Cavalry in the Civil War

Article excerpt

Horse Sweat and Powder Smoke: The First Texas Cavalry in the Civil War. By Stanley S. McGowen. Military History Series, No. 66. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, c. 1999. Pp. xvi, 229. $29.95, ISBN 0-89096-903-5.)

Unit histories have come into their own as a burgeoning area of serious Civil War scholarship. Focusing on a single regiment offers a microcosmic glimpse into the larger conflict; it highlights the contributions of officers and enlisted men alike and affords comparison with other units. In Horse Sweat and Powder Smoke, Stanley McGowen traces the career of the First Texas Cavalry (CSA). In the opening chapters, he develops the background of the unit's future leaders, detailing their service in the Mexican War and as Texas Rangers, and then covers the organization of the First Texas Mounted Rifles and its subsequent merger with other units to form the First Texas Cavalry. What emerges is a portrait of a cavalry unit mirroring the diversity of Texas's antebellum population. Although sprinkled with professionals and skilled laborers, farmers and stock raisers constituted the majority of the First Texas's ranks. McGowen also notes that, of the unit's 175 foreign-born members, 103 were of German birth. Questioning the assumption that most Texas Germans were Unionists, McGowen asserts that, while they favored the Union and detested slavery, many of them also championed the right of states to solve their own problems without "federal interference" (p. 79).

Some Texas cavalry units acquired reputations as bands of "rowdy, undisciplined" men who frequently strayed from camp and frittered away their time gambling and racing their horses (p. xi), but the First Texas was, according to McGowen, a cohesive, well-trained, and well-disciplined regiment. …


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